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Sharon McConnel,
Gem County Coordinator


Homesteading Women

by Sharon McConnel

The Homestead Act of 1862 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 homestead claimants increased steadily with the years, reaching their zenith in the 1910s when nearly one in five claims was filed by a woman. Some historians say the rate at which women gained title to their lands was slightly better than men's.

"Proving up" was the process of proving to the authorities that a homesteader had met the requirements for receiving ownership of the land. The requirements changed over the years, until the Act finally expired in 1976, but living on and working the land were always part of the requirements.

In Gem County, several women come readily to mind. On the Payette River west of Emmett, Danish-born Katie Kjersgaard (nka Kesgard), received her homestead in 1892. In 1895, Ratchel A. Peck received a homestead for 160 acres approximately half a mile west of the present intersection of South Johns Ave. and South Slope Road.

On the Second Fork of Squaw Creek, Christina Smith, a widow with teenage sons Walter and William, received her homestead in 1914. Further south, in Timber Flat, east of Ola, and near what became the forest boundary, Francis Whitlock received her homestead in 1912. Later in the same decade sons Elisha, Elijah "Tom", and George received theirs.

At the opposite end of the county, Luella VonHarten Turner, one-time Pearl postmistress, homesteaded. Mrs. Turner was the daughter of Rush VonHarten, Pearl shopkeeper and one-time state representative.

Emily Moser Bramblee, owner of the Bramblee Hotel in Pearl, also homesteaded. In 1876 Mrs. Bramblee came west from Arkansas as a girl of fourteen with her parents, George and Elizabeth Moser. Emily drove one of the wagons and her mother drove the other. The men walked to hunt and to inspect the trail. In mid-October her mother gave birth to her younger sister, Mary Ida, when they camped near Falk's Store, on what is now the Gem/Payette county line. Mosers went on to be the first permanent white settlers in Council Valley.

I'm sure exhaustive research would reveal many, many more local homesteading women - women who quietly and with hard work provided a livelihood for themselves and their families. To determine who in your own family homesteaded, search at Homestead Records,

This article first appeared in the "Messenger-Index" Wrap May 27, 2007

Suggested Reading

George, Susanne E. --The Adventures of The Woman Homesteader, The Life and Letters of Elinore Pruitt Stewart. University of Nebraska Press, 1992. Elinore and her husband "The Stewart" homesteaded adjacent tracts in southwest Wyoming at an elevation of 7000 feet -- that's more than twice the elevation of Ola. Mrs. Stewart wrote for publication and kept up a life-long correspondence with many people and those letters have been preserved.

Pratt, Alice Day. ---A Homesteader's Portfolio/the rare story of a single woman homesteader in the dry-land west. Oregon State University Press, 1993. Alice Pratt Day homesteaded in Central Oregon and was raising chickens. She brought the first incubator into the area. Molly Gloss, who wrote the introduction, has also written a novel based loosely on Day's experiences, although I found the true account to be better.

Jenkins, Malinda. ---Gambler's Wife/the life of Malinda Jenkins. University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Mrs. Jenkins was not a homesteader, but her story is the story of a woman making a living in the west -- and all over the west -- before the turn of last century. Before finally settling down in California, the Jenkins had a ranch in Malheur County, Oregon, and there is a chapter on horse-racing in Boise.



Copyright © 2009 - Sharon McConnel. All Rights Reserved.

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