I was reading a book about a woman homesteader called “Half-Broke Horses”. It was opening my eyes to something. The woman had wanted to be a school teacher more than anything. Her father had spent money on her brother’s education while keeping her home to help him run the ranch. Then, when it was time to pass the ranch to someone, he gave it to her brother. She had been attending a girl’s school for a time but her father ended up spending her tuition money on a pack of breeding great danes who were promptly shot by the neighbor. Instead of crying over it she became a child-lawyer in that moment and stood up in court to negotiate the trade of some horses for the lost property of the dogs at the hands of the neighboring rancher. She was conned by her first husband who turned out to already be married and have 3 children by the other woman. He had used the paychecks she was putting into their joint account to support his first family which she didn’t know about. She had her marriage annulled and set out to be a teacher. There was a war going on and many of the teachers had been drafted. There was a shortage of teachers so they were not requiring that the teachers for small farm towns be certified. She was sent to one after another small farm town where she taught the children. However, when the war ended, she was told that the teachers were back and she was no longer qualified. Her younger sister became pregnant out of wedlock and hung herself despite all of her efforts to convince her it was going to be okay and she would help her. The town wouldn’t let her bury her sister in the graveyard because she had taken her own life, which they believed was an unforgivable sin. She decided she wanted to bring a baby into the world and got married. She had a daughter and then a son. Try as she might, she couldn’t get her daughter to steer away from the things she felt had led her sister astray and ultimately contributed to the abrupt end to her young life. The harder she tried to reign her daughter in, the further she wandered. Her son fell out of a tree and was unconscious for several hours but she couldn’t take him to the hospital until she had driven all the school children home to neighboring towns. She and her husband lost pretty much every ranch they had ever worked, either because they were managing land for an owner that sold or because the bank came and took their own land in the midst of an economic downturn. They ended up purchasing land with no water. They had to build dams to trap rain water but then a particularly wet season threatened to break all the dams, which would mean losing the town’s water supply for the whole year. She lost all her teeth to rot and had dentures by her thirties. Her daughter married a con man just like her first husband and she had to struggle to be a part of her grandkids lives as they moved all over the country from one scheme to the next. When her father died, there wasn’t enough money to go pick his body up from the nursing home in the car, but he wanted to be buried on his land, so she had to beg the people at the diners and truck stops along the way for gas money. She and her daughter did so until they made it to bury her father on his land.
I sat on the porch and thought about the book i had just finished. I thought about all the things that had gone so drastically wrong in her life. Her life was full of tragedy and hardship and yet she never threw her hands up and said, “oh well. I guess we’re done for.” She forged ahead, at all times. No matter what, she always got back up and started again. The part that stuck in my head the most was them losing the homestead. I could not imagine losing multiple homesteads and having to start again from scratch with a completely new piece of land all over again. In the end, her daughter seemed doomed to repeat the kind of life her sister had gone after and there was nothing she could do to steer her towards stability and an honest living. In the end, she was powerless to control anything…and it didn’t break her. i thought, “that must be as close as i’ll ever come to understanding the meaning of life.”