Current project: Evelyn Cameron

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Images via the Montana Historical Society

I am currently writing a 30 page academic paper exploring the diaries of Evelyn Cameron, a British woman who moved to a ranch outside Terry, Montana, in 1893 and lived in Montana until her death in 1928.

I am researching the first 10 years of her life in Montana- how she breaks horses, makes curry, acquires her cameras and begins to become an avid and talented photographer. This project has become deeply personal- I have grown so attached to Evelyn that I am already planning a trip to Terry this summer so I can see where she built a new life.

To try and describe Evelyn would be a difficult project. She was strong, hardworking, incredibly creative (two diary passages in 1895 are entirely in rhyming verse!), as well as patient and loving. She lived in Eastern Montana, a land prone to cruel temperatures, prairie fires, wolves, coyotes, and all sorts of challenges.

So far I have discovered that she writes in Italian and French when she wants to write some private thoughts. She often worked from 6 am to 10 pm, while managing to read quite a bit. Her husband, Ewen, often seems to be quite the grump (he was 15 years older than her, and apparently previously married), but she writes often of missing him when he makes overnight trips. Evelyn definitely did the work around the ranch- entries documenting her gathering hundreds of pounds of potatoes or spending hours repairing fences, watering animals, etc make me tired just reading them (and give Ewen a dirty look). Evelyn was very good with animals of all kinds as well. Many diary entries write of boarders at the ranch having a go at breaking stallions, to no avail, until Evelyn comes in and does the job. She and Ewen moved to Montana with the dream of sending polo ponies to England, but the travel often stressed the animals, and they were not as broken or tame as the buyers in England wanted.

Overall, reading Evelyn’s diaries has been an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. I am heavily considering turning her diaries into a thesis. Donna Lucey already published a marvelous biography of Evelyn with all her gorgeous photographs in 2000 but I am tempted to turn her diaries into a sort of lens into food habits of British expats or something (I doubt there were many homesteaders making curries or sago pudding at the time in Terry!).

 

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