Monday, September 10, 2012

Reading Bachelor Bess Homesteading Journal

Bachelor Bess - The Homesteading Letters of Elizabeth Corey, 1909 - 1919

I am only half way through reading a book called “Bachelor Bess: The Homesteading letters of Elizabeth Corey, 1909-1919”. I shared a little bit of her letter the other day. I thought I would include what I wrote and share a little bit more. The book is all the letters that Bess wrote to her Mother after setting out at a young age (in her 20s) to South Dakota to be a school teacher and to claim her own plot of land. It is a fascinating book and it has me giggling often.

Bess gives an amazing insight of what it was like to Homestead in the US and I am learning a lot through her letters about  the challenges that they had to endure back then.   The letters are extremely detailed. She writes a lot to her mother! Almost a letter a week. (Her father died before she set out on her on)

She cracks me up calling herself Bachelor Bess. Considering herself old ( she was no more than 20 at the start of her letters).   Bachelor Bess was how she closed her letter to her Mom. It started out as just a little funny to her Mom over a situation that came about from her flirting.   

Out of 10 years of letters I am just writing a few snippets that I thought were interesting to me. I have kept the misspellings and lack of punctuations when quoting her. Honestly though the book has so many interesting tidbits in it about cooking, quilting, arranging furniture, how much things cost and town personality! It would be easy to quote tons of things from it.
A Little Snippet from Sept 12, 1909
There has been several large rattle snakes killed near the school house lately -- Mr Stone killed a little one between here and there yesterday. Does Fuller (her bother) know how to use dynamite? They dynamited the den on my claim three times -- the first time they killed 149 and by that time the odor was so frightfully they had to clear out-- they got 300 all together and they say they believe three thousand got away.  Why after the explosion Mr. Stone looked into it and he said they lay as close together as the fingers of your hand.  

A little snippet from Mar 22, 1910

Saturday I did a big washing. I have to carry water from the neighbors pond now. It isn't half a mile but it gets heavy just the same. i also scrubbed my kitchen. Was glad I did as I had lots of callers the next day. 

A snippet from July 21, 1910 (at as school meeting with other teaches from other schools in a far away city, in her town there are only horses and you walk everywhere)

Tuesday afternoon there was an extra session at the school house after which the teachers were taken in autos out to the buffalo pasture where we saw three hundred feeding -- such fun as we had.  Most of the way back we came at the rate of fourty or fourty five miles an hour. They wanted to get into town before some of the others who started first. It almost blew the hair from our heads -- some of the girls hung on to theirs with both hands and one of them said, "Gee but this is rough on rats." 
A little Snippet from Nov 21, 1909
“I started bread Friday evening. I suppose you wonder how I kept my yeast from freezing. I did like everyone else out here – put it in a tight can, wrapped it up good and took it to bed with me and if holding that thing all night isn’t enough to give any old maid bad dreams I don’t know – I don’t think I ever had better luck with bread though.”
A Snippet from Dec 24, 1910
Did I write any of you about (George) Jones? A while back I was feeling blue and said I'd marry the first man that was fool enough to ask me just to get our of teaching school but I tell you I cave in when Jones hove in sight. I guess I don't want to be stepmother to seven kids-- not when they are Joneses anyway. The worst of it is-- he always talks everything over with the kids so the whole country knew what was up before I did and almost before I received his letter I heard some measly boy singing -- "When Jonesie married Bessie, A wise old owl was he."  I could have skinned him clear over and half way back.
A snippet from Monday Dec 26, 1910  (going to a Pow Wow)
Mr. Murphy wanted me to try the Indian dance. For a wonder I caught on to it at once and the compliments I received were not a few. The squaws came and patted me, pointed to my feet and talked but of course i couldn't understand them. At last Mrs Spotted Hawk told them for me so I tried to drop out of the dance but Mr Whirling Iron came after me twice and once a squaw danced with me. She put her arm around me and mine around her. They take hold of hands and dance around and round in a circle to the noise of a great big drum beaten by four Indians. The Indians dressed in their costumes and looked like real story book Indians. Oh, how I wish you could have been there! 
I ate supper with them -- of course -- the dog sausage was delicious -- beats all your pork and beef all to pieces. 
The Indians were much pleased with my dancing and were very nice to me.

