It was a great ordeal for a 13-year boy. Richard Worstell

Nineteen hundred thirteen. It has now been nearly three years since the Worstells came west. Time to think about proving up on those claims.

On September 27, 1912, Dr. Gaylord communicated with the Havre Land office concerning his homestead and the index entry reads, “Files election to make proof under law under which entry was made.” No additional information is available, but improvements of some kind would have been made. Mr. Silvernail indicated to the Contestor’s lawyer at the time of the 1915 hearing that he had done “considerable work for the doctor,” and for more than one season, and also that the doctor had done work for him. It had only been two years since Gaylord originally filed, so he must have filed, or thought he filed, under one of the special two-year provisions. In January he filed his “notice of beginning leave,” Jan. 1, 1913, but on July 16, 1913, the entry reads, “Can. by relinq. 9 AM.” Like Elsie said, “...we were going to sacrifice that [homestead] because mother’s was the best.”

Frank, by Gaylord’s testimony, “summer fallowed” in 1913. He would wait until next year to worry about proving up. Frank put a lot of his time and interest in developing his community of Verona. The Mountaineer of July 3, 1913, published this item:

In accordance with the prosperous growth of the country, Frank Worstell has made arrangements to erect a coal shed 10x80 feet, along the right-of-way at Verona. He has also petitioned for a post office there. Good luck to Verona and Mr. Worstell.

Speculation about the name of Verona arose years later. Some people thought it was a name chosen by Frank for someone dear to him. Actually the name had already been chosen by the railroad for its siding there. Many sidings along the Great Northern on the “Hi Line” became towns and have names well known in other parts of the world: Nashua, Glasgow, Malta, Harlem (Haarlem), Havre, Kremlin, Inverness, etc. Some people have credited James Hill with their christening. One account attributes it to a blindfolded clerk in St. Paul who spun a globe, put his finger down, and chose the name closest to his finger. (Daniel N. Viehorek in The Hi-Line) Verona is a town in northern Italy made famous by William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet.

Everett’s homestead was contested. It appears common that more than one homesteader would unknowingly file on the same land. Although two separate later entries indicate Everett’s homestead was allowed, in June, the entry was canceled.

The Register and Receiver of the Havre Land Office did not smile on the Worstell claims in the fall of 1913. Dias did not seed any grain in 1913 — he had volunteer flax and blue joint hay — others would have said he “fallowed.” Fallowing the land on alternate years is a good and acceptable practice. It was a land use indicated on some of the homestead Final Proofs balanced with acres cultivated in the other two years. When Dias Worstell made his final three-year proof, the testimonies of his witnesses tell of the troubles he had been experiencing. His homestead was virtually surrounded by the cattle company of McNamara and Marlow. The first year being exempt from cultivation requirements, he had, the second year, planted oats and flax. Then “someone cut the wire and ran cattle through the claim so the crop was only good for hay” and a similar thing happened the following year. Besides that, Jung reported, “His barn blew down in a storm,” but ever optimistic, in September Dias was having a well drilled. Still, the Register and Receiver of the Havre Land Office rejected Dias’ proof for insufficient cultivation. In October he filed a second Notice of Intent to make Proof. The Havre office didn’t acknowledge receipt of this notification until January the following year, when they crossed out the original date received and stamped on the January date. In November it’s recorded that Dias informed them he had planted winter wheat, but in his file, dated December 8, 1913, the Havre R & R wrote, “No appeal filed. Case closed.”

Earlier in the year, on May 5, 1913, Mary Dale gave Notice of Intention to make Final Three Year Proof, a document that was signed by “Gaylord Worstell, Guardian of the estate of Mary J. Dale, an incompetent person.” This would be two years (the time allowed a soldier’s widow to “prove up”) since she filed as a soldier’s widow. However, there is no record of a court appointment of Gaylord as Guardian for Mary.

