Mail Call: November/December 2010

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Readers, now is your chance to write in and share your family's homesteading story.
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The Homestead Act of 1862 produced some vast homeplaces as settlers staked their claim to unsettled lands.
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In the September/October issue, we published "Bringing Greenhouses to Iraq," from our friends in the U.S. Army, which resulted in a photographic "thank you."
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Pam Bowers' grandson, Caleb, grins ear-to-ear while looking at his photo in our Your View department (usually Page 7 in the magazine).
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More than one of our readers had canning stories to tell after our September/October 2010 issue.
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Taking action, Terri has posted signs around her Sparta, Tennessee, property.

My father, Edward Pius Schwehr, was born in eastern Canada. He was 8 years old when his father died, leaving a widow with 14 children. As the youngest of seven brothers, he was allowed to attend school only through the sixth grade, then he had to start working at a neighbor’s farm to help support the family.

In 1896, Papa’s older brothers learned of the Homestead Act in the United States. Four of the boys boarded a train to find land of their own. They settled in eastern North Dakota, near Valley City, Oriska, Sanborn and Spiritwood. One brother owned the original farm in Canada and remained there.

Then, in 1906, the last two and youngest brothers bought train tickets to claim homesteads of their own.

The problem was, now that the fertile Red River Valley was settled, the available homesteads were farther west where the climate was drier and the soil consisted of mostly gumbo, a heavy clay. These two boys finally filed claims about eight and a half miles southeast of Belfield, nearly a mile apart. They worked together to improve their claims, planting crops and building small, two-room clapboard houses. In the fall of 1907, they began to dig a well on Cosmas’ the older brother’s land. As they dug, they hit a large rock that seemed too big to get around. It was getting late in the year, so they decided to close the well until spring and go back to Sanborn to help their older brother, Leo, for the winter. 

By March, Edward and Cosmas returned to their homesteads to get an early start on the spring work. They arranged for some neighbors to come and help finish digging the well, but Cosmas was impatient about getting started. They discussed the need for safety; by sending a candle down the well they could check the air. Cosmas felt there was no need, but Ed was for safety and won out. The candle was lowered; it went out. Cosmas wanted to go down himself. Ed wanted to wait for the neighbor men. They argued, and Cosmas played his trump card.

“It’s my well. And I’m the oldest. I’m going down. You wait here,” he said, and he proceeded to descend.

Short minutes later, Ed felt the rope go slack. He tried calling to his brother, then, frantic, began pulling on the rope attached to Cosmas as the neighbor men arrived.

“Help!” Ed yelled. “Cosmas must be stuck.” Pulling on the rope with all his might he urged them to hurry. But it was already too late. Cosmas had evidently succumbed immediately to the deadly gas before he could signal Ed in any way. The body slumped in the confining space was so tightly wedged the men had to use grappling hooks to retrieve the corpse. It was March 13, 1908. Cosmas left behind a wife, Cecelia Deimert Schwehr, and a baby daughter, Winifred.

The Schwehr brothers took Cosmas’ body back to Sanborn, where he had worked during the winter, to be buried in Sacred Heart Cemetery. All the brothers looked after little Winifred and their widowed sister-in-law, Cecelia, until she remarried several years later.
My father bought Cosmas’ homestead from Cecelia along with several other homestead tracts. His farm eventually encompassed 800 acres
one and a quarter sections. Tragedy, grasshoppers and drought marked those years on the farm, with just enough good seasons as he toiled for 41 years to pay for each land purchase until he finally owned the farm, free and clear.

When Papa told me this story in 1975, at the age of 95, he was still deeply affected and mourned the fact that in some way he had not been able to prevent the tragedy of Cosmas’ death.

I am the daughter of a homesteader. While my life on that farm was not easy by today’s standards, I have many fond memories from the time I lived on that hard-won land. I am the daughter of a homesteader.

Mary Ann Schwehr
Billings, Montana

Thanks for sharing this tragic yet uplifting story, Mary Ann. We have received several homesteading stories since we ran an article on the topic, “Birth of America’s Breadbasket,” in the July/August issue. If you have a homesteading story to share, please send it in; it could appear in a future issue of the magazine. E-mail the story to Senior Associate Editor Jean Teller,, or mail it to her attention at Grit, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265. – Editors 

Living the Good Life Together

I received my first issue of Grit last night, and I am in love! This is the best magazine of its kind. I was thrilled with the DIY rain barrel. I have wanted one for a few years, but this design is far superior to any I have found. I showed my husband, and we are planning on at least one for our garden; more if we can. I was also pleased with the article on heirloom vegetables. I have been reading about them the past few months, and we are planning on adding a few plants this season.

I love how Grit is directed to people like us – normal, down-to-earth folks who just want to eat and share our homegrown food, raise healthy meat and eggs for our families, and get our children back to nature so everyone can experience the “good life” together. Grit, you definitely have lifelong friends here in Barberton, Ohio. Looking forward to many great years!

Laura Lippert 
Barberton, Ohio

Welcome to our community, Laura. Letters like yours are what this business is all about. – Editors

Dear Hank

Concerning your crooked corn rows (“Crazy for Corn,” September/October), don’t worry about them. My pappy always told me that you can get more corn in a crooked row. When you stop to think about it, it’s true.

Alan E. Easley
Columbia, Missouri

Experience being the best teacher, Alan, your pappy was right. Thanks! – Hank

Canning Salsa

I make tons of fresh salsa from my garden and give it away to friends, co-workers, church friends and family. A lot of the time, I give it to them fresh so they have to refrigerate it. But I do can some for later use.

