Klamath Basin Women In Ag: Not A Footnote In History

Author Tricia Hill, with her grandmother, Betty Halousek, her mom Jan Walker, and her daughters, Rory & Mari Hill
Tricia, with her Grandma Betty, her mom Jan, and her daughters Rory & Mari

This piece was written by Tricia Hill, a 5th generation Klamath Basin woman farmer, former KWUA president, and owner operator of her family’s farm, Gold Dust & Walker Farms. This post was written in response to the voices in the Federal Government that have made decisions and commented that, perhaps, to help the endangered species in the Klamath River Basin, Klamath Project family farms and ranches ought to be retired.

For the last two years I’ve been told by the Federal Government that I do not matter. That my family’s history in the Klamath Basin should be relegated to a historical footnote.

It makes me sad. It makes me angry. It makes me sick.

There are other stories that could be told here- of native people that lost their homes and their land. These stories make my heart hurt and I do not argue the wrong of that history. I leave it to those who know better than I to tell those stories.

This is mine.

My family is Czech, descendants of people who left Eastern Europe looking for a better life. We didn’t come from a country; that had already been taken from us through the political chaos of 16 the Century Europe. Instead, we immigrated to escape rule of the Habsburg Empire who suppressed our culture and religion. War and famine were common. For men, if they were lucky enough to survive the draft of the Hapsburgs lasting up to ten years, they returned home to rural areas where there wasn’t enough work to go around for those not already owning land.

Lured by advertisements put forth by the US Federal Government and private individuals, we came to America. First, we settled in enclaves of other Czechs, such as Omaha, Nebraska. There a group of folks formed the “Czech Colonization Club” which sent out three scouts to research the purchasing farmland and settling a Czech group on an irrigated land. We accepted the promise of a not yet-existing town on land that was still under the waters of Tule Lake.

We were different from than many folks coming the US – we came as families, not single men. Sixty-six Czech families made their way to the Klamath Basin in September of 1909. The first winter was brutal. The shores of Tule Lake came nearly to the doorsteps of our simple, quickly-built cabins. The wind blew dust and then snow through the cracks between the boards. Most of us stayed- my Ottoman and Halousek ancestors. Others followed, including Vaclav and Elizabeth Rajnus in 1913. They purchased land from Mr. Halousek (their future in-law) and endured the wind blowing water from Tule Lake into and under the house.

I know a few more things. I know that my great-grandma Ella, second and much younger wife of my grandpa Halousek, looked sad. I never met her, and I so very much wish I could go back in time and let her see her great-great grand-daughters. My girls are strong and beautiful and love their family. I think she would smile if she knew she made them.

I know my great-grandma Mamie (Marie) ran a hang-out for teens called the Mustang and put out laundry in the middle of Malin in her bra and that my dad thought she was “cool.” I know her daughter, my grandma, looked like a 1930s movie star when she was young and remains the most self-possessed, classy woman I have ever known. I smile when I imagine her in her thirties, dark hair under a kerchief, cheeks smudged with dirt, as she cut potato seed—taking care of her family by doing the work that needed to be done.

I know my mom is the perfect combination of both my grandmothers, fearlessly herself and composed at the same time. I’ll always remember the potato harvests when she drove truck from sunup to long past sundown- my young siblings and myself heating up dinners she had made the night before and helping each other with our homework. In a time before cell phones, we relied on a handkerchief on the mailbox- blue for “come home when you can” and red for a real emergency.

I know that I come from a long line of strong, determined of Czech women and I see in my mom what I hope my girls will be. From stacking hay to helping pay the bills, my daughters are already part of our farm.

My childhood is full of calling my 4th cousin “Auntie” and playing tag with cousin-I-don’t-care-how-many-times removed-but-you-are-just-“cousin”. My childhood is full of duck dinners, sauerkraut, and kolache. My favorite memory is my 90 year-old grandfather commenting on the swing of my grandmother’s hips as she worked the dough for a vánočka.

I am not a footnote. I am Klamath Basin Ag.