Willson, Marie Valentine Lipe: Life and Times
Life & Times of Marie Valentine Lipe Willson
Transcribed from her hand written accounts of her life by Phyllis Willson Hahn
Parents - George Lipe (b. 1872, d.1949)
Maude Ella Frain (b.1874, d.
Family - Orla Mae (b.1897, d. 1930)
Marie Valentine (b. 1900, d. 1992)
Claude Edward (b. 1902, d.
Charles (b. 1903 d. 1903)
Zoa Irene (b. 1904
Dorothy Lee (b. 1907 d.
“Family stories and My Memories” by Marie Willson
“Both of my grandfathers served in the Civil War. Grandpa Lipe joined the Union Army when he was 14 years of age and was taken prisoner two years later. He was in the Jacksonville prison for about two years. The prisoners were each given one cup of beans and a strip of salt pork each day, which they had to cook for themselves over a campfire. They devised some strange kinds of entertainment for themselves during those long dreary months. They would stage a fight between a louse (sometimes called a “cootie”) off of one soldier and one from another soldier. How they could tell which was which is more than I know. But the boys would bet a bean from their ration on the winner. Certain times a day all the prisoners marched single file past two streams of water. One was clean and one was dirty. One day a soldier in front of my grandfather was tempted and reached over into the clean water with his tin cup. A guard promptly shot him. So Grandpa had to dip his tin cup into the dirty water beside the body of his fallen comrade. When they released the prisoners at the end of the war, they were loaded into a train. Lots of good food was served to the men. Many of the soldiers ate more than their weakened bodies could take and soon died. Grandpa weighed only about 40 pounds at that time. Either caution or lack of strength kept him from eating much of his first meal away from the prison. Now I should go back to some of his experiences as a foot soldier. As he was walking through a wooded area one day, he came upon an older brother sitting at the foot of a tree staring at nothing with a bullet in the middle of his forehead. One night the troop camped beside a cemetery. The talk took a superstitious turn. Some of the boys began to talk about ghost. Others said there was no such thing. Then someone suggested that one who disbelieved it could prove it by going into the cemetery and walk around. Another remarked that he would have to have a witness to accompany him. There was a little cripple in this troop. The man, who volunteered to go, said he would carry the cripple on his back to save time traveling. It so happened there was sheep stealing operations going on in that area. An accomplice, who was to pick up the sheep that was to be delivered, was waiting behind a large tombstone. He heard the soldier approaching and raised up to see who it was. When he saw something on the back of the person, he was sure it was a sheep. He called out in a hoarse whisper “Is he fat?” The startled soldier dropped the cripple and said “fat or lean, take him!” and ran back to camp as fast as he could. Grandpa always claimed the cripple beat the other man back to camp. I heard this story retold many times with Grandpa Lipe making a hearty laugh at the finish. All I know about my Grandpa Frain’s war experience is that he was imprisoned at the other Confederate prison (Andersonville). They were not treated as badly there as in the Jacksonville prison. Grandpa Lipe stayed at his home in Illinois until he was 20. With his new 15 year-old bride, he moved to Kansas. They settled on a place beside the Saline River. It was good, rich bottomland. They built a two-bedroom house with an extra sleeping room above of native stone and also a big stone barn. When the family began to grow, they added 6 more rooms made of lumber and painted it white. A short distance from the back door they had a stone lined cave where they kept the milk in large crocks. It was always cool down there and kept the milk and cream good and sweet. When they butchered, all the side pork was cut in strips and fried. Then placed in a layer of the bottom of a tall crock. When the grease fried out of the pork cooled, it was poured over the meat. More strips of pork were fried and laid on top of the first layer and the grease poured on. This process was continued until the crock was filled to the top. The last layer to go on was of grease completely covering the meat so no air could reach it. In this cool cave, the crock of fresh bacon would keep a year if need be. Each day when some was removed care was taken to cover what remained with some of the lard. The extra lard that was removed each day was used in baking bread and for other cooking. Grandma was an expert at making head cheese and ponhaus which also made their way into the stone cave. Grandpa grew corn, wheat and oats on their farm,- also a small patch of sorghum cane. In the fall it was cut and run through a press to extract the juice. Which was then cooked in a vat over a bonfire. Someone had to stir it until the liquid became a syrup. Sometimes when the fire was hotter than usual, some of it would stick to the bottom of the vat when the syrup was poured into containers. That was fine with the kids. They took clean willow sticks and scraped it out to eat like candy. This is one of my father’s favorite childhood memories. This same press was used to extract the juice from apples for cider- using the windfalls and those with spots on them that wouldn’t keep in the fruit cellar. Grandpa planted lots of apple trees, so there were always lots of apples. He also planted a row of black walnut trees along one side of the long lane leading into the house. They provided shade as well as more nuts than they could use when they were more mature trees. Grandma always had hollyhocks growing beside the house surrounding the yard. When my father married, they lived in a small red house until Orla was born. Then they moved into a white house where I was born. Claude was born in a two-story white house.
Grandpa Lipe seemed to be losing a lot of corn from his granary one winter. Each time he went for grain to feed his horses and milk cows, there was less than the previous time. One day he set a trap just inside the little door where he reached in with his shovel for grain. The next day he went out early to the granary. There stood an enormous man with his hand inside the little door. “Good morning” Grandpa called out to him. But the man didn’t answer. Grandpa went back to the house and ate breakfast. Then he returned and released the man from the trap. He gave him two sacks of corn to take home with hm. He never did know who the man was and he never returned.”
Willson History: In a letter dated January, 1972, Mother wrote of an experience, her husband, Eugene Parkhurst Willson had shared with her. “All the bitter cold weather reminded Daddy of an experience he had over 50 years before. He had ridden horseback to Lost Springs from Harney where he was homesteading at the time – to pick up his mail and a few groceries. A letter told him his father had been hurt. When he got back to Harney, he loaded up his wagon with all his tools, valuables, and bed. He pushed the large machinery, plow, mower and cultivator into the barn, out of sight, by hand. Neighbors couldn’t be trusted to leave anything like that lying about if they figured they could use it. He locked the house, then hitched up the team and drove while riding horseback. At 30 (Fahrenheit) degrees, he spent more than half the time walking or running to keep warm. It took him until 10:00 p.m. to get to the home ranch (Running Water Ranch). This made forty miles on top of his ride to Lost Springs, another 18 miles round trip. Uncle George (Willson) had a big steak all ready and kept warm in the warming oven on top of the Great Majestic Range. He must have had a lot of gates to open and shut, coming across country too. Bitter cold makes the gates tighter as the wire contracts. This was the time a neighbor had ridden up behind Grandfather (Eugene Bigelow Willson) with two companions. They had a pitchfork handle wrapped with barbed wire. They had been using it on wild animals (coyotes, etc.). But now they used it on Grandfather, knocking him off his horse and breaking his arm. When he came to, he had to drag himself back onto his horse and ride back from the Wood Ranch. Grandfather was fencing in all his property and that made Mr. Cogdill angry because it robbed him of what he considered “free range” for his livestock. This would have been about 1922.
