Journalist unearths family story of homesteading
Last updated 1/17/2023 at Noon
Erika Bolstad, a Portland-based journalist, followed the thread of family lore back to North Dakota to pick up the trail of her great-grandmother Anna, a homesteader in the early 1900s whose husband committed her to an asylum under mysterious circumstances.
Bolstad’s journey became her book “Windfall” — finished during a residency at Pine Meadow Ranch Center For Arts & Agriculture in Sisters. Bolstad returns to Sisters on Thursday, January 26, to share her work at Paulina Springs Books.
“This was one of those family stories that I had heard whispers about my entire childhood,” Bolstad told The Nugget. “These stories about having a homesteading past, I carried with me.”
Family lore had it that their family still owned the mineral rights to Anna’s land — and oil companies were interested. The family could be rich.
The matter of mineral rights hit right in Bolstad’s professional wheelhouse.
She had become a highly regarded environmental reporter for McClatchy newspapers, whose work on the effects of climate change has appeared in numerous national publications.
“I started to put the pieces together on this,” she said. “Suddenly, I had a personal connection to something I had previously maybe treated at arm’s length.”
She traveled to North Dakota, and felt a powerful sense of connection.
“From the first hours I was there, I was so drawn to and compelled by the place,” she said. “I couldn’t help but follow this thread.”
The thread unraveled a story not only of her family but of the boom-and-bust cycle that has long characterized the West, and the question of what it actually means to be rich.
This is the territory Bolstad will explore in her visit to Paulina Springs. Her realding and talk starts at 6:30 p.m., and the author is looking forward to engaging with the Sisters audience.
“I hope that people come with questions — about homesteading, about resource extraction, about individual choices…”
Bolstad feels a particular connection to Sisters; her time spent at Pine Meadow Ranch in August of 2021 helped her complete the book.
“My month-long residency in Sisters was pivotal in finishing the book,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without it.”
She recalled eating food procured at Sisters Farmers Market, riding into town on an e-bike, and working in a congenial environment.
“It was such a wonderful place to work,” she said.
Bolstad hopes that her work connects with a diverse audience.
“I tried to write something that is really accessible to a lot of different kinds of readers,” she said.
She hopes to reach armchair travelers, people interested in tracing their own genealogy, and “people who are interested in the darker side of America’s story, and perhaps their connection with it.”
Erika Bolstad will discuss “Windfall” on Thursday, January 26, at 6:30 p.m. at Paulina Springs Books, 252 W. Hood Ave. in Sisters. For more information call 541-549-0866.