Wednesday, February 24
Homesteading: A Montana Family Album
By: Percy Wollaston
I bought this book because I was looking for personal stories on homesteading and this one did not disappoint. It is about the early homesteading adventures of the family of Percy Wollaston in the Dakotas and Montana. He tells of building cabins, cowboys and of the beginning and ending journeys of homesteaders.
The forward, written by Jonathan Raban describes the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 and how it brought people like Percy’s parents west, looking for “320 acres of land for anyone willing to cultivate it.” He describes the family history and tells about a trip back to the homestead area in 1994 with Mike Woolaston, Percy’s son, and they found all sorts of remnants, including the metal parts of an old photo album in what was once a fire pit. “They must have burned the family photos when they left.”
The genealogy fanatic in my screamed “NO!!!!!!”
The book is incredibly interesting with stories about all aspects of homestead and frontier life. Sometimes I had to remind myself, however, that I was reading about things happening in the 1910’s instead of the 1870’s.
A memorable story involved a homesteading couple:
“A young couple with a new baby moved in and built on the of 12’ by 14’ shacks on the Little Whitney Creek, not far from the Alex McDonald ranch. I don’t even know their name or when they arrived, but it was probably early summer because they has just got the house built and a little patch of garden plowed or spaded when the baby died and they gave up and moved away.
The last time I saw the place, stock had trampled and smashed the little porch, broken through the floor and rubbed down part of the fence around the baby’s grave. The creek was undercutting the bank and would soon swallow up both grave and house.
So many high hopes and dreams ended in tragedy and the sites of the homesteads have vanished…”
That was so sad to read. I think about all those people moving around, having babies, losing babies, and everything they must have gone through. And then I think about how hard it would be to trace them through records if they happen to be relatives. That a descendant would probably never know about the baby, never be able to make a note in the family tree. The whole thing just seems so sad.
But it is not all serious. One of my favorite quotes was “You don’t go lighting matches in barns unless it’s really necessary.” How true that is with many things…..
A very good book, a quick read, even with a 1 year old in the house, and it sparks all sorts of history and genealogy ideas. I was running searches on Ancestry and looking for pictures of Mildred, Montana before I even finished the book.