“My earliest memory was of seeing Mama pouring molasses into a huge skillet. She was going to make some taffy from molasses my Grandpa had made. He grew sugar cane and made molasses which he shared with us, and the resulting taffy was always a treat. One day, I was standing in a doorway looking into a huge front room. Mama was sitting in a rocker sewing. Her feet were on a round braided rug she had made. Then I turned and walked into the kitchen. The floor was covered with a blue linoleum rug. I glanced over to my high chair. It was standing directly beneath the match box on the wall. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be there, but it gave me a wonderful idea. I could get some matches and a bit of paper. Then I could start a fire in the stove and make some more of that delicious taffy. I started up into my high chair. I got halfway up when I heard Mama’s determined footsteps with high heels hit the floor and walk rapidly toward the kitchen. I changed my mind and got down quickly and was standing in the middle of the kitchen by the time she arrived at the door. All I remember is seeing her long white apron with fancy trimming on it.
There was a real cold spell and the Saline River was frozen over with thick ice. I heard the grownups doing a lot of talking together. Apparently they had come to some decision. It was the middle of winter and the extreme cold had something to do with their plans. A few days later, Papa became all excited and said “The ice is thick enough now,” so everyone including aunts and Grandmother got busy putting things together. We were moving to another house closer to Papa’s parents and family. Grandma will take me in a buggy with a trunk full of clothing behind the seat (of a buggy). I sat beside Grandma while she drove the horse down to the river bank. I’ll never forget the sound the horses made going clippity clop over the ice. It was the sound caused by the hollow space between the Saline River flowing swiftly below the ice and the horses trotting above. It was a scary thrill for me, being the only time I ever rode over a river on the ice.
“We safely arrived on the other side at our new home site. Papa had loaded up the lumber wagon with his plow and farm equipment and a trunk containing kitchen items and clothing. Mama sat on the spring wagon holding baby Claude in her arms and Orla stood in the front of the wagon between Mama and Papa, while Papa drove to the other side of the river where there were a lot of cobblestones and the river was shallow making a perfect river crossing. Papa was a very ambitious young man and always on the lookout for land that produced better crops than where we were living. It always seemed that we were moving to another farm for that reason. This house was smaller than the one we moved from, but it was big enough. When we rode up on the opposite bank and into the yard of our new home, there was a doll buggy some little girl had left behind. This new home was just across the river from Grandpa Lipe’s farm.
We soon had a garden growing near the house. I had a big yellow kitty, but it apparently got distemper and died. Mama acquired a canary which sang merrily every day. Then she got an organ, which she played on occasionally. One song I remember her singing was “The Wabash Cannon Ball.” One day the mailman delivered a little sample of a new cereal called Egg O See. Mama divided it in two dishes for Claude and me. I can remember how delicious it tasted. It is still sold in the market now, but is called Corn Flakes. After that we bought some from the store occasionally. One day when I was playing on the floor with some toys, Mama exclaimed “oh heavens,” and flew to the stove and yanked the oven door open. She rescued the cake that she was sure was burning. It was only a little dark on one end but still good to eat.
There was a round cardboard box decorated to resemble a wooden barrel that always sat on top of the kitchen cupboard. This was full of gingersnaps. They were only taken down as a special treat. Another item that was kept in an inaccessible spot was a bottle of laudanum on top of the clock that hung high on the wall. This was for earaches. These happened in the middle of the night. Mama would stand beside my bed in her white nightie and hold a soft piece of outing flannel against the lamp chimney until it got warm. Then she’d lay it on my ear while she warmed a second cloth to replace the first one. This would be repeated until my ear stopped aching and I could go to sleep again. Luckily, I did not lose my hearing from so many earaches. Papa had two brothers and two sisters who became deaf. Both aunts had a daughter who became deaf. So it may have been an inherited weakness with them.
About that time, we had another little brother, Charles. When he was about six months old, he became ill with pneumonia. I remember the night he died, and seeing the doctor holding him immersed in warm water in the copper boiler. The stove poker was kept in the fire box and when it was hot. It would be put in the water to retain the right temperature. It was the only method they knew to keep his little body warm, but he died before morning. When I woke up the next morning, he was gone. I remember the funeral vividly. The sun seemed to be shining much brighter than usual. Several people were standing about in the front room. While the preacher was saying some words, all at once, the canary sang a sweet little trill. Then he stopped in the middle of his song very abruptly as though he felt it was not proper for him to be singing then.
By now, Claude at the age of two, was beginning to be a very active little boy. One day he leaned over to crawl under a fence and ran a piece of weed stalk up under his eyelid. Grandma Lipe, who was quite strong, held him down while Mama pulled on the weed. It broke off and part of it was left. Papa had to take him to the doctor to get the rest of it out. Another time, he was chasing a goat, and ran into one of the metal supports for the windmill. This time he needed some stitches above his eye. (same eye). Shortly after this, Papa took Claude to the barber and had his yellow curls cut off and he had a regular boy’s haircut. Later, when it was time to have it trimmed, he said he didn’t want to go. Finally, he explained he was afraid they would cut it “curly.” He didn’t want the curls put back.
One evening, Mama told me to go tell Papa supper was ready. I went running. Papa stopped his work and held out his hand and told me to take ahold of his fingers. I reached up and grabbed his thumb with one fist and a couple fingers with my other fist. Then he swung me through the air as he walked along to my delight as I was used to being swung high around his shoulders in a circle. I squealed with delight and Papa gave a happy chuckle. My uncles Bud and Lon would swing me through the air.
One day when I was three, a man stopped by and asked permission to put a sign on the side of our barn for the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It covered the whole side of our barn. He gave us passes for the whole family. I was so proud of that sign. It stayed on the barn for a couple years or more. It had lions, tigers, trapeze performers, etc., on it. The circus was wonderful. I was so enamored by the lady with pink tights and pink parasol. Afterward, I prayed I would someday become a tight rope performer. From then we saw the circus every three years. The circus sign while still on the side of the barn, was a constant reminder of all the wonderful things we had seen. The sideshow featured a Fat Lady and a Thin Man, a midget horse 30 “ tall, a family of midgets, two albinos with very pale skin, pink eyes and white hair. There was a frogman dressed in a green suit had a mask like a frog’s head. He was more limber than I. He could almost tie himself in knots, it was most fascinating. Someone said he probably drank snake oil to keep himself so limber. One day Mama saw me on the floor with both my feet wrapped around behind my neck. Putting the first foot was easy but the second took a bit of a struggle. Mama said, “ You’d feel funny if you couldn’t get them back down again.” The thought of it frightened me so I never tried it again. There was a hoop act that we practiced over and over again. We used four barrel hoops. One on each arm and one on each leg. I can no longer recall the procedure, but arms, legs and head got mixed up in all the hoops and eventually the hoops ended up on a different arm or leg than where it started. Also we rigged up a trapeze in the barn above the hay in the loft where we could fall without getting hurt. Neighbors and cousins joined us for our fun on our trapeze.
