The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time

by

Timothy Egan

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Isaac “Ike” Osteen Character Analysis

A wheat farmer from Baca County, Colorado, he is one of the surviving witnesses to the Dust Bowl. When Egan interviews Osteen in 2002, he is a spry eighty-six-year old who regularly does chores around his household. Osteen spent his entire life in southeastern Colorado and endured the Dust Bowl. He was one of nine children and “grew up in a dugout.” His mother was of Irish descent and his father followed the old Santa Fe Trail in 1909, the year in which Congress tried to get the “final frontiers of the public domain” settled by nesters. After his father died, Ike and his brother Oscar earned money for the family by digging up grass for neighbors with the family tractor. Then his mother moved to the city with his two sisters, and Osteen decided to strike out on his own, leaving the old dugout to Oscar. Osteen enlisted in the army at the start of the Second World War and fought in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Egan meets him when he is eighty-six and living in Springfield, Colorado, the seat of Baca County.
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Isaac “Ike” Osteen Character Timeline in The Worst Hard Time

The timeline below shows where the character Isaac “Ike” Osteen appears in The Worst Hard Time. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction: Live Through This
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...is made of “sturdy stone.” A “small, brittle woman” answers and directs Egan to Isaac “Ike Osteen, who is on the ladder out back, fixing the roof. Osteen is eighty-six years... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...are enduring another drought. People in the area worry about a second Dust Bowl. However, Ike Osteen says that no one “who lived through the Dirty Thirties believes that.” (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Ike Osteen was one of nine children who grew up in a dugout. His father arrived... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Ike’s father died when he was only forty-six. The family still had their 320 acres and... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
The City vs. the Country Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Jeanne Clark, who lives just up the road from Ike Osteen, is another witness to the Dust Bowl. Her lungs remain scarred from dust pneumonia.... (full context)
Chapter 5: Last of the Great Plowup
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Ike Osteen was only twelve when he and his brother Oscar went out on the family... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Ike got up “well before the sun” to get cow chips for the stove and, in... (full context)
Chapter 8: In a Dry Land
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...it was 115 degrees Fahrenheit one day. The heat was unbearable in the Osteen dugout. Ike’s mother had the idea of cooling the dugout with water from the well. Ike and... (full context)
Chapter 13: The Struggle for Air
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...sun for days. Every school in the county was closed for a week that month. Ike considered dropping out of school to get a government job paving a road across southern... (full context)
Chapter 16: Black Sunday
Anglo Culture and Racism Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...go to church wearing the sack; other children would point and laugh. In Baca County, Ike Osteen “had a burst of energy” and used it to do chores around the dugout.... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...hungry, and no wheat, people were starting to can rabbit meat, along with pickled tumbleweed. Ike Osteen was five miles away from his homestead when he saw rabbits and birds fleeing... (full context)
Chapter 18: Goings
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
The Osteen dugout was unbearably hot. Ike’s mother thought about moving the girls to town and surviving by doing odd jobs. All... (full context)
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Ike Osteen remained in school, but Oscar saw no use for education. School had always been... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Later that year, Ike’s mother left the dugout with the two girls and moved to town. She said that... (full context)
Epilogue
The City vs. the Country Theme Icon
...burning her husband’s diary, which was turned over to the Nebraska Historical Society in Lincoln. Ike Osteen remains in Baca County with his wife. He enlisted in the army during World... (full context)