Westward Expansion--Women Shape the West

Thank you for the contributions of your stories in celebration of Women in History March 2021.  Each of your stories displays the spirit of the many unsung heroes upon whom we all base our ancestry.

Moving West was not an easy task but millions of families did it in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Here are two such stories.

Territorial Pioneer Certificate awarded by Kittitas County Genealogical Society

Tom Briggs writes, “My story would be about my grandmother, Arba Scott Livingston Roberts, born in 1895 in Missouri.  The family moved to Oklahoma Indian Territory where her father, James R. Scott, died.  Her mother, Cynthia Evens Scott Olson moved all six children to Cle Elum by train.  One person had to stay awake to keep the cinders from lighting their bedding on fire.  My story is about my grandmother but I think I would rather talk to my great grandmother Cynthia; she must have been one tough lady.”

Brittany (in the headband) on Grandpa Tom's lap with
 his Grandmother Abra on her 100th birthday, 1995

When Tom’s granddaughter Brittany was planning her upcoming wedding venue at the Teanaway Grange in Kittitas County, she was following in the footsteps of ancestors from over a hundred years ago.  Brittany’s second great grandmother was Cynthia Evens Scott, mentioned above, who in 1903 brought her family to the Teanaway Plateau to join her brother Marion Jasper Evens.

Cynthia Evens was born in Bolivar, Polk, Missouri [1] on 4 February, 1866, the daughter of William and Margaret Gray Evans [2].  Synthia [sic] married James R. Scott in Thornfield, Ozark, Missouri, 23 October, 1883 [3].  They had six children before moving to Oklahoma Indian Territory where James died in 1903.  It was then that she made the arduous train journey with her children.

Once in Kittitas County, Cynthia married twice more before her death in 1934.  She is buried in Swauk Prairie Cemetery.

1. Missouri State Archives; Jefferson City, MO, USA; Missouri Marriage Records [Microfilm]

2. Death Certificate, Department of Health, Death Certificates, July 1, 1907 - December 31, 1995, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://digitalarchives.wa.gov, [March 21, 2021].

3. Missouri State Archives; Jefferson City, MO, USA; Missouri Marriage Records [Microfilm]

Submitted by Tom Briggs

Mary Johnson Anderson: Richest Woman In the Great Northwest
(February 10, 2015, revised 2021)

She was a Swedish millionairess who was as comfortable in cultural centers like Chicago as in the mining camps of Colorado and British Columbia or the hotels of Spokane or Tacoma. In April 1907, the Indianapolis Morning Star headline called Mary Johnson Anderson the "Richest Woman in (the) Great Northwest."

Indianapolis Morning Star, April 12, 1907

She was only 42 years old, and her business future seemed filled with promise as she spent her time socializing and giving interviews at Indianapolis' toney Imperial Hotel. "Garbed in a pretty drab-colored silk, she had the appearance...of one who had come from the fashionable centers of the East rather than one who had recently emerged from the mountains and pineries of an unsettled country."

But how had it all come to be, and how did Mary Anderson’s sisters and other female family members turn into entrepreneurs in an era when women were often more seen than heard?

Maria Albertina Persdotter Johnson

Mary Anderson was born Maria Albertina Persdotter Johnsson in 1865 in Attersta, Ovanjo, Sweden. Her father, Per (Peter) Johnsson brought his family to Indiana in 1868 after the successful immigration of earlier siblings. Peter’s brother, Andrew, would become a noted architect in Tennessee and Mississippi who would later have many buildings designated on the list of U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Leadville, Colorado, 1880

By 1880, Peter’s wife, Inga, had died, and he moved Mary and daughters Anna, Jennie, and Matilda to Leadville, Colorado. Leadville's widely advertised mining and railroad opportunities seemed limitless, and Peter wanted to provide for his own family plus that of a widowed sister-in-law and niece. Leadville was a difficult and notoriously raucous place for a pious Swedish family, but two daughters married in Colorado. The first was Jennie, a seamstress, in 1880. But tragically, her American husband had financial reverses, drank too much in Leadville’s bars, and died prematurely, leaving her with a baby to rear and support.

Mary also married, in December, 1881, in Gunnison. Her husband was a fellow Swede, Hilder "Harry" Yngve Anderson, who was twice her age and widowed, with a daughter back east. Mary's Leadville experience plus marriage to Hilder changed the trajectory of her life. "I have never grown quite used to roughing it," she told an Indianapolis reporter. "But I love the camps, for I have known nothing but mining since I was 14 years of age."

H.Y. Anderson, from Orebro, Sweden, worked in various capacities around railroads and mining camps for the rest of his short life. He was sometimes a railroad contractor, but often was a proprietor of hotels and saloons that were critical in the railroad era. His lodging houses and bars were in Texas, Colorado, Washington State, and British Columbia.