“Uncle Lon’s wife Aunt Annie died leaving two sons Paul almost five (my age) and Reuben about two years old. The day of the funeral, Reuben held in his father’s arms cried over and over “Mama, Mama.” They went to live with Grandma and Grandpa for a few years. Then Uncle Lon remarried but that didn’t last more than about a year. By then, Uncle Lon decided to raise his sons by himself. He felt the weight of responsibility of being both father and mother to them. They grew up to be fine young men. The circus sign was still on the side of the barn. A constant reminder of all the wonderful things we had seen
In 1903, it rained hard and we had a flood. The Saline River overflowed its banks and the water came up to our doorstep. I remember being awakened long before daylight by a neighbor with a team of horses drawing a lumber wagon to rescue us. He drove up tight against the porch. The water was already lapping by the edge of it. However, the water didn’t go into the house. The next morning, a couple boys came over in their homemade boat to take us for a ride up and down between the rows of corn in our garden. They took Orla first because she was the oldest. Then I got a ride. Of course, that was exciting. Our climate had been too dry at other farms, and now here it was too wet.
The summer I was four years old, I went to visit Grandma and Grandpa Frain at Culver, Kansas. One day I went out to the outhouse. (There was a board walk from the house to the outhouse so you would not get your feet muddy in wet weather.) I discovered a nice big Montgomery Ward catalog in there. It was so interesting with all the pretty pictures I almost forgot where I was. After a while, Grandpa walked by and noticed the place was unlocked so he turned the wooden button locking me inside. Naturally the tears began to flow but without making any sound. It wasn’t very long before they missed me and figured out where I was. Grandpa had a sore on his arm. I saw it being doctored one day by painting iodine on it with a feather. A few months later, he died of erysipelas.
Grandma Frain came to visit us one day in September. It must have been cold as we were all inside instead of playing outside. She herded Orla, Claude and me into the kitchen and told us to stay with her. After a while, the doctor came and walked into the part of the house where we couldn’t go. Later we were told, we had a new sister, who was named Zoa because it was Aunt Zoa’s 16th
birthday. By then, I was 4 ½ years old. One day, no one else was in the house and Zoa’s diaper needed changing, so I did it. Mama had a hired girl 13 years old for a couple weeks after Zoa was born. One stormy day, Mama got out 3 flour sacks and said she would give a penny to the one who could sew the nicest hem on one of these three sacks. Well, I got the penny. When Zoa was old enough to sit up, Papa brought in a horse collar and sat it on the kitchen floor. Mama draped a blanket on it and sat Zoa inside the nest it made. We had a swing much like lawn swings. It had springs that suspended the swing seat from an A frame. Soon Zoa began pulling herself up to chairs. When the weather warmed up, she was put outside on the porch, which was only a few feet off ground level. Zoa crawled over to the house wall and worked herself up to a standing position. Then with the palms of her hands against the wall, she began walking sideways. She was wearing a sheer white dress with lace trim. All at once a whirlwind came onto the porch. I was standing a few feet away. The whirlwind pulled her away from the wall and propelled her along to the north edge of the porch and west around the corner of the house. The wind pushed her along so fast she ran “tippy toe” like a ballet dancer. Then suddenly the whirlwind veered away. With no more support from the wind, Zoa fell on her face. These were her very first steps.
I started a little game for myself, playing “possum.” I would lie on the couch in the evenings after the lamp was lit. Mama would sit close to the lamp stand to do some hand sewing. She made all of our clothes and had to get things in readiness to sew on the machine the next day. While I was lying on the couch, I’d close my eyes, almost, leaving a tiny slit to look at the lamp. I discovered this broke up the light into red, green and yellow. When I tired of this, I would close my eyes all the way and listen to the conversation of my family. One night, Mama said “Well George, it looks like Marie has gone to sleep. You might as well put her in bed.” As Papa picked me up and carried me toward my bed, I opened my eyes and looked at him. He chuckled “You little rascal! Maude, she was playing possum.”
One hot day that summer, two boys who lived several miles from us, drove in our yard with a beautiful team of Shetland ponies. They were hitched to a spring wagon of a miniature size to match the ponies. The were either dark brown or black. The boys had stopped in to get a drink for their ponies. Next, they took a bucket of water and poured it over the ponies’ backs to cool them off. I’d never seen this done before nor since. The boys stayed only a few minutes to visit, then drove on.
One day this summer, Papa found a nice fat possum. He killed it and dressed it. Mama stuffed it with dressing and roasted it along with sweet potatoes. A lady happened to stop by, selling spices and medications. She was invited in to dinner. I never heard any one so effusive with praise. She had never tasted anything so delicious in all her life. She begged to know what kind of meat it was. Finally, Papa said, “Well, its possum.” That did it. She didn’t seem to be hungry anymore and she hadn’t much more to say.
One of my aunts was visiting one day when Papa came to the house and asked if they would like to dress some black birds for a pie. After talking it over they told Papa they would do it. I looked out the window, and saw the haystack was all black with the birds sitting on it. Papa took his shotgun and shot only once or twice. They had all the birds necessary to make the pie.
Grandma Lipe began teaching me a lot of songs she knew. Probably the first one was “My Mama told me, that she would buy me, a rubber dolly, if I’d be goody, I got a feller, but don’t you tell-er, or she won’t buy me that rubber dolly.” It was about now I learned of the rosin “chewing gum” Grandma Lipe used to make. She would gather some of the rosin weed. Next she would chew it until it held together . Then she would pass it along to one of her eight children to chew. I can remember my mother’s comments of disapproval of this. I did not think much of the idea and was very glad she never offered any to me. But she was a person who was always full of jolly wit. The entire family was full of singing and fun. Uncle Bud used to sing a ditty; “Pumpkin pie, puddin’ and pie, the yellow cat spit in the gray cat’s eye” embellished with sound effects that made it very funny. I think he learned it at one of those traveling vaudevilles that would stop in a country school house or meeting house for one or two nights.
One summer, my yellow dog, Cap, was bitten by a mad dog. Papa tied him up for a couple days to see if he would get sick too. Soon his eyes did become very red and Papa had to take him away and dispose of him when I wasn’t looking.
My first year of school was quite an ordeal. A boy named Jake and I were the only ones in Chart Class. Most of our lessons came from a huge chart that hung on a Standard. Each page about 2 to 3 feet wide by 3 to 4 feet tall. One enormous page might read “CAT. I see a cat.” The teacher gave us large pieces of cardboard with slots in them. When we finished drawing a line in each slot on to a piece of white paper, we would have a picture of a cow, dog, rabbit or whatever. Then we also had a Primer Reader with pictures on most every other page. We also had the hardest thing in the world to remember; that we must not whisper in school time. But when we were caught, we had to stand in a corner or sit on the piano stool with a dunce cap on with the word DUNCE in large letters on it. Sometimes Jake and I had to stand in the front of the room side by side. This put us behind the teacher which was to our advantage. As usual, we would forget about the whispering deal. We would be studying our lesson from our Primers but not for long. Jake would whisper “Do you have this picture in your book?” I’d answer “Yes, I think so.” then madly turn the pages until I found the identical picture. Then I’d say, “I’ll bet you don’t have this one.” Then it was his turn to hunt. This would continue until the teacher discovered us and would put me in one corner and Jake across the room. Orla and I rode to school bareback on a big, gentle horse. We had about one and a half miles to go. Going home one evening, the horse started trotting and I slid off. Orla eased the horse over to a fence post where I managed to climb up and pulled myself back on. I grabbed Orla about the waist tight so I wouldn’t fall off again. That following summer, I saw my first car drive past our place. Two men were riding in it and going about 5 or 6 miles an hour. Maybe they were going slow to avoid frightening any horses, which often happened.
