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Mrs. George Coryell

AIR #97
March 14 & 18, 1965

 Memories of the days spent in the Bloomfield Valley and near linger on in Viola (Barber) Coryell’s mind - a lot of happy ones and a few sad ones, as is the case in most everyone’s life. Here in her own words is her account of that eventful period, as well as a summary of the years that followed:

“We were one of the families to leave Bloomfield, Nebraska, to seek a new home in Dawson County. My mother, Mrs. Romaine (Antha) Barber, my sister, Mary, and I arrived in Glendive by train the thirtieth of June, 1909. My brother, Charlie, met us, as he had taken a homestead west of Bloomfield a year or so before, and brother Levi joined him a little later.

We were very tired from our three-day train trip, but Charlie said we should get started on our way home. He had borrowed a double-seated buggy, and he was driving a little gray team of broncs named Spider and Cricket. As I always loved horses, I was really happy when I climbed into the buggy beside him. I was wearing a light blue, lightweight linen suit, but I was lucky to have on long stockings (girls didn’t wear anklets then, or go bare-legged) because as darkness settled around us the air seemed cooler and damp. The road was rough and winding. We noticed a light near a creek - I think it was Hollecker or Kinney ranch. Anyway, we had to cross the creek, no bridge. Just as we reached the creek, a couple barking dogs raced out from the ranch. The broncs didn’t seem to care for dogs so just as the team hit the creek they lit out running. They raced up the bank, with Charlie trying his best to hold those horses in the road. Mother, Mary, and I were hanging on the sides of that buggy, rocking as if we were on the ocean. The creek water splashed us good, and gravel flew. By this time we were miserably cold; not even a light blanket to put over our laps. Spider and Cricket were real anxious to get home so they could be turned out on grass. They loped down hill and trotted up.

I kept watching as the sky began to turn rosy in the east - not a cloud in the sky. As we were crossing a tableland, high and flat, Charlie said, “We’ll soon be home.” As we neared the edge of the high land there before me was a beautiful sight I’m sure I’ll never forget. A deep, winding trail led down the long side hill, and a thick green carpet of grass covered the valley. A little twelve by fourteen foot gray rubberoid-covered shack stood on the flat close to some cut banks, which were full of buffalo berry bushes. Our pet Jersey cow, that had come ahead of us from Nebraska in the immigrant car with other things from our old home, was eating young oats in a little field. The sun was just coming over the hill, and it seemed so warm that first day of July. I’ve often wondered what my mother, a fifty-eight year old widow, (my father had died three years before) thought when she walked into that little shack, two windows, a home-made bunk bed fastened to the wall, a little home-made table, a few shelves built on the wall for dishes, two or three stools to sit on. No doubt she was very tired, but there were four of us to get breakfast for. She just smiled and soon breakfast was ready.

My mother and brother Levi took homesteads about six miles northwest of Charlie’s, up near the divide country. Nothing but thick, tall grass up there. My brothers tied a white rag around the wagon wheel and seemed to measure out the section of land. There were rolling hills, many buffalo skulls, rattlesnakes galore, and it seemed to me, hundreds of meadow larks singing - I love their songs.

Soon, my brothers had a tent staked down on a big hill. I’d say the tent was about twelve by sixteen feet, with sides about three feet high before they started to slope. The thick grass was our carpet, but soon it turned to plain dirt. A folding cot next to the side wall was my bed for all summer until frost came. Mother and Mary slept in an old iron bed. This was my mother’s homestead.

It must have been about one-fourth mile down the side hill where Levi dug a little dugout in the bank. He put a small window in the door, poles over the roof, then some canvas, then dirt. It had sort of a sandy clay floor, which would get places worn here and there; then our five-legged table would teeter so badly sometimes our coffee or soup would spill. A single bed in one corner for Levi, in another corner a cupboard made of boxes, which we got from the store with groceries.

Really did get nice wooden boxes those days. We would use them extra chairs, etc. I think that was, in fact, I’m sure, the happiest year of my life so far. I would go over in the ‘badlands’ with Levi when he went to cut nice cedar posts, beautiful trees there, then. He would get a large load - how I enjoyed climbing way up on that load. When we got to the top of the divide, the horses would jog along over the old HS trail to a hill beyond our tent and dugout where Levi planned to build a shack and barn for winter. He worked so hard; cut a lot of asp poles, also, and made large frame for a barn and small hen house. Then it was haying time. First Levi was going to help Charlie put up his hay before he started up at our home. The two of them ‘batched’ at Charlie’s, while Mother, Mary and I stayed alone. How brave my mother was!

 

I’m sure Mother was really worried about rattlesnakes, that they might crawl under the beds or among the boxes of clothing, etc., for she told of a terrible experience she had on the homestead in Nebraska. She and my Dad were both liquor-haters and would never allow it in the home, but they did get a pint to keep in case someone got bit by a rattler.

One day when she was alone, soon after they moved to Nebraska, she was pulling weeds from a little garden. When she’d get about all she could pack, she would carry them away. She picked up a pile, and she heard the rattler rattle. She threw those weeds down, I imagine, ran to the little one-room log house, and grabbed the whiskey as she noticed some little red scratches on her arm. She drank most of it, I suppose. She said she just sat there with cold sweat on her, wondering what to do. Nothing unusual happened so she at last decided those scratches must be from the weeds, not the big snake, so she started back to finish her job of cleaning the garden. I can almost hear her hearty laugh now as she told that to us. She said her feet didn’t track right. She would step so high, then blunder or sway all over the path. Mother was next thing to being drunk. That finished her drinking whiskey for the rest of her life, but she never did get over her horror of rattlesnakes.

My brothers killed large rattlers out in the hay field, or prairies, and would bring the rattles home. We kept them in a large old cup, and of course I’d get them out once in awhile and rattle them. Mother would shudder and tell me, “Put those pesky things away!”

 

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