One of the documents that the Department of Interior letter of October 7, 1912, requested for “final proof” on Mary Dale’s homestead, was testimony “touching her mental condition at the time of making entry,” a judgment of mental incompetence, and showing “that such incompetency existed up to the time of making proof.” When Elsie went back to Kansas with Mary in November 1912, they saw Elsie’s doctor, and the following letter was received from the Board of Health, City of Hays Kansas, June 2, 1913, and accompanied the Notice of Intention. It was addressed “To Whom it May Concern:”

This is to certify that I am personally acquainted with Mrs. Mary J. Dale of Hays, Kas. I am her Physician and know that by reason of Paresis, and general disability she requires the care and attention of a second person all the time. She is physically unable to travel, or live alone for any length of time. In short she is wholly dependent upon others to attend to her physical wants.

Geo. B. Snyder, M.D. University of Pennsylvania.

On June 2nd Mary J. Dale, in a form letter bearing her signature, petitioned for letters of guardianship from Ellis County Kansas be granted to Gaylord. Mary stated that she was a resident of Ellis County, Kansas, and was 69 years old.

In the spring, Mary Dale’s homestead was seeded to wheat. While Grace was home during the summer, she and her father paid a visit to Mr. Silvernail. He had overseen the harvesting of the wheat crop and it was in shock when Grace saw it. Mr. Silvernail explained in testimony that in 1913 he and his team “did part of the fitting of the ground and I know that John Halverson seeded the twenty acres to wheat.” He stated further that Dr. Worstell paid for the plowing and putting in of the wheat.

On August 14, 1913, the Notice of Intent to Make Proof on the Mary J. Dale homestead was published. The homestead papers included the testimony of witnesses Silvernail, Comer, Brown, and Blank. However, Mr. Silvernail, who testified during the 1915 hearings that he had seen Mrs. Dale only one time on her land, and that was in 1911, gave written testimony on the Final Proof in 1913, “I have seen her going back and forth from town at least a dozen times while she was living there.” In the Final Proof, Mr. Silvernail and Mr. Comer gave limited information, not varying in any major way from the testimony given during the hearing. They agreed that she had left in the middle of September 1912 and did not return. “She was getting old and left for Kansas.” Elsie gave information in Mary’s name as to her personal data, the land, the shack, and her health. Concerning the improvements, she said, in 1913, “5 acres were broke in June, later 15 acres were broke and planted to winter wheat which constitutes the crop.” The house was valued at $75, value of breaking and cultivation at $140 and “arrangements are now being made to have the entire 160 acres fenced.” As to her health, Elsie said, “After September 1912, claimant was taken ill with rheumatism and paralysis also senile changes which affected her mind and she was taken to the home of her daughter at Hayes, Kansas.”

On November 21, 1913, the Worstells received the Notice of Rejection for Mary Dale’s homestead “for the reason that you have furnished no record evidence of judgment of insanity and appointment of guardian.” Worstells were informed they had 30 days to “furnish same” or to “appeal the decision.” The Register and Receiver of the Havre office informed them that if they failed to provide the documents or otherwise file an appeal in their office, they would close the case without further notice. They also said, “Please return this letter, in case you take any action or desire further information on the subject.”

Now to the claim filed by Oak Dale. As previously mentioned, the Worstells went ahead and had Oak Dale’s homestead cultivated in 1912. In the summer of 1913, they “fallowed the land.” On Aug. 14, 1913, Worstells received a letter from Elsie’s mother, Mary, and her sister, Florence Hale, in Hays, Kansas, and brother John Dale in Hobart, Oklahoma. They requested Elsie be their representative to make Final Proof of Oak Dale’s homestead. This Elsie did the following month by signing, as administrator of the estate, Oak’s Notice of Intent to prove up on the homestead. She gave testimony, “I, Elsie D. Worstell, having made homestead entry and made actual settlement upon land...” This statement is due to the inability to make changes in the pre-printed portions of the statement. Henry Mudd, a witness, testified that he had seen Oak a couple of times on his homestead before he died “a few days after he made entry.”

In October, Elsie received Notice of Suspension on Oak’s homestead for failing to have “affidavits of correct name of witnesses; also for record evidence that claimant is admx of said estate.” The notice in the newspaper had misspelled Mr. Comer’s name. They were given 30 days to appeal. On Oct. 21, 1913 the following handwritten letter was sent. It appears to be in Gaylord’s hand, including the signature:

Gaylord Worstell, M.D.

