Firsthand Account of Resilient Wife on Western South Dakota Homestead

Wife of homesteader recalls her experience making do on a western South Dakota homestead.

| Good Old Days

As a bride in June, 1910, I joined my husband who had already spent six months on a homestead in western South Dakota, about 20 miles from Fort Pierre on the Missouri River. Home was a one-room shack, covered with blue building paper inside and black tarpaper outside. All was held in place by nails with shiny, one-inch heads.

We were within sight of one other shack, but there were no homes in the five-mile stretch to the railway station from which we hauled water in two cream cans behind the single seat of our open buggy.

My husband worked at that time in the railway mail service, a job which kept him from home two nights in succession. We would drive together to the depot; he would board the mail car and I, with my full water cans, would drive home alone.

The trail led thru prairie dog town, an area much burrowed by the little animals and much populated by rattlers. Except in cold weather, we never passed thru it without seeing from one to four snakes. Indeed, this was rattlesnake country. During that summer, three were killed on our immediate grounds. Whenever I entered our cave, I was aware of the possibility of meeting one. I never swung my feet out of bed without first peering under it for snakes.

One dampish morning, I found numerous inch-long, brown-shelled worms on the floor. I could make no impression on them except by cracking their crusts with a hammer. More were falling on the linoleum. I looked up to see hundreds clinging to the ceiling and walls. I covered the water pail and my hair, and spent the forenoon sweeping them from the walls and out the open doorway. I never knew what they were or where they came from.

One night I was roused from sleep by a peculiar noise and a trembling house. I realized that I probably had forgotten to close the barbed-wire gate, and that our half-acre enclosure had been invaded by range cattle. One of them, having a good shoulder-rub on a corner of the house, was shivering the shack's framework. I couldn't have them horning holes thru our paper walls or breaking the cave's roof; I had to get up and get them out! Moving seven or eight perverse critters thru an obscure opening in a fence was a most frustrating chore. The task took a long time, and our buggy whip was given a good workout.

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