April 24, 2013

Poetry on the Prairie

By Christy Goll
Assistant Editor, Montana The Magazine of Western History

Mary Frances Benton Connor.
Photo courtesy of Mavis Kvernvik
April is National Poetry Month, a perfect time to share this amazing diary from our collection. It was written in 1921 by Mary Frances Benton Connor, or Fannie, as her friends called her.
In 1920, Fannie claimed a homestead north of Rudyard and taught school to pay the bills. But unlike most other homesteaders, she moved to Montana at the relatively old age of 54, and while most women homesteaders and teachers were single, Fannie was married. Like many other homestead women, she documented her experience in a diary that she kept during the year 1921—writing entirely in verse.

Two pages from the Mary Frances Benton Connor diary
Two pages from Fannie Connor's diary
Fannie’s poems tell the joys and trials of teaching in a rural school and the struggles of homesteading
on the Montana prairie. In perhaps her most poignant poem, Fannie wrote:

  Childhood was never, never meant
  In such a land as this to be spent
  Of grownups too I have my doubts
  If they were meant to settle hereabouts
  Since grass has value dry or green
  Naught but herds of cattle should be seen
  Twas a mistake it now appears
  For people to make this a home of theirs.

What do you think? Was it a mistake for homesteaders to settle on Montana’s arid northern plains?