Saturday, June 29, 2024

Heroines of the Frontier, Part 3 - Women Who Survived Alone / Mrs. Frank Noble

Occasionally, while mulling over a story or plot idea, I have to ask myself, Is such a situation plausible? Could that have really happened? This is especially true when I'm writing within historical constructs. Yet during research, I find that the saying is very often true--facts are stranger than fiction. If not strange, then at least more extreme.

I have a penchant for stories about individuals who are fending for themselves or warding off danger in the wilderness. Whether it's a childhood classic like Sign of the Beaver or My Side of the Mountain, or a biography of Simon Kenton or Daniel Boone, the bravery that it took to face great peril and personal challenge against the odds of nature or foes, compels me like no other story. Are you that way?

Not the least of these are the stories about the women who found themselves alone and struggling for survival against the odds. We might think of a novel like Follow the River by James Alexander Thom based upon the true story of a woman captured by the Shawnee after the Draper's Meadow Massacre in 1755, as she escapes, pregnant and alone, through hundreds of miles of wild country. 

History is fraught with hazards women had to conquer as they braved settlement on the fringe of the frontier. And yes, the stories, though incredible, are so very plausible. Still, I wonder if I (or my novel characters) could have survived:
  • Fighting off wild animals
  • Warding off an enemy attack
  • Keeping husband or children alive through devastating illness
  • Facing starvation
  • Building a shelter in a storm
  • Finding the way home
Throughout history, women have been defenders, protectors, and even providers for their homes and families. 

Photo credit Bluesnap on Pixabay

Last month I wrote about Hannah Hendee, a woman who rescued her own children and those of other families by repeatedly fording a river and standing up to the enemy who'd borne them away. Here's another true story of resilience and perseverance that's nearly unimaginable, seemingly implausible, yet resides within the annals of history, and is probably not so very unusual.


(From Woman on the Frontier, by William Worthington Fowler. Public Domain.)

Mrs. Frank Noble

Mrs. Frank Noble, in 1664, proved herself worthy of her surname. She and her husband, with four small children, had established themselves in a log-cabin eight miles from a settlement in New Hampshire, and now known as the town of Dover.

Their crops having turned out poorly that autumn, they were constrained to put themselves on short allowance, owing to the depth of the snow and the distance from the settlement. As long as Mr. Noble was well, he was able to procure game and kept their larder tolerably well stocked. But in mid-winter, being naturally of a delicate habit of body, he sickened, and in two weeks, in spite of the nursing and tireless care of his devoted wife, he died. The snow was six feet deep, and only a peck of musty corn and a bushel of potatoes were left as their winter supply. The fuel also was short, and most of the time Mrs. Noble could only keep herself and her children warm by huddling in the bedclothes on bundles of straw, in the loft which served them for a sleeping room. Below lay the corpse of Mr. Noble, frozen stiff. Famine and death stared them in the face. Two weeks passed and the supply of provisions was half gone. The heroic woman had tried to eke out her slender store, but the cries of her children were so piteous with hunger that while she denied herself, she gave her own portion to her babes, lulled them to sleep, and then sent up her petitions to Him who keeps the widow and the fatherless. She prayed, we may suppose, from her heart, for deliverance from her sore straits for food, for warmth, for the spring to come and the snow to melt, so that she might lay away the remains of her husband beneath the sod of the little clearing.

Every morning when she awoke, she looked out from the window of the loft. Nothing was to be seen but the white surface of the snow stretching away into the forest. One day the sun shone down warmly on the snow and melted its surface, and the next morning there was a crust which would bear her weight. She stepped out upon it and looked around her. She would then have walked eight miles to the settlement but she was worn out with anxiety and watching, and was weak from want of food. As she gazed wistfully toward the east, her ears caught the sound of a crashing among the boughs of the forest. She looked toward the spot from which it came and saw a dark object floundering in the snow. Looking more closely she saw it was a moose, with its horns entangled in the branches of a hemlock and buried to its flanks in the snow.

Hastening back to the cabin she seized her husband's gun, and loading it with buckshot, hurried out and killed the monstrous brute. Skilled in woodcraft, like most pioneer women, she skinned the animal and cutting it up bore the pieces to the cabin. Her first thought then was of her children, and after she had given them a hearty meal of the tender moose-flesh she partook of it herself, and then, refreshed and strengthened, she took the axe and cut a fresh supply of fuel. During the day a party came out from the settlement and supplied the wants of the stricken household. The body of the dead husband was borne to the settlement and laid in the graveyard beneath the snow.

Nothing daunted by this terrible experience, this heroic woman kept her frontier cabin and, with friendly aid from the settlers, continued to till her farm. In ten years, when her oldest boy had become a man, he and his brothers tilled two hundred acres of meadow land, most of it redeemed from the wilderness by the skill, strength, and industry of their noble mother. 


When I read of such heroism on the frontier, I am awed. I doubt my own strength, yet I am inspired to stretch beyond my own limitations when I write stories of heroines in my novels. Isn't that what history teaches us to do and partly what fiction is for?

What are some books you've read (or written) lately that feature heroines in the wilderness?


Four Stories of Faith, Hope. . .and Falling in Love

Every Preacher Needs a Wife, Right? Being a preacher in the countryside is not for the faint of heart nor faith. Four inexperienced preachers face a myriad of challenges including those who figure a man of the cloth needs a wife. Can they meet the expectations of "helpful" congregants and be true to their hearts?
Convincing the Circuit Preacher by Carolyn Miller Australia, 1863
Mail Order Minister by Kari Trumbo South Dakota, 1889
The Mountie's Rival by Angela K. Couch Canada, 1907
The Angel and the Sky Pilot by Naomi Musch Minnesota, 1910


  1. I've read stories like this in my research and feel quite lazy

  2. Thank you for posting today. I love books like you describe, and one of my top to-go authors for them is Jane Kirkpatrick! While I can't pinpoint certain titles, she has many with this exact scenario.

  3. Thank you, Naomi, for sharing this. I had never heard about Mrs. Frank Noble, even though her story is part of my home state's history.