Elizabeth "Bachelor Bess" Corey Collection

Fort Pierre, 1909
View of Fort Pierre, with the Missouri River in the background, 1909.

Elizabeth "Bachelor Bess" Corey Correspondence
on the South Dakota Digital Archives

Elizabeth Corey moved from Marne, Iowa, to South Dakota in 1909.  She was young, single, and never married, but she successfully homesteaded in an area where many others failed.

This collection comprises some 180 letters from Corey to her family.  The letters detail her day to day experiences from the ten year period following 1909 on or near her homestead west of Fort Pierre along the Bad River.

The letters are long, chatty, and occasionally complaining, but testify to her determination to “prove up” on her claim.  By working as a school teacher each winter and occasionally working during the summers as a cook or house cleaner, Corey was able to earn enough money to finance needed improvements on her claim, including a house and barn, a cistern and dam, fencing, cattle, a team of horses, and small cash crops. 

The process of capital accumulation was slow and very frustrating for her as she was often deeply in debt, but she eventually “proved up.”  By 1919, the 160 acres claim was hers, and she had filed for an additional 40 acres and hoped to buy her brother’s quarter section as well.

October 1910 Letter with Map
Elizabeth drew this map in her October 2, 1910 letter which included her location, "I am here," at bottom left. Other identified items include the Bad River "B.R.," railroad track "R.R.T.," and railroad bridge "R.R.B," in the upper left corner. The school house "C.H." is located at the center of the drawing. A road and various hills were also drawn in the letter.