In her book, Rachel Calof’s Story, published in 1995, she tells us the horror that she faced during her homesteading days. Thankfully, with Rachel’s memoir she gave a descriptive look into the pioneer lifestyle. At the age of four her mother died, and from that point on she lived a childhood full of abuse. Her father deserted her and her new family decided rather than take care of her; they shipped her off to America as a mail-order-bride. She would marry Abraham Calof at the young age of eighteen. Rachel left everything she knew and traveled to a homestead in North Dakota.
The early years on the homestead were the most challenging. They lived in one room shanties, with dirt floors. Rachel says, “out of all the privations of I know as a homesteader, the lack of privacy was the hardest to bear” (Calof, 1995). During the winter months, Rachel, Abraham, their growing children, their brother’s family and their parents would pool their resources and live together in their 12x14 shanty. Their livestock lived in the house as well; cows, chickens etc. The hardships Rachel faced didn’t end with a dirty shanty to say the least.
Even though Rachel and Abraham had some agricultural background they suffered great crop devastation from Mother Nature (Calof, 1995). Just as we know today, the weather can change everything in minutes. In her book Rachel remembers a beautiful summer morning. The family had a great crop this year and they were planning on building their home that spring with the harvested money. In the evening a tornado went through ruined everything. The wheat was hammered to the ground; the hail broke out the windows on the house and killed their horse. She remembers just being happy to be alive and they managed to clean up and they did build their house that following spring.
Another hardship Rachel faced was the constant child bearing. Rachel and Abraham had nine children and all of them survived to adulthood. Obviously there wasn’t any kind of pain relief but she didn’t even have a bed. She delivered seven of her children on the on top a pile of hay on the floor. After the deliveries of her children, she was up doing her usual chores within a half an hour. Things like making supper, hauling water from the lake, and caring for the other children (Calof 1995).
In her book she always has a sense of calmness to her that takes her from one challenge to another. A special triumph Rachel accomplished was when she decided nature was to be conquered and civilization needed to put in its place. The people in this room wouldn’t know what it’s like to live according to sunlight. Rachel decided to separate herself from the animals that were forced to rely on daylight. She decided to make lamps out of mud, rag scraps, and butter. She was giggly inside at what she had done. Finally, she could go to sleep when she desired (Calof, 1995).
Rachel might have lived in a shanty, but instead of sulking and complaining she always made the most of it. In her book she tells about caulking all the cracks in the wall with clay. She had the smoothest walls in the state. Abraham and Rachel always hosted all gathering throughout their lives do to Rachel’s hidden talents in homemaking (Calof, 1995). Rachel was an everyday woman that helped to get us where we are today.
So, in the time that I have spent with you, I’ve taken the opportunity to acknowledge that Rachel Calof, a pioneer homesteader, is indeed worthy of our admiration. May 15, 2010, Laureen Riedesel, a historian at the Beatrice public library says, Rachel teaches us to fight the odds with perseverance and hard work. Like I said before Rachel wasn’t rich or famous but it’s the ordinary people that make or break it. Abraham Lincoln might have signed the Homestead Act into effect, but it was the people like Rachel that worked hard to reach ones goal and never gave up.
Calof, R. (1995). Rachel Calof’s story. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
L. Ridesel (personal communication, May15, 2010)
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