Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lillian Alling: The Real Lillian (part 2)

Excerpted with permission from:

Wild West Women: Travellers, Adventurers and Rebels
Written by Rosemary Neering
Published by Whitecap Books Ltd.

Part 2

Alling is one of a handful of western women whose legends grow with time, and whose stories are still told around the coffee cups and beer glasses of the regions where they lived or travelled. These women lived lives of pure determination, often in almost total isolation from other people. Some called them eccentric; some called them crazy. They were as little interested in such judgements as they were in other people's advice on what they should do or how they should live. Regardless of the cost, they lived as they wished.

Lillian Alling worked as a maid in New York, a job that did not allow her to save enough money to buy a ticket aboard a ship returning to Europe. Blocked from the simplest way home, she began to develop another plan. In the New York Public Library, she spread out on the table in front of her maps of the United States, Canada and Siberia. She decided she would walk home, north through British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska, somehow across the Bering Strait, then through Siberia, the Ural Mountains and home.

The small hill of information available about Lillian Alling's odyssey is dwarfed by the mountain that is unknown. Probably in the spring of1927, she set out on foot from New York, dressed in a stout skirt and shod in sturdy shoes. She seems to have aroused no particular comment among the many who travelled the highways newly built for the ever more popular automobile, or on the old wagon roads or railway tracks, though many must have wondered about this woman who walked alone and steadily west. Later, she said that she had been through Winnipeg, which suggests that she followed a Canadian route along the transcontinental train tracks across the prairies and perhaps through Jasper to Prince George and Smithers, in British Columbia's northwest.

The first absolute fact in the trek of Lillian Alling is that on September 10, 1927, she walked up to a lonely cabin north of Hazelton, the home of Yukon telegraph lineman Bill Blackstock.

Photo credit: Gregory Melle

This photo shows the Telegraph Trail snaking up the hill from the Sheep Creek Cabin, on Lillian Alling's route north. Alling refused to let the rough trail, the weather or the possibility of starvation deter her from her trek. (BCA A-04962)