‘I am in love with Montana’ – John Steinbeck

I often wonder how stuff gets places. At the moment I have a big mystery with an album of old photos I bought many years ago that links California, Arizona, Illinois, Scotland, New Zealand, the Bahamas, and Guyana.

Nothing so wandering today, just a lesser-known work by John Steinbeck:

first published in 1961.

The cover is the original American hardback edition, the fifteenth printing of August 1963. I found it, in all places, in a second-hand bookshop in the village of Grange-over-Sands, in Cumbria, England. I can only guess how it got there, but the dedication must give a clue:

‘… from across the sea.’ Did Joan and Henry give or receive the book? Either way, it was clearly a gift that united people in two countries far apart over fifty years ago.

Charley was Steinbeck’s ‘old French gentleman poodle.’ Together they had a great trans-continental adventure in Rocinante, a converted pick-up truck, driving across most of the states of the USA.

In my edition, Steinbeck hits Montana on page 142 and the love he declares there for the state (see title of this post) lasts only a few pages before Charley and some local bears succeed in scaring each other in Yellowstone and they head out West to Idaho.  Here’s some of what he says about Montana:

Montana is a great splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda … The calm of the mountains and the rolling grasslands had got into the inhabitants … the towns were places to live in rather than nervous hives. People had time to pause in their occupations to undertake the passing art of neighborliness.

Steinbeck mentions Billings, where he bought a hat, Livingston a jacket, Butte a Remington bolt-action 222, and Custer where he visited the site of the battle of Little Big Horn.

Montana has a spell on me. It is grandeur and warmth. If Montana had a seacoast, or I could live away from the sea, I would instantly move there and petition for admission. Of all the states it is my favorite and my love.

Steinbeck and Charley’s progress through the West, featuring the bears of Yellowstone National Park


More Montana family names – Foreman, Goldfinch, Latus

When I wrote about my ancestor William John Foreman who emigrated from England to Montana in the 19th century I said

one of William’s sisters and her family also emigrated to Montana some years later…

What I didn’t know at the time was that William and his sister were not the only Foremans to head for Montana.

The Madison Valley History Association asked members to share tidbits about their family history for their annual meeting this year and I scoured my updated family history tree to try and make sense of the Foremans and their relatives who seem to have headed West. This is an edited version of what I sent them for their interest and that they were kind enough to read out at their meeting. I have highlighted the names of all the people involved.

‘My interest in MVHA came about because of my ancestor, William John Foreman (grandfather of MVHA member Bobby Foreman), who emigrated from England to Montana in about 1869. It took me a long time to find out anything about him but in the last year or so I have discovered he and his sister were probably not the only relatives to travel to Madison County.

‘I discovered for example that W J Foreman had an uncle in England, his mother’s brother, called John Goldfinch. I had no reason to research him but when I found W J’s Ruby Valley homestead record on the Bureau of Land Management’s web site, lo and behold, the 160 acres next to his was farmed by a … John Goldfinch. His uncle? I haven’t been able to prove it but he came from England and he’s the right age. By 1900 he’d moved on to Oakland, California, where he died, unmarried, so no descendants to look for.

‘W J Foreman also had a younger brother, Richard Foreman who disappears from the English records after 1881. Roll forward to 1900 and a Richard Foreman, right age and born in England, is a bar tender enumerated in the census at Brandon Township. Ten years later a Richard ‘Forman’, same age, is in the household of Thomas Thexton, whose wife is Margaret Ann Foreman, daughter of W J. He’s also described as an ‘Uncal’ which of course ‘my Richard Foreman would have been, of Margaret Ann. He disappears to me after 1910.

‘If that weren’t enough, W J had a sister, also Margaret Ann Foreman, who married Frederick Latus in England and they pitch up in Montana sometime before 1897. They had at least five children. Kate married a Charles Savage in Bozeman, Bessie married John Stewart in Billings, Ralph married a woman named Susan Quigley. Vincent I can find no spouse for and Frances died young. Various of them seemed to have moved to not only Montana but then on to California, British Columbia and Alberta where I have traced at least some of them.’

