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Montana woman recalls a lifetime of progress on farm


Montana woman recalls a lifetime of progress on farm

Hi-Line Homesteader Eva Amundson, who now lives in Missoula, will celebrate her 106th birthday this month. Photo courtesy of DNRC.

JOPLIN, Mont. – Perseverance, determination, and good management were essential to survive the homesteader days, according to a Hi-Line homesteader.

“We worked hard at everything,” said Eva Amundson, whose family homesteaded near Joplin, Mont. “It was tough. You had to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and make do.”

In 1911, Amundson’s family moved from Langdon, N.D., to Montana when she was an infant. She recalls the hard times on the farm, when money was scarce and farming practices were primitive.

“Ever so many people starved to death out there,” said Amundson. “In those days, people didn’t know how to farm – it was a new country. My folks had a pair of oxen they farmed with and a couple of horses. We had a few cows, some chickens and that was it.”

Amundson and her six siblings attended the West Bench School and Joplin High School.  “My mother was insistent that we finish school,” Amundson said of her Norwegian mother. “I think a lot of people, who immigrated, or their families came from Norway, they realized how important education was.”

Amundson graduated salutatorian of her high school class, but didn’t go to college like her siblings. Instead, she married her high school sweetheart, Leif, after graduation. Marriage after high school was common for women at that time, Amundson explained.

“I realized women could contribute as much as men,” she said. “It’s like my mother out there harrowing; she was going to see that the boys were in Joplin going to school. It made all of us kids aware that we were all equal – women weren’t inferior.”

Shortly after they married, the Amundsons purchased their family farm near Joplin for about $10 per acre. Together, they grew wheat and raised four daughters on the 320-acre dryland farm, where good water was scarce.

“We had soda water at 150 feet,” explained Amundson. “This was okay for livestock, but you couldn’t use it for watering anything. It ruined the land if you put soda water on it.”

Forward thinking and good conservation management enabled them to add land to the farm through the years.

“Leif always had something new,” recalled Amundson. “We had the first electric light system. We had a bunch of batteries up in the attic; he wired the house for 32-volt … I remember he went to Kalispell to have a motor rewound so I had an electric washing machine.”

The Amundsons were also one of the first to utilize strip farming practices, hail crop insurance, a threshing machine and a lug tractor with steel wheels. Amundson has seen a lifetime of progress, from oxen to tractors and barbed wire telephone service to cellular phones.

“When you live this long, you have a lot of experiences,” she said. “It’s indescribable, when you stop to think about it … You can’t stop progress.”

Amundson’s story is transcribed on the Montana Women & Agriculture Oral History Project Web site. Read more about Amundson and other Montana farm and ranch women at http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/cardd/conservation-districts/oral-history-project/women-in-agriculture-stories.