Homesteaders Write of Experiences

Luck of the Draw.
That is the name of the recently published book detailing the struggles of veterans who turned Minidoka County tundra into fertile farmland in the 1950s.

The name was inspired by the lottery system that was used to determine who got the land. Veterans who were lucky enough to have their name drawn became instant land owners - thus the title of the book.

Following World War II, the government offered Minidoka County land to returning soldiers. Those who drew homesteads were required to have some farming experience, $5,000 in assets and a willingness to "prove up" or improve the land within two years.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first draw.

Rupert resident and former homesteader Don Miska was inspired to compile the book after the 4th of July parade officials decided to use the Luck of the Draw theme for this year's parade.

"I think the draw is an important piece of history. it was a very large part of Rupert. The draw definitely changed everything we do," said Rupert 4th of July Celebration Chairman Jack Bell.

In December, Miska asked his wife Shirley, Marthina Sabin, Dorothy Cavener, jean hayes, Helen Miller, LaVerne Johnson, Maxine becker and Cletus and Mae Buble to interview homesteaders.

In all the government offered 180,000 acres of land to returning soldiers. Each of the men were given between 80 to 160 acres of land. In some cases, more acres were given.

"I had 220 acres but only 155 was farmable," Miska said.

The group started interviewing in january. Miska later typed the information into his home computer.

"I think I worked every day from the 27th of Decmber until about the 12th of April," Miska said.

The majority of the homesteaders interviewed were happy to take a trip down memory lane, Hayes said.

"Most of them were glad for the opportunity to talk," she said.

Some of the homesteaders declined to talk bout their experiences saying the memories were too painful, Miska said.

"We ran across noe or maybe two that just didn't even want to talk about it," he said.

Most of the stories revolved around hardships and hard work.

"Everybody had a rough time," Miska said.

The land was completely undeveloped, hayes said.

"There were no roads, no gravel, no phones and no school buses. You thought you had fallen off the edge of the earth," she said.

During the interviews, homesteads told of their families living in chicken coops until permanent homes could be built. There were othe tales of teh mud being so thick, cars and tractors were stuck for days.

"You couldn't believe the mud that was out there," hayes said.

The summers were as hot as they were dusty, Miska said.

"The dust could get real bad," he said.

Olen Whistler recalled driving to town to deliver a load of potatoes when he noticed what he thought was a bag of potatoes in the middle of the road. Out of curiosity, Whistler stopped and opened the bag. To his surprise, he found Art and Betty Jo Mcclellan's two-year-old daughter kerma curled up inside.

"the dust was just like flour.It actually felt good. This little girl actually went and laid down in it - in the middle of the road," Miska said.

Other homesteaders recounted how they swapped services with other families. The book tells of one woman who had electricity but no indoor plumbing. She bought a washing machine and made an agreement with a friend to use her washing machine in exchange for the friend brining water.

"they took 35 buckets of water out of the ditch to do the wash," Miska said.

"It makes you appreciated a lot, doesn't it?" Hayes said.

Snakes were as plentiful as sagebrush and homesteaders spent hours ridding their property of the critters.

"Eugene House killed 286 rattlesnakes in one day. That's a bunch," Miska said.

While there were a lot of snakes, no bites were reported, he said.

"Of all the snake stories we had, nobody got bit," he said.

Despite the snakes, dust, mud and lack of utilities, homesteaders perservered.

the chance to own their own land motivated homesteaders to stick with it even when times got rough. Everyone knmew the minute they quit, someone else would immediately claim the land, Miska said.

"There were claim jumpers just waiting to take the homestead," he said.

Most of the homesteaders relied on loans to help them prove up their farms.

"A homesteader without a bank is a like am an without a country," he said.

Miska recalled one banker who took pity on Miska but only for a short while.

"He lent me $1,400 and told me not to come back," he said.

When times got especially difficult, gas station owner Andy Mcroberts gave Miska credit on the condition that when things got better, Miska would spend his cash at McRoberts' business.

"He said 'if you're going to spend money, spend it here,'" Miska said.

Many of the homesteaders struggled financially. To put food on the table, many of the wives were forced to find work in the neighboring Rupert, Idaho.

"I worked as a secretary for First Security Bank for $225 a month," Hayes recalled.

The hard work paid off for farmers.

"I remember telling my dad I got 100 bushels an acre, and he couldn't believe it. We were from Kansas, and my Dad said 'you can't grow that much', but we did," Miska said.

While they worked hard, there was also time set aside to play, Miska said.

"They would get together for birthdays. They would use any excuse to get together - especially in the winter. It didn't cost anything to go some place an dplay cards," Miska said.

The group also formed a Homesteaders Club which gets together to this day.

"I remember going to the Homesteaders party and dancing all night, eating breakfast on the way home at 5 in the morning, changing our clothes, setting the water and going to bed," he said.

Miska and Hayes had a wonderful time compiling the book, they said.

"It brought back a lot of memories," Hayes said.