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Sun River Homestead
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Sun River Homestead

SUN RIVER 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.

Searching for Sun River Homestead
An essay by producer Maggie Carey

I never 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 be told.

Production Woes
An essay by research assistant Matt McClung

After 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 gear."

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.

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