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Alice Day Pratt and the Homestead Dream

by Molly Gloss, author of The Jump-Off Creek

In 1910 Alice Day Pratt was 38 years old, in her own words an "old maid" school teacher, and labor troubles had just released her from a three year stint teaching in Arkansas coal camps. She had come to a hinge point in her life. I realized that I was tired — tired both by and of my work," she would write more than forty years later in her self-published memoir Three Frontiers. After fifteen years of teaching, "closely hedged about by organization, boards, principals, superintendents, wise and otherwise parental interference," she took stock of her life and formed what must have seemed to her friends and colleagues a singular and reckless intent. She accepted a summer teaching position to earn the price of a ticket West — salaries in the South had been low, she'd saved nothing; and teaching took on a different aspect when she saw it as a bridge to a new life. She sent to the Department of the Interior for maps of unappropriated lands available for homestead, and to the Department of Agriculture for literature on the best uses to which such lands could be put. When she had narrowed her search to Oregon, she began to read the history and geography — "everything" — about the region. She then wrote to the Oregon State Superintendent of Schools. Swiftly, she had the offer of a teaching position in Athena, then and now a small community in the wheat country northeast of Pendleton. And in September of 1911, she and her dog boarded a train bound for Oregon.

It was the first step in her strategy for "building a farm" — but not the first time Alice Day Pratt had turned her face toward a frontier.1

When William McLain Pratt and Sophie Rand had married in 1869 they had made a home in Meriden, Connecticut, with William's aged father, Julius. Within months of their marriage, Julius was dead and William had inherited his portion of his father's estate. He took this as a salutary sign. He had been wounded at the Battle of Antietam, his health never wholly recovered, and he had been advised to seek the drier climate of the West — advice that fell in with his inclinations. "He had all the adventurousness of his pioneer ancestors," his daughter later would write, for William's namesake had been among the founders of Connecticut. Sophie Rand didn't share her husband's adventurousness, but was, as Alice Pratt described her, "one of those for whom decisions are made." in the fall of 1870, William moved his wife and infant daughter, Sophie Caroline, to Blue Earth County, Minnesota, where they settled into a house on a wooded bluff above Mankato, the county seat, with grand views north and south along the Minnesota River valley. Their second daughter, Alice, was born there in 1872 .2

The playground of Alice's childhood was the land this house sat upon — "a fenced-off tract of native forest with its accompanying inhabitants." Her lifelong affinity for animals had its roots here. On a fishing expedition early in her childhood — one of the first pictures in my memory" — Alice recalled helping her father catch small frogs and put them in a box in the end of the boat. I thought they were to be 'pets.' When I saw my father make use of them for bait I was very sick. When the fish lay gasping and flopping in the boat they were nearly as bad. There was a cloud over my day.... We were to take this trip to the lake again, in the autumn, and I was to see my father bring in flocks of quail and loads of ducks. I stroked their beautiful soft feathers and admired their iridescent colors, but their poor dead eyes, the blood dripping from their beaks! Why was my father so happy to have done this?" (Frontiers, pp. 2-3).

Here, also, the foundations were laid for her attitudes of conservation and stewardship of the land. Flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the sky in migrating season, above a prairie exuberant with flying squirrels and sand-hill cranes, all destined for extinction at the hands of her neighbors. "The beauty of the prairies and the destruction of prairie life! These go together in my memory as theygo together in our history" (Frontiers, p.3).

Alice's father had invested his entire inheritance, as well as money entrusted for investment by his wife's relatives, in a Mankato lumbering business; after three consecutive years of a destructive grasshopper scourge, farmers began to lose their farms to mortgagees, and William's business, dependent on farmers' prosperity, also began to fail. The Black Hills had just been opened to settlement and he turned in that direction, not with the intent of prospecting for gold but hopeful that rapid settlement of the Dakotas would open possibilities for lumbermen. Alice stood with her mother and sister, watching him go away in a wagon weighted with mill machinery.

It would be years before the family was reunited — William came and went but would not consider moving his family into country so rough as the Black Hills were in those days. "I think our adventurous father never really appreciated the effect of this move on our young mother," Alice wrote. "He was, to the end of his life, unswervingly devoted to her — but he was sustained in their separation by the excitement of the adventure, the buoyant hope of success, and the firm belief that he would bring prosperity to her again, while she had only the waiting and the loneliness. There was sorrow too, which she had to bear alone. For in 1882, death struck twice in the space of a few months-first my older sister [Sophie Caroline], who was in her twelfth year, and then a baby sister, hardly more than a year old" (Frontiers, pp.13-14).

Eventually William claimed a homestead in Little Elk Canyon, twenty-five miles from his business in Deadwood, and after a summer visit in 1883, Alice and her mother came permanently to the canyon in 1886. The site was remote — for many years it was accessible only by horseback — and positioned as a kind of gateway to perhaps a thousand acres of unsurveyed, untouched timberland — "one of the most beautiful of natural sanctuaries."

For nearly fifteen years, they lived in a five room cabin two miles from stores, post office, neighbors. Two more children were born into the family in 1888 and 1891. Alice's grandfather, Sophie's widowed father, also joined the household, but with grandfather Rand suffering from rheumatism and asthma, and William often away tending to his lumber business in Deadwood, much of the heavy work fell to Alice. Water was carried in pails up a steep slope from the spring or the creek, and foodstuffs not grown in the garden had to be brought by horseback, later by wagon, from the small store two miles off, or from Rapid City, fifteen miles away. The horses were let out to range the canyon and had to be brought in when they were needed. in winter, trips to the store and post office would meet the bitter north wind that blew down the trough of the Red Valley. I once, having had my scarf blown off, froze my ears so hard that I took them for the brim of my hat and struggled to push them up into place. When I reached home and was made painfully aware of the situation, I envisioned having my ears drop off like the combs of unfortunate roosters I had seen" (Frontiers, p.37).

Yet Alice remembered it as an idyllic time. "We were always warm in the house and no fears beset us. Life was so simple that not much could happen to it." They were always busy in the daylight hours, and in the winter evenings they had a custom of reading around the table from a "little library" and a wide array of periodicals "of which we had always had the best, as a necessity of life"-The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The Century, Scrihners, St. Nicholas, The Youth's Companion.

On horseback with her friend Mamie Gardner, Alice ranged the valleys and neighboring canyons, the nearby plains. It wasn't uncommon for the two girls to cover forty miles horseback in a day's excursion — riding out, lunching on the buffalo grass carpet where they would lie down "exchanging views" before riding home again slowly by another route. Home schooled, Alice became interested in botany, and made a vast if amateurish collection of Black Hills flora. it was a solitary pursuit that she felt may have increased her "separateness." "The thrill of my adolescence became the discovery of a new plant, the nest of a hitherto unknown bird, the meeting with a wild creature.... In these excursions and in the lone study of my books, I spent the hours that I would naturally have spent with my own kind — for good or ill?" (Frontiers, p. 49).

At the end of 1900, William Pratt sold the Little Elk Canyon property and moved his family to the Blue Ridge country of North Carolina, where he transferred his lumber interests. Alice had already been away from home studying and teaching for several years, but she followed her family to the region and went on teaching, mostly in North Carolina, until her long-latent, long- suppressed desire to "take [my] portion of the earth's crust" put her on a train to Oregon.

In Athena she immediately came up against the local school board, and almost as soon as she had accepted her position there she had submitted her resignation, taking a moral stand in support of a young, unjustly treated teacher. Within a month she had the offer of another position at a newly formed school on the Stanfield Irrigation Project, thirty-five miles to the west. A planned community of irrigated homesteads carved out of what had been a vast sheep ranch, Stanfield was for the most part occupied by affluent farmers who had come here after successfully homesteading elsewhere.

