24. NEW STARTS
Only the foolish and totally broke were the ones who stayed through the bad times and continued to live on the homestead. Mr. Silvernail, homesteader.
The year nineteen nineteen saw a great exodus of homesteaders out of the Big Sandy area. All of the Worstells except Gaylord’s family had moved away. Gaylord transferred ownership of two of his Big Sandy lots, one to Fern and one to Richard. Richard was in his second year at Valparaiso.
Prohibition became the great political experiment in 1919. Legalized saloons, and there had been many in Montana, became history. Smuggling became an underground commerce. A young settler, and later Worstell friend, named Ruby Lidstone lived alone on her father’s homestead. It was on the river across from Geraldine. She had a ferry and the road approaching it was on her land. The ferry was very popular with the bootleggers and racketeers, who used it in transporting their whiskey from Canada and through Big Sandy. Doctors, however, were legally permitted to possess alcoholic beverages. Richard wrote:
Gaylord was the full-service medical practitioner he had always wanted to be. One family that used mostly home remedies called Dr. Worstell the “pill doctor.” Aspirin was a mainstay in his pharmacy. At the turn of the century, aspirin was a miracle drug and researchers continue to discover new benefits. Even so, it was not a substitute for opiates. Richard’s writing continued.
In the treatment of patients, Dad was always on the side of the patient. He always felt that his first duty was to relieve pain and put the patient at ease. He made it a practice to carry a little fitted case containing small vials of different narcotics together with small hypodermic needles all fitted in a small buckskin pouch. This he carried in his hip pocket and he always had it with him whether on duty or off duty. On many an occasion he had the satisfaction of putting some person at ease and never thought of making any charge.
Nature is a pretty good physician but a poor surgeon. He was a firm believer that there is such a thing as pain and that a person in need of an operation, needs an operation, the sooner the better. If a bone is broken it needs to be set, preferably in a cast. He always believed in doing the best possible job with the materials at hand.
Mary Reichelt gave an account in Gathering of Memories about a procedure Dr. Worstell did on her father.
As the writer of the above piece said, Gaylord thought the man was unconscious when he arrived. Optimism was always what Gaylord wanted to project, that there was always hope, and would not have spoken anything discouraging but for the extreme circumstances as above. Richard wrote the following:
The winter of 1919-20 was a desperate one for many families. Elsie Worstell was secretary of the Home Relief Society and she issued “an appeal for donations of caps, mittens, winter underwear, shoes and stockings for women and children for distribution among the unfortunates of Big Sandy.” The drought was total and the government war subsidies had ceased. Over the next five years there would be 20,000 foreclosures in Montana. Half the land in Chouteau County transferred to creditors, and over half the banks closed. Sixty