The hotels often needed someone he could trust to run them, and Mary became a hotel manager and matron, when needed. Always, he was on the move and often had to be away from home for railroad work. She managed the businesses when he was away. Hilder and Mary had two sons, Harry Young and Roy Maxwell Anderson, reared around the mining and railroad businesses.

The Andersons settled in Spokane, Washington in the 1890s, and their sons attended the respected and expensive Gonzaga College prep school there. With first-generation Anderson prosperity had come investment in education, and thus in the next generation’s American Dream.

When Hilder was working elsewhere, Mary had both her father and two sisters nearby. Jennie Abbott was a dressmaker in Port Townsend, Spokane and later, British Columbia, after the Andersons moved there. The other sister was Anna Johnson Curtis, who had married a salesman and actor named Stephen Curtis. Like Mary, Anna was a matron at a hotel close to where Mary lived. Peter Johnson worked as a blacksmith in various Washington cities.

Abbott's Shoppe

By 1900, it was clear that Golda Leona Abbott, Mary's niece, had serious vision problems. She went back to Illinois to attend a state school for the blind there. In doing so, she lived near another of Mary's sisters, twice-widowed Charlotta Johnson Meyer, in Chicago. "Lottie" worked with niece "Goldie" when Goldie finished school, and with help, opened Abbott's Shoppe in Sterling, Illinois in the early 1920s. Lottie was vice president as Goldie was president. Abbott's was a woman's clothing store, for Goldie was familiar with dressmaking and retail from her mother’s dressmaking experiences.

Abbott's ads said that the store prided itself on quality merchandise and customer service. Abbott's was only two hours from Chicago, and an ad noted that "we have given you that personal interest and conscientious service which you may have missed when shopping in larger cities." With Lottie Meyer’s help, Goldie Abbott was able to create a retail fashion establishment that had a good reputation and that attracted the attention of a New York/Cleveland concern, Steiner and Mendelssohn. It bought out the store in 1929.

Adventures in British Columbia

Rossland, B C, 1896

Meanwhile, Hilder and Mary Anderson moved to Rossland, B. C. because of an expansive railroad contract about 1896. Dressmaker Jennie Abbott followed. Mining and railroads were thriving, but sometimes progress was erratic, in B.C. in the late 1890s and early 20th century. The Andersons established Hotel Anderson, where rooms were about $2/day in Brooklyn, but then there was an extensive economic downturn.. They lost everything. That meant that Hilder returned to contracting, this time for Rock Island Railroad in Kansas City. He died there unexpectedly at age 54 in 1902. Mary Anderson made the long journey to Kansas. She was only 37 years old, and she had to think fast to survive.

She explained her strategy to a reporter this way: “I ventured a little. I found a man who was willing to go prospecting and I ‘grub-staked’ him. That is, I paid his expenses while he was trying to find a paying property. He found it in the Beatrice group of mines.” The Anderson mining property, she said, was worth over $1.5 million in 1907, and its wealth was increasing because more gold had recently been found.

After getting back on her feet in B.C. from literally “striking it rich,” she invested in sending her sons to Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA., but the great earthquake of 1906 intervened. They survived the calamity, and then Roy Anderson attended what would become the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study geology, engineering, and mining. Harry Anderson was overseeing his mother’s mining property while she visited Indianapolis and lived with her sister in Chicago.

While traveling and seeking business ventures, Mary promoted British Columbia. “You get up in the morning and the songs of the birds fall on your ears and then you get the perfume from the pines,” she said. She elaborated that “it is not a woman’s country, for we do not have our matinees and our musicales, but there is bone and muscle and honesty up there….I would not seek a better place than right up there where the Beatrice Mountain rises high toward the heavens.”

And then everything changed. In November, 1907, at only 42 years old, the female entrepreneur became ill, had a three-week hospitalization for which her sons were summoned to her side, and she died in Chicago. That meant that Swedish Mary Johnson Anderson, a newly-minted millionaire, could never return to her beloved B.C. to enjoy the riches she’d won after losing everything in the twinkling of an eye and then surviving her husband’s death. It was left to her young sons, Harry and Roy, reared to be entrepreneurs and risk takers, to carry on the mining tradition, and they did.

Submitted by Jeanne Norton Rollberg
American Dream Genealogy and Research
Little Rock, Arkansas


  1. I have so much more info to add most important I am thinking right now is the fact that Arba was a "Rosie the Riveter" she was working at Boeing Plant 2 in Seattle graveyard shift in 1945 when FDR passed away and I was debating whether I could wake her to tell her the news or not. I was never supposed to wake her under any circumstances but I did and she was pleased I did. Such a sad time. So much to do and so little time :)


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