Jake Goodrick Gillette News Record via Wyoming News Exchange
GILLETTE – Like many things created 100 years ago, the precise origins of the Savageton Homebuilders may have been lost in time.
Of course, none of the original members from 1921 are alive to tell the tale.
Verna Ann Gilbertz, whose grandmother, Zelda Geer, was a founding member, recalls it had something to do with a baby shower. Several neighbors – in the loosest sense of the word, since they all lived miles from each other – in the Savageton area gathered and the news of a new University of Wyoming program in Laramie, some 250 miles away, has spread.
Apparently, this was a home-building program – also known as Home Help – meant to connect women across the rural vastness of their Wyoming communities. The program was aimed at isolated settlers like them.
From this word of mouth, the Savageton Homebuilders Club was formed. One hundred years later, the group is still going strong.
“I’m just very proud,” said Gilbertz, 85. “The women stuck to it.
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Gilbertz, whose mother Myra Howell also joined the club and is a third-generation Savageton homebuilder, is one of 20 women who continue to meet when they can and carry on the tradition of ranches and farms. from the beginning of the 20th century.
“It was really a part of the community and it was a lifeline for some of these women who had to stay at home,” Gilbertz said. “They were really isolated.
The Campbell County Homebuilder Clubs were formed as part of a program of the University of Wyoming Extension Office, the very first in Campbell County having been formed in 1920.
This club, the Indian Paintbrush Homemakers Club, ended its 73-year career in 1993, with just seven members remaining on a list that once numbered 60 members.
During these years, new clubs sprang up in parts of the county, serving women who lived within reasonable distances. New clubs were formed, some clubs changed names and by 1941 there were 16 different clubs in Campbell County, stretching to every corner of its rectangular borders and scattered all over the place.
Old News Record clips are filled with details and anecdotes recalled by members of various bands as their clubs hit one milestone or another. In 1930, the Benefit Homemakers Club was established with a single penny in the club coffers. The initial objective was to raise a cent per month to build up reserves.
Another old story shared an anecdote of a Savageton homebuilders’ party in 1928. According to the story, the group gathered 125 people into a three-bedroom house. It should be noted that back in the day, plumbing consisted of an outhouse and the manual labor required to haul buckets of water back and forth.
Over the years, many groups have celebrated club birthdays and passed on stories like these. Clubs started out with practical intentions and quickly evolved into something more meaningful.
In the beginning, the clubs had an educational objective of teaching group members about household and family skills. However, the meaning attached to these gatherings quickly transcended that.
Monthly meetings often had a schedule, such as a guest speaker or other featured visitor, to uplift the group on one topic or another.
Many women already had basic knowledge of animal husbandry, agriculture, parenting, cooking and other necessary skills. Home ownership and ranching were difficult and could be ruthless to the ranchers and farmers, many of whom struggled to cope. To live was often to survive. There was no choice but to learn these skills.
Still, the members shared what they knew with each other. Many home builders in Savageton learned how to canning perishable foods and sew clothes, including dresses.
Generations of women have passed down the art of soap making and hominy as well as the tips for mastering homemade butter and cottage cheese. The Savageton Homebuilders were apparently known for their homemade pies.
Some women who were new mothers sought advice on how to keep their babies asleep or how to calm their upset stomach.
“They didn’t know it,” Gilbertz said. “It was probably their first child.”
The learning continued over the years, but eventually it became irrelevant.
Knowing how to turn their then-limited ingredients – many of which were found on the ranch – into a new dish, or getting advice on how to maintain a garden in the dry and cutthroat soil of northeastern Wyoming had its value. value.
But it was the socialization that they couldn’t create on their own.
Many of these women shared the common experience of living alone on the ranch, with no neighbor in sight or a soul within earshot.
“Some of them have gone mad,” Gilbertz said. “The ones that came here, they were all sort of hungry for other women to talk about female stuff.”
They found common ground on their shared, sometimes lonely experiences, while providing each other with the interaction that remedied their loneliness.
“They can sit in their house for three months without seeing anyone, but maybe a wanderer who has passed by or stopped for dinner,” Gilbertz said. “It was a tough country.”
Gilbertz grew up with this kind of second family. With his grandmother and mother as members, Gilbertz sometimes attended meetings as a child. A 1941 UW Extension Office annual report shows a black-and-white photograph of Gilbertz, about 5 years old at the time, standing with his mother and other home builders during a playful meeting schedule.
For her, it was only natural that she joined the group herself as an adult. After touring a few other home builder groups many years ago, Gilberz settled down as the Savagetown home builder for life.
Savageton often held a meeting at noon. The hosts served a main course and the other members would bring a free side dish. They stood up and pledged their allegiance to a program. Guest speakers sometimes made appearances.
All plans for the coming year have been carefully followed in the club’s annual brochures. Each year, group members received a handmade booklet with members’ names, various birthdays, meeting times throughout the year, and information on guest speakers.
These booklets were common to the various clubs scattered across the county.
An old Rozet Homemakers booklet opened with the club’s creed, in typed characters, which stated the club’s mission: “To keep my home clean and clean.” “
Small textbooks were typed in manually resulting in occasional typos as above. All these years later, it’s not clear whether it was meant to read “sanctity” or “sanity,” but the two seem about the time. There was then no going back. Maybe the ambiguity was intentional.
It didn’t take long for the UW Extension Office’s Homebuilders Program to take hold among the women of Campbell County.
The friendship, community, and knowledge that women found in home building clubs during these early decades had their own meaning. But the magic of those early years didn’t last forever. The groups continued to come together and be a source of pride for their many members. But again, their focus has changed.
Around the 1960s, the change became apparent. At that time, many of the original members were 30 or 40 years older than when they started. Like Gilbertz’s mother, many saw their daughters or other generations of the family join their clubs.
But the world around them had changed.
The groups first helped give women the chance to socialize, and they have continued to do so. In the 1920s, many of these settlers had little money to spare. A trip to town was more like a trip.
Then came cars, paved roads, electricity, running water, and many other luxuries of the time most of which could not be without now.
“Internet and paved highways and three or four cars and vans – it’s a whole different world than where it started,” Gilbertz said.
Eventually, the energy industry realized what was in the ground beneath these large, open ranches. Suddenly money worries were gone for some of those ranchers lucky enough to own their own land and the minerals in it.
With cars to get to town, phone lines to call, and decades of other economic and technological advancements, needing another person to identify with and talk to has become less of a pain.
But it was still important. And there was a new generation of home builders, many of whom founded the clubs through their own families, to carry on the tradition.
For decades the world has turned, presidents have come and gone, wars have started and ended, America has grown and all the while house builders have met.
Meetings no longer involve the intensive hospitality and multi-year planning that they once did. Instead, women often get together at a local restaurant and feast on stories from the past. There is no longer the same intention of practice or education that there once was. For the most part, it’s a reason to get together, talk and keep the club alive, which is a reason like any other.
The group even has a few younger additions, some of which carry on the tradition of home builders from their own mothers and grandmothers.
“I think this has to continue,” Gilbertz said. “I think they can still learn something.”
The home builders of Savageton lasted 100 years, which is longer than many other entities once formed in the unincorporated community of Savageton.
After a hundred years of existence, the decades of Savagetown Homebuilders have simultaneously adapted to the times while keeping their history and purpose intact.
Who knows what next year may hold, let alone the next 100.
All that remains certain is that as long as there are people interested in preserving the tradition and spirit of home builders, the home builders of Savageton will be there to find out along the way.