By volunteer Allison Bailey
If you had a dream, what would it be? To visit a monument, or to be famous? To settle down, or to live life as an adventure? What would you be willing to do to make your dream come true?
In 1927, a 21 year old woman named Evelyn Estes mounted her horse in Memphis to fulfill her dream of travelling to the Pacific Ocean. With only her horse and dog to accompany her, she waved good bye to the Memphis residents who christened her as “Calamity Jane’s little sister.” She then crossed into Arkansas and headed north. She kept a journal and recorded everything she saw. She had a great love of nature, as she wrote of everything from prairie dogs to the wide fields of sunflowers.
Estes’ mother was encouraging of her journey, giving her money to buy her horse and wiring money to her planned stops along the way. She knew her daughter’s personality and love of everything would win the hearts of strangers, and her belief would later be proven true.
In Arkansas, she was taken to meet the Governor, who was later surprised to find out she had never heard of traveler’s checks. He sent his secretary to get her some, and before she left a stranger washed her soiled clothes and sent her on her way with some soap.
She was at the mercy of total strangers, and was happy to learn their life stories. In Kansas, one real pioneer had been a resident of the state since 1850, her mother and brother killed by Indians. In another home, Estes was made to deliver a baby while the husband was out looking for help. As gratitude, the healthy baby boy was given “Estes” as a middle name.
Estes was lucky enough to locate and recognize previous trails west taken by the 49ers, the Pony Express and the Oregon Trail. She even found an abandoned wagon and camped out in it. Looking up on one of her three camp-outs, she was amazed to see the aurora borealis.
While on the trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota, she was taken to the President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, who was there on vacation. She wrote of him in her journal, stating that he hadn’t looked much different than the other residents around the area. Travelling into surrounding South Dakota towns, she discovered that the residents weren’t very fond of Calamity Jane. Seeing this, she dropped her Memphis nickname and continued her journey.
She rode on into Wyoming and saw a rare sight of her day- a mail plane carrying two prominent passengers, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. She met them both and recorded the excitement of seeing an airplane and the meeting of the celebrities in her journal.
She dropped south into New Mexico and discovered reservations of friendly Indians ready to show her their rich culture. She shared later that this was her favorite state.
During her stay with strangers, she was just as much a hospitable guest as her entertainers were hosts. She listened to their stories and helped with whatever chores needed to be done. She was not afraid to knock on doors and the residents were always more than welcoming.
In the Grand Canyon of Arizona, things took a turn for the worse. A car had slid on an icy road into Estes and her horse, causing them both injuries. Because of the horse’s condition and her broken ribs, she was forced to board a train headed for Stockton, California.
After her recovery she bought a skittish horse who had given her an uneasy ride into San Francisco. She traded horses and continued south to Los Angeles. After a brief wrong turn she got lost in the forest underneath the Hollywood sign, but was luckily rescued by a park ranger.
At last, she saw her 22nd birthday and the Pacific Ocean in February 1928. The California newspaper had calculated the miles of her journey to 3,818 with 103 days of actual riding time. This was most impressive especially since there were no highways, only two-lane dirt roads with few to no markers.
She had made it a point to not carry too much with her, and the residents who had taken care of her gave her all she needed and more. They in turn wrote to their friends of her, and she was never turned down by a stranger.
After her celebrated journey, she went on to become a nurse’s aide in WWII, and worked in a Seattle factory making B29s. She had other occupations such as working with children and at a psychiatric unit in a hospital. She lived to be 93 and died in 1999. She is buried in Elmwood, and has stated that “I have been places and seen things, but nothing to compare with Memphis.”
Magness, Perre. "Perils of Evelyn Thrilled the 1920s." Commercial Appeal [Memphis] n.d.: n. pag. Print.
Magness, Perre. "Generosity Greets 1927 Adventure." Commercial Appeal [Memphis] n.d.: n. pag. Print.