Burning the Breeze: Three Generations of Women in the American West

by Lisa Hendrickson

University of Nebraska Press

Imagine having the courage to travel to New York City, in the midst of the Great Depression, to persuade wealthy easterners to spend the summer at your guest ranch in Montana. That is exactly what Julia Bennett did in 1931. “Burning the Breeze” is the story of Julia (grandmother of former Sonoita resident Sherry Pepper), her mother, Luly Martin Bembrick, and her grandmother, Lizzie Nave Martin – three generations of strong women who successfully braved the hardships of life in Montana. 

The book engagingly documents the lives of widowed Lizzie Martin and her seven-year-old daughter Luly who left war-torn Missouri in 1863 to establish a new life in Montana. Lizzie supported herself as a seamstress and managed to pay off her late husband’s debts. 

At age 15 Luly married 43-year-old, Benjamin “Doc” Bembrick, a Montana pioneer, rancher, and big game hunter. 

Their marriage proved to be an excellent partnership. Luly raised the children and managed the home ranch, and Doc managed the cattle at distant grazing grounds and hunted. Doc taught Julia to ride, shoot and hunt. 

Julia married Anson Bennett and they had two children. It was a loveless marriage and they eventually separated. To support herself, Julia borrowed money to establish the Diamond J guest ranch near Bozeman. She succeeded despite all odds and in 1936 established the Diamond W guest ranch in Tucson which she operated in winter. 

Author Lisa Hendrickson does a masterful job of incorporating information from the rich trove of primary material – guest books, diaries, photographs – into the narrative. We learn about the many celebrities that Julia knew, including Charlie Russell, Myrna Loy, Charlie McCarty, and George Westinghouse. Newspaper accounts provide important historical context. All in all, “Burning the Breeze” is a great read for anyone interested in Western guest ranches and the contributions of strong women to the development of the West.