Deeds to Diplomas

Week 17: #52 Ancestors – Land

By Eilene Lyon

I’ve written about my great-grandmother’s homestead in Idaho in earlier posts. Clara Pearl Ransom moved to Moscow, Idaho, when she was still in her teen years. Her older brother, Arthur L. Ransom, encouraged her to take up a homestead claim in the Clearwater region when she was in her 20s and still single.

View of Clara’s homestead looking southwest. (E. Lyon 2019)
View of Clara’s homestead looking southeast. (E. Lyon 2019)

Mostly she spent summer months on the land, when she wasn’t teaching. She described some of the improvements she made to her homestead:

“My brother had built a log cabin on his claim and now, with the help of a neighbor, we built mine. In those days…some western women still used sidesaddles and I was one. With a rope attached to the horns of this saddle we dragged many of the logs into place for the cabin. It was rather hard on the saddle, but a satisfaction to me to assist in the work on my own domain.

“The roof was made of shakes – long strips of pine split out of good, straight-growing trees with a knife. We made the doors, window frames, tables and shelves of the same shakes and filled the chinks between the logs with clay. Those were splendid days. We spaded places for gardens, roamed the woods for flowers and berries, fished for the mountain trout and lived the really primitive life…

“As we lived on our claim from year to year, when not compelled to be away at work, we gradually improved it. We planted an orchard, set out berries and grapevines which grew well in the lower places near the river. We stretched fences, built barns, cleared more acres to add to the producing meadow and scattered timothy seed in the open spots for summer range.”1

She received her patent in 1904 and purchased another 80 acres in the same area in 1908.2 By then, she was married, to Sterling P. Davis, and living on their farm northeast of Moscow.

Original patent for Clara P. Ransom’s 80 acres in Clearwater County. (Collection of the author)

I visited the area last summer and took some photos from the road that runs through the north half of Clara’s 160-acre homestead. I’m not certain what Clara meant about “near the river.” The homestead lies high on a bench above Whiskey Creek. Her separate 80-acre parcel, further south and at a lower elevation, straddles the creek. Perhaps this is where she grew the berries and grapes.

Robert C. Bonser surveyed this township in August 1898. His field notes give us an idea of what the land looked like before Clara ever set foot on it. There were very few homes or roads in the area when the surveyor went through. He had some difficult hiking to do. He made it clear in his notes that this land was not suitable for farming, but better for harvesting trees.

“Land mountainous 25.00 chs. Balance rolling. Soil loam and stony: 2nd and 4th rate. Timber pine, fir and tamarack. Dense undergrowth of buck brush, willow, arrowood, service and young fir. Mountainous or heavily timbered land, or land covered with dense undergrowth 79.76 chs.”3

survey plat
Excerpt from 1898 survey map by Robert C. Bonser showing Clara Ransom’s homestead (square) and additional 80 acres she purchased in 1908. The dotted line (trail) through the homestead is the approximate location of the current road through the property. The diagonal line on the left is the eastern boundary of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. (BLM General Land Office)
GE image
This Google Earth image shows the parcels today (lines are approximate). The area shown is northeast of Orofino, Idaho.

The family story goes that Clara gave 80 acres of the homestead to each of her daughters, June and Clare, and the separate 80-acre parcel to her niece, Clara Ransom Hockett. The young women were to use sales of timber from their land to finance their college education. All three graduated from the University of Idaho, just as Clara had in 1898.

I don’t know whether this is entirely true, because I have no records pertaining to timber sales. There is a plat map from 1940 that shows the three women still held those parcels they received from Clara.4 Unfortunately, the Clearwater County deed records are not online, so I don’t know when Clara gave them the land, nor when they eventually sold it.

Davis30 001a
Sterling P. and Clara Ransom Davis with their two daughters, June (left) and Clare (my grandmother), c. 1929.

Aside from her land patents, Clara Ransom Davis bought many lots in Moscow and rented apartments to university students. Real estate management essentially became her career after she was shut out from teaching. She used her wealth in land to ensure that her daughters and niece would have an education and a step up toward a rewarding life. I suspect that Clara also did everything in her power to ensure they married college-educated men, too.

Clara Ransom Hockett graduation portrait, 1914. (Courtesy of S. Smith)

Feature image: Portion of Clara Ransom’s homestead patent (BLM General Land Office)

28 thoughts on “Deeds to Diplomas

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      1. The gravel pit would certainly spoil the view. I used to live just across the Idaho border in Creston, BC, I don’t think I ever made it further south than Coeur d’Alene, certainly not to Moscow. From what I remember the State has some picturesque hills.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. That was so interesting. I can’t imagine a single woman back then owning land, and helping to build her own house, it must have been a rarity? Looks like a lovely spot too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were many female homesteaders. Some were single and others were widows. I just have trouble imagining doing some of the things they did while wearing dresses and long skirts! Give me jeans or Carharts any day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You know, I’m reading her account of building this home and I’m thinking to myself “That is carazy”. But this WAS their lives. And the satisfaction she has, that says everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great comparison. Love it! I think Clara Ransom was quite the tough cookie. And yes, Clara Hockett is quite lovely. I just recently received photos of her from one of her descendants. Plus another gem I’m saving for later.

      Liked by 1 person

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