Boomtown Housing: The Homestead

Today’s post is another installment in my series Boomtown Housing, where we look at some of the different housing options here in Watford City. Today we meet modern day home-steader Rebekah and her adorable girls.

homestead in North Dakota

First I have to tell you how I met Rebekah. The weather was barely turning warm enough to venture outside and Benj and I bundled up to go to the park. As I stood and watched him come down the slide Rebekah came over to me, as friendly as can be, and introduced herself. We chatted a bit before I realized that all of the small crowd of moms at the park that day were there with her, her sisters and sister-in-laws. As she introduced me to each one, all equally as friendly and welcoming as her, I could not believe my eyes. Their whole clan is here, together, raising their kids, talking over each other and swapping stories, in and around Watford City.

This scene might not seem that out of the ordinary, families live by each other all the time, but in Watford it is nearly unheard of. The general masses here are a bit like displaced people, no family, no friends, grabbing on to people we barely know because we have no other option. So seeing all of these women related and hanging out together was so funny!

Anyway, when Rebekah mentioned that she and her little family had bought land and they had built a little homestead for themselves just out of town, I knew I had to see it.

modern day homesteading family North Dakota

Unlike many people you would meet on the street in Watford City, Rebekah and Dale came to Watford City to get back to their roots. To reconnect with the good life of their predecessors. They are here, not for oil, not for a quick buck, but to raise their girls in the North Dakota way. In the life that their great grandparents began many years ago.

Back in 1907 Rebekah’s great grandparents came from Norway and homesteaded right here in Western North Dakota, right up the street from where she lives now. They had something like 11 kids, lost many of them due to the harsh living conditions. Those grand parents are the real life story of settling North Dakota.

Skip forward several generations and Rebekah (who grew up in Arnegard then Idaho) found herself and her husband (grew up in Williston) jumping around towns and jobs, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Minnesota etc. trying to find a place to settle, a place to call home. Eventually, just as her grandparents, life brought them back to Watford City.

They went through a series of buying and then flipping houses. The figures she gave me were really fun to hear about:

12 years ago they bought their first home right in town for $8,000. They flipped it and sold it for $27,000. That same house is now on the market for $175,000.

They bought another for $9,000 and sold it a while later for $65,000.

The next they bought for $12,000 and sold in 2011 for about $200,000.

The next was $35,000, they sold it to her brother and he sold it back in 2009 for $140,000, probably worth much more today.

As she told me about these houses I marveled at how quick the housing market has gone up around here.

Anyway, back to where they live now. They flipped houses to make some money and gain some know how until they were finally ready to purchase land and start building the house that they’ve dreamed of. A simple homestead style farm house on land, with animals and a large garden. Quiet, serene, simple. They wanted to home school their children and provide them with a back to basics childhood.

hanging out clothes to dry, North Dakota, clothesline

In 2011 they purchased land and moved onto it in their camper. 4 kids, no electricity or running water, they were really roughing it. It took 5 months to get electricity and almost a year to get water. They literally “hauled in water”. They filled up water jugs in town and showered at their families places in town. But, even at this point they got some kittens and started enjoying the country life, which was their whole goal.

prairie land Watford City, North Dakota

A glimpse of the 20 acres on which they live

It was around this time that oil started really booming in the area. The country road that runs past their property had a dramatic increase in traffic. Big semis hauling water and oil started using the road, kicking up dust at all hours. There was no dust control laid on the road and no neighbors so they were exposed and the dust was awful. Rebekah said she read much about the dust bowl and worried about her children developing respiratory problems from the dust pollution.

Rebekah recalls this time as “wild”. Many days she and her husband looked at each other and asked, are we really doing this? Are we crazy? But that dream, that homestead life could not be shaken. The land purchased and their home in its beginning stages, they forged on.

Rebekah read anything she could get her hands on about her family history, her great grand parents experience on these same plains. She read both fiction and non fiction novels based on early pioneers. That strategy, reading about people struggling harder than her, did wonders in helping her keep a positive outlook. She’d get bogged down, raising her girls in a little camper on dusty land but then read a passage about influenza, lack of medical care, children dying on the plains, and know she could do it. She told me that she “lived hard but had people”, her sisters and mother in town, people to lean on and glean support from.

In those readings she came across a comment in her great grandfather’s journal where he mentioned helping Cleve Glascock thresh his land. Well, Cleve Glascock was the original homesteader of the land that Rebekah now owns. Imagining her own great grandfather on her land, working to domesticate the crazy North Dakota prairie, feels right to Rebekah.

Meanwhile her home was slowly (emphasis on slowly) coming up. Because of the oil boom every piece of material was taking an excruciatingly long time to get in and get to her.

Rebekah is one who assured me in the ugly months that North Dakota would get color and I would think it was beautiful. On my drive out to her home I had to admit, there was color and it was pretty gorgeous, those rolling hills covered in corn or little yellow flowers or golden wheat.

As I stepped out of my car I heard chickens. That’s it. No monstrous trucks, no obnoxious music, no construction. Just chickens. I looked up to two pairs of curious eyes peering out at me through the door, barely cracked. They opened the door for me and fled inside and I wandered in after them.

Walking into Rebekah’s home is, by design, almost like stepping back into a beautiful turn of the century homestead. The air smelt like lime and the girls were sitting on the couch knitting. Rebekah toweled off her hands and invited me to sit at her kitchen table. I eyed the ladder going up to the loft where the girls sleep and the rows of jars filled with whole foods in all their colors and textures. It felt so nice to be in her home.

Their main living space is on one main floor with a loft for the girls to sleep in. The main floor is 400 square feet and the loft just over 100. The official dimensions of the whole home is 15′ by 27′.

They share one cute bathroom.

Rebekah and Dale’s room is on the main floor. I loved their food storage under their bed, using every inch of their home!

They have a small corner with a washer and dry their clothes out on the clothesline, even in the winter!

The girls were most excited to show me their kittens

I think my favorite part of their whole set-up is their magnificent garden. Anyone who has ever tried to grow anything knows that it is not easy. Anyone who has ever looked around the plains of North Dakota most likely has exclaimed, how in the world does anyone grow anything here?! Rebekah told me it took them a few years but they now have an impressive garden.

They have also built a chicken coop fit for kings!

Being in Rebekah’s home reminded me that Watford City is not all about the hustle and bustle of the oil industry. Watford is not only made up of skiwampus housing hastily put together. There are plenty of people here intentionally, carving out the life that makes them the most happy, and have no plans to leave.

Rebekah told me that their saying is that everything brought into their home must be beautiful or useful or it has no place there. With little space to spare they have filled their home with things both beautiful and useful and I think that is why their home feels like a refuge and such a contrast to the muddy industrial side of Watford City.


If you’d like to read more stories about housing in the oilfield click on the “Boomtown Housing” link at the top!

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