I’m going to tell you about Elba McNinch and John (Jack) Francis before I get into the war or I’m going to risk confusing everyone including myself. I have a tendency to get out of chronological order.
When Mr. McNinch was 96 years old, he wrote an autobiography that is truly amazing. He included many interesting stories about events that happened in his lifetime.
Jim Thorpe, a Native American, lived thirty miles from where Elba grew up and always championed Native Americans. He broke many athletic records in the Olympic Games and was considered the greatest athlete of his time. Unfortunately, the metals he won were taken away from him in 1912. It was claimed that he won the metals illegally. It is almost universally viewed, today, as one of the great sports injustices. His gold metals in the decathlon and pentathlon were stripped from him after it was discovered that he had made a few dollars playing baseball.
When asked, Elba said the answer to his longevity was to take plenty of open air exercise, eat as regularly as possible, and sleep at least eight hours out of every twenty-four. I think he broke the code don’t you?
Young Elba grew up on a 1000 acre wheat farm in North Texas. He dropped out of school before finishing high school even though a favorite history teacher encouraged him to finish. Tired of working from daylight to dusk in 100 to 112 degree temperatures, he and a friend, with their parents permission, headed for Montana where Elba had an uncle. They saw quite a bit of country, but the jobs they were able to get to keep themselves going were not what Elba wanted to do for the remainder of his life.
He decided to heed his teacher’s advice and went back to Texas to attend a commercial school where he took bookkeeping and shorthand. He then transferred to East Texas where he taught bookkeeping and special penmanship. He taught for two years before enrolling in an academic school where he learned mathematics and English. After two years, working as a bookkeeper and mailman, he went to his history teacher, who had become a good friend, and told him he was leaving the south.
He landed in Denver, Colorado, tired and broke. He worked in a pea factory for a couple of months so he could eat regularly. When that job ended, he went on another job where he heard favorable things about Big Piney, Wyoming. He took the train to to Rock Springs and then a mail truck to Opal. From there, he caught a ride in a wagon pulled by horses. He said he arrived at his future home on April 10, 1915, He was twenty-six years old.
There was a lot of hard work ahead of Elba McNinch before he was able to file a homestead. He had moved from 112 degree summers to Big Piney which is often referred to as the coldest spot in the nation. A sign outside of town says, “Many came through here, but nobody stayed,”
We’ve learned about two incredible men who had what it took to find their way in life and manage to end up just where they were supposed to be. The threads they weaved along the way contributed a great deal to my life and to Sherri my future friend as well.