Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘family history

Waterton Lookout

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Continuing with the story I wrote back in 2002 after getting my mother to describe her memories of her and my dad’s time in Glacier National Park in 1947…

More about life on the lookout…

Glacier Park is actually part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. I see Porcupine Ridge showing up on current park maps, but not the Waterton tower. Waterton Lake is a long narrow lake that runs north-south, the approximate middle of which crosses the US-Canada border. The town of Waterton is in Canada. The Waterton Lookout Tower is not on the top of a mountain. It was situated on a small outcrop on the edge of the ridge with a view of three different valleys.

Waterton Tower Lookout on Porcupine Ridge as viewed from below and from above.

My folks both grew up in well-to-do households in Minneapolis, MN. As newlyweds, they were now living without running water. Betty said the outhouse wasn’t that big a deal because she had visited a good number of them back in those days. She said bathing was all of the sponge bath type. She only recalls washing her hair up there one time. Water was heated on the propane-powered stove.

In the photos you can see the countertop level was quite low, to stay below the windows. The springs for the bed are something Ralph had scrounged that could be rolled up and packed on a horse. He also acquired an old mattress and then built the frame out of spare lumber found on the sight.

Dad would walk daily to a spot where snowmelt flowed out of a pipe encased in concrete. He hauled the water in a pack on his back. Mom said she made the trip once, but it involved traversing a very narrow ledge and she would never try it again. Back at the lookout, he would fill a barrel located in the enclosed space beneath the floor of the tower. At the beginning of their stay up there, he made a conscious effort to keep the barrel full, because as the summer progressed there would be a point when the snow that served as the source would all melt away.

Mom had never really cooked meals. She tells of being told by Ralph that she needed to learn how to bake bread from the woman she was staying with after returning from Miami. With only a few chances to practice before finding herself on the mountain, she ended up having to hone her skills on the fly. Luckily, the people who were on the tower before [Mom and Dad] had left a lot of flour. She said her less successful loaves were edible while still hot out of the oven. They would eat their fill and then make something of a game of taking turns tossing the rest over the edge and listening to see how long they could hear it tumbling down the ravine. They would then guess what animal was going to find it first.

One day when she was having trouble with making a pie, she said Ralph stepped in and put his hands right into it and whipped it up and made a pretty good pie. The payoff from his days as a cook on the trains.

She didn’t go back down during the span of their six-week duty at the lookout. They were resupplied once during that time. However, there was a point when Ralph absolutely had to have some milk (and ice cream, she whispered) and plotted to go down on a weekend while she was on the payroll. She said he literally slid down the side, shortcutting the back and forth of the switchback trail. He needed to catch a scheduled launch to get him across the lake to the town of Waterton. Later, back across the lake again, at the ranger station, they let him load up one of the horses with items for the trip back up. Once on the ridge again, the stirrups were tied up to keep them from catching on anything and the horse was allowed to wander back down on its own.

Ralph on the trail with water on his back, Betty on the trip up to the lookout.

Mom described witnessing lightning dance down the wires that ran to the ground when the tower would take a hit. She said there weren’t many instances of major cracks of thunder, but there were almost daily storms and plenty of lightning. They were required to record the location of lightning strikes. Those spots would get special attention the following mornings to see if any fires were born.

At dusk, they would locate and count campfires and match them with the number of registered campers. The bed my dad had built was level with the windows, so they could prop up on their elbows over their pillows and see from there. They would report to the ranger station at least once a day via telephone. There was a single wire strung from tree to tree. During the time they were on the tower, there was only one instance when a lightning strike started a fire. Dad was prepared to set out to the location to fight it, she said, but it ended up being taken care of by a crew from below.

Their idle time allowed a chance to feed chipmunks that became regular visitors and watch deer that would wander close. When asked about other daily tasks, Mom mentioned that the windows needed washing almost every day. She said Ralph did that mostly. She had no experience washing windows and he ended up re-doing ones she cleaned anyway. He had worked in a filling station, she pointed out, so he was well practiced at it.

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Written by johnwhays

March 3, 2020 at 7:00 am

Recalling Stories

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“Betty on way to Apgar Lookout. 6-18-47” [that was in ink, then there is this in pencil] “Pictures lie. In spite of how she looks she was so exhausted she could hardly breathe”.

