Women faced tremendous hardship and challenges on their trek westward. Few had an appreciation for the dangers that awaited them en route to the frontier – traversing rugged and inhospitable terrain, unpredictable weather, the lack of food and water, injuries and disease without recourse to doctors or hospitals, natural as well as unscrupulous human predators that assaulted both men and livestock, the absence of creature comforts and sanitation, isolation, loneliness, and attacks from hostile Indians.
It was the lure of land and the promise of adventure that caused their menfolk to take the risks and head west. The women and children who accompanied them faced an uncertain future. Many would die along the way and those that made it to their destination now had to carve out an existence in an unforgiving uncivilized country.
Many arrived alone, widowers or orphans who had seen their husbands or family members die during the journey. In a world dominated by men, theirs was a fight for survival by any means available.
Many women found themselves working as “whores” in the Old west. For a good majority, it was a matter of survival. Travelling to the frontier held risks that included the loss of family or a husband along the way. Finding oneself suddenly alone or widowed meant acknowledging the reality that food and shelter required money, luck, or ingenuity… including offering yourself to strangers just to stay alive. It was the fortunate individual that could afford to buy or build a boarding house, and only a few lucked into positions that allowed them to cook, clean, or teach for a living. The less fortunate found themselves indentured to barkeeps or the like for room and board and very little money. These women were treated as a commodity, had no say about their customers, and were subjected to filth, disease, and occasional violence. A minority found a boss that protected them and some even found love and marriage. The further west the town or city, the greater the disparity between the number of men and “available” women. In some locales the ratio was ten to one or even higher, and here lonely men were appreciative of a woman’s touch and looking for permanent relationships. – excerpt from Palo Duro.