Several snippets about Scarlet Fever:
     - Jan 16, 1911
       "Dear ma, I hadn't auto attempt a letter tonight my head aches so , oh so bad. I can't read and whats the use of going to bed-- I couldn't go to sleep for hours if I did -- I never do....."

    -  Jan 25 1911 (writing to her brother Olney)
        " Kid but I'm sick and I don't know what the deuce ails me ..."

    -   Feb 6, 1911  (back to her Mom again)
         "Guess I was feeling pretty bad when I wrote before but I don't see what I wrote to make you worry so.  I am all right-- just grunting a little you know but I tell you ma, I appreciate your letter. you must never think of coming to take care of me if I do get the measles or small pox or anything for there is all the rest at home and your duty to them is far greater than your duty to me. Besides if I was sick enough to need your care I'd need so much care that with the hard trip out here you would be sick yourself. 
        I'm about alright now so you can stop your sweating and if you will agree to keep cool I'll promise that if I'm ever very sick I'll keep you posted and have some one send for you if I'm seriously ill but if you are going to pack your suit case and hit the pike the first sqwak I make I'll just never tell you when I am sick till some other time even if I'm dieing..
      I don't hardly think it was measles I had but I'd like to know what it was.  I'm pealing off now -- ugh!"
      They say Oscar W. has the small pox awful bad -- and the crazy bat wrote a letter to Mr Speer now while he is so bad -- said he could only write a few lines and then lie down and rest and then write a few more. I don't think they should write letters when they have a contagious disease." 
     - Feb 21, 1911
        "Last evening I walked into town to have my food looked at. Am pleased to inform you that it is just a "Gumbile" and not the gout as I feared. The Dr opened it- cut off the corn and dressed the thing and told me how to treat it -- guess it won't have to be amputated if I take good care of it. he only charged me $1. He says it was scarlet fever which I had a while back and if he had known of it I'd have been quarantined.

   -  March 6, 1911
      "Dear ma - When did I write to you last? Wasn't it right after I had that "grumile" operated on? The doctor told me that evening it was scarlet fever in a light form that Klemanns and I had. I think it must be what some people call scaletinea.   A week ago Thursday -- no Wednesday -- Little Katherine Carlisle went home sick. They went to the doctor and he quarantined them.
        .... half expecting to find the school closed on account of the scarlet fever scare but it wasn't.
        .... School was going just just lovely last week.... I just knew something would have to happen. Thursday morning about half after nine word came that I was not to let anyone who had been near scarlet fever go to school and if I was not satisfied to report to Dr. Lavery (and the) Chairman of the Board of Health in Stanley County. I dismissed school and went at once to Dr Lavery. I wanted him to come out and make sure that it was scarlet fever but he said he was already satisfied and closed the school till March 27th.

      (She mentions people that are getting sick. And, then in another letter says the town has been lifted from quarantined. She doesn't speak of anyone dying. In her letters  it appears she get sick with a fever again.  An example is her Feb 13 letter  )

    -  Feb 13, 1912
       Dear Ma, Say ma I'll tell you something -- I wrote you that I was sick when I got that telegram.  (Telegram from when her Grandma died) Well I'd have been ailing for several days -- had quite an itching sensation at times and quite a high fever most of the time. One night after I was in bed I thought to myself,  This is most equal to Scarlet fever in its lightest form.  I didn't think much more about it until I went to take my bath and found I was scaley as a fish in some places. I'd like to know what it really was and if I am to have an annual attack.

