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Gerstäcker Picture
It might seem
ill-conceived to call Arkansas a colonial state, for it was not one of the thirteen original colonies. It was a state in the 1700's that gave shelter to the French, English, Scottish traders, slaves, and pioneers. The Arkansas post was inhabited by mainly hunters and vagabonds. Arkansas was noted for its poverty and cultural backwardness. Horse powered grist mills came to Arkansas in 1791, almost one hundred years after they appeared in Illinois. The Arkansas Post's first sawmill was erected in 1804, one year after the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. Arkansas was well underdeveloped compared to Louisiana during colonial times.

By the time Arkansas became the 25th state on June 15, 1836, the Antebellum movement in the South was taking hold in Alabama. Women began to create a social fabric on the frontier which formed a tight-knit bond within families. Only two percent of households were headed by women who had few legal rights. After the passage of the Married Woman's Property Law in 1835, Arkansas became a leader in the women's movement. A few years later a gentleman by the name of Friedrich Gerstäcker visited Arkansas and wrote about the backwoods country women who inhabited the frontier of Arkansas.

Gerstäcker - Friedrich Gerstäcker
Friedrich Gerstäcker
Friedrich Gerstäcker, the son of a celebrated opera singer, was born in Hamburg on May 6, 1816. Destined to see the world, he came at the age of 21 to New York in 1837 where he stayed for several months. With the thirst of adventure in him, he traveled through many parts of America and supported himself on whatever work he could find. He became a stoker on board a steamboat, a sailor on river boats, a farm laborer, a gold and silversmith, a wood cutter, a general dealer, and innkeeper. He arrived in Arkansas in 1838 and fell in in love with the pioneering lifestyle, especially the women who nurtured him when he was wounded or had malaria. He paints a different picture of the pioneer women than we would paint. To us they are tough with images of roughness and growing old too young before their time due to physical labor demands and childbearing. Gerstäcker said that the women were feminine and graceful even though they faced such dangers in frontier Alabama.

Gerstäcker returned to Germany in 1843 where he became a famous author. His first book, Sweif und Jagazunge durch die Vereiniugten Staten Nordamerikas. published in Dresden in 1844, was on the United States in North America. His first novel, Die Regulatoren in Arkansas, was published in 1845, obviously influenced by the time he spent in Arkansas.

Gerstäcker - Another photo of Friedrich Gerstäcker
Another photo of Friedrich Gerstäcker
From 1849 to 1852 he traveled to Australia, Polynesia, North and South America where he experienced both the California and Australia gold rush. From 1867 to 1868 he took another journey to the West Indies, Venezuela, and North America. During the final preparation for a trip to Japan, China, and India, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died May 31, 1872. His 44 volumes inspired other writers such as Karl May. Theater and movie companies borrowed from his work. The plot of Brigadoon was adapted from his short story Germelshausen. Gerstäcker was truly the first writer of the realistic Western.

The following article was written for a German magazine in the mid 1840's. It described his view of Arkansas women in the backwoods of America.

Source: Research by Bryan Wright

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