Thursday, April 1, 2021

Pieces of the Santa Fe Trail Sew Along

Welcome to the Pieces of the Santa Fe Trail Sew Along!  During this sew along I will be sharing excerpts from the book "The Land of Enchantment - Memoirs of Marian Sloan Russell along the Santa Fe Trail".  A quilt block pattern will accompany each excerpt.

Marian Russell is a distant relative... sort of.  She was the Mother-in-law of my Maternal Grandfather's Sister.... this great aunt of mine was lovingly referred to a "Auntie Bob".  Her real name was Viola (Teegarden) Russell, and was mentioned in The Quilters Through the Generations series.  

Marian made her first journey on the Santa Fe Trail in 1852 as a child just seven years old, with her Mother and brother.  It was the first of five trips on the trail and it grabbed hold of her soul and remained a deeply rooted part of her life and memories. Memories that she shared with a daughter-in-law (not my great-aunt) and compiled into the book "Land of Enchantment" to preserve the "truth and the warmth of an unforgettable period in American history."

Marian's storytelling style is similar to Laura Ingalls Wilder's with vivid descriptions of the sights and sounds of the trail.  I think I remember that my Mom encouraged me to read The Land of Enchantment as a child, but for whatever reason, I didn't find it as fascinating as the Little House books.  Now, however, I am enamored with it.

From the foreword of the book...

Few of the great overland highways of America have known such a wealth of color and romance as that which surrounded the Santa Fe Trail.  For over four centuries the dust-grey and muddy-red trail felt the moccasined tread of Comanches, Apaches, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes.  These soft footfalls were replaced by the bold harsh clang of the armored conqueror, Coronado, and by a host of Spanish explorers and soldiers seeking the gold of fabled Quivira.  Black and brown-robed priests, armed only with the cross, were followed in turn by bearded buckskin-clad fur traders and mountain men, by canny Indian traders, and lean, weather-beaten drovers with great herds of long-horned cattle.  There were the tireless freighters marching alongside or driving heavily laden, mile-long wagon trains; and eager, profit-conscious merchants with trade goods for the Mexican villages of New Mexico.

Over the years soldiers explored, surveyed, and protected those who traveled on the slender wavering ribbon which linked precariously the quiet pastoral culture of Hispanic New Mexico and the dynamic restless culture of the blossoming French, Spanish and then American settlements a thousand miles to the East.  It was a colorful handful who accepted such grave responsibility:  armor-clad conquistadores of Imperial Spain, Mexican lancers, American dragoons, infantry, and Black cavalry.  There were Texan militiamen, Kansas guerrillas from the farms, and Colorado volunteers still covered with the grime of the gold and silver camps of the Rockies.

Names great and small became associated with the trail.  There was "Kit" Carson, "Old" Bill Williams, "Jed" Smith, the Patties, and "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick, Lelande and Becknell, Cerán St. Vrain, the brothers Bent, Alexander Barclay, Sibley, Kearney, Quantrill and Custer.  "Pilgrims" pioneers, and prospectors - tens of thousands of them - jolted over the rolling ruts past old Fort Bent to Fort Union, and through the narrow pass to the ancient adobe pueblo of Santa Fe.  Others pushed past the mud villages of the Rio Grande and across mountains and desert to the gold fields of California - and ten years later to the Pike's Peak diggings.  It was a trail of promise, and a trail of blood.

The rhythmical beat of the bright painted tom-toms of ten thousand (Native American) warriors blended with the earth-shaking thunder of a million buffalo, and with the tortured screech of uncounted thousands of lumbering wagon wheels bearing men women to a new life in a new land.  In the mind's eye of each was the ageless dream of freedom and opportunity.  Many found what they sought.  Others found only dismal failure and an unmarked grave.  No one ever called it an easy life.  The romance came later... largely in retrospect.

The story dictated in such vivid detail by Marian Sloan Russell is a unique and valuable eyewitness account by a sensitive, intelligent girl who grew to maturity on the kaleidoscopic Santa Fe Trail.  "Maid Marian," as she was known by the freighters and soldiers, made five round-trip crossings of the trail before settling down to live her adult life along its deeply rutted traces.  

