Kate Heizer, Female Homesteader

Of homesteading, Kate Heizer wrote, “One inquirer has an exaggerated idea of the difficulties and hardships. Another has a mistaken notion of taking a pleasant vacation while waiting till he receives title to a piece of property that will place him above financial anxiety for the rest of his life.” As for herself, Kate recognized the truth lay somewhere in the middle.

The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 authorized and began a process of subdividing reservation lands among Native families, breaking up and diminishing Native landholdings, including the Uintah Indian Reservation. In August 1905, “surplus” land was opened to homesteading and mineral claims. Kate Heizer was only one of thousands who applied for property in these areas. Preference for pieces of property was decided by drawing lots and Kate picked #247, low when compared to other higher possible picks. Time for potential homesteaders to look over the available land was short. Wasatch Land Company and other professional “locators” promised to identify prime lots for a price, but, with high stakes, there was a general mistrust of anyone claiming to know anything.

Potential for success rested all on the decision of what piece of land was selected. Prospective owners frantically learned all they could of sagebrush and other indicators of soil quality. Kate was skeptical of her ability to choose, writing, “I was as little capable of judging [the land] as I am of discussing the canals on Mars.” She questioned and listened to everyone who could give her any information, carefully judging “which men really understood conditions and were giving honest advice, and which either mistakenly thought they knew or had interested motives.” Her biggest concern was how the property would be irrigated, so she decided largely based on where others gathered, hoping that community would increase value and ensure a greater effort and feasibility for irrigation schemes. Kate’s study and planning paid off and she “secured a better claim than many a one who had had an earlier choice.”

The filing took place in early fall and, once settled, Kate returned to her teaching job to finish out the school year. To fulfill settlement requirements, she “resided” on her homestead for several days during the Christmas break. It was common for individuals to leave for periods to save money to fund work done in the spring. There were lonely spells as people moved in and out. Contests were raised, occasionally, against abandoned claims and Kate had one filed against herself in her absence. Fortunately, empathetic neighbors “with unmistakable western emphasis” advised the man to drop it—and he did. The incident spurred Kate to move out permanently and begin her required 14 months of continuous residence. The first summer was a difficult season. Many homesteaders needed ditches that didn’t yet exist to access water. Kate was fortunate in that her property was within a gully that retained water into midsummer and provided shade that grew trees for lumber. Once it was completed, she paid $1.25 per acre to the Indian Fund and, in exchange, received her patent.

Supplies had to be freighted in and were expensive to acquire. When funds ran dry, Kate had to sell 50 acres to continue improvements to the rest of her land. She was tormented by rabbits and prairie dogs that ate her crops and gardens, making “scarecrows, guns, and poison... futile.” Despite its difficulties, she persevered, seeing homesteading as an opportunity to learn and a cause for hope. Kate planted 90 acres of alfalfa and studied agriculture so she could take over management of her ranch entirely.

Regarding success, Kate explained that “the man who is alert and ready to seize opportunities, who holds to a purpose until it is accomplished, is the man most likely to succeed in any undertaking, and homesteading is no exception.” She certainly followed her own advice. While Kate took pride in becoming successful and competent, she found something even more gratifying—“the realization of being an important factor in the community, one whose voice has weight, a person to be consulted about matters of public interest.” Through her hard work and determination, Kate found success, independence, and political influence as a single woman in the American West.

Images

Map

Northeastern Utah just over Wyoming border, former Uintah Indian Reservation.