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Mrs. R. J. Kennedy

AIR #53
February 7, 1965

Mrs. R.J. Kennedy has been no stranger to heartache and hardship since she came to Montana, but she says she would be glad to turn back the pages of time and relive those days she shared with her husband and their growing children.

Montana's incomparable Indian summer greeted her when she arrived with her sister and brother-in-law on October 17, 1907. They had made the trip from Wisconsin to Mondak on the Great Northern Railroad, but at that point public transportation facilities abruptly ended. Her brother-in-law, William Fink, had spent the summer with a partner mining coal near Tokna for some of the camps along the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation ditch then being built. That fall he went back to Wisconsin to get his family, and Kathryn (Ehlen) came with them, her brother following with an immigrant car.

They reached Mondak on a Sunday morning, and Fink, too impatient to be on his way to wait until Monday for the stage to come through, wanted to leave the rest of the party at Mondak while he started walking to Tokna. His wife was considerably less than enthusiastic about the plan and insisted that if he started walking, she would walk, too.

They made a picturesque procession as they started toward the river - Kathryn, Mr. and Mrs. Fink with their year-old baby, five grips, and a phonograph. (Don't picture that latter as a compact little record player; visualize instead the big brass horn that used to accompany those audio marvels.) Little wonder observers laughed to see the procession coming, jokingly commenting that they carried their music with them.

They were fortunate to reach the river just as a freighter's outfit was being loaded onto the ferry so they crossed together, and the freighter gave them a ride to Tokna. The wagon had no box, just a couple loose planks the length of the frame. Mrs. Kennedy remarked that she's often wondered how they managed to stay aboard. They had had no breakfast so the stop at Fairview for dinner was a welcome one. After dinner they jogged on their way again and were able to get some distance beyond Sidney by dusk. They camped for the night in a schoolhouse, sleeping on the floor and again starting on in the morning without benefit of breakfast. By the time they reached Tokna, about eleven o'clock that forenoon, they were more than ready and willing to eat.

Their household goods, her brother accompanying them, were coming by immigrant car and didn't arrive until a week or so later. In the meantime they camped in a little tent. Quarters proved to be rather close, however, so they rigged a 'lean-to', or at least a wind break, out of some of the many gunny sacks that had been tossed aside by the freighters who stopped there.

Since the autumn weather was mild they found their improvised lodgings tolerably comfortable, but when a freighter finally delivered their household goods, they quickly unpacked the little kerosene heater and set it up in the 'lean-to' to warm the atmosphere a bit more. The atmosphere was warmed, all right; about the middle of the night the gunnysacks caught fire and provided more than a little excitement before the blaze was extinguished. Fortunately most of their possessions were still on the wagon - the stove was about all they had taken time to unload - so they didn't lose much in the conflagration.

They were hardly settled when Fred Baker, a nearby rancher, had to accompany a carload of cattle to Iowa so he arranged for Kathryn to stay with his wife during his absence. It was while she was working there that she first met a young cowboy, Bob Kennedy. Bob was riding for L.D. 'Ren' Matthews. His proficiency must not have been limited to riding horses and punching cows because the following summer he claimed Kathryn for his bride. They were married June 24, 1908.

Bob had come to Montana in 1903, but then suffered an attack of homesickness and went back to Michigan for a spell. Before long he was ready to return to the West, and in the West he stayed the rest of his life. He did some freighting when he first came out, then started working for Matthews. He liked action and lively horses and found both on the ranch, especially at roundup time, where rough breaks and hard knocks were commonplace.

One of those hard knocks left him 'laid up' for quite some time. He, with 'Ren' and Henry Matthews and Mr. Cole (Mrs. Minnie Danskin's father), was trying to cut a bunch of cattle when one of the cows dashed back to the herd. Bob dashed, too, and didn't see a couple steers fighting at the edge of the main herd. When he tangled with them it was too late for seeing.

One minute he was riding hard to turn that cow; the next thing of which he was aware he was sitting on the ground, his hat beside him and his horse grazing a short distance away. About then he noticed the boss coming toward him. Still befuddled, he mentally puzzled that he couldn't remember falling asleep! The boss soon enlightened him as to what had happened and asked him if he was able to ride to the ranch. Bob assured him that he was and started, but the farther he rode the sicker he got. It was many a day before he chased another cow.

The last farming they did was on the Lieper place in 1920-22. It was while they were living there that real tragedy struck their little family. Mrs. Kennedy was washing clothes (she had no washer of any kind to lighten that chore), and thinking to bleach the clothes a little whiter, she set the tub on the stove to bring the water to boiling.

Little Louis liked to help her carry the water for the washing, and by the time she was ready to remove the tub from the stove, he had awakened from his nap. As she set the tub on the floor where she could more vigorously 'stomp' the clothes with a stomper, she warned the little fellow to stay away from the hot water. He assured her that he knew the water was hot and that he wouldn't fall in. He was playing with his kitty, pretending it was a baby, walking it on its hind legs. She explained to him that she just wanted to make sure he knew so he'd stay away, and he again affirmed his intention of keeping a safe distance.

The room was about twenty-four feet long, and while she was at the opposite end of the room he called to her, "Mama, see my baby walk!" followed almost immediately by his screams. She whirled to see him sit himself part way out of the scalding water, but his hands slipped and he fell back the second time before she could reach him. Their little Louis died the next night.


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