Facing West: Voices of Western Women
by Sally Harper Bates



Create Space, 2018. ISBN 978-1-720-72568-8.
Reviewed by Denise McAllister
Posted on 01/03/2019

Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

Facing West: Voices of Western Women is a valuable American treasure, a collection of writings by 51 women who have made their homes in western states.

These women are the real deal. Some are "cowboys." They don't call themselves "cowgirls" because they don't want to be perceived as frilly or weak. Amy Hale Auker writes, "There is no cowboy glamor around here, no slim waisted jeans or bling on my shirt. I haven't had a shower in six days..." (185).

Some "married their cowboy" and their writings attest to that undying love and partnership. They all work incredibly hard. There's a quote from "Unknown" in the beginning: "The West is fine for men and cattle, but the West is hell on horses and women." Sam DeLeeuw writes, "Men alone didn't open the West, but, women in lace or in suede..."

Writing of hard work and the husband/wife partnership, Betty Burlingham recounts the birth of a child. Even after her water broke, she had to wait for the delivery of livestock, then she made coffee for the driver, and she and her husband ground two loads of feed before heading to the hospital. "It takes one tough, strong woman..." she writes.

Many of the women live in Arizona, but other states such as Colorado, Oregon, New Mexico, and Texas are represented as well. The introduction states that most of the women are first-time writers, "fresh voices," who have not been published before. Others are award-winning authors. They have many things in common: love of God, country, family, tradition, heritage, friendship, and good neighbors.

All of the women agree that although some of their lives have been extremely tough, they wouldn't trade where they are (in the West) or what they're doing with any other existence. Terry Crowley writes about cowboying with her husband and working cattle, "I wondered if we'd lost our minds. But the love for what we were doing kept us hooked in."

These are not suburban housewives. Ask Jolyn Young. She's two-and-a-half hours from town with no electricity. During a freezing rainstorm she might have to nudge her husband awake to go out and start the generator—or do it herself.

There are funny stories about doing what needs to be done, like beheading a rattlesnake with a hoe when he sneaks into your house and threatens one of your kids (Roni Harper). Later, that serpent became a tasty dinner.

All of them attest to loving their lives in the West: "...no better life she could know" (Valerie Beard); "I am exactly where I should be" (Mary Matli); "...I can't imagine wantin' it any other way" (Daisy Dillard); "The desert dust is in my veins, nowhere else can compare, can't think of any other place I'd rather be than here" (Suzi Killman).

For Tandy Drye, the West, with its big sky, breathtaking views, and wonderful wildlife, is like oxygen for her soul. She writes, "the very core of me feels whole and complete." She believes that maybe even God is a cattle rancher and that "the West is super special to Him."

There are tear-producing stories like Perilee Sharp's "Saying Farewell" to a 33-year-old horse that was a family friend. Years pass, life changes, and for some they are "no longer a cowboy's wife...And I know I will never be happy again..." (Janet Moore).

Get yourself a copy of Facing West. Read this treasure of the American West—slowly, with a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Savor each story, each poem. Look at the women's photos and read their bios in the back. Be transported to their world. I wish I could attend a roundup and meet all of them. It's been an honor for me to read about their lives, and it's a history we should cherish and pass down to future generations.


Born and raised in Prescott, Arizona, Sally Harper Bates spent most of her life in the company of cowboys and their families. Sally is a published writer poet, songwriter, and photographer, and has been nominated four times as Female Cowboy Poet of the Year through the Academy of Western Artists. She's proud to have served the cowboy community as the secretary to the Arizona Cowpuncher's Association for two years, and helped keep the Poets Gathering in Prescott going strong. Profits from this book support a scholarship program for home schooled young women looking to pursue a career in writing. Visit her website.

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