Filed Under Biography

Nellie Burgess, Female Homesteader

Eager to “help tame that Wild West,” Nellie Burgess Sudduth left a job at the Chicago Daily News with plans to establish a homestead. Nellie followed in the footsteps of her father, who had gone to California during the Gold Rush, and headed west seeking independence and adventure.

In 1908, Nellie Burgess was spurred west by the suggestion of a doctor to treat a nagging cough. An ad for a land raffle in Idaho was the only additional inducement she needed. When she arrived in King Hill, it was little more than a shed and city of tents on the banks of the Snake River. Many would-be settlers left empty handed, but Nellie persisted. Her number was the fortieth drawn from the old wooden butter churn used as the raffle pot. By that time, her first preference was already spoken for, so she selected her second—forty acres neighboring a bend in the Snake River.

Having secured her property claim, Nellie set to work improving it, both for her own quality of life and to fulfill the requirements of the Carey Act of 1894, under which she had filed her claim. Later, this would require irrigating her property, but she first set about constructing a prove-up cabin. Nellie’s was 14x16 with a small attic used as her bedroom. She rigged the trapdoor that served as its entrance to deliver a barrage of pungent pepper to the face of anyone who opened it while she slept. The resulting sound would alert Nellie and allow time to ready the gun that she slept with.

Still concerned about her safety, her family sent her sixteen year old nephew Glenn Mills to join her in 1912. By that time, her “Rainbow Ranch'' homestead was well established and she was enjoying many successes. After an initial crop of alfalfa, she added wheat, corn, melons, assorted fruits, sunflowers, and lilacs. In the first season, Nellie even grew a forty pound watermelon. Irrigation brought new weeds, but ensured that the garden grew fast. Wildlife occasionally threatened her crops, but she learned to fend them off. To supplement crops, she bought livestock, a horse, cow, pig, and chickens. Demonstrating remarkable independence and ability, she learned to hunt to supply meat. Nellie and Glenn took trips out to the mountains where they gathered berries and hunted large game. Once, fishing along the banks of the Snake River, Glenn caught a 10 foot sturgeon that weighed over 400 pounds. They used the ferry to cross the river for other needed supplies.

In 1914, Nellie married Dave Sudduth, a neighboring rancher from Montana. She lived to see the 50th anniversary of the King Hill land drawings. By the 60th anniversary in 1968, she was the only original settler left. She died later that year. Esteemed for her courageous and adventurous spirit, friends and community members raised funds to establish a bronze plaque honoring her memory. It was cemented to a stone wall at Rainbow Ranch in 1969. The property has since been sold, but the plaque remains there in tribute to her legacy.

Images

Nellie as a young woman
Nellie as a young woman Source: Courtesy of Marjorie Vandervelde collection and Wendy Johnson.
Glimpse of Rainbow Ranch now
Glimpse of Rainbow Ranch now Current image of property that belonged to Nellie. Her plaque is on the stone wall on the left. Source: Courtesy of Mandy Harlan and Doug King.
Nellie’s plaque<br />
Nellie’s plaque
Plaque commemorating Nellie Burgess Sudduth, located on private property once considered Rainbow Ranch. Source: Courtesy of Mandy Harlan and Doug King.
Glenn Mills’ 400 pound sturgeon.
Glenn Mills’ 400 pound sturgeon. 400 pound sturgeon caught by Glenn Mills (far right). Source: Courtesy of Marjorie Vandervelde collection and Wendy Johnson.
Nellie’s orchard and prove up cabin<br />
Nellie’s orchard and prove up cabin
Source: Courtesy of Marjorie Vandervelde collection and Wendy Johnson.
Nellie and Glenn planting trees on her property
Nellie and Glenn planting trees on her property Source: Courtesy of Marjorie Vandervelde collection and Wendy Johnson.
An older Nellie, standing in wheat<br />
An older Nellie, standing in wheat
Source: Courtesy of Marjorie Vandervelde collection and Wendy Johnson.
Nellie panning in the Snake River<br />
Nellie panning in the Snake River
Source: Courtesy of Marjorie Vandervelde collection and Wendy Johnson.
King Hill Mainstreet during the land drawing<br />
King Hill Mainstreet during the land drawing
Source: Courtesy of Marjorie Vandervelde collection and Wendy Johnson.
Fricke Ferry in King Hill, Idaho<br />
Fricke Ferry in King Hill, Idaho
Fricke Ferry that Nellie used to cross the Snake River and pick up supplies. Source: Courtesy of Marjorie Vandervelde collection and Wendy Johnson.
Clearing sagebrush tracts for agriculture and building<br />
Clearing sagebrush tracts for agriculture and building
Source: Courtesy of Marjorie Vandervelde collection and Wendy Johnson.

Location

6761 E King Lane, King Hill, Idaho 83633

Metadata

Anna Bailey, Brigham Young University, “Nellie Burgess, Female Homesteader,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 23, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/452.