Historical Details

Crofutt Family

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 11/16/2020

THE CROFUTT'S

by Mildred Bryant

Charlie and Edith Crofutt came to Niobrara County in June, 1917, with all their belongings piled high on the wagon. A small colt trotted beside the team, which Edith was driving, while Charlie rode horse­ back alongside to keep the milk cow moving on ahead of them.  It was several days journey from the Sandhills east of Alliance, Nebr. to their homestead 25 miles north of Lusk, Wyo.

Charlie Crofutt, more familiarly known as Charlie, was born at Guthrie Center, Iowa on July 26, 1895 to Ira and Henrietta Crofutt.    While he was yet a small boy, the family moved to a ranch north of Ellsworth, Nebr. where he attended a rural school.

After graduating from the eighth grade, he worked as a chore boy at various neighbor­ing ranches, but all this time he longed to be a cowboy. His chance came when he was 14 -- he went to work for the Spade Ranch in the Sandhills north of Ellsworth.

Edith Lineback was born at Broken Bow, Nebr. on Feb. 9, 1895 to William and Millie Lineback. Her parents passed away when she was in her early teens, and she and her younger brothers and sisters lived with a married brother, Paul and his wife, Ocia, who had homesteaded north of Ellsworth.

Edith later went to work at the Spade Ranch, helping with the cooking and house­ work and it was there that she met Charlie. They were married in Alliance, Nebr. on July 26, 1916.

Shortly thereafter Charlie rode horseback to Lusk to take out a homestead. Here he met Herman Hitz, who said he had found a good piece of land about 25 miles north. He offered to ride out with him, and so they located Charlie’s  homestead just north of the Hitz's.

The Crofutts stayed on at the Spade, working and saving what money they could for the move to Wyoming the following spring.    As it turned out they were delayed a couple of months in getting started since Mildred was born in May and they decided to wait until she was six weeks old before starting.  Edith would be better able to withstand the trip.

They camped out each night, cooking over a campfire and unrolling their bedroll on the ground near the wagon. They hobbled the horses and turned them loose to graze. One day the chickens got out of the crate which was setting at the back of the wagon. Charlie  scattered some corn and they soon had them all back in and the crate securely nailed shut.

When they arrived at the homestead, they set up the tent they had brought with them. This was to be their home for the rest of the summer, while Charlie hauled logs from the Seaman Hills for the cabin, shed, and corral.  Water was hauled in a wooden barrel from Sage Creek, a mile to the west.  Trips to Lusk were very rare, since almost everything, including grocer­ies, could be bought from the Montgomery Ward catalog and delivered to the mail-box three miles away.  The mail came out from Lusk three times a week and still does.   A general store and post office were at Hat Creek, site of the old stage station, but it was 15 miles away.

In the spring of 1918 Edith gave birth to Ihla Faye, who lived only a short time. They buried her on a little knoll east of the house.  A neighbor, Rev. O.J. Clark held the services.

Later that summer, after the crops were planted, Charlie went to work in Antioch, Nebr. in a potash plant, this potash being vital to the war effort.  His sister Ruth stayed with Edith to help put up the hay, harvest the crops and haul the winters’ wood.  One day in late fall, word came by telegram that Charlie was ill with the flu that was prevalent over the coun­try at that time, and that he was coming into Lusk by train.  Edith and Ruth hitched the team, piled bedding into the wagon and started for town, leaving Mildred at Lloyd Younkin's to stay till their return the next day.

On Feb. 19, 1919 Gerald was born out on the farm, with Mrs. Younkin and Mrs. John Anstice helping the doctor, and then taking turns staying two or three days to help the family.

The neighbors always helped each other, whether sawing the winter's wood, grinding grain, nursing the sick, delivering the babies, threshing the grain or anything else there was to be done. It was while Charlie was helping Verne Parker grind grain that he caught his thumb in the wheel of an engine. Even though Verne drove his new Model T. Ford Sedan at top speed, the blood soaked through a pillow and several towels by the time they got to town. The thumb was so nearly severed from the hand it had to be amputated.

Often times people went to another's house just to visit and sometimes played cards. One time Charlie and Edith, thinking it was Sunday, went to Younkins to visit. Stella (Mrs. Younkin) was washing clothes, but she had a pot of beans cooking on the back of the stove. She fried some potatoes and had a big pan of biscuits. They all ate heartily and had a good visit and Stella and Lloyd kidded Charlie and 
Edith because it was Monday.

Country dances were the most common form of entertainment. They were usually held in different homes, with fiddle and guitar or banjo for music, or sometimes a phonograph. The women took cake or sand­wiches and there was always a wash boiler of coffee simmering on the stove and a cardboard box of clean tin cups setting close by.  Children enjoyed these occasions. They could play outside till they were tired, then sleep until daylight when the grownups were ready to go home. School Christmas programs also drew good-sized crowds. After the "pieces" were spoken and the songs sung, presents were handed out and a social hour followed.

