, 2023-01-18 09:00:00,
WORTHINGTON — A curious historical statistic prompted South Dakota author C.K. Van Dam to write “Proving Her Claim” 20 years ago — and the recent resurgence in the popularity of Westerns drove her to publish her romance novel in 2022.
“While 12% of homesteaders were women, through the Homestead Act of 1862, 42% of women homesteaders proved their claims; 37% of male homesteaders proved their claims,” explained Van Dam, who is set to speak from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 25, at the Nobles County Library in Worthington.
In order to be eligible to get the free 160 acres of land from the government, homesteaders had to stay on it at least half the year, cultivate it and improve it for five years. A woman could become a homesteader, but only if she was the head of a household — unmarried, widowed or divorced.
At that time in history, Van Dam said, women had few options for independence, and could likely either stay with their families or start a new life on the prairie.
“And that’s what was so exciting to me about the book,” she said.
“Proving Her Claim” focuses on the romance between Anna Olson, one of the “girl homesteaders” who lost her fiance in the Civil War, and Two Hawks MacKenzie, the son of a Lakota woman and a Scottish fur trapper. It is fiction, but Van Dam did significant historical research to make the book’s time and place as accurate as possible.
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