|Photo Courtesy freedigitalphotos.net|
As a child, my mother, sister and I would visit my great-grandma Irene on her ranch near Mule Creek Junction, Wyoming. By that time, Grandma Irene was in her 80's. She was a plump old lady with salt-and-pepper grey hair, some soft-looking jowels, and a twinkle in her eyes.
Scrubby plains surrounded the four room house in which she lived in by herself, her son living in a separate house next door. My sister and I enjoyed winding our way through the weathered red barns which once sheltered cattle and sheep, or hiking to the buttes which towered a significant distance away.
Grandma had been born in the late nineteenth century, a time which expected women to get married and have children – end of story. Grandma didn't pay attention to the times, though, and decided to write her own story. Following secondary school, she attended college to become a teacher. She graduated and taught in Dewey, South Dakorta, where she met the cowboy destined to become my great-grandfather, but she wasn't ready to settle down yet.
From 1919 to 1920, she and her sister each homesteaded plots near the Cheyenne River in Wyoming, while living together in a small cabin. Water was scarce. Grandma and Aunt Helen hauled water to the house to wash laundry on washboards. They cooked on wooden stoves. Horses were their only transportation. It was hard living, but Grandma proved the land (followed the rules to make it hers) all while teaching at a nearby school. She said you had to be determined to be successful.
My great-grandfather Mose homesteaded right next to Grandma Irene. Finally, in June of 1920, he convinced Grandma that they should marry, and they combined their homesteads.
Even after marriage, Grandma continued to teach for a while. She worked the ranch with Grandpa. She had three children, and kept the house. She canned the family’s food, tended the garden, sewed most of the clothing they wore, weeded the corn, and sent milk and eggs to town with the mailman to get credit for groceries. She and my grandfather were married for over fifty years before Grandpa died. They treated each other with respect, and provided love, guidance and a safe place for my mother and her siblings as they grew up.
I always enjoy telling people my Grandmother was a homesteader. While I'm sure she wasn't the only woman to do so, they always act surprised at the revelation. The best thing about Grandma Irene, though, is that she taught those around her about hard work, determination, love and family. She was the embodiment of a strong woman at a time when women weren't expected to be strong.