Usually Santa came with a sack of candy and popcorn ball for every child, even the pre-school aged ones.

It was almost an all-day job getting a family ready to go to these affairs.   The cake had to be baked and iced, or, if they took sandwiches, the meat was most often chicken.   That meant killing, dressing, boiling, grinding and then mixing with some form of home-made dressing.   Gallons of water had to be carried in and heated for baths. The women and older girls curled their hair with a curling iron heated over the kerosene lamp.  Since no one ever had more than one pair of shoes at one time, these all had to be polished. Here was an advantage to burning pitchwood  there was always lots of soot on the underneath side of the stove lids.  These were turned over, the soot rubbed onto the shoe with a rag. Then they were polished to a shine. This made the shoes look nice but it was hard to keep from smearing the soot onto the stockings because it kept coming off even after the polishing.

As was common in rural areas of the day, a sewing club was formed in the neighborhood.  Meetings were held once a month in the homes of the various members. Women came from miles around by team and buggy or horseback, brought refreshments and their fancywork and stayed all day.

P.T.A. meetings were held at the school house on one Friday afternoon each month. The pupils were dismissed from their studies and allowed to play outside during the meeting, then to come back in for refreshments.

For years on the 4th of July, a cele­bration was held in McConnell's Grove, a mile and a half west of Crofutt's place.  A road was included.  Stands were set up where they served soda pop and ice cold water­ melon.  These looked very tempting in their big tubs of ice water. Each family took a picnic lunch. Usually several neighbors put all their food on a tarp stretched out on the ground and then all shared it.  Later some of the men and older boys pitched horseshoes while others played baseball. Meanwhile the women visited and took care of the babies while the other children played in the creek.

In 1920 Charlie and Edith bought their first car - a Model T Ford touring car which was open on the sides in nice weather, but had side curtains to be used for cold weather.  Whenever the top was damaged by wind or hail, new material had to be order­ ed from the catalog and tacked on to re­ place the old.

Thus, the homesteaders, like their families before them, had to be able to do things for themselves such as replacing the car top, hewing logs and building their houses and barns and oftentimes their furniture, making the best of whatever they  had.  Charlie always half-soled the shoes and sewed them with a heavy waxed thread. He was constantly watching for a discarded horse collar or some other heavy and serv­iceable piece of leather for this purpose. Likewise Edith kept busy at her sewing machine, making  most of the clothes and piecing heavy quilts for the beds in winter. Also she made soap, rendered lard, made sausage, besides doing all the other neces­sary things.

Lawrence was born on July 5, 1921 out on the home place.  On November 30, 1922, Keith was born. Even with the help of the doctor, Edith almost did not survive.

Consequently, when Enis was born on April 17, 1925 she was staying in Lusk with Anstices'.

During the summers Charlie worked away from home, usually putting up hay, using his own teams and equipment. Later he bought a tractor and did custom plowing. Then he got a sawmill and later on a well­ drilling outfit. All this time Edith and the older children milked cows, tended the crops and garden, put up hay and looked after the place. Everybody had his job to do- even the little ones.

The school year of 1923-24 Charlie drove the bus to the Hat Creek School. He took the body off the Model T and built a bus-type body out of wood, with benches along the sides. On cold winter days, when the bus drivers would not want to make the long trip home for the day, they sat in one of the buses and talked or played cards.

Mostly they were trying to keep warm, since there were no heaters, except portable kerosene ones they carried for this purpose.

The following year a school house was moved closer, and the Crofutt children walked or rode horseback. One year, three of them rode the same horse, two in the saddle and one behind.  This presented a problem if, for any reason, they had to get off anywhere between home and school.
Us­ually there would be a fence, a rock, or a bank they could lead the horse along side and get on from there.  Another difficulty was carrying the gallon syrup bucket of soup when it was their turn to furnish the hot lunch for school.    Each family had its turn at this  if there were five families, each had their day of the week to provide the hot lunch.   The teacher would then set the bucket on the heating stove at the first recess, and by noon the soup would be hot enough to be eaten.

Eventually they drove one horse hitch­ed to a buggy, but then the schoolhouse was moved again, this time to a location a mile west of the Crofutt place. Another school building also was moved there, to provide a consolidated school where the first two years of high school were offered along with the first eight grades.

In the late 1920's, the people of the neighborhood went together and purchased an old store building in Lance Creek, then they moved it to a centrally-located spot where they could have meetings of all kinds. They named it Pioneer Hall, since it was the first of its kind near there.    There was usually a dance there on Saturday night, then Sunday School on Sunday afternoons. A minister always came out from Lusk to give the sermon. In the winter when the weather was too cold to have the Sunday School at the Hall, it was held in the different homes. Everyone took food for a carry-in lunch.

