To many Easterners, the American West seems as remote as the Siberian steppe — a landscape that flat-lines its way to sky, a place where women are inexplicably brave and men are irresistibly drawn to danger. The West, to that way of thinking, grows a different breed altogether: Cheyenne has little in common with Sag Harbor. And yet nothing could be further from the truth. Those gritty, granite-faced Westerners were likely Easterners once. Or, at least, descended from them. If anything can persuade you of this, it will be Dorothy Wickenden’s enchanting family memoir, “Nothing Daunted,” in which two plucky society girls from New York head west for no other reason than to fight off boredom.
Dorothy Woodruff and her closest friend, Rosamond Underwood, were silver-spoon socialites from Auburn, N.Y., who never wore trousers or visited their own kitchens. They were born in the 1880s, during an era of unprecedented industrial boom. Hailing from prominent families, they descended from long lines of successful men, attended the best schools and were doted upon by nursemaids. Dorothy was spirited; Ros, beautiful; both turned out to be passionate participants in a transformative time in America.