My cousin, Bobby, sent me a piece his mother, Helen, had written about growing up in Horse Creek. It is really a stand alone piece, so I’ve decided to include it with my Rhythm of Life stories. In the meantime, I want to wish my mother, Loretta, a heavenly happy birthday….
One 101 years ago someone special did arrive.
They thought she’d be the last child born as she was number five.
Her father called her Babe, then another joined the mix.
Six years later came a big surprise… baby number six.
She went to country school where the kids sat side by side.
She told me when she moved to town not one classmate cried.
To skip part of this story you’ll agree won’t be a crime.
To cover all 101 years would take all of your time.
Though her personality can’t be easily defined,
This woman whom I’m speaking of was truly one of a kind.
From bold and beautiful to successful entrepreneur.
She was courageous and confident and not at all demure.
Mischievous, sometimes cantankerous, horse race enthusiast,
She was the hootiest.
Her two offspring and her husband, Gus, still miss her every day,
And we’re remembering her today…her May the 6th birthday
I’m going to tell a little bit more of the Francis side of my family’s story. Not only is it interesting, but it tells you a little bit more about my dad’s youth. I intend to write about one of Peter Swinson’s sons, Parnell, and about Jack Francis’ son, William or Bill. I’m also going to write about my 2nd father, Gus’ family. His father came over from Sweden in 1893 when he was only 19 years old.
After Jack Francis died in 1926, Connie continued to run the the stores. In 1928, she married William Bowers who was 17 years her senior. He was the Murdo agent for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad. Connie and her boys moved in with Mr. Bowers who lived with his three children in rooms above the depot. The ages of the children were 2, 8, 12, 15, 17, and 20. The only girl was Margarete Bowers who was 15.
The marriage by all accounts was a very successful and devoted union. Connie’s boys called their step-father, Dad Bowers. The couple were never heard arguing (loudly anyway) and all got along well considering they lived in very cramped quarters. I remember Dad saying that his mother would dust the house and then a train would go through and there would be coal dust to deal with, again.
Connie kept the Murdo Hardware store until after the war. She then sold it to Nick Thune. Nick had moved his family from Mitchell, SD to manage the store in 1930. He was a Norwegian immigrant. He and his wife, Maude became very close friends of the Francis family.
When Nick assumed ownership, the store’s name was changed to Thune Hardware. It was later operated for several years by Nick’s sons, Harold and Gilbert. Harold earned Most Valuable Player honors on the University of Minnesota basketball team and was a decorated Navy pilot in the Pacific during WWII. He went to high school with my dad and he was my Algebra teacher.
Harold Thune recalled that Grandma Connie provided young Bill, with a 12 guage shotgun for hunting when all the rest of the gang could only afford BB guns. He also remembered that Bill went on to become almost fabled for his marksmanship.
The depression of the thirties hit Murdo, SD like it did everywhere else. People had very little money for the essentials. They would steal coal from the railroad coal cars parked on rail sidings near the station to refuel the engines. The farmers faced, drought, grasshoppers, and low grain prices.
A man who worked for the railroad as a brakeman got his right arm caught in a coupling between two railroad cars. They had to amputate his arm which of course put an end to his ability to earn a living on the railroad. He probably got a small pittance, but it wouldn’t have been enough to support his rather large family. He soon decided to start a grocery store in their home. Many farmers brought eggs, butter, cream, and other products in exchange for groceries. The store operated for many years. I recall going there when I was a small child. If I remember correctly, it was in the middle of a neighborhood a few blocks over from Main Street.
As in other towns hit with the depression, there are examples of people taking care of each other. When a child’s family couldn’t afford to buy glasses for their son, the school superintendent purchased them. The boy eventually went to the School of Mines in Rapid City, and became an executive with General Electric.
After Dad Bowers died in 1943, Connie moved to California. She was excited about keeping house for her son, Chuck, and his to friends who were enrolled at UCLA. It was 1947.
She said she wanted to go back to Murdo for a visit and she wanted to have a physician examine her before going. The doctor discovered she had breast cancer. The cancer spread to her lungs and she died on April 1, 1948. She was 59 years old.
The threads of family continue to weave through my life. Though I never met my Grandma Connie, I feel like I know her. I have heard my father talk about her, and he often sang the songs she taught him. He talked about her great wit and sense of humor. He and his friend, Dan Parish, once told her she had to make an angel food cake for a school function. She later discovered she had made an angel food cake for a couple of devils.
Connie was dearly loved by all six of the Francis/Bowers kids who lived together above the Murdo train station.