Even I don’t recall all the details of stories I’ve gathered over the years, despite having actually written many of them out. Yesterday, I was hunting for a picture in my personal digital archives that I wanted to include in a record for my mother’s profile on WikiTree. I located it near a chronicle I’d written from stories my mom was telling me about their days in Glacier National Park in Montana in the 1940s.

I enjoyed re-reading the details of my parents’ story so much I decided to share it here. I was writing it back in the summer of 2002 and a cursory search through Previous Somethings didn’t reveal any indication I’ve already shared it on this blog before now.

This segment is served well by a little of their backstory of that time, prior to getting married…

Mom & Dad, late 1940s

In the later years of WWII my father, Ralph, was working in Detroit for Minnesota Mining as their Personnel Manager. He had been denied entry into the armed forces due to a combination of hayfever, allergies, and a paralyzed soft palate from polio that made it difficult for him to swallow. The Detroit position had opened up as a result of the employee exodus to the military.

During the summers of his college years, Ralph had worked for the Great Northern railroad as a 3rd cook. Mom points out that that is primarily a dishwasher, but that he did learn to cook some things, including making pies. He told her that when the trains went through Glacier Park in Montana he used to hang out the door to look at the mountains and experience the great relief of being able to breathe, enjoying air free of his allergens.

During the war, my mother, Betty, was serving under the Navy in the WAVES as a yeoman, 3rd class petty officer doing office work. She says she started at that rating because she had gone to business school and had worked for 3 years. Before long that advanced to 1st class, but she claims it happened faster than usual because of the activity of the war. She was stationed in Miami.

In September 1945 my parents both returned to Minneapolis to attend the funeral of her father who had died during a fire in the home. Her sister was in the hospital with a broken back and a broken arm. At that time they discussed plans for marriage. They looked around for places to live. Ralph had been looking some while in Detroit. There seemed to be nothing available. They looked at what was available in the seedier parts of Minneapolis but found nothing they considered livable. They were NOT going to live with my father’s parents, and my mother’s family was now confined to a small apartment.

When Betty returned to her post in Miami, she found it had been decommissioned. Her office was gone! They struggled with what to do with her. She had just two months left before the prescribed time for her discharge. She talked them into moving it up, and they gave her the two months.

Meanwhile, with all the personnel returning from overseas, my father saw that he was not long for his present position and headed home to Minneapolis. They were both back in Minneapolis before Christmas, 1945. Ralph found a position selling insurance, but never really settled into the role.

On a day when he was suffering from his hayfever in downtown St. Paul, he went past the Great Northern building and decided, “I oughtta go in and see if I can get a job in Glacier Park.”

The hotels out there were run by the railroad and they would hire kids for the seasonal summer work. There was one job open: Purser on a tourist launch. He did that all summer in ’46, staying in the main hotel. While he was out there he met all the park service people. At the end of the season, he stayed on, using the spare beds near one of the Glacier Park ranger stations, and he worked helping stock snowshoe cabins used by the rangers when they went out into the park to check things through the winter. Eventually, he ended up living with ranger Dave Stimson and his wife Kay. By the time I was born, over a decade later, they would be known to us as “uncle” Dave and “auntie” Kay.

During the next winter, he worked for their highway dept driving snowplow across the mountain passes. When the park department started talking about plans for the next summer, Dad learned they were thinking about hiring married couples to staff the fire watch lookout towers. This set the stage for my parents’ unique start as husband and wife.

Betty and Ralph were married in Minneapolis, Minnesota in April of 1947. They stayed overnight in St. Cloud at a family friend’s place (due to the friend’s insistence at the wedding) and then went on to Brainerd to a cottage owned by the Elliott family. Everything was done on a shoestring. After a couple of days, they came back and packed everything they owned, including wedding presents, and prepared to drive west.

Apgar Lookout Tower was the one at the headquarters of Glacier Park where the “lookouts” were taught what to do in case they spot fire. Waterton lookout, where Betty and Ralph would be stationed, was on Porcupine Ridge. Back then, the man was paid through the week, and over the weekend they paid the wife. That was how the plan devised to use married couples was able to get 2 pairs of eyes for the price of one.