Big Sandy, Montana Big Sandy, Mont., Oct 21, 191 3.

Register and Receiver U. S. Land Office, Havre, Mont.

Gentleman: —

In my conversation by phone with you just now, you request the return of enclosed letter from your office for further consideration.

The U. S. Land Comm, Mr. Flint advised me he would see that a statement would be sent you — as to correct names of witnesses.

In my attempt to secure letters of Admin, the atty H. F. Miller of Fort Benton advises me that he is at a loss to know how to proceed as deceased left no real nonpersonal property of any kind, no children, no wife, no will.

The mother is living in Hays, Kans. with a sister of deceased. A brother lives at Hobart, Okla. No other heirs of deceased.

It has been mutually agreed that I should make the improvements necessary on deceased’s claim and prove up on it.

Very respectfully,

Elsie Dale Worstell

A couple of things are learned from this letter: the U. S. Commissioner, L. E. Flint, had his office in Big Sandy, and Gaylord called the Havre office on the telephone. What it must have meant to the homesteaders to have a telephone! In some areas, efforts to be connected so as not to be isolated included constructing cooperative telephone systems by using the barbed wire fences as lines. In Gaylord’s case, he would have used the American Telephone and Telegraph line which paralled the railroad tracks. The town’s telephone system wasn’t installed until 1915.

The R & R answer came in a Notice of Rejection dated Nov. 19, 1913, for the reason that, “You have not furnished evidence of your authority to offer proof for Oak F. Dale.” Again, they were allowed 30 days, etc., etc., etc.

At last Elsie received the written authority from her brother and sister to represent them in making final proof on Oak’s homestead. It was duly notarized, signed, and dated, December 8, 1913. Gaylord and Elsie are now involved in proving up two homesteads: Oak Dale’s and Mary Dale’s, neither one for which they initially filed.

Nineteen thirteen was a busy summer for other members of Gaylord’s side of the family. His mother, Isabel, and his sister, Elizabeth Jane, the youngest sister of the Worstell brothers, came west and made homestead entries. Jane would later be known as “THE Aunt Jane.” She was adventurous and quite a character. She liked people and she liked to visit relatives. On July 9, 1913, Jane filed for 80 acres Havre Serial Number 22011 for the land described as W2 SW4 Sec 1 TP26N R13E. She verified that she was over 21 years old, born in Ohio, and single. She listed her residence as 220 Alice Ave., Mt. Oliver Station, Pittsburgh, Penn. In her Final Proof testimony, she said she established actual residence on Sep. 7, 1914, when her house was built. Isabel gave her address as Verona and on July 10th she filed as Serial Number 22010 for 160 acres south of Verona, near Jane’s.

Isabel’s records show a convoluted process of filing for two separate homesteads of 160 acres each, all contiguous, and being contested, rejected, allowed, or relinquished. The first one, filed on July 10, was “suspended pending preference right of Rebecca McAninah contest 2450.” Later that month it was suspended, and then in August it was reinstated. In September, she relinquished the claim, three days later the relinquishment was withdrawn, and the claim reinstated. Probably without knowing what had happened, Isabel, filed for another homestead. This one was rejected because Mr. Iver Mogea of Inverness had already filed on it. In February, she relinquished the first one that had gotten reinstated. After a short time, Isabel and Jane returned to Ohio for the winter.

What an exciting time this summer of 1913 was! If Isabel and Jane were in Big Sandy on the Fourth of July, they would have witnessed the largest crowd of people in Big Sandy up to that time, if not ever. Fifteen hundred people! Two hundred visitors came from Fort Benton, arriving on the train that had added three additional coaches to accommodate them. The celebration offered speeches, a baseball game between Big Sandy and Fort Benton (for which some men walked 15 miles), and horse races. In the evening there were fireworks and dancing. Entertainment during the year in the homestead towns was varied. Summer activities included Chautauqua (a traveling cultural organization that offered lectures and concerts for personal education and self improvement), trips to the mountains that included picnics, camping, fishing, or berry picking. Winter entertainment featured dances, school programs, skating, taffy pulls, and songfests.

