My latest book, Cowboy Meets Cowgirl features a homestead house on the family ranch, which the heroine wants to renovate. The house in the story has four-rooms—a kitchen, living room, bedroom and a bathroom that was added on in the 1940s. Most homestead houses, however, were not that grand.
This is a photo of my great grandmother, Lillie Belle Howland, in front of her homestead house with two of her children. She had thirteen children total, ten of whom lived, and I’m sure that several of them were born in this house. She told my mother stories about giving birth alone, which boggles my modern mind, but I’m certain that she had many homestead “sisters” who were equally amazing.
The Homestead Act of 1862 created a means by which hardworking people, men or women, could claim 160 acres of land. The settler had to be over 21 years of age, settle on the land, improve the land (farm) and then file for the deed after five years of residency. That was where the rub came in. Residency. In order for that to happen, at least one of the settlers had to be physically present on the land. In my great-grandmother’s case, she stayed while my great-grandfather worked in mines far away from the homestead to provide the money needed to keep the farm running. I do not know who did the actual farming, but I imagine that my great grandfather came back to the homestead to handle the farming chores, then headed back to wherever he was working. Meanwhile, Lillie Belle raised children and did the hard work involved in building a household in the middle of nowhere.
I’m happy to say that Grandma Lillie lived to be 103 years old and had several great-great-grandchildren, including my daughter. She was a devout Christian Scientist, sweet, unassuming and humble. Upon meeting her, one would never dream that she’d held down the homestead singlehandedly in the middle of a prairie.
When I wrote about my “fancy” homestead house with three rooms, I thought a lot about Grandma Lillie. She will always be one of my greatest inspirations.
My question, for a $10 Amazon gift certificate, is who in your family has inspired you?
Jeannie Watt raises cattle in Montana and loves all things western. When she's not writing, Jeannie enjoys sewing, making mosaic mirrors, riding her horses and buying hay. Lots and lots of hay.