When you see old homesteads around the west, they look lonely and forlorn. Most people don’t think much about them, but to me they are monuments to what the life in the west was really like. They are usually very small and very short, crudely built and way too simple to be comfortable.
There are many of them standing empty and neglected out on the prairie or on the edge of some mountainous country. A standing reminder of all the untold stories that are still there to tell. Many of these tales will not be yielded and will remain a mystery forever. Because of this, they grasp my imagination and leave me with many questions. Who was it that lived here? What did they do for a living? Farm, raise cattle, or maybe horses? What happened to them and where are their families now?
Not all of these questions can be answered. Those that can often leaving one feeling that what happened to the owners was not fair. Then again life is not fair.
Walking around some homesteads, you can almost feel the stress of trying to make enough money on the few cattle they had to cover your expenses and feed your family. The endless hard work that they did every day, knowing at the same time, that everything you did today could be undone by one bad storm tomorrow. Drought could come and the grass not grow for the cattle to eat. Then there were the concerns about the large cattle companies trying to push you off the land, especially if you have access to a good water source on your property, which the larger rancher may need for his cattle.
The stress and hardships that we experience today would be trivial to those who experienced the real life in the west. The old home with the falling down covered porch at the top of this article is a homesteader cabin in the Elkhorn Mountains of Montana. It is said that it was a doctor or dentist that had settled there. What things in his life possessed him to try his hand out on the rough prairie I don’t know.
It was a well built place, as far as homesteader cabins go, and there was even a handmade plank counter with built in sink on one wall. It is separated into 3 rooms, which was extravagant at that time.
In front of this home is the area that was evidently a large set of corals where horses and cattle were kept. This area is larger than many I have seen, which indicates that at the time they owners lived there, it was a rather active ranch.
I can just imagine this family with their dreams of ranching and raising their children out west. I am sure they worked hard to make their life in the west what they dreamed. Digging fence post holes in the rocky ground, developing the water from the spring out behind the cabin so that the cattle could get better access to the water down in the draw below, and working the cattle would have more than occupied all of their time. On top of that, however, the man of the house, and perhaps his sons, would need to lay in a store of hay and firewood for the 9 months of bitter cold storms and snow that would always come on them before they were fully ready for it.
After working hard from the first light of dawn until late in the afternoon, I imagine the man would come back to the little house and walk in through the creaky wooden door, tired and hungry. A blast of hominess, caused by his loving wife bustling about in the home, cooking cornbread and beef stew in the stone fireplace, would hit him in the face. Aah, the feeling of easing his tired bones into a wooden chair while the smells of food swirled around the house.
The fact that the money that he had saved in the coffee can under the bed was almost gone now and the knowledge that they had lost more cattle that he had expected during an especially harsh winter are obliterated from his troubled mind. Right now all that mattered was the love of his wife and the taste of the food being set before him.
Sitting on the porch as the sun dies slowly behind him, covering the huge expanse of the river valley with darkness, the thoughts of how they were going to make it all work start to creep back into his mind. Shaking his head, he decides to let tomorrow bring what it will. There was nothing that he could do about it that night.