How did a small town Iowa woman earn the title “African Sheep Queen” in the early 1900s? By becoming owner of a 6,000-acre sheep ranch in Norvalspont, South Africa.
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Elizabeth Faint, a Kesley, Iowa, native, was taking a break from her teaching job in North Dakota by touring with a group in Europe in the summer of 1911. In June while in Rome, she met a Scottish businessman named Aeneas MacKenzie, who decided to join the touring group. By the time they reached Ireland, Mackenzie, a widower, had proposed marriage to Faint and an October wedding in Iowa was being planned.
Shortly after the wedding at the country home of her parents near Kesley, the newlyweds left for South Africa where they built their ranch named Seaforth near Norvalspont. Together the couple homesteaded 6,000 acres on the Orange River, raising crops and various livestock.
They returned periodically to the United States for visits and in 1924 spent several weeks living in the Cedar Falls area, where Aeneas studied American “business conditions and practices,” according to the Waterloo Courier. Mackenzie died in 1927, and Elizabeth was left to run the enterprise.
In a visit back to Iowa in 1930 Elizabeth and her 17-year-old daughter, Lucille, described their lives at Seaforth. They explained that bridges on the Orange River were 40 to 60 miles apart, and that gasoline was very expensive—75 cents a gallon—and arrived in small tins from Texas. Because the ranches were vast, schoolchildren attended boarding schools.
Elizabeth talked about her herd of 2,000 “purebred Persian” sheep which she had built over time. She sold her stock at auctions—by the head, not by weight. She also raised draft horses and Friesland cattle. And with the help of an irrigation system, she grew vegetables, grapes and alfalfa.
In 1929 Aeneas’ son from his first marriage married an American woman, and they lived at Seaforth with Elizabeth. In letters back home, Elizabeth’s daughter-in-law wrote about the house—large rooms with high ceilings and a fireplace with “lovely brass equipment.” Beautiful roses filled the gardens.
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During the years of the Great Depression, Elizabeth sent money back home to Iowa to help support her brothers’ cattle business. And she was known to loan money to local farmers during those tough economic times.
Over the years Elizabeth kept in touch with her Iowa family. In 1939 the Waterloo Courier ran a photo of her sister, Mary, a principal at a Waterloo school, admiring a bouquet of African chincherinchee flowers she had received from Elizabeth. The “frail, narcissus-like blooms” had arrived as buds wrapped in paper with each stem dipped in wax. During a visit in 1951 Elizabeth spoke about her life in South Africa at a women’s club meeting in Eldora, where another sister lived.
Author Larita Killian’s 2010 book Zimbabwe Bound: A Woman’s Journey Through Africa, tells the story of Kenneth and Anne Mackenzie, Elizabeth’s stepson and daughter-in-law, and offers details about Elizabeth and life at Seaforth.
- “Aeneas Mackenzie,” Courier (Waterloo, Iowa), Nov. 28, 1927.
- “Aeneas Mackenzie and Bride Visit Relatives in Blairsville,” Indiana Gazette, (Indiana, Pa), Oct. 28, 1911.
- “Former School Teacher Makes Fortune in Africa,” Star Tribune (Mpls, Minn.), Aug. 24, 1930.
- “Iowa Girl, Now African Sheep Queen, Tells of 6,000-Acre Ranch on Veldt,” Courier, Oct. 9, 1930.
- Killian, Larita. Zimbabwe Bound: A Woman’s Journey Through Africa. University of Indianapolis Press, 2010.
- “South African Woman Leaves on Trip Home,” Courier, Nov. 19, 1951.
- “Wild Flowers Received Fresh From Africa,” Courier, Jan. 4, 1939.