From prairie dogs and rattlesnakes to working cattle, a Colorado homestead was no place for those of feeble spirit.
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 trained herself.
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.
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