Carrie Adell Strahorn
Mother of the West
Carrie Adell Strahorn
Photo: Courtesy Idaho State Historical Society
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So often had she listened to the tales of her elders, Carrie Adell Green vowed as a young girl that she would “never be a pioneer.” Yet, for thirty-three years, she traveled thousands of miles by stagecoach, saddle, and railroad car into remote regions of the West. With her husband, Robert A. Strahorn, a publicist for the Union Pacific Railroad, she helped establish several towns, including Caldwell, Weiser, Payette, Shoshone, and Hailey, Idaho. She was the first white woman to make a complete tour of Yellowstone Park and to describe its magnificent scenery. In 1911, she published the popular Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, a witty and observant memoir illustrated by famed Western artist Charles M. Russell.
Born in Merengo, Illinois, on New Year’s Day of 1854 to a family of “old settlers” in the Midwest, Adell Green enjoyed a comfortable life. Her father, a surgeon who had served in the Civil War under Ulysses S. Grant, encouraged his three daughters to get as much education as they wished. Adell received a degree from the University of Michigan and studied voice in both the United States and Europe.
When she announced her intention to marry Robert Strahorn, family and friends voiced concern. Strahorn, a “tramp reporter” who had left school at the age of ten, was fresh from covering the Sioux wars. He had recently come to the attention of the Union Pacific Railroad for a book he had written on the resources of the Wyoming and Dakota Territory. President Jay Gould had asked Strahorn to head up a literary bureau for the railroad that would gather information and prepare guidebooks for prospective settlers along the UP tracks. It was a job that would require endless travel in unexplored places.
“The multitude of friends thought it no less than a calamity in 1877 that a girl should choose as a life partner one who would carry her out into that mysterious and unsettled country,” Adell Strahorn wrote in the preface to her book.
At the bride’s request, the word “obey” was left out of the wedding ceremony; they were going to Wyoming, where there was Women’s Suffrage. Railroad officials at first balked when Strahorn asked that his wife be allowed to accompany him on all his journeys, arguing that it was not a life suitable for a young lady. When he refused to take the job under any other condition, the railroad gave in.
“The matrimonial venture did not lead me to the duties of a matron with home, children, and windows full of flowers, but our launch was pushed into the sea of adventure paralleled by none save that of my own Pard, whom I followed for thirty years wheresoe’er he blazed the trail.”Cheyenne, where they were to set up a permanent base, was a stark contrast to the verdant hills of Illinois: “a forlorn, homesick looking town . . . without a spear of grass, without a tree within the scope of the eye, without water except as it was plumbed for household use, with a soil sandy, hard, and barren and with never ceasing wind.”
Their adventures began immediately, and within weeks the couple was sent on a foray to the Rocky Mountains. Adell’s description of her first trip to Denver was typical of the humor and determination with which she faced hardship and danger. Circumstances often forced the couple to travel separately, and, in this case, Pard had gone ahead to Salt Lake City after having spent the Christmas holidays with Adell’s family in December of ‘77. Several days later, Adell set out from Chicago to meet him in Denver. A blizzard raged outside, and she was the only woman on a train composed of cars that were “miserable shells because the good cars were stalled in snowdrifts.” She had to change trains four times, once for a train wreck that forced her and other passengers to wade around in ankle-deep mud and slush. At the rough frontier town of Ogallala, Nebraska, floods delayed the train for forty-eight hours.
“The town swarmed with cowboys and renegade gangs of bandits who laid a plot to hold up our train at a station just west of Ogallala.” To Adell’s relief, the sheriff received wind of the plot and arrested the bandits before they could stop the train.
Living at the edge of the frontier was not a predictable, comfortable life, but the Strahorns were eminently compatible. While Pard wrote guidebooks filled with economic projections, mining statistics, and tillable acres, Adell kept a different kind of journal.
“The manuscript from my own pen flowed more in a humorous vein, showing a search for romantic history, social status, pastimes, and conditions of the people already in the new land, weaving together the ludicrous and amusing episodes, and describing the grandeur of the scenery.” >>>