E.W. and Lois McNinch had three sons. Their first born, Elba, or Mack, was my husband, Kip’s father. People ask Kip what his real name is and they’re usually surprised to learn that Kip is not his nickname. He was named after a buddy of Mack’s who died of spinal meningitis shortly before Kip was born. Kip’s full name is Kip Rost McNinch.
Mack graduated from high school in Big Piney, Wyoming and Naomi, Kip’s mother, graduated in Laramie. The two met during their first year of college at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
When Mack and Naomi were freshmen in college, there was a formal event called the Harvest Moon Ball. Naomi wore a pretty blue formal and Hell’s Half Acre Gym was decorated with huge pumpkins and scarecrows. Mack and one if his friends, Graham, decided to steal a pumpkin. The gym was on the second floor and Graham was going to throw the pumpkin out the window and Mack was supposed to catch it.
Mack and Naomi were outside waiting below the window when a policeman came up to them and asked them if they had a bottle. (Drinking was not allowed on campus.) About that time a huge pumpkin came sailing through the air, hit the ground, and burst. The policeman said, “So that’s it, huh?” Naomi’s mom made several pies from that pumpkin.
The couple was married on July 4th, 1940. Their daughter, Karen, was born, on July the 4th, two years later.
Kip was born August 12, 1944 and Mack was drafted into the army in January of 1945. He was sent to the Phillipines and then Italy. He was part of the occupational forces. Mack was killed in an accident in Italy on August 27, 1947. His body wasn’t brought back until October of 1947. He was 27 years old when he died.
Mack and my Dad were two months apart in age, both were in the army, and both were in the Corp of Engineers. Dad was stationed in Guam and I think my brother said he was also in the Philippines.
There is much more to tell about each of these families as they lived through trying as well as joyous times. The threads are woven and the bonds of love continue. Sometimes, history has a way of catching up with us…
**short blog today…headed for Wyoming for my grandson’s graduation.
It’s 5:20 a.m. and Kip and I are on our way to Dallas. He has to have some squamous cells removed. Something he has had to go through many times. He says it’s because he grew up living in Laramie, WY which is too close to the sun. I will have most of the day to write a story, but in the meantime, I want to post this poem I wrote about Pete Swinson a few years ago. Since then I have had the pleasure of meeting his daughter, Sherri Miller, on two occasions. She and Dianna Diehm have become good friends through the blog. Both are fellow South Dakotans.
I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts about Mr. Swinson, who was in the Navy, and the picture he is standing next to.
When I saw this photo on Sherri Miller’s Facebook page, I was drawn to it. I felt it told a story. The poem is in honor of the man in the photo. His name is Pete Swinson. He is Sherri Miller’s Dad, and he is celebrating his birthday tomorrow with family and friends. What a great day!
Mr. Pete Swinson
This captured moment.. touched me and yet, this is a man I’ve never met.
The photo moved me. I wondered why. Just who was this stand-up guy?
I searched my thoughts to no avail. I looked long minutes at each detail.
First I noticed how he stood; like a man of honor would.
I saw the men he stood before. Did they depict a time of war?
Their salute with heads held high, must bring him thoughts of days gone by.
One hand was open..today’s reflection. The other clenched in recollection?
He survived unlike some others. During wartime, they were all brothers.
His lips are set, in neither smile nor frown. Keeping tears from tumbling down.
When I look at him I see, a man of great humility.
His life went on. Family needs were met, but on that day, he was an honored Vet.
I saw his eyes. Windows to the soul. He’s a good man. One I’d like to know.
The poem is a reflection of what I see in the photograph, and what I know of this man’s daughter whom I have also never met. Sherri and I have become good friends without meeting. Her Dad must take after her right? I’m pretty sure Pete’s family adores him.
Parnell Marvin Swinson, who went by the name Pete, was born on a farm 15 miles southwest of Presho, SD on December 3rd, 1916. His parents were Peter M. and Mary Christensen Swinson. He was the only son and youngest child of Peter and Mary. He was admittedly spoiled by his 2 older half brothers and four older sisters. Pete didn’t grow up on the homesteads of both of his parents as they moved to Presho before he was 2 years old. They bought a small tract of land in the northeast part of Presho along the Medicine Creek and started a dairy farm so he still had a farm lifestyle with all of the advantages of a small town.
Pete started school when he was five and only tolerated it. His sisters said they had a hard time keeping him warmly dressed in cold weather. He was as apt to start out without a coat or jacket as not. They gave him some credit for bringing home what he wore to school which was in contrast to his good friend Joe Mullen whose trail could be traced by the clothes he left behind. Pete and Joe were good friends and the two of them spent many hours together fishing and swimming.
