The Life and Times of Harriet Smith Pullen, Pioneering Woman

Maine author talk with Eleanor Brackbill: ‘The Queen of Heartbreak Trail’

The Rockland Public Library presents Eleanor Brackbill, Thursday, September 23, at 6:30 p.m., in person at the Rockland Public Library. This event is free and open to all.

From her book, The Queen of Heartbreak Trail: The Life and Times of Harriet Smith Pullen, Pioneering Woman, in a fully illustrated talk, Brackbill tells the story of a Klondike Gold Rush pioneer who, despite landing broke and alone in Alaska in 1897, launched her career as the owner of Skagway’s famed Pullen House by single-handedly hauling prospectors’ provisions into the Yukon where gold beckoned. The Queen of Heartbreak Trail is the first comprehensive, documented assessment of her life.

The story begins with Harriet Smith’s adventurous formative years as a Dakota homesteader in a covered wagon and sod houses, challenged by grasshopper plagues, droughts, blizzards, prairie fires, and floods. She married a transplanted Mainer, Dan Pullen, in Washington Territory, where they built a mansion overlooking the Pacific.

Harriet defended herself in grueling courtroom testimony against the false accusations of a spiteful employer and endured a lengthy land contest with the U.S. government. Reinventing herself in Alaska during the last great gold rush and homesteading for a third time, she held a claim jumper at gunpoint, and, in her father’s words, “turned out” her husband of twenty years, raising their four children alone. Independent and empowered, she became a raconteur heralded as “The Mother of the North.”

Brackbill, Pullen’s great-granddaughter, retraced by foot, by car, by train, by plane, and by ferry, the Pullen and Smith families’ westward migrations and delved into official documents, unpublished material, and family stories to tell this remarkable American saga. Had she been a man, Pullen’s adventurous life story would be impressive. As a woman, it is nothing short of astounding.

Eleanor Phillips Brackbill is the author of The Queen of Heartbreak Trail: The Life and Times of Harriet Smith Pullen, Pioneering Woman, a 2017 WILLA Literary Award Finalist in Scholarly Nonfiction. Her earlier publications include An Uncommon Cape: Researching the Histories and Mysteries of a Property, which traced the 350-year history of a Mamaroneck property, and essays for When Modern Was Contemporary: The Roy R. Neuberger Collection.

Phillips was the director of education at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. She graduated from Antioch College, earned an MA in art history at Boston University, completed a curatorial fellowship at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and studied in the art history doctoral program at City University of New York. Following twenty-five years as an educator, she embarked on a second career writing about history. In 2015, she relocated to Portland, Maine, where she lives with her husband.

This event will take place in person at the Rockland Public Library, located at 80 Union Street, Rockland, Maine. For more information, email elewis@rocklandmaine.gov.

Event Date: 

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 6:30pm

Event Location: 

Rockland Public Library

Address: 

80 Union Street
Rockland  Maine
United States