Tomboy Bride, 50th Anniversary Edition: One Woman's Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West Info

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A Colorado favorite, Tomboy Bride presents the
first-hand account of a young pioneer woman and her life in a rough and
tumble mining town of the Old West.


In 1906 at the age
of twenty, Harriet Fish hopped on a train from Oakland, California, to
the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in search of a new life as the bride
of assayer George Backus. Together, the couple ventured forth to
discover mining town life at the turn of the twentieth century,
adjusting to dizzying elevation heights of 11,500 feet and all the
hardships that come with it: limited water, rationed food supplies, lack
of medical care, difficulty in travel, avalanches, and many more. As
she and George move from Telluride’s Tomboy Mine to the rugged coast of
British Columbia, to the town of Elk City, Idaho, and then back to
Colorado’s Leadville, Harriet paints a poignant picture of a world
centered around mining, sharing amusing and often challenging
experiences as a woman of the era.


With a new foreword
by award-winning author Pam Houston, this 50th anniversary edition also
includes previously unpublished black and white photographs documenting
Harriet's journey. Tomboy Bride endures as a classic of the
region to this day as it captures in heart-felt emotion and vivid detail
the personal account of Harriet Backus, a true pioneer of the
West.


Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Tomboy Bride, 50th Anniversary Edition: One Woman's Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West:

4

Sep 26, 2019

I am a sucker for any people or characters who share my dog’s name (Harriet) and I am a sucker for “tomboys” (acknowledging the gross gender assumptions implicit in that term, but it’s the author’s), and since I’m moving to Colorado soon, I have become a sucker for all things Colorado.

So this book is my bread and butter, basically.

This book was written in the 1930s but not published until 1964. It’s the memoir of a woman named Harriet who—in 1908—travelled alone from Oakland, CA to the Tomboy I am a sucker for any people or characters who share my dog’s name (Harriet) and I am a sucker for “tomboys” (acknowledging the gross gender assumptions implicit in that term, but it’s the author’s), and since I’m moving to Colorado soon, I have become a sucker for all things Colorado.

So this book is my bread and butter, basically.

This book was written in the 1930s but not published until 1964. It’s the memoir of a woman named Harriet who—in 1908—travelled alone from Oakland, CA to the Tomboy Mine above Telluride, CO to marry her high-school sweetheart, George. The book follows Harriet and George from the mines of Colorado, to a log cabin in Howe Sound, BC, to a tent in the remote, tiny Elk City, and then finally back to Colorado (Leadville this time).

George is a mild, introverted, gentle chemical engineer who works as an assayer (he tests the ore for its chemical composition).

Surprisingly, for the era, Harriet is also college-educated. She’s also a lovely, compassionate woman. She’s deeply compassionate towards all animals, and scarcely has an unkind word to say about anyone she encounters. She’s quick to find the good in everyone, and unlike many townspeople, doesn’t judge sex workers (she comments on their “innate nobility” when they help nurse the sick back to health) or unmarried mothers or immigrants.

Harriet is also very brave, which is evident from the very beginning: on the initial sled ride up the steep mountain to the mine, where the sled almost careens off the cliff, Harriet hops off, thanks the driver, and tells him, “It was a wonderful ride. I’ll never forget it.”

Harriet and George have a beautiful marriage of surprising equality for 1908. He brings home his work, and she helps him check the math. In exchange, he helps with the dishes. They’re deeply in love and both adore their children (also named Harriet and George).

“Our life was different here. It was rugged, challenging, adventuresome, humble, and many other things to two people so much in love.”

It’s very interesting to hear about mining camp life. For instance, they almost entirely eat canned food and frozen meat. Fresh vegetables and fruit are unheard of. And it doesn’t help that Harriet has got to be the most inept cook of all time! Though she’s 23 years old at the beginning of the novel, she has no idea what kind of food, or how much, to order from the man who brings it up on a sled.

Maybe it’s partly the high altitude, but everyone else seems to manage it! It was entertaining to hear about how poor Harriet couldn’t manage to bake bread, boil an egg, cook beans, make mayo, or keep the post roast from burning. She’s like a real life Amelia Bedelia!

One of my favorite stories was this: when she serves dinner to George’s bosses, the mutton is still frozen solid. When their friends come over a few days later, she’s wised up and has removed the meat from the woodshed a day early so that it can thaw—only to try a bite and gag, realizing she has served her guests decayed meat.

