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Twenty Miles from a Match

Homesteading in Western Nevada

Sarah Olds

Publication Year: 2012

Twenty Miles From a Match, originally published in 1978, is the autobiography of an indomitable woman and her family’s twenty years of adventures and misadventures in a desert wilderness. In 1908, a venturesome woman named Sarah Olds packed up her brood and went homesteading in the deserts north of Reno, west of Sutcliffe on Pyramid Lake. Her ailing husband said, welcoming her to their new home, "There, old lady. There’s your home, and it’s damn near in the heart of Egypt." Olds tells of the hardships, frustrations, poverty, and other tribulations her family suffered from shortly after the turn of the century until well into the Great Depression. Through it all, however, runs a thread of humor, cheerfulness, and the ability to laugh at adversity. The foreword is by her daughter, Leslie Olds Zurfluh, the fourth of Sarah and A. J. Olds's six children.

Published by: University of Nevada Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-xiii

The buildings are gone now, burned in the brush fires of the 1970s, and the pastures of the homestead have been absorbed by the neighboring ranch. The driving spirit of the place had moved on before that, so it was just another deserted place by then. Sarah E. OIds had gone on to...

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Chapter One

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pp. 1-12

Biff, bang, bing went the snowballs against the side of my apartment at five A.M. We were having an unprecedented snow storm in the foothills of Tuolumne County, California. I was a young girl twenty-three years old, a tenderfoot or greenhorn, right out from Iowa. It was 1898, my...

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Chapter Two

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pp. 13-19

The morning of the wedding when the preacher handed him the marriage certificate to sign, he wrote in his age. Then he passed the certificate on to me to sign. Curiosity or some compelling force caused me to look to see how old he was, and standing there before the preacher and the witnesses he nudged me...

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Chapter Three

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pp. 20-29

I was entirely ignorant of school law or how one went about organizing a school district, but I made up my mind to find out. I never for an instant let up on my plans, only enlarged them. Each hindrance only seemed to strengthen my determination to surmount all obstacles. I learned the...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 30-36

I think it's human nature to believe what one wants to believe. When Mr. Ferris had told me, "You have children enough to move into the sagebrush anyplace and demand that the state erect a school for you," I believed it because I wanted to believe it. I was gloriously happy in believing it, so I never questioned his...

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Chapter Five

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pp. 37-46

A neighbor lady had kindly set eight turkey eggs for me which were now hatched out. Next morning with my little turkeys tucked under my arm, I walked down to the livery stable, got my horse and wagon, and started home. One of our sudden spring storms blew up, and...

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Chapter Six

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pp. 47-53

I have seen them run after him for hours and try in every way to fasten the loop on him. Johnny could dodge and slip through loops with the greatest of ease and skill. The boys would cuss and call him and his ancestors all kinds of names and finally succeed in catching him after hours of hard work...

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Chapter Seven

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pp. 54-61

This Tule Frank hauled hay that was full of tules, a kind of reed, and sold it in Virginia City in the early sixties. He would stop outside the city, walk in, and enquire which was bringing the highest price, hay or wood. Both were scarce. Then he would drive in and sell his load for whichever brought the highest...

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Chapter Eight

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pp. 62-76

If Edson could learn to trap, that would be another source of income. That fall he put in a few weeks with an old trapper. We bought him a couple of dozen of number three steel traps, and he very proudly and confidently set them out. A few days later he came running in all big-eyed and excited to tell me that he...

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Chapter Nine

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pp. 77-84

We would very likely have met the same fate, but word of the uprising got to the Washoe County sheriff in Reno. He made up a posse of about fifty picked men and wiped out the ravaging warriors. There was one young squaw with a little papoose, whom they were bringing into the Washoe jail the...

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Chapter Ten

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pp. 85-93

They fought for three days and nights, and we could hear them bellowing at all hours and then coming together in a loud crash. After the three days of constant fighting, one of them began to weaken. The stronger one, seeing his advantage, pressed it, never allowing his opponent to rest, but keeping him constantly...

