Cowboy Jam Session: Paper trails |

Cowboy Jam Session: Paper trails

Courtesy graphicDakota Prairie Memories is a blend of poetry and prose that provides historical essay of life on the northern great plains.

A friend told me recently that a family member is posting installments from a homestead-era diary on Facebook. Descendants from around the world are sharing in the adventure as the entries are revealed bit by bit. My friend expressed the awe she feels at reading the entries detailing her ancestors’ emigration from Sweden to Minnesota.

Bette Wolf Duncan shares family stories in Dakota Prairie Memories (Xlibris, Corp., 2011, 102 pages, b/w photos and illustrations, paperback, ISBN: 978-1456853655). A comfortable blend of poetry and prose – illustrated with drawings, photographs, and paintings – Duncan introduces each chapter with a historical essay on the era. Using the essays as a springboard, she captures snippets of life on the Northern Great Plains. Characterizing the Native Americans, explorers, pioneers, homesteaders, and cowboys who came and went in the region, she says, “… people of the West were unique – more independent, self-reliant, and imbued with a rock-hard inner strength. They were survivors that sacrificed blood and sweat to overcome severe hardships.”

“First Year on the Prairie” is an account of what it might have been like inside a sod shanty for settlers on a wintry Sunday afternoon in the 1870s. The portrayal captures the close confinement in a cold and hostile climate, lacking even the most basic conveniences we now consider necessities. Other poems I particularly enjoyed are posted on Duncan’s Honored Guest page at, among them “Empty-Cradle Sad,” “Westward Ho, Their Wagons Rolled,” “My Pretty Patch of Green,” and “Makin’ Do,” a Great Depression remembrance.

The paperback Dakota Prairie Memories sells for $19.99 plus shipping. It is also available as a hardback and e-book. Purchase online from (sneak peek inside), from Xlibris (excerpt posted) at, or from Bette Wolf Duncan, 1755 S.E. 108th Street: Runnells, IA 50237; 515-966-2461.

In her acknowledgments, Duncan mentions the treasure trove of documents in her late sister’s genealogical archives: immigration papers, property transactions, newspaper articles, homestead affidavits. Among others, federal land patents (also called land title records), were issued as a reward for military service, in return for cash payments, and to homesteaders who completed the proving-up process.

Should you be interested in tracking down your family’s land patents, complete the form at the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records Automation Web site: As noted, the database “provides live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States, including image access to more than five million Federal land title records issued between 1820 and the present.” There are also images related to survey plats and field notes, dating back to 1810.

Searching by state and last name is a simple process that generates remarkably fast results, including relatives who may have settled nearby. Each patent includes the legal land description and the date of issuance. Print them or save them as PDFs. Either way, there’s no charge.

Amy Hale Auker shares her insights into the life of a modern day cowboy and his family in Rightful Place (Texas Tech University Press, 2011, 156 pages, hardback, ISBN: 978-0896726796). The 30 essays, with a foreword by Linda M. Hasselstrom, take the reader beyond the stereotypical setting sun, farther off the beaten path than some might be comfortable venturing. From the Texas panhandle to Arizona’s mountains, Auker travels on roads where 4-wheel-drive vehicles are a necessity, not a status symbol; where cell phone coverage is the exception, not the rule.

Seduced by the prairie, Auker’s love affair with the wide-open took root in childhood. Her marriage to a working ranch cowboy only deepened her affinity for remote locations and the harsh, demanding lifestyle. Probing beneath the surface of cowboying for wages, Auker dissects the romanticized notions of the job. As a daughter, a wife, a mother, a cook, and a ranch hand, her experiences are varied. She is at once the woman on a neighboring ranch and someone I’ve never met.

Painfully honest, Auker mines the marrow of her soul, refining everyday occurrences into precious vignettes from the contemporary American West. I caught my breath when she was startled by a rattlesnake, felt the tedium of moving cattle, peered into a stock tank watching goldfish flit about, longed to taste her homemade tortillas, and felt the rain drops as she miscarried alongside a muddy dirt road.

Rightful Place sells for $20 plus shipping at It is also available at, where 11 of 13 reviewers have given it the highest 5-star rating. Contact Auker at 101 N. Mount Vernon Ave., Prescott, AZ 86301.

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