From a mansion in Iowa to a one-room shack on the bank of a creek in Montana -
forty miles from the nearest town. What would motivate anyone to make such a
move? Perhaps Mrs. Harry Green in the days - weeks - months - years that
followed their immigration to Montana may have wondered. Yet hundreds and
thousands left the comfort and comparative security of their homes in
established communities of the Midwest and the east to 'rough it' on the
Montana prairies during the homestead era.
Although far removed from the nearest town, the newly settled Greens did have
a close neighbor. Herschel Purdam lived in a tent just across the creek from
them. Compared to living in a tent (with a two-week-old baby) perhaps the
shack wasn't so bad after all.
Harry Green was a native of Iowa but Mabel Needham Green had lived her early
years in Chicago. When she was about sixteen she had her first introduction
to Montana. She, with her family, toured Yellowstone National Park. Little
did she dream then that she would one day make her home on the prairies of
eastern Montana! They traveled by train to the park then hired a guide with a
team and covered wagon to take them through the park.
Every year the Needham family took a trip, usually to the Great Lakes, during
hay fever season to escape the pollen to which they were allergic.
Within a few years of that trip her father bought a bank in Early, Iowa and
move his family to the Cornhusker State. There he built a luxurious home, the
largest in town, for his family. This house was recently purchased by a
Chicago couple and restored to its old-time elegance. It is sometimes opened
to the public for tours.
In Iowa Mabel met a young farmer by the name of Harry Green. His father was
an auctioneer, 'Colonel Green', known all over the state. The first time she
saw him was through a window of the family home as he drove by - a young man
with black curly hair, driving a fancy team, hitched to a fancy rig.
She immediately decided she had to meet him and she did. The interest proved
mutual and in 1905 they were married. Her parents were less than enthusiastic
about her marrying a farmer and probably would have been even less so had they
been able to see ahead to the years on a Montana homestead.
The first few years following their marriage they lived on a farm in Iowa.
Their home was not so luxurious as her parent's home, of course, but they were
comfortable. Their first three children, Delbert, Mary, and Charlotte, were
born in Iowa.
One day, in preparation for going into town, Mrs. Green dressed little Delbert
in a white sailor suit with a little white hat on his head then turned her
attention to other matters. When all was ready, she looked for Delbert but no
little lad was to be found.
A railroad track ran through their farm and their search brought the
information from a neighbor that Delbert had been seen strolling down the
track - solo. They lost no time pursuing him and when they caught up with him
he was nonchalantly meandering along, his white hat on his foot!
That was not the first unauthorized stroll he took. After they moved to
Montana he found himself in trouble more than once for that very thing. Much
of the country was still open range when the Greens settled on Clear Creek and
Delbert had been strictly forbidden to venture away from 'home base'.
Delbert, however, ever of a venturesome spirit, had to go exploring. The
neighbor boy who lived on the 120 acres just north of the Greens was of a
kindred spirit and he was with Delbert in forbidden territory when they
suddenly found themselves surrounded by a bunch of longhorn cattle.
There was no time to run for shelter, no place to hide. Long horns clanked
against long horns as the cattle encircled the boys. What could two small
boys do? Not much of anything so they just stood back to back, looked at the
longhorns and the longhorns looked at them.
The encounter couldn't have continued for the eternity it seemed to the boys.
Finally, with no motion from them, the cattle wearied of the confrontation,
broke ranks and went on about their business. Two frightened boys scurried on
Later the owner of the cattle told them they had done the only thing they
could have done to survive. If they had tried to run, the cattle would have
chased them and, no doubt, trampled them.
Company was always welcome, invited or uninvited and the older girls
particularly remember one Sunday when unexpected company came - one Sunday
when only two chickens had been prepared.
Just so many people could sit around the table and the others had to wait.
Mary and Charlotte, old enough to help with the cooking, naturally waited.
Doris's main contribution was helping wash dishes. Since she was younger and
didn't get to go places with the older girls she was told, with special
magnanimity, she could sit at the table if she would PROMISE TO TAKE ONLY ONE
PIECE OF CHICKEN.
Doris sat at the table. Demurely she ate her piece of chicken. Then, with a
roguish look at her sisters, she deliberately speared another piece of chicken.
Desperately, Mary and Charlotte tried to signal to her reminding her of her
promise but she just sat serenely eating her second piece of chicken. And
then, with another wicked glance at her horrified sisters, she speared yet a
The older girls didn't feel they could say anything then but they've said
plenty since. To this day, when the sisters get together, Doris is reminded
of her treachery.
But her treachery doesn't make them cringe, as does the memory of Donnie's
brutal frankness on another occasion. This time they were the guests. Pie
was served for the dessert. As Donnie, just old enough to talk clearly,
struggled with his pie, he announced to his mother, in a voice that carried
around the table, "This is the toughest crust I've ever eaten."
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