Monday, February 5, 2018

The Ancestors, Parrt 18 & 19

Our little herd was increasing each year.  Clyde built a corral joining the shed that he had put up the first year, so that we could hold them if we had really bad weather.  The third winter we did have a couple of really bad blizzards.  One that I especially remember:  Clyde had promised Floyd Corl that he would go with him to buy some horses down near McCook, about a hundred miles south of us.  The day they left, in a little Ford with no top that one of Floyd's friends had about and wanted to try it out.  The day they left was a cloudy rainy day in January, really quite warm.  Clyde put a big load of hay on the hay rack and told me if it stormed not to turn the cattle to graze, but to call Bud McMullen and ask him to come down and pitch it into the corral to the cattle.  Ruth drove the cattle in that night and I shut them in and milked our one cow that was giving milk at the time.  When I was putting the two little ones to bed, I noticed that it was colder in the bedroom and it had begun to snow a little.  After the children were asleep, Ruth and I decided to go outside and put Beauty in the barn.  She was huddled against the house.  We brought in extra fuel and I let down the curtains in the chicken house to keep in the heat.  It had definitely turned very cold.
The next morning the thermometer was down to zero and a north wind was blowing.  Although sheltered as we were by the hills on the north and west sides, we did not get the full effect of the cold north winds.  I did not turn the cattle out to graze but called Bud on our wire fence telephone.  He didn't get over until noon.  The thermometer had continued to drop and by that time it was 20 degrees below zero.  The wagon which had sunk in the wet ground when Clyde drove it into the barn lot was frozen tight and Bud's team could not move it.  He had to chop the wheels out with an axe.  So the cattle were fed that day and we expected the horse buyers home the next day.  But although they started home that day, they did not get home.  They left on Monday, planning to get home Wednesday.  It hadn't snowed enough to cover the grass too deeply, so Bud advised me to turn the cattle out.  They immediately drifted down to the hills in the south, out of the piercing wind.  When Clyde didn't get home by 4 o'clock I decided that we would have to get the cattle back to the corral.  It was 32 degrees below and I had to keep a hot fire going in the house.  I really agonized over whether to go myself send Ruth.  She was much better at driving cattle than I was , and Chap didn't seem to mind the blanket that I folded length-wise and put in the saddle to wrap Ruth's little legs in.  I knew that it wasn't the safest way to ride but the cold was just biting.  I had chosen Clyde's trained cattle horse for her to use for he would know how to urge the cattle on against the wind.  I wrapped Ruth up until only her eyes were showing and she was as confident as Clyde would have been that she would get back all right.  After it seemed like a long time to me, I could see her coming.  Old Chap was going back and forth, keeping the herd together and urging them once in awhile by biting them on the tail.  I wrapped up, put the little ones in the window to watch me go out to get them inside the corral and get the gate shut and Ruth in the house.  She was as happy as a bird and not too cold.  She said she "grinned" all of the time for fear her face would freeze, which we thought very funny.  It was very hard to milk the cow in the cold, but I tried.  I had never milked a cow until we went out there, but it was always a two day trip to Keystone so I had to learn: cows have to be milked twice a day and the children needed milk.

We had about a dozen pullets (young hens) that were just beginning to lay and I had to go out to the hen house every hour to get the eggs or they would be frozen or burst open.

Clyde had left on Monday, and Thursday came with no word of them.  Bud told me to turn the cattle out each morning and they would head immediately for the south hills where there was good buffalo grass that was good winter feed.  Ruth went after them each night.  I was worried all right, but knew that Clyde was warmly dressed:  wool underwear, shirt, socks and pants, a calfskin coat and fur gloves, and he was resourceful.  Mrs. Corl didn't have the faith that I did and was sure that the men were frozen to death somewhere.  Thursday night, the p hone rang and it was Clyde, worried about how we had fared.  They had had a rugged time all right.  They had started home the second day, but the first little gully they hit, the icy wind-shield broke, so they had no shelter from that vicious north wind and had to take turns driving and walking.  They stayed all night in a herders camp that night and got as far as an abandoned Soddy the next night.  Thursday night they got to the end of our telephone line and got in touch with their worried families.  It was a bitter experience that had a happy ending.

The third fall that we were out there we had another rather frightening experience.  Clyde's little dance band had a job at the Flats where the Haines' son had built a new hall.  They decided to all go together for Mrs. Corl's two daughters were going and a young school teacher, who lived near the Rosses.  I still stayed home with my three children, although that time they urged me to go.  They put two teams on the wagon I remember. 

The next morning, when I woke up at about four o'clock they hadn't returned, but when I looked out the window I saw them coming and quickly dressed and started a fire in the range to heat water for coffee for them.  By that time they were at the door.

At least Possum Ross was at the door -- the others were all too sick to get our of the wagon.  Grandpa and Grandma Tilley were there and as soon as I saw how ill Clyde was, I got them up.  They had been served chicken sandwiches and coffee at midnight and started home soon after eating.  Possum had gotten sick first but walked behind the wagon, threw up and felt better.  Mr. Corl and the girls hadn't eaten much; Mrs. Corl detected a peculiar taste and warned her girls not to eat much.  They were mildly sick, but the teacher and Clyde, Mrs. Ross, too, were desperately sick.  They wanted water but were going through cattle range.  Finally they came to a small lake and got Clyde out of the wagon, only to have him go into such severe pain that they loaded him back in the wagon and came as fast as they could to get him home.  Grandpa was very good to help.  They got Clyde inside and in bed but he was almost unconscious.  A young doctor had established himself in Arthur, the new county seat, so we tried to call him on the phone, but it was out and didn't work.  One of Clyde's nephews had come with his parents.  He and Jim Matuska, our neighbor from Cheyenne got on Beauty and Chap and started to ride the telephone line till they found one that would work.  While they were doing that we fixed warm mustard water and poured it down Clyde first, then Mrs. Ross and the teacher.  It made them throw up of course, but Clyde had evidently eaten more than the others, or was more susceptible to the poison and he was so sick.  The doctor finally came with a stomach pump and pumped both Clyde's stomach and the teacher's.  The boys had fixed the telephone wire and let Floyd Corl know so he came and got his family and, the the Rosses took the teacher home.  Clyde was all right by the next morning, but it was frightening for a while.  But always it seemed we were looked after.  There was no other security.  There were others who had been poisoned that night on the chicken sandwiches.  It as warm weather and evidently the food hadn't been as fresh as it should have been, but we didn't hear of it being fatal to anyone.

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