Pete had a bad habit in those early years of being oblivious to the passage of time. One warm summer afternoon, he had gone fishing and the sky began to darken with the makings of a severe storm but Pete didn’t notice it until things began to happen…high wind, rain, and marble-sized hail. He started for home but didn’t reach it until it was almost over. He was drenched to the skin and covered with big welts where the hailstones had pelted him. He was surprised his family had been concerned about him, but he didn’t recall that this experience helped him to head for home earlier when the weather looked bad or when it began to get dark.
During the summer Pete’s mother often worked outside. Consequently, when he was small his older sisters did the housework and also took over the job of policing him. On several occasions when he disliked what he considered bossiness, he threatened to run away. Thelma, one of his sisters, was fed up with his threats and one day when he made known his intentions, she packed his clothes into a big suitcase, handed it to him, and told him goodbye. There he stood…a small boy of seven or eight with an oversized suitcase in his hand and he didn’t know where to go with it.
**When I was reading this part of Pete’s notes about his childhood, I had to laugh. I remember my dad (Bill) telling me about a time when he was probably 7 or 8 and his baby brother, Chuck, was bothering his mother. She made the comment that she would sell that baby for a nickel. Little Billy went to his room, got into his piggy bank, pulled out a nickel, and brought it to his mother. He said he wanted to buy baby Chuck. His mother did what Pete’s sister did. She packed up all of little Chuck’s things and took them to little Billy’s room. She took his nickel, and said baby Chuck was all his. Then she left to continue with her housework. It wasn’t very long at all until Billy came with Chuck’s things and Chuck himself. He asked his mother if he could please have his nickel back. It must have been a typical child-rearing method used back in those days to teach children to be careful what they wished for.
As Pete grew up, as was said, he wasn’t crazy about school. He would rather have been hunting, fishing, swimming, skiing, or tinkering with cars than sit in school. He got hold of a Model T chassis and by searching junk yards and abandoned cars, put together a whole car. He said it wasn’t too much to look at, but it ran. He spent many hours of his time rebuilding the car, but he felt it gave him some really valuable experience
On the dairy farm they had very contented cows after he piped-in music to the barns. The music helped him, too, but he promised himself that when he grew up, he would never milk a cow again and he kept that promise.
After his dad broke his ankle and really wasn’t able to do much, Pete took over the milk route. He had very fond memories of those days. He got to know other families, and their dogs and cats. He also learned some of the family secrets when he walked into their houses unannounced to put milk into their ice boxes. He always liked music. I guess that’s probably why he piped music into the cow barn. One time he made a bargain with his sister, Pearle. He said he would teach her to drive a car if she would teach him to play the piano. One session in the car and one at the piano was as far as they got. She never did learn to drive a car and he never mastered the piano.
In high school, Pete played some basketball and 4 years of football. At one football game he was injured but was soon back in the game. He finished the game, looked around a bit, and then went home and chopped a pile of wood. That was really hearsay for it was about that time he came to. He couldn’t remember anything that happened after the injury. One member of his family insulted him by saying she knew something was wrong when he chopped the wood without being told.
Peter graduated from high school in 1935…
**It must be quite an experience to be the youngest of 7 children with 4 older sisters.
I know my friend, Sherri, adored her dad, as did her two sisters. I know Sherri has a fondness for fishing. Times have changed, though. Unlike Pearle, Sherri can also drive.
We’ll get to the later years of Pete Swinson’s life, but I will close this portion by saying that from everything I have heard and read about him, Mr. Swinson was quite a remarkable man…
When I was just a little girl, the stories I most loved to hear, were found inside my grandma’s trunk, filled with things from yesteryear.
I saw her in a picture. Not one hair was out of place. She wore a prim and proper dress made of satin adorned in lace.
“Why aren’t you smiling, Grandma?” I asked her once again.
“My photograph was seldom taken. They were like portraits way back then. People struck a serious pose, stood tall, and calmly waited. A startling ‘poof’ and blinding flash confirmed their likeness was created.”
(Mary standing in front of her father in the buggy and her mother standing behind the wheel. Taken at the Tyrrell Farm.)
She reached inside the trunk and found an album bound in leather. Oh, the stories Grandma told when we looked at it together.
Time was captured in that book. Long ago came back to life, as Grandma told the story of becoming Grandpa’s wife.
“How did you and Grandpa meet?” Grandma knew I’d never tire, of the story beginning in the church, where she was singing in the choir.
