Thursday, June 23, 2011
Gail Edward Haigh
Gail Haigh as a baby
Gail Haigh as a young man
Gail Haigh in rocking chair
Gail Haigh with sisters Elsie and Vivian
Our Family History
Through Papa’s Eyes
By Arlene Aikins
Our papa, Gail E. Haigh, was looking through a box of old black and white pictures one day. He picked one up he had remembered seeing may times. It was of him as a baby. “Four months old” was written on the bottom near the photographers name in Ft. Madison, Iowa. There were many pictures. It must have been true, as people had told him that his mother was pretty proud of him when he was born and some even said she “doted” on him. Probably because he was her first child. Here’s another one the photographer took. “I was about a year old by then, I guess”, he said to himself, “It shows off my thick black hair.” He laughed, That was the one his mother had made into a big 12 X 14 size, then put a fancy white frame around it. “I remember one year when she came out on the train from Iowa bringing that picture in a big box so the frame wouldn’t break. We hung it on the wall and it’s been there ever since,” he chuckled. The kids grew up with it and seem to like it. They call it “Papa’s Baby Picture”. He picked up another picture and looked at it a long time. He remembered the day that was taken. “We were all dressed up to go have our family picture taken. My mother, my two sisters, me and my dad,” he thought sadly, “That was the last picture that was taken of my dad.”
It was about the year 1900. For some time, his dad Maurice, had been planning to leave soon with a group of men headed for Montana. “The government has opened up homestead land out there,” his dad had explained to him. He said lots of people were caught up in the excitement of the trip, just as he was. Uncle Frank was going too. He was his mother’s younger brother. He and his dad talked many times about the trip and that it would be a great adventure, “See, each man can stake out a plot of land of 160 acres and register it under the Homestead law,” his dad explained. “After that they would have to build a home on it and grow crops and make improvements every year. Then the land was theirs to keep. They would pay taxes on it like everyone else.”
They made many plans for the days ahead, “We will be pioneers” he said and his enthusiasm was absorbed by his young son. They had a dream together and Gail could hardly wait.
“Now, son, you know I will be away for quite awhile at first. I have to file for my homestead and build our home, but as soon as I can I’ll send for you and your sisters and your mother. Your Uncle Frank and I hope to find a place close to each other. Look on this map near the Jefferson River. That’s where we want to look first. See where these three rivers come together? That’s called the Three Forks and is the beginning of the big Missouri River. That’s where we want to go!”
Gail helped his Dad and Mother move the huge wooden trunk covered with black leather in from the shed. Then they packed it full of all the things his dad would need. His sisters, Vivian and Elsie added some things, too.
When all was ready, everyone said good bye to their families and the men started out. There were many tears, especially from the children, and promises made to write. Gail had given his word to help his mother and his sisters promised too.
When the letters started arriving, his mother called them all together and read them out loud, over and over, and put them away to save.
In one letter his dad said he had a bad cold and cough so they were going to rest a few days until he felt better, Papa remembered. He missed his dad so much already.
Then one day a telegram came for his mother. It was from Uncle Frank. It said that Gail’s dad had died from pneumonia and Uncle Frank was bringing the body home for burial in the family cemetery. The worst had happened. Gail wished he could forget that day forever, for his whole world collapsed.
Gail remembered how lost he was for a long time. His mother was so good to him and his sisters and all his relatives came often to try to brighten their lives. His Grandpa Martin had been a steamboat captain for many years and told him many stories about the steamboat. He visited often and took his grandson Gail for a long ride down the Mississippi from their home in Ft. Madison, Iowa. But nothing could console him for long. He vowed when he was old enough himself, he would set out to get a homestead in Montana and finish his dad’s dream.
A few years passed and his mother decided to marry again. There had been insurance money from his dad, but she said she was very lonely and it was hard to raise a family alone, even though she had loved his Dad very much. She explained it to him gently and he tried to understand. But he did not like the man she married and even his sisters noticed how strict and unfair he was to their brother.
His mother noticed, too, and they talked about it many times. “Mother, you know how much I want to go out and live with Uncle Frank. He’s married now to Aunt Clara and they built a 2 story house. They answered my letter and wrote that there is lots of room for me. I could help them a lot, too. Uncle Frank says there is still some homestead land close to him,” he pleaded.
“I know, Gail, and it might be best for you. You have been so unhappy. But you are very young and we would miss you so much.” She gave him a hug but there were tears in her eyes. “I’ll write to Frank and see what he thinks.”
So the plans were made. The big trunk of his Dad’s was brought in again and packed with all Gail’s things now. His mother carefully addressed the yellow Railway Express tag in ink to:
Gail E. Haigh
Three Forks, Montana
(That old trunk has been in my garage. The leather is worn and showing the years. The locks rusted and stiff. I looked at it the other night and can still see my Grandma’s label on it.)