In 1913 business was booming. July saw the sale of 370,000 pounds of wool in one day; 200 cars of grain shipped out by September, but only two train loads of cattle shipped east in October. The homesteader and his products now outnumbered the cowboys and cattle.

One young man enjoying the July festivities was Emery D. Harnden, 27 years old and recently arrived from Wisconsin. He was about to make his decision on a homestead parcel located at N2 NW4 & SE4 NW4 & NE4 SW4 Sec. 21 T29 R13 in the Havre land district. He did in fact sign his application on July 31st. Mr. Harnden was a lawyer and he planned to open an office in Big Sandy. For some reason the Great Northern Railroad owned a forty-acre piece of land on the south side of the Harnden claim. A half section of land adjacent on the east belonged to two Hagans. This name as well as Price appears on other land locations. They are Worstell ancestor surnames from the early 1800s.

An early social visit between the young lawyer and the Doctor and his family might have gone along the following lines. Gaylord would inquire where he got his degree. Elsie would be most interested in the fact that he was born in Wisconsin and received his degree from the University in Madison After all, her father’s family were all from Wisconsin — from around Dodgeville and Mineral Point, just fifty or sixty miles from Madison, and some family lived in Madison, too. Did he know any Dales, she would inquire. And did he take his undergraduate work there also, Gaylord might inquire. “No, at Valparaiso.” “Valparaiso! What do you know? So did I. Let’s see, just when would that be?” “Between 1905-7.” “Maybe you knew some Worstells there? Perhaps you met my brother Addison — or Dias? Dias, yes, my brother over at the confectionary. He went to Valparaiso for a while. Or maybe you knew my brother’s girl, Laura? Oh, here’s our son Richard, and here’s our daughter coming now with the twins. Emery, I’d like you to meet our daughter, Gracie. She attends the high school in Great Falls.”

Then again, maybe one of the Worstell brothers met Emery at the train the first day he arrived in Montana. In which case the conversation might go more like this. “I see you got here.” “How was the trip?” “Glad you decided to come.” “Big Sandy is going to grow, so is Verona.” “We’ve been needing a lawyer around here, you shouldn’t have any trouble building a practice.” “And there are a lot of opportunities to get some land. I’ve located a bit of land that should make a good claim — no one has filed on it. And now and then you can pick up a relinquishment.” One or two of the brothers might make the following statements when they met their expected traveler. “Yes, I read your letters and the information you sent. I’ve been wanting to get out on my own and see some more of the country,” Emery might reply, “You’ll be staying at Dias’, I suppose?” “Be sure and stop by and meet the family when you get settled.” Later conversations would have gotten around to employment and sports. The Worstells would have learned that Emery worked his way through college playing baseball as well as other kinds of work.

Richard would remember this summer of 1913 for perhaps the most memorable event of his youth. While he was working at the Sidney Smith Garage for 10 cents an hour, his free time was occasionally filled with contrasting activities. Dr. Worstell hoped Richard would become a doctor. An important part of a doctor’s training in the late 19th century when Gaylord grew up, was being an apprentice to a doctor and making the house calls with him. Both of Gaylord’s grandfathers were doctors. Gaylord lived in the home of his maternal grandfather for a time and near them both until he left home. Perhaps he himself, when a youngster, accompanied one of these gentlemen on their rounds, or was influenced by being present at a number of births. Thus, when Gaylord found the opportunity to take one of his children with him on his rounds, it was with the expectation it would be a positive experience. It was just such an experience which Richard had such a vivid memory. He wrote the following narrative about the event:

It was a warm day in July, the year 1913. My father had been called out to see a man suffering with what we suspected to be appendicitis. This was 35 miles southeast of the small town of Big Sandy, Montana. It was a rough and wild country; roads were little more than cow trails.... Dad owned a Brush 1909 ... I had serviced the car thoroughly....