I confessed to being a little confused by all these names and people and hoped that some MVHA members might know some of them or stories about them. There’s been no response yet but I’m still hoping – and still searching for Montana connections.

Footnote – when sharing some of this information with a friend in Montana, I was told that emigration to North America often followed the pattern of one pioneer going out to be followed later by other family members and connections. It looks as if my Foremans were part of this pattern.

My notes also appeared in the newsletter of the Madison Valley History Association in July 2014.

Silence is *not* golden

Dreams of Montana has been looking like one of those blogs that people set up in a fit of enthusiasm, find some stuff to post, struggle to find more stuff, and then suffer a slow death through neglect. The web may have rescued it. There’s a lot I want to write about that has happened or that I’ve discovered over the last year or so. But the trigger for my renewed interest is a copy of a book that everyone assured me was as rare as hen’s teeth. Pioneer Trails and Trials Madison County Montana - book coverI’d been looking for a copy on the web for some time. I found only one, for sale in Texas and too expensive. Then lo and behold, up pings a message saying there’s one availble in Portland, Oregon at what I can only describe as an extremely reasonable price. An online transaction and four weeks later it’s in my hands in Aberdeen Scotland. Anyone wondering why Madison County interests me just needs to look at my post on A Montana Pioneer  This is where my ancestor William John Foreman emigrated to in about 1869. The photos of him in that post are from Pioneer Trails and Trials. The book turns out to be larger and heavier than I’d ever thought and must have been a labour of love for the folks in the 1970s who put it together, all 1029 pages of it. It has already solved one family mystery for me. I think I’ll be mining its pages over the next year or two for much more.Montana gold.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

You don’t need a PhD to work out that if I’ve been dreaming of Montana recently, it hasn’t been here.

In fact, despite my silence, I’ve had a good Montana year.

Best of all, I contacted the wonderful Madison Valley History Association. They were kind enough to accept me as their farthest-flung member. In their archive of MVHA newsletters, I found a reference to an elderly gentleman who is a direct descendant of my ancestor William John Foreman. An e-mail to the MVHA and they put me in touch with him.

We have exchanged letters and it was a thrill to have him write ‘my granddaddy came over from the white cliffs of Dover,’ just about the best proof I could get that his William John Foreman and mine were the same man.

The MVHA are having their annual Christmas luncheon this week and asked for people attending to share a family tradition about the festival.

Sadly, I cannot bridge the gap between Scotland and Montana physically, but I did send them a tradition that many British families hold and which in my case came from my mother’s, Foreman, side of my family

My mother would make two Christmas puddings a month or so before Christmas, one to be eaten on the day itself, another to be stored for a special family occasion later in the year. The pudding needed a lot of stirring with a wooden spoon before it was cooked (for hours). The ritual of preparation involved every member of the family helping to stir the raw mixture. As a child I was under strict instruction to make a wish for Christmas and, if I told no-one, the wish would come true. Since I usually wished for a particular toy for a Christmas present, and my parents had already seen my list for Santa, my wish usually came true, which only goes to prove that the tradition works. I was always envious of friends whose mothers put a small coin (a ‘sixpence’) in the pudding for the lucky finder to keep if it was in their portion. My mother would never do this because she said it was unhygienic and we might bite on it and damage our teeth.

I wondered if any of this tradition lives on in Montana in my Foreman family there and, who knows, I may soon find out.

Trying to find even a distant Christmas link to Montana in my own British family, I came across a card that my grandfather George, William John Foreman’s nephew, sent to his wife from France in the First World War, where he was a soldier in the Army Service Corps.

George Foreman to Ellen Christmas card 1

George Foreman to Ellen Christmas card 2

Even after all this time I found the inscription touching and the sentiment that George expresses to his wife Nell I pass on to all readers of Dreams of Montana.

What’s in a name?

  • Who came to Montana?

