Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Apologies to Mrs. Cameron

Mrs. Evelyn Cameron kneading dough in her kitchen in Montana.

This photograph was set up by Mrs. Evelyn Cameron, but she did not photograph "a frontier woman"--that is she. To help describe life in late-19th-century Montana to her nieces, Mrs. Cameron had her husband take photos of her doing various chores on their ranch.

Since I wrote the last post on Mrs. Cameron I have read Photographing Montana 1894-1928: The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron. We have the book's author, Donna M. Lucey, to thank for bringing to light the photographs, diary entries, and letters of Evelyn Cameron, a remarkable and inspiring woman.

Site of the third "Eve Ranch" of Ewen and Evelyn Cameron.

For instance, when a friend in nearby Miles City wrote Evelyn indicating despondency, Evelyn replied with an invitation to the Cameron ranch:
Come and stay with me.... Of course, you have completely run yourself down by overwork. Change of scene, rest & quiet are the only remedies. At this time of the year I have so many stock chores to do that I do not feel in a position to entertain a guest--but I know you won't mind that & you can help me pitch hay, feed chickens, etc.!
These are the tonics that will make you feed the world is not such a bad place after all....

Mrs. Cameron was not a shirker. Every night she wrote her diary chronicling the day's activities. Here, for instance, she relates how she prepared Christmas dinner for her brother at a time when her husband was away in England:
Cooked all day. Made pudding [&] mincemeat. Sup 7.
Lovely. Mild. No wind. Became little overcast. [Most of Mrs. Cameron's diary entries begin with a quick description of the weather, which was of no small import in rural Montana]. Arose 7:20. Milked. Breakfast 9:30 cream biscuits. Fed chickens. Washed up. Alec helped, wiped. Got the leg of mutton from store house. Made the [plum] pudding--2 cupts (1 pint cup) flour, 1 cup suet {mutton!), 1 cup stoned raisins, 2 cups curants, citron 1/2, small cup mollasses, allspice, nutmeg & cinnamon stirred up, put in a tin & steam from 1 o'clock till 7:30. Fire on at 12. Chopping up 1 1/2 lb. citron, 2 cups stoned raisins, 3 cups currants, about 2 1/2 cups suet, sugar, spices for mincemeat. Took from 2 till 3:30 to stone the raisons for mincemeat. Alec helped. At 3:30 I fed chickens and hayed mangers. In finished making mincement. Washed up utensils. Milked 5. Cauliflower on., tatoes done round meat. Wrote diary. Washed changed. Did hair top o' head.

Mrs. Cameron was also a hunter, and she and her husband went on long hunting trips each year, during which she cooked all the meals in addition to participating fully in the hunt.

Evelyn milking the cows--a job done twice every day.

She raised huge quantities of vegetables for the household's own consumption and for cash; raised chickens and collected eggs; broke horses; managed other farm animals; raised orphaned wolf cubs as pets; sought animal carcasses on the plains to grind up bones for chicken feed, believing that this bonemeal made her chickens healthier and produce more and better eggs; cooked three meals a day; did the laundry, the most onerous household task before the advent of the washing machine; pickled produce; hauled manure for her garden; milked the cows twice daily; churned butter; made jam; baked bread, pies, cakes, and puddings; tanned hides; cleaned the house; whitewashed the house; cared for neighbors when they were ill and helped neighbors when their children took sick; nursed sick and injured animals most lovingly; helped deliver calves and colts; entertained friends; took in boarders for extra money; developed a photography business that documented life in rural Montana; wrote articles for magazines on life in the West.

Evelyn came to Montana as a young bride. Here she has been in Montana for a while--note the tan.

Born in Britain into a wealthy and aristocratic family, Evelyn came to Montana with her Scottish husband, Ewen Cameron, who was 15 years her senior. She eschewed the damp English weather and the hiring of servants, preferring to do the ranch work herself with her husband, although she certainly bore the greater share. Writing to her niece, she explained:
Manual about all I care about, and, after all, is what will really make a strong woman. I like to break colts, brand calves, cut down trees, ride & work in a garden.

And all of her work seems fueled by love--for her husband, for Montana, and all that was in it.


Anonymous said...

What an inspiring account!

emilyatheart said...

What a great post! Fascinating woman - makes me want to research her some more. How did she manage all that work?! It makes me feel like a weakling. Remarkable woman!