Living Off The Land
Along my travels over the last couple weeks I ran across a number of old, abandoned homes. Many likely date back nearly a hundred years, and some may have been original homesteads when the country was settled. I was able to photograph a few of these, but all have some artifacts that tend to detract from the true rustic value of these finds. Additionally, each of these were located in relatively remote areas, so I wasn’t able to learn their specific history. However, from my knowledge of each locale, a little common sense, and perhaps a dash of artistic license, I will do my best to spin a good yarn. Each of the images is a result of HDR processing, which involves combining several exposures of the same frame in order to maximize the dynamic color range available.
The country around Gordon, Nebraska is a blend of farm and grass land, and most of the early settlers would have had some livestock, but really invested in turning the soil to produce grain crops. Relatively shallow water is in abundance through the region, courtesy of the Ogallala Aquifer, and to this day is commonly conveyed above ground by windmills. This old home is located atop a hill in the midst of corn fields that are grazed by cattle after harvest. While the home is no longer lived in, a relatively new windmill pumps water for the livestock.
Several hundred miles to the northwest lies the small community of Sand Coulee, Montana. In the late 1800’s, Sand Coulee was probably a vibrant mining town, extracting coal from the earth to fuel the Great Northern Railway as it connected passengers and goods between Minneapolis-St Paul and the Pacific Northwest. Remnants of the gulch’s heyday remain, including the tell-tale signs of leached mine tailings by the bright orange coloration of the creek, dilapidated mine entrances, and a few old shacks that served as homes, stores or offices. During this era, many of the miners lived in tents or hastily build shelters to provide some protection from the fierce winter weather. So, while we might look at this and think it a tiny, cold shack, it may have actually been one of the nicer homes in Sand Coulee for a time. While it may have been a grand structure at the time, it is highly doubtful it sported such a nice roof – wood shakes or grass thatching would have been most common.
Southeast of Hysham, Montana, the county highway follows the path of Sarpy Creek as it meanders through a valley surrounded by timber and rugged grassland. Out here among the rattlesnakes in the hunting ground of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes, was no place for the faint of heart. Far from the comforts and conveniences available in town, hard living made the Sarpy Creek settlers a tough lot. This homestead was likely established in the early 1900’s, but the adjacent power pole probably didn’t arrive for another 20 or 30 years. The working corrals were conveniently located immediately adjacent to the house, perhaps as a security measure to protect livestock from marauding Indians looking to feed their families during the long, cold winter.
Each of these structure served very important purposes. They offered protection from the elements, safety from wild animals and comfort after a long, hard day’s labor. Yet each has been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. We can only speculate about the lives of their former residents; were they beaten by drought? where did they go after the mine closed? did they survive Indian attack? There are many unknowns, but we can be fairly certain that the folks who built these homes, at least initially, had a lot of courage, stamina and faith. In a time like that, before all the modern comforts and conveniences we know today, I would imagine that folks relied on God and His Providence more extensively than we do today. It seems to me that the more “advanced” our culture becomes, we become further removed from Him that created us.