Historical Details

Lenz, Carrie: A Homestead Grows

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 12/11/2020


(As told by Carrie Lenz, to her granddaughter Valerie Lenz, who was in Junior High School at the time she wrote this.)

Carrie stood waiting outside her mountain home of 20 years in the spring of 1911 as her father brought the horse-drawn sled around from the shed. She was too excited to be sleepy even at this early hour.  For she was starting out on perhaps the great­ est adventure of her life.  She, Carrie, daughter of a simple Norwegian farmer, was going to join her three brothers in America. America, the Land of Promise  This was her dream come true.

As she climbed into the sled she must have shed a few tears.  Her mother was weeping, anxious though she was for Carrie to have this fine opportunity in life.  Her two younger sisters, ages 16 and 10, were sad at seeing her go.  They were all that would remain at home of the six children and they could never hope to see the other four again. Carrie did make a return visit to Norway in October 1967.

But how, even then, could Carrie remain sad?  She only thought of the excite­ment ahead as she rode down the mountain with her father. The horses blew smoke in the crisp, scented mountain air and the rising sun tinted the rosy snow-capped peaks above.

At the train station she waved good-by to her father's disappearing face as the train labored to pull away. That was the last familiar face that she would see for many a mile and many a day.

Now it was the waves of the North Sea that rolled beneath her, now the soil of England (she was amazed at its seemingly, premature greenness) and now again the waves, this time those of the Atlantic. She traveled third class, and she enjoyed it- especially the frequent dances.   Only one day, three days out of England, was  she seasick. The few remaining, like the previous, were fun.

Suddenly, through the fog loomed the Statue of Liberty. Even with the confusion of New York all about her, Carrie reached the train depot. (They held us around like a bunch of sheep, she was thinking.)

The trains again!  At Chicago her Norwegian speaking acquaintance left her. She was all alone. Not a soul in that foreign expanse stretching away from the train window knew or cared about her. On and on across the plains.  They were so different from the crags and steeps of Norway.   Then the rolling hills grew into bluffs.  Along a creek shaded by its budding cottonwoods, in the middle of the April greeness spread a tiny settlement. And Carrie knew this as her destination because she recognized the letters A-N-D- R-E-W (Nebraska) written across the train depot, as well as on the last section of her train ticket.  At last! What a relief! The town was small; the buildings wooden and old; the people ragged, dusty and scarce. But   to Carrie it was wonderful. Then and there she made up her mind that, not Norway, but this new land would be her home. Carrie had gone through eighth grade in Norway, the last grade before college (for there was no high school). Now she was going to read and write as well as speak English. Now she saw Oly, her oldest brother, hurrying toward her. And the one sad part of her arrival was Oly''s shabby coat Her brother in that rag!  Oly took her on an extra saddle horse to his homestead five or six miles, north of Andrew.  But Oly''s day was busy and after their first greetings and exchanges, he rode off to continue his day on the railroad.   She was alone to settle in to her new home.

The first Sunday in Andrew was spent at the Lingwood home.  The Lingwoods had invited Oly, Amend, (her second brother) and Carrie to dinner, for they, too, were Norwegian.  They had known Carrie's parents back in Norway. It was they who had sent Oly his ticket to America. Oly had sent Amend his; Amend sent Carl his, and lastly Oly had sent one to Carrie. Unfortunately for Carrie, Mr., Lingwood (Carrie always called him "Grandpa") had a teasing sense of humor. As soon as she arrived, Grandpa began to tease her and his son Lewy about each other, and Carrie blushed as red as a rose.  She hadn't even seen Lewy before.

Later Anna, Lewy's sister decided to show Carrie how to dance U.S. style. Grandpa chuckled, then  he roared " Anna,"  he laughed, "I think Carrie can show you how to dance!"

On Dec. 28, 1913, Grandpa Lingwood's teasing predictions came true, for Carrie was married to Lewis Lingwood.   They could­n't afford a honeymoon and soon Lewy began working for a man who lived east of Andrew, right on the creek.  As they lived there, Carrie kept house. Sometimes she caught fish by tying a gunny sack across the stream and driving the fish into it.  Even the game warden would sometimes enjoy a fish dinner with them and then tell Carrie solemnly that he hadn't any idea where the fish had come from.

That fall, Carrie and Lewy moved to Node, Wyo. where Lewy worked as a railroad section foreman. They spent the winter here comfortably. Thanks to Lewy's job,
there was usually even a few dollars left over at the end of the month. Lewy insisted that Carrie return to Nebraska in October to have her first baby.  It was a boy and they named him Ralph. When Carrie came back to Node, she began to plan for the homestead that she and Lewy had decid­ed to obtain, north of Lusk. Lewy left the final decision up to her because she would be homesteading by herself. His job pre­vented him from doing so and giving up a good job to depend solely on the land would have been risky then.

