Pioneers of strong fortitude, originating in Pennsylvania, her father's family, the Hogelands, are among the first settlers along the headwaters of the Judith River. Good years, wise management, and a faith in the rewards of hard work serve them well - until the early death of the author's grandfather, followed by a decade of severe drought and then the Great Depression.
While half of the homesteaders around them go broke and move on, her family continues to scrape a living from the land. And the women on her mother's side of the family supplement their incomes with teaching in remote one-room country schools.
|Hilger, Montana, photo by R Scheer © 2011|
While the primary theme of the book is the survival of her family, she also has much to say about the role of women, focusing on the circumstances that invariably compromised their hopes and aspirations. There is her father's mother, Grammy, who does the work of a man while providing home and shelter for a live-in hired man without benefit of clergy.
|Homestead, central Montana, photo by R Scheer © 2011|
Meanwhile, the men in her stories make equally interesting studies, especially her strong-willed father, Jack, who's a natural horseman and top hand. Then there's her mother's father, who cannot withstand the pressures of a lonely, hard life on the prairie. Finally, she tells of a husband in later years, a wildcat oilman who is in complete denial that he is dying of pulmonary fibrosis.
This is a well-written, absorbing and sometimes harrowing book that renders such a vivid picture of Montana homesteaders and the extremes of rural life. Thanks to the University of Oklahoma Press for keeping it in print. It's available at amazon and AbeBooks.
Coming up: Jonathan Raban, Bad Land