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Synopsis

The West’s pioneering experience has been both documented and dramatized enough to give us all some impression - for right or for wrong - of what pioneers were and what they did. Some of those impressions are dryly accurate, and some are excitingly fictitious. Jennie’s Tiger is neither - carefully researched and truthfully told, it gives a reliable view of the homesteading experience as well as an engrossing and moving story of strong characters making for themselves the life they want. The real Wes and Jennie Wooding homesteaded 160 acres on the Pend Oreille river in northeast Washington state from 1900 till 1923. Life before this chapter of their lives had been consistently hardscrabble and sometimes tragic. Building their own home on their own land was the greatest success and the greatest contentment they had ever had. They arrived at Tiger’s Landing by steamboat with three small boys and cut down enough trees to build a 14’ X 24’ one-story house to shelter them. In that house, named Hawthorn Lodge, they soon added a fourth boy. Like most settlers with no cash, Wes had to work “outside” to earn the money for Proving Up the homestead. He walked several hundred miles looking for the work he knew, in the mines. A devoted member of the Western Federation of Miners and a sincere Socialist, Wes was ambivalent about the Wobbly movement and glad when, after the required seven years, he could stay at home and make his life at Tiger’s Landing with Jennie and the boys. While Wes was away, Jennie was entirely capable of sheltering, feeding, clothing and raising the boys with her own skills. With help from the children, she chinked the cabin with river mud; she kept the table laid with game and fish she provided and produce she grew; she made furniture for the bare house; she skillfully sewed clothes for the family. She gradually turned the subsistence farm into a lucrative business. Fearful of missing Wes’s letters, she started the first post office in her community. As the boys reached school age, she donated land and saw that the first school began to operate. Bringing with her skills and medicines, she became doctor, nurse and midwife to the growing community. Frustrated by goods that came from a riverboat that could run only half the year, she started the first store. Through all this, Jennie was eternally buoyant; she never felt misused or deprived, only content, proud and happy. But when the outside world threatened Hawthorn Lodge in the form of a railroad right against the house, Jennie found she had to swallow her anger and make the best of it. When World War I took two of her boys away, she did what she could to help the soldiers while hating the war. Having successfully raised the four boys to strong men, Jennie’s years at Hawthorn Lodge, Tiger, Washington, come to a tragic end, and we last see her heading back to California and the outside world.

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