HOMESTEAD, a half-hour documentary airing on PBS, tells the
incredible story of the Strasburger sisters and their voyage
west to homestead in Montana. SUN RIVER HOMESTEAD juxtaposes
the struggles and triumphs of these women pioneers with insightful
commentary by their great granddaughter, a young rodeo star
who continues to depend on the land for her livelihood.
The following essays by Maggie Carey (producer) and Matt McClung
(research assistant) provide an inside look at the production
of Sun River Homestead.
for Sun River Homestead
An essay by producer Maggie Carey
met Esther Strasburger Loomis. But from the moment I heard
her name, I knew hers was a story worth telling. Perhaps it's
because one of my closest and most intimate friends spoke
her name. Esther Strasburger Loomis is my friend Stephanie
Trebesch's great-grandmother. You can call Stephanie Treb.
And you can call Esther the inspiration for a young filmmaker
who might finally get a break.
We drive on a road in Montana. Treb lays words of her family's
homesteading history across the dashboard. The name "Esther
Strasburger" is spoken as we pass a dilapidated homestead
shack. I listen in rare silence as our car travels down the
road, racing the rolling prairie, chasing the base of the
Rocky Mountains' front range. The sky has never seemed bluer
than that day.
The night before we had spent an evening camping out with
a group of close friends. We were driving back to Missoula,
where Stephanie and I would say goodbye for another year.
As this vast blue canvas expands our lungs, Stephanie expresses
amazement for our friendship, our sense of place and home
and these incredible bonds that we manage to keep through
physical and mental separations of college and careers. Maybe
it is our appreciation for having the chance to meet such
remarkable people and still be friends after all these years
that turns giggles into tears.
Esther's story began to stir a curious passion in my mind.
She came to homestead in this territory almost 90 years before
us and suddenly, here I am with my friend Stephanie, seeing
the same great sky for the first time.
I will never know who Esther was. I only know a lost history
of a woman who brought me my best friend.
I've made it a habit of crying over women I never knew nor
will ever meet.
Esther, your life in Montana finished perhaps too early. But
your legacy continues. And I think your story deserves to
An essay by research assistant Matt McClung
driving 3,000 miles in two-and-a-half days without incident,
I arrived in Missoula, Montana, to help my good friend Maggie
Carey on her documentary "Sun River Homestead."
"Let's take a road trip," she said. "Get your
Grumbling just out of earshot, I piled into her big "The
University of Montana" sedan and off we went to a ranch
near Choteau, MT. John Twiggs, a documentary producer who
had graciously offered his camera-shooting services for the
day, followed us to the job. Chasing cattle while avoiding
cow pies all morning works up quite an appetite and by mid-day
we were ready for grub. Being the low man on the totem pole,
I drew the lunch run assignment and got behind the wheel of
that nice, huge university vehicle. A quick check of my rearview
mirror presented a problem: our equipment cases were completely
blocking my view. One trait successful filmmakers share is
the ability to handle adversity and I wasn't about to be stopped
by limited vision. Putting the car confidently into reverse,
I applied the accelerator and met with slight resistance.
Clearly a bit more gas was required to get things going. Then
I heard what sounded like a tin can being opened.
I can't remember how many times I apologized to John for mangling
his delicate import of a car. He and Maggie had watched in
shock as I redesigned his front quarter panel. I had been
in Montana for less than 24 hours and had already inflicted
massive property damage on a friend of the production. But
what really got me was that the big, Detroit-bred sedan hardly
showed a scratch.