All the ranchers had some grain and cattle, also raised some horses which were always in demand for work stock and saddle horses. During WW1, the US and Canadian armies bought a lot of horses in Montana, for work and also for the cavalry. Those were the last profitable years for selling horses. After the tractor came into use, you could hardly give a horse away and many unbroken animals were just turned loose on the range. Later, they bought the horses for dog feed. Dad was one of those that hated to give up the horse. That was one of his weaknesses. Later years, he raised mules and did take a carload of them and horses down to Denver to get rid of them.
In 1906, he bought a ranch across the river from the homestead on the county road, as it was hard to get across the river during high water and Winter when the ice was not thick enough to carry the team and wagon. Many a time they had to cross when the horses had to swim. Sometimes, when they went to town, the river would raise while they were gone and they would come home after dark and drive in, depending on the team to get them across. Dad had some awfully good water horses, but also took some risky crossings. There was a bridge put in a few miles up from where they lived on the homestead, but it made the road a lot longer to go around by it and there was quite a hill to climb and a very poor road, so he would take the chance on the river.
After moving over on his other place, he took the contract to carry the mail, twice a week, from Great Falls to Milligan, which had a little country post office where people came from miles to get their mail and catch up on the news. There was a weekly newspaper that most of them subscribed to that gave them the latest news. It was a distance of 50 miles, uphill and down. He used two teams. The ranch was about half way so he hanged teams there at noon and had dinner for any passengers that might be traveling. There were big sheep and cattle ranches in that vicinity and they were always sending for sheepherders or other hired men and Dad would have to do the hiring for them and see that they were ready to leave when he was. Sometimes they would be too drunk in the morning to go or were just getting over one. Lots of times, by the time he got out to the ranch, he would get word they did not need the man they ordered, so the man would have to stay at the ranch overnight to catch the mail when he went back on the return trip.
In the wintertime, with deep snow and drifting, it was hard to keep the road, and as it would get dark early, he would have to depend on the team to keep the road the best they could. When it was storming, he would just let the team go their own way as a horse seems to have a built-in sense of direction. Otherwise, you might go in circles. He dressed warm, had a buffalo coat for awhile, then a long sheepskin lined coat and footwarmer that used charcoal bricks. In the four years he carried the mail, he never froze his hands or feet. At that time, they had a home in Great Falls, and the kids went to school there in the wintertime, and on weekends we would all go out to the ranch where Dad would try and catch up on some of the ranch work, and Mother would bake up pies and cakes and bread so the hired man could put a meal on the table for the stage passengers. It was a busy, hectic life, so much traveling back and forth with horse and buggy. We were all glad when the stage contract run out as things would settle down to the routine ranch work.
In 1919, there was a bad drought and no hay to put up, and, instead of selling the cattle, the people decided to buy hay. It was $50.00 a ton shipped in from Idaho, where it was full of cheat grass, a pest that is still a problem in dry years as it will come up early in the Spring and sap all the moisture from the other grasses, unless it rains a lot. They also got hay from Minnesota, which was just plain old slough grass that had no strength in it. A lot of stock died, and it broke most all the ranchers. They would have been better off selling their stock in the Fall and [replacing] them in the Spring at the same price and saved a lot of hard work hauling the hay in the cold weather with a four-horse team from the closest railway station, which was 14 miles away.
Later on, he purchased another place a couple of miles up the coulee from the original homestead, and with that came a lease on a section of Northern Pacific Railroad land. He still had a few cattle and horses left. In September, 1926, I and my husband, whom I married in 1923, decided to come back and help on the ranch. In the Spring of 1927, we rented an adjoining place and my brother and his wife, who had been living in Great Falls, moved to the ranch and we formed a three-way partnership. They invested in a tractor and other machinery and broke up about 320 acres on the railway section and put it into wheat along with some of the other land. There were good crops those years, and the cattle increased and things were coming along real fine.
In February 1944, Dad and Mom were in Great Falls visiting Nettie and her husband and Dad had a stroke that affected his speech. This was hard for him as he liked to talk so much. When he wanted to say something, the wrong word would come out and he would get so mad. He got along fairly well till June. He had another stroke that paralyzed his throat and proved fatal. He passed away June 21, 1944, and is buried in Highland Cemetery at Great Falls, age 81 years, 7 months. Dad always held his age well, and when he passed away he looked like a man in his sixties.
He was always a strong Republican, and used to get in some big arguments with a Democrat neighbor when they would meet. He changed to the Democrat party when Roosevelt run for President, but never did have the political fever of the former years.
Dad and Mom celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary [on] March 9, 1938.
Dad was always strong-willed or bullheaded in a lot of ways. It took quite a bit of doing to change his mind on things, especially new ways to do things. He hated to give up the working horses and kept a team as long as he lived. We always used a team in the wintertime to feed the cattle and he always drove them while the other men pitched the hay off.
Dad saw lots of changes in his lifetime, and I only wish I would of written down more of his stories of the railroad building days. He used to tell about the muskeg along the lake that was so dangerous and how whole parts of the road would be gone the next morning when the men went back to work. Another story was one sleigh was loaded with nitroglycerin and the men driving behind let the team get too close and the tongue ran into the back of the nitro, but it was too cold to explode. They worked on that part of the road in the wintertime. When they were joining up two sections of the road at Thunder Bay, the contractor sent horses and machinery across a point by boat and it sank in the harbor. Thunder Bay was called Port Arthur at that time.
When I was back in November 1973, I came back as far as Winnipeg on the CPR [Canadian Pacific Railroad] just to see the country where the railroad was built and to know that my dad had seen so much of it with his own eyes.
Those days were interesting, but hard work, but who will ever see anything like them again? People were a lot happier and did not have the worries of today. I think it was one of the best periods of history.
[Addendum February 5, 1974]
After Dad's death, my husband and brother kept the partnership until 1954 when we divided the place. Since my husband's death in 1966, I have the place and my son, Arlen, is running it. We have cattle and are discontinuing raising grain, as machinery is too expensive to bother with [for] the amount of acreage we are allowed to put in, so we are seeding it all to hay and grass.
Bert's youngest daughter and her husband are running his place as Bert retired about 10 years ago.
The original homestead was sold in 1925.
(Return to Part I)
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The Simpson family of Brighton.
Obediah Simpson Introduction
Obediah Simpson Genealogy page
Obediah Simpson's Last Will and Testament
Obediah Simpson's Estate Inventory
John C. Simpson
Mary Polly Simpson & Joseph Gibson
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