Proving Up Closeup

Pistol Packin’ Mama

I’ve only ever shot a gun one time. Being three years older than my brother, I think my Dad thought he would hurry up the possibility of having a hunting buddy by a few years, so he planned to teach me how to hunt. I was going to have my own shotgun, just the right size for a 10 year old, a real hunting license to go on a super cool hunting jacket with a great big zippered pocket in the back to carry home all those pheasants, rabbits and squirrels I was gonna shoot. Never mind the thought of bloody effluent running down my pants leg as they drained on my march home. Eeeeewww! So along came the day I had been waiting for. I learned how to put the shotgun shells in and with an admonishment from my Dad to “hold her steady,” I let her rip and the kick back promptly knocked me on my ass. The end.

Hattie JonesSo meet Miss Hattie Jones, a single woman homesteader and the focus of my project here at Homestead National Monument of America in eastern Nebraska. Doesn’t she look demure? I think she looks like she should be sipping tea in a Boston Parlor, but in actuality, she was a single woman homesteader from Nebraska. She and her best friend set off alone to homestead in the wilds of North Dakota, which meant that she could earn a free 160 acres of land if she proved up, this meant to live on and improve the land for a period of 5 years. What with blizzards, drought, grasshoppers and rattlesnakes this was not quite the bargain it initially seemed. One night some drifter, rabble-rouser or just plain drunk knocked on her door and refused to leave. Frightened, but determined, she gave him fair warning to leave or she would shoot. He didn’t, so she let rip with the shotgun she kept behind the door. History does not record whether she was knocked on her ass, but she did blow a hole through the door. Too frightened to look outside in the dark, when she opened what was left of the door in the morning, there was no interloper in sight, a bloody trail perhaps, but no actual body. Encouraged by this state of affairs she did prove up, got married and had 6 children. I bet her husband was never given to drink.

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