Arriving at the scene we found that the patient, a relatively young man had been suffering severe pains but was at ease at present. This was a bad sign as it indicated that the appendix had ruptured. While a small hospital was being built at the time it was not advisable to move the man, so we decided to operate then and there. We got a good fire going in the coal range and placed all the instruments in a double boiler type of pan for sterilizing all instruments and bandages, etc. Dad wanted me to give the anesthetic. We had eight-ounce cans of ether with a small outlet in the center of the cans. It required an hour to get ready and after washing our hands and placing a gauze mask over our nose and mouth we were ready to begin. It was serious business as the chances for survival were only 50-50. The patient told us to go ahead. In making the incision I remember Dad saying, “Now we make an incision about half way between the navel and the right hip bone.” The operation seemed like a long time, but such things don’t go fast. It was a great ordeal for a 13-year boy. I was sure that I never wanted to become a surgeon. Dad worked expeditiously and I applied ether as directed and assisted in handing him instruments of different kinds. I was relieved when he sewed up the incision, all but space for a rubber tube which was introduced to establish drainage of possible infection, etc. from the ruptured appendix.

Actually, Richard would not be 13 until October.

Dr. Worstell could not know that this experience convinced Richard to find a different career. Dick, a sensitive child who wanted to please, who found rejection painful, and who was not adventurous for the most part, would not follow in his father’s footsteps. Neither would his sister, Grace, who also had similar experiences, but whose life would go in a much different direction.

Ben, now eight, had another first-hand experience needing medical care, although one wonders what could have helped in the situation reported in the Mountaineer June 5, 1913:

Little Ben Worstell was the victim of an unfortunate accident Sunday. He, with several other small boys, was playing on the Great Northern Turntable north of town. The table being unlocked, the boys were turning it and taking a ride. Ben got caught in it while it was closing. He was badly squeezed about the hips. This is the second time children have been injured while playing on the turntable, and it is high time the thing is locked up.

There would soon be a hospital to care for some of these cases. The Mountaineer took notice that “A new hospital building is being built by Dr. Worstell across the street from the St. Anthony & Dakota lumber yard.” This is believed to be lot 9 in block 4, which was purchased by Elsie November 13, 1912, the first property known to be purchased by either Elsie or Gaylord. In October the paper noted that “Dr. Worstell is giving his new hospital a fine coat of stucco cement on the outside.” Even with the hospital, there would continue to be a certain amount of medical care administered in the homesteads around the country.

One office visit occurred when a gentleman named Mr. Quinn had an accident that resulted in a piece of flesh below the thumb being severed. When he explained what happened, Dr. Worstell told him to go find it and bring it back. It was found and the doctor sewed it on. It healed fine. Dr. Worstell as well as other doctors of the day had some success in reattaching severed thumbs and fingers, at least parts of them. Family oral history includes the story of a farmer who cut off his hand while chopping wood. When he got to the doctor’s office, Gaylord ask him where the hand was. The hand was retrieved; the weather was very cold and condition of the hand was good. It was a long arduous operation to reattach the hand. It was successful and the farmer regained partial use of it. Some say the eyestrain caused during the operation was the cause of Gaylord losing an eye. It is impossible to determine how much of an exaggeration there is in this story. Maybe it’s not an exaggeration. Any of the several stories of hand surgeries could account for the reattachment portion of the story, and all the stories are told to illustrate what a capable surgeon Dr. Worstell was. The cause of the removal of Gaylord’s eye is also difficult to pin down. It is reported that the operation was done in Great Falls, and that he, Gaylord, requested a local anesthetic of some kind, and had mirrors properly positioned so he could watch the operation and “learn something.”