A farm in Stanfield was out of the question for someone of Alice's vanishingly small means, and accordingly she hired a "locator" to scout out prospective properties in the public domain. In November she filed on 160 acres at the foot of Friar Butte, southeast of Prineville near the tiny community of Post, and the following spring gave up her position at Stanfield and moved onto the land she had named "Broadview." It is the story of this homestead, the events of the first five years 'proving up" on the land, that is told in A Homesteader's Portfolio.

In the fall of 1916 — as soon as her five-year residency requirement had been met — Alice went East to spend time with her family. Land laws did not require a homesteader to live on the claim after proving up, and she was anxious to get her finances on a better footing, so for two years she lived and worked in the East, returning to Broadview in the summer of 1918. Soon afterward she took a teaching post at the Conant Basin school, in the Maury Mountains ten miles west of Broadview.3 She spent two winters at Conant, bringing her band of Jersey cows, seven horses, her flock of White Leghorn chickens, a dog and several cats with her "over the rimrock," and settling first into a vacant ranch close to the schoolhouse, then occupying a house near the Crooked River, three miles from the schoolhouse.4

Both years in the Basin, her routine included a weekly trip to Friar Butte. "On Saturdays I baked and brewed and churned and washed for the week to come. On Sundays I made a trip to the homestead, ten miles distant. I usually made this a round trip by descending over the Rim and returning by the river ford — an almost all day trip on a winter's day" (Trek, chapter. 7, p.6). It was probably during her winters in Conant Basin that she began work on the hook that would be A Homesteader's Portfolio, fleshing it out from the personal journal she had kept throughout her five years proving up at Broadview.

Though the dates are uncertain, Alice later took a teaching position at the Maury school, twenty miles east of Post, and apparently spent some winters in Western Oregon. In the winter of 1927, for instance, she lived in Wheeler on the Oregon coast and took a correspondence course in short story writing.5 And during this time, too, she was probably at work on her only novel, Sagebrush Fires, which mirrored much of her own experience as a woman homesteader.6

By the late 1920s, from a single pregnant cow, she had built a herd of some one hundred Jerseys. But she was often in precarious financial straits. In 1929 "drought was upon us by the first of June. For six months, dry or drying pasture was inevitable even on many theoretically irrigated fields. Hay prices soared 100 percent and more. Cream prices, by some strange economic law, dropped 50 percent" ("Jerseys," p. 52). in the fall she was driven to place a dangerously large loan on her dairy herd. The following autumn, with the Oregon dairy business reeling from the recent business crash, butterfat dropping to "teen cents a pound" and eggs to twenty cents, she was forced to sell her Jerseys for the amount of the loan. And at the close of the year, "not only penniless but in debt," Alice left Broadview "which I had so dearly loved for eighteen years" and moved to Niagara Falls to take up housekeeping with her mother and younger sister Marjorie. She held on to the ranch for some twenty years more, but never returned to Oregon. The homestead was finally sold in 1950, to the neighbor into whose care she had, years earlier, given over her horses and chickens.7

In the first year after leaving Broadview, Alice may have devoted herself to writing.8 In 1931 two essays appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, as well as a children's book of stories, Animals of a Sagebrush Ranch; a third essay appeared in The Atlantic in 1932. At least one of her unpublished manuscripts also dates from this time. Over the next twenty-odd years she went on writing, as well as teaching occasionally — including a year on remote and primitive Smith Island in Chesapeake Bay — but her publishing success after 1932 was only marginal. in 1941 a second children's book, Animal Babies, was released by Beacon Press, an imprint of the Episcopal Church. And in 1955 Alice's brother, Julius W. Pratt,9 financed a private printing of Three Frontiers, which in addition to recounting her Oregon homesteading experience included memories of her childhood in Minnesota and Dakota. But much of her work remains unpublished, including her novel, Sagebrush Fires, several short stories that relate in some way to her Oregon years, and Teacher's Trek, a memoir of her teaching life which includes the years spent in central Oregon.

In 1937, Alice, together with her sister and mother, moved to a New York City apartment. "I am sitting this morning at the window of my room in a New York City apartment house," she wrote in Teacher's Trek. "My view is limited up and down, from side to side, by hard stone walls. If I thrust my head far out of the window, I may see a little patch of blue sky above and a stone court below.... My mind goes back to a high, sky-topped, brilliant and wind-swept region, mountains rising on the south, cliffs falling away to the river on the north, snow-capped mountains towering on the far horizon [sic] for those who ride the high trails" (Chapter 7, p.4). Alice's passion for animals and for wild landscapes continued unabated. During a teaching stint in the Finger Lakes district of New York State, she bought a used bread-delivery truck without an engine, set it on blocks and lived in it, and when the Finger Lakes position ended she had the bread truck-cum-cabin moved to Old Forge, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains. For many years Alice used this as her summer retreat, living in the company of her dog and cat, carrying water in pails from the spring a quarter of a mile away, and trudging the mile and a half to town for her groceries, just as she'd done at roadview, and in her childhood at Little Elk Canyon.

In the last years of her life a crippling arthritis confined her to a small room above the East River on 6th street. Her mother had died in 1940, and Marjorie, who had held various teaching positions in and near New York, finally gave up teaching and dedicated several years to caring for her sister. Though Alice's eyesight deteriorated, she remained able to use the typewriter, and she continued to write letters, to listen to the news, and to welcome friends, who obligingly read to her from a wide, "necessary" array of newspapers and magazines. When she died in 1963 Alice was 91, her intellect and her spirit emphatically undiminished at the end of a long, venturesome life.

Roused to seek "the glory and the dream," Alice was one among tens of thousands of people who took up homesteads in the arid West in the early twentieth century. More than a handful in that throng-perhaps as many as 18 percent-were like Alice, single women.10

In A Homesteaders Portfolio, single women homesteaders are in conspicuous evidence. The "Dakota girl of Bohemian parentage," who befriends Alice in her stay at Stanfield, had bought a relinquishment near her brother's homestead on the Hermiston Project."11 Alice's Broadview neighbor, Mary Porter, was "a homestead spinster like myself." The "Nash girls," children of early settlers, lived with their brothers on the family stock ranch, but each had filed a homestead claim, and joined in operating the ranch as a family unit.12 Mrs. Dunham is mentioned as "a widow and newcomer ... living in a tent," though Alice wryly observes that 'the cattle country has its own way of looking after widowhood. It eliminates the Condition."

Alice and her neighbors represent the broad range Of women drawn westward by the same mythos that drew men: the promise of free land, and the freedom to "live my own life in my own way, unhampered by what Mrs. So and So did or what Mrs. Somebody or other expected me to do."13 Among them were many spinsters and widows looking for economic independence, either by farming on their own or by proving up on a claim, then selling out to someone for a grubstake to do something else.14 Some were escaping from luckless marriages, either as divorcees or runaways. Many came West with other family members — sisters or parents, brothers or cousins — and filed claims in a block to gain family holdings as large as possible."15 Some were hoping to earn a living outside the conventional women's realm, escaping work as schoolteacher, maid, or factory worker.16 At least a few women came West for reasons of health, either their own or members of their families', and saw in homesteading the only viable way to make the move. Some women had already tried to homestead at another location, or were second-generation homesteaders — Alice Pratt herself was spurred by a longing for the remembered "simple" life of her childhood in Mankato and Little Elk Canyon. And of course there were women who simply sought adventure — not a little of Alice's own motivation. I had a haunting fear that it would be tame," she said (Portfolio, p.26).

