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Brooks | Clune | Glenn


Assessments by:
Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith (Chief Historical Consultants)
Sue Cain (Domestic Skills Consultant)
Bernie Weisgerber (Building Consultant)
Rawhide Johnson (Animal Handler)

I. Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith

Mark and Karen, your determination to succeed at this venture was evident from the first interview tape we saw, and meeting you in person confirmed that impression. You went west knowing you'd have to work long hours under less than ideal conditions. Our tour of your homestead left us convinced that your family pulled together in a way reminiscent of those who actually homesteaded in Montana and elsewhere in 1883. Historically, we did not find one instance in which you strayed from the confines of 1883 living -- less the very obvious (and authorized) aberration by which Karen filed on the homestead rather than Mark -- yet you utilized to good advantage knowledge and skills obtained in the late twentieth century.

Because you arrived to find a cabin and outhouse awaiting you, you had more free time in which to pursue the other work of homesteading. Yet Mark chose to assist both his neighbors in the construction of their homes, an act in keeping with the spirit of most homesteading communities. Your activities were well planned and well executed, with each member of the family taking responsible charge of some aspect of the work to be done -- right down to Logan and his chickens and Erinn and her milking and herding chores. The care of all your animals was evident in that they were well fed, well sheltered, and obviously dear to all of you. You devised ingenious ways of bringing the sheep back to their pen -- training them to respond to the shaking of grain in a can. Your dogs learned to herd the animals, thereby earning their keep, so to speak, in a world where every scrap of food fed to a dog means less food for the human family. Your cows were faithfully milked, groomed, and fed and were still giving sufficient milk for your needs, though skimpy grass after the overgrazing apparently meant the fat content of their milk was no longer sufficient to yield butter.

All of you learned quickly the hard lessons of eating animals you cared about, as indicated by your allowing us share your handsome roasted pig and by Logan's telling us how he cried over the first chicken but remembered how good the first one tasted when it came time to kill the second. You made wise choices in buying the extra cow, selling the calves, and investing in the number of sheep you felt you could keep through the winter. You spent hard-earned money on chicken feed in order to get better egg production and have healthier fowl. Your two horses were well fed and groomed and will serve you well, provided you actually have enough hay to last the winter through.

If it's a hard winter, you might well lose one or more of the animals, but aside from the horses -- and one cow -- you could always eat the animals rather than let them starve. You have shown your ability to use the horses to lighten your workload -- pulling the plow, dragging sleds or tarps of hay from the fields, carrying goods from the store, rounding up cattle -- thereby justifying their place on the homestead over the winter as you anticipate spring planting and autumn harvest. Mark's plan to hire out as a ranch hand in return for cash or hay seems sound. However, winter work for ranch hands would be in relatively short supply in that area of Montana, and a town job might be a more realistic plan. You are right in assuming you need to turn those slabs into a tack room and shelter for the animals, and you'd need to complete that shelter no later than early November.

Your wood supply was impressive, and Mark's dogged, day-to-day attention to increasing the woodpile was admirable. He was right in assuming he should continue sawing and splitting, since heating the house as well as doing the cooking would demand even more wood, wood that would be difficult to come by in the dead of winter. Your water supply plan for winter seemed sound -- assuming the creek continues to flow beneath the ice. The magnificent root cellar with its many and varied uses is yet another example of how you have worked as a team to make your homesteading venture a success. Placing the cellar in the shelter of the evergreens and near the water supply and spring box and using the four dozen hooks Mark accidentally ordered from the store to string up rope that would ensure your safe passage to these strategic places during even the fiercest blizzard shows good planning.

Your garden was double-cropped so that its eleven rows had a high yield, even though you had to carry water a relatively long way. Your deer fence was effective, as was your decision to protect only the side away from the house from other animals, most of which would not dare to enter the garden from a side where the dogs might be lurking. Your experimentation with different kinds of potatoes gave you knowledge that will make next year's garden all the more productive. Your preparing the garden with a winter coating of manure, your plan to plant beets, to focus on cabbage and turnips and kale next season, your success with that marvelous red pear tomato -- all would suggest that you'd have a good chance of succeeding at subsistence farming over the next few years. And we liked your idea of stringing more fence to protect your hay fields against invading cattle, thereby avoiding another late summer shortage of grass and winter shortage of hay. The family routine you established in haying your fields was obviously effective, and your attention to leaving the hay to dry before raking, turning it once it was on the stack, and compacting it so that moisture would run off the stack means your stack would likely fare well through the winter, especially since you've devised a plan for covering it with tarps.

