History in Review
A Lady's Ranch Life in Montana
By Isabel F. Randall. Edited by Richard L. Saunders. (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press: 2004. Pg. xx, 192. Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-8061-3640-5.
Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 28, 2005
Isabel Fitz-Herbert Randall was a twenty-four-year-old newlywed when she arrived in Montana in 1884. Although an upper-class Englishwoman who was used to servants and the traditional accoutrements of English Gentry life, Isabel left her homeland to settle on a lonely stock ranch with her husband, James L. Randall. There she had to deal with the loneliness, hard work, and bad weather that were the lot of many a frontier wife. The Randall's had dreams of 'getting rich quick' by raising horses. Their dream was to end in failure, and after only two years in Montana, they returned to England. They were to make only one brief visit back to their ranch before withdrawing permanently to England.
During her brief residency in Montana, Isabel Randal wrote a series of informative and compelling letters back to her friends and family members in England. After her return to England she compiled her letters into book form. This book was first published in 1887 under the title of A Lady's Ranche Life in Montana. The author's name on this first edition was only given as I.R. Randall. Her letters serve to give readers a first hand account of life in the American West from the viewpoint of a European woman and to provide insights to daily life that were often missing from accounts written by male adventures. Randall's letters are humorous and candid. She touches upon the misunderstandings that she has with the other local ladies, the hardships she endured, and the problems that her husband had in his business affairs. In all, Randall's letters give a unique glimpse into late 1800's ranch life.
This new edition of Randall's book, A Lady's Ranch Life in Montana includes a foreword by Shirley A. Leckie that provides background information on Isabel Randall. As well, this edition has been edited by Richard L. Saunders who has incorporated a wealth of explanatory notes and references to primary source materials that not only enliven the text but which provide much fodder for further study. He includes a compelling introduction that puts the Randall's exploits into the historical context of other English settlers to the American West, as well as providing a biographical sketch of Isabel and what her life was like before coming to America. He inlcudes an epilogue that completes the Randall's story, or at least what is known of her later life, after the point that the letters end. He also provides details in regard to how the book was received by Randall's former Montana neighbors.
A Lady's Ranch Life in Montana is the 67th volume in the University of Oklahoma Press' Western Frontier Library. This volume is ideal for general readers as well as anyone with an interest in the American West, Women's History, and Social History.
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