Among her earliest memories were those of a child in a great westbound wagon train; of a children's playground in the "no man's land" between two great protective circles formed at day's end by the prairie schooners; of cool noon-day meals while weary drivers and guards caught "forty winks" stretched in the shade under the wagon beds; of the huge reddish spiders that dwelt beneath the buffalo chips that she gathered for the campfires each morning and evening on the treeless plains.

It is not only in the detailed memories, incidents and anecdotes of life on and along the trail that Marian Russell's story makes its contribution, but in the recording of the emotions, stresses, and reactions of those who had to meet and deal promptly and decisively with each new problem and situation.  Characterized by the late Earl Van Dale as "the finest trail account written by a woman - surpassing even those of Mrs. Summerhayes and Susan Magoffin," Marian Russell's finely drawn picture reveals the human side of trail and frontier life.  It contains one of the very few eye-witness descriptions of Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson at the peak of his career.  No less important are the warm, intimate pictures sketched of that other leading trailsman, Captain Francis Aubry, and the energetic, almost saint-like first Bishop of Santa Fe, Jean Baptiste Lamy.

Marian Russell has made a truly significant contribution by reminding her readers that there was a second and more permanent side to the traditional picture of rugged western life.  The wild terror of "Indian warfare"; range, land and mining wars; vigilantes; outlaws; cheap life and quick death; wild game; disastrous winters and prolonged summer droughts were in fact a colorful façade behind which lay indomitable courage, infinite patience, steadfast integrity and almost unbelievable self-sacrifice.  Behind the temporary false front of the "Wild West" was a breed of pioneers from almost every nation in the world; men and women of almost every race, color and creed who believed in law and order, in freedom and independence, in democracy and in God's love and forgiveness.  At the core of this pioneer foundation was the family - such a family as that of Marian Russell.

In Mrs. Hal Russell, an educated, understanding and sympathetic daughter-in-law, Marian Russell found an able amanuensis.  Hour upon hour, day after day, and month after month the aging pioneer dictated - her eyes aglow as each detail and incident reminded her of another and yet another vivid memory.  Faithfully, and almost tirelessly, her schoolteacher daughter-in-law wrote, read back, and corrected the account.  It is published here as it was dictated... a monument to the pioneering spirit of the men and their women who carved a fruitful land and life from a raw wilderness.

Within sight of the broad deep ruts of the trail which stretched its thin tentacles far to the East as well as to the West, Marian Russell lived a long and useful life.  She died in 1936 in Trinidad, Colorado, at 92 years of age, after being struck down by an automobile.  At long last she was free to travel for all eternity in her great wagon with the billowing white canvas over the long, long trails of her Enchanted Land.

Here are a few details of the sew along...  All blocks for the quilt will be 12-1/2 inches, unfinished.  A total of 12 blocks will make up the quilt.  There will be a "bonus" block that will be 6-1/2" inches, unfinished, with the intention that it will be the label.

I am still in the designing and pattern writing phase, but there will be a new block released every three weeks.  This means that the sew along will be completed by the end of the year. I have chosen to use Civil War reproduction fabrics to make the quilt, but you are welcome to use whatever your personal preference might be.  

Because I am still in the planning stages, an exact fabric requirement has not been determined.  But don't let that scare you off... I have 12 fat quarters, plus a yard of unbleached muslin to piece the blocks.  I am confident this will be ample supply for the piecing of all the blocks.  I have yet to determine a layout and therefore am lacking knowledge of fabric that may be needed for sashing strips or setting squares (if there are any), or borders.  Again, don't let this be the thing that keeps you from joining in!  How many of us have started a BOM or quilt kit and not finished it???  Consider it a sort of a mystery quilt.  Lol!    

