Willa Cather said, “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”
That was certainly true for her. She was born in Virginia and her family moved to Nebraska when she was nine. She lived in Nebraska when it was still very much in its pioneering period and was shocked at first by the flatness and expanse of the prairie land around her. She observed many different groups of people and how they interacted with each other: Western European immigrants, Eastern European immigrants, and Native Americans. All that she saw and heard made a deep impression on her and became the basis for some of her greatest novels.
After graduating from the University of Nebraska, Cather worked in editing and gradually became published and won the Pulitzer Prize in literature. Her novels describing the Midwestern pioneering experience, such as My Antonia, have become classics. Even though she spent most of her adult life in New York City, Nebraska left its echo in her mind and heart.
Thousands of people visit Red Cloud, Nebraska every year to tour Willa Cather’s childhood home and other places around the town that have a connection to her life and writing. We drove late at night through miles and miles of farmland to get to Red Cloud. For city people, that, in itself, was a new experience. We almost couldn’t believe how completely dark the roads were!
The highlight of our wonderful time in Red Cloud was staying at the historic Cather Second Home which belonged to Willa Cather’s parents. When Cather came from New York to visit her family, this is where she would stay. Downstairs is a kitchen which is fully stocked with dishes, pots and pans, a refrigerator, and a stove. We brought food and made ourselves a great hot breakfast which we ate in the formal dining room. Before we left to begin a morning of touring the town, I relaxed in an easy chair on the front porch and enjoyed a cup of tea. If you are staying the night in Red Cloud, we highly recommend this unique and beautiful home. The Willa Cather Foundation (willcather.org) provides information on renting a room in this home and other accommodations in the town.
We enjoyed touring Willa Cather’s childhood home, the Opera House, and some of the other spots in and around the town. The official tour was very well done. Just outside town, try to stop and see the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie and enjoy the view of acres of prairie grasses and wildflowers. It was a perfect place to finish our visit.
Find out more about Willa Cather on our New Mexico page.
The Willa Cather Memorial Prairie is the sixth stop on our Nebraska Trail!
Rebecca Blake Beech