Mom and Dad didn’t go up to their tower until after the 4th of July and they were only on the lookout for about 6 weeks, but this was how they kicked off life together. They lived day and night on this fire lookout tower on a mountain in Glacier National Park in Montana.

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Written by johnwhays

March 2, 2020 at 7:00 am

Missing Credit

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In my giddy excitement over the discovery of pages and pages of informative details about my ancestors who made Pierce County their home in the 1860s last week, I neglected to credit the Pierce County Historical Association and more specifically, properly cite the copyright holder of the book!

Krogstadt, Roland J. 2010. Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin, edited by Donna M. O’Keefe. Madison, WI

That has since been remedied, with proper citations subsequently added to last week’s post.

On Sunday, I took Cyndie for a drive and showed her the beauty of the high-walled gorge of Isabelle Creek valley. She agreed with my impression that the majority of the steep slopes look no more modern than the images we’ve seen from the 1800s. It is easy to ignore the rare street sign or occasional dwelling and imagine we are back in time.

Immersing myself in so much historical research has me thinking about my trivial day-to-day activities like brushing my teeth in preparation for a night’s sleep or dressing for the day in the comfort of my modern bedroom and comparing it to what the equivalent daily tasks must have been like for my ancestors beside the creek.

The minutia of an individual’s daily little tasks doesn’t tend to be chronicled in much detail in historical journals written a hundred-plus years later.

I can’t help but share one more morsel from Roland Krogstadt’s book, “Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin” that mentions my 2nd-great-grandfather, Stephen W. Hays (S. W. Hays).

Chapter 10, page 311, under the heading, “Weather”

The Hartland correspondent reported to the Herald, “Last Wednesday night, this town was visited by the most terrific and destructive storm of wind and rain ever known in this locality.” The details followed:

About 11 o’clock the rain began to descend and in a few minutes increased to a perfect deluge, while almost continuous and vivid lightning lit up the blackened sky as bright as day, and the thunder rolled with an ominous, heavy, and deafening roar that added to the solemnity of the occasion and awed all who witnessed it by the grandeur and magnificence of this, the greatest of nature’s pyrotechnical displays it was ever our lot to behold. It secured as though the god of storm and flood had turned out the vials of his wrath upon this once beautiful valley, which at sunset of that evening in seeming security lay clothed in peace and verdure, and which but a few hours later was destined to present a scene of destruction and desolation that words cannot but fail to describe.

A list of over 30 properties and the estimated losses followed and included: “S. W. Hays, house flooded, $50.”

In addition to that, “Strickland & Knowlton’s flouring mill, entirely destroyed with contents, $6,500; …Betcher & McDougall, mill dam washed away, steam factory undermined, east wing of factory, 14 wagons, sleighs, cutter woods, hubs, spokes, wagon lumber, logs and lumber washed away, flume and race filled up with mud, fences gone, &c., $4,000.”

I believe that the Strickland mill was associated with my 3rd-great-grandfather Joseph Sleeper and the Betcher mill was the one Stephen W. Hays was managing.

It helps me to better understand how or why Stephen may have moved away after a few more years. It also has me wanting to be less whiny about the comparatively minor suffering we have endured from so many downpours here over the last seven years.

Nature’s wrath is nothing new.

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Written by johnwhays

February 25, 2020 at 7:00 am

Incredible Stories

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I don’t know why I never previously felt much connection with the lives of my ancestors beyond the obvious fact of not giving them the attention they deserved for most of my life. Even after beginning to collect names and snippets of detail when I first began delving into the family tree in a quest for the original ethnicity of our surname, any incredible facts learned ended up being quickly filed along with the dates, names, and places for future reference.

In my latest quest for specific details of the families in Pierce County, WI, I discovered WikiTree, where citing source information is a requirement. Yesterday, I dipped my toes in their forum section for a weekly “weekend-chat” thread of fellow genealogists checking in on their week, writing about life in general as well as how genealogy research is progressing, and I introduced myself for the first time.

