Traveling west demanded courage. Early settlers were up against hunger and thirst, heat and cold, disease and danger almost every step of the way. Even the appearance of the landscape was daunting.
"It was so big it was almost frightening to people who had never seen mountains like that, or desert or plains, or that big sky," said Brandon Marie Miller. "They really had to come to terms with big space."
Among those hardy souls who made homes in the West were women from many walks of life.
"I love all these brave women," Miller said -- which is why she wrote "Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers" (Chicago Review Press, $19.95).
"My last seven books were about colonial America and the founding fathers," said Miller, who earned a degree in American history at Purdue University. "I really wanted to return to writing about women."
Her book shares the stories of wives and mothers, missionaries and prostitutes, businesswomen and American Indian women living in the West. Much of the material was gathered from letters, diaries and journals.
"It's great to have women in their own voices, talking about their own experiences," said Miller, of Cincinnati.
Miller's book doesn't include many stories of pioneer women in Utah, but there are a few.
"For me, the first time Utah really comes up is in the story of Margret Reed," she said.
Reed passed through Utah with the Donner Party in 1846.
"It was part of the march toward doom," said Miller, explaining that the wagon train lost valuable time cutting a path through the Wasatch Mountains. "Then they came out on the other side of the Great Salt Lake, and had to go across the desert. This was the place they had to start abandoning wagons, and their oxen started dying. By the time they were out of there, Margret Reed's family had abandoned two wagons and most of their livestock."
The delays caused the pioneers to be caught in snowstorms in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where 36 people died of starvation and others survived by eating the dead.
Reed's family was among the 45 survivors.
Of course, no book about women on the frontier would be complete without addressing polygamy in Utah. Miller's book includes mentions of Ann Eliza Young and Fanny Stenhouse, who wrote books about their experiences as plural wives. Young was a wife of Brigham Young, who later divorced him and wrote a controversial book she called an expose.
"I felt like Stenhouse, in her book, addressed plural marriage in a way that you could feel her anguish when her husband took a second wife," said Miller. "She said that their soft words, and looks between them, were like a dagger to her heart. ... That, we can understand."
Books and articles about polygamy, often lurid and written by people who had never met Mormons, shocked the country.
"It fed the flames to the point that a lot of Americans were afraid to go through Utah," she said. "They were literally afraid that women would not be able to leave Utah -- they'd be kidnapped and trapped into a Mormon marriage."
People who did travel to Utah during the pioneer era were surprised by what they found.
"Mormon women weren't deformed hags," she said. "They were mystified to find that Mormon women seemed cheerful, clean, attractive and industrious like other women."
One thing Utah women had to be happy about was suffrage.
"For a group of women portrayed as being subjugated and nearly slaves, I found it very interesting that they were one of the first groups of women to get the right to vote," said Miller.
Utah's women were granted the right to vote in 1870 by the territorial legislature.
"Most of the Western women had the right to vote before any of the first 30 states had the right," said Miller. "I think it speaks to the hardiness of the pioneers, and that women were respected for what they contributed."
The U.S. Congress took away that right in 1887, but it was restored in 1895 when the territory applied for statehood.
Even though there aren't many Utah women specifically mentioned in Miller's book, the author says there are plenty of stories that shed light on their lives.
"They suffered through the same trials and tribulations of making the journey west, and creating a home and working so hard we can't even imagine today what it was like," she said. "I hope kids, young adults and adults can find something inspiring in the stories of these people, and how they lived their lives."