There she is, that woman I adored. She was known by many names. I just knew her as “Great-Gramma.” She was in her 80’s when I was born, but you would never have known it. She worked in her yard, and was involved in our church. She baked with the best and liked to talk about cattle and horses. She loved her family and community. She always had a twinkle in her eye, and rarely raised her voice. She was my hero. I wanted to grow up and be like her…to aspire to the same greatness I saw in her. Surely someone so accomplished,  so intelligent and beautiful had a great start in life. I just assumed the road to success had been paved and smooth. Not until she was gone, did I know the truth.

Hetty was born to homesteaders, in a cabin outside of Rushville, Nebraska in 1897. Life was grand for her, growing up amongst the settlers and Indians in that area. She learned to ride her pony at an early age and traversed the Sandhills with her dad and older brother. Those skills proved invaluable when she lost her mama at age 11 in a buggy accident. She had to “cowgirl up” through the rest of her teen years, managing to do well in school and bite off the challenge of going to college at Nebraska Wesleyan, even without the direction of a mama. She found great success there, and the love of her life. She held her breath through his military service, and married my Great Grandfather in 1919 after he was discharged from the Army. She had to “cowgirl up” again through the beginning of their married life as she gave birth to her two daughters and became very ill with peritonitis, that plagued her most of the rest of her 96 years. It kept her from having any more children, and slowed her somewhat. But never, was her endearing courage or hope in the Lord ever affected.

Sometimes You Gotta "Cowgirl Up"

Next came the great depression, the loss of money, the endless winds and blowing dirt. Still my Gramma never failed to “cowgirl up” in holding together her family and the ranch that I now call home. I think about our ancestors, how they held on by their fingernails, with only grit and their backbones. What determination, what courage…could any one of us do the same? This great generation of new Americans settled these lands, and built the communities and schools and churches of the early 20th century. It’s exhausting to think about all they endured. The only answer for how they did it…is that they all knew how to “cowgirl up.”

Then, as my Gramma approached the sunset of her life, she had to “cowgirl up” again when she lost her great love as they enjoyed a meal at a local restaurant after selling a bull. He was gone, and she was left with figuring out how to navigate the future of the ranch they had poured over 50 years into.

Great Gramma continued to “cowgirl up” all the way to 1993 and the ripe age of 96. The lessons she taught me in the years I knew her, and what I have continued to learn in the journals and book she left behind, touch my life daily. The ranching business is not for the faint of heart. The joys and trials are at every bend in the road, and the future is unknown. I look at these photos, of a woman who lived it for almost 100 years, and they remind me literally and figuratively, that sometimes the only thing to do is “cowgirl up”.

Leah Peterson

Leah Peterson is a native Nebraskan, living on the ranch her ancestors homesteaded in 1878. She and her husband Matt, met at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, and returned to the ranch in 2012 after working and living in Central Nebraska the past 12 years. They are parents to two daughters, Maggie and Lucy. Leah has an undergrad degree from UNL in Communication Studies, and a MA in Leadership from Bellevue University. Aside from her work at the ranch and opportunity to be a stay at home mom, she enjoys writing, photography, community involvement, spending time with friends and family and trying new recipes in her kitchen. Leah published her first children's book in 2011 titled "An Apple for Dapple" and enjoys traveling throughout the state to share her book with children and raise awareness about the importance Agriculture in Nebraska.