With one simple comment to me about what stories my ancestors hold, it struck me about how many there are to tell. Too many to do them justice in a single response.

From my parents’ adventures as newlyweds roughing it in Glacier Park; my grandfather, Forrest J. Hays’s accomplishments as a Cargill Vice-President and “Dean of Transportation” as CEO of Cargo Carriers; my paternal great-grandfather, John W. Hays traveling the country as Secretary-Treasurer of the International Typographical Union; my maternal grandfather, Walter Elliott perishing in a fire after getting my aunt and grandmother out of the house at a time when my mother was serving in the WAVES in Miami, FL; my paternal great-grandfather, Charles B. Elliott achieving the first Ph.D. granted by the University of Minnesota and going on to become a judge who was chosen by President Taft to be an ambassador to the Philippines; there are some captivating tales worth honoring.

While revisiting my boxes of family history information acquired over the years, I decided to digitize the unbelievable pages of a hand-painted, gold-inlaid, bound retirement proclamation presented to my great-grandfather, John Waters Hays by the Typographical Union.

Check this out: John Waters Hays Retirement Proclamation

The low point and a high point of my day came next. While looking for a portrait of Minnie Church that I believed to be in my collections of old photos, I opened a very large and very tattered fancy photo album that was filled with amazing portraits of family members, but not a single clue as to who each person was.

Making the situation more frustrating, the marriage certificate for John W. Hays and Minnie Church was folded up and stored between the pages, further adding to the probability these were faces that go with some of the Pierce County families I would most like to identify.

Luckily, the opposite was true when I opened the next album from a similar time period. It was filled with generations of the families above my paternal grandmother, Helen Barrett, and there was a name penciled in on the bottom of each and every portrait.

It’s a researcher’s dream.

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Written by johnwhays

February 22, 2020 at 7:00 am

Great Find

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A visit to the Pierce County Historical society yesterday proved incredibly rewarding for just the information I was hoping to learn. What was the industry like in the area during the 1860s and 70s when three of my ancestors’ families made this place their homes?

Esdaile was just being settled and lumber was a focal point in the valleys along the waterways of the county. Agriculture was becoming the focus on the flatlands above after the big trees had all been harvested.

I was able to purchase a book about the history of the township of Hartland. Among the multiple references to Stephen Hays and Charles Church, I hit gold with the details revealing Joseph Sleeper to be a significant contributor to the developing community.

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Copyright: Krogstadt, Roland J. 2010. Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin, edited by Donna M. O’Keefe. Chapt 1-15. Madison, WI

He helped organize the first school and served on the school board for several years, in addition to having been a member of the town board years earlier. Between those, he was a member of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Sounds like the Sleeper brothers were pretty industrious. First, they build a sawmill and then they fashion a gristmill. It was the center of activity on Isabelle Creek.

I also learned there was a significant lumber company in Red Wing, MN, which is where Stephen Hays first lived after coming from Canada. The owner of that company expanded his operation to Esdaile and a “Mr. Hays” was the manager of that mill which made wheel hubs and spokes among other things.

There is a fabulous description of the factory that was written by a visitor:

Copyright: Krogstadt, Roland J. 2010. Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin, edited by Donna M. O’Keefe. Chapt 4-61. Madison, WI

One other detail uncovered more than once in the book was the mention of flooding that destroyed properties, including mills. Sometimes they would rebuild, but once the big pines in the vicinity had all been cut, the number of sawmills dropped precipitously. In a few instances, they just didn’t build again after a flood.

Coincidentally, the way home for me from the location of the Historical Society in Bay City to our place further north allowed me to travel along the banks of Isabelle Creek, passing the location where the Sleeper brothers built their mill. A deer was standing in the road as I approached, steep forested banks rose on both sides of the valley. A bald eagle flew from its perch in a nearby tree.

It was easy to imagine I was back in the 1870s, despite the modern comfort of my car. There aren’t many residences along the gravel road that follows the creek, so few signs of modern life. I got the impression it would be a treacherous place to be when the creek overflowed its banks.

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Written by johnwhays

February 21, 2020 at 7:00 am

Better Perspective

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With details gained from my research in the county courthouse office of Register Deeds over the last two weeks, I have added some stars to an old map of Pierce County, Wisconsin, to show the locations of properties my ancestors owned in the 1860s and 70s, along with the property where Cyndie and I now live, for reference.

