Two Wyoming Girls and Their Homestead Claim was written by Mrs. Carrie L. Marshall, and published in 1899. It is narrated by Leslie Gordon, the youngest of two sisters, and is the type of book that is enjoyable to read if you don’t think too much about whether most of the plot twists could logically occur.
The story begins when Leslie’s father, Mr. Gordon, is preparing to spend the day working in a mine, even though it has been raining for days and eldest daughter, Jessie, warns him that an old miner told her that the mines are prone to flood in wet weather. Mr. Gordon tells Jessie that old miners tend to be superstitious, and that he needs money to gain title to his homestead claim, and to fence in his field crops. Their rancher neighbor, Jacob Horton, is determined to get the Gordon family off their land, and each year the Horton cattle “accidently” trample their crops right before harvest time.
Alas, Mr. Gordon should have listened to the advice of the old miner, for the mine did flood, and he and many others were killed. Since Mrs. Gordon had died two years earlier, Leslie and Jessie needed to keep up the homestead,and care for three-year-old brother, Ralph, with only the help from elderly Joe.
Joe had been born a slave on the Gordon plantation, and his former master had assigned him the task of caring for the little boy who was to become the two Wyoming girls’ father. Even after Mr. Gordon had grown – and decades after slavery had ended – Joe refused to give up on his job of looking after the Gordon family.
Following the long tradition of storybook ex-slaves Joe spoke in nearly-impossible-to-understand dialect consisting of misspelled (and often misplaced) words. As a reader, I found that the only thing worse than trying to interpret Joe’s rambling conversations was when Joe was talking to young Ralph, who spoke in baby-talk – consisting of different misspelled words.
Unfortunately for Leslie and Jessie, they had greater concerns than figuring out confusing speech patterns. Right after their father’s death nasty Mr. Horton showed up to inform them that girls can’t hold down homesteads, but he’d be willing to pay them a little money if they packed up and left. He was told they planned to stay.
Mr. Horton came by a few days later, right when the girls’ were experiencing an emergency. Jessie had developed an awful toothache just after Joe had taken both of the horses to go and buy seed. Mr. Horton told the entire family to get into his wagon, for he’d drive them all to the far-off dentist. Leslie said she had to stay and milk the cows, but told everyone she’d go and spend the night with a widowed neighbor.
As soon as the wagon left Leslie remembered that the law stated a homestead couldn’t be left unoccupied for even a single night, so she decided to not leave home. It was a good thing she stayed.
Leslie worried about being alone, so she went to bed with her father’s rifle close by. She was awakened by a strange noise, and saw flames outside of the bedroom window. This startled her so much that, in her confusion, she grabbed up the rifle and fired through the window. A man screamed, and when she got out of bed and looked outside she saw someone running away.
The fire was quickly extinguished, and Leslie saw that a pile of pine cones and other flammable items had been piled up against the house.
The next day Mr. Horton’s kind and naive wife drove the Gordon family back home. The good news was that the dentist happened to be passing right by the Horton’s home, so they were able to get him to stop long enough to pull Jessie’s tooth, so there was no need to drive all day for a dental appointment. The bad news was that Mr. Horton had met with a odd accident.
Mrs. Horton explained that late at night her husband decided he needed to go out and salt the cattle. (I’m assuming he meant he had to set out salt blocks, and not that he had to go about with a shaker, sprinkling salt over his cattle, but when it comes to the Hortons one never knows.) While out on his salting mission he someone grabbed hold of a tree stump and cut his hand, but when he returned home he refused to let his wife look at his injury, and he bandaged his hand without any assistance.
No one except Leslie connected the significance of Mr. Horton being injured on the very night that Leslie had shot at a man outside of her window. As for poor Mrs. Horton, she was the only one in the community who hadn’t figured out that she was married to a cad.
Troubles continued for the Gordon sisters. Money was needed for fees connected to getting legal title to the homestead, but the day before Joe planned to harvest their wheat crop Mr. Horton’s cattle strayed onto their land and trampled the entire planted field.
Then just before their crop of melons ripened Joe left in the night, without a word of goodbye. The sisters picked the melons and, though she hated going about as a peddler, Leslie went around to their neighbors selling fruit. The melons were popular, but all she received in payment was a stack of I.O.U.s
The next day they picked a wagon-load of melons, and then the entire family made the long drive to a work camp. The camp cook bought all the melons, paid cash, and gave them a bonus of a half-dozen ducks and a couple of jack-rabbits he’d just shot.
It was such a long drive that it was starting to get dark before they could get home. Suddenly a pack of wolves surrounded the wagon, and the team of horses began racing in terror. Though Leslie was the better driver she handed the reins to Jessie so that she could crawl to the back of the wagon and begin shooting at the wolves. And then three-year-old Ralph decided to help. After yelling at the “bad dogs” to go away, he began tossing things at them.
Here is a helpful hint for when a pack of wolves is surrounding your wagon, which is being pulled by a team of run-away horses. Toss out all of the freshly killed game animals. Wolves would prefer to eat than to chase horse-drawn wagons.
The day was drawing near when the Gordons had to go to town and attempt to gain title to the homestead. Their father’s name was on the homestead papers, but Jessie would turn eighteen the day before they would go to apply for the land title, and that meant she’d be old enough to be the head of a household. They had proof of her age, for generations of the family had their births recorded in the back of the big family Bible. When Mr. Horton came by, taunting them with how he would be taking over their land, he was told that they could prove Jessie would soon be of legal age.
Their troubles should soon be over, but did they have enough money to pay all of the legal fees? Would they find out why Joe had gone off when they needed his help? Could any bad neighbor be cruel enough to try and steal a Bible in order to deprive a family of their home? And if Mr. Horton decided to come thieving in the middle of the night, would he be able to tell the difference between a family’s Bible and their big unabridged dictionary?
This is not a perfect book, for the author used a bit too much imagination when it came to plotting what happened next. I’ve done research on the Homestead Act, and many of the “rules” set forth in this novel are not found in the actual Act. And at times ex-slave Joe’s devotion to the descendants of the family that once owned him was cringe-worthy.
But I found the Gordon sisters to be likable, and their personalities were fully developed. At times tomboy Leslie and homemaker Jessie bickered as siblings do, though they worked together despite their differing skills and opinions. Leslie had a sense of humor, plus she was willing to admit when she made a mistake, and I consider those good traits in people I choose to admire.
If you’d like to know more about the Gordons’ adventures Two Wyoming Girls can be downloaded free of charge at: