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History General

From Thistles to Cowpies

Armed with little more than hope and lots of grit, still the homesteaders came

by (author) Jill Martin Bouteillier

Crossfield Publishing
Initial publish date
May 2021
General, Emigration & Immigration
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2021
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 13 to 18
  • Grade: 8 to 12


A unique blend of biography and memoir, From Thistles to Cowpies is both timely and significant. Whether permanent residents or refugees, immigrants desirous to make Canada their home will be drawn to this touching narrative about Canada’s early immigrants so boldly stitched into the Canadian mosaic. With increased interest in DNA tests, the general population is fascinated both with their own as well as the country’s past. Canada’s 150 celebrations encouraged Canadians to look back in time. What better way to understand that past, than through the experiences of those early immigrants? Leaving the world of instant connection behind, modern readers enter the portals of the past through the eyes of those who, like my parents, lived it.

About the author

Jill Martin is the author of Return to Sable (2015). Sable Island in Black and White, a pictorial book of life on Sable Island at the turn of the 20th century (Nimbus 2016), was the winner of the 2017 Atlantic Book Democracy award for non—fiction. For many years, an educator on Nova Scotia's South Shore, she served as the last principal of Lunenburg Academy. Murder in the Fourth: A Case of Mindslaughter, her first co—authored fiction book, was released in 2018. From Thistles to Cowpies, (Crossfield 2021), picking up where Return to Sable left off, traces the journey of early twentieth century homesteaders to Saskatchewan. Lovingly referred to as her Covid project, Jill's latest book The Fourth Sibling (2022), tells the story of Jill's cousin's escape from an abusive partner. Raw, but redemptive, the work gives voice to those whose voice is often strangled by the person who should be their greatest advocate. When she is not writing, Jill serves on two boards: The Friends of Sable Island and Lunenburg Academy Foundation.

Jill Martin Bouteillier's profile page

Excerpt: From Thistles to Cowpies: Armed with little more than hope and lots of grit, still the homesteaders came (by (author) Jill Martin Bouteillier)

Chapter Eleven: Of Near Misses and the Rule of the Sea Joe eased his bum tight to the bulkhead and placed his train engine on the deck. Rumbling below his bottom, he felt the power that propelled the ship, a speck in the vastness of the immense ocean, carrying it ever farther away from the land of his birth. He knew father would be waiting at the end of the journey, but still he felt the loss of something he could not quite explain. Suddenly, off the port side of the ship, he saw a light breaking into the darkness. Every few seconds. Joe trembled, before coming to his senses. Of course, it’s a lighthouse. What did mama say? Land’s End that must be it. We’re almost at the end of England, then. Joe pulled his heavy sweater tight around his shoulders against the sharp chill of the air and tugged his slouch cap over his ears. Off the ship’s bow, he saw a light strafing the water. Mesmerized by the regular rhythm of the beam, Joe watched and waited. The beacon grew inexorably closer until he could see the white sides of the lighthouse rising above the headland. Moments later, Joe rubbed his eyes, thinking he was mistaken. Beyond the lighthouse, it looked like fireworks were exploding above the dark cliffs. Young Joe had no way of knowing the “fireworks” had a perfectly rational explanation. The sparks were coming from the Lizard Peninsula, the site of the first ship-to-shore wireless station established by Marconi in 1901. *** Out of habit, Captain Weber grabbed the railing as the U-124 inched along England’s southern coastline, on the look-out for foreign ships. Within seconds, his gloves froze to the steel. “She’s a cold one tonight—Don’t much fancy a swim,” he commented to his first officer with forced levity. The sea was full and heavy as it rolled over the serpentine teeth of the black rocks that clawed their way out from the precipitous headland. Captain Weber had no doubt of the potential danger looming off the starboard side of his ship along the Cornish coast. With no moon to outline the waves cresting over rocks hiding below the surface, it was nearly impossible to lock down the U-124’s exact position. “Dead slow,” Captain Weber ordered, “just until we’ve rounded the Lizard and got past Land’s End, a mile or two more, then we’re in open waters.” A slight mist had risen wraithlike from the frigid landscape. It fell from the cliffs above, intermittently obscuring the two lights that marked the most southern point of the Lizard headland. It was almost impossible to plot the ship’s course in these conditions, a guess at best. Struggling to follow the beams from the lighthouse lanterns as they winked in and out of sight, the U-boat zigzagged along the shoreline. Below deck, Willem Mueller, the U boat’s telegrapher, tuned to an alternate frequency to see what he might pick up. In seconds, a spark arced from the tapper and exploded in his ear. Pulling off the headphones, Willem headed topside to relay the sub’s position to Captain Weber. “I’ve got Lizard. It nearly took my ear off, sir.” Captain Weber strained his eyes in the dark. “Close. Mighty close. Time to go silent,” he ordered. Captain Weber knew submerging was out of the question. Below the surface, the ship was both blind and immobile. And who knew with any accuracy the depth of the sea flowing over the rocks off the point. Speed was the danger here. Dead slow, the submarine crawled westward. Willem had never been this close to the Cornish coast. He stared in awe at the jagged ridges and formidable heights of the headlands scoring the night sky. After the Boer War, his Uncle John had travelled to Cornwall and later spoke about the quaint villages fronted by the long curving breakwaters that protected the towns’ inner harbours. From the earliest trading days, the tentacles of the Cornish shoals, with names like the Needles, the Manacles, or the Man of War, reached far into the Channel and struck terror into the hearts of sailors on passing ships. And then Willem saw it, a ship in the strait a mile or so beyond the point, two small dark mounds riding easy on its port and starboard sides. An escort then, for the liner, Willem thought. Wrong shape for a destroyer. Then Captain Weber was at his side peering into the darkness to locate the ship. “All right then, let’s go hunting.” The words had hardly passed his lips when Beast Point, Cornwall’s most infamous deathtrap, loomed off the U-boat’s starboard side. Many a ship caught off guard in this exact spot had splintered against the Beast’s saw-toothed rocks. “Thirty degrees port,” Captain Weber barked, but in the next instant, the lighthouse beam was lost in swirling mist, and the ship’s starboard side swung wide. The U-124 lurched to starboard, its hull slamming broadside into the razor-sharp rocks. Within seconds, a subterranean fissure belched through the surface of the black sea, and a geyser of spray exploded alongside. The impact threw Weber against the conning tower, breaking two of his ribs. “Damn luck,” he spit. “Hansen,” Weber ordered his lieutenant, “get below, assess the damage, and report back immediately.” Hansen clawed his way across the pitching deck and plunged into the dark hull. A large swell lifted the submarine and smashed it a second time into the rocks, crumpling the forward watertight door frame into a mess of steel and wires and throwing the young seaman to his knees. He struggled to regain a hold on the ladder, but even before his feet touched the floor, he saw seawater filling the main cabin and climbing higher, rung by rung. The watertight door prevented water from flooding the day crew’s sleeping quarters, but that action, meant to save lives, had now guaranteed their deaths. Twelve crewmen were entombed behind the door. “Please God, let them die quickly,” Hansen whispered to himself. On the starboard side, mid-ship, sea water poured through the long, jagged breach in the hull. Second officer Krause and first engineer Dorgan struggled out of the engine room. Hansen ordered them topside. He searched for other survivors, but all was quiet. Above, Captain Weber continued to give orders, “Willem, get on the tapper. It’s our only hope.” “Yes, sir,” Willem answered, his face frozen in shock. He lifted himself through the hatch and stumbled down the ladder. “My God,” he yelled, as his knees disappeared into the frigid seawater. “Call for help. Yes, call for help, but from England?” Willem hissed, dazed at the idea. Sloshing into the small closet that passed for his office, his gaze fell on the crew quarters. Ziegler and the others. Not a chance. Not a chance, he thought, shaking his head. But then duty took over. He adjusted his headphones, steadied his hands, and began transmitting.

Editorial Reviews

"I have just finished reading From Thistles to Cowpies (Crossfield Publishing) and I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed it!! As a Thomson descendant, I expected to be interested in the Thomson family story…but also expected to have no interest in the Bouteillier side of the story. I was sooo wrong! You pulled me right in!! Good family history and good Saskatchewan and Canadian history. Thank you so much Jill for a great read!"

Heather Thomson Greier

"Once again Jill Martin Bouteillier provides an historically accurate, compelling and engaging story of Canadian history. Her characters are real but her writing exposes their triumphs and tragedies in a personal and meaningful way. This is Canadian history from a thoughtful perspective."

Nancy Wilson

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