It had been the Homestead Act of 1862 that had explicitly granted a woman, as well as a man, the right to file a claim for a homestead, provided she was single or head of a household, over 21 years of age, and a citizen or an immigrant who had filed papers to become a citizen. Over the next half century, the percentages of women among the claimants for homesteads increased steadily with the years, reaching their zenith in the 1910s when nearly one in five claims was filed by a woman — and the rate at which women gained title to their lands was apparently slightly better than men's."17

Yet homesteading women are substantially missing from the literature and histories of the West. American publishing, centered in the East, has presented Western women in popular literature in a sensationalized form — Calamity Jane, Belle Starr — or as "the long-suffering and essentially passive pioneer woman in sunbonnet who endured much but contributed little. . . ."18 Sheryll Patterson-Black, in her study of women homesteaders on the Great Plains, points to the despondent and helpless wife, Beret Hansa, in O.E. Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth, as perhaps the most common image of women on the American frontier, and interestingly notes that Rolvaag himself never homesteaded. Mari Sandoz and Willa Cather, by contrast — Sandoz born on a homestead, Cather a child of the Nebraska frontier — included among their fictional characters numerous independent and capable women, and several homesteader heroines. But the indelible image of Rolvaag's "reluctant pioneer" reverberates throughout Western fiction, eclipsing other images of women in the West, including the prairie fiction written by women such as Sandoz and Cather.

Historians seeking to widen this stereotypical view have recently begun turning to the writings of westering women themselves in order to discover who and what they were, but the scarcity of written accounts by homesteading women may be one reason for their continuing omission from histories of the period. The all-consuming effort of their work left most homesteading women without the time and energy for recording their experiences, their few published memoirs insufficient to offset the commonly held image of Western women as powerless and dependent helpmates."I9

Thus A Homesteader's Portfolio stands as an especially significant work, presenting not only a rare but an extraordinarily complete report of the single-handed woman homesteader on a landscape fraught with peril and difficulty — a woman not the victim of her circumstances but taking her place as a part of history, and a maker of history.

In fact, Alice's eighteen year 'experiment" in Oregon typifies homesteading experience-by both men and women-throughout the dry-land West. Her effort and failure epitomizes in particular the pattern of settlement on the Oregon high desert, where lay most of the lands opened to entry by the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909.

The early stream of settlers that flowed over the Oregon Trail beginning in the 1840s had passed straight across the Great Plains and the dry northeastern shoulder of Oregon without considering these lands fit for agriculture — they were intent on reaching the rich bottom lands of the Willamette river valley, the well-watered and wooded interior valleys of Western Oregon. But by the 1870s, as land-seekers found preferred areas already claimed, settlement began to rebound eastward across the Cascades.20 The first Oregon-born generation, and latecomers from the East, began taking up tracts an earlier generation had turned their backs on. Stock raisers in particular moved onto watered lands wherever cattle and sheep could find adequate pasturage. But much of central Oregon, defined by high elevation and extremes of weather, as well as prevailing aridity, remained unsettled through the end of the nineteenth century. And when settlement finally came to this region after the turn of the century it was both swift and brief.

The "public domain" — land available for sale, entry and settlement under various provisions of United States homestead laws — was land once occupied by Native American peoples, and acquired by the federal government in cession from the original states, by "discovery," by treaty and purchase from foreign governments, and by treaty and usurpation from the tribes. Homestead laws varied over the years but generally allowed the head of a family to file a claim on a plot of land, usually 160 acres, and to gain ownership by paying a small filing fee and making certain "improvements" — clearing a portion of the land, erecting fence, building a home — and living on the land for a certain number of years. The Desert Land Act of 1891 had doubled the acreage that had been allowed under the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862, but with the stipulation that the land be irrigated and producing a crop within three years. With the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909, the onus of irrigation was removed, and in Oregon it was this change that opened a flood of settlement in the high desert east of the Cascades and south of the Blue Mountains.

The passage of the Enlarged Homestead Act came at a pivotal point.21 Frederick Jackson Turner's declaration of the "closing of the frontier" had begun to sink into public consciousness by the turn of the century, and as the nation began an uneasy shift from a predominantly rural population to an urban one, two major pieces of conservation legislation set aside millions of acres for national parks and forest reserves."22 There was a widespread perception that the public domain would soon be gone, and the Back-to-the-Land movement, fervidly proclaiming the view that a life on the land was morally and physically more healthful than city life, was in part an emotional response to this perceived ending of a 300-year American "birthright." Within this general atmosphere of anxiety over the passing of the frontier and the dwindling supply of unreserved farmland, the prices for both land and agricultural products began to rise. At the same time, the introduction of mechanized equipment, chemical fertilizers, and "scientific" methods of cultivation — especially the advent of dry farming as a systematic set of farming practices — seemed to promise an extension of the limits of arable land. And in the wake of the panic of 1907, railroad promoters and Back-to-the-Land enthusiasts seeking to attract people to the arid lands of the West trumpeted their message to an audience of unemployed urban workers and recent foreign immigrants.

In the midst of this flurry of change and anxiety, Americans answered the Enlarged Homestead Act as though it were a final summons. Nationally, more land was homesteaded in the twenty years after 1900 than in the forty years before. If the frontier were indeed passing from the American scene, here was one last chance to participate in it, and people who had never considered homesteading, along with those who had tried it more than once before, rushed to take up claims, even though lands opened to entry under the changed laws were at best the marginal remnants of the Western dream.

By her own report, Alice Day Pratt was spurred westward by a wish for an independent life, but undoubtedly there was an emotional component in her action as well. In A Homesteader's Portfolio, for instance, she imagines herself "afar on the prairies with the wind in my hair and the smell of new-plowed earth in every breath I drew.... Behind, what extremes of gayety [sic] and misery, what competition, what life at high pressure! Before, what calm, what freedom, what limitless spaces, what hope and opportunity!" (pp 2-3). In Alice's unpublished novel, Sagebrush Fires, as the heroine describes her father's vision of a home in central Oregon, Alice's own voice can perhaps be heard: "He dreamed of making an ideal home in the sagebrush country. He said civilization had gone very far wrong in many ways, getting farther and farther from Nature. He said that most of those that come into this life had been too hard pressed, have had no chance or opportunity to think about anything but making a living. . . . He wanted to help build up a community open-minded and truly progressive, founded on all the best that we know" (p.69).

For all their visionary hopes, even homesteaders with some experience of farming were daunted by the unfamiliar exigencies of the desert. "Locating" a suitable piece of land was a thriving business, and men as well as women seeking appropriate land for homesteading made use of their services. Representing themselves as knowledgeable about an area, locators advertised their expert advice for varying fees, hoping to attract the attention of landseekers like Alice Pratt who had come West without yet filing on a particular site.

The Crooked River valley, to which Alice's locator directed her, was one of several areas in central Oregon widely promoted for its potential as a future wheat-producing region. Newspapers throughout Crook and Lake counties frequently headlined plans for a railroad to connect Prineville to Redmond and Bend, and an extension of The Dalles-Bend route into California and across the desert to Lakeview and to Boise. Irrigation projects were expected to come to the region as a result of the U.S. Reclamation Act of 1902. Irrigation notwithstanding, rainfall on the central Oregon sagebrush lands was declared to be sufficient to grow wheat, with most promotional material and some U.S. Weather Bureau statistics putting the rainfall at ten to twenty inches yearly.23 There was no reason for Alice to doubt that her locator had steered her toward one of the most promising areas of unreserved lands. And the base of Friar Butte, the particular site to which he brought her, must have recommended itself immediately: its "unfailing" spring assured necessary water in a region where water could never be taken for granted.

