Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Twenty Thousand Roads: Women, Movement, and the West. By Virginia Scharff.
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Pp. xi+239. Acknowledgments,
notes, index. ISBN o-520-21212-6. $49.95, cloth. ISBN 0-520-23777-3. $19.95,
Readers should look upon this book as a road trip between covers, an adven-
ture you can take from the comfort of your armchair. Virginia Scharff, a talented
writer and energetic intellect, serves as wagon master, of sorts, as you travel with
such diverse companions as Sacajawea, Santa Fe Trail traveler Susan Magoffin,
Wyoming historian Grace Raymond Hebard, and sixties rock 'n' roll groupie
Pamela Des Barres. What do these women have in common? Well, they moved
and lived within the American West. Beyond that, the connections are a bit
oblique. Scharff intends these essays to redirect our understanding of America's
westward movement by putting women at the center. Once historians do that,
"the land . . . lies a little different" (p. 3). Women, she contends, moved in
diverse directions, sometimes in concert, sometimes in tension with national
purpose. But the same could be said of men. So, what else marks the difference?
How does accounting for gender alter our understanding of western movement?
Alas, to that question, too, Scharff provides no clear answer.
Nevertheless, if, at the end of the book, one remains uncertain about its ulti-
mate destination, each section offers fresh, creative essays about Native, Anglo,
Mexican and African American women. The opening chapter on Sacajawea
focuses on historians' efforts to track her story, rather than on the Shoshone
woman's literal tracks. Sacajawea enters the Anglo historical record in the con-
text of the Lewis and Clark expedition. But what happened to her after that? Did
she die in a Mandan village in 1812 or live until 1884? Grace Raymond Hebard
and Sioux author Charles Eastman each attempted to settle the question. Along
the way, they discovered a West populated with other resourceful Indian women
and thus remind us these women "were present, and moving, in a fully inhabited
landscape that Americans wanted to call 'empty"' (p. 33).
Two of Scharff's figures swing the focus down into the Southwest and the
edges of Texas. Susan Magoffin's travels along the Santa Fe Trail in 1846 led her
to New Mexico, El Paso, Chihuahua, Monterrey, and Matamoros just at the
moment the United States contested Mexico's right to those places. Magoffin
was, Scharff explains, "both ingenue and invader" who "tried to draw domestic
circles around her life, to create an American geography of comfort" even as she
"kept running up against the turbulence of strange landscapes, of different peo-
ple" (p. 38). More often than not, she was terrified. But she kept a record of her
travels in Mexico and thus marked "a journey through . . . suspect terrains"
though none of which "were-yet-the American West" (p. 62). One hundred
years later, New Mexican Fabiola Cabeza de Baca insisted on preserving her
homeland's Hispanic identity. She celebrated its ethnic mix, a consequence of
centuries of interaction among Hispanics, Indians, and Anglos. In noting this
complex past, she intended to make room for a multicultural future.
The last section of the book, "Beyond the West," looks at civil rights activistJo
Ann Gibson Robinson, who challenged segregation in 1950s Alabama, and at
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed March 13, 2014.