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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Sarah Hardwick, Hermit

In 1906, 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. She came and went from the river to her crude shanty along a footpath worn through the brush.

Caught Rattlesnakes

Hardwick went into seclusion there, growing vegetables in clearings amidst the trees. She earned cash by clubbing rattlesnakes and collecting the bounties. During some seasons, waves of venomous snakes passed by her cabin. She had even killed them beside her bed. For 25 years, she said, she was "always watching, always listening."

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

Cherished Solitude

Her needs were simple. She said 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, 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," she explained. "I want to keep up with what is going on in the world." She just didn't want much personal connection with it, so she rarely bothered to leave the woods.

Never Lonesome

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 who raised herbs and clubed rattlesnakes by the Mississippi. 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.

:: Posted in Odd Lives on January 26, 2012
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