Your inventive home renovations -- the shelving, the floor covering to protect against cold wind and splinters, the arrangement of grains and spices in an orderly, logical fashion, the addition of a loft that gave a modicum of privacy to kids and parents and greatly increased available floor space, the creation of a game and reading and sewing area -- are all commendable. We were impressed by your sewing plans for the winter, Karen, and by the accumulation of flannel and wool and other fabrics for creating clothing for the coming year, and by your frugality in having shoes repaired rather than buying new ones is very much in keeping with the spirit of homesteaders. Your thoughtful placement of nails and pegs to allow for moving your lanterns and lamps where they were needed would serve you well in the dark season ahead. Your cooking was delicious -- if that yummy bread pudding is any example of your expertise in the kitchen -- and it's obvious that Erinn enjoyed doing her share of the cooking and learning how to prepare meals from the garden to the table, lessons the girls in homesteading families of 1883 would have found invaluable once they left home.

Mark's building a porch and buying a camera for Karen's birthday give an indication of his understanding of her needs and interests, and Karen's entrepreneurial spirit -- as evidenced by her not only taking in laundry but devising a system that enabled her to get the clothes clean and dry in a minimum time and with minimum use of cleaning agents -- would surely suggest that her plan to sharpen her photographic skills through the winter is a sound one, since there are historical precedents (most notably, Lady Evelyn Cameron) for turning such skills to profit on the frontier.

Your financial status, as seen in your store account as of October 1, is marginal but your purchases through the season have been wise ones, and it would appear that you have sufficient funds to see you through the winter and to cover the start-up costs of the spring. More than that, all of you to some extent -- and Mark to a remarkable extent -- seemed to be preparing for winter as if you were actually going to experience that unforgiving season. Indeed, Mark, you seemed to us to have been transported to 1883 Montana by a force more powerful than that created by the production crew.

All in all, you have done well as homesteaders, and, by your own report, you apparently did so despite some staggering interpersonal problems that you'd brought along from the world of 2001. There are certainly historical precedents for reconfigured families as homesteaders, and there are precedents aplenty for homesteading families with tensions that made their working as a unified whole doubly difficult. Yet you, like similar families before you, set goals, devised labor assignments well-suited to the talents and interests of each family member, and faithfully carried out those assignments day after day after day, all the while planning ahead toward the next day, the next week, the next season, the next year. Your willing suspension of disbelief allowed you to live almost as if you were 1883 homesteaders, not just a 2001 family determined to succeed in a sociological experiment. Because you worked so well as a team and seemed, in the end, to have come to appreciate each other in new and meaningful ways, we predict that you could indeed have survived a Montana winter, though designing a root cellar large enough for Karen to use as a darkroom and cozy enough for Mark to retreat to during times of domestic stormy weather was probably one of your wisest preparations for the season ahead! In sum, congratulations on a job well done!

II. Sue Cain

November 5, 2001

To the Glenns,

I want to thank you for a wonderful visit to your homestead area. I am now sitting at home, fall has come and winter well on its way, and I can feel the warmth of that glorious afternoon at your home. A home it was; you all had put so much into the project. The loft was a great idea. I wonder if anyone in the 1800s ever thought about doing a loft like that. Mark, I really loved your root cellar. I wish I had one like it here at my home. Karen, your home was so neat and tidy. I don't think I will forget when I asked about winter clothing how you had picked up the skirt around your bed and showed me all the cloth you had purchased -- and the line of boots under the window repaired and ready for more wear. I also liked the way you hung your personal items on the back of the door; there were so many little touches that made things much easier to take care of. I loved your tomato beside the door. There is a part of me wished you could have stayed a little more true to the 19th century. Perhaps that is mainly in dress. I know it was hard for a young lady of Erinn's age to stay in dresses, but I guess I had hoped she would. Just as I had hoped you, Karen, would have stayed in dresses and corsets more than I think you did. But on the other side of that, you were not (and none of us could be) 19th-century people. We brought to the project our own lives, which of course was the story. I appreciate the sacrifice you did make. On to what my responsibility: foodstuff, clothing, and bedding.

