(The following is an abridged abstract from "Yellow Roses by the Doorsteps, Apples in the Orchard, Berries on the Fence; Women Homesteaders on the Payette National Forest;" by Shelia D. Reddy. It is available in its entirety from the Payette National Forest Office, McCall)

Yellow Roses By The Doorstep, Apples In The Orchard, Berries On The Fence: Women Homesteaders on the Payette National Forest

By Sheila D. Reddy Heritage Program Payette National Forest, 1993.

. . . immigrant and Idaho Pioneer, W. A. Goulder in his autobiography . . wrote:

There was, however, a great deal of real gold found that year (1845) along every mile of that long, dreary transit across the wilderness.. .It was the gold that was found in the courage and fortitude, the patience and cheerfulness of the brave and persevering immigrants. But in none of these qualities shine out in such resplendent lustre as among the women of the immigration. There was never a day that did not bring them its peculiar trials and burdens, its difficulties, and its dangers.. .No one could avoid a feeling of exposure and helplessness; and particularly did these experiences and this feeling press with all their force upon the women who were making this long dreary journey. In spite of all this, they were courageous, patient and cheerful, and ready at all times for every emergency. What is true of these women, who were marching under the banner of 1845, it is true of those who came earlier and later (Goulder 1909: 132-133).


After Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, an Act passed by Congress gave the President power to establish Forest Reserves from the public domain. The principal objective was to reserve timber lands, preventing them from passing into private ownership. In 1904 the Seven Devils Forest Reserve and the Little Salmon River Reserve were established. In 1905 the two Reserves were combined to create the Weiser National Forest. In the same year the Idaho Forest was created. On April 4, 1944 the Weiser National Forest and the Idaho National Forest were combined to create the Payette National Forest.

In the original Forest Reserve Act no provisions had been made for homestead entries. Congress recognizing some lands in the Reserve areas were more suited for agriculture than for timber harvest passed the "June 11 Act" of 1906, authorizing homestead entries on Forest Reserves and in the National Forests. The task of administering and overseeing the processing the new law fell on the limited personnel of the newly created Forest Service. J.B. Lafferty, Forest Supervisor for the Weiser National Forest (1906-1920) later wrote, "Examining land applied for under this act required a large part of the supervisor's time for several years" (Lafferty 1963:37). He pointed out, of the 321 applications, 176 were approved.

The process began after specific Reserve lands designated as more suitable for agriculture than timber, were "listed." A person wishing to claim a listing applied for the tract of land, was given a numbered entry and allowed to settle on the land. Maximum allotment was 160 acres. The homesteader generally lived on the land, built a home, cleared, farmed and made it their home, however, the rules and regulations were many, varied, and changed over time, depending on governmental laws. At the time of final proof, an announcement was published in the local newspaper; the homestead and the improvements were examined and evaluated, generally by the Forest Ranger responsible for that area. The Ranger filed a report, making a recommendation regarding the applicant's compliance with the "spirit and the letter' of the Homestead law. If noncompliance and violations were found, the entry was denied. If requirements were met, and fees paid, patent was issued and land title given to the homesteader.

The largest number of the entries were made by married couples, often with families, a smaller number by single men, and an even smaller number by women. The application reports made by the Forest officers provides a unique opportunity to examine the lives, social conditions, and accomplishments of the pioneer women, on what would become the Payette National Forest.


Although the land and the way it lay was vital and important, the construction of a house was the first sign of permanence. Often the first home in the wilderness was a tent. Sarah Royce describes her first pioneer home:

Our house was of cloth...one end I curtained off for a bedroom.. .The rest of the house I divided more by arrangement of the furniture than by actual partition into kitchen, dining room, and parlor...My dining room.. .was furnished with a table and a couple of chairs; and if I did have to use my dining table in preparing my breads, pies and cakes on baking days, I did not have very far to go to put them into the oven, nor much farther, to put them into the cupboard, when done and cooled (Royce 1932:128-129).

More permanent houses were required of the homesteaders proving up their land. Bethenia Owens-Adair describes her first cabin home:

The improvements on it consisted of a small cabin 12 by 14 (feet) in dimensions, made of round logs with the bark on them, each notched deeply enough at its ends to dovetail into its neighbors above and below it. The cracks still remaining after this rude fitting were filled with mixed mud and grass, but this cabin had never been "chinked." It was covered with "shakes" (thick, hand-made shingles, three feet long) which were kept in place by poles, tied down at each end. The door was so low that a man had to stoop to go in and out, and it was fastened with the proverbial latch and string...Later I gathered grass and fern, and mixed them with mud, and filled the cracks, thus shutting out the snakes and lizards, which abounded in that region...My cooking utensils were a pot, tea-kettle and bake oven (all of iron), a frying pan and coffee pot, a churn, six milk pans, a wash tub, and board, a large twenty or thirty gallon iron pot for washing purposes, etc., and a water bucket and tin dipper,. .In addition, mother gave me a good feather bed, and pillows...I considered this a most excellent start in life (Luchetti 1982:175-176).


Jane (Bradford) Shelton,
Bear, Idaho. When the claimant filed on the land she was a widow with three children. On Dec. 24, 1912 she married Earl Shelton and there are now five children in the family. The family resides on the claim. . . .Patent issued May 9, 1917.