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Chapter Eleven

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pp. 94-101

School was to start November first, and the next two weeks were busy ones for me. There was a good deal of housecleaning to do, besides the making of new little dresses and shirts. Our new teacher arrived, and I had picked another winner. I think someone ought to write an...

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Chapter Twelve

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pp. 102-110

The price of furs fluctuates more than any commodity on the market. This year it was down, and we could get only a dollar and a half for prime hides. The whole catch wouldn't be worth the price of a horse. So how was I to get it, I wondered? I still clung to the idea, but it didn't promise to be much else....

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Chapter Thirteen

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pp. 111-123

I had some Diamond dye for wool, which I dissolved and put into a boiler of water until I had the desired color; then I put in the skins and boiled them in the dyebath, when all at once I discovered I had a slimy mess of coyote hair and shredded hide. It made me sick at my stomach to even empty it into the hole I...

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Chapter Fourteen

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pp. 124-130

In stretching the skins, Daddy pulled off one of the tails, and not knowing what else to do with it, he threw it away. When Edson carne out of school at recess, he ran around to look at his hides. He carne in the house fairly storming at his father, "You've...

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Chapter Fifteen

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pp. 131-136

Mrs. Skaggs, the "Merry Widow," was our first encounter with a dude. After her, many more followed. They were impressed with our cowboys, thinking them very romantic. They were a different type of man from what the eastern women had been used to. Many of...

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Chapter Sixteen

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pp. 137-145

I was particularly interested in its reaction on cattle, as we now had about fifty head. There was one purebred red Durham bull, of which I was especially proud. We had bought him as a yearling and had paid all our year's savings for him. To me, the bull represented the coming realization of my dreams...

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Chapter Seventeen

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pp. 146-151

All the time they were growing up we thought they enjoyed those trips. Years later, however, on overhearing a conversation between two of my grown daughters, it dawned on me that their mail-carrying trips were shows of sheer courage rather than pleasure. They would see carcasses of dead animals with...

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Chapter Eighteen

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pp. 152-161

"The cowboys had great fun in playing practical jokes on one another, but they especially loved to have a joke on a new cowhand. In this instance, they had driven a bunch of steers to town, and as it was a long drive, they took along the chuck wagon, and the camp cook, whose name was Jones. It naturally...

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Chapter Nineteen

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pp. 162-169

Hurrying to the house he called to me, "Come quick, old lady, if you want to see something good!" He took me by the hand and hurried me down to the garden fence. Peering through the sagebrush, we saw Albert, six, and Martha, four, standing beside the newly dug grave of a half-buried doll. They were...

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Chapter Twenty

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pp. 170-177

I had my birds all sold and most of them delivered when I was standing on a street corner talking to an old friend. A man I had sold some birds to walked by and nudged me with his elbow. Thinking it was an accident, I paid no attention to him. He turned and walking back he nudged me again. When I looked at...

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Chapter Twenty-One

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pp. 178-180

The schoolhouse was a half a mile from the homesteader's cabin, and there was a teacherage attached, forming an L-shaped building. Jessie wrote some very homesick letters, but she stayed with it. I realized it was a tough assignment for a young girl of twenty, and thought it would be easier for her if she...

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Chapter Twenty-Two

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pp. 181-182

Finally we decided to sell out and move to an apartment in Reno, while I looked for a new location. We had been there a very short time when Daddy quietly passed away. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, pillowing his head in my lap, and he had one arm around my neck. He looked up at me with the...

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About the Author

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p. 206-206

Sarah Elizabeth OIds was born in Iowa in 1875, the youngest daughter in a family of ten. Her father, Alexander Thompson, had migrated from Scotland to Canada where he met and married Mary Anne Harper, a recent migrant from Ireland. They settled on a farm near Ottumwa, Iowa...

E-ISBN-13: 9780874174618
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874170528

Page Count: 353
Publication Year: 2012