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Bold Spirit is the extraordinary story of Helga Estby, a mother of eight who, in 1896, dared to walk unescorted with her daughter across America in order to win a $10,000 wager and stave off the foreclosure of her family farm. Using their wits and armed with little more than a compass, red-pepper spray, a Smith and Wesson revolver, and daughter Clara’s curling iron, they confronted snowstorms, hunger, mountain lions, and the occasional thief with grit and determination. Allowed to carry only $5 a piece, and needing to earn their livelihood along the way, their treacherous and inspirational journey to New York challenged contemporary notions of femininity and captured the public’s imagination.

Accomplishing what was once deemed impossible for women, they arrived in New York heralded by the city’s newspapers for their astonishing achievements. But their triumph was quickly complicated by deep disappointment, betrayal, and heartbreaking news from home. These devastating consequences combined to silence their remarkable story among their family and friends for generations.

From the author

I encountered the remarkable story of Helga Estby when Helga’s great grandson was an 8th grader and entered a 5-page essay in the Washington State History contest where my husband happened to be a judge. Except finding a scrapbook with a few newspaper articles, her descendants knew very little about this secret story until I researched this throughout America and Norway for almost 19 years. Bold Spirit emerged from my discoveries initially included in my doctoral thesis for Gonzaga University.

Published first by the University of Idaho Press and now Random House Anchor books, it became a bestselling book, and awarded the national Willa (Cather) Literary Award, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and the Washington State Book Award.

Praise for Bold Spirit

“A heroic ‘forgotten first’…a new women’s history classic has emerged.” 

Forward Magazine

“Surprising, inspiring—Hunt skillfully brings the story alive.” 

The Seattle Times

“A thoughtful discussion of the social and psychological factors that often silence family stories. Fortunately (Hunt) has broken the silence of Helga’s story to embolden the spirits of future generations.” 

Bloomsbury Review

“A heroic ‘forgotten first’ . . . a new women’s history classic has emerged.”

Foreword Magazine