Homesteads. Grandmothers, and a Give Away

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?

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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.

55 thoughts on “Homesteads. Grandmothers, and a Give Away”

  1. My paternal grandma. She could work the tobacco fields faster than most men, then come back and help you in your row. She put up canned goods from her own garden, took care of her mother-in-law, raised three children, sewed her own clothes, and she was known for her quilts, too.

    She moved north with my grandpa during the Depression and moved in with her sister during the war when my grandpa worked in the naval shipyards in Norfolk, and later in Washington State.

    She loved her grandchildren, was a God-fearing woman, and never learned to drive a car–though she took care of all of the livestock on the farm. She was also a midwife when needed–I only recently learned this.

    She made me stuffed animals which I still have, and she made me beautiful quilts. She gave me her wedding ring.

    I loved her so much and I miss her.


  2. My grandmother was a force of nature and once made a city government back down from making her street a one way. They stared at her and then decided to stop. She lived to 100 and went from covered wagons and steam trains to men on the Moon, operators to cell phones, and all sorts of other changes.

  3. My long deceased maternal grandmother. She lived through the Spanish Influenza epidemic, survived WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, lost her husband shortly thereafter during her late forties, and then ran the family grocery/dry goods store located in their little country hometown.

    I enjoyed your interesting posting.

  4. My grandmother’s sister, Charlotte. She was a single school teacher who retired in the mid 1970s. One of the few single professional women . You don’t need a man to have a great life.

  5. Although I also had wonderful grandmothers on both sides and their lives were amazing, my handicapped brother is my inspiration. He was in a farming accident at the age of 19. The doctors told him he wouldn’t live past 10 years due to becoming a quadriplegic. He worked very hard to stay as active as he could be for his condition. His wife left him after 10 years. My father, and his mentor and best friend, died shortly after of a heart decease. We all had no idea he had. And still my brother kept on. He built his house bit by bit. Had a van he learned to drive. Kept the farms bookwork going, by learning the computer. He is now 61 years old and still is my inspiration.

    Thank you for your a glimpse of your family history. I don’t know how grandmothers made it back then!

  6. My Mom was a very strong woman and was the 2nd female school bus driver in our local school – that was very unusual back in 1966!! Back then only local male Farmers would drive the bus in between farming chores!!

  7. Cool story. thanks for sharing. My mother was my biggest inspiration. I wanted to be just like her. Homemaker, wife, mother. She sewed, canned, cleaned, she did it all. Since I was the oldest of five, she helped a lot with this. I loved it all. Than there was my mothers grandmother. I loved her also. She was also a very strong woman. She was half Cherokee and she worked like she meant it. My grandmother was one of her five children, all girls. These two women were my greatest inspiration in who I became. They both were very religious. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

  8. I really enjoyed your story. My mom was my biggest inspiration. It’s not that she did anything grand according to the world, but she was always there when I needed her. Her love was unconditional no matter what happened. I have strived to be as caring and understanding with my children as she was with me. Always unconditional love!

  9. My mom’s dad, “Paw Paw.” So patient, so kind, always ready to go camping, or canoeing on the creek, or to have a campfire cookout, or to shoot firecrackers.

    Once time when I was little he bought my sister and cousin each a box of ice cream bars for a treat, and since I asked for a Hershey’s bar instead, he bought me EIGHT Hershey’s bars! Unheard-of generosity to my young self. It left a huge impression on me.

    Something else interesting: He used to be known as the “snake kid” in his town when he was a boy; he’d catch all the snakes that people were afraid of, but he he liked snakes and studied them and didn’t kill them.

  10. What a fascinating story about your great-grandmother, Jeannie!! 103 years old? Just goes to show what hard work and clean living can do. Wow!!

    She looks pregnant in the picture. And holding a baby, too. God love her. LOL!

    Wishing you many sales on your new book, my friend!

  11. My Grandmother, who only had limited schooling, was very wise. She could take things and make something useful out of them. She always said “If you want something done, do it yourself. Don’t rely on somebody else to do it.”
    She always liked everybody, never gossiped and usually had a smile on her face.

  12. My mother who was always there to help and give of herself even though she was a Depression era child whose mother was a young widow. She continued to be positive, outgoing, helpful and thoughtful. Everyone admired her for her vitality, good nature and energy. I miss her smile, strength and outlook.

  13. Wow! What an amazing story! One family member that inspires me is my mother. She moved to Mexico after marrying my father & having me (I was born while they were still in college & they moved after he graduated). The family (which grew to 7 while we lived there) lived in an adobe house which my parents built while we lived in it. Water was obtained by driving to the reservoir & filling two 50 gallon oil drums. My mom would ladle out enough to wash dishes, strain it, wash us kids, then use it to clean the house & flush the toilet. We never did have plumbing while we lived there, although we did have a toilet in the house & not an outhouse at home. My dad was a dairy farmer who always struggled to make ends meet, especially as a white man in a Latino country. He was once jailed because another man didn’t like his “attitude”. My mom had 4 of us kids while living there in Mexico & the only doctor was a very kind man, a general practitioner who saw everyone for everything. Mom never had complications, which was a blessing, as she was sent home a few hours after having her babies. There were no facilities to house new mothers & there were no pain killers available either, so everything was just like the pioneers as far as childbirth went (Mexico is a 3rd world country). We usually took care of bumps & bruises at home, including when my youngest brother fell down a flight of stairs & landed on his head as a toddler! He was okay, but that scared all of us!
    Mom worried about cockroaches because they are ubiquitous in Mexico, so she would clean up & scrub all surfaces every time anyone ate, & thoroughly clean all food before storing it! Shopping was an adventure because fresh food wasn’t available as there were no shopping centers, only open air markets, which were full of dust & flies, so my mom grew a garden, beef was obtained from my dad’s cows, & any canned food was obtained by crossing the border & going to stores in the states. My dad was a Mexican citizen (born & raised in Mexico even though he is white), & my mom is an American citizen, so when we would cross the border, they would have to bribe the border guards either way, it didn’t matter if we were coming or going!
    Mon sewed all of our clothing & I remember waking up from my nap as a 4 year old (mom needed some free time so we all took naps)t the sound of her swing machine whirring. With a farmer husband & 5 young growing children, we always needed something sewed or mended! Even our socks were meticulously darned!
    My mom was a talented musician & when we moved to Mexico she hadn’t finished her degree, so she gave up a chance to work on her own & help earn anything to ease the family’s financial burden. She tried to pick up what she could once we moved back to the states, but with a large family it didn’t ever really happen in a way that she could really contribute to the funds. She always amazes me with her ability to find creative solutions to a problem in order to not have to spend money!
    When a lightning storm killed the 2 dairy herds that my dad had, he finally had to sell his farm & we moved to Texas, but by then I was 8 years old, so I have many memories of living in Mexico, & I still have several friends living there that I keep in touch with.

