What would you do if you had no other option but to survive?
You’d figure out a way to make it.
That’s what the two Kohl sisters did in 1908 when they came West to seek their fortune. As Edith Eudora Kohl wrote in The Land of Burnt Thigh, if they could live on 160 acres in South Dakota for 8 months and pay the government $1. 25 an acre, they’d own the land. They could then sell it and make some money.
The plan was flawed.
There was a lot of vacant land out in South Dakota. And the “house” they bought on the claim wasn’t a house. It was a tar-paper shack.
After riding a wagon thirty miles from the nearest town, they came to their land and saw nothing but vacant prairie. Miles and miles of it.
The hired driver had to ask them to get off his wagon. It was going to be dark and he had to get back to town.
The one-room shack was about 10 x 12 feet. It had a homemade bunk fastened to the wall, a two-hole oil stove standing on a box, another box for a shelf, and two rickety homemade chairs. That was it.
The sisters pushed their trunk against the lockless door and piled on it the chairs and their suitcases to form a barrier. Then they crawled into the bunk with their clothes still on.
It didn’t look any better when they awoke the next day.
But they survived. They made friends with other women homesteaders and they found jobs that supported them. Edith’s sister eventually got married.
And Edith? She went on to find her fortune in Wyoming.
Thanks to Judy Bartle for recommending the wonderful book The Land of Burnt Thigh.