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Land Of The Burnt Thigh

A Lively Story of Women Homesteaders On The South Dakota Frontier

Edith Eudora Kohl

Publication Year: 1986

Among the hordes of homesteaders who settled the American West were thousands of single women who hoped to gain for themselves a piece of land and the money and satisfaction that came along with it. The memoirs of many of these self-described “girl homesteaders,” long ignored by historians, show the significant impact these women had on their communities. Land of the Burnt Thigh, first published in 1938, is one of the best of these accounts. Edith Eudora Ammons and her sister Ida Mary moved to central South Dakota in 1907 to try homesteading near the “Land of the Burnt Thigh”—the Lower Brule Indian Reservation. These two young women, both in their twenties and “timid as mice,” found a community of homesteaders (including several other single women) who were eager to help them succeed at what looked to be impossible: living in a tiny tarpaper shack on 160 waterless, sunbaked, and snowblasted acres for eight months until they could “prove up” the claim. Within as few weeks Edith was running a newspaper, Ida Mary was teaching school, and the two were helping others who had come to settle. In the months to come, they battled prairie fires, rattlesnakes, and a blizzard; they observed two great land rushes; they stakes a new claim, founded their own newspaper, opened a post office and a general store, and overcame their fear of the Indians who came to trade with them. In her introduction, historian Glenda Riley discusses the Ammons sisters’ adventures and those of many other women homesteaders. Praise for Land of the Burnt Thigh “Their story is genuinely stirring in its events, as it is interesting in its spirit and atmosphere, and it is told simply and well…This is an unusual record, well worth reading.”—New York Times “Mrs. Kohl has told this story of South Dakota with a simplicity, a directness, and an understanding of its quietly heroic element which make her book an appealing as well as a significant contribution to the latter-day history of the pioneers.”—Saturday Review

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xxxii

WHEN Edith Ammons Kohl's story of homesteading in early twentieth-century South Dakota first appeared in 1938, it presented a lively, readable account of the north-central Plains frontier. Almost half a century later, its appeal and historical value endure. Land of the Burnt Thigh pithily and ...

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pp. xxxiii-xxxiv

I have not attempted in this book to write an autobiography. This is not my story-it is the story of the people, the present-day pioneers, who settled on that part of the public lands called the Great American Desert, and wrested a living from it at a personal cost of privation and suffering. ...

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pp. 1-15

At sunset we came up out of the draw to the crest of the ridge. Perched on the high seat of the old spring wagon, we looked into a desolate land which reached to the horizon on every side. Prairie which had lain untouched since the Creation save for buffalo and roving bands of Indians, its brown grass scorched ...

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pp. 16-35

There is a lot of sound common sense in the saying about leaving the cage door open. As long as we knew we could be taken back to town we were content to stay for a day or two, and take a look at the country while we were there-by which we meant that we would gaze out over ...

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pp. 36-45

McClure, South Dakota (it's on the map), was the halfway point on the stage line between Pierre and Presho, three or four miles from our claim. It consisted of the Halfway House, which combined the functions of a general store, a post office, a restaurant, and a news center ...

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pp. 46-63

It is an extraordinary fact that one of the most gigantic, and certainly the most rapid, land settlements in the history of the United States has been little known and little recognized, either for its vast scope or its far-reaching importance. ...

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pp. 64-82

The settlers of the McClure district went on with their work as though there had never been a land opening. The men fed their stock and hauled fuel for winter, while the women tacked comforters and sewed and patched heavy clothing. ...

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pp. 83-98

With the first tang of spring in the air we cleaned the shack, put up fresh curtains and did a little baking. Then we grew reckless and went into an orgy of extravagance-we took a bath in the washtub. Wash basins were more commensurate with the water supply. Then we ...

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pp. 99-119

That spring I saw a country grow. Perhaps Rome wasn't built in a day, but the Brule was-almost. The incredible speed of the transformation of the untouched plains; the invasion of the settlers in droves, lighting on the prairies like grasshoppers; the appearance, morning after ...

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pp. 120-142

"Any old cayuse can enter a race," Bronco Benny re. n.marked one day. "It's coming in under the wire that counts." Ida Mary and I had saddled ourselves with a newspaper, a post office, a grocery store, an Indian trading post, and all the heavy labor of hauling, delivery of mail and odd jobs ...

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pp. 143-163

The settling of those western lands was as elemental as the earth, and no phase of its settlement was as dramatic as the opening of the Rosebud. Homesteading was now the biggest movement in America. We were entering a great period of land development running its course between ...

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pp. 164-184

I was pony-expressing the mail home one day when I saw a great eagle, with wings spread, flying low and circling around as though ready to swoop upon its prey. It was noon on a late fall day with no sight or sound of life except that mammoth eagle craftily soaring. I turned off ...

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pp. 185-198

Several miles from Ammons a bachelor gave a venison dinner on his claim to which a little group of us had gone. About noon it clouded up and no barometer was needed to tell us that a big storm was on the way. As soon as we had eaten we started home. ...

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pp. 199-213

Ida Mary and I came through the winter stronger than we had ever been before, but we welcomed the spring with grateful hearts. Only poets can describe the electric, sweet quality of spring, but only the young, as we were young that year, receive the full impact of its beauty. ...

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pp. 214-237

"You'd better do a little exhortin'," Ma told me on my return to the claim. "And if you get any collections, turn some of them in for the good of the store." "Isn't business good?" ...

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pp. 238-252

We were living in the Land of the Burnt Thigh, the famous hunting ground of the Brule Indians, whose name was derived from a great prairie fire which had once swept the land. ...

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pp. 253-267

There was almost $750 in the tin box down in the trunk ready to be deposited. At breakfast we exulted over it. The Ammons sisters were always draining the bank dry. Sedgwick would open his eyes when we walked into the bank with that bag of money. ...

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pp. 268-281

So it happened that only a few weeks before proving-up time, Ida Mary and I had to start all over again. But with the coming of water into that thirsty land it didn't seem so difficult to begin again. And we weren't doing it alone. It was the settlers who built a new shack, a new ...

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pp. 282-296

Ida Mary and Imbert were going to be married. At last Ida Mary was sure, and there was no need of waiting any longer. So she went back to St. Louis for the first time, and two weeks later the wedding took place. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780873516785
E-ISBN-10: 0873516788
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873511995
Print-ISBN-10: 0873511999

Page Count: 330
Publication Year: 1986

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • South Dakota -- Biography.
  • Pioneers -- South Dakota -- Biography.
  • South Dakota -- Social life and customs.
  • Farm life -- South Dakota -- History.
  • Kohl, Edith Eudora, b. 1884.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- South Dakota.
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