In 1906, we went to our first moving picture show. It was held one warm summer evening in an open tent called an Air Drome. The show was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Mary Pickford was Little Eva. When little Eva died, a large cardboard angel was slowly pulled up from her bed into the cardboard clouds. I think I saw one more show in an Air Drome. The after that, a movie house took over in town. A lady played a lively tune while the picture was going. After a few years, the pianist would watch the picture close enough to make a crashing sound on the keys at the appropriate time when someone would fall. Admission was five cents for several years. About this time, Edison invented the talking machine. At first a man’s voice would announce “This is an Edison record.” Followed by music or someone singing “Under the Old Apple Tree” or “Come, Josephine in my Flying Machine”.
The Friday before Christmas a big Santa came in the school room jingling lots of bells and going “HO, HO, HO.” He had a gunny sack about half full. He handed out little toys that were made of papier mache! Since school was out for Christmas vacation, Papa did not have time to go all the way to Salina to get us an evergreen tree. Mama asked Orla and me to go along the barbed wire fence and get that sunflower that was growing there by itself. It was larger than the usual sunflowers and had many side bunches. Mama set in a corner of the front room in a kettle of sand. Then we put little fluffs of cotton on top of branches. Orla and I strung popcorn and cranberries and hung those around. We colored paper with crayons and made paper chains. When we finished, it looked quite festive. I received a doll trunk that Christmas. (Note: the trunk was one of two items saved when the family home burned to the ground in 1916).
My first few days at school in Salina, I drew a lot of attention. “Where did I come from?” and dozens of other questions. I enjoyed going to first grade in Salina. One little girl invited me to go with her to see a Haunted House but it turned out to be only a deserted house. A few items of clothing had been left behind. Some windows were broken. Then as I was on my way home one afternoon, I cut across a vacant lot where two ladies were getting mushrooms. They invited me to pick some too. I said I didn’t have anything to carry them in. They told me to gather up the hem of my dress and carry them that way. They gave me some of theirs and told me to wash them when I got home, slice them and fry in butter. They were delicious, first time I’d ever eaten any.
One day, I was walking down the street when a little boy about 3 years old came out with a stick and started whacking me with it. Finally, I reached over and caught the stick as he swung it at me again. Then he yelled bloody murder and his mother came running and brandishing a broom and yelling “You stop hurting my boy or I’ll use this broom on you!” I walked on without answering as I knew it would be useless to try to explain how it really was.
Since Grandma Frain was an Army widow, she received a pension of $35.00 per month. She was careful to make it take care of all her needs, plus a little more. She splurged about ten years later, and had electric lights installed in every room. Each spring and each fall, she made herself a dress. Last year’s dress would become second best. Uncle Ed took over the butcher shop after Grandpa died and ran it for several years. Grandma used to quote little Pennsylvania Deutsch proverbs “See a pin, pick it up. And all day long, you’ll have good luck.”, There never was a crock so crooked but what there is a lid to fit it.” The latter meant no matter how different you are from others, there is a counterpart for you somewhere in the world. She once told me, anyone at all can cook a good meal if she can afford to buy the best there is. She did not add that a poor cook can spoil the best food sometimes too. But she did say the real test of a good cook is one who can cook something out of nothing. She proved this once when I visited her. She made pancakes one morning (creamy and smooth) by adding some mashed potatoes to the batter. One morning she crumbled up a leftover pancake and added it to the batter. Another time she broke up half a slice of white bread. The result was feathery light cakes.
One summer Papa bought a two seated carriage, all black. It had a flat roof over it and square kerosene lanterns hung on the outside of each front seat. On a Sunday afternoon when visiting friends, their billy goat climbed up placing his front hooves on the front step and broke one of the glass sides out of the chimney of one of the lanterns with his horns. On one of our Sunday afternoon visits, there was a sudden shower that chased us kids all indoors. When it was over, we ran outside once more. As we started to cross a little dip in the yard, both my feet slipped and I landed in a mud puddle in my white Sunday dress with ruffles. I was put to bed while my dress was washed, dried and ironed.
We had heard about automobiles but had never seen one until that afternoon. Two men were riding by in one going about 5 to 10 miles per hour. No wonder horses went mildly crazy and ran away when they saw their first “horseless carriage.” After all, they were supposed to be pulling those contraptions around, weren’t they?
Papa and Uncle Lon decided to go into business together running a livery stable in Salina. Both had a love for beautiful horses. I think they both enjoyed themselves in this venture. We moved into town after the first of the year. Young men competed with each other to hire out for an evening a buggy hitched one of the fanciest ponies they had. One in particular was named “High Pockets,” because he was such a high stepper. More and more automobile companies started springing up. As soon as a young man could save up a few hundred dollars he became the owner of a White or one of the cheaper makes. The demand for horse and buggies for an evening out became less and less. So Papa and Uncle Lon sold off all the horses they could bear to part with. They kept a few for themselves. He kept a nice team with which he drove our carriage.
The Saline River was teeming with fish and Papa and Grandpa would string a seine across the river, and leave it overnight. In the morning, they would pull in a nice catch of fish. They lived about 9 miles from Salina, so Papa would get up extra early and pull in the seine full of fish, dump them into the lumber wagon, cover them with a wet canvas and drive as fast as possible to Salina before the sun had a chance to spoil the fish for market. I remember seeing Grandpa holding up a carp as high as he could, with the tail touching the floor. The 76 pound carp that Grandpa caught, was almost as big as he was. When Papa got a big catch of fish, caught with the net put in the river at night and pulled out in the morning, he would load the wagon and leave for Salina before 6:00 a.m. or earlier. He would reach Salina about 10:00. One day he put two or three nice fish in the horse tank to keep until we were ready to use them for food. Claude and I had to go out and take a look at the fish. Then all at once, I found myself in the tank. I could hear Claude screaming. I went down twice with my eyes open! The third time I grabbed the edge of the tank and pulled myself out. Claude ran to the house screaming for help. My clothes stuck to my skinny little body as I started toward the house. There stood Grandpa Lipe halfway to the house just shaking all over laughing at me and my tears started to stream. When Mama got all my clothes off of me and put a warm nightie on me. I was humiliated, if only Grandpa hadn’t laughed at me!
One evening after work Papa and the hired man were watering the horses at the tank before taking them to the barn. The hired man scooped me up and set me on the back of one of the horses. As soon as the horses had their drink, they trotted to the barn. Mama saw me and started yelling something. She knew how low the barn door was and had visions of my being decapitated as we went over the threshold of the door. But I just happened to duck my head at the right time.
Aunt Zoa was learning to play the piano so she would sometimes come over and play on our organ. One evening after supper, we were all in the kitchen. Mama crocheting or mending socks. Papa reading the paper. And we kids were on the floor playing when all at once there was a loud knock, knock, knock on the door. Papa stared at Mama, then quietly got up and went to the cupboard, pulled open the drawer and took out a great big butcher knife. Then he walked quietly to the door and yanked it open. In tumbled two girls and their beaus. One of the girls was Aunt Zoa or Aunt Melissa, I’m not sure. But the other was a friend she wanted us to meet. I remember this other girl standing in the doorway to a bedroom. She daintily pulled up her skirts about 6 or 8 inches from the floor while she danced an Irish jig.
