As a 20-year-old bride, I went to
live on a Ft.
Morgan, Colorado homestead. My
husband had filed claim to a 320-acre tract in 1909, a year before we were
married. He built a small 10-by-12-foot house there, and after I arrived, he
added a 12-by-14-foot half-dugout.
For two years after our baby
daughter was born, she and I stayed on the homestead while Bob worked on a
ranch. It was a large ranch with about 1,000 head of cattle and 500 horses. My
husband worked for $30 a month, and it was like getting blood from the
proverbial turnip to collect his wages from that tough, bewhiskered old
rancher. When Bob would ask for his monthly wages, Old Mike would exclaim,
"Hell, Laddie, why didn't you tell me you was goin' to need money so I
could've made provisions for it!" The old duffer was wealthy, but hated to
turn loose of a dime.
In his barn Old Mike kept three
saddle horses ready for riding. There was Trix, a beautiful white mare with a
gait as smooth as a rocking chair; Brownie, a horse that could shake your teeth
even when he was walking at a slow pace; and Mile-Hi, a long-legged sorrel that
could outdistance anything on the ranch. To be caught out after dark on the
fenceless prairie with Mile-Hi or Brownie could prove disastrous, for they
would travel in circles all night. But Trix would bring her rider home on the
darkest and stormiest nights. Her homing instinct was amazing.
Bob's brother worked on another
ranch during roundup time. The owner's wife did the roping; the men did the
branding. Few men could match her when it came to swinging a lariat. She was a
large woman, but attractive and feminine in spite of her size, and it was a
marvel to watch her working the calves, riding a large brown horse she had
The prairies were beautiful in
spring and early summer, with the green buffalo grass and the cacti with their
pink and white and yellow hollyhock-like blossoms. The cactus needles were
wickedly sharp and stiff as nails. You were no longer a tenderfoot when you had
learned to walk across the prairie without getting your shoes full of needles.
Everyone was advised to carry a
snake stick when walking on the prairie as diamondback rattlesnakes were numerous.
One day when I had forgotten my snake stick I met up with a rattlesnake. I took off
my shoe and killed it.
Prairie dog towns were numerous.
The little animals built high mounds of dirt which were packed as hard as
concrete. We always knew when a blizzard was coming as the prairie dogs would
cover their homes.
The schoolhouse was located on our
homestead, a half mile from the house. We had Sunday School on Sunday mornings
and occasionally church in the afternoons. Dances were held in homes, and Bob
played the violin for round and square dancing. For those who did not dance,
there were party games.
We considered ourselves fortunate
to have a well that supplied us with clear, sweet water. Many homesteaders had
only alkali water or none at all. Alkali water was not fit for human
consumption; one drink of it was equal to a king-size dose of Epsom salts.
Prairie hay was cut and stacked for
winter feed with a strong fence around it to keep out the range stock.
Sometimes corn would be cut and shocked, but we could never depend on the dry
land to produce a real crop.
I was not sorry to leave that
treeless prairie land. I learned there to cope with dust storms, rattlesnakes,
and the loneliness which comes in not seeing another human soul for days. I
did a lot of growing up in those years, for a Colorado homestead was a good place to learn
to stand on your own two feet.
Mrs. Robert Harvey
Back in 1955 a call
went out from the editors of the then Capper’s
Weekly asking for readers to send
in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early
settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from
grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were
received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My
Folks title – My Folks Came in a
Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine
other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to
make those stories available to our growing online community.