The date was 1908- he would soon be 17. He was filled with both excitement and sadness as he waved to all his family and set out on the train for his new life. “Don’t cry Elsie; Don’t cry Vivian. I promise to write and send you some arrowheads or a present when I get settled.” His mother cried a lot as he knew she would, and tears were in his eyes, too. Mother spoke to the conductor about him traveling alone. He heard them say they would all watch out for him along the journey. Then she
helped carry things to his seat in the coach section of the train. “Thanks for fixing me the fried chicken for my lunch,” he said as she sat it on his lap. “That will taste so good later.” They hugged and he waved good bye through the window to all his family. He was heading west all the way to Montana and a new life.
Gail settled easily into life in Montana with Uncle Frank and Aunt Clara. It was like a second family. He and his Uncle worked together on the many tasks that had to be done, starting early in the mornings and ending after the cows were milked at night. He learned how to operate all the farm equipment; how to put up sturdy fences that would withstand the heavy, drifting snows of the Montana winters; and learned the best time to put in the crops for dryland farming.
One day, his Uncle Frank suggested he join the local baseball team with him. “It’s great fun and we even have uniforms,” he said. So Gail joined and sent away to the Sears catalog for his uniform. He also sent for a harmonica and learned to play it.
Gail started going to dances that were often on Saturday nights in the area. It was square dancing mostly and, as was the custom, was held in someone’s barn, or at the school house, or even at Henslee’s hall over the garage in Three Forks. Gail learned to dance. Uncle Frank always did a lot of good-natured teasing, “Well, Gail, I hear you danced with a lot of pretty young ladies the other night at the dance.” Gail just answered, “I think I’ll grow a mustache to make me look older.” And he did.
There were “box socials”, musical programs and old-fashioned local melodramas held mostly at the school-house. Many were fund-raisers as the families were trying to raise enough money to buy a new organ for the school.
Gail had plans for his Christmas money from his mother. He had picked out a “fiddle” (violin) in the Sears catalog he planned to send for. “Then I can play it at the square dances,” he thought. So, one day in town, he stopped at the post office and mailed off his order. When it arrived, he took some lessons and soon was entertaining all Uncle Frank’s children, who treated him like a big brother. When he was good enough, he started playing the fiddle at the dances.
Aunt Clara had spoken to the principal of Valley View school, a one-room schoolhouse where their children would be attending school. Her younger sister, Maggie, in Utah, would soon have her teaching credential and Clara helped Maggie come up to be the teacher at their school.
And so it happened that about the time Gail had secured this homestead land, built the sturdy fences and was busy building his house, that young Maggie arrived at the Three Forks depot from Utah. She had been hired to teach that year at Valley View school. She would live with her sister, Clara and their family.
Maggie enjoyed teaching the classes (first through eighth grade) and she knew the children liked her. She often walked home with some of them (a mile and a half). (In a few years the school would have a special bus and driver.) When the weather was bad Maggie had to ride a horse to school. (a fact her children would laugh about when they found out years later. “Mother, you rode a horse to school? You never told us! I can’t picture you riding a horse.” “Well, I did, and it was fun,” she laughed.)
She had met Gail Haigh, about her age, and he soon was asking her to attend the dances. It is possible he may have taken a break from house building to stop over occasionally at the school a mile away and give her a ride home in the horse and buggy. Perhaps she played a song on the new organ the school had purchased.
Romance blossomed and soon they had an “understanding” – an expression used in those days before a formal engagement. (He had shaved off his mustache to please Maggie.)
Gail was confident he would have the house finished very soon, so by the time the school year ended, they were engaged and Maggie left for Utah to prepare for their wedding, set for June 14, 1914. The ceremony was held at Maggie’s brother’s home with 50 guests attending. It was a joyous event for everyone.
They shipped the wedding gifts home to Montana, and began their life together there in the house that Gail had built with his own hands, on his own land. Gail felt his dream was completed when in 1915, his young son was born and they named him Maurice, after Gail’s dad.
Rain was plentiful and the crops were good and brought a fair price. They bought a new Model T Ford with side curtains that could be buckled on in case it rained or snowed.
Gail came home one day bringing an organ he had bought for Maggie at an auction. He knew that was one of her pleasures and the music was pleasant as they relaxed in the evenings. Sometimes he played his fiddle and she, her organ, in the parlor when they had guests.
An invitation came from Gail’s mother to spend Christmas 1915 in Iowa with them. He and Maggie talked it over. They both wanted to go and they had the money that year. Gail said he wanted to see all his relatives and show off his new baby son. And Maggie wanted to meet all his family, too.
“I’ll need a new top coat,” Gail said, “with a fancy collar and new dress gloves and shoes. And, of course, new clothes for you, Maggie, and the baby. We want to make a good impression our first visit to Iowa.” So the reservations were made on the train and what a Merry Christmas they had in the year of 1915.
Mama and Papa lived on the homestead near Three Forks, Montana after they were married in Utah June 1914, until about 1920 or 23. Several years of poor crops and dust storms forced them to move. (I have seen the records where they borrowed “seed money” to put in new crops and no results. Mother told me I was born, 1922, on the “Kreps Place” and Mama mentioned they had moved to two other places before they finally moved into town. I never saw the “Kreps Place”. Also, Mother said that our Dad hired out to work for other people and sometimes was away for quite a while leaving Mama with the 4 children and to handle things at home. She said the children really missed him but those were desperate times during the “deep depression”. She said one of the children kept asking, “Mama, where is Papa?” all the time.