When she returned to the land office at Prineville to file her homestead entry, Alice claimed only 160 acres. Though most homesteaders were attracted to central Oregon by the publicity surrounding the Enlarged Homestead Act — and provisions of that act would have allowed entry to 320 acres — the residence requirement for a 160-acre claim under the original Homestead Act was three years rather than five, and a claim could be commuted, at $1.25 per acre, after residence of only fourteen months. Most entrymen filed, as Alice did, under the earlier provisions. Only after 1912, when the residence requirement under the Enlarged Homestead Act was relaxed from five years to three, did the number of enlarged homestead entries soar, and people like Alice who had already claimed 160 acres filed second claims, bringing their total holdings up to 320 acres.24

The law allowed a grace period of up to six months before a claimant had to take up residence on the claim. While some homesteaders used this time to build their houses before moving onto the homestead site, Alice was not uncommon in taking full advantage of the delay. After filing on the Broadview land, she finished out the school year teaching at Stanfield, and then entrained for Redmond.

Simply getting one's belongings to central Oregon was laboriously difficult. Then, as now, no railroads crossed the middle of the state. Alice, traveling from Pendleton, would have taken the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company line, westbound as far as The Dalles, then south to Redmond; from Redmond, an auto stage crossed the twenty miles east to Prineville and brought her up the Crooked River valley another thirty miles to Post-a journey much the same as this one recounting a trip from Bend to Bums in 1913:

I thought I knew an automobile; but I found that I had never been on one of the Western desert breed.... The trail takes account of every possible bunch of sagebrush and greasewood to he met with on the way. it never goes over a bunch if it can go around a bunch; and as there is nothing hut bunches all the way, the road is very devious. It turns, here and there, every four or five feet (perhaps the sagebrush clumps average five feet apart), and it has a habit, too, whenever it sees the homesteader's wire fences, of dashing for them, down one side of the claim, steering clear of all the clumps of sage, but ripping along horibly near to the sizzling barbs of the wire and the untrimmed stubs on the juniper posts; then darting into the brush this way, that way, every way. . .25

When Alice and her belongings were finally deposited at the post office-store comprising the tiny community of Post, she was dependent on the generosity of neighbors, and her own "carrying power," for getting her goods across the last four miles to her homestead site at Friar Butte. It was weeks before all of her dunnage made its way across that last, formidable frontier.

Government publications and promotional literature candidly advised prospective homesteaders to bring enough capital with them for an initial outlay on stock, equipment, seeds, and building materials, and enough cash to cover living expenses until the first income-earning crop could be brought in. It was said that "any man with from 3,000 to 5,000 dollars capital who was not afraid of hardship and hard work could make the land support a family by the time the capital was expended."" But people with a substantial amount of capital could find more suitable land for purchase elsewhere-the irrigated Stanfield Project, for instance-and most arrived as Alice did with little more than could be loaded on a wagon, or piled onto the auto stage.

Alice met her immediate need for shelter by pitching a tent — a conventional strategy for homesteaders. The task of building a home in the central Oregon desert was never easily accomplished — natural building materials were scarce, with juniper usually proving too small, too hard, and too crooked to be suitable for logs, and pine often protected in forest reserves or standing too far from desert building sites. Milled lumber was the most relied-upon material for houses and barns, but this often meant exorbitant shipping costs — lumber had to be brought by wagon over unimproved roads from mill sites sometimes days away. Alice Pratt was fortunate in the proximity of the pine-clad Maury Mountains, which enabled her to trade eggs for building materials at a sawmill only six miles from her building site. The house she eventually built with the paid help of her neighbors was typically small and simple, of box-frame construction, unpainted and sparsely; furnished; its only unusual aspect may have been the attention she paid to the site — precisely locating her windows to take advantage of her favorite vista, the "ever changing hues" of the Blue Mountains to the East.27

Homestead law required that fencing be erected and crops sown, a development many stock ranchers who had settled in central Oregon a generation earlier could only view with antipathy. Accustomed to grazing their cattle on the public domain, these "Old Oregonians," as Alice termed them, regarded the wave of twentieth-century homesteaders as an invasion. Alice's early naivete about ranchers' hostility to homesteaders is a wry subtext in A Homesteader's Portfolio. "It amuses me at this distance to picture what must have been the contrast between my unguarded and interrogative innocence and their shrewd reserve," Alice remarks from the "distance" of nearly ten years on the land (Portfolio, p.49). Many of her misfortunes, especially her chronic difficulties finding reliable farm help, were related to antagonism from ranchers. "The only way to deal with them homesteaders is to starve 'em out," remarks one of Alice's Old Oregonians. In writing for The Atlantic Monthly shortly after leaving Broadview in 1931 — "seeking relief for the pain of my heart" — Alice could not quite conceal her bitterness.

The introduction of Jerseys into the heart of beef country was a presumptuous act and was, to some extent, treated accordingly. The fences of the region are not built to withstand the assault of a herd sire from either side. A strain of Jersey in a beef animal detracts from his weight and also renders him less able to withstand the rigors and hardships to which he is born. 'A bullet for the Jersey bull' might have been the slogan fifteen years ago.... The first calf that I destined for a herd sire was removed from the scene of action in his early infancy. Anns Lad [a later bull] has bluffed it through, but carries at least one bullet and several scars as souvenirs of visits outside his proper range. On my side, I have become familiar with the aspect of every range hull in the vicinity. . . One February evening, when snow lay deep, a huge Hereford, with horns like the traditional Texan, tore my barnyard gate to shreds, let seven horses in with him on to the last, small stack of hay that I was able to secure that year, tore several cows loose from their moorings in the shed, and occupied their quarters, in which I found him calmly reposing in the morning. What cattleman, if cases were reversed, would not have shot him where he lay? Yet intrusions upon the dairy herd receive little attention.... More than a score of whiteface calves have intruded themselves into my otherwise homogeneous herd, a better testimony than my complaints, to trespassing from without ("Jerseys," p.57).

For her friendships, Alice turned most often to other newly arrived homesteaders. Pie suppers, basket socials, holiday picnics and pageants, as well as impromptu outings, evenings of cards, singing, or dancing, were popular and frequent pastimes in homesteading communities throughout the West, and much in evidence in Alice's society of "hard-working bachelors." In a study of Fort Rock-Christmas Lake Valley homesteaders, Barbara Allen asserts that such "intense" socializing afforded not only a welcome but a psychologically necessary diversion from the physical, emotional and economic hardships that desert life imposed on the homesteaders. Many had come from urbansettings where amenities such as electric lights and indoor plumbing were taken for granted and had engaged in occupations far less physically demanding or economically precarious than farming. Even the people who had agricultural experience had to adapt themselves to the peculiar conditions of the high desert. Everyone had to cope with the extremes of heat and cold and inadequate protection from either, with cramped living quarters and a monotonous diet, with hard work and limited rewards for its accomplishment, with separation from former homes and friends and isolation from the world at large.28

A Homesteaders Portfolio frequently suggests such needfulness — as when Alice describes a social event in the Basin as "one of those little dinners that are becoming quite the thing with a happy circle of us — friendly gatherings that make a strong appeal to the new and lonesome homesteader" (p.80).

At times she records plaintive journal entries of a more personal kind-her wistful desire to take in orphans, for instance, and her often conflicted views on love and marriage: "What sort of old maid am I anyway that I can't walk home in the moonlight with an attractive boy without tingling from head to foot! Good reason why devoted hermits segregate themselves. in the peace of Broadview I haven't felt this way for lo these many moons" (Portfolio, p.92).