Grandpa came with a lady friend, but Grandma caught his eye. He did some work on her father’s farm and came to know her by and by.
They were married May eighteenth. Nineteen eleven was the year. They moved from Iowa to South Dakota. No other family would be near.
Two daughters and two sons were born… a new home they began to seek. They bought land and a log cabin in a pretty place called Horse Creek.
They worked hard to make a living two more daughters soon arrived. Grandma said without their children’s help, they wouldn’t have survived.
Inside that big old trunk that had followed Grandma’s life, was a treasure trove of stories of happy times and times of strife.
When we finally closed the trunk, Grandma’s eyes began to shine. She said, “I could not be prouder of those six kids of mine.’
I heard a little cough. I turned around in time to see… Grandpa smile and wink at Grandma who was as pleased as she could be.
I think this is a good time to write about Horse Creek where my mother’s family lived until she was eleven. I’ve written about it several times in the past, but this will include a description written by my mother’s older sister, Helen. My cousin, Bobby, who is Helen’s son, shared it with me.
My mother, Loretta, often talked about her horseback riding adventures, working outside with the boys in the family while the girls helped Grandma inside, and going to school with the thirteen Osborn kids.
Helen Sanderson Haverberg wrote the following…
Dad was excited about our first Model T. Ford but it was a worry for Mother for fear it wouldn’t last and we would have to go without so many other things. We had a Model A touring car later, which made the seven mile trip to Murdo much more pleasant. Two miles were on dirt and the other five were graveled.
My two younger sisters (Loretta and Elna) were born after moving there. The rural school was three and a half miles over hills and valleys. The school had a barn for horses, two outhouses, and a cistern for rain water. We always rode our horses although we were unhappy they went without food all day. There were twelve of us in the eight grades. Most of those were from the Osborn family which had thirteen children. As each of us started school, our big challenge was to remember the names of all the Osborn children. The older girls were motherly to the beginners.
The struggle by the Osborn family will explain the courage and determination needed at that time to survive. They lived in a three room frame house, heated by a wood-burning stove, but several of the boys had to sleep in the attic of an out-building. Several also stood at the table to eat. Mrs. Osborn made delicious bread and they each carried a sandwich to school made with “cocoa junk” between the slices. They mixed cocoa, sugar and whole milk together which soaked into the bread. We felt fortunate that we could have sardine sandwiches, our favorite for years and they were four cents per can. The larger came in mustard or tomato sauce and were also good.
I was never unhappy because our family pulled together and Dad was a strict disciplinarian. When things got too rough for Mother to handle, she would lower her voice and say, “I’ll have to tell Dad.”
I would like to go on record as saying I’m pretty sure I would prefer cocoa junk over sardines…
In their ranching career, E.W. and Lois McNinch considered themselves to be a self-supporting ranching unit, and they knew they could take care of themselves. In the throes of it all, it took both of them to resolve the problems at hand. E.W. is quoted as saying. “Harsh words were never involved in reaching a decision.”
E.W. considered himself to be a peculiar human being, and always had a word or two that he nursed along. The word “privilege” was one he referred to occassionally. He thought one of the biggest privileges of all was to be an American. He said the word “why” was an adverb. A Marine Sargeant told him one time that if an officer told him to do something, to go and do it and don’t ask why because there was no such word as why in the Marine Corps.
In twenty years, Lois and Elba had accumulated 3,200 acres of deeded land with water for irrigation and a herd of 450 of some of the best cattle in Sublette County. They had several tons of carryover hay each year.
Elba wrote, “The challenge we had faced was put to rest by the trust and faith we had in each other, and Lois added some prayers. We always knew we had given it our very best.”
Elba said when they looked over the past, their marriage seemed like a miracle to them both. They were able to commence each morning where they had left off the evening before. Their bank account was joint and their business papers included both of their names. Lois was complimented on her excellent bookkeeping and was always greeted with a smile at the bank.
**Kip and I visited his Grandpa McNinch at the ranch when he was well into his 90s. We asked if we could interview him. I think we asked one or two questions before he told us his story without our prompting him. I remember he had notes written on a yellow tablet. Whenever he mentioned “Mother” as he called his dear wife, he got tears in his eyes.
At the end of our visit, he said, “If our ranching career was to be lived over again, there would be very few changes. We were happy. What more could anyone ask for.”
There is a new book out called The Pioneer Marriage. It discusses three factors that made marriages work back then and could help some couples now. They are, 1) A commitment to grow, 2) Establish an effective communication system which includes respect, talking, and listening, and 3) The ability to make creative use of conflict. In other words, communicate without pushing each other’s buttons…learn about each other by using positives.