  14. Since I do not have any actual knowledge of my family history as far as occupation, except farming, I must note my person of esteem would have to be my father. He was 15 when his father passed away, leaving it on his shoulders to run the farm, helping his mother raise his siblings of which there were 4 with my father. She did everything connected with farming with a huge garden, farm animals and etc. My father has recalled how part of their discipline was a strapping with the horse straps, whether it was the halter or other part of the equipment, I do not know. His was a very strict household which I attribute the fact they were of German descent. Both sides of my family were of German ancestry. I have names of ancestors but not the occupations way back other than farming of which my mother’s side was very prosperous if the amount of land he owned was any precursor. As I have gotten older our ancestry has become very important. Since I am nearly 79 and the oldest remaining in my immediate family, I have no source for any further information, sad to say.

  15. My grandmother was probably the biggest inspiration for me. She was a very family oriented Christian who valued education.

  16. I guess it would be my grandmother, she could cook a meal to serve an army. She has over 50 grandchildren and would feed the biggest part of them at one time. She was amazing.

  17. Hi, and what a Beautiful and very amazing story about your grandparents. My dad was born in Mexico and he came to the US very young, he had gone to a trade school in Mexico for becoming a machinist, he was a hard worker and when he met my mom and got married they were both very young, they both worked in cotton fields and they would take my older brother with them and did what they needed to do. Later on my dad became a machinist and he became a US citizen. My dad worked hard and my mom stayed at home with my 5 siblings and I. I have been Blessed with 2 great and awesome parents. They are both in heaven now.

    • What hard working parents you had, Alicia. You were blessed. I’m always so
      Impressed at how your parent’s’ generation worked so diligently to give their family a good life.

  18. My Mom inspired me the most in my family. Growing up, she told me she was the youngest sibling in her family and the last one left at home on the farm to help her Dad with the farm chores and cutting wood with a cross cut saw. She grew up during the depression, and like everyone else, had a hard way to go. She always took good care of our family and was a great cook. After my brother and I was both in school, she took on a babysitting job to earn extra money. When able to afford another family car, since my Dad used our only car to go to work, she went to work in our local school lunchroom. She stayed there until retirement age. During the summer, my Dad always made a big garden, and she did a lot of canning and freezing of vegetables to have to eat for the winter. She was a great inspiration to me.

  19. My mom. She has always worked so hard and sacrificed so much for us. She inspired me to want to be a good mother for my own children.

  20. I’d have to say my mom. She was born and raised on a farm. She taught us all how to work hard and if we wanted something, to do it ourselves. She was still building her own furniture before she passed at 72 years old.

  21. My Mom inspired me. She went to the Lord’s waiting arms in January. I miss her so much. She was also my best friend. She taught me how to love the Lord. To treat others the way I wanted to be treated. It is much better to give than receive. She was my biggest cheerleader. She always told me that I could be and do anything that I wanted to be. I could go on and on. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you.

  22. Those who inspire me are those I have never met. On both sides of my family French settlers cam over to what today is Quebec, Canada. That early 1600’s group were all men. King Louis XIV, wanting to solidify French rights to the territory to counter English settlement, sent single women over to marry and more permanently settle the area. They were given clothing and passage to the new world and the early ones given dowries when they married. Between 1663 and 1673, about 700 of these young women were sent over. They came to an area that had little but dirt floor cabins in the woods. We can trace our families back to at least 20 of these women. They had to be strong and resourceful to survive. One of the husbands was killed in an indian raid and another disappeared while trapping for furs. I saw these traits especially in my paternal grandmother.

    • Patricia, that is a amazing story! I didn’t know about the single women being sent over. My husband traces his roots also to Quebec in the 1600s. I perked up when I read that. 🙂 Maybe you are distant cousins.

      • It is very possible. They say virtually everyone who can trace their family back that far has at least one in their ancestry. I can’t believe I didn’t include the name. They were called fille du roi, or “daughter of the king.” I know I came across one site that had a list of family surnames. My brother has done much research on the topic when he was doing the family history. When the English shipped the French Acadians out, primarily to Louisiana where they became the Creoles, many hid in the forest and changed their names to keep from being deported. That and the spelling variations of names makes it difficult to trace your family back. We never researched back, but one of my husband’s cousins has French Canadian roots and his last name is a variant of one of our ancestors. We could be cousins.
        Here is just one site he could check out: The Canadian Genealogist. –

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