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Tim & Betty (Lee) Babcock

Unpublished


Excuse me. Milford Babcock was a governor of Montana, you say? Are you confused about names or history?

Neither. According to his birth certificate, Milford Babcock was born October 27, 1919, in Littlefork, Minnesota, to Erwin and Olive Babcock. And according to history, he became governor of Montana in 1962.

When he was just a baby, one of his aunts started calling him Tiny Tim. Soon others followed suit. The name Tim clung to him all through his school years, clung so tenaciously that when he enlisted in the military his mother had to sign an affidavit affirming that Milford and Tim were one and the same person. (Tim and Betty still have a copy of that document.)

Tim's grandparents (yes, from here on he is Tim) Martin and Emma Rhinehart in Minnesota heard glowing reports of free land in Montana: 160 acres, yours for the taking if you settled on it and made minimum improvements. Martin Rhinehart made a trip to Montana in the fall of 1909 to see what was available. Then in October, 1910, Martin with his wife Emma, two sons Alfa and Ovid and their daughter Olive, loaded an immigrant car and set out for Montana.

Also in the party were Erwin Babcock and Virginia Gosselin. Virginia was no relation to the Rhineharts, but she did have relatives in Eastern Montana who urged her to come in hopes her asthma would improve. (It did.) Erwin wasn't related, either, but that soon changed. He and Olive were already engaged, and this seemed like a good opportunity to get a home of their own. Erwin Babcock and Olive Rhinehart were married November 25, 1910.

Upon their arrival in Montana, Erwin and the other men filed for homesteads on Crackerbox Creek southwest of Glendive. They put up a two-room shack, just a shell with no insulation so it went up quickly. Other buildings on the other homesteads came later. A dugout barn housed pigs, cows and horses. They dug a well, and by the next spring they were ready to plant a big garden so there would be fresh produce as well as plenty to can. Chokecherries and wild plum bushes provided some fruit. Meat was cured to preserve it. Fuel for heating and cooking came from a coal mine on their property. It seemed like a wonderful beginning.

Olive and Virginia had no problem finding housekeeping jobs in the Glendive area. Virginia (Volume 1, page 315) related that while she was working for an older man on a homestead, she and Olive had ridden horseback to a dance. They returned later than he thought they should so he had locked them out and they had to sleep in a haystack.

For nine years the Babcocks struggled to make a living on the homestead. Their first two children, Merle Irene in 1912 and Donald Erwin in 1915 were born during this period. Times were hard, prices for farm products were low. The 'glowing reports' that brought them to Montana hadn't mentioned anything about drought, hail, or grasshoppers, nor that 160 acres of dry land would not support a family in Eastern Montana. Relatives in Minnesota wanted them to return and wrote of farmers and loggers needing horses.

Since Erwin had been raising horses, they decided this would be a good time to visit relatives and see what it was like in the old hometown. Erwin and Olive with Merle and Donald left Montana in 1919. They looked forward to an easier lifestyle, but that was not what Littlefork offered. Winters were severe with temperatures as low as fifty degrees below zero. Hardships were many.

Erwin and his brother-in-law Bill Henry made several trips to Glendive and back, buying and hauling horses to sell. It was during this period that the third child was born into the family on October 27, 1919.

Although Tim was born in Minnesota, he grew up on the farm where his parents had homesteaded in 1910. His parents had moved back to Montana when Tim was six months old. His formal education began in the Crackerbox School. One of the neighbors made a leather harness for Tim's dog, Pup, and hitched it to his wagon for him. He drove it to school, but sometimes ran into difficulty for when the dog would see a rabbit, he would take off after it. When they came to a fence, Tim would have to roll off the wagon, then eventually catch the dog with the wagon or sled to continue on his way. Tim always had a wonderful way with animals and always tried to mechanize everything to make life easier.

Betty Lee is also of pioneer stock. She was born in Aplington, Iowa, to Otis (more often called Bill) and his wife Ruth. Betty was only two years old when her mother suddenly became ill. In a few short hours she had died, and from then on everything went down hill for Bill Lee. His sister, with ten children of her own, offered to take care of Betty, but a series of tragedies/mishaps necessitated removal from that home. The next home was also unsatisfactory so then Ruth's sister Jess and her husband became involved. Unfortunately, that seemed to be 'out of the frying pan into the fire'. The husband was an alcoholic and the sister had a violent temper.

In desperation, Bill Lee wrote a letter to his brother, Richard Elwood Lee and his wife Katherine in Montana, and asked if they would be interested in caring for Betty. They had no children so when the letter arrived, 'Wood' handed it to his wife, observing that here was her chance to 'get a kid'.

They were living at that time with her parents, Isabella and Jack Martin, in Glendive. The Lees had come to help when Katherine's sister was ill with spinal meningitis. The sister had died, but they continued to help the Martins.

Katherine was excited and very willing to take the child, but Isabella 'threw a fit'. "You'll never raise her," she warned. "She'll be nothing but trouble!" (Isabella didn't know she was talking about Montana's future First Lady!) She was used to having things her way, but this time was an exception. Elwood told his wife that he wanted to help his brother and she should have this child if that was what she wanted. He made arrangements for Kitty, as he called his wife, to take the train to Iowa and pick up the child.

Betty had been told of the plan and was so excited when Katherine arrived that she threw her arms around her aunt's neck and wanted to leave for Montana immediately. When they went to the depot to leave, Betty's brother Sonny had a basket of fruit to give them, but he was so depressed at seeing his little sister leave he forgot to give it to them. On the train to Glendive Betty wasn't at all shy and didn't hesitate to talk to strangers. She asked some Nuns if they had feet because she couldn't see them under their long habits. It didn't bother the Nuns, but it did embarrass Katherine.

Betty recalls Mother Martin telling about the time a bull snake dropped down through the rafters and landed at her feet as she was rocking one of their babies in their sod house with dirt floors.

Sometime later they built a log house caulked with adobe mud between the logs. The roof was covered with dirt and scorio* rocks. The ceiling was covered with flour sacks sewn together, then painted with white calcimine. They were fortunate to have water in the house, even though it came from a pump.

She cooked on a large wood stove with a reservoir that provided hot water. There was the typical bowl and pitcher on a stand by the back door where every one washed up before meals. Of course the outhouse served its purpose some distance from the house.

During a severe thunder and lightning storm Isabella was holding Baby Ethel in her arms as she stood by a window. Little Florie, about two-and-one-half years old, was standing at her side when lightning struck, knocking them to the floor. Isabella and the baby survived, but Florie was killed.

 

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