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Mrs. A. J. McCarty

AIR #58
Thursday, August 5, 1965

When Miss Catharine Calk invaded the Big Dry country in western Dawson County (then), the rancher was still king and the region was still rough and primitive (just how rough and primitive she didn't quite realize before her arrival) even though much of the eastern part of the county was becoming well settled. She had come from Kentucky to visit her aunt in Bozeman, where she had two brothers attending college. One of these brothers had already located in the Jordan area, and it was as a result of his urging that she had decided to file on a homestead.


From Bozeman to Sumatra she fared fine; she was able to travel by train, but at that point her route left the railroad so she was obliged to spend the night in Sumatra and hope to catch a ride somehow to Sand Springs the next day. She found that the only rooms for rent in town were located over a saloon, and she had to share one of those with a strange woman. Her enthusiasm at these arrangements was running at low ebb, but the sight of the bed completely dismayed her. Her exclamation, "Why these sheets haven't been changed!" apparently fell on deaf ears. A closer look revealed that, not only were the sheets unchanged, the bed was already occupied - by bedbugs! Catharine spent the night sitting on a chair, and morning didn't come too soon.


The next day she caught a ride to Sand Springs in a Model T Ford with the man who carried the mail. The little Ford was no limousine, and the trail bore no resemblance to today's highways, but she arrived intact. She was even more dismayed, if possible, with the arrangements that night than she had been the night before. Her room, she discovered, had no lock on the door. She had no idea what kind of barbarians might inhabit the town (if there was another woman within its limits, she was not in sight) so she dragged the dresser in front of the door for a barricade, and again morning didn't come too soon.


A new day brought promise of better things when the same mailman who had given her a ride from Sumatra to Sand Springs took her on out to her brother's ranch, but she soon realized she hadn't moved into a center of culture. That first day some of the cowboys lassoed a wolf up on the ridge and dragged it down to the house, convincing her that she must indeed be in uncivilized territory.


Catharine homesteaded a half-section that joined her brother's place, staying with him until she could get her log house built. Her brother, James, had to be in Bozeman much of that summer so she was alone a good deal, her nearest neighbor two miles away. She had a dog with her and a few horses besides some cattle. One morning she awoke early to find that a big herd of stray cattle had descended upon their (her brother's and her) hay field. She was depending upon that hay for winter feed so she saddled a horse, took a revolver, and rounded up those cattle, shooting into the air to encourage their speedy departure. She chased them about ten miles, then came back home and ate her breakfast. This was repeated several mornings, and she was far from happy with the situation, but then it was brought to her attention that some others were not happy with the situation, either. One forenoon three men rode into her yard. They explained that they were representing the local cattlemen and pointed out to her that shooting at cattle was illegal. She explained that she had shot above them, not at them, but they maintained that was illegal, too, and she must stop running their cattle. She protested, "But what can I do? They're eating our hay, and we're depending on that for winter feed!" They didn't seem much moved with concern for her and her problem, so then she came up with the suggestion, "Let's eat dinner, and then after dinner you can bring your mower and horses and one of you can cut the hay for me while some of you put up a corral, and we'll get that hay out of the way." They didn't fall over themselves making promises, but they did eat the dinner which she prepared for them (she doesn't remember what all she fixed, but she did make some lemon pies.) They discussed the matter further and wound up cutting the hay and putting up a corral for her.


A few days later one of the big ranchers, the policy-maker for the group, sent for her to come see him. (He was ill and couldn't go to her.) She complied and found him, wrapped in a big robe, sitting in his chair. As he peered at her from under his big shaggy eyebrows, he explained, "I just wanted to see that red-headed woman who would get our delegation to cut that hay, using our own horses and machinery, and then get them to make a corral to put it in besides!"

 

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