Mrs. Paul Jarvis isn't sure just
when her grandfather first came to Montana, but it was early enough so that
he could leave here (temporarily) in 1904. Joe Novasia, Sr. had come to
America, leaving his wife and two small children in his native Italy, before
his first child, born in 1882, was old enough to remember him.
He went first to St. Louis where his older brother
lived and worked in his brother's restaurant. His brother had done well enough
in this new land that he was able to launch the newcomer in a business of his
own, but the next business didn't last long, perhaps because he was his own
best customer. The business was a bar, and Joe not only liked his product; he
liked to 'treat' his customers so it wasn't long until he went broke.
Somehow Joe learned about a little town
springing up along the newly completed Northern Pacific Railroad, and he
decided that Glendive would be a good place to start over. Since he had no
money he rode the rails and arrived in town just about as hungry and as dirty
as he could get.
As soon as he could get
out of the railroad yards he went to a house and asked for something to eat,
but he was so dirty, that the girl who responded to his knock was frightened
and told him, "You get out of here or I'll turn the dogs on you." To this
threat he replied, "Go ahead, I'm so hungry I'll eat the dogs!" She gave him
Before the turn of the century
eastern Montana was ranch country - cattle, sheep, horses - and Novasia soon
found a job herding sheep. He started out for Jack Martin on Burns Creek, just
as many a later newcomer did.
In 1904 he received word from his family back in
Italy that his daughter, Ercolena, was planning to be married to John Maschera
so he made the trip back across the ocean for the wedding, his first visit
since his departure in the 1880's.
Poverty was the rule in rural Italy, and anyone
going any place walked - anyone, that is, except someone who had been to
America. If the local people saw someone riding in a buggy their conclusion
was, "He must be from America."
Ercolena and some companions, walking along the
dusty road a short while before her wedding, noticed a stranger riding in a
buggy, and she remarked, "Wouldn't it be funny if that was my dad?" She
reached home and there sat the stranger - her dad.
He stayed in Italy to visit, and as he visited he
told the opportunities in the New World. His son, Joe Jr. had joined him in
Montana before the Italy visit, and by the time his visit was concluded he had
convinced a number of his friends and relatives that the brightest future was
in the States.
His new son-in-law, John Maschera, returned with
him when he came back to this country - "to make his fortune." John planned
that as soon as he had enough money he would bring his bride to Murphy Table,
too. He started herding sheep and within a year was able to send for Ercolena.
When Ercolena arrived, John was working for
Dupliseas. To her children in later years Mrs. Maschera described Mrs.
Duplisea as a wonderful person, kind and understanding. It was well that she
was for the young immigrant found many rough places that needed smoothing. The
language problem was the biggest hurdle.
When they sat down to the table to eat, everyone
would start visiting - talking and laughing, having a good time. Ercolena, of
course, couldn't understand what was being said so she would start crying and
leave the table thinking they were laughing at her, a stranger in a strange
land. Then Mrs. Duplisea would talk with her, reassuring and explaining.
Sympathy and understanding can be communicated
without words, but sometimes words were needed, too. Mrs. Maschera had an
English - Italian dictionary with the English words on one side and the
Italian on the other. It was by means of 'the little book' that the two women
were able to talk with one another.
When the Dupliseas started ranching on Redwater,
Indians were commonplace in the area, and the ranchers had learned how to get
along with them. Mrs. Duplisea instructed the young Italian, who had heard
plenty of 'horror stories' about the Indians before she left her native land,
that if Indians should come they were to have plenty of food and then they
wouldn't bother the settlers.
Ranchers from many miles around had to come to
Glendive to get their supplies, and so it was with the Dupliseas on Redwater.
The trip to Glendive and back required at least three days and wasn't made
One of these trips was necessary while the young
Italian couple, Mr. and Mrs. John Maschera, was working at the ranch so they
were left in charge of home quarters while the Dupliseas were gone. Then came
Mrs. Maschera heard a rap at the door and saw that
a big Indian was doing the rapping so instead of going to the door, she pulled
the shades and hoped he would go away. But he kept knocking.
When it became evident that he didn't intend to
give up, she finally, with heart in her mouth, opened the door. He held out
his hand to shake hands, but instead of shaking hands she started backing
away, backing until she could retreat no farther.
Remembering Mrs. Duplisea's instructions, she gave
him food - ham, bacon, potatoes - everything she could find. By the time she
was through giving, there wasn't enough food left in the house for the
children! The Indians made no trouble, of course but even so, it was a greatly
relieved young woman who welcomed the rancher and his wife back home.
By the time the Mascheras' first child was born in
1906 they were working for Jack Martin on Burns Creek, the same Jack Martin for
whom Mrs. Maschera's father, Joe Novasia, had worked when he first came to
Montana. During this time they lived in the sheepwagon, which could be moved
easily as the sheep were moved to grazing grounds.
Because of her father's drinking habits, her husband
had forbidden Ercolena (Mrs. Maschera) to go to town with him, but one day when
John was far from the wagon with the sheep, Joe came and wanted his daughter to
go to Glendive with him. "If you go to town with me, Lena, I'll buy you a new
pair of shoes," he told her.
Lena refused, reminding him of her husband's wishes
in the matter, but he pleaded so hard and promised so faithfully that he would
not take a drink that finally (she certainly could use the shoes!) she gave in
and accompanied him on the condition that they have the same hotel room so she
could "keep an eye" on him.
Upon their arrival in town they got the room, and
all went well that evening as she kept watchful guard. On through the night
and into the early morning hours she continued to watch, but about four
o'clock she dropped off to sleep. When she awoke, she found herself alone in
the hotel room - alone in the world, it seemed to her! The town was completely
strange to her, and she had no idea where to find her father nor where she
could get help.
For three days she stayed alone in that hotel room.
Finally the third day, as she watched the street from her hotel window, she
saw her father on the street below so she hurried down and caught him by the
arms. One place in town she could locate; she knew where the livery stable was
in which they had left the horses so she escorted him there. The attendant
hitched the team to the wagon for her, tied the lines around the brake lever,
and assured her the horses would take her home. Since she knew nothing about
driving and her father wasn't able, she could only hope the attendant was
In later years she told her children that it was a
terrible trip. She cried and prayed, and the horses kept plodding on. Finally
they reached familiar surroundings again. As the attendant had told her, the
horses took them home. She didn't have her new shoes, and she didn't go to
town with him again.
Everything, it seemed, happened to 'Grandpa'. One
day while Pinote (the nickname everyone used for Joe) was still living his
father was herding sheep on the flat above Burns Creek when he saw a
rattlesnake. Before he could kill it the snake crawled into its hole so he
reached in after it to pull it out, not realizing that a rattler turns in its
hole so its head was where he expected the tail to be, and the snake bit him.
He managed to get back to his sheep wagon, and
there, knowing that a rattlesnake bite is fatal, he wrote a note to his son:
"Joe Mafraw to his son Pinote. Bit by a rattlesnake. That's how he died."
(Although his last name was Novasia, Jack Martin had dubbed him 'Mafraw'
because he could never remember his correct name.)
But 'Joe Mafraw' didn't die from a rattlesnake
bite. A couple of Cavanaugh's cowboys happened along and found him so they
took him to the ranch, loaded him into a wagon, and headed for Glendive. As
they came they kept pouring whiskey down him to counteract the snake poison,
and when they reached the hospital, the wound was drained. In spite of the
time that had elapsed, he recovered. Later when someone asked him why he had
reached into that hole he replied, "He no ring-a-da bell!"