Welcome to Vantage Points Flashback. We tell stories about invisible, impeding forces. Thank you Municipal Councils for your support.
This story is about depression on early homesteads. It can be both historically profound and hopeful. Christmas can be difficult. Are you aware of someone who's been depressed due to isolation?
Sadie Has Seen Me
I meant Sadie no harm. She arrived from Britian without much orientation! So don't blame me. I simply do what I do. If people stick their houses up like that, they're going to get hurt! I'll mess with their stuff. Drive them crazy. The devil, you'll call me. And yet tomorrow I'll sneak up carrying a fresh aroma, and you'll let me caress you sweetly.
Early settlers knew me all too well. Especially the families with farmsteads on the open prairie. It takes 30-40 years to benefit from the maple, pine and cottonwood shelterbelts folks planted around their yards. But even once sheltering trees were set in place, I'll find ways to howl around, mercilessly foiling their noble intentions.
I don't pick favourites, but if I did, Sadie Benton would've been easy to choose. She married Joe, a thoughtful local farmer. Had two children. There house, like most, stood square, defiant, weathered.
Sadie insinuated herself as indispensable to her pioneer community, baking for one charity or another and tending to those with less fortune.
Sadie, though, had dark places she'd reveal only under candlelight. Like this piece of journal scrawled then sucked though a window and stuck to a willow bunch in a nearby hollow.
“Dust in clouds go past my door, and winds that scream past the house at night,
Whispering things they have no right, even to think of, much less say.
I hate the wind with its evil spite, and it hates me as well with a hate as deep.
It hisses and jeers when I try to sleep. As it seizes the window frames,
Raving, cursing and calling them names, Cruel as only the wind can be,
It isn't the windows it's shaking. It's me.”
Sadie, sadly, went mad from the drought that killed her flowers, from loneliness due to lack of money to visit home, and finally from my relentless torment. In those days, when someone fell into prairie madness, the neighbors would say, “she went a little bit queer”. It was common enough, especially with women, separated as they were by open spaces.
Sadie didn't see the madness coming. So busy she was with chores and generosities. One day she stuffed a store toy into her bag. Got lost wandering the streets. Was found in the park, staring without a thought for her family. Sadie, though, was fortunate. She'd so attentively cared for a community that now rallied around. Offered a holiday, tended by a lady doctor who calmed Sadie's regrets and reassured her of approaching mental health.
Prairie madness was well known to communities in the new west. But when authors like Laura Ingalls Wilde in the Little House on the Prairie give us the knife wielding Mrs. Brewster and our own Nellie McClung wrote about Sadie's madness, their publishers argued against such negative stories. Our authors persevered, as authors do, and we are better for it.
Sadie's a character in Nellie McClung short story “The Neutral Fuse”. Nellie grew up nearby on a farm along the Souris River where she observed her community both struggle and persevere. She later went on to lead the woman's movement in Manitoba, eventually winning the right for women to vote across Canada.
See ya later!
Turtle Mountain-Souris Plains Heritage Association
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