It seems to me that Lois and E W. McNinch could have written that book.
The rhythm of life weaves its threads and new generations are created from the hearts and souls of the families that came before us. On Memorial Day, remember those who served and those who pioneered this great country of ours. God bless them all…
Peter M. Swinson was born in 1862 in Norway. He came to the United States in 1879 when he was 17. Rudolph Gustafson, was born in Sweden in 1893 and came to America in 1912 when he was 19.
E.M. (Gus) Gustafson, my 2nd father, explained that sometimes, such as in the case of his father, Rudolph, the family farm in Sweden, was not large enough to support a big family; therefore, some of men came to America. They were seeking the opportunity to establish themselves, and to raise and support their own families.
In some cases, the family was split from that point on and quite possibly never saw each other again.
The depression devastated yet another pioneer family. Grasshoppers, and drought brought about hard times with large financial losses on the farm and in the dairy business. It must have been a terrible blow. Shortly before the second world war came along, the Swinsons gave up the dairy farm and decided to try to salvage the ranch. They moved into a little house that I think was owned by a family member. Shortly after the move, which was in July of 1942, Peter M. Swinson died at home of cancer of the digestive tract. The insurance money was used to clear the ranch from the remaining debt.
Peter’s son, Parnell, described his father as being a temperate man in all things, nevertheless, one of his hobbies was making his own beer or as he called it “home brew.” It was made from water, malt, yeast, and sugar. After it had “brewed” for the right length of time, it was bottled and capped and put into crates which were stored in the basement. It was usually shared with visitors who often commented that some of the beer was rather potent. It is believed that somewhere in the basement under crates and boxes, there is some “home brew” Mr. Swinson made many decades ago.
As I have noted before, many of these pioneers I’m writing about weren’t what you would call big men. Mr. Swinson was only 5’8″ and weighted about 155 lbs. When he died at the age of 80, he had most of his teeth, and his thick black hair had not turned entirely gray.
Mr. Peter M. Swinson was mild mannered yet independent, resourceful. and determined. He believed that if a man worked hard and didn’t spend money foolishly, he would get ahead. He demonstrated this time and again in his own life.
Mr. Swinson died on December 11, 1942…a year after the United States entered the 2nd world war. His son, Parnell, enlisted in the Navy on December 8, 1941. The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Once again, I’m awed by the courage and perseverance, Mr. Swinson, Mr. McNinch, and Mr. Francis showed as they built their ranches, farms, and businesses. Later, I will be writing about Rudolph Gustafson who immigrated from Sweden.
Peter Swinson, Jack Francis, and Rudolph Gustafson all lived in and around Presho, SD at one time in their lives. The population of Presho in the forties was around 500 and if everyone is home, the count would be slightly under 500, today.
Woven threads of color,
A beauty to behold;
Each thread a chapter of a life.
The tapestry unfolds.
There within the richness,
Are tears of golden hue;
While silver threads of laughter,
Are gently woven through.
Hanging there in splendor for all the world to see;
The beauty of a life well spent, in richest tapestry.
I decided this would be the perfect day to make the cottage a little springier. I began by staining the beautiful wood walkway that Kip built. I was almost finished when a humongous gust of wind came through. It picked up the pan of paint and threw it into my face. Can you believe it? Kip was convinced that my new glasses were ruined. “It will eat the plastic,” he said.
I ran into the house and immediately cleaned my glasses, which were fine. I wish he would have been as concerned about my painted hair. I could not get the paint, that was holding huge chuncks of my hair hostage, to break free. I read online that toothpaste would work…it didn’t, plus I mistakenly chose a whitening toothpaste. I’m pretty sure the paint covered hair has lightened up again. Remember my highlighting fiasco? I just got the yellow calmed down.
Anyway, I’m going to sleep on it and see what further steps I need to take in the morning.
I will soon get back to the stories about the Swinsons, McNinches, Francises, Gustafsons, and Sandersons. There is so much more to tell…
Happy Mother’s Day to all the women out there who have had a hand in raising kids…it takes a village.
I was almost frustrated enough to get the scissors out and cut off the mess, when a little bit of common sense returned, which is surprising. I’m going to see my grandson graduate next week and I have already far exceeded my usual before trip weight gain, so I didn’t want to go with 2″ long hair.
It’s all about the rhythm of life. We aren’t clones of those I write about, but there is no mistaking the genes and family history along with our higher power, predetermine who we are or at least greatly influence who we become.