In fact, opportunities for marriage presented themselves — bachelors in the rural West viewed each succeeding school teacher as a possible wife — but she "fear[ed] the life-long bond." In writing years afterward of her winters at the Conant Basin school, Alice reported that "one handsome French man began at once in a business-like way, spending Sunday afternoons (such presious [sic] afternoons) with me. He brought, each time, a single vegetable as a present and as an example of his agriculture. He told me in a note that he 'had nottings' but that he would take good care of my 'stalk'. I switched my day of going to the valley [Broadview] from Saturday to Sunday. After he had called twice and found me absent, he took the hint" (Trek, Chapter 7, p. 11 ).29 She was one of those, she said, "to whom the thought that spontaneity might become obligation is intolerable."

Homesteading was an arduous life for a single person, male or female. once fenced, the land had to be cleared of sagebrush, and homestead law required that at least one-eighth of the acreage — five acres out of every forty — be under cultivation within three years. Turning sage and grasslands into productive farmland involved a good deal of back-breaking work, and most homesteaders undertook it within the context of a family, with success depending upon the physical labors of not only a husband and a wife — or brother and sister — but also children and other relatives, often parents, cousins, or in-laws.30 Frequently, homesteaders traded work with their neighbors, helping one another to build a house or barn, to clear or fence a field, plow, or harvest a crop. Alice's solitariness may have been her most unusual condition. Being not only single but a woman, and utterly alone on her land, Alice was at a disadvantage in trying to reciprocate a neighbor's labor. With no "bank account" to draw on, she was often in straits when she needed a strong back to help with field work or building — a lament that rings throughout A Homesteader's Portfolio.

Even with the efforts of several family members, wresting a living from arid land was a difficult proposition at best, and nearly all those who took up homestead claims in the Oregon high desert had to look for a source of income other than the land itself. By the time a settler had purchased lumber for a house, wire for fencing, supplies for the family, and seed for crops, littlecapital was left.31 When their money gave out they found employment where they could, and this often meant spending at least a few months of each year at work away from their claims. While men were away working for wages, the women and children remained to plow, grub sagebrush, haul wood and water; adolescent children took work as hired girls or cowboys, seamstresses or carpenters, and contributed their wages to the family income.32 The few single men and women like Alice, without other family members to help carry the load, were in an especially difficult situation. While her journal had joyously proclaimed a three-year freedom from "rows upon rows of little desks," Alice was quickly obliged to take a winter teaching position at the Post-Newsom school, and she spent the following winterat a Prineville school, living in a tent house at the edge of the town. When the third winter33 came around and she realized that her still unplanted wheat could be put to use supplying feed for the chickens, she "decided to stay by the place." Though she had hoped the gain from eggs would see her through, midwinter found her impoverished to the point of "lack[ing] two cents for postage." She turned to writing as a mean of supplementing her meager income: in the 1910s, two poems that would later appear in A Homesteader's Portfolio were sold to Sunset, and two articles made their appearance in The Atlantic Monthly. In 1922, The Macmillan Company brought out A Homesteader's Portfolio. At least one unpublished short story also dates from the 1920s. But throughout her eighteen years at Broadview, economic hardship continually drove her back to teaching, and she was often absent from the land in the winter months.34 Her neighbors faced this situation as well, but Alice, as a bachelor without other family members on the land, had also the difficulty of seeing to the needs of her livestock, tending her fields and fences, and keeping up her buildings without a helping hand.

All across the arid West, homesteaders followed the methodology of dry farming: plowing deep, harrowing after each rain, increasing the organic matter in the soil, and fallowing half their fields in alternate years — procedures designed to trap moisture in the ground where it would be available for the growing plants. Dry farming had an ancient history, but its popularity in the United States in the first decades of this century grew from adaptations developed by H.W. Campbell around 1900, when he successfully introduced its use into Graham County in western Kansas, a region with fifteen-inch rainfall. One appeal of dry farming was its status as a scientific, up-to-date approach, and Alice reports "diligently studying" bulletins of state and county experiment stations for advice on dry farming techniques, and receiving both experimental seeds and advice from the "county agriculturist" — probably the U.S.D.A. County Agricultural Extension Agent, a program established in 1913. Though the U.S.D.A. in the 1910s was cautioning farmers against putting too much reliance on the "still experimental" dry farming techniques, the methods of dry farming were widely promulgated in several popular handbooks and in numerous articles that appeared in national and local newspapers. The Dry Farming Congress in particular — its membership made up of railroad executives, representatives of agricultural equipment manufacturers, and government and civic bureaucrats — was at work spreading rosy visions of what dry farming would accomplish in the arid regions. Seldom was much attention paid to actual tests and trials; dry farming promoters concentrated on promises of the future.35

While wheat was expected to be the primary cash crop among dry land farmers in central Oregon — and Alice also reports early efforts to grow field peas, Milo Maize, and alfalfa — her first plowed ground was given over to a vegetable garden. Virtually all homesteaders, cash-poor and facing high prices for scarce goods at desert stores, cleared just enough land in the first year to grow foodstuffs for their own families. in addition, nearly everyone kept chickens as food for the table. Where there were local markets for egg sales, chickens could also be a supplement to income, and Alice's full-fledged chicken operation, utilizing the most modern methods of incubation and enjoying a home market just six miles away among the "good sized force" at the sawmill, was "the one materialized hope of my adventure." The milk, cream, and butter from dairy cattle were another common source of both food and cash, though Alice declared her own dairy herd "has not been commercially successful."

In the spring and early summer these slopes are ideal as Jersey pasture. Probably no succulent feed surpasses young bunch grass in milk production. When the inevitable drought comes on, early or late, milk begins to fail, and I must look for watered fields, and haystacks that are the product of irrigated lands. . . . To keep my Jerseys, I have taught during parts of most years, earning the disrespect of my business-minded friends, the disgust of banks and loan companies that have, from time to time, seen me through the dubious experiment, and for myself, gray hairs, calloused hands — and some intangibles ("Jerseys, " p. 52).

She counted among those intangibles the "gentle response of these calm and friendly creatures that soothes the spirit and leaves the mind free for its own excursions. Not so with the harassing companionship of non-understanding humans" (Portfolio, p. 138). Alice's written work very often reflects this fond attachment to "the lower orders": all five of Pratt's Atlantic Monthly essays, both of her books written for children, and long portions of her two published hooks of memoirs concern themselves with animals, and reveal an emotional sensibility that may have derived from her mother, who she said "entered into the experiences of our wild neighbors and pitied them in their vicissitudes" (Frontiers, p.4). In this, as in her single-handedness, Alice seems to stand apart from other homesteaders. Though her idealism led her to hope that a "developing sensibility ... will deliver us from the stockyards and the habit of feeding upon our fellow creatures" ("Jerseys," p.53), she was grimly aware of the homesteaders' and stockmen's common treatment of animals. "Toward other species than the human, principle and practice were hard and rigorous. Exploitation for human profit was the only recognized use of 'the beasts that perish' and a naive astonishment greeted any other viewpoint. Hunting and trapping were the pastimes of the winter season, and killing was the appropriate human reaction to the phenomena of animate existence" (Portfolio, p. 45).