We went visiting on Sunday afternoons to neighbors. I stayed all night with a little girl. We slept on the second floor. I had a habit of walking in my sleep. In the night, I walked to the stairs and fell all the way down. I had a scar on my nose for a long time from that tumble.
Papa began hearing rumors that miners in Colorado were getting real good wages. It sounded enticing. Finally, when Christmas vacation time came, we took the train to a mining town named Basalt. When vacation time was over, Orla entered school there. I visited school with her one day. A boy sitting behind me put his pencil up inside my curls and jabbed the back of my head. Orla told the teacher. I was told later that the boy was sent to the principal who used a ruler to spank him. After a month, Papa decided that mining was not for him and was only a fly by night operation. We returned to the farm near the Saline River.
My father’s family always enjoyed a good practical joke. One evening, Aunt Zoa informed Aunt Melissa she had a date for the evening. Aunt Melissa wanted to know who the young man was and what he was like. Aunt Zoa suggested she hide behind the piano and then she could find out. That sounded like a good idea. About 7:30 p.m., there was a knock at the door. “Come in” invited Aunt Zoa, “I have some pictures I’d like to show you.” She brought out her album, which was quite full. The young man just had to see all the pictures. For Aunt Melissa, behind the piano, the time dragged on and on. She made little scratchy sounds on the back of the piano to remind her sister she was back there. Aunt Zoa commented “there must be a mouse back there.” No doubt Aunt Melissa got even with Aunt Zoa later with a joke of her own.
We never missed going to church on Sunday morning unless someone was sick, or it rained so hard we couldn’t get there. We attended church in a school house, but it wasn’t the same school where I attended Chart Class. I remember one warm Sunday morning when Papa gave the prayer in Church. My eyes had drifted shut but popped open and focused on the tiny bows on the toes of my new patent leather shoes, which were covered with black iridescent seed beads. After Church, we would invite someone to have dinner with us or we would be invited to some friend’s home for dinner. That way we kept in touch with our neighbors.
This was about the time the stores began selling perfectly ugly Valentines. Some with messages such as “This reminded me of you.” Aunt Zoa found one with a similar message and sent it to a young man. The following year, he sent it to her. The next year, she sent it back. This continued for about forty years when the poor Valentine finally disintegrated. This camaraderie was enjoyed by both and strengthened their friendship.
Since most of Papa’s brothers and sisters were married now, Aunt Melissa and her sister, Zoa went to Salina to work in stores. Aunt Zoa worked in the Duckwall Store for several years. During this time, they bought a lot of nice clothes for themselves. When they got tired of their dresses, they would pass them along to Mama to make dresses for Orla and me. One dress that I inherited was a green and red changeable taffeta that was made into a jumper with a white blouse underneath. I wore it to school the first day I attended first grade at Oakdale School. Many years afterward, my friend Hazel recalled how pretty it was. That was the era when ostrich feathers and stuffed birds were popular for hat ornaments. Soon after, a law was passed prohibiting killing of birds for hat ornaments. I remember one of my aunts paying $25 for a hat decorated with ostrich feathers. Duckwall Stores were always stocked with fine china. Some of it is still in existence among family members.
Now that we were living in town, Mama cautioned us never to accept food from a stranger as it might be poisoned! One day a pretty lady in a blue dress that matched her blue eyes offered me a bouquet of lilacs. I thought of Mama’s admonition and backed away saying “No, no thanks.” She said with a smile, “Please take them little girl. I have plenty more at home.” But I continued to back away, though I would have enjoyed having the flowers.
We lived on the East side of Oakdale Ave. of which the West side was the bank of Smoky Hill River. A couple blocks north of our house was the end of the street where there was a bend in the river. A couple or two further there was a wooded area. After school, we took berry baskets and filled them with violets that grew under weeds and grass in this area. Most of them were pale blue violets but occasionally some were deeper blue and a few were pink violets. We would take them home and sort out the prettiest ones to take to our teachers the next day.
Zoa had just learned how to tie or button her shoes. She had great fun changing from one pair to another and back again several times a day. One day, I found some green cottonwood seeds on the ground. In answer to my questions about them, Mama told me to put them under a crock outside the house. They would hatch some little white chicks. Each day, I raised the crock to peek at them. I soon discovered my experiment was something of a fizzle. And my information was not at all what it should have been.
About two weeks after I started the second grade our neighbor lady across the alley from us invited us children over for lunch and to spend the afternoon. That evening we were told to go home to see our new sister. She was the reddest baby I ever saw. After a week or so, she faded out and looked like every other baby I knew. It was the custom now to take a drive on Sunday afternoons in our carriage wearing our Sunday best. About two weeks after the new sister arrived, we were riding along. Mama was wearing a navy or black outfit with a white blouse. Whale bone held the points of her lace collar up almost to her ears. She was holding the baby and Zoa was between her and Papa. Orla and Claude and I rode in the back seat. Finally Mama broke the silence and she said “ I know what we’ll call her, Dorothy Lee.”
A few weeks later, Orla obtained permission to spend the night with Velma, a neighbor girl. About 3:00 a.m. there was a knock on the door. We were not in the habit of having evening callers. So we children trailed along to see who was calling at that time of night. One talked to Mama and asked if they could stay there overnight. Mama said “Did you boys run away from home?” She received a mumbled “no” in reply. “Then I’ll tell you what to do. Go three blocks south, then four blocks west. There is a red brick building on your left. They will keep you there for the night.” “Thank you” said the boy who did all the talking and they left. Mama had directed them to the Police Station. Next morning, Orla returned home. “That was a grand joke we played on you last night” she said. “What joke?’ Mama answered. Orla explained that she and Velma had dressed up in Oakey’s clothes. ( Velma’s older brother) They pulled their caps down low over their eyes so their faces didn’t show much. Velma was too shy to do the talking so Orla did it all. Mama refused to believe it. Later Velma came over and told her it was the truth.
Next spring, a Mr. Baird, a Civil War veteran, came and asked Mama if her two little girls could be in his Decoration Day drill. She said it was alright. Every Saturday afternoon from then on, we went downtown to practice several drill routines, like a bunch of little girl soldiers. In our spare time we made cardboard crosses and circles and covered them with crepe paper. A day or so before Decoration Day, we were busy getting together the flowers to decorate our wreaths and crosses. We had some very pretty rambler climbing roses, which grew in clusters of 4 or 5. On the big day, we met in the group of about 100 girls, downtown before two o’clock. We went through our drills and sang some songs to those congregated. Then marched out to our waiting carriages to drive in a solemn procession 2 miles to Gypsum Hill cemetery. At the entrance, we all stepped out of our carriages and marched through the cemetery carrying our wreaths and crosses. We placed them on the graves of relatives and friends. We were all wearing white dresses and wore red, white and blue satin ribbon from the right shoulder to the left hip.
This summer, we acquired a bicycle for all of us to ride. One day, I gave Claude a ride on the handle bars. I rode over a small bump and he bounced off. He was so chubby at five, he really bounced. One Sunday, after our carriage ride, Zoa was standing alongside, holding a big cotton stuffed doll. When all the family had gotten out of the carriage, the team started to move. Zoa slipped under the right rear wheel which ran over her stomach. Luckily the big stuffed doll protected her. Without it, the sharp iron tire might have given her fatal injuries. She lay around for a day or two with a very sore tummy.