A whole heap of folks – Angela, Eddy, Edgar, Enid, Geraldine, Libby, Mildred, Montague , Nelson, Sidney, Terry and Winifred.

  • Where did they come from?

From England – Devon, Durham, Essex, Sheffield and Suffolk. From Scotland – Fife, Glasgow and Inverness. From elsewhere in Europe – Dunkirk, Amsterdam, Belgrade and Zurich. And maybe from further afield – Malta, Sumatra and Lima.

  • What did they find and what did they fear?

They found, and maybe feared – Hanging Woman Creek, Hungry Horse, Last Chance Gulch, Robbers Roost, Wolf Point, Froze to Death Creek, Coffin Butte, Lonesome Lake, Lost Trail Pass and Lame Deer.

  • What did they hope for (and persuade others to hope for)?

They hoped for, and I hope they found  – Opportunity, Golden Valley, Sweet Grass, Wisdom, Peerless, Eden and Paradise.

  • And what strange experiences led them to name…

…Fort Fizzle, Sex Peak, Old Baldy Mountain and Two Dot?

The clue is in the last question and the capital letters – they’re all names of places in Montana.

I don’t know if there was an Enid whose loving son or husband named the tiny settlement on Montana State Highway 200 in Richland County after her, or folk from Inverness, Scotland who founded Inverness in Hill County, Montana. I like to think so.

Historians will say that the names people give their towns and villages and the natural features that surround them speak to us of their lives and their past. But how much better to let their poetry just flow over us and light our imaginations.

Of course, there is another question – Who came first to Montana? And the answer does not lie in the Angelas, Devons or Wisdoms but in the Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfeet and other Indian nations were here before the white men. Theirs is another, arguably sadder story.

Glasgow Montana

Glasgow…Montana  – courtesy of FreeFoto.comLicensed under Creative Commons

Circles in my mind, circles on the ground

Like the circles that you find, In the windmills of your mind

– Alan Bergman and Michel Jean Legrand

In Imagin’d Corners I wrote about the lines that define Montana’s boundaries. But when I searched for those lines I also found circles. Circles that were large enough to be visible from the air.

Images from Google maps

Montanans, probably most rural North Americans, will know what those circles are.

To Europeans who have not been outside their own continent these giant marks on the face of the earth would be mystifying. Our old world is not like that. The same things in our world are rectangles, strips, irregular shapes of all sorts and sizes.

The circles are of course cultivated fields.

The nearest Europeans get to seeing shapes like this in their countryside is when practical jokers creep into one of their irregularly shaped fields at night and tread part of a grain crop down so that it forms patterns they call ‘crop circles.’ Some gullible souls believe them to be formed by aliens or freak weather conditions.

Wikipedia explains the characteristics of a circle, including

The circle is the shape with the largest area for a given length of perimeter.

So a circle is an efficient shape to enclose as a field.

If you click on the photos to enlarge them you can see faint lines in some of the circles extending from their centre to the edge. Our school math lessons told us that this line is the radius of the circle. Place one piece of equipment in the middle of the circle and another at the edge, connect them with a pipe or a hose and you can irrigate your field automatically. Again, efficient.

But this is agri-business, not traditional farming.

In my dreams of Montana I see past the modern day to the farming of an earlier age.

I have a description of a pioneer ranch in Montana. I should credit it and will in a future post but let the words stay anonymous for the moment and speak for the farming landscape before the circles came.

The rhythm of ranch life followed the seasonal movement of cattle between summer and winter range. In May [they] trailed their cattle 35 miles south of the ranch headquarters to their…grazing lease…where the stock were turned out to graze until fall. During the summer months, the family was kept busy irrigating fields of wheat, barley and oats, which were stored in the log granary after a fall harvest.

The[y] also kept milk cows, chickens and hogs at the ranch headquarters. The chicken coop was located adjacent…to the bunkhouse, and the hogs were kept near the barnyard. Hogs provided meat for the family and local markets; each fall the surplus pigs were hauled to Butte for slaughter and sale.

