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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Sarah Hardwick, hermit

In 1906, middle-aged Sarah Hardwick inherited five acres of remote woods alongside the Mississippi. No road led to the top of the bluff where she set up housekeeping in a crude shanty. She came and went from the river along a footpath worn through the brush.

She went into seclusion there, growing vegetables in clearings amidst the trees and getting cash for other necessities by clubbing rattlesnakes to collect their bounties. Waves of venomous snakes passed by her cabin at times, and she had even killed them inside it beside her bed. For 25 years, she said, she was "always watching, always listening."

When a reporter visited her in 1931, most of the rattlesnakes were gone and she was supporting herself by raising ginseng for sale. Having gathered seeds from a few wild plants some years before, she was able to cultivate a subtantial crop and, at $15 a pound, sell enough each year to purchase the few store-bought things that she wanted.

Of course, her needs were simple. She rarely came out of the woods, and was proud of her solitary life. "I like to live away from town and be independent," she explained. When she did leave her cabin in the woods, it was usually to go down to the river and pick up a newspaper from a passing boat. "I like to read about England," she said. "My people came from there. My grandfather was an English bishop." Although the newspapers might be several months old, "I read everything in them. I want to keep up with what is going on in the world." She just didn't want too much personal connection with it, as she rarely bothered to leave the woods.

When the reporter remarked, "But you are lonesome, aren't you?" she simply replied,"I never think about it."

We don't know what became of Sarah Hardwick the woman hermit, raising herbs and clubbing rattlesnakes by the Mississippi long ago. She must have long ago joined her highly civilized British grandfather in a better world. But you can read her words, see her portrait, and view her home at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles by clicking on the link above.

:: Posted in Odd Lives on March 11, 2006
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