The two young friends living on the homestead would turn it back to the land office for $200, a rather high price.  At least they'd already built a shack on it where Carrie would live.  And Ivor, Lewy's brother had agreed to plow the first 20 acres for her.

So it was that Carrie arrived on the homestead in a lumber wagon on the first of April, 1915, her little baby only six months old, herself 23.  Her furniture was meager, consisting mainly of the baby's bed, a tiny table, and a little old stove. Her only chairs were boxes. This was how she started.

The country around her was just devel­oping. Niobrara had become a county only four years before and had been organized only two years before in 1913. It was around this time, also, that (in 1917) the Lance Creek Oil Fields sprang to life. The town of Lusk was hardly older than she was and Wyoming as a state was even younger than she by eight years.

The shack, now her home, had been poorly built by the two previous homestead­ers.  It was built into the side of a hill at the edge of a prairie flat which was almost surrounded by wooded hills. The 
shack had three windows and its door opened towards the canyon below the flat.  It rain­ed frequently enough that summer, to keep a water hole in the canyon filled and from here Carrie had to get her wash water, as she didn't have a well.   A neighbor, Ray Wilson, who did have a well brought her drinking water in 10 gallon cream cans.

When it rained, she caught extra water in pails and barrels which she kept standing outside.  In addition to lacking a well, Carrie had no fences to mark off the 320 acres which she was homesteading for.

The first thing to be done was to help Ivor fence her land. Because she was reluctant to leave her baby alone, she took him along in a buggy. She would work ahead along the fence with Ivor, then go back and get the buggy. Carrie repeated this process all day long for several days until the fence was up.

However, Carrie had a neighbor who didn't appreciate the new fence, as it was much more profitable to let his cattle graze her land.   But fences never bothered him and he turned a bunch of cattle in anyway a few days later. Upon seeing the cattle, Carrie immediately set out to turn them through the fence again.  The last week-end, Lewy had told her to keep all cattle out, as the grass would be needed by two men, who were coming up, with five horses each to plow for them. (Each man needed four horses for the plow and an extra saddle horse.)  No sooner had Carrie returned to her shack than "Mr. X" came galloping up on his horse and demanded an explanation for chasing his cattle on foot. He scolded furiously that there was a law against it.  Carrie, unabashed, gave him a very tart explanation and he finally rode off. But for many years, Mr. X would be pulling shady deals behind the backs of the struggling homesteaders.  It was rumored that he dropped pipes in homesteaders wells, which would be the final breaking point to make them give up and sell out to Mr. X.

The next concern was of the crops. Twenty acres of corn and an acre of potatoes were planted.

Carrie went to town seldom, perhaps once a month.  She would buy flour, sugar, coffee, canned goods and baby milk. Until she had cattle to butcher, she had to buy soup, too. She never bought baked goods but made her own. Each day she would get up bright and early, feed and dress the baby and then make breakfast which usually con­sisted of cooked cereal, bread, butter, and eggs.  If fencing   or working in the field wasn't planned, Carrie always had plenty of housework to do.  She cleaned, baked, washed, ironed and sewed between mealtimes.  She washed clothes in an old tub, with water from the waterhole, and an old-fashioned wash board.  In the evenings after supper, she would sometimes crochet or embroider by lantern light.

Though Carrie had little time for visiting during her first busy years, she got to know several neighbors. Emma Howell, a widow, homesteaded on a flat by a large hill in the timber below Carrie in August, 1920.

Carrie suspected that Mrs. Howell, like many other homesteaders, kept a few uten­sils (bed, stove, table, and dishes) in her shack, but didn't ever really live in it.

In 1926, the Howell place was bought from Mrs. Howell (who was living in South Dakota) for five dollars an acre by Carrie and her husband, who over bid the neighbor interest­ed in it.

Mr. Postel began homesteading in July, 1924. Later he married and had three daughters.  His homestead, too, was on a flat at the edge of the trees, below Carrie and to the northwest.  But Mr. Postel couldn't make ends meet by living off the homestead and selling wood, so he sold it to Carrie and her husband in November, 1926--320 acres.

Ray Wilson homesteaded on the hills north of Carrie. He was always friendly, bringing Carrie water and fixing her fences when Mr. X. tore them down.   His place changed hands many times, once being rented to Slim Carr, who was suspected making moonshine. A government man was sent out to watch Slim's house.  He lay on the hill for more than a day and finally went down to the house and asked for Slim. Slim's wife answered and said that he was out herding turkeys (of which they had none).  This failing, he again watched the house and finally caught Mr. Carr slipping into the canyon practically touching the house and there was discovered a little cave where he had his equipment set up and had indeed been making moonshine. This place was added to Carrie's much later in 1965 by her son, Richard.

