What was it really like to be a homesteader in what is now the ghost town of Grandview?
In his first book, "Finding Hope," Guy Swanson shares the memories of Hope Nance — a tale of hardships intertwined with a love story.
Swanson had been visiting the Three Rivers area since 1968, and she was fascinated by the nearby ghost town remnants of Grandview and Geneva that he saw while driving around.
Many years later, hearing about an annual Memorial Day gathering of old-timers at the Grandview Cemetery, Swanson showed up hoping to hear some stories about Grandview.
Seeing an old woman sitting in the cemetery, he asked her about her connection. "I was born here in 1917, and this is where I'll be buried," replied the woman — Hope Nance Cropley. "We talked for an hour and she blew me away with her stories," Swanson said.
Seeing his interest, Hope said, "Do you want to write my story?" and he readily agreed.
For three years, he traveled to visit her in Portland and hear her homesteading tales. They became close friends and he also got to know her family.
"The more she talked, the more she remembered, and she looked forward to it," he said.
Swanson began going to the Grandview Cemetery every Memorial Day. "I even picked out a burial plot for myself!" he said. He also moved to Three Rivers and bought a trailer house there.
Hope passed away at age 99, before the book was finished, but Swanson promised to meet and give her a copy at the Pearly Gates.
"Finding Hope" is a captivating story unlike any I've read before because it is told from the perspective of a young girl and gives intimate details of the everyday life of early homesteaders.
Named for its magnificent view of the snowcapped Cascade Mountains, Grandview was located in the area now occupied by the Three Rivers Recreation Area, west of Cove State Park.
The area had no water, and homesteaders had to travel a steep canyon road to haul water from the Deschutes River. Yet, by the time the Nances' arrived in 1917, Grandview was a community of over 50 dryland farming families. There was a general store, post office, grange, school, place for church services, blacksmith shop and a saw mill.
The Nance's homestead was doing well, bolstered by their dad's side job at a feed store in Culver, until their mother died unexpectedly when Hope was six.
Mama had been the one running the farm and raising the kids — four boys and two girls — while her husband worked weekdays in town. Hope missed her mother's nurturing presence, laughter and affection.
For several years, their grandmother came to care for them, but she suddenly left to help another relative when Hope was age 12.
With their stern dad only home on weekends, the six rambunctious Nance children were left to raise themselves and run the farm.
The oldest girl, Hope didn't even know how to cook, but she taught herself from a cookbook she found in a drawer.
"I think some people thought of us as juvenile delinquents," Hope said, admitting she was sassy.
To survive, the siblings stuck up for each other whenever there was trouble at school — but they were also partial to mischief themselves.
Without a mother's guidance, Hope was soon left to unravel the mysteries of womanhood and romance on her own.
Her accounts of the hardships homesteaders endured — hunger, hauling water, back-breaking work, going to bed in a drafty house with snow on their pillows — makes a reader feel guilty for the things we complain about now.
But through it all, the gritty girl from Grandview keeps looking to the future and in the end finds hope.
Descendants of the Nance homesteaders still gather at the Grandview Cemetery every Memorial Day to honor their ancestors and admire the land they once farmed.
When Swanson completed the book this year, his sister-in-law, Meg Cummings, arranged a well-attended book signing at the Three Rivers Community Center.
Unfortunately, Swanson, 79, collapsed with a heart attack right afterwards and is still recuperating in Portland.
"I love talking about the book, but it will probably be three months before I can do book signings again," Swanson said.
Until then, copies of "Finding Hope" are available at the Black Bird Tea and Tales book shop, Art Adventure Gallery, and the Jefferson County Historical Society office, all in downtown Madras, or by contacting Meg Cummings at (541) 419-3036.
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