Occasionally we had round white peppermint candies with pink stripes around them. One, day Zoa had one in her mouth, sucking on it when it suddenly went back into her throat choking her. She was pounded on her back but that didn’t help. In desperation, Mama held her upside down by her heels and shook her. The candy came loose. It was a long time before we ever had any more candy that size and shape that might accidentally get into the windpipe of a small child. We did buy all day suckers. Large, round, flat sugar candy, different colors and flavors. The real prize was the licorice root that was the handle for the sucker. It took a long time to chew on it and enjoy its flavor. That made the name “all-day sucker” really fit this candy. Then there were little tiny boxes of licorice posts we could buy for a penny. They lasted even longer unless it was chewed up and swallowed in a hurry of anticipation of getting more. A very popular kind of chewing gum was white paraffin in a flat square with a pretty picture on the wrapper. It was flavored with a kind of perfume. I received a Valentine at school with a pretty picture of a swan. Some of the paraffin gum came in long sticks with a pretty ring encircling it. All for a penny!
One hot summer day, Papa’s uncle Aaron and uncle Henry came for a visit. Before they left, they went to the pump in the back yard and pumped until the water ran cold. Each took a big drink of it. I was especially impressed by the fact that they were both short men about 5 feet tall. Grandpa wasn’t very tall, perhaps 5’3” or 5’4”. Papa got his height of 6 ft. from his mother’s side of the family. Grandma was 5’6” or 5’7”. Grandpa and Grandma moved to Salina that summer. Papa’s oldest sister, aunt Minnie, moved onto the homeplace with her husband and family. That summer, Orla decided we should have a circus. She made tickets, admission was 1 cent or reserved seats 2 cents. Two of the children bought reserved seats. We used wagons to haul the “wild animals” in. Our cat was a tiger and the dog, a lion. I don’t remember what the rest of the performance consisted of, but all the children who attended insisted it was a good show. And hoped we would have another soon.
When Orla started to school in the fall, she decided to take her little sister (me) for a visit. At recess, we went out to the play yard where there was a teeter totter. A huge plank fastened in the middle with a spike made it into a merry go round. Someone put me on one end and someone else sat on the other end. Two of the bigger boys started pushing it around. They kept going faster and faster. Finally, I could no longer hang on and slid off with a hard bump that knocked the wind out of me. It took me quite awhile to get my breath back.
Occasionally Mama would send me downtown on an errand. When I walked over the Smoky Hill River bridge, I would enter a sort of slum area of the river shacks. As soon as the children living there saw me walking by, they would start yelling “Red headed ginger bread, 5 cents a loaf” over and over until I turned the corner four blocks further onto Main Street. Mama would give me a nickel for doing the errand. I discovered an ice cream parlor furnished with round tables and chairs with round seats. The legs were made of heavy twisted wire. Here, I bought a strawberry ice cream soda with lots of crushed strawberries in it, all for five cents.
One day, I went in to Duckwalls with a penny to spend. Aunt Zoa was not there that day. I stopped at the candy counter and was trying to decide what would be my best buy, when a woman walked by me. She scooped up a huge chocolate and popped it in her mouth. I was rather startled by this. Then I reflected if she can do this maybe I can too. So I reached over and selected a cocoanut toasted marshmallow and stuffed it all in my mouth. I’d no sooner done this when a lady clerk came up behind me. “What can I do for you little girl?” she said. I could only point at some chocolate non-pareils ahead of me. My mouth was too full to speak. She explained that even one cost more than a penny. So I had to make another choice and don’t remember what it was. I resolved never to do that again, ever. That fall, Aunt Zoa placed second in a popularity contest in Salina, which was considered an accomplishment. Another girl whose father was quite wealthy, won the contest.
In September, I entered third grade and liked school even better. A music teacher came once or twice weekly and taught us new songs as well as gave us basic training (the music scale and all the music symbols). She also taught us songs from several operas.
That fall a girl friend had a rather annoying cold. Finally, our teacher said, “Frankie, I suggest you clear out all the handkerchiefs you have in your desk and take them home.” Frankie started taking out hankies and piling them on top of her desk. It seemed impossible that she could have had that many as well as all her books inside her desk. Soon the entire room was laughing as the pile grew higher. Of course, Frankie began crying. The teacher kindly told her to lay her grandfather’s red hanky on the floor and pile the rest on it, tying the bandana together around them. Then she said, “Tell your Grandma that you are bringing home your laundry.” I walked her home just as I always did. Her grandmother met us at the front step. Frankie said “I am bringing my laundry home” just as the teacher had told her to do.
I especially liked my lessons on science. I learned that diamonds came from coal. But that diamonds were much, much older than coal. I selected a nice, firm piece of coal and buried it in our back yard. Then when I grew up, I would go back and dig up my diamond.
Orla and I always did the breakfast dishes before we went to school. One morning when I walked into my school room, one little girl said, “O, what a pretty apron!” I looked down and was so embarrassed. I was still wearing the apron I wore to protect my school dress while doing dishes. I yanked it off and stuffed it into my desk. One weekend, I visited Grandma and Grandpa Lipe. While she made some of her big sugar cookies with a raisin in the center, she suggested I go out to her strawberry patch and help myself. They were so red and sweet and juicy I ate and ate. I was wearing a blue checked jumper. I guess I planned to take some into the house to Grandma, but I looked down and red juice was dripping down the front of my clothes. I had to go to bed while my dress was washed and ironed.
Grandpa liked to entertain us kids. Sometimes with stories from his Civil War experiences and sometimes with magic. One day, he took out his red bandana and laid a nickel in the middle of it. Then he folded it up tight. Next, he took hold of one corner and shook his hanky vigorously. Nothing fell out, so we all started looking to see where the nickel had gone. Finally, he said “Why, here it is!” and reached over to Claude’s ear and produced the nickel. Naturally Claude’s eyes were big as saucers with surprise.
In 1905, Grandma and Grandpa Lipe decided to have Christmas in their home. I remember a big tree in one corner all decorated. After dinner we sat in a circle in front of the tree. One of my uncles came in all dressed in red with a Santa mask on. He distributed the gifts to us. The gifts were mostly homemade or were of wood or celluloid. Shortly after that, our grandparents moved to Salina. Aunt Minnie and Uncle Ed moved into Grandpa’s house which was built of native stone and was very well built and sturdy.
The next Christmas, Aunt Minnie invited all the Lipe families together now that they lived in Grandpa’s home where there was plenty of room for us all. Someone dressed up in a Santa Claus suit and distributed all our gifts. I think it was Uncle Lon or Uncle Bud who was Santa. We had a jolly time and there was a beautiful tree. After New Year’s, one of the milliner’s shops had a fire. Then they advertised a fire sale with hats marked way down. Mama instructed Orla to go down and buy an Easter hat for herself and me. They were 50 cents each. Mine was a pretty white sailor with a lot of pink chiffon encircling the crown. When Mama saw it, she said “this will do, but first I must take this chiffon off and put on a blue ribbon.” That spoiled it for me. I was never allowed to wear pink or red because of my hair.