Edith gave birth to Iris on May 19, 1926 and to Lois on Aug. 20, 1928. Both were born out on the farm. In August, 1930, Lyle was born, but he only lived a month.Edith had given him his morning bath and put him down for his nap.    When she looked in a while later, he had already passed away.  He was buried east of the house on past the place where Ihla lay buried.

The snow was so deep in January of 1932 that Edith stayed in Lusk with the Christ Ruffing family that month, until Glenn was born on the 27th.    On April 18, 1933, Irma was born, but after five months she develop­ ed some kind of stomach disorder and passed away. She was buried beside Lyle.

On Aug. 3, 1934, Lola, the youngest of the children, was born. Dr. Reckling delivered her, as also had Irma, Glenn and Lyle. Dr. Murphy or Dr. Hassed had been in at­tendance for most of the others.

On May 24, 1938 Edith rose early and built a fire in her wood range. When it seemed not to burn, she poured kerosene on it from a large, nearly-empty can. Immediately it exploded, spraying flame all over her and the kitchen. She ran back into the bedroom, where Charlie smothered the flames. Before they could get the screen off the window to escape, they were overcome by smoke. The children, who were sleeping in the bunkhouses away from the main house awoke and rescued them from the burning building. (Iva) Lois, who was sleeping in the house, was never rescued, although Gerald went in through a window and tried to find her. Ray Freeman came right away and took Edith to the Lusk hospital, and a short time later Gerald took Charlie in where  he and Edith shared the same hospital room. Edith had such extensive burns she passed away the next day. Charlie's lungs were so badly burned that he lived only two days. On May 28 there was a triple funeral held at the Congregational Church in Lusk and they were buried in the cemetery there.

The house and contents burned completely - nothing was saved. While it was still smoldering, many of the neighbors came with shovels and pitchforks, scattered the ashes and put out the fire. They then loaded it on pickups and hauled it away.

Right away, too, someone put out petitions at Hat Creek, Pine Lodge, Red Bird and some stores in Lusk, asking for donations to help the family.  Also, they decided to build a new house where the other had been. With materials bought and some donated, some hauled from as far away as the Black Hills, people gave their own time and labor to build this house. Women brought food and served it to the workers. When it was completed, there was a two-bedroom house with full basement, wall to wall linoleum on all floors and enough furniture, bedding, dishes, clothing and everything that was needed. (The names of these many good neighbors and friends are not given here lest some deserving ones be unintentionally left out.  However, these kind and thoughtful acts were sincerely appreciated by the family.  People left their own work undone to help this family in their great need. The many donations were also greatly appreciated).

The family lived on this place for the next several years. Eventually they all graduated from high school and went their separate ways.  Mildred taught in the local school until 1944, when she married John Bryant of Hat Creek.  They have a son George who is married and has two sons.

Gerald joined the Air Corps in January 1942.  He went into North Africa and up across Italy into Germany.  He was
dis­charged in October 1945 .He married Marjorie Cezak of Sacramento, Calif., in January 1964.  She has a daughter Dawn and a son Greg, who is married and has a daugh­ter.

Lawrence married Verva Bryant of Hat Creek in June 1944. They have two sons - Charles and David and both served four years in the Navy and are now married.

Keith entered the Army in April 1943. He went to New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands and finally to Leyte Island in the Philippines.  There, on Dec. 20, 1944 during an airdrop of supplies, he was struck by a falling box and killed instantly.   He was buried there, but was later moved to a military cemetery near Manila.

Enis is married and lives in Jackson Hole, Wyo. near his brother Glenn. Glenn married Shirlee Thompson of Lance Creek in May 1951. They have a daughter, Diane, a son Will and a daughter Cheree at home. One son, Michael, died in infancy.

Iris married Harry (Buck) Baughn of Lance Creek in November, 1948.  They have a farm at Torrington, Wyo.    Lola married Sam Leonard of Douglas in October 1952.

They have two sons, Kenneth and Thomas and a daughter, Susan.

Faye and Harry Baker, Shirlee's parents, bought the Crofutt homestead in 1958, together with adjoining land. This is one homestead that was not left abandoned as so many were during the lean hard years.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Crofutt, Charles (07/26/1895 - 05/26/1938) View Record
Obituary Crofutt, Edith (02/09/1895 - 05/25/1938) View Record
Obituary Crofutt, Glenn (01/27/1932 - 07/05/2018) View Record
Obituary Crofutt, Lawrence (07/05/1921 - 05/17/1991) View Record
Obituary Crofutt, Gerald (02/19/1919 - 07/29/1986) View Record
Obituary Crofutt, Keith (11/30/1922 - 12/20/1944) View Record
Obituary Crofutt, Enis (04/17/1925 - 11/11/2013) View Record
Obituary Crofutt, Irma (04/18/1933 - 09/26/1933) View Record
Obituary Crofutt, Iva (08/20/1928 - 05/24/1938) View Record