An Owl on Every Post” (1970, re-issued in 2012 by Muse Ink Press) is Ms. Sanora Babb’s memoir of growing up in the western plains in the early 1900’s pioneer time, just before WW I.Up to seven years old, our narrator happily grew up in tribal Oteo territory (now OKlahoma) and was especially close to their elder chief who named her “Little Cheyenne Who Rides Like the Wind.” But at seven, her impulsive, emotional, and risk-loving father moved her family of five to SE Colorado so he could homestead to “prove up” 325 acres with his father. They lived out their “nesting experience” in an underground one room “dug-out house,” enduring all kinds of weather hardships and near total social isolation. And all to raise the not-so marketable…. broomcorn. (I’m shaking my head, too.) Constantly on the edge of full out starvation, they never succeeded at living underground, much less at farming. But survive, they did, even despite living two miles from fresh water. Though “Little Cheyenne” never went to formal school until age eleven, her quirky and intelligent grandfather home-schooled her in their sunken room with nothing but a book about the adventures of Kit Carson and old newspaper stories pasted onto their dug-out’s mud walls (meant to control household dirt.) Though a lot of hardship took place, author Babb authentically described how the seemingly barren landscape and its bounty of wildlife took lasting root in Little Cheyenne. It’s my favorite part of her story, even with its foreshadowing of today’s environmental struggles. The strong bond between unconventional grandpa and insatiably curious granddaughter grabs at the imagination, too. Grandpa couldn’t grow broomcorn too well, but luckily for readers, he planted the love of reading and poetic writing in a granddaughter who would someday flourish. By the memoir’s end, we learn just how far out Little Cheyenne flew into the world. It’s amazing, interesting and inspiring. And, if you’re curious to know which newspaper mastheads appeared on the dug-out’s walls of introductory reading, well, you’ll just have to read the book. 😉
Lucky for us, there’s more out there from Sanora Babb. I’m looking forward to her novel “Whose Names Are Unknown.” There’s some juicy details about that book, written at the same time —and on the same topic—as Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”Babb’s book was put on hold and not published until decades later. Short-sighted was her easily discouraged, possibly sexist publisher! It promises to be a great read, even Ken Burns says so.