Elizabeth Brown,
Council, Idaho (Stevens). Patent issued on May 13, 1913.

Kate Lee Cole.
The claimant is single and resides on the land. . . .Patent issued Nov. 8, 1917.

Minnie C. Day,
Wild Horse, Idaho. Family members, husband and four children.

Cora Roth,
daughter of John C. Derrick, deceased. Mrs. Cora Roth of Fruitvale is the daughter of John C. Derrick, deceased, and resides with her husband on the homestead. . . .Patent issued July 24, 1914

Anna E. Gibbs,
Cambridge, Idaho, and 4 daughters and 7 sons. The entrywoman is a widow . . patent issued Nov. 11, 1909.

Mrs. Phoebe Harland,
Cambridge, Idaho. The family consists of herself, her husband, daughter and grandson. . . Mr. Harland is practically blind . . patent issued Sept. 8, 1919.

Della (Myers) Landers,
Meadows, Idaho, and one boy ten years old, and one baby 18 months old. . . Off a few months during summer to obtain living. Husband refuses to assist in supporting family . . patent issued Jan. 3, 1908.

Mary A. Lindgren Smith,
Bear, Idaho,. The claimant was a widow when the entry was made. She has since married and resides on the land. . . Patent was issued.

Martha L. Over,
Cambridge, Idaho. She is a widow, her family consists of herself and seven children, three of the children are married and have homes of their own, the remaining four make the claim with their mother. . . patent issued Feb. 14, 1919.

Mary A. Rusow,
Ranger recorded her last name as "Russaw", noted that Mary could neither read nor write. The family consists of herself and one son. . . Mary settled on her homestead at age 69, in 1903. In 1906, in order to pay the final filing fees, Mary borrowed what she thought was $200 from two local merchants. The merchants, realizing that Mary was illiterate, added her son's $400 grocery bill on the loan, secured it with the homestead and improvements, and put a 90 day due date on the contract. Mary, unable to read and trusting, put her "X" on the contract. . (investigated by forest service agents, merchants in Council who desired to acquire title to the land because of the timber thereon) . . . patent issued Mar. 15, 1909.


It is not possible to know the reason each of the women decided to homestead. It could not have been an easy decision. It had to have been both fearful and exciting to walk the boundaries of the homestead the first time, to see the land, the trees and the spring; the meadow next to the creek where the house could be built. To plan.

After the move to the homestead and the building of the house, the clearing and planting was the beginning of hard work, but it was possible.

Aunt Nel would put the baby on a quilt at the end of the field while she plowed. That way she could keep an eye on her. The old dog laid by the baby, keeping her on the quilt and out of harms way (Scofield 1992, personal conversation).

The work list included: plowing, raking, planting, weeding, harvesting, canning and preserving; setting the hens, gathering the eggs; carrying water from the spring or the creek for washing, cleaning and cooking; milking and churning; getting in wood for cooking, heating, and putting by some for winter; clothes and quilts often were homemade; bread, pies and food all had to be cooked on the farm; wild food like, greens, serviceberries, huckleberries, strawberries, chokecherries and gooseberries had to be gathered; animals had to be fed and cared for and butchering done. Fences had to be built, ditches dug, and crops harvested. A trip to town to get the mail or supplies meant harnessing up the team; it took the whole day. If the women, like Anna Gibbs, Della (Myers) Landers, and Martha Over, had children, schooling had to be arranged for. The Ranger's reports indicate the importance the women placed on this, and the effort they went to, making sure the children were educated.

Friends and neighbors were another important element, providing some security in the isolation. Rangers within their districts got to know the settlers personally. Its not hard to imagine the weary Ranger getting off his horse, being invited into the kitchen table for a meal or a piece of pie and a cup of coffee, and visiting about the problems ground squirrels were causing in her pasture, or what a good hay crop she had this year, or how well the orchard was doing on the southeast slope above the creek.

That sense of understanding and compassion can be also be felt in the letter sent to Washington by Forest Supervisor E. Grandjean, describing Della (Myers) Lander's struggle to feed her family, and better herself. Or in Deputy Forest Ranger B.L. Riggs' and Forest Supervisor J.B. Lafferty's struggle to help Mary Rusow after she had lost her homestead at age 74, and had "taken to her bed". Their actions reveal the heart of the people in the Forest Service.

The complete stories of the women who homesteaded on the Forest will never be known, for history is generally made up of people who remain hidden by time. However, by telling even a portion of their stories we have a chance to remember these proud pioneer women and the heritage they left behind.


Goulder, W. A. "Reminiscences In The Life of A Pioneer In Oregon and Idaho." T. Regan, Portland, Oregon. 1909
Lafferty, J. B. "My Eventful Years." Signal American Printers, Weiser, Idaho. 1963
Luchetti, Cathy "Women of the West." Antelope Island Press, St. George, Utah. 1982
Royce, Sarah "A Frontier Lady." Ed. by Ralph Henry Gabriel, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska. 1932
Scofield, Afton D. 1992 personal conversation.
Vestal, Stanley "The Old Santa Fe Trail." Bantam Books, New York, N.Y. 1957


See also Gem County Women Homesteaders

Homestead Records

Government Land Office records: Patents (homesteads, cash sale and livestock) & maps - GLO Records

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