Once again, Mr. Baird appeared the first of April to see if Orla and I could be in the Decoration Day program. We spent Saturday afternoons for the next two months practicing the marching drills. We held our practices in a large Lodge Hall. Toward the end of two months of practice some of the mothers made cake and ice cream and served it to us. While we waited to be served, someone started a chorus of “You scream and I scream. We all scream for ice cream.”
During school vacation, Orla and I took music lesson from a Mr. Smythe. I took 7 in all, but Orla continued through the summer. There must have been considerable rain that spring and summer. One night about 9:00 p.m., word spread that a cyclone was imminent. We fled to the cyclone cave, which was our fruit cellar where all the canned fruit and fresh apples and potatoes were kept in season. We stood on the steps leading down into it for perhaps half an hour, when neighbors passed the word that the danger was over. Then we went back to bed. Shortly after this the Smoky Hill overflowed its banks. Papa and other men in the neighborhood took pitch forks and went out into the lowlands where they knew it was safe and speared fish on a few nights before the water rode higher. When the water rose higher, Mama had to rescue all her canned fruit from the cave. One jar of peaches she had canned seven years before, was still good. Claude and I had to go out to the garden with a gallon pail, each with bare feet. We would feel around with our toes for potatoes in the mud. By then the water was 6 or 8 inches deep all over the garden. We made several trips to the house with pails full of potatoes. We rescued all we could find with our toes. The weather was warm, therefore we were allowed to put on old garments and go play in the water covering the street. I remember reaching down through the water touching the tips of my fingers on the paving and realized it was deep enough and I could float on top of the water. That was the closest to swimming I knew at the age of nine. While we were having fun paddling around, some teenage boys made some rafts and poled themselves along the shallow water beyond the river’s edge. But the water was due to go higher. A neighbor came over in hip boots and a wheel barrow. We were rescued one at a time off our front porch and wheeled us about one half a block to a portion of sidewalk that was almost dry. From there we made our way over to Grandma and Grandpa’s home in the south part of town about two miles from there. In a few days the water began to go back down. We were able to return home then.
When I was nine, I saw an ad in a farm magazine saying “draw me and win a prize.” I think the picture was of a clown. So, I went ahead, drew the picture and sent it in, was graded 90%, but they never did send the magazine I was supposed to receive. When later, I was hospitalized the following September, my nurse had also drawn the picture, received a grade of 80% and she did receive the magazine.
In September, Papa had heard about a farm at Kipp (Kansas) for sale and he bought it. He was ready to get back to farming once more. He hitched up his team and started loading his wagon with our furniture for the move to the country. As usual, I began clearing off the breakfast table. I took my first armload of dishes to the kitchen and came back for a second when a pain stabbed through me. Papa had carried the last mattress out and piled it on top of the wagon. I sat down in a chair but the pain got worse. Finally, Papa brought the mattress back and put it on the bed. My pain got worse and worse. My screams could be heard a block away. The doctor had to be called. A young doctor came and diagnosed my pain as appendicitis. I was operated on the next day (Sunday) Sept. 13 at noon. My appendix was almost ready to burst. I was the second person to be operated on for appendicitis in the state of Kansas. The first was a girl eleven years old but she didn’t live. I was in the hospital for three weeks. The doctor had a daughter who had saved paper dolls from the Ladies Home Journal. He brought them to me and I spent many hours cutting out the doll dresses and other items. One day, they brought a man patient to visit me. Both legs had been amputated halfway to his hips. He had a little board with tiny wheels to move about with. They brought him in to tell me jokes. Afterward, I stayed with Grandpa and Grandma Lipe for another three weeks while I recuperated there in Salina. Grandpa liked to take ears of corn, put a stick in one end and poke it in the round. This was to feed the squirrels. He was a Civil War veteran and always wore his blue uniform with gold buttons.
After hearing of the fertile soil in Louisiana. the Lipe family spent six months living on a farm there, where most of the children developed malaria. They sold out and returned to Kansas, where they remained. Our mother trained as a nurse after her high school education in Salina, resulted in a job working in a TB sanatorium, where she contracted that disease. She subsequently went to a dryer climate for her health and lived in Denver, where she met her future sister-n-law, Maxine Willson. who successfully played matchmaker.
History of Eugene & Marie Lipe Willson
Eugene P. Willson and Marie Lipe were married in September of 1925 (Douglas, Wyoming) by a friend of his uncle who was a Justice of the Peace. They made their first home at Harney Creek Ranch, nine and one half miles north of Lost Springs.
In addition to the beautiful scenery in all directions from their home, they had a special attraction of a natural “flyway” one quarter mile from their front door. Every fall and spring they were treated to the visits of birds migrating. In the fall flocks of ducks or geese would fly in from the northwest and head straight to the conical shaped hill, they called Old Lady Hill. Slowly the birds would start circling the base and the warm air would gently push their tired bodies upward. Gradually their flight increased as they went higher around the hill until they reached the top in a tight circle going faster and faster. By then the amount of air was all they needed to push them higher. In about twenty minutes after they first arrived, they would almost disappear from sight. Then they would resume their flight pattern and fly straight on a south easterly direction to their winter home.
About seven years after their marriage Eugene and Marie moved to Manville to be near a school. A couple years later they moved to the Wilson Bros. Ranch (name was changed later to Running Water Ranch) where Eugene was born in 1891. He attended school his first two years at the ranch, then completed grade school at Manville. Then on to Salem, Mass., for high school. He graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1912 with a Degree in Civil Engineering. He worked for the Burlington Railway constructing a tunnel for the railroad near Guernsey and continuing with the Burlington, building bridges and trestles on up to Casper.
Gene was in the Armed Service (Army) in 1918. He shipped out on the HMS Russia to France the day after the Armistice was signed. After a brief stay in France, he returned to his homestead on Harney Creek. Then he worked for the Union Oil Co. at Lance Creek for a few years. Gene also assisted his parents with their ranching operations.
Marie Valentine Lipe was born in Ottawa County, Kansas, on Feb. 14, 1900, hence the middle name of Valentine. She received most of her education in Salina. In 1913, the family decided to move to Louisiana. Almost at once several members of the family including Marie were stricken with Malaria. This necessitated a return to Salina. (Oral history- the property in Louisiana was the site of oil discovery six months after they left. P.H.) In 1915, their home burned to the ground. Good friends invited Marie to stay with them until the close of her freshman year in high school.
That summer, she worked for H.D. Lee making overalls. It was a good experience for a fifteen year old. Soon after graduation in 1918, the flu epidemic broke out. The newspaper was calling volunteers to take care of the families who were so desperately ill. Marie immediately took on a case. She went to the home at 4:00 p.m. and by 10:00 the next morning she came down with the flu herself. After she recovered from her illness, she proceeded to care for several more families as the need for helpers was so great.
