Eleanor Phillips Brackbill embarked on a writing career after three decades as director of education at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. Among her publications are An Uncommon Cape: Researching the Histories and Mysteries of a Property (State University of New York Press, 2012) and contributions to When Modern Was Contemporary: The Roy R. Neuberger Collection (Neuberger Museum of Art, 2014). Her latest book, The Queen of Heartbreak Trail: The Life and Times of Harriet Smith Pullen, Pioneering Woman (TwoDot Books, An Imprint of Globe Pequot, April 2016), was a 2017 WILLA Literary Award Finalist in Scholarly Nonfiction. The book is the first comprehensive assessment of Harriet Smith Pullen, the Klondike Gold Rush pioneer who, despite landing alone in Skagway, Alaska, in 1897, became a successful entrepreneur by single-handedly hauling prospectors’ provisions into the Yukon where gold beckoned.
The Queen of Heartbreak Trail begins with Harriet Smith Pullen’s adventurous life as a homesteader in sod houses, challenged by prairie fires, floods, grasshoppers, droughts, blizzards, lawsuits, and land contests with the U.S. government. She marries a man from Maine, reinvents herself in Alaska, and thrives during the last great gold rush, independent and empowered, a raconteur heralded as “The Mother of the North.” Brackbill, Pullen’s great-granddaughter, retraced by foot, by car, by train, by plane, and by ferry, the Pullen and Smith families’ westward migrations from Maine and Pennsylvania to Wisconsin and South Dakota, then to Washington and Alaska. Brackbill delved into unpublished material and family stories to tell this remarkable American saga.
After graduating from Antioch College, Brackbill earned an MA in art history at Boston University, completed a curatorial fellowship in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program, and studied in the art history doctoral program at City University of New York. She is currently working on a project involving a thirty-year, nineteenth-century diary she unearthed while researching The Queen of Heartbreak Trail. [photo credit: Michael Torlen]
***The WILLA Literary Award, named in honor of Pulitzer Prize winner Willa Cather, is awarded annually for outstanding literature featuring women's stories set in the West.