- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Tells about the daily life and activities of a pioneer girl growing up on the prairies of Nebraska.
-Sharon Story, teacher at B.D. Lee Elementary School in Gaffney, South Carolina
Grace McCance scrambled down the steps of the train, planted her feet on the muddy ground, and looked around. So this was Nebraska! No trees blocked the view, and she liked the bigness of it.
Florry, whose real name was Flora Alice, followed her off the train. Florry was five, two years older than Grace. She stepped cautiously, avoiding mud puddles so she would not get her dress or shoes dirty. Then their mother, Margaret McCance, appeared at the train doorway carrying baby Stella and a heavy travel satchel. She looked tired from the trip. The girls waved at her. She nodded, then lifted her stylish black skirt and slowly descended the steep train steps.
"Poppie!" Grace cried, catching sight of her father driving up in the old wagon pulled by the family mules. She ran to meet him and threw herself into his arms the moment he jumped down. Charles McCance embraced his family. He grinned as he kissed Mama. They had last seen him three months earlier when he loaded the family's belongings into a train boxcar, urged the mules aboard, and then hopped in himself for the long ride to Nebraska.
Folks back home in Missouri said Poppie had "land fever" because he had decided to become a homesteader. The 1862 Homestead Act allowed him to file a claim on 160 acres of public land. If he built a house and cultivated the soil, In five years the land would be his. Men or women who were single or heads of households could file a homestead claim as long as they were twenty-one and were either citizens or immigrants who planned to become citizens. Early in the spring of 1885, Poppie had found his claim nearthe town of Cozad in central Nebraska. He paid the ten-dollar filing fee and set to work. His first task had been to build a house so he could send for his family-and now they were here.
Everyone settled into the wagon, and Poppie turned the mules toward the northwest. When they stopped several hours later, Grace woke up from a nap. She thought they must be in the middle of nowhere. She recalled in her memoir, "I can still see the homestead as it looked when we pulled into it that day-just two naked little soddies squatting on a bare, windswept ridge.... Not another building in sight, not a tree, not an animal, nothing but grassy flats and hills."
The "soddies" were built of blocks of compacted sod Poppie had cut from the earth. The smaller one was a stable. The other was a twelve-by-fourteen-foot room: their new home. It was smaller than Grandmother Blaine's parlor in Missouri. Grace stared at the tiny house. The wind whipped around them, its sound a mournful wail. For a moment she felt unsure about this new place.
Then she saw her cat, Old Tom, who had made the trip with Poppie and the mules, and a moment later she and Florry were running through the prairie grass, laughing. Darting ahead of Mama and Poppie, they explored the house, happy to see the cookstove and the familiar belongings from their old house. Later they walked with Mama and Poppie to see the field Poppie was readying for corn planting. Poppie kept saying this was land where anything would grow. Mama was quiet. The only thing she asked about was a school, but Poppie said the girls were still too young for school, and by the time they were old enough, he figured there would be one.
Thinking back on that first day, Grace realized that, for herself and Florry, "it was all new and interesting, but to Mama it must have seemed poor and desolate. She had grown up among the green fields and woods of Missouri, where she lived in a big white house. She liked nice things, good food, pretty clothes, handsome furniture. I know she must have been nearly crushed by the unexpected bigness of the prairie, the endless blue of the sky, our rough, homemade furniture, and the almost total lack of neighbors."
Many settlers were crushed by the experience of homesteading.
The plains and prairies of the Midwest, stretching from the Missouri River on the cast to the Rocky Mountains on the west, challenged the most hardy of pioneers. It was country where the wind blew constantly, where few trees grew, where it froze in winter and baked in summer, and where water was scarce. As Grace would learn, anyone who settled there eventually got acquainted with drought, grasshoppers, rattlesnakes, stampedes, prairie fires, dust storms, hail, floods, tornadoes, and blizzards.
Even when the government started the great homestead giveaway to attract settlers to the middle part of the country, many folks wondered why anyone would bother. Most pioneers just passed right through the Midwest on their way to the Far West. Those who stayed were often defeated. One farmer scrawled across the cabin door of his deserted claim, "250 miles to the nearest post office, 100 miles to wood, 20 miles to water, 6 inches to hell. Gone to live with wife's folks."
But whatever Mama thought of the homestead, she was there to stay. She knew what the land meant to her husband. Poppie had been poor all his life. His father had died when Poppie was young, and his mother had struggled to raise her big family. This was his chance to have something of his own. Mama could see how hard he had worked to build the house and to start breaking up the tough sod. She would do her part as well.
According to Grace, "Mama was the kind who always did the best she could with what she had." For the one window on each wall, Mama made curtains out of bleached flour sacks on which she embroidered red birds. She arranged the bed, the cradle, the cookstove, and her sewing machine. She made shelves out of boxes and displayed the English teacup that...Pioneer Girl. Copyright © by Andrea Warren. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted April 8, 2010
No text was provided for this review.