Block 1 - April 8 ~ Kit In The Corner
Block 2 - April 29 ~ Double Nine
Block 3 - May 20 ~ Indian Star
Block 4 - June 10 ~ Snow
Block 5 - July 1 ~ Indian Corn
Block 6 - July 22 ~ Shoo Fly
Block 7 - August 12 ~ Prairie Flowers
Block 8 - September 2 ~ Grandmother's Block
Block 9 - September 23 ~ Comfort Of Home
Block 10 - October 14 ~ Wagon Trail
Block 11 - November 4 ~ New Mexican Star
Block 12 - November 25 ~ Tecolote
Block 13 - December 16 ~ Label
Quilt top assembly and finishing instructions

I hope that you will enjoy visiting the Santa Fe Trail with me.  

Like my previous sew along, there will be an opportunity for you to link up your finished blocks for a chance to win a prize through a random drawing.  I have an assortment of fat quarters as well as a prize box from Cotton Cuts that will be available.  

So, are you in?  
Will you be participating in the sew along?  

If so, leave a comment... I'd love to hear from you!  And be sure to come back next week to see the first block.   

The easiest way to follow along is to follow by e-mail.  You will find a place in the side bar on the right side of the page.  Or you can follow me on facebook at Melva Loves Scraps or instagram @MelvaLovesScraps.  I am also on bloglovin'.  If everyone uses the hashtags #PiecesoftheSantaFeTrail #PiecesoftheTrail #PiecesoftheTrailSewAlong we can all see the variety of blocks being made for the quilt.

Keep Piecing!


Linking with:

BOMs Away at What A Hoot Quilts
Sunday Stash at QuiltPaintCreate
Oh Scrap! at Quilting is More Fun Than Housework
Scrap Happy Saturday at Super Scrappy
UFO Busting at Tish’s Wonderland
Can I Get A Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict
Off The Wall Friday with Nina Marie
Brag About Your Beauties at From Bolt to Beauty
Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More
Friday Foto Fun at Powered by Quilting


  1. I am so excited about this QAL! I LOVED your Pieces of the Past QAL. I learn so much not only about quilting but about history. Thanks so much for sharing these outstanding QALs.

  2. This sounds right up my alley. Looking forward to this wonderful BOM. Thank you!

  3. I have no civil war fabrics, but am thinking I might play along and use patriotic colors! I'll give it a go and try to keep up!

  4. Yes! I’m planning on joining the sew-a-long and looking forward to it.
    Tina W. In Oregon

  5. I'm definitely going to be at least watching this, but possibly sewing along. In a few days, we will be driving the Santa Fe Trail, so this was fun to see.

  6. This sounds like a pace I might be able to keep up with, if I work hard at it. =)

  7. Sounds wonderful and to be able to read more of her story is delightful. Thanks for all of this, I'm in.

  8. I'm definitely following along...I learn so much from your sew much history! Thank you for giving me yet another chance to learn...

  9. Thank you. I keep saying I'm not going to start another quilt until I finish the ones I have started,but this is just too intriguing!!

  10. I am looking forward to the Santa Fe trail adventure.

  11. I am looking forward to doing this quilt.

  12. What a fun idea! I would love to join and use my 30's fabrics. Life was a bit crazy for me to participate in the last sew along, but I'm hoping to enjoy this one! Thank you!

  13. Marian Russell sounds like an amazing woman. It's sad to think that she survived five trips on the Santa Fe Trail and died as a result of another person's ordinary journey in a modern car. I have saved all of the blocks from Pieces of the Past, but have not started to sew them yet. I think they will have to wait. This new sew along sounds too good to miss.

  14. Oh I want to read this book so bad!! Right Now!! what intrigue!! and what a great QAL! What fun this will be!!!

  15. This will be fascinating I'm sure. Thank you for putting the Sew Along together. I've read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books many, many times. I'm looking forward to learning more about another part of the history of the movement West.

  16. Family history and quilting are two of my favorite hobbies. Just signed up for your blog and looking forward to following along.

  17. If I wasn't so slammed with unfinished projects, I would be really tempted to join this summer. But I will follow your progress. I may add this project to my queue since my in-laws all decorate with southwest themes.

  18. I'm a late joiner! I was lured in by seeing the blocks on Wendy's blog and finally by reading the excerpts on your blog. Now I've purchased the book. Fabric pull this morning!