Thanks to my eighth grade teacher, I developed a healthy lack of interest in history until I heard a story about my great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks Wright, homesteading by herself in eastern Montana as a young woman. I had always associated homesteading with covered wagons not Model Ts so was surprised to find a record of Hattie’s homestead application dated 1914. Hattie left no diary and she was too busy raising four kids to talk much about her time on the prairie.

By the time I heard about her years of proving up on a claim near Vida, Montana, she was long gone. But my curiosity was piqued; I had to know more. Efforts to learn more about her homestead times felt like detective work. Why hadn’t anyone told me research could be this much fun? My three years’ work on Hattie Big Sky involved several trips to Montana, one by train, as well as countless hours in wonderfully dusty courthouse records’ rooms and newspaper office morgues. While I never found out exactly what my great-grandmother’s adventure was like for her, I was able to piece together what it might have been like thanks to the diaries and journals of others who put down roots in “next year country.” My hope is that this book is seen as a tribute to honyockers everywhere.