A snippet from March 6, 1911

Did you ever hear of the fellow with the artificial limb? it was jointed at the knee so as to move like a natural limb but he had it for years and it wouldn't take a step. One day something happened to start it going. The old fellow was much pleased and walked till he was tired but when he got ready to stop the limb kept going -- when he tried to sit down it kept on walking -- when he tried to lay down it kept right on walk. He walked till he died and when they buried him the artificial limb was still walking.  I've found I'm some what like that limb. It takes me quite a while to make a start but when I once get started I'm apt to keep on going. I was going to move some of the things out of the kitchen and clean it up a bit -- have been "going to" all winter. This afternoon I started to move things out and I kept moving and moving till the kitchen was cleared and then kept right on moving till the sitting room was cleared then I gave this house such a cleaning as it hasn't had since I moved into it. I have everything back in and everything straightened up except the magazine cabinet.

A snippet from Nov 2, 1911

Oh say, did I tell you about (George) Jones? He proposed to three girls in one day! Said he "wanted a mother for his (seven) children and one thing er another".  Talk about a proposal of marriage being an honor!  Suppose it might be from some but some have formed the habit and that's different.

A snippet from Jan 4, 1912

I had to take my foot warmer to bed with me every night and one night I didn't get it warm enough and in the morning my feet were so cold they hurt for quite a while.

A snippet fro m May 12, 1912

 Dear mamma, This is mother's Day and 'm not wearing a flower but I would if I had one.I'll write you a letter anyway.  (This made me chuckle. My mom and grandma were them too on mother's day.)

A snippet from May 19, 1912  (By the time I got to this part of the book, I was so ready for Bess to get some new clothes. She talks about how everything is falling apart and all about her mending. Yeah for Bess!)
"...I went to Pierre to do some shopping. I got three stripped one piece house dresses and three check aprons already made. The dresses are quite light but I wore one a whole week and Mrs Douglas said this morning that she couldn't help but wonder how I kept it so clean. "

A snippet from July 12, 1912 (apparently another proposal)

     "This is Wednesday and I've just received a letter that is so interesting. What would you say if I was to get married?  Te! He!  A German -- sunnny side of sixty and real spry -- has six children -- all married -- married young you know -- he has dark eyes and black hair streaked with gray -- is six ft tall or more and not slender. He lives in the eastern part of this state where it is like Iowa.  Has a farm of over 200 A with find buildings and all paid for. It would be for me to deside whether we would live on the farm or rent it and live in town. I met the gentleman some time back and thot there would be fun in the correspondence but I may have started what i can't finish easily. I'm tired of this working around and taking care of other folks kids and I've heard that it is better to be an old man's darling than a young man's slave.  I believe I'd prefer being a old maid to being either. "

A snippet from Jan 6, 1913

   "Dear Mamma, -- I didn't let Dr Bradt use cocain when he pulled that last tooth and it bled much more. It stopped once and then an hour or so later it started again worse than ever."

A sentence from Feb 9, 1913  Bess calls her gun "son of a gun"
 "I bought my little "son of gun" over here and I haven't seen any rabbits since..."

A snippet from April 13, 1913
"Am working hard at my clothes all the spare time I can get for I can't afford new ones and if I have to work this summer I'll have little time to see to them you know. Its hard work when all my Saturdays are taken and no sewing machines."

A snippet from April 21, 1913

"Tonight I've been fixing a hat. Do you remember that 25cent sailor that Ethel (her sister) wore for good for one summer? I've been wearing it to school spring and fall for the last five years I guess. Have cleaned it and put on a new band occasionally but this time it looked utterly impossible so I cleaned it and gave it a coat of 'french dressing".  It looks as if it needed another coat and a shirt or two.

     Bachelor Bess for all her teasing to get married to this man and that never did get married. She eventually sold her claim in the dirty 30s after the Dust Bowl came through. Her dream of having a horse farm never did come to reality with the  fast past invention of the automobile. She went back to finish her education to keep up with the demands of certification for being a teacher. After several of her family members passed away (her brother in WW2, her sister of cancer, a brother while she was on her homestead,) she passed away of cancer as well. Her brother Paul (the youngest) kept her letters after their Mom passed away. 

*The book is very long with many details letters from Bess over a 10 year time frame. The letters got few and far between as her siblings moved away and got married.   

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like such an interesting book. I hope our library has it. I would enjoy reading it in full. Thanks for sharing. God bless.


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