From what I have been able to determine amid the never-ending swirl of names, dates, and places uncovered recently that just as easily confuse as they inform, Joseph Sleeper was still here at the time of his death. Based on that, when we finally get around to exploring these properties up close and in person, we will also be seeking out cemeteries for a survey of headstones.

In trying to trace the activity of ancestors here during that time in history, both the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 just to the west in Minnesota, and the U.S. Civil War in the south looms large. This area was still very unsettled. In one of the multiple transactions recorded for acres purchased by Joseph Sleeper, there were immediate entries on adjacent lines revealing the Grantor (seller) was simultaneously getting the first official papers from the US government to legally define the land as his, in order to then sell.

I don’t know whether that land Joseph was buying had been originally squatted for a homestead and sawmill or how long it had been since indigenous people had been driven away by the encroaching migration of foreigners expanding west, but I imagine it must have been a pretty wild time around these river valleys near the mighty Mississippi.

The Wisconsin Territory was admitted to the Union in 1848 as the 30th state, and Minnesota was 10-years later as the 32nd, so there must have been some semblance of higher authorities in place to manage details and address conflicts by the time the families of my ancestors decided to spend some of their lives here.

I expect they never dreamed that one-hundred-fifty years in the future, one of their descendants would wander back from the big city to make this land his home again.

It certainly has been a surprise for me!

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Written by johnwhays

February 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

Property Search

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I vaporized a few hours in the Pierce County courthouse again yesterday. It took a couple tries to get past the clerk keeping the “gate” because she couldn’t find my application to research genealogy. When I figured out what she was looking for, we were able to establish I hadn’t filled out an application the week before because it wasn’t needed to search land records.

I already have the vital information they were being cautious to guard. I was simply seeking to locate land descriptions for property my ancestors might possibly have owned. In the days that have passed since last posting about finding a second family of past relations living nearby in Pierce County, I discovered that there was a third family here at the same time.

It probably shouldn’t be all that surprising that proximity contributed to marital relationships. The 1875 census for the township of Hartland tallied a mere 1,170 people. There likely were limited numbers of qualified partners from which to choose. Evidence reveals more than one of the ladies in these nuptials were still in their teens, so the definition of “qualified” was a bit different back then.

In addition to 2nd-great-grandfather, Stephen W. Hays, and the Church family of my great-grandmother, Minnie, there was the family of Joseph Sleeper, a mechanic, sawmill operator, and civil war era soldier sharpshooter. Joseph is a 3rd-great-grandfather, the father of Minnie’s mother, Sarah who married Charles F. Church.

So, there was Stephen Hays (b.1829) the wagon maker, Joseph Sleeper (b.1824) the sawmill operator, whose daughter married Charles Church (b.1845) one-time teacher, mechanic, and factory worker, whose daughter married Stephen’s oldest son, John W. Hays (b.1860). Given the nature of their occupations, it is easy to imagine the possibilities of their coming to know each other within the few miles where records show them all living.

How about an exercise in locating a plat of land?

In the book of Grantees for the time span of my interest, I found three records of Grantee Joseph Sleeper purchasing a warranty deed in 1861 and 1862 for land in Hartland Township. The cropped image from the platbook for Hartland in Pierce County in 1877-78 shown above includes sections 14-15-16 (counting right-to-left) and 21-22-23 (left-to-right).

Joseph’s property is in section 15. Those sections are first divided into quarters of 160 acres each, and then each quarter is repeatedly divided into quarters again for plots of land that go down to 40. Half-divisions will render plots of 80 acres and 20 acres, respectively. Cyndie and I purchased a 20-acre subsection up in the Martell Township about 12-miles north of what is shown here.

See if you can spot a 40-acre parcel that Joseph bought from Selah Strickland in the SW1/4(40acres) of the SE1/4(160acres) of Section 15.

Find section 15. Visualize the SouthEast quarter of that section. Finally, focus on the SouthWest quarter of that space.

Hint: It says, “GRIST MILL¬† SAW MILL”

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