Photos of Joseph Lane abound; not so with Polly. Even the headstone only gives her credit for being his wife.Notice it doesn’t say “Loving Memory.”
Last week, I wrote about Nellie Cashman, a young woman who traveled the West, sought out her own opportunities, left most people better off for having known her, and yet she never married.
I sometimes wonder about the pioneer women of this country who had absentee husbands. Men, who between heroic deeds and territorial path-finding, came home long enough to get their wives pregnant. Not an ideal situation, perhaps, but ultimately, the way of the world, even today. Some men are called to politics, war, exploring. It is left to the woman, right or wrong, to keep the home fires burning. These women are the unsung heroines of the early days of America.
Polly Pierre Lane is one such example. From an early age, the fact that Polly’s life would be hard was undeniable. And, yet, God always had his hand on her. At the age of 12, she escaped an Indian attack that wiped out her whole family. She literally leaped out a back window, raced to the river, and dove into a canoe. Dazed and confused, she drifted down the Ohio until the boat bumped into a small landing. This landing was owned by a Christian family who immediately took Polly into their home and raised her as their own.
The wilderness was not a place where a woman learned to read or write, but frontier life was the school of hard knocks. Polly could cook, sew, run a farm, and tend to babies. At the age of fifteen, she married the son of her foster family. Her husband was dead by the time she turned seventeen. The wilderness also doesn’t leave much time for grieving. Polly soon fell in love with a neighbor, a man with a wandering streak, and a desire to enter politics.
Joseph Lane was elected to the Indiana State Legislature at the age of twenty. Political business kept him away for weeks at a time. Still, their family grew and Polly dutifully managed her home well, even when Joseph left to fight in the war with Mexico. He was gone three years. During his time as a soldier he was promoted to brigadier general, but never received any pay.
When he returned to Indiana, broke and war-weary, Polly was waiting for him. Their home was in order, their children were doing well. Joseph, however, didn’t stay long enough to settle in. A few months into his new home life, he received an appointment as the Territorial Governor of Oregon. He was gone again within a matter of weeks. Polly trudged on, rearing their children, keeping the home up, and their bills paid.
Eventually, Joseph sent for his family. Polly was honored in Oregon with a gala ball that took her breath away. She was also surprised to learn that not only had her husband assigned his pay to her, she was legally part owner of three hundred acres of Oregon land!
Joseph went on to serve as a congressman, a general in Indian skirmishes, even the vice –presidential running mate of John C. Breckinridge, the man who ran against Lincoln. He spent a lot of time away from home, but when he finally settled down, his ranch in Oregon was the envy of the valley. One could argue, that, in her own womanly way, Polly did as much to build America as the Congressman.
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