Winter is long and hard and I wasn't sure enough foodstuffs had been stored or purchased to make it. I was greatly concerned about the lack of cabbage or a source of Vitamin. C. Didn't the Native American woman who came out and talked about the native vegetation talk about gathering rose hips? I also don't remember any pickled vegetables or jams put up. Did I miss them? I remember extra lard and flour, which would have important, especially as your cows' production stopped. Did you store any butter ahead? Although I know it is hard to think about the future when you wanted to sell as much as possible, it was important to have some put away for the winter. As you learned, the cows do slow down and finally quit producing in the winter. I don't remember any eggs stored either. In some ways the eggs would have been more important than dairy products. You could always use lard instead of butter. Although my responsibility was not the animals, I was surprised you hadn't built a shed of some type to protect your large animals from the wind. By having as many animals as you did, you would have meat to feed your family and still maybe have some starting in the spring. I would think you would want to make at least one more trip to the store before the snows came.

I think you were prepared to make enough warm clothing. Wool or quilted petticoats for you and Erinn would have been a necessity. Plus, if you could afford it another feather bed to sleep under would have been nice. Karen, you had used your ingenuity to correct a poorly designed cooking stove. But for winter heat, I think you would want to take out the piece of tin and use chunk wood for warmth.

You had a lot of responsibility, many animals, and your children (let alone yourselves) to take care of. You would need to continue to work as a team as it appeared you were doing when I saw you in September. But I am afraid with the number of animals, the children, and the lack of food items, I am not sure you would have made it until spring. I turned to a book, LETTERS FROM A WOMAN HOMESTEADER, to help place your experience in context. (In some ways, Karen, you reminded me of the woman who wrote the letters.) Writing in 1909 in southwestern Wyoming, the writer states that she grew more than two tons of potatoes, half a ton of carrots, a large bin of beets, turnips, onions, parsnips, more than one hundred heads of cabbages, a winter squash (she pickled some of them), beans, and green tomatoes, making a relish out of the green tomatoes. She also put up gooseberries and milked ten cows twice a day. She sold enough butter to buy a year's worth of flour and gasoline. That gives us some idea of the amount of food people needed to get through a winter. She had a family and perhaps a hired man to feed.

I really enjoyed working with all of you. I would love to know how this summer experience has continued into your 21st-century life. I hope you do continue to work together. I did think you all looked very healthy and the way we Americans should look.

III. Bernie Weisgerber

Cabin -- Ready for winter (purchased a completed cabin).

Fuel -- Have 4 cords of unsplit cottonwood. Firewood stacked. Need 8-10 more cords of fir or pine. Need to split and cover all firewood. All three families told me that their firewood supply on hand was calculated by trying to correlate their wood stove consumption from the end of May through the end of September. The families also planned to gather wood throughout the winter. Both these calculations are woefully wrong for a Montana winter and could have had disastrous results. During the training session in Virginia City, I stressed the need to put up more firewood than they could possibly imagine. "Spend every spare minute gathering winter firewood" was my comment. They should have heeded this advice and they also should have asked local old-time residents of the area what they thought instead of acting on their own presumptions.

Winter mobility -- Have two good saddle horses. They should have adequate transportation for winter. They might want to get a couple of pairs of snowshoes in addition to the horses.

Comments -- The Glenn family has obviously worked hard to be winter prepared and is not in bad shape if they cut and spilt a lot of firewood this fall. To my way of thinking, the Glenns have put their work efforts over the summer in the right areas to be prepared for an 1883 Montana winter experience.

IV. Rawhide Johnson

The Glenns did a good job with all their animals. Due to the drought conditions and that the flies were so horrible this particular summer, it makes it near impossible to put any fat on any of the animals, which gave them a bad start for the winter. However, the Glenns had prepared well by putting up a little hay and purchasing some grain. Erinn did an incredible job with the cows and horses, enough to make everyone who saw her in action very proud of her -- especially her coach. Overall, I think on an average year, the animals would have survived the winter in the fashion that they would have in 1883, meaning that they would have been a little thin by spring.

Brooks | Clune | Glenn



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