Jim Mayes began homesteading to the east of Carrie early in 1910. Later, he tore down the homestead shack, moved to town and operated the Lusk Free Lance newspaper. This place, too,was added to Carrie's, another 320 acres, in May, 1948. Jim Mudra even further east, had al­ ready proved up on his claim when Carrie arrived in 1915. He was married and he and his wife lived on the place until 1965. In the fall of 1967, it was added to the Lenz ranch, by Richard Lenz.

Ed and Charlie Schroefel had a nice ranch in operation when Carrie arrived. Curious about this young woman homesteading alone out on the prairie, they used to stop by to see her. A portion of their land adjoining Lenz's was bought by Carrie's son, Richard, in 1964.

Before Carrie finished her first summer, the crops had to be harvested. The corn was cut by means of a two-foot blade with a sturdy handle on it. Lewy did most of the chopping on one of his weekend visits and Carrie finished during the following week, putting corn up in shocks. When the time came to dig potatoes, Amend dug them and Carrie walked behind him picking them up. The job was done in one or two days.

Carrie moved off the homestead on the first of November, 1915, after she and Lewy had gone to the land office in Douglas and received permission to move off for five months. They spent the winter at the site of Lewy's work, in a Railroad Section House between Shawnee and Orin Junction.

Next year on April 1 she was back again with three or four cows which she milked.She sold the cream. Her second baby, Alma was born in May and she traveled back to Nebraska before her birth. She was back soon and that spring she got her own well and windmill, a great accomplishment and a mark of progress. She also got a phone that year and though the first time it rang in the night it scared her, she was glad to have it.  This year, too, she planted an acre of potatoes and 20 acres of corn.

Carrie had a very frightening experience that summer. She left Ralph playing on the flat near the windmill and went after the milk cows, in the evening. Alma was safe on the bed. The cows were as far away as they could get, along the north fence and it was beginning to get dark. When she finally returned, Ralph was nowhere in sight!  Her heart leaped into her throat and close to panic she ran and called, down the canyon, up the hill.  Suddenly a tiny white spot moved half a mile to the east. And it didn't take Carrie very long to get over there!  Yes, it was Ralph and she was very thankful for the fact that she'd left a white cloth tied around his head. After that she took him with her when she went after the cows.

Again she left for five months during the winter and in April, 1917, she began her third and final year of homesteading before the land would officially be hers and Lewy's.  How much that meant to her!

Since the homesteading laws required that 40 acres of land be plowed, 20 more acres of corn was planted.

The fourth year was a tragic one. As Lewy rode home one evening, he bent to scoop up Ralph who ran towards him. The horse kicked his left hand, breaking a finger, and consequently, blood poisoning set in.

When it got worse, the local doctor finally advised him to go to Douglas.  Carrie went with him and as she sat by his side in the hospital, Lewy passed away, leaving her with two children, 2 and 4 years old.

Imagine how Carrie felt returning home!

Now again she was alone, the country still new to her, she had not mastered the Eng­lish language, and a homestead on her hands. Only one thing prevented her from returning to Norway.  She wanted her children to grow up here where they would have the best that she could give them. She wanted a home for them and for herself in old age.

So she resolved to stay.  From Lewy's  insurance she got money to build a four­ room house. She was determined now to put down her roots in this land.  About this time, the wife of a county commissioner visited her and informed her that it was possible for her to get a widow's pension from the county (welfare) , but Carrie would not hear of it. She said she was healthy and strong and able to work. When Mrs.Mills visited (after hearing good reports from neighbors about Carrie's housekeeping and cooking} and asked her to work for her, Carrie accepted. She worked for Mrs. Mills at several different intervals and then for better pay, she moved down to Jay Em, and worked for the Coffee and Tinnin ranching operation. Ralph, she left with his grandparents and took Alma with her. Among her various duties was cooking, washing and ironing clothes for five or six men on a coal and wood stove, cutting the butchered meat herself and pumping water on the porch. But she got $50 a month for it--good pay, in those days.

It was here that she met Henry Lenz, when he came to dinner one day at the Coffee and Tinnin ranch. He was a bachelor, approximately 41 years of age and had a homestead just outside of Jay Em.  A year later in 1925, Carrie and Henry were mar­ried. In another year Henry sold his home­stead and they moved to Carrie's at Lusk.

Right away they began to add onto it and continued to, throughout the years. Bliz­zards, droughts, grasshoppers, and depres­sions, Carrie and Henry struggled through them all. Here they raised four children, in addition to Carrie's two children.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Lenz, Carrie (12/21/1891 - 11/12/1972) View Record
Obituary Lenz, Gene (02/10/1933 - 09/30/2023) View Record