Their little house in the mining town is infested with pack rats, which sounds disturbing but Harriet is charmed by the way they came at night and, curiously, laid out elaborate patterns of silver cutlery in criss-crosses across the entire length of their cabin floor. “I longed to be transformed by some good fairy into an owl and perch in a corner to watch these dexterous creatures laying our kindling and flatware so silently and neatly in a chosen design. But longing was futile. I never saw our visitors To this day I wonder why they went to such an effort and how it was achieved.” ...more
5

Nov 21, 2009

On route to the Tomboy Mine which hovered 3,000ft above the mountain town of Telluride, CO. A sleigh driven by two, over-worked horses pulled Harriet and George Backus up an ever winding and steep road covered with ice that clung to a rock wall. Treacherous switchback after switchback with just inches separating the sled from the thousand foot sheer drop offs. Stricken with frigid temperatures and an altitude that made every breath an ever increasing difficulty; this was the predicament of On route to the Tomboy Mine which hovered 3,000ft above the mountain town of Telluride, CO. A sleigh driven by two, over-worked horses pulled Harriet and George Backus up an ever winding and steep road covered with ice that clung to a rock wall. Treacherous switchback after switchback with just inches separating the sled from the thousand foot sheer drop offs. Stricken with frigid temperatures and an altitude that made every breath an ever increasing difficulty; this was the predicament of Harriet Backus and her husband George as they climbed to their first silver mining camp in the late 1890’s.
Ever wonder what life was like for women living in mining camps at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries? Some of these women lived year round at the top of 11,800ft mountains along with their families. These women experienced many fascinating hardships, such as how to: cook, find fresh food, give birth, bathe, stay warm, overcome illnesses, overcome storms and avalanches, walk in ten feet of snow, and to survive at high altitudes. Harriet Backus, author of The Tomboy Bride: A Woman’s Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West has done a superb job documenting her encounters and obstacles as she left her home as a teacher and telegraph worker in San Francisco and began her long journey with new husband George Backus, to the rugged, high country mining camps. Their adventure would take them to Telluride, Colorado, the British Columbia coast, Idaho, and even Leadville, CO.
It was a time when the mining industry helped shape Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming into becoming states in the latter half of the 1800’s. Mining became a mass-production industry. Silver mining had evolved into one of the number one driving forces of settlement in the western United States. In addition to silver, there were also findings of gold, lead, coal, and other valuable minerals. This boom created many small mining camps littered throughout the west with little or no supplies, doctors, housing, food, schools, or other amenities found in the large cities of the United States.
The Tomboy Bride: A Woman’s Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West is written in chronological order pertaining to the true events of Harriet Backus’s diary. This was a great way to get a true sense of her struggles from beginning to end. She captures the reader with her intriguing story of hardship from one mining camp to the next. The majority of the events initially take place at the Tomboy Mine in Telluride, Colorado, but also take place at the Britannia mine in British Columbia, Elk City, Idaho, and the Climax mine in Leadville, Colorado.
In the late 1890’s Harriet Fish set out to marry George Backus, an “assayer at the Japan Flora Mine” (3). She had no idea where they were to live, or what was ahead of her. After being married in Denver, Colorado they traveled by several trains to Telluride, Colorado. George told her nothing, but to pack her warmest clothes, and to buy a high altitude cookbook. Then they set out by sleigh to climb over 3,000ft on a narrow trail through the mountains to the top of Tomboy Mine. This is a menacing trail well known for mules having lost their footing and plummeted to their death down the arduous mountainside. As they arrived at the mining camp, the sleigh pulled up to what would be their first home, a two room shack. Harriet’s first step off the sled sent her descending into waist high snow. This was the start of roughing it for Harriet.
Harriet began her life as the wife of a miner by beginning to learn housekeeping and cooking chores. She found one tub in their shack which was to be used both as a bathtub and a tub for washing dishes. Water was in high demand and was rationed to five gallons per week, so baths were cut down to once a week in only a few inches of water. Harriet would bathe first, and then George because he was covered in filth from the mines.
Supplies were a constant hassle as they could only be ordered once a month, and were usually late due to weather. “My monthly order list of meat generally included two legs of mutton, three dozen veal, pork, and mutton chops, half a ham, a slab of bacon, several beef steaks, two roasts of beef and a beef tongue” (53). There were no refrigerators so the meat was hung outside where it froze. Milk, fruit, and vegetables were bought by the case, but were never guaranteed to be fresh as the length of time to arrival varied with the weather. Many shipments arrived rotten, including the meat. Harriet was not a good cook in the first place, so these hassles with supplies only burdened her more.