For herself — even in her relations with destructive plagues of jackrabbits, and chicken-eating hawks — Alice practiced a compassionate conservation ethic, undertaking to protect her animals and fields by the most minimal, least torturous methods, and taking thoughtful stock of her own ecological impact on the desert: "For a thousand years, presumably, this vast plateau which is now my home has been covered with sage-brush and bunch grass and sprinkled with juniper trees, and has supported a normal population of jack rabbits and sage rats. Then suddenly comes man with his alien stock, his dogs and his cats, his new and succulent crops, with their admixture of weed seeds and germs of insect life. And lo, this quiet and harmonious state of nature is all in turmoil" (Portfolio, P. 144).36

Her inclination toward the perspective of animals seemingly gave her a clear-eyed view of the human place in natural history. "How Nature should smile over our little arrogancies and proprietorships! Even the dinosaurs dominated the earth for only a hundred million years or so! And only a bone here and there records their enormous size and strength" (Frontiers, p.53). This wry observation takes on a particular poignancy in light of Alice's own experience homesteading in the arid West, for the buoyant optimism and energetic growth in central Oregon in the early years of the twentieth century gave way quickly to poverty, defeat, and flight. By 1916 — only six years after the peak of homestead entries in the West — the homesteading boom was already over, and by 1920 a wholesale exodus had cut the desert population by more than half. Abandoned homesteaders' houses ghosted the central Oregon landscape. Only one of every five and a half entries went to final proof,37 and by 1940, 65 percent of the land claimed under the Enlarged Homestead Act had reverted to the federal government.38

A string of factors contributed to this swift reversal, but most notable among them was the weather.39 Throughout much of the West, several relatively wet and mild years coincided with the rush of homesteaders. Weather records were not kept before the arrival of the homesteaders in the 1900s, but average rainfall around Bend in the years 1902-1912 was nearly three inches above what would later prove to be the long-term average, and only two years of the next six were below the norm .40 The average number of frost-free days was also generally favorable during the first few years after the passage of the Enlarged Homestead Act. These salutary conditions, combined with the deceptive productivity of the virgin soil, temporarily nourished the hopes and expectations of homesteaders all across the West .41 For a time, nearly every 320-acre parcel from Bend to Burns and from Prineville to Lakeview was occupied and individually farmed. Under the impetus of the "new" system of dry farming, thousands of acres of land that had been exclusively range country were entered and put to the plow-and only then did the limitations of dry farming reveal themselves, with crop yield even during this favorable weather period falling below the level necessary to successfully support a family. When the weather after 1916 began to return to its drier and colder standard, homesteaders with little or no reserves to sustain them began to give up their farms.42 R. A. Long and E. R. Jackman-"Old Oregonians" with long-time roots in the area wrote that "it usually took five years for a man to arrive, build a house, fence some land, break it, put in a crop, wait in vain to harvest it, lose his money, get tired of jack rabbit stew, and leave."43

Those who stayed, including Alice Pratt, faced a succession of worsening blows. Irrigation and cultivation, by drawing salts to the surface, aggravated the natural alkalinity of the desert soils, and the fine dry topsoil in fallow fields blew away on the wind, sometimes to a depth of two or three feet.44 Diminishing precipitation was quickly reflected in the lowering levels of wells, while the clearing of willows and sage from nearby slopes caused springs to begin to silt. jack rabbits, which had troubled the homesteaders in their fields and gardens from the beginning, became an intolerable plague. They swarmed over the fields by the thousands and stripped the tender new shoots of wheat, lettuce, and peas as fast as the growth appeared. Wheat that survived the ravages of rabbits turned yellow with the onset of hot, dry weather and withered before it could head out. Though the rail line connecting Prineville with Redmond was finally put through in 1918, lines that had been expected to connect them to markets in California and Boise failed to materialize, as did promised irrigation projects. Expensive "heavy teaming" continued to he necessary to get supplies into the country and the grain crops back to the railway. By the time the bottom fell out of the wheat market in the agricultural depression of the early 1920s, half the homesteaders were already gone and the communities that had grow up around them were already disappearing.

Still, Alice Pratt hung on. The string of dry years continued unabated into 1925, and the winter of 1924-25 was a particularly hard one. In her unpublished manuscript, Teacher's Trek, Alice, who was then living and teaching at Maur school, twenty miles east of Post on the Crooked River, reported a memorable storm.

"The next morning we came together in a blinding snowstorm. It was not very old, but the storm was difficult to breast. All day it drove and whistled against the south wall of the school house. Snow piled up on that side, to the upper sashes of the windows. We worked in a soft twilight. It lay across the road in huge, packed drifts. We were warm and cosey [sic] in our well-built school house, with plenty of piney wood. We prosecuted our regular tasks and practiced the Christmas program diligently, but we were rather sober. All of the business interests of my pupils' families were 'live' interests and-sad to say-unsheltered. "

That night, calves who had sought protection in the hare willow thickets along the river were crying in the night. The next day was the coldest of her life, thirty-three degrees below zero at midmoring. Alice trudged out to see her young roosters. In a passage that seems to echo thatchildhood story of her frost-bitten ears, she wrote,

"The twenty young cocks, as white as the snow drifts, sat starkly upon their perches as if enchanted. There was a statuesqueness about them that sent a chill over me, cold as I was, No, they were not dead, but thos [sic] wattles that characterize their breed were as hard and stiff as plaster. Their feet were not frozen. It was the evening dip in the water dish that had done the mischief Dabbling in the water had started the freezing before the night's cold had found them. Full-feeding was all that had saved the flock from death."

Tramping back through the drifts, she was struck by

"The appearance of the little house, lost in the wilderness of snow, and fringed with icicles almost to the ground.... Sometimes, in the doubly walled shelter of a steam-heated apartment building I wake on a midwinter night and wonder whether the little house still stands in a wilderness of snow, and whether little calves are crying in the willows" (Trek, Chapter 8, pp. .3-9).

The following spring was early and wet, but when another dry cycle began in 1928 and persisted into the 1930s, overlapping the widening economic depression of that decade, the death knell was sounded for Alice Pratt's adventure at Broadview. In the spring of 1930 the loan company took possession of her jerseys, and finally the herd was sold for exactly the amount of the loan.45 Alice gave away her chickens to the old friends whose ranch adjoined hers, asking them to tend her land and care for her ponies "as long as they lived."46 And at the close of 1930 she left the Broadview house for the last time.

"The homesteading era was pathetic, I suppose," wrote E.R. Jackman. "Eastern schoolteachers were the most notable group. They came with a dreamy, mystical approach, hopelessly impractical."47 He put forward Alice Day Pratt — "an old maid schoolteacher from New York" — as a kind of proof, by citing without comment a particularly flowery passage from A Homesteader's Portfolio." But in fact, Alice had managed to hang on to her "homesteading dream" more than a decade after most other homesteaders had packed their belongings and left the desert — this despite her solitariness and meager resources. She had tramped afoot as much as six miles daily to her school post in every kind of weather; had ridden weekly as much as sixty miles roundtrip to Broadview in order to meet the residence requirement on her property; had single-handedly tossed and stacked 100,000 pounds of hay — "twenty five tons lifted twice" — even as her friends on nearby homesteads were giving up and going off to other endeavors. She had withstood repeated crop failures, depredations of range cattle and jack rabbits, the hostility and larceny of her ranching neighbors — and perhaps would have been wryly amused to hear Jackman's characterization of her as dreamy. She had herself once criticized Hamlin Garland as a man who "was no born farmer. He lacked the tastes and appreciation that are the alleviations of the hardships of farming" ("Jerseys" P.55).49 In her view, it was the capacity to dream — to "be a child again — a child of the desert" — that made sense of the harsh realities of the homesteading experience. Her feeling for both the landscape and the life of the farm sprang not from dreamy mysticism but from long, practical experience, lived close upon the land.

The last third of Three Frontiers was virtually a reissue of A Homesteaders Portfolio, with lengthy portions taken verbatim from the earlier work. But Alice Pratt's closing comment in Three Frontiers was written from more than twenty years remove. "Now, in 1953 , I would add this word that experience has made clear to me: Success may be the smallest and least important of the fruits of endeavor; it is the endeavor itself, the opportunity to use one's whole self completely — initiative, creativity, and physical strength — that is its own reward: and it may well be that one looks back upon the times of greatest strain and anxiety as the high points in [ones] pilgrimage" (p. 132).