[The rancher’s wife] planted a large vegetable garden (enclosed with a board fence) on the north side of the…ranch house. Most of the products of the garden were used in the household. The root cellar was used to store foods such as potatoes and meat.

In November, [they] rounded up their cattle on the…grazing lease, and trailed them north to the vicinity of the ranch—a trip that took three days. Yearling steers were driven north to railroad shipping points…for transportation east. Cattle kept on the ranch were turned out to graze in cut hay fields and pastures close to the ranch headquarters.

Prior to World War II, nearly all of the ranch work was accomplished with the use of horses…Teams pulled the farm machinery and were also used to move cattle between the ranch and grazing leases and to shipping points.

An alien approaching earth in the 21st century from space, training a telescope on it, perhaps viewing it with some sort of sensor we cannot even imagine, might say today’s circular field shapes are surely proof that intelligent life inhabits the planet. I would tell them that I’m not sure it’s more intelligent, or enterprising, than those pioneers who worked their Montana ranch with horses 100 years ago.

Footnote: Over twenty years ago I also saw circles from the air – as I flew over the Arabian peninsula to the Far East. Dark circles in the desert, they made no sense until we came down for a refuelling stop. They were the same sort of fields I see in Montana. One of the two photos in this post is in Montana, one is in Saudi Arabia. I leave it to you to work out which is which.

A Montana pioneer

William John Foreman – from ‘Pioneer Trails and Trials: Madison County 1863-1920,’ Madison County History Association, 1976

This, as far as I know, is William John Foreman. He’s the man who prompted my interest in Montana.

He was born on 30 May 1852 in Dover, in the county of Kent in South-East England. As I’ve said elsewhere in Dreams of Montana, he committed suicide on 21 March 1919 by jumping from the roof of the Masonic Hall in Virginia City. He was my great great uncle on my mother’s side.

William is as much a mystery to me as most of my mother’s family. For reasons I have never discovered, she cut herself off from most of them after her parents died and she married my father. She rarely spoke of them. I don’t even know if she had heard of William.

I first became aware of him as I pieced together my family tree after my own parents died.

I inherited papers from my mother that proved who her parents were. From them I was able to go back another generation to her father’s father, Stephen, his six brothers and three sisters. Using the English censuses of population and birth, marriages and deaths records, I traced at least some of the history of all the siblings.

Except William.

He disappeared from the English records somewhere after 1861. With no evidence of his death, there was only one possibility – that he had emigrated.

Lurking in some of the many online genealogical databases I eventually found a William John Foreman in Montana who had the same birth place and year as ‘my’ William.

When I discovered that one of William’s sisters and her family also emigrated to Montana some years later, I became as sure as I could that I had found my great great uncle.

Since then, I’ve gleaned more information about William online and from two correspondents, one a descendant of his in California, another a helpful lady in Montana.

For the moment, I just look at him staring out unknowingly at me and speculate about what made this eldest son of an English labourer set out for the far, wild side of the world – as it must have seen then – when he was aged only seventeen.

I don’t know when he reached Montana after his arrival in the USA in 1869. But by 1880 the US census records him as farming in the Ruby Valley and by 1900 he is a confectionary merchant in Virginia City.

I look at his eyes again and try to read what is in them.

Is there pride and satisfaction in what he has achieved while his family in England mostly remained in poverty?

Is this the picture, with a companion piece of his wife, that he sent back to England to say ‘Look, this is us. See, I made the right decision’?

Is there a deeper uncertainty in the eyes and the expression surrounding them?

Is he thinking of his own mother – she died in a lunatic asylum (that’s what they called them then) in England during the 1880s – and foreseeing his own unhappy end?

Or is there nothing more than the formality of the photography studio of his day, stuffed into his Sunday-best suit, having to keep stock-still for longer than a man should, conscious of the cost of his investment in this record for posterity?

William John offered me the first window into my dreams of Montana. I will return to him and his descendants – Foremans, Thextons, Griffises, Campbells, Storeys, Huttons and Stalcups.