We moved into Three Forks and Papa worked at the Yellowstone Garage and maybe Henslee garage too. He also drove a small school bus. I must have been about 3 from the pictures we took there in that house. I remember a heavy rain storm one night and I was afraid my play table was going to get wet on the porch. I also remember standing on a stool helping Mother do the dishes. The house was later bought by the Byron White family. We lived there for only a short time, I think, as it was too small for all of us. There are pictures of us all living down the same street- Adams Street. It was about 4-5 blocks away. It was a big, old 2 story house with a huge lot for growing vegetables and a garage for their Model T car. The house badly needed a coat of paint- everybody’s did during the depression. Anyway, I hear the rental was very inexpensive for our big family.
Papa and Mama had a little money in 2 banks but both banks closed- forever- and they lost their money, as everyone did. Our brother, Bob, gave some of Dad’s old checks to the Three Forks Museum and they are on display in a glass case there.
Papa was having asthma attacks by that time, maybe from those terrible dust storms on the homestead. Sometimes he was very ill and hardly able to breathe. It scared me. The doctor sometimes came and gave him an injection but there was very little they could do then for asthma. When he was feeling well, he liked to play his fiddle and made us kids a double wide wooden lawn swing we used in the summers. He was very good at carpentry work.
We had chickens at this place and 1 cow from the homestead. Her name was Jenny. One day she got out of the yard and was eating grass near the railroad tracks, which they had sprayed for weeds. There was a big hole in the fence near the tracks and she got poisoned by the spray. We were so sad when she died. With the settlement from the railroad company, Papa bought a brand-new electric washing machine for Mom which was such a work saver.
I think I was about 13 (1935?) when we were able to buy the house directly across the street from us, the Bales house, and we lived there after that. (Note- Today both of these homes have been not only painted but remodeled and look beautiful. We drive by every time we go to Three Forks.)
In 1935 Evelyn graduated from High School as Valedictorian and worked all summer saving her money for college in Bozeman. She planned to work for her board and room. But Papa got sick again and told her she might have to get a job instead and help out the family, as there were no unemployment or disability benefits then. But I remember she cried and told him she had all her plans made. So finally he told her “You go ahead—we will manage somehow. You deserve your chance.” So she did. She got a scholarship every year and graduated in June 1939. Papa was very proud of her as very few were able to go to college then.
But the story “through Papa’s eyes” ended suddenly when our Papa died on September 19, 1939. “From peritonitis”, they said, “from a ruptured appendix.” He got sick the evening of September 17 (my birthday and I was at a movie or something.) They took him to the Deaconess Hospital in Bozeman and Mom stayed there with him. With no antibiotics then, like penicillin, he soon slipped into a coma and died on September 19, 1939.
None of us children were able to say good-bye but a neighbor did drive 4 of us to the hospital to see him. It was all very sad and bewildering. It all happened so fast.
In those days, they held sort of a “wake” instead of visits to the funeral home. The undertaker brought the casket and Papa’s body to our home and friends and relatives sat up near the deceased (in respect) all night and day until time for the funeral at church.
I remember getting up once during the night and peeked into the living room. Uncle Frank and about 4 other men were talking and visiting, story-telling, while holding the “wake”.
Papa lived long enough to see Evelyn graduate from college- the first of several of us to do so.
Mother and all of us carried on. Papa had sold life insurance at one time and had been wise enough to buy insurance for himself, so we were able to keep our home. Maurice joined the Civilian Conservation Corp (C.C.C.) which was put in place by President Roosevelt to help families. It was somewhat like the army except about $30 was sent home to families and about $10 was given to the person who enlisted. He served 2 years and later Paul took a year out of high school and signed up. It made a huge difference to our family and we were grateful that they did this for us.
Now I can see and appreciate today their love for the land, for I have it also. Where once I hurried away to see the world at 18 years, now I hurry back every year or two to a tiny little area in Three Forks, Montana where I plant my feet for a week or two and gather strength from being there with my family and all our history.
The once dusty fields are now irrigated and productive. They tell us Papa’s land grows excellent wheat. It is near the famous “Wheat Montana” fields whose brochure tell us that “Wheat Montana farms” in Three Forks, Montana produces America’s top wheat. It is shipped all over the country.
You sure knew how to pick some good land, Papa! Your very own 160 acres. It is so sad you had to give it up so many years ago. (copy of the deed is available elsewhere.)
I like the quote from Shakespeare—“All’s well that ends well!”
Arlene’s notes – September 2007
My sister, Thelma, and I visited Three Forks for 9 days this month. The land of Papa’s homestead and others in that area are now divided up and on sale, for big new homes in that area. A road is in and fences are up and some lots have sold. I hear the lots sells for about $100,000 but I don’t know their size.
We drove by the two homes we lived in years ago on Adams St. Both homes have been remodeled and painted. They looked beautiful to me. They are full of so many memories. “Home is where we tie one end of the thread of life.”