Barbara Allen, remarking on the widespread inclination among historians and other writers to dismiss the twentieth-century homesteaders as "at best shortsighted and at worst benighted fools," wrote that "Either judgement is, of course, grossly unfair to what the homesteaders did, why they did it, and what their acts ultimately meant."50

Alice Day Pratt in A Homesteader's Portfolio — exploring what she did and why she did it — shines a rare light on a signal event in the history of the American West. Her life at Broadview illuminates not only the powerfully defining American dream of land ownership, but women's stake in that dream. And for the meaning in Alice Pratt's life, we may do well to look at the landscape of her own frontier myth — at the intersection where her independent spirit and tacit feminism converge with the ideals of the Back-to-the-Land movement and a conservationist ethos. I have been cold and hungry and ragged and penniless," she said. I have been free and strong and buoyant and glad."

  1. All biographical information concerning Alice Pratt's childhood in Minnesota and Dakota Territory derives from her memoir, Three Frontiers.
  2. It's a difficult problem: how to refer to Alice Pratt in a way that is both respectful and graceful. Repeated usage of her full name is cumbersome, to say the least, and her last name used alone — perhaps just because its inherent unmelodiousness — seems brusque and surly. Other writers would doubtless reach other conclusions, but after weeks of living very nearly inside Alice's life, I find I am most comfortable referring to her as I would a friend — with grace and respect — by her given name.
  3. Biographical information on Alice's life in these later homesteading years, 1918-1930, has been gathered from her unpublished manuscript, Teacher's Trek, from Brooks Ragen's unpublished manuscript "Alice Day Pratt in Oregon," and from my interviews with the Pratt family. "Dinner in the Basin," Chapter XIV of A Homesteader's Portfolio, describes a social visit over the rimrock to Conant Basin; it is very likely that her long-standing friendships in the area led to her teaching post at the Conant school.
  4. In Teacher's Trek, Pratt wrote: ". . . three miles, across bleak fields, in sunshine and storm, in heat and cold, took more or less out of the teacher. I made the journey most often on foot, because I could slip through the intervening fences, which necessitated a weary around for a horse" (Chapter 7, p.9). Alice was known throughout the Post area for her-inclination to walk great distances in all manner of weather. See Clarine Silver, "The Old Maid of Friar Butte," Eugene Register Guard (April 23, 1972), and Beverly Wolverton, A Hundred and Sixty Acres in the Sage: Homestead History of the Immediate Post Area (Post, Oregon: Beverly Wolverton, 1984).
  5. Brooks Ragen, "Alice Day Pratt in Oregon" (unpublished ms, 1976), pp.28-29. In Animals of a Sagebrush Ranch, Alice gives a poignant account of "Peggy" and her dog, having lost the trail on a day hike between Wheeler and Cannon Beach, wandering lost in the Coast Range for four rainy nights and days — an ordeal that Alice's family recalls as true.
  6. Sagebrush Fires I and II comprise a two-part novel set in the Maury Mountains in the 1910s and 20s. As cited by Brooks Ragen, the heroine of Sagebrush Fires is a woman, Barbara Wescott, who is homesteading a small ranch. Unmarried until near the end of the book, she spends her non-working hours reading science and "the great novels." The man she ultimately marries, John Farmham, is a wealthy Western artist. Their home is "famed as a centre [sic] of free discussion. The only idea that does not receive hospitality there is the idea that the last word of wisdom has been pronounced on any subject" (Part 11, p.80).
  7. Silver, p.11.
  8. Biographical information regarding Alice Pratt's later life has been gathered from my interviews with the Pratt family, from Clarine Silver, "The Old Maid of Friar Butte," and from Brooks Ragen, "Alice Day Pratt in Oregon."
  9. Alice's brother, whom she referred to affectionately as "J.W.," was an internationally recognized historian in the field of American diplomatic history.
  10. Of the several studies of homestead entries made by women, the most frequently cited is the Wyoming and Colorado sampling reported by Sheryll and Gene Patterson-Black, which originally appeared in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies I (Summer 1976), but which I encountered in slightly different form in Western Women in History and Literature (Crawford, Nebraska: Cottonwood Press, 1978). The Patterson-Blacks report an average of 11 .9 percent of homestead entrants were women in samples taken from land records in Lamar, Colorado, and Douglas, Wyoming. In sample years, percentages varied from 4.8 percent in Douglas in 1891 to 18.2 percent in Lamar in 1907. Other writers have estimated as much as one-third of Western lands may have been held by women.
  11. Unsuccessful homesteaders "relinquished" their claims to the government. But people who gave up their claims before gaining title to the land often tried to recoup the investments they had already made by selling their relinquishments rather than turning them back to the public domain. Buyers were given credit for the time that had already been spent on the claims, and took over responsibility for fulfilling the remaining legal requirements under the land laws.
  12. Alice not only referred to herself as "The Pilgrim" but also used pseudonyms for her neighbors — "Ben Franklin" and "Isaac. Newton," among the most obvious. The "Nash girls" were probably the Knox sisters, well-known residents and landholders in the Post area in the 1910s and 1920s. See Beverly A. Wolverton, A Hundred and Sixty Acres in the Sage. In Wolverton's anecdotal history of the Post area, many single women homesteaders are named, including several women who went on homesteading alone following the death of a husband. Casual references to women homesteaders are often abundant in local histories such as Wolverton's.
  13. A. May Holaday, "The Lure of the West for Women," Sunset 38 (March 1917), p.61.
  14. In discussing the motivations of women homesteaders, I have largely followed Sheryll Patterson-Black, "Women Homesteaders on the Great Plains Frontier," and Sheryll and Gene Patterson-Black, "From Pack Trains to Publishing: Women's Work in the Frontier West," Western Women in History and Literature (Crawford, Nebraska: Cottonwood Press, 1978).
  15. Alice's own family had broadened its holdings in Dakota when Grandfather Rand, at his son-in-law's urging, filed on 160 acres adjoining their homestead. Such homesteads were usually farmed cooperatively, with the individual family member meeting the residence requirement on his or her own. Richard Rand, for instance, lived in a little cabin the stipulated time to gain title to the land, though other requirements were apparently met by his daughter's family. Often, to ease the difficulty of separate residences, houses were built at or straddling the common property line. In a telephone discussion, a man responding to my homesteading novel The Jump-Off Creek recounted the story of his mother and her three sisters who, he said, had filed on adjoining homesteads and built their houses all in a cluster at the intersection of the four comers of their individual claims.
  16. Alice herself gave this as a reason for going West. I have crossed the Rubicon," she wrote in A Homesteader's Portfolio (p.65). "On the thither side lie fifteen years of ardent schoolroom life, rows upon rows of little desks, the daily tension, the rigid schedule, principals amiable and crabbed, superintendents broad-minded and arbitrary, school boards enlightened and ignorant, varying community requirements, social conservatisms, religious bigotries. For three years no binding contracts, no hours to keep, no patrons to please, no customs with which to conform, no conventionalities to respect, no standards to measure up to, no Mrs. Grundy to conciliate!"
  17. In the Patterson-Blacks' research of government land office records at Lamar, Colorado (for the representative years 1887 and 1907), and Douglas, Wyoming 1891, 1907, and 1908), 37 percent of men made final claim to the land, while 42.4 percent of the women succeeded.
  18. Dorothy Gray, Women of the West (Millbrae, Califomia: Les Femmes, 1976), p.3.