In 1921 the Asbury Hospital decided to start a school of nursing. Marie was the second one to join the school. It was both exciting and enjoyable. The charge for a private room was $4.00 per day or $2.00 each for two occupants. The policy of the Methodist organization had three categories. Full payment for patients who could afford to pay, then part pay, and charity. All patients received the same good treatment. The hours for the nurses were 12 hour shifts from 7:00 to 7:00. During the second year of Marie’s training, she contracted the flu again. (Oral history- family understood she had been working in a TB ward and contracted tuberculosis- preferred to call it flu as TB was considered a dirty disease. P.H.) This time more severe than the first. She spent one year in bed as a result. Eventually the doctor suggested she go west for a while to a dryer climate. She ended up in Boulder, Colo., where she regained her strength. Marie worked at the Boulder Community Hospital for several months, until she answered an advertisement for a nurse in a home. The patient was recovering from an infection following surgery. They were a honeymoon couple, Kenneth and Maxine Willson from Wyoming and the husband was temporarily out of work. Soon Kink, who was a geologist, found work with an oil company in Texas. Marie and Maxine, his wife, stayed on at their little house in Boulder. Marie was told about a brother who lived in Wyoming, described as “shy and quiet”. She thought he sounded like a nice person to know. Telegrams and phone calls were flying between Texas and Boulder. Kenneth suggested to Maxine, “Would Marie consider going to Manville to take care of his elderly Aunt Helen, to relieve his mother of the extra work?” That sounded great! Next came a telegram saying “Send Marie to Manville and you come to Texas”. It was wintertime and it had been 25 degrees below a few weeks earlier. But now the sun was shining and it looked very much like spring. Maxine and Marie did the best they could to seal the house against intruders. The sterling silver was hidden carefully under the bed. All the windows were nailed shut. Each assumed this was only a temporary move, and each packed only a part of his clothes.
The heavy snow was almost all gone and the streets were clear. It was truly a spring day when they left Boulder. Four days after receiving the message, Maxine was heading for Texas and Marie to Manville. Kink didn’t realize the speed two ladies could act who were eager to make a change. He failed to let his parents know of his gracious offer to send a nurse (stranger) to their home without consulting them. Marie arrived on the train in Manville about 9:00 p.m. Luckily the depot was still open. The agent looked across the meadow to the Willson residence. There was a light still on in the home. The agent phoned the house, then handed the receiver to Marie. The voice on the wire sounded very much like Kink so that was reassuring. After a brief explanation of who she was, the “voice” said he’d be right over. In about fifteen minutes he arrived, took one look at her and said “Got any overshoes?” “No” was her answer. He must have thought “tenderfoot” but said “Well we’ll try to make it.” Luckily there was a moon and they did manage to walk the short distance and avoid most of the mud puddles and slush. The young man was Eugene.
The next morning the family were very polite to this stranger who had literally dropped in on them. The elderly aunt was quite able to take care of herself. So that idea was quite out of the question. That weekend Kink’s sister Edna came home from Lusk where she worked for Tom Fagan. She and Marie had already met in Boulder. Edna suggested Marie go back to Lusk with her. Marie found work for a few families in Lusk. One was at the Dr. Corman residence, where a son Jack was born. But work was really scarce in Lusk, so she went to Casper to work at the Lincoln Street Hospital for several months. After considerable persuasion, she quit her work in Casper and returned to Manville.
Edna invited Marie to spend the summer with her in her cabin. Her homestead adjoined Eugene’s land. Each day they went up to Eugene’s one room house about 2 city blocks distance and cooked meals for the three of them. Eugene tended his ranching business while Edna and Marie rode horseback, climbed the hills, picked berries and killed an occasional rattler. It was a perfect arrangement for two people to become truly acquainted with each other. Anyway it suited Eugene and Marie perfectly. By fall plans were made to get married by a Justice of the Peace, who was a friend of his Uncle George. Marie knew of his aversion to being in the public eye and a church wedding would be just that, so she agreed to the plan. The Model T was duly loaded with provisions and a tent. Edna accompanied them to Douglas and attended the service, then returned to Manville to break the news to the family.
Then Marie and Eugene rode through La Bonte Canyon and the Laramie flats. They caught a few trout from a stream nearby. Then they visited Laramie University and Dr. Knight, who was a good friend. Then they drove over to Cheyenne and out the other side. It was a nicely paved road at first, then it changed to gravel. After several miles it became a graded dirt road. Then it changed to a fairly well-traveled trail. This went into an alfalfa field. There had been a road at the other end of the alfalfa field but it had apparently washed away. The finally managed to find a way to ford the little creekant ran by. On the other side of the creek was a flat area with quite a stand of trees, but no visible road. This was the fourth day of their trip. Finally a dapper young man with sterling silver spurs and silver trimmings on his saddle and bridle rode up to them. (They later learned he was a movie actor.) “How did you ever get into this neck of the woods?” he asked. After they explained the situation, the man directed them to a road going into Chugwater. From there, they were no longer lost and had no trouble returning home from there. It was a honeymoon to remember.
Eugene and Marie lived at Running Water Ranch for 36 years. In 1971 they moved to Lusk. Marie was invited to join the Fancy Farmer’s Garden Club about a month after it was organized. A year later she became State Bird Chairman and for three years. Also served as President three years and held offices of Secretary, Treasurer and Vice-President. She organized a garden club in Torrington in 1960. The first meeting was held in the home of her daughter, Phyllis E. Hahn who was at that time residing in Torrington. The new club chose for its name “Grass-Roots Garden Gals”. Marie attended the Flower Show School two summers, held at the Diamond Ranch near Chugwater. She also attended the Tulip Show three times. The Torrington Club, Grassroots Gals, gave a flower show which she attended and twice went to flower shows at Encampment. She also attended many of the state conventions throughout the years. Marie enjoyed supplying dish gardens and flower arrangements to the Lusk hospital patients and making floral arrangements for the Congregational Church, which she belonged to. She gave many demonstrations on a variety of subjects, such as drying flowers, preserving rose petals, floral arrangements, bird seed and feeders, planting bulbs and transplanting African Violets. Marie and Eugene’s hobbies include camping and fishing, rock hunting, polishing rocks, painting and growing flowers in her greenhouse.
They had five children:
Mary Jean was married to Charles Eugene Wilson of Sundance, who was a news reporter and photographer for the Casper Star Tribune, a free lance writer, was active in their church in Sundance. They had five sons; Gene, Tom, Steve, Dave, Dan and a daughter Sue.
George Bigelow Willson of Laurel, Md., was an agricultural engineer for the USDA. He was invited to Japan, Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa to give these countries instruction on converting municipal sewage sludge into usable compost. He was married to Lois Goodman and they had a son, John, and a daughter, Carol.
Phyllis Elinor was married to Merle Hahn. They were co-owners of the Gamble Store for 35 years and the Wood-n-Weave furniture store for four years. She was organist 30 years and choir director for 43 years for the Congregational Church. She wrote a local news column for a number of years for the local paper, Lusk Herald. She has two sons, Donald and Stanley and one daughter, Judith.
James Vaughn Willson married Norma Konrath, and he succeeded his father as rancher of Running Water Ranch, and later moved to Lusk where he was employed as salesman and carpet layer for the Gamble Store. They had three sons, Bradley, Timothy, Russell and a daughter Christine.
Dr. June Alice W. Read, was married, divorced from Al Read. She received her doctorate from West Texas University in Lubbock, Texas and pursued a career in mental health. She was a therapist, in Washakie Mental Health Service for 9 years in Wyoming. She also wrote a book “Frontier Madam (Dell Burke)” and wrote stories included in several books. She had two children, Peggy and Michael.
Images & Attachments
|Willson, Marie (02/14/1900 - 06/02/1992)