ROCKLAND — The Rockland Public Library presents Eleanor Phillips Brackbill, Thursday, Sept. 23, at 6:30 p.m. in person at the Rockland Public Library, 80 Union St. This event is free and open to all.

From her book, “The Queen of Heartbreak Trail: The Life and Times of Harriet Smith Pullen, Pioneering Woman,” in a fully-illustrated talk, Brackbill tells the story of a Klondike Gold Rush pioneer who, despite landing broke and alone in Alaska in 1897, launched her career as the owner of Skagway’s famed Pullen House by single-handedly hauling prospectors’ provisions into the Yukon where gold beckoned. “The Queen of Heartbreak Trail” is the first comprehensive, documented assessment of her life.

The story begins with Harriet Smith’s adventurous formative years as a Dakota homesteader in a covered wagon and sod houses, challenged by grasshopper plagues, droughts, blizzards, prairie fires, and floods. She married a transplanted Mainer, Dan Pullen, in Washington Territory, where they built a mansion overlooking the Pacific. Harriet defended herself in grueling courtroom testimony against the false accusations of a spiteful employer and endured a lengthy land contest with the U.S. government. Reinventing herself in Alaska during the last great gold rush and homesteading for a third time, she held a claim jumper at gunpoint, and, in her father’s words, “turned out” her husband of 20 years, raising their four children alone. Independent and empowered, she became 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train, by plane, and by ferry, the Pullen and Smith families’ westward migrations and delved into official documents, unpublished material, and family stories to tell this remarkable American saga. Had she been a man, Pullen’s adventurous life story would be impressive. As a woman, it is nothing short of astounding.

“The Queen of Heartbreak Trail” was a 2017 WILLA Literary Award Finalist in Scholarly Nonfiction. Brackbill’s earlier publications include “An Uncommon Cape: Researching the Histories and Mysteries of a Property,” which traced the 350-year history of a Mamaroneck property, and essays for “When Modern Was Contemporary: The Roy R. Neuberger Collection.” Brackbill was the director of education at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. She graduated from Antioch College, earned an MA in art history at Boston University, completed a curatorial fellowship at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and studied in the art history doctoral program at City University of New York. Following 25 years as an educator, she embarked on a second career writing about history. In 2015, she relocated to Portland, Maine, where she lives with her husband.

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