From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Life of a Ranch Wife

All In The Family... Another Trip Down Memory Lane... Life in The Nebraska Sandhills...



I stumbled across a website featuring writings and photos by Yvonne Hollenbeck today. It's part of a larger cowboy poetry site.

I was interested right away because I know the name "Hollenbeck" from my childhood in the Nebraska Sandhills. The Hollenbecks were our neighbors in a general sense; they lived about 15 miles or so northwest of us, along the gravel road that leads from Rose to Long Pine. They were very involved in rodeos. They raised Brahma bulls (I guess they rented them out for bull-riding at local rodeos) and they competed in rodeos across the region.

I still don't know if Yvonne Hollenbeck's husband, Glen, is related to the Hollenbecks of Long Pine, but I did enjoy looking at Yvonne's page about her life on the prairie. She is a ranch wife as well as a cowboy poet, and many of the things she documents in her writing and photos remind me of the things my mom was doing when I was growing up on a ranch -- helping feed the cattle, helping with cows who were calving, feeding a big crowd of people who came to help with branding, and so on.

If ranch life is an interesting subject to you (as it is to me), I encourage you to visit "From My Home on the Prairie." It's an interesting and authentic glimpse into the life of a ranch wife.

What Is A Cowboy?

On the "Home on the Prairie" site, Yvonne Hollenbeck has posted an essay about what a real cowboy is (upon the request of the cowboy poetry people.) She remarks that her great-grandfather Ben Arnold's poem, "His Campfire Has Gone Out," was written about the end of the cowboy era. Arnold said of the cowboy, "He's the spirit of the West. " (Don Edwards has recorded a musical version of the poem.)

I agree with Yvonne that many people try to portray themselves as cowboys when in truth, they have no claim at all to the title. Some attributes of a modern-day cowboy (in my opinion!) are that he works on a ranch, has a great love for horses, is skillful in working cattle from the saddle, and does so frequently (daily or near-so). Being a cowboy entails more than wearing the costume or owning a horse.

My great-grandfather Charlie Hill, whom my father was named for, was a genuine cowboy. He earned his living on horseback. In the late 1890's and early 1900's, he rode in the great cattle drives from Texas up to the railroads of Kansas and Nebraska. On one of those cattle drives, he died from cholera or typhoid (I can't remember which, but it was probably from tainted water.)

Charlie left a wife (Lana Mapes Hill) and a big family (8 children, I believe). Lana and the children went to Johnstown, Nebraska, and homesteaded out in the Sandhills near Moon Lake, close to where her brother had a place... but I digress.

My father, who was a rancher all his life, would never have called himself a cowboy. He would have said he was a cattleman. His love was for the cattle and the land, not so much for the horses, even though he was a good horseman and rode when he needed to until he got too crippled up to do so anymore.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.