Helga Estby walked across America to win a $10,000 prize to save her home. When she finished, the sponsor refused to pay out.

Helga_and_Clara_EstbyMs. Estby might go down as one of history’s most unlucky women.  When Ms. Estby returned home she learned that two of her children had died.

Ms. Estby got pregnant at 15 out of wedlock and was married off to a 28-year-old (not the father) to avoid being ostracized. A decade later she worked incredibly hard to raise her kids in a one-room sod house before moving to Spokane, Washington.

When the Panic of 1893 hit, she had eight (surviving) children and she had recently recovered from a broken pelvis.

Her trip took seven months and she went with her oldest daughter.  Ms. Estby and her oldest daughter saw much of the U.S. on their trip. They were met with much kindness, and kept a wary eye out for rattlesnakes and bears. They had to shoot one would-be rapist in the leg. They finally ended up in New York and the sponsor failed to pay up and so she and her daughter were stranded in Brooklyn for another year before a wealthy man took pity on them.

Sadly, this tragedy shattered the family and Helga was alienated from several of her children. After she died, two of her daughters burned her papers: we only have the info we have now because a daughter-in-law saved a scrapbook with information about her trip in it (hiding it even from her husband, who also hated his mother).

Unfortunately for us, the identity of the sponsor remains unknown, as does the reason he failed even to pay for a return ticket. Helga’s journal disappeared in New York, before she’d returned, and one wonders what clues were in there – or in the papers her daughters burned.

More about her here.

More info here too.


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