  19. Many of the accounts that sound promising — such as Elinore Pruitt Stewart's well-known Letters of a Woman Homesteader were in fact written not by solitary women homesteaders but instead by women who homesteaded with their husbands, or by women recalling their childhood on a parental homestead. Of the few accounts by women who homesteaded alone — none providing as whole and representative a picture as Alice Pratt's — these are known to me: Woman in Levis by Eulalia Boume — a teacher who homesteaded in Arizona in the 1930s; Shepherdess of Elk River by Margaret Brown — a widow who continued homesteading after her husband's death in the 1910s; No Life for a Lady by Agnes Morley Cleveland — a childhood reminiscence, but the mother was a widow homesteading alone in New Mexico in the late nineteenth century; Silence of the North by Olive Frederick — a woman with three children, homesteading in British Columbia during the1930s; Land of the Burnt Thigh by Edith Eudora Kohl — two sisters who homesteaded in South Dakota in the early 1900s; Mountain Charley: The Adventures of a Woman Thirteen Years in Male Attire by Charley O' Kieffe — not a homesteading account, but describes at some length her childhood experiences with a mother who homesteaded alone in Nebraska in the I 880s; Bachelor Bess by Elizabeth Corey — a collection of letters from a homesteader to her brother, over the years 1909-1919.
  20. For three different views of the area's history, see Barbara Allen, Homesteading the High Desert (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987); Kaymond K. Hatton, High Desert of Central Oregon (Portland: Binford and Mort, 1977); and EX Jackman and R.A. Long, The Oregon Desert (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1964).
  21. This discussion of the factors contributing to the surge of early twentieth-century homesteaders largely follows Barbara Allen, Homesteading the High Desert.
  22. A provision in the Act to Repeal the Timber Culture Laws (March 3, 1891) authorized the President to withdraw public forest lands from entry, and to establish forest reserves by proclamation. It was an act without teeth until administration and protection of forest reserves were provided for by the Sundry Civil Appropriation Act (June 4, 1897). Between 1900 and 1910 more than 150 million acres were withdrawn from settlement. See E.Louise Peffer, The Closing of the Public Domain: Disposal and Reservation Policies, 1909-1950 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1951).
  23. Allen, p.119.
  24. See Allen, pp.34-35, for a discussion of homesteaders' tendency to file under the older law. Alice mentions her second filing in Portfolio, p.116. Later, her growing herd of Jersey cows qualified her to double her allotment again-to 640 acres-under the provisions of the 1916 Stockraising Homestead Act, to which she makes a sidelong reference in Portfolio, p.180.
  25. Dallas Lore Sharp, Where Rolls the Oregon (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1914), pp.49-50.
  26. Urling Coe, Frontier Doctor (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1939), p.227.
  27. For an interesting description of the abandoned Broadview house some forty years later, see Clarine Silver, "The Old Maid of Friar Butte."
  28. Allen, pp.79-80.
  29. Barbara Allen reports an experience similar to Alice's, recorded in the diary of Anna Steinhoff, who homesteaded with her sister near Christmas Lake in 1910: "This afternoon one of the bachelor neighbors came. He brought me a rabbit and then told me of his hunt etc.. We talked of very sensible subjects until dusk. Then his conversation drifted off on matrimony etc. I was honored with a proposal and he with a refusal before he left" (Homesteading, p.36).
  30. Sherry L. Smith, "Single Women Homesteaders: The Perplexing Case of Elinor Pruitt Stewart," Western Historical Quarterly (May 1991), XXII, 177-178. See also Allen , p.36, and Patterson-Black, p.26.
  31. In fact, some families began to leave almost as soon as they had arrived. Barbara Allen was told of a settler who had left soon after building his house. "I had that much money and I spent it. And when I spent it there was nothing else to do."Allen's informant told her, "He couldn't live on nothing, so he left" (Homesteading, p.37).
  32. For example, see Allen, pp.82-84, and Patterson-Black, p.26.
  33. Alice referred to this as her "second winter," though it was in fact her third (Portfolio, p.1 20). She occasionally lapsed into such inaccuracies. in Three Frontiers she gave June 4 as the date of her arrival at Broadview, though in the earlier-written A Homesteader's Portfolio she had given June 30 as the date.
  34. The homestead law made her seasonal absence allowable. in 1912, when the residence requirement for an enlarged homestead was relaxed from five years to three, a provision was added allowing a homesteader five months' absence from the claim each year.
  35. Allen, pp.129-133.
  36. Alice made a similar remark about Little Elk Canyon: "We as a family were never ruthless toward the earlier inhabitants of the canyon. in fact, we protected and improved the fortunes of many of them. Yet our coming made it certain that ultimately these murmuring woods would yield to the uses of man" (Frontiers, p.41).
  37. Peffer p.144.
  38. Allen, citing James Slama Buckles, "The Historical Geography of the Fort Rock Valley, 1900-1941" (M.A. thesis, University of Oregon, 1959), P-108.
  39. This discussion of the factors leading to the demise of homesteading in central Oregon derives from Barbara Allen, Homesteading the High Desert; Raymond Hatton, High Desert of Central Oregon (Portland: Binford and Mort, 1977); and E.R. Jackman and R.A. Long, The Oregon Desert (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1964).
  40. Hatton, Desert, pp.31-32.
  41. Alice, in writing of her childhood in Little Elk Canyon, declared, "Every pioneer farmer proves the superiority of new soil, especially for root crops.... As one example out of many, I might cite an historic potato: one day we boiled and mashed a potato from a neighbor's garden for our family dinner — the family at that time numbering five. What was left of that potato was fried for breakfast the next morning. What was left over from breakfast was consigned to the retainers of other species. And this potato was not particularly outstanding among the first root vegetables of the new soil!" (Frontiers, p.34).
  42. "Good years aren't expected here," wrote K.A. Long, whose family had been among the first to range cattle in the high desert. "Normally we don't count crops by tons, feet in height, or bushels to the acre — if they are alive, they are a success.... A homestead is supposed to be farmland — but the desert isn't farmland. Rainfall can drop to as low as five inches in a year, which won't raise any known crop" (Oregon, pp.44 and 46).
  43. ]ackman and Long, p.319.
  44. Allen, p.109.
  45. Brooks Kagen cites letters from Alice to her mother, March 30, 1930, and June 15, 1930, telling of an unauthorized sale made by the third party pasturing the cows:"Laddie [Ann's Lad, her longtime herd sire] and the heifers went for beef, which is not so bad from a business standpoint as it might seem, since a great deal of good dairy stock is going that way. [But] it's all cruel and horrible to me at the best. I simply have to take it as one of the horrors of the world 'the way it is'." Ragen also cites an unpublished short story, "Depression on the Rimrock," in which Alice wrote feelingly of a rancher watching his cows loaded on trucks bound for the slaughterhouse in Portland: "Every creature on the place had been a friend of the family. Death, when it must come, had been a terrible necessity.... When their rich usefulness was past, they should be killed expertly right here on the place, with no experience of apprehension or unkind handling."
  46. Writing shortly after she had left Broadview, Alice expressed the hope that her remaining horses and ponies "may live out their lives upon this solitary butte, haunting the south side in the winter season and the north side in summer, tasting the wine of spring in the ripened seed, hiding beneath juniper canopies from the driving storms, and seeking the first rays of morning on the pinnacle of the hill . . ("Hippos," p.743).
  47. Jackman and Long, p.52.
  48. Jackman selected: "The possession of ancestral acres is bound up with sentiment, yet-virgin soil bestows an inspiration of its own. How the centuries have toiled through fire and frost and wind and wave and springing life and long decay to lay their fields so wide and deep. They alone among the fields of earth have suffered neither neglect nor ignorance nor folly. Reverent as Adam we should come to them" (Portfolio, p.114-115).
  49. Interestingly, Garland was among the Western Writers discussed by Sheryll Patterson-Black in her essay "Women Homesteaders on the Great Plains Frontier." She pointed out his espousal of women's causes, and contrasted it with his use of the "reluctant pioneer" imagery in Son of the Middle Border.
  50. Allen, p.140.
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