Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Homesteading in Montana

From Homestead Shacks over Buffalo Tracks, published by the Roy History Committee:

I, Thelma (Beck) Erickson, remember my trip to Montana when I arrived at Roy with my parents and brother, Johnie, on the train. This was a long train ride. The last 22 miles to my uncle John's homestead, we traveled by pickup and car.

In Billings, we saw our first Indians. There was a pow-wow going on and we saw papooses, feathered head dresses, beautiful blanks and real Indians. What a sight for a seven-year-old!

It was all green at Trenton, Illinois, when we left and there was snow on the ground at Roy. Uncle John came with his pickup to haul our trunks and his neighbor, T. L. Peterson, came with his car, two-seated with side curtains. The back seat held our suitcases, grub box and some groceries and just enough room for me to sit while Mr. Peterson and Pop were in the front seat. Mom and Johnie rode with Uncle John.

It was late that night when we finally arrived for whenever we came to a steep hill, Mom and Johnie got out and walked and T. L. and Pop would push, as the pickup was weighted down with our possessions. We followed in T. L.'s car.

The next morning the snow was so white and pretty. All the winter wheat that had come up was covered. One of those late spring Montana snow storms. That same year, 2 August 1923, there was snow on Black Butte.

The folks lived in cramped quarters in the three-room shack with uncle John and aunt Ethel. He had moved another shack to his land prior to our coming and so when warmer weather came my family slept there and we continued to cook and eat with uncle John's family. Mom helped with the housework, cooking and canning and Pop helped uncle John while he was filing our homestead. At this time the land was not in one piece. One 40-acre plot was right on Crooked Creek with the creek running the full way across. Then there was an 80-acre plot with another 80 acres on the hill. The 320 acres had been homesteaded previously but was let go so it was again available. This place had a shack with a gabled roof and small dam, plus some old machinery had been left behind. This was four miles down Crooked Creek and just above Hennemans. Pop made a road across those four miles and finally got some culverts for crossings. He fenced all the land but this part, but the other section was out of sight from where we lived. There was often trouble with wires being cut which allowed range cattle, horses and sheep to get onto our land to eat and trample the crop which was so hard to grow. Also, range horses were gathered and shoved across the Missouri river and shipped out on the Great Northern Railroad from such points as Phillips, Hill and Valley counties.

In the fall of 1923, the folks got a shack moved onto the 40-acre plot where we were to live. It was roofed with heavy metal roofing, slate covered and tarpaper was put on the outside. The inside was covered with a heavy pale blue building paper put up with lath to secure it. Mom made curtains to put around the beds. In one corner we had a cookstove with two doors in the oven, a hearth in front and a water reservoir in the back, tin stove pipes and a metal roof-jack so that no wood would be near the pipes because they got hot. We had a brick chimney later.

As time went on, another building was added, giving us two rooms. We had one bed and 2 cots and at one time three beds in the new room. The kitchen was used as the dining room and a place for the cream separator. Cream was our cash product from milking cows. When we had company, there was a sanitary cot, with both sides that folded down to open into a full bed. Space was necessary to move about as one room was 12 feet by 16 feet and the bedroom as 12 feet by 12 feet. Later, we bought the Garwood house as they had moved away. It was added to our home and gave us three bedrooms and a brick chimney. It also had a little room that was intended for a bathroom, which was never built. We used that room as a clothes closet. The north room was my special den when I was home. Mom and I did a lot of sewing and made many quilts and rugs.

I started school at Little Crooked and boarded away from home with the Bakers for two terms. They lived at the Little Crooked Post Office and store and it was on the north side of the Rocky Point Trail across from the log school building, which was used as a dance hall, meeting place, voting and and political gatherings. Yes. There were politics then!

The Byford school district #207 was formed and had the first school in the 1925-26 term with Hazel Van Heining and Roland Schrier as teachers. Johnie and I and the younger Jakes children attended. I remember when I was at Little Crooked school and Bridgie Hickey was our teacher. She also was helping Egnatius Krafden learn English and how to read and write and American history so that he could get his naturalization papers. He was in our reading class.

Mom attended the births of the Jakes twins, Earl and Pearl, with the help of Mr. Jakes. She was with Mabel Cottrell and Murray when Gilbert, Edwin and tiny little Eleanor were born. I used to stay with Mabel and would ride their saddle horse, "Mistake," home in the morning and go back in the evening and pick up the milk cows and do the milking for Mabel. I also helped with the dishes. I stayed with them quite often as Murray was camp tender for Swend Holland, Sr., and was away from home all week. Mabel needed help with all her small children and couldn't do the milking.

With the money I earned, I bought my first pair of patent leather dress shoes with a strap. I cleaned them Vaseline and put them in a shoe box and wore them for Sunday and special occasions. I will also mention that the Phillips -- Abe, Jen and Len, who was Abe's brother -- stayed at uncle John's when he and aunt Ethel drove their new Chevrolet to Illinois in 1929 to take part in my grandparent's golden wedding celebration. Abe was never without his chew of tobacco and every other word was a cuss word but he was very kind and had a heart of gold. He showed by Dad how to lay brick and make mortar. Dad put up both our brick chimneys. The Phillips did the milking while my aunt and uncle were away but I wrangled the cows and did most of the milking as they weren't really able.

My folks got our first car in 1934 and it was second hand. This was shortly before I was married. My brother, John, went right to work on that car and that started him fixing autos and the car business which was the love of his life.

As I write this I realize many old friends and neighbors have gone over the Great Divide and we who are left aren't getting any younger.


I remember when Grandpa Jennings lost his job with the railroad during the Depression, Aunt Janie invited them out to Montana to live with her family and help on the farm. Grandpa, Grandma, Alice (Muir) Jennings, and their two sons, made the long train ride to Montana when Dad, their youngest son was still an infant, likely in 1932. Grandma took one look at the several feet of snow on the ground and decided she wanted to go back to Illinois. So they did!

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