Emmett Quinn, citizen of Big Sandy, was born in 1894. The family had been squatters in Nebraska, then moved to Canada for 13 or 14 years before moving to Montana. In 1990 he was a resident of a complete care retirement home in Big Sandy. He had been a friend and neighbor of Dr. Worstell and he said he never knew Dr. Worstell to send a bill. “He never sent a bill,” he repeated several times with apparent amazement. “Lots of people owed him money,” he said. The story is told about one family for whom Gaylord had delivered 12 babies. The woman was due to deliver their thirteenth child and the family still owed Dr. Worstell for the delivery of previous babies. When Dr. Gaylord arrived, she looked surprised and said, “I thought I called the other doctor.” People often paid what they could with what they had. Chickens were not uncommon. Keith Edwards, of Big Sandy, who remembers Gaylord, said, “He was a self-sacrificing man who braved the elements night or day to do what he could with what little he had to save a life or ease the pain. And never got a rooster for it.” Another friend many years later said there were many people still around who never paid their doctor bills but later could have.

It was not uncommon for doctors of the past to be noted for the forgiving of fees. Excerpts of the following story are recorded here because the story of the debtor is humorous and because the parts of the doctor’s physical description and character that are shared here could be attributed to Gaylord. The story titled, Dr. R. F. Biddle, by Moses Scott, is taken from The Old and New Monongahela:

... He was a man fully six feet big, of rather heavy build, slow in motion when taking a walk.... Large eyes and a prominent forehead. He was a man of robust constitution, capable of great endurance, and of strong, vigorous intellectual qualities.... Plain in his dress, economical in his expenditures, a man of excellently well-balanced mind. Shrewd and quick to detecting the plots or connivances of designing men. He was strictly conscientious and honest in all his dealings. He took the grounds that every person should render a full consideration for the amount of bill charged – a man of sterling integrity.... He was a warm, reliable friend and good neighbor, fond of a cigar, also of hearing or telling of a joke having a good point, which without fail, would extort from him a hearty laugh....

His charges for medical services were notedly moderate, and it was said by persons who knew that he was so negligent in making entry of his visits to sick chambers that one-third or more of such visits were never charged at all. Nor was the waste of the doctor’s hard earning confined to his very low bill or negligence of making entry, but, added to this, he was wonderfully loath to make out bills against any parties who were ready and willing to pay such bills when rendered. One man who, it is said, was indebted to the doctor for medical service, and who had demanded of him right along for three years, his account without success, brought him [the doctor] [to court] for settlement. [The doctor] declared that he didn’t owe the plaintiff one cent. “All right,” said the plaintiff, “my object in bringing the suit against you is to put matters in such a shape that I will know how much I owe you.” The doctor’s bill was at once rendered and payment made, and both left the squire’s office well pleased that things were no worse.

It was a matter of wonder to many why a man possessing such an excellent mind and good sense as Dr. Biddle would be so careless in keeping his accounts, and manifest so much dislike to rendering bills for service. For some 35 years he practiced early and late through every part of this town, and over the distant, for which arduous labors he nor his intelligent widow has never been half paid.

Gaylord enjoyed being asked to dinner. Richard said about him, “He liked people. He liked to laugh and tell jokes; he always had time to visit.” “Dr. Worstell liked to eat and tell stories,” Mr. Quinn said. Gaylord enjoyed the chicken dinners with the Quinns and Paul Greens. Emmett Quinn liked to tell stories also. “A traveling salesman came to town and sold Doc a tire pump,” he said and then nearly choked with laughter. To enjoy that sentence you need to know how this particular pump operated. The pump was attached to the cylinder of the automobile engine. When the engine was running, the pump used the compression from the engine to pump air into the tire. Gaylord owned a one-cylinder car. What Dr. Worstell failed to consider was that with the one cylinder of the Brush automobile hooked up to the pump, there were no cylinders left to power the engine. Many who would point out the mechanical failings of an educated man enjoyed the story.

As the year of 1913 drew to a close, the Mountaineer on December 11 gave the notice that Gaylord long dreamed of seeing: “Gaylord Worstell has moved his office to his new hospital building. He has a modern consulting room with all the modern medical appliances.” One appliance might have been a very early model of a portable X-ray machine. If Gaylord did not have one at this time, he would soon. Sunday, December 20th, a dedication service was held at the partially completed Methodist Church. The church was started in 1911, when Rev. Van Orsdel, “Brother Van,” held services in the Big Sandy schoolhouse. Gaylord was one of three to sign the note for materials used in constructing the church.