Murdo Girl…Horse Creek

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.”

Wayne, Mary, Ella, M.E., Loretta on her mother’s lap, Melvin (Jeff), and Helen on her father’s lap.
The little girl on the left might be an Osborn… Mom, (Loretta) in the overalls and hat, Ella, in the checkered dress, and Helen holding baby, Elna. They’re standing in front of the log cabin.

I would like to go on record as saying I’m pretty sure I would prefer cocoa junk over sardines…

Murdo Girl…The rhythm of life..a pioneer marriage

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…

Murdo Girl…The Rhythm of life….Fighting through hard times.

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.

The depression years…

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.

Old Highway 16 goes through Murdo and Presho, SD

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.


Murdo Girl…Touching up the Cottage

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.

Taken before I highlighted or painted my hair...

Anyway, I’m going to sleep on it and see what further steps I need to take in the morning.

I’ve decided to paint the posts brown…and then decorate with spring/summer colors. Maybe LJ will have some ideas.

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.

Murdo Girl…Happy Birthday Mom

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

1-Loretta Gustafson's Life in Photos 017-001

Murdo Girl…The rhythm of life..The Murdo Depot

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.

Connie and Bill Bowers

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.

I’m very proud to be her granddaughter…

Murdo Girl…He stepped up

The moniker, “step-father” makes me think of Cinderella.

She had a wicked step-mother…

Who wouldn’t let her find a fella.

She had mean and simpering step-sisters…

They said she was a freak.

Poor Cinderella had to think her future would be bleak.

Then along came a fairy-god-mother…

A magic wand was her trademark.

Cinderella went to the ball…

And knocked the Prince out of the park.

For step-mom and step-sisters…

It didn’t end too well.

They couldn’t get the Prince from under Cinderella’s spell.

Some think happy ever after…

Is only in fairy tales.

Some think it can be found…

After everything else fails.


When you married my mother, I didn’t know you very well.

I hoped you’d make her happy. Only time would tell.

You not only gave her love…

You gave her so much more.

You were the same good man each day…

As you were the day before.

Forty-six years ago you and Mom were wed.

When asked about my brother and me…

This is what you’ve always said,

“He’s my son and she’s my daughter.” (You don’t say that you’re too young.)

You were fourteen when Bill was born. I was born when you were twenty-one.

Our family is pretty big now. To our kids you’re Grandpa Gus.

When you married our Mom…

We got the best for all of us.

Gus, Mom, Mom’s sister, Ella Leckey, and brother, Jeff Sanderson


After all these years, step-father could be something I might say,

Because when friends or family need you…You’re only a step away.

And when you need your son or daughter, we hope you’ll always know…

We’ll step up just like you have… since all those years ago.

Gus’ 90th birthday is the 30th of May. We’ll be celebraring him all month

Murdo Girl…Poverty Flats

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.

E.W. McNinch…Kip said his grandpa dressed like this all year around.

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.

Kip’s father, Mack, was killed while serving in the occupational forces in WWII. He was 27 years old.
Kip’s mother, Naomi, another young widow, with Kip and his older sister, Karen.

Murdo Girl…Angels of friendship

I know the truth of their existence.

Of the earth or heavenly.

I try to offer no resistance

When their message speaks to me.


Be they visible or transparent

Each one is unique.

Yet some qualities are inherent.

Some are boisterous some are meek.


They help me know what I am missing.

Help me find the things I seek.

Is there something I’ve been dismissing?

Do I listen when Angels speak?

My body can betray me.

My thoughts can go astray.

Is this the way it must be?

A total chasm of disarray?

What can I do to find the strength

To make it through the darkest hours?

My Angels go to any length

To bring sweetness to what life sours.


Be thankful for your Angels

Never look past those who care

They will bring you to a place

Where you no longer feel despair.


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.