How can men be so cruel, as many of them are

Martha Farnsworth’s diary, 13th Apr 1892, Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply

In 1872, just two years after the death of her mother, five-year-old Martha Van Orsdol embarked on a journey with her family to the Kansas frontier. When she was fourteen, Martha began to keep a diary, and over the span of four decades diligently filled 4,000 pages with her poignant writing. Her entries candidly reveal the challenges of growing up with a stepmother, the exhilarating taste of independence at sixteen, the harrowing four years spent in an abusive marriage to one Johnny Shaw, and the relative tranquility of her second marriage. This particular entry, written in 1892, comes just a few months after she gave birth, a day on which she had been terrorised once again by her first husband. A year and a half later, he died of consumption; she wrote in her diary that day: “Tonight I am a widow. I am free.”

The Diary Entry

Wed. 13

Went up to Sister’s at noon on horse-back. She and little Jimmie came down and staid all afternoon with me. How my heart has to suffer extremes: extreme joy with my baby, extreme unhappiness with my husband. How can men be so cruel, as many of them are: Johnny’s temper is dreadful. One evening he went out, to shoot Jack rabbits by “moonlight” and the dog followed and frightened the rabbits away, which made him so angry he was going to shoot the dog, who seemed to have a sense of danger and ran to the house and I opened the door and called him in, so not to let him repeat his offense; but Johnny followed determined to kill him, and my pleading for the dog’s life, because Baby and I need him, when left alone and he our only protection, only made him more angry and when I stepped between him and the dog, still begging for the dog’s life, he became insanely angry and drew his gun up and aimed at me, to shoot me. I was paralyzed with fear, as I saw his look and could only turn to my little one sleeping on the bed and thought, “who will take care of my precious one” and in that instant she moved and attracted his attention, and he lowered his gun and left the room without a word. Baby had saved my life, but O the horror I suffered in those moments.

Further Reading

Martha’s handwritten diaries are held at the Kansas Historical Society and can be viewed on their website along with a detailed biography—this particular diary can be seen here. In 1982, her diaries were published by John Wiley & Sons with the title Plains Woman: The Diary of Martha Farnsworth, 1882-1922, edited by Marlene Springer and Haskell Springer.

One response to “How can men be so cruel, as many of them are”

  1. Nguyen Cong Kien Avatar
    Nguyen Cong Kien

    It is sad to think that this may still be the case somewhere in this world. Can not understandn why one just want to make others’ lives miserable.

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