When E.W. McNinch came to Big Piney, Wyoming, he got a job on the Mule Shoe Ranch working for A.W. Smith. He became a cowboy and earned $40.00 per month. There were many wild horses running on the land just out from the ranch. Horses came to drink at the Sublette Springs from as far as twenty-five miles away. Elba tried several times to gather some of them, but they were very wild and the stallion always tried to lead the herd away from the cowboys. At that time the French government was buying wild horses for use in their cavalry and artillery in the First World War. There was also a demand for them on the farms in the midwest. Elba helped deliver three train carloads to Lander, WY for shipment to France. He said they kept the horses overnight in a sheepherder’s fenced enclosure and the men had to walk the fence all night so none would escape. I guess the horses were broke once they reached France or the farms.
**At one time, Mr. Swinson had about 135 head of horses. Some of which were broke for work and riding. All farm work was done by horses, then. The horses that were not needed were also sold and went to France or to the farmers.**
On April 18, 1918, Elba enlisted in the marines. The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. On November 19, 1919 he was married to Lois Linn. He met her at a July 4th celebration before he joined the marines and they had written to each other while he was gone.
Elba worked as a foreman on a ranch until the couple could afford to buy a place of their own. They putchased the Little Star Coral Ranch in 1924 and lived there until 1927 at which time it became unfeasible to send their three boys to Big Piney to school from so far out.
1n 1927, Lois filed on a homestead of 160 acres. It was land known by some as Poverty Flats. They moved there and built a log cabin with a dirt roof, just as Mr. Swinson did when he first homesteaded.
With sagebrush two feet high at the back door and on all sides, they began their ranching career. It was a lot of hard work and a slow process. The first thing they did was clear two acres of brush for a garden spot which supplied vegetables for their own needs. They also sold some to their neighbors. This was quite a difficult task. (My husband, who is Mr. McNinch’s grandson says the growing season in Wyoming is seldom more than 90 days long.)
They got lumber from the sawmill to build all of their outbuildings. Every spring they shipped in three or four hundred baby chickens and turkeys. They supplied the local area with their holiday birds and also sold eggs. “Mother”, as Lois was affectionately called, was partial to strawberries. She once won the title of “Strawberry Queen.” She was guardian of the garden. Anytime she saw insects headed that way she was immediately in pursuit with spray gun in hand. Poverty Flat produced several hundred dollars worth of fine vegetables for sale every fall.
Mrs. McNinch became a professional at growing plant life including such field crops as alfalfa, oats, barley and clover.
A little more about Lois McNinch…she came to Wyoming with her father, mother, and three younger children in 1910 from Colorado. She finished normal school and taught for several years before her marriage. She belonged to several clubs in Sublette County and was selected Ranch Woman of the Year in 1974 by the Cowbelles.
As Elba put it, “Mother was quite religious. There was no doubt in her mind that she would reach a final resting place where she would have peace and happiness forever and ever. She always found good in everyone and encouraged her three sons to become educated and pursue their own careers.”
Their oldest son, Elba, (Kip’s father), was killed in Italy while serving in the occupation forces in WWII. Keith became a civil engineer, and Ray lived on the west coast and worked as a ship builder.
Eventually on Poverty Flat Ranch, they were faced with two dry years and low cattle prices. This was at the time of the depression in the thirties. In Sublette County there were about forty families including the McNinches, considered by the government as helplessly broke financially. A government man came to the Green River Valley to see what could be done to help this group. His suggestion was to close them out of business, give them a job and they would have to start all over again.
Before that happened, Franklin D. Roosevelt came on the scene and started the Farm Security Administration or FSA. It made loans to ranchers to buy cattle. Money was made available to shop owners so they could stock their shelves which would insure a greater volume of business. Farmers were able to buy new equipment and tools. From that time on for several years, business was good and people began to payoff their loans.
The McNinches realized they had a high hill to climb. They had no financial backing. They were proud that no family member ever had to put money in the kitty to keep them going. With faith and trust in each other, they began a sage brush removal program which in a few years put Poverty Flat off the map and into a hay producing area capable of supporting several hundred head of cattle.
In the next chapter I write about E.W. and Lois McNinch, I will quote some things from Mr. McNinch’s autobiography that I found to be very touching. He discussed the partnership he had with his wife, their commitment to their shared goals, and his philosophy about what he considers makes for a successful marriage and life.
The first Angel is the Angel of Celebration, given to me by my sister-in-law and friend, Karlyce Newkirk.
The second Angel is an Angel signing love. She was given to me by my friend, Sherri Miller.
I received the third Angel, yesterday. My friend, Dianna Diehm had her made for me. She is the Angel of Friendship. Dianna also made the card which has a message inside that I will always treasure.
I will indeed be reminded to treasure my Angels, always. We all have them. We all need them. Nothing is more comforting than to be surrounded by beautiful and giving, Angels of friendship, love, and celebration.