I thicken it up by adding some tomato paste to it. I add a bit more paste when I am canning it, as canned salsa gets more watery. It works great for me, adds a bit more richness too.

I enjoy the magazine. My grandparents were farmers in the Galva and Bishop Hill, Illinois, area (Swedish settlement) for years, and my grandmother’s father came from Sweden in 1912. I enjoy knowing my family heritage on that side of the family, and I am trying to figure out the other sides of my family history. I’ve run across some Cherokee in my grandfather’s line (his great-grandmother was 100 percent Cherokee). My grandparents always had a Grit newspaper in the house. I liked their old version, and I like the newer version, too. Keep up the great work.

Christine Mize
Murphysboro, Illinois

Canning Safety

Just read your July/August “Safe Canning” editorial wherein you asked about what your readers are doing this year. This is my first year attempting to can, and, I’ll admit, the idea of botulism is scary. I’ve followed each recipe to the letter, but worry I’ve made some mistake that could end up killing us all off! I was relieved to read that there are only about 22 botulism cases per year related to food, but even with such low odds, I’m still a wee-bit nervous. I’m praying there’s a big safety margin in those recipes, as it’s possible I’ve messed up at least one batch somewhere, somehow!

My mother worked with me; we split the investment cost for the canner, jars, lids, and, subsequently, split the harvest. In two Saturdays, we made a total of 192 jars of goods. We preserved tomatoes, bruschetta, salsa (fortunately using a recipe without starch), peaches, honey-spiced peaches, bread-n-butter pickles, blueberry jam and blackberry jam. Our goal is to do some canning/preserving at least once every three to four months or so, to capture some of the bounty of each season.

Thank you for your wonderful articles and such a great magazine!

Tracy Best
Jacksonville, Florida

Agree with Taking Action

I just wanted to express my agreement with Edward Smith’s letter (“Take Action for Your Acreage,” in September/October’s Mail Call). City dwellers get sold on a fairy tale image of rural life. Cows, chickens and pigs don’t poop in the advertising they receive from subdivision developers. Flies are never mentioned. Snakes, coyotes, rats? In the idyllic country? Never! Most of these people have no idea what they’re getting into, and as a result, when they move into your neck of the woods, they want to change it to something they’re more familiar with … TOWN! They would really be much happier if they just bought property already in town.

I loved Mr. Smith’s idea of putting up signs warning about the smell, horse droppings in the road, etc. I don’t have an aromatic hog lot close enough to ward off developers, so I have to work with what I’ve already got – snakes, and lots of ’em. I’ve included some pictures of my effective signs reminding city dwellers that the wildlife living here are not all cute spotted fawns and bunny rabbits. I hope this inspires some creativity for others trying to preserve their rural way of life.

Terri Dean 
Sparta, Tennessee

Cowboy Candy Trademark

Since publication of the September/October issue, Grit has learned that Cowboy Candy, a type of jalapeño jelly referenced in “Meaner’n a Snake Pickles & Cobbler in a Jar,” is a trademarked term belonging to WHH Ranch Co. and the Hamzy family, from Sheppard, Texas. The WHH Ranch Co. claims to be the oldest family owned cannery in Texas. It appears Cowboy Candy is often imitated, but this family recipe is the original sweet, pickled hot jalapeño – check it out at or give them a call: 877-839-2701. – Editors

Couscous Contains Wheat

I was a bit disturbed to read in the September/October Grit the Zucchini Lasagna recipe offered by a woman whose husband suffers from celiac disease. If she is serving this recipe to him often, she is slowly killing him because it contains couscous. Couscous is wheat pasta. It looks like a grain, but it is semolina pasta rolled into little balls.

Tamara Mitchell
Sonora, California

Thanks for pointing this out, Tamara! We contacted the woman who sent the recipe, and she always left out the couscous to make it gluten-free. We’re sorry we let that one get by us! – Editors


In “Local Food Knocking At the Door” in the September/October issue, the subheading states Central New York Bounty delivers goods to urban dwellers in New York City. Bounty does not deliver to New York City. The Bounty program is focused in Central New York State – Chenango, Madison, Onondaga counties to be specific, which are all located three to four hours from the city. CNY Bounty only delivers products grown in these rural counties to residents of these counties, which makes the program unique. Grit regrets the error. – Editors

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(Your magazine is) very informative, from animals to recipes, and full of great pictures from around the country. I love the newsletter.

Janice Klingaman-Chambers
via Facebook

Tractor Knowledge

I would guess that you have probably received many comments regarding the photograph of the old tractor on Page 50 of the July/August issue. There is a problem with the picture. Apparently the negative was reversed. In reality, the seat and steering wheel should be located on the right-hand side of center, and the toolbox and taillight on the left-hand fender. This is a 1950s vintage WD Allis Chalmers row-crop tractor. I know this, as I spent years of operating time on my father’s WD tractor. We farmed in northwest Kansas, near Stockton. The tractor in the picture doesn’t appear to have had the care that we gave ours!

I later moved on to helping build livestock water dams, with considerably heaver equipment, in the Stockton area. I looked at the magazine several times before the image reversal caught my attention. I just had to throw in my two cents worth.

I enjoy the magazine, especially since coming from a farm background. I might add that when I am through reading the magazines, I take them to my wife’s hairdresser’s place, so that others may have the chance to read them while waiting. The hairdresser, after a period of time, takes them with her to an assisted living place, where she does hair work.

Ralph R. Look
Wichita, Kansas

Very good catch, Ralph, and you’re the only one to point this out so far. Our design team flipped the image, and it worked so well we let it go through, and, in all honesty, we hoped one of our tractor guys would notice. And thanks for the pass-alongs! – Editors