Winnie Mae Stinson was one of the most beloved characters in the entire Stinson family. The first born of Granger and Laura Stinson, she was smart, precocious, and most of all, fearless.
A teacher tells Winnie Mae of the incredible work of the Red Cross, and she is immediately hooked. She joins, and just short of her fifteenth birthday, heads to Washington, D.C. for training. Her short career takes her to New York, Texas, and eventually to Cuba for the Spanish American War. Follow all of her exploits directly from her own journal.
Winnie Mae's Diary
TO WASHINGTON, D.C.
June 1, 1895
My name is Winnie Mae Stinson. Actually, to be correct, my first name is Winifred, but no one in all the world would ever recognize who you were talking about if you called me that. My mother used to, when I was a child and she was mad at something I had done (which was more often than you can possibly imagine), but she eventually gave up on it since I refused to answer to that name.
It was mother who gave me this empty book early this morning as I boarded the train in Boise, Idaho. Both she and my father are nearly compulsive writers, recording everything that happens, every day, in their journals. Whereas my father’s entry for a day might be “good day today,” my mother could write pages recording a single episode of a single child’s life, and there are four of us.
I am headed off to Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, to begin my training for service in the Red Cross. It is the first time I have ever been separated from my family, and mother nearly begged me to take this book and to be diligent about writing about my life in it. The best I could tell her is that I will try. I do not expect much, as I am neither insightful nor elegant in my words. Those qualities fell to my sister, Olivia. But, I will try.
One other quality I did not receive is the ability to “be a lady.” It has eluded and escaped me from the moment I first noticed a difference between people. Since forever, I have tried to figure out exactly what a “lady” is, what a “man” is, and what a “person” is. I just have never seen the point in separating “things that ladies do” and “things that men do,” just because they are men and women. I have heard women referred to as the weaker sex, mostly by men that I could probably straight up whip if it came to that. Mother would say that even to think like that is not ladylike.
Olivia, on the other hand, got it from when she was still in diapers. She found out that she could manipulate my father with just her lower lip. Pout a little, and ZAP, whatever she wanted just appeared. By kindergarten, she had all the little boys in tow. She could walk to the store and back on a rainy, windy day and get neither dirty nor wet. I could step out of a bath, dry off, and before I got my clothes on, be dirtied up again. Olivia says that’s because she’s a lady, and I’m not.
I hate writing already.
It is now late evening, and I am already in Pocatello. I cannot believe it. I have crossed the greater part of Idaho, west to east, in one long day. It was already dark when we crossed the Snake River at American Falls, but I was able to see it because the moon was shining on it like only a moon can. I love moon light. Colors are subdued to the point that your brain has to add its own brightness to the picture you are seeing. I can never see the grass as really green, or the sky as really blue under moon light, but I can tell them apart. Father tells me I have both great “game eyes” and “night eyes.” He even got to the point that when we were making our way home from hunting or fishing after dark that he trusted me to lead the way. What a big step that was for me.
I was probably seven or eight, and when we started home, he motioned for me to go first. I led us home like it was daylight. He thought I had made it home by memorizing the trail, and was surprised when I told him I could see well enough to walk pretty much like it was daylight. I remember lying awake most of the night thinking that my daddy TRUSTS me. Everyone should have a moment like that in their life, and remember it. I was a child and had no expectation of ever being anything other than a child, and then just like that, I was the LEADER.
The train to Utah doesn’t leave until tomorrow, so I have had most of the day to explore. Not to say that Pocatello is some great city like Boise, but it is nonetheless very uncomfortable for me. I am used to having it be a two minute walk to the edge of town from anywhere, and here, I find it unsettling that there are some places where I can’t even see the edge of town. I cannot for the life of me understand how someone would like living in such crowded spaces.
I should have written mother and father today, but what is there to say? Dear Mom and Dad, I rode a train. Winnie Mae. That would be about the length of it. I’ll write them from somewhere along the way.
June 3, 1895
Made it both to Provo and out again. I am heading east, and will be on and off for most of a month. We had heard that a person can actually travel coast to coast in as little as nine days, but mother thought that would be too stressful on her dear little daughter. She was kind enough to give me breaks in Cheyenne, Omaha, St. Louis, somewhere in Indiana, and Pittsburgh. She said it was so I could “see the world, instead of passing it by,” but I know that is Mom’s way of saying, “I know you will go absolutely stir crazy sitting cooped up in a railroad car for days on end, so let’s take a break here and there.
The break in Cheyenne is the longest, at three days. Mom says there should be lots of things to do there, and it will be a welcome break.
June 7, 1895
This will probably go in my very long list of “things I’m glad Mom and Dad don’t know about.”
Before I left Provo, I telegraphed Winnie Longley in Monument, Colorado. She has been Mom’s best friend for most of her life, and she lives there with her children. Her daughter Abby and I have written letters to each other since we were children, so we know each other pretty well. I asked them if they could catch a train from Monument to Fort Collins that day, and maybe we could spend some time together there. She could answer me back at the telegraph office in Cheyenne, and I would know whether to meet them there or not.
When I got to Cheyenne yesterday, I immediately went to the telegraph office, and there was a favorable reply from Winnie. She thought I would probably want to rest for a day, so said they would meet me in Fort Collins at the train station tomorrow. I couldn’t stand the thought of another couple days down and back stuck in another small box.
Instead of renting the room as was planned, I paid the hotel two dollars to watch my trunk for a few days. I talked the man at the livery stable into renting me a horse and tack. “Rent” is probably not the correct word. I paid for everything with the agreement that when I returned, if everything was in good shape, he would buy it all back from me for ten dollars less than I was paying. The only catch could have been when I insisted on getting the agreement in writing. “In writing” is one of my parents’ unwritten laws. Mom says if it’s not written down, it’s not an agreement, it’s trouble.
I went back to the hotel and took some very basics that would fit in my saddle bags, like toiletries, some money, and the pistol that Dad had insisted I take without Mom knowing about it. I bought one day’s rations at the general store, along with a canteen for water, and headed south out of Cheyenne exactly two hours after I had arrived.
It’s just short of fifty miles from Cheyenne to Fort Collins, which is a fairly long day on a horse. I would trust Spotted Butt to do it, but I don’t really know this horse. And, starting in the middle of the day, it would mean I had to cover some unknown country at night, which is dangerous. It’s one thing to find your way home in familiar country on foot, and quite another to navigate completely unknown country. I decided to ride as far as I can today, and the rest early tomorrow.
So, here I am, camped a ways off the main road, in a small grove of willow trees. I debated whether or not to start a fire, but decided against it, as my food does not need cooking, and being June, it should be a warm evening of somewhere in the fifties so I won’t need warmth anyway. It does not look like rain, for which I am glad, since I did not think to bring rain gear. My horse is both high lined and hobbled, as I also did not inquire as to which is more reliable for it.