Yet another obstacle arose when Harriet became pregnant. As her due date approached, George rented out a bedroom in the town of Telluride for her to stay in until she gave birth. It was too dangerous to try and stay up at the mine, as weather could possibly deter her getting to the doctor for days. It was a good thing that they had traveled into town, as an avalanche wiped out the Trout Lake Dam of the Telluride Power Company, taking out the town of Placerville. There were over thirty miles of train tracks and roads cut off and all telephone and telegraph communication was at a standstill. Wagons carrying food were unable to make it into town for weeks, only small pack mules could make it in; which left a town encompassed by about five thousand people very hungry. It was at this time that Harriet Backus gave birth to a little girl, Harriet Anna Backus. They waited another month before climbing the mountain back to their cabin at the mining camp.
By 1910, they had decided to move to a milder climate. They packed all their worldly possessions onto a sleigh guided by two horses embedded to their waists in the snow. Harriet, George, and the baby had to sit on top of their boxes, as there was no room left in the sleigh with their feet dangling off the side of a thousand foot cliff. “Dear Little Harriet, completely hidden in blankets…how did she get air to breath...what would I do when her diaper needed changing or when she must be nursed” (139)? Soon after, baby Harriet started a screeching cry for milk. It was impossible to nurse her in those conditions, and Harriet’s hands were numb from the cold. Luckily they encountered the wagons at the bottom of the trail fairly quickly. One of the men at the bottom, amazed to see a baby in that weather, forced Harriet to hand over her baby so that he could ride her out of the blizzard on his horse and get warm. It would take over an hour for Harriet and George to make it into town to find their baby cuddled next to the fire with the gentleman that quite possibly saved her life.
These are only a few of the hardships encountered by Harriet Backus while living in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride, Colorado. A story of vivid strengths in this pioneer woman of the west.
Harriet Backus wrote this fascinating novel based on her diary and her experiences alone. Her background in teaching most assuredly helped with the beautiful flow of the book. The entire novel is derived from factual evidence and her own recollection of the struggles along the way.
This novel is similar to the novel, Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West by Ethan Rarick. He wrote his fascinating novel based on facts alone, just as Harriet Backus. He quoted diaries left by each of the members from the Donnor Party, and also used diaries from future parties to compare notes on obstacles, scenery, and location. The only reason why The Tomboy Bride: A Woman’s Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West differs from Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West is because it is a biography written by Harriet Backus herself from her own diary, whereas Ethan Rarick used the diaries of others several years later. Ethan Rarick used endnotes throughout his novel, which helped with the factual dates of certain events from several different people’s diaries. Harriet Backus did not need to use endnotes because her novel is written chronologically from her own diary. Her life in the mining camps was well documented by her diary entries and photos.
The photos Harriet Backus used were of herself, her children, the mines, their homes, miners, pack trains, mountain views, friends, and even the trail they climbed to their first home. These photos give the reader a true sense of what it was like to live in those times and conditions, and a true impression of the struggles and hardships along the way. The Tomboy Mine, for example, closed in 1925 and all that is left are a few remnants, and pieces of wood. Her photo inclusion of the mine in its heyday is quite interesting as it depicts an era lost in the rubble. Looking at what is left of the mine today, there is no way to realize the extent of its historical popularity. Therefore, the photos included are of great importance to the novel.
The copyright of The Tomboy Bride: A Woman’s Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West was in 1969. It was first published in 1977 by Pruett Publishing Company in Boulder, Colorado. This book review is based upon the 1977 publishing.
This novel was written from the heart of Harriet Backus an authentic female pioneer of the rugged western mining towns. Her novel is for the true history buffs that enjoy the painstaking struggles endured by the first women in the west. Or even the average woman that is curious about what it must have been like to live in the mountains, without electricity, running water, fresh food, warmth, no diapers, or other amenities. This book is for experts and amateurs alike, as it captures the reader’s attention within moments of reading it. It will especially catch the eye of anyone who has traveled the lengthy, steep four-by-four trail of switchbacks up to the mine.


