Lily’s Letters

Lily Stearns wrote dozens of letters pleading her case to federal officials in Glasgow, Washington, DC, and elsewhere. A selection is accessible in Lily’s homestead file at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC, and a few other letters are in the collection of the Montana State Archives in Helena, Montana. Given Lily’s prolific pencil, and her adept use of persuasion to garner attention to her case, certainly many other letters are scattered or lost. A selection is included here, from the National Archives homestead case files.

Sara Gregg has transcribed all of these letters to the best of her ability, and left the capitalization, spelling, and punctuation as they appear in the documents. This captures Lily’s pacing and language usage, evoking her voice without corrections or editing.

There is no record of Lily’s childhood, or of her access to school in her hometown of Vermillion County, Illinois, but she had learned to read and write, and had honed her persuasive letter-writing skills over time, using her correspondence as a way to build support for her case.

22 January 1913.

1–22–1913

Department Interior, Washington

Sir,

Am very anxious to hear from you in regards to the Restoring of a 160 a joining my other 160 on the south. My 160 a. is E ½ SW ¼ W ½ SE ¼ Township 30 N Range 38 E—160-file no. 018907) the 160 joins this on the south. (HE no. 02653 filed June 15 1908) Lots-1-2-3-4 Sec 3 Twp 29 N R 38. This is bench land & no chance for irrigation. The 80 west of me is for restoring & the Project engineer wrote me that he had sent to you for to have this restored for filing. I want the 160 a South of me & would like an amediate reply. Kindly restore this & oblige.

Your Resp’y
Mrs. Lily B. Stearns

3 October 1914. Page 1.

 

3 October 1914. Page 2.

 

Oct–3–1914

Asked for an absence of leave from my farm and it was granted to me; this man that contested me tried to buy my homestead last summer and now he says he will get it from me in spite of all my protest; please close this contest at once. [2]

PS

Secretary U.S. Land Office—
Enclose find some of the clippings from my Church papers. “Lamoni Iowa, Publishers. Please read them and return to me, as they are for my childrens keepsake.

Mrs Lily B Stearns
Box 548

30 November 1914. Page 1.

 

30 November 1914. Page 2.

 

30 November 1914. Page 3.

 

Glasgow Mont

30 November 1914

Secretar of the Interior

Dear Sir—

I am writing to you In regards to my troubles about my contest that has been appealed from this land office to Washington. I sent my serial nombers and a letter in Jan 12, 1914 to gather with church lititure and asked you to consider how terrable it is for this man that is trying so hard to take from me my only home, I have four children to make a home for. And this piece of land you know I petetioned for it and they were so mad when I filed on [2] My land because there was five parties offering a large sum of money for it-it is near Tampico Serial No. of one piece is 018907 and I realy can’t give you the nombers because I never can remember them because the land lays in two townships, 29. and 30. I beg of the depertment not to over look my pleadings for my home and lawyer appeal. Enclose find my tax receipt, the assesor came to my home last summer and he said my taxes would be more next year because of my cows. This man Stinslin has had his rights to land in the U.S. and his wife has a farm and his mother Mrs. Randa Stinslen hasland and she is a foreiner and cant speak or write English. They hired or bought one witness gave Joe Dorr $25.00 to swear falsely against me and my [3] children. I am now in Glasgow, doing landry work and labor by the hour to support my children. Please decide my home in my favor I know you will because we (my children & I Pray to Our God Evry night for our land.

Yours Respy

Mrs. Lily B Stearns

Glasgow, P.O.

P.S. From a Lonely Homesteader, to the Contest department at Washington D.C.

1 June 1915.

1 June 1915, Received stamp, Department of the Interior

Mrs LB Stearns
Glasgow Mont
Rel. Contest Against Her
Honorable Secretary and Contest Department

Dear Mr. Prince {?}

You will never know how much I appreciate the way you decided my home in my favor. Many thanks. Our Register And Receiver told me they could not see why they were trying so hard to keep out of my land because they could not see that any one was entitled to it only myself—and I believe your office will remember how I worked and petetioned, I work so ahrd on my farm and so hard for other people in order to suport my girls, I have one daughter that is an invilad and while my son kept up mr. Aschbrenners farm worked for him Mr. Aschbrenner was out west for he is a Blacksmith and [2] worked for the Anacondia Co.

I lived on my homestead all I could and drove to Glasgow to bring Out laundry for the big rooming houses and R.R Men, Mrl Aschbrenners place was direct on my way to from I stoped there as my journey was 14 miles in and 28 miles a day in a big wagon was a long sick hard trip besides the team belonged to him and was needed to hall water. here is where J. Dorr (notice the contest papers for reference_ would come to my window at night and watch baby and I undressing and going to bed, “Think of it friends, an old widower that wanted me to marry him and because I hated him, testifying he looked through my window. Of course I found his tracks or some ones but I am no [3] cow-ard, it takes a [brave?] Lady to prove up a homestead and I am not afraid of no one if they will face me, let me tell you, dear friends, You will never know what it is to try to earn a home here, they will come and steal from me, last summer some one came at night and stole my things and me at home, this spring they stole my posthole spade and me home, came at night, last winter while I was in Glasgow doing laundry work. J. Dorr came along took my wood-that I cut And halled here my self. How do I know who stole the wood? I found the pipe where the wood was loaded. When the syclone swept my home away many of my things were taken “crow bar that layed by my door, now they have appealed this contest the [4] second time And if the judges doubt me any time as for my truthfulness I am willing to write a long letter of explanation, you will note their charges of my mariage with Mr. Aschbrenner he bought the lisence to marry me, because Our business deals required he [illegible] me at that time, later my son came home he asked my son to help me on my home stead + work part the time for him, as he was going away later he asked me, do you want to marry me or do you want your land, I said I want my land for my self and children, he left and went west to the shops.

[5] When I went and maried him, I had filed on my land, he said do you want me to help u in your farm. if you do you will have to give me 160_a_ I said I’ll not part with my farm for no man, Harry Woodard (see contest pages) witness said will you sell me 80 of the west half- I said no he then offered $5000 if any one would help him get me of this land, and J. Dorr wanted 160 for his son. Stenslen wanted the whole 160_ Now you [6] can see how hard I have to struggle to hold my farm it is all I have, I spent nearly $600- on this place since I came to Montana, the Register of our Local land office here knows me well. Miss Georgia Scott one of your head clerks that used to help you in your land office at D.C. and Glasgow knows me, if your athorities doubt me write to them. I sincerely hope you will grant a favorable return and end Mr. Randa Stenslen contest against me.

Your Lonely Homesteader
Mrs L.B. Stearns