Tuesday, 15. December 2009 18:30
Several months a go I had planned on beginning a series on cowboy or cowgirl code of ethics. The way they lived – life as it were in the day when people survived because they stuck to solid values. Donna Ridgway sent in the first post and due to internet issues I was unable to post it. Well those issues have been resolved and I am now ready to embark upon this new adventure. Please welcome Donna Ridgway, guest blogger, and enjoy her story about her grandfather painting a picture of the code by which he lived his life.
Born in 1906
When I think of my grandfather, my early memories are of the smell of horses, leather, cigarettes, and whiskey…and a big grin. His sense of humor was lively and legendary. He was a great husband and father, neighbor and friend.
He had his own code of honor, along with a strong sense of mischief. When he was 15 years old, he lived in Conrad, Montana with his father, brother, and three sisters. His mother had passed away when he was 6 years old. The family ran a boarding house/hotel and shared the work equally.
A friend who lived out of town, asked my grandpa to do chores for them for a month, because they wanted to go on a vacation. They’d bought a new Model T car, and told Grandpa he could have the car in exchange for doing their chores. The only condition was, they didn’t want him to drive the car, until they returned! Being 15 years old, (and possessed of a strong inclination for mischief) temptation got the best of Grandpa and he backed the Model T out of the garage, he got it out just fine, but dinged a fender when he drove it back into the building!
When the owners of the car returned home, his conscience wouldn’t allow him to take the car, he had to tell them what he’d done. As it happened, they laughed and let him keep the car…but this code of ethics remained with him all his life.
My grandfather’s sister, Della married an electrical engineer about the time Grandpa became high school age. Della’s husband, Benny, insisted her brothers and sisters needed a college education. Grandpa’s brother, and one sister, took Benny up on his offer. Grandpa said, “No thanks, I’m going homesteading with dad.”
They sold the hotel, and moved west of Dupuyer, Montana to the very base of the Rocky Mountain Front. The wall of the front formed the back fence of the ranch, which was handy in that rocky land. With the bit of money they had from selling what they owned in Conrad, they bought cattle and supplies. They built two cabins, one for each parcel of homestead land. In summer, they lived in the upper cabin, which was very small, in winter, they’d return to the larger cabin. Both cabins were built on Sheep Creek.
Before my Grandpa met my Grandmother, he and a friend decided to attend a dance at Heart Butte, which was approximately 10 miles away. Along the trail, they engaged in a horse race where they ran through an opened gate. They enjoyed the dance, and headed home, after dark. Got into a horse race at about the same place. The only problem was, someone had come through the fence and shut the gate, while they were at the dance. Grandpa’s horse saw the gate in time to stop easily, his friend wasn’t so lucky, he flew over his horse’s head and over the gate. This was a great source of mirth to Grandpa, and he never let his friend forget that night.
Later on, my grandparents married and my grandmother came to live in the homestead cabins, my mother soon joined them. I love hearing the stories of the life they lead on the homestead. As far as my Grandpa was concerned, the door was open to all, and there was never a time, when a meal wasn’t ready on the table. They were known for their hospitality far and wide. People from town loved to come to the mountains on the weekends, and my Grandma’s favorite saying back then was, “I’d better cook, or git!”
When my grandparents married, my Uncle Bill (my Grandma’s brother) moved to the mountains with them. His mother tried her best to keep him in school, and home, but he repeatedly ran away to the mountain cabins. He became a fixture at the ranch. His help was welcome, he worked extra hard, so he wouldn’t get sent back to Dupuyer to school.
Even though there was an abundance of work to do on the ranch, if a neighbor spoke up, needing a hand, my grandpa answered the call. He never minded helping someone out and he and his neighbors worked closely together.
My grandparents went through the Depression living in the homestead cabins. They “wintered” on $100 worth of supplies. And lived mostly from the huge garden they raised, and beef they canned. Life followed a set pattern, according to what work needed to be done.
When my mom was seven years old, my Grandparents bought a ranch in the foothills of the Rockies. This ranch had a nice house, barns and corrals, and allowed them to expand the cattle and horse herds. In the fall, the calves were put in the corrals, and fattened before shipping. Feeding them wasn’t a large problem, but back then, Grandpa hauled water to the troughs with buckets, a stone boat, and the team. Late in the fall, his best friend came along, and wanted to go hunting in the Bob Marshall. My Uncle Bill was going to go along also. They begged my Grandpa to go with them. He refused, he said he couldn’t leave the women to water those calves, it would be to much work for them.
My grandpa branding the calf, his dad looking on, my Uncle Bill on the horse. I believe the guy holding the calf was a friend and neighbor.
My Grandma wanted him to go hunting, she and my mom and the best friend’s wife could do those chores! Grandpa held steady to his thoughts he needed to stay home. The friend and my Uncle took off with the pack horses without Grandpa. It took a while, but the women finally convinced Grandpa he needed to go hunting. They hurriedly loaded his horse with his bedroll and some food and off he went. By this time, it was late in the day so he was riding along, concentrating on making good time, to catch up with his buddies. Just as his horse broke over the top of the cliff face above Swift Dam, he saw his friend riding toward him, he’d ridden back all that way, to convince Grandpa he needed to go hunting!
There was never a time when Grandpa didn’t think about how much work my Grandma had to do. He kept the water hauled in, slop buckets emptied, and the wood split and hauled in. They didn’t have running water at the ranch until I was in the seventh grade, so they went a long time, packing water in and out of the ranch house.
The outhouse was part of life at the ranch. My Uncle Bill married, and he and his wife had three girls. They were the same age as my brother, sister and I were. We loved getting together at the ranch. Part of our entertainment, was to wait for Grandpa to go into the outhouse, which we then pelted with rocks. He hadn’t lost his spirit of fun, he always came out roaring and chasing us around. And he usually found ways to get even with us. For as hard as he worked, he was never crabby or tired acting.
When I was six years old, my grandparents bought a Shetland horse for me and my brother and sister. I was there to visit, I suppose it was during Christmas vacation… A blizzard was raging. Of course I wanted to ride my new horse. Grandpa bundled me up in warm clothes, and out to the big calving barn we went, to ride the horses round and round… He wasn’t impatient, he wasn’t ornery about it, he just took me out and did what he knew I wanted to do. It was a lesson that stayed with me, and I try to remember when my own grand-kids come to visit!
Homesteading on the Rocky Mountain Front, during the Great Depression, created a special breed of people. The winters were harsh and long, summer work was never ending. Hospitals and doctors were almost non existent. Families and neighbors depended upon each other, for basic human needs. Entertainment was not in a television or computer, it was in playing practical jokes on your friends…or in sitting down to a meal together, with a game of cards afterward. Many times, entertainment, was as simple as working with neighbors to brand their calves, or gather a crop when the threshing crew came around.
I’ve felt a special connection to that part of our countries history, through the stories and memories of my grandparents. Grandpa chose to go homesteading, when he was young. He never once changed his mind when the going was hard. He loved the ranch, his family and his neighbors. He was always the best kind of hero to me.
Donna’s Website: Nature of Montana
Donna Ridgway is a participating artist in Le Cadeau du Cheval, the Horse Gift Mural, published in Horses in Art, award winning artist. Montana photographer. Member of the Equine Art Guild, World Wide Women Artists and the Canine Art Guild.
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