Friday, September 15, 2017

Nineteenth-Century Heroine: Taming the Frontier(sman)

One of the things I’ve enjoyed in my Frontier Bachelors series is discovering (or rediscovering) real-life heroes and heroines in my own backyard. We’ve talked about the irascible Doc Maynard, who some consider the rightful father of Seattle. That's him on the right. But that venerable gentleman was brought to heel by the powers of love, and Catherine Broshears Maynard is to blame. 

Catherine was born in 1816 near Louisville, Kentucky. She was 16 years old when she married her first husband, a dashing Mississippi river boat pilot. Israel Broshears gave up the river for her and turned to farming. In 1850, they joined a wagon train for Oregon, along with family members on both sides. Tragedy struck when the train reached Nebraska in the form of cholera. Catherine lost her husband, mother, and brother-in-law that day. But she gained a devoted follower.

Doc Maynard came upon the ailing party and tended the ill, even to the point of helping Catherine bury her family. Despite his work, several more died in the days that followed. He stayed with Catherine, helped her drive her team all the way to The Dalles on the Columbia River.

Doc had intended to continue to California. Instead, he followed Catherine to Olympia, where her brother had a business. In 1850, she was one of a handful of unmarried white women on Puget Sound, was pretty, and had an engaging personality. I wish I could have found a picture of her, but all were copyrighted.

Dark-haired, with a round, winsome face and maidenly curves, she was besieged by suitors, but she told her family she would marry Doc Maynard, or no one. One story says her family threatened to shoot him if he showed up at the door again.

See, there was a little problem. Doc was already married, though unhappily. He petitioned the territorial legislature to grant him a divorce, which they did in 1852. Unfortunately, no one told Lydia, his first wife. Without her consent, the divorce wasn’t legal. Catherine may not have known that, or she might not have cared, for she married her gallant doctor in January 1853 and never looked back.

Over the next 20 years, Catherine had many adventures. She made friends with Chief Seattle’s daughter, travelled by canoe up the Black and Green Rivers, and was nurse at Seattle’s first hospital. When Doc was sent to Port Madison to serve as Indian Agent, she lived without even a tent for shelter for some months. And when some of the Native Americans rose up in protest against the unfair treaties of 1855, Catherine and several Native American women canoed across Puget Sound to warn Seattle of the coming danger.

Album de la flora médico-farmacéutica é industrial, indígena y exótica (Pl. 81) BHL11238588.jpgAfterward, Doc too attempted to become a farmer, building Catherine a fine clapboard house on Alki Point. Alas, he proved a much better doctor than farmer. Catherine liked to joke she was the only farmer she knew who was always starving. Legend has it she planted the first dandelions in the area, as a medicinal plant. My dear husband would have a few words to say to her about introducing that plant.

Doc passed away in 1873, leaving Catherine a grieving widow once more. But that didn’t stop her from contributing to the community she so loved. She opened a free public library in her home. During her later years, in her 60s and 70s, she rode astride over Snoqualmie Pass many times to visit family in Ellensburg, where she opened another hospital, birthed babies, sewed up gun-shot cowboys, and even amputated a man’s leg to save his life.  

Catherine died in Seattle in 1906 at the age of 90. Her funeral was one of the largest ever held in the City. She is remembered as a grand pioneer lady, who tamed not only the frontier, but the legendary Doc Maynard.

And speaking of legendary, next week we celebrate a legend in the making--10 years of Nineteen Teen! Join us for a very special blog birthday, with presents for you.

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