...more
3

Jul 21, 2009

On a recent trip to Teluride, CO I found a book written by Harriet Fish Backus. I decided to buy it after listening to a guide tell us about her life during a four wheeling trip up the steep and scary mountain that she used to travel with her husband by horseback and wagons. I found her history of living in mining towns during the early 1900's to be fascinating. After reading this book I feel even more grateful to be born in this era of time when walking through 3 or 4 feet of snow to get On a recent trip to Teluride, CO I found a book written by Harriet Fish Backus. I decided to buy it after listening to a guide tell us about her life during a four wheeling trip up the steep and scary mountain that she used to travel with her husband by horseback and wagons. I found her history of living in mining towns during the early 1900's to be fascinating. After reading this book I feel even more grateful to be born in this era of time when walking through 3 or 4 feet of snow to get somewhere is not an everyday occurance, and where doctors can acutally save lives of people who could not have survived during her lifetime. If you like history, you'll enjoy this book. I'm glad that people like Harriet Backus kept such detailed journals. ...more
5

Nov 21, 2017

I have read many books by pioneering women and enjoyed them immensely. This book did not disappoint. Harriet Backus is a good writer and storyteller. If you like history, memoirs and couragoeus women, you'll like this book.
4

Feb 12, 2018

3.5 stars....very enjoyable. I could hear Hattie’s voice as her story progressed from one memory to the next.
4

May 28, 2017

This was an interesting and well-written memoir of a woman who traveled with her husband to various remote mines, including in Telluride and Leadville, CO, in the early 1900s.
3

Oct 15, 2013

Fun account of life much different from mine. It was really well written and fun to read
3

Jun 10, 2009

I read Tomboy Bride as part of a church bookgroup that I decided to crash (it wasn't my ward) with the hopes of being taken up to the Tomboy Mine near Telluride as part of the book's discussion.

The tour of the mine and mountain ghost settlement never happened, but a really fun discussion with a member of a Victorian society present made the entire experience of reading this book a lot more fun than I expected.

As far as the book goes, I was enchanted with Harriet Fish Backus living as a new bride I read Tomboy Bride as part of a church bookgroup that I decided to crash (it wasn't my ward) with the hopes of being taken up to the Tomboy Mine near Telluride as part of the book's discussion.

The tour of the mine and mountain ghost settlement never happened, but a really fun discussion with a member of a Victorian society present made the entire experience of reading this book a lot more fun than I expected.

As far as the book goes, I was enchanted with Harriet Fish Backus living as a new bride at 11,000 feet elevation in the winter. Her descriptions of an area I can well picture, because it's part of the mountain system where I live, were delightful. Delightful, you say? Yes, because she is a Victorian bride and this was no expose. It was an extremely optimistic, positive view about an unusual, and without a doubt, difficult situation.

The book doesn't stay in Colorado, however, and as the couple moved to British Colombia, Idaho and even back to Colorado, my interest waned. Her positive spin lost a bit of its charm as I more and more wanted to know what it was really like. Still, I loved the Telluride/Tomboy bit. ...more
4

May 06, 2015

Great read about her life as a woman in various mining areas in Colorado, British Colombia, and Idaho. Although this occurs between 1906 and 1919, it's an engaging writing style and easy to read. She's originally from Oakland, and speaks briefly of how life changed for everyone due to the 1906 earthquake. She follows her soon-to-be husband, a mining engineer, to the San Juans in Colorado. They set up home at this super high-elevation. While you could read plenty of accounts of life in the mines, Great read about her life as a woman in various mining areas in Colorado, British Colombia, and Idaho. Although this occurs between 1906 and 1919, it's an engaging writing style and easy to read. She's originally from Oakland, and speaks briefly of how life changed for everyone due to the 1906 earthquake. She follows her soon-to-be husband, a mining engineer, to the San Juans in Colorado. They set up home at this super high-elevation. While you could read plenty of accounts of life in the mines, what's neat is her account from a woman's perspective. So she talks about things like women dealing with pregnancy at high altitude, and having to pass an avalanche zone in order to deliver the baby. Or learning how to cook and figure out what to order when supplies only get delivered (by mule train) once per month. And all her failed dinner attempts, since she really doesn't know how to cook. The last chapter is about their life in Leadville, CO, and she tells a number of stories about the outlandish doings of the time. What an amazing spirit, to happily head into these remote areas, enjoying it all! ...more
4

Aug 05, 2018

Enjoyed the first person account and am always awestruck by the hardships that women of the 19th century lived through, thrived in and raised families.
5

Oct 23, 2016

As a resident of Colorado and avid mountain hiker, I often stumble across mining and settlement remains as well as claimjumps. I wonder about their lives and how they managed to live so far removed from amenities. These people were hardy and laid the groundwork for so much of what we have today. It was intriguing as I was able to connect places she mentioned and piece together how it was all linked.

