by Katie Hickman

The Dramatic Story of Women
of the American West.

‘Myth and misunderstanding spring from the American frontier as readily as rye grass from sod, and – like the wiry grass – seem as difficult to weed out and discard’, but the true-life story of women’s experiences in the ‘Wild West’ is more gripping, more heart-rending and more stirring than all the movies, novels, folk-legends and ballads of popular imagination.

Winner of the 2023 WILLA Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction

Brave Hearted

The dramatic story of women of the American west.

Hard-drinking, hard-living poker players and prostitutes of the new boom towns; wives and mothers travelling 2,200 miles across the prairies in covered-wagon convoys, some of them so poor they walked the entire route, pulling their possessions behind them in handcarts; African American women in search of freedom from slavery; Chinese sex-workers sold openly on the docks of San Francisco; Native American women brutally displaced by the unstoppable tide of white settlers – all were women of resilience and courage.
Drawing on letters, diaries and other extraordinary contemporary accounts, and si­fting through the legends and the myths, the laws and the treaties, Katie Hickman presents us with a cast of unforgettable women: the Presbyterian missionary Narcissa Whitman, who in 1836 became one of the first two white women to make the overland journey west across the Rocky Mountains; Cockawin, a Brulé Tribe elder left­ for dead a­fter the Battle of the Bluewater and forced to bind up her wounds with strips of skunk skin; Biddy Mason, a Mississippi slave who fought for her freedom through the courts of California; and Olive Oatman, adopted by the Mohave and famous for her facial tattoos.
Brave Hearted is an epic story about the transformation of the American West, as seen through the eyes of the women who witnessed it; a tale brought vividly to life by a brilliant social historian and a wonderful story-teller.


Brave Hearted

The Dramatic Story of Women of the American West

”Not just history…. an incredibly intense page-turning experience. To read what these women endured is to be transported into another universe of courage, loss, pain and occasionally victory.
This book is a triumph.”
Amanda Foreman

”A vital contribution to the history of America’s frontier.’
Publishers Weekly (US)

‘BRAVE HEARTED is a triumphant narrative that brings many overlooked women into the spotlight.’
Booklist Review (US)

‘As easy to read as any Western with the added advantage of showing a new version of the Old West, one vital for readers to explore.’
Library Journal (US)

‘The most profound reorientation comes in Indigenous women’s accounts….Hickman works to centre the hard truths they tell….. She has woven together and extraordinary range of women’s first-person voices into a gripping narrative.’
Times Literary Supplement

‘A welcome corrective to the long-skewed male-centric history of westward expansion.’
Kirkus (US)

‘Hickman digs deep to find obscure but telling stories of what really happened to the West’s pioneering women…… In this richly evocative book, Hickman takes us to the crux of women’s experiences in that fast-changing world, where opportunities for women were opening up in an often lawless atmosphere of greed, gambling, drinking and whoring. It was a rough ride, and the survivors were heroines, all of them.’
Ysenda Maxtone Graham in The Daily Mail

‘In the past fifty years there has been an explosion of scholarly research that has served to dismantle those hoary old myths about the Wild West as a space in which women wore pinnies and looked worried or sashayed into a saloon bar looking for trouble. In BRAVE HEARTED, Hickman makes deft and sensitive use of this new material. The result is a glorious patchwork…. Which does these extraordinary women proud.’
Kathryn Hughes in the Sunday Times

‘BRAVE HEARTED by Katie Hickman. Beautifully written, this gripping book explores the stories of the fierce women who helped shape the American West… It’s an exceptional piece of research.’
Clover Stroud’s choice of Summer Reading in in the Independent.

‘A blazing 360-degree view of the American story.
Each page is packed with gumption and grit and genius’
Bettany Hughes

‘A vivid, fascinating rag rug of cultural history
that braids together stories usually kept apart . . .
Gripping, eye-opening, enlightening’
Emma Donoghue

‘Katie Hickman has gathered a collection of intriguingly vivid first-hand accounts written by some of the women who ventured west…. Brave Hearted puts the rough texture of personal experience back into the big narrative of how the west was won. Along the way, she shows us what was lost.’
Lucy Lethbridge, Literary Review

‘Absolutely compelling.’
Christina Lamb, Sunday Times

‘An unforgettable cast of characters brings an epic tale to life.’
BBC History Magazine



Katie Hickman is the best-selling author of ten books. Her most recent work, Brave Hearted, was preceded by She-Merchants, Buccaneers and Gentlewomen: British Women in India 1600 - 1900 (published in 2019), and by the highly-acclaimed series of novels, The Aviary Gate, The Pindar Diamond and The House at Bishopsgate, a trilogy set in early seventeenth century Constantinople, Venice, London, and rural Wiltshire.

She is also the author of two best-selling history books, Courtesans and Daughters of Britannia, which between them have sold more than quarter of a million copies worldwide. Her other works include two travel books, Travels with a Mexican Circus (republished by Bloomsbury in August 2014) which was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1993, and Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon, the story of a journey on horseback across the forbidden Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Her first novel, The Quetzal Summer, was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. Her books have been translated into 20 languages.

Katie Hickman lives on a converted barge on the Thames in London with her partner, the designer Matthew Ruscombe-King.