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Atomic Farmgirl:
The Betrayal of Chief Qualchan,
the Appaloosa, and Me

by Teri Hein

A wise, irreverent, and bittersweet story of a farmgirl’s coming of age on a radioactive prairie.

The Palouse Hills in the eastern part of Washington State are known as home of the golden wheatlands, a place with some of the richest topsoil in the world. It is also a region forever changed by the dispersal of nuclear waste—accidental and intentional—from the Hanford Atomic Plant only 100 miles south.

In Atomic Farmgirl, Teri Hein explores a childhood there filled with horseback riding, haying, casseroles, a stoic German Lutheran tradition, and the Cold War duck-and-cover drills of the ‘50s. She finds both revelations and sweet ironies. First and foremost, she tells of her family’s bond to the land: “Wheat is our thing and a thousand acres of it swaying in the breeze is for us in the Palouse about the most beautiful thing on earth. We put pictures of wheat on our Grain Growers calendars and write poems about it when we go off to college.”

book cover

5.5 x 8.5, 240 pages

rights for this title are available!

The great-granddaughter of homesteaders, Hein captures the evolution of a landscape and a neighborhood in the face of the invasions of the 19th and 20th centuries: the U.S. military, her own German ancestors, and the Manhattan Project. Hein does this with humor, poignancy, and a deeply personal web of stories that succinctly arrive on the last page at one story of community, loss, and hope: “I wonder if our legacy could be returning the land to what it was. Maybe we could raise Appaloosas, and, who knows, maybe even the curlews would come back.”

  • Western US Book Design & Production Competition, 2001 Runner-up for Nonillustrated Trade Book
  • Western States Book Association; 2001 finalist


My twelve-year-old foot shook on the brake pedal as Dad hooked on the trailer. I slowly let it out a fraction of an inch and the tractor lurched forward at five miles an hour. For me it might as well have been seventy-five miles an hour. I pumped the brake in a frenzy. I was terrified. Squinting through the heat, I heard nothing but my heartbeat. All of the sudden I noticed that I crying. Dad hadn’t even yelled at me yet, and I was crying.

“Oh, Jiminee,” he said, exasperated and disappointed. “Go get you sister.” I crawled off the tractor in defeat, sniffled my way into the house, looked up at Marsha, and said, “Dad wants you outside.”

She looked at me in pure disgust. Even though I recognized my utter uselessness as a farm daughter and knew my older sisters had every right to despise me, my will to live was stronger. I smiled as I flipped on the television, just in time for the end of the Donna Reed Show. Don Drysdale, the Dodger pitcher, was making a guest appearance.

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