A few weeks ago, I hiked the bowl over Climax Molybdenum mine, which is still working and As a resident of Colorado and avid mountain hiker, I often stumble across mining and settlement remains as well as claimjumps. I wonder about their lives and how they managed to live so far removed from amenities. These people were hardy and laid the groundwork for so much of what we have today. It was intriguing as I was able to connect places she mentioned and piece together how it was all linked.

A few weeks ago, I hiked the bowl over Climax Molybdenum mine, which is still working and thriving. They currently sponsor our local school system. And it's amazing to think that so much of its longterm success is due to George Backus.

Harriet's tenacity is inspiring. I highly recommend this memoir. Although some people have commented on the writing style, I thought it was well written. To condense so many years of life well lived into a chapter is difficult to do. I also think that since I could mentally map out her descriptions, it made the story more lively in my mind to place the pieces. I felt more detached in the Vancouver scenes. So, perhaps a map or drawings of some areas would have been helpful to readers. ...more
3

Mar 14, 2017

Interesting memoir about living in various mining camps in the early 1900s.
3

May 02, 2019

After about 200 or so pages of this I lost all interest! Seemed to me all the mines were basically one in the same. Same story over and over!
4

Oct 17, 2018

Interesting read about Colorado mining history in Telluride and Leadville by the wife of a miner.
4

May 12, 2019

Very interesting! Author’s account of her life as a bride, and then young mother, in Rocky Mountain mining camps in the early 20th century.
4

Oct 05, 2017

Fascinating personal account. I was surprised at how educated these people were. They endured so many hardships but loved being on the frontier.
3

Apr 24, 2018

a very interesting and first-person narrative of life in the mining camps at 9000+ feet in colorado
5

Mar 31, 2019

Love how tough people were in the early days of our country. We have no idea.
5

Sep 12, 2019

An intriguing account of life as a miner's wife in mining camps throughout the west. As a Coloradan, I enjoyed the peek into the state's history.
4

Aug 02, 2018

Well written, great and engaging stories. I love all of the adventures she goes on and I loved learning more about Colorado history.
5

Feb 19, 2019

The book starts in one of my favorite areas of Colorado and we’ve taken mine tours in the area and jeep tours of Imogene Pass. I can’t imagine living in that time period with the hardships they endured. Harriet is a great writer and storyteller.
5

Jul 25, 2019

Fascinating story of the lives of miners and their family in early 1900. Harriet Fish Backus is a great writer and storyteller. I live near Telluride and when hiking I see of lots of old mines with dilapidated buildings. This book filled in the stories within those buildings.
5

Sep 24, 2018

Great non-fiction story about the hardships of the wives of miners living in a Telluride mining camp through terrible conditions, lack of medical care, pregnancy/childbirth, and being cut off from the world for long stretches of time throughout the winter.
4

Jul 07, 2019

It was so much fun to read this while visiting my daughter who lives on Trout Lake, just outside of Telluride, CO. We went up on Ophir Pass and I can't imagine doing that on a horse! So many of the places mentioned in the book were familiar. On July 4th we visited the Telluride Museum which is housed in the old hospital where Harriet was born. The museum also has a replica of her cottage at the Tomboy Mine. While we were at the museum, we were lucky enough to meet and spend time talking to It was so much fun to read this while visiting my daughter who lives on Trout Lake, just outside of Telluride, CO. We went up on Ophir Pass and I can't imagine doing that on a horse! So many of the places mentioned in the book were familiar. On July 4th we visited the Telluride Museum which is housed in the old hospital where Harriet was born. The museum also has a replica of her cottage at the Tomboy Mine. While we were at the museum, we were lucky enough to meet and spend time talking to Harriet's grandson, Rob Walton, who told us many interesting stories about his grandmother. She was quite an amazing woman! ...more
4

Jul 31, 2019

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Author Hattie Backus was some kind of woman! This compilation of detailed narratives is both fascinating. But honestly, I find it hard to imagine anyone finding such pleasure and contentment as she describes in these such difficult and often desolate conditions!
This memoir exudes her energy and passion for life. Her loyal, steadfast love for her husband is amazing and refreshing. This mining wife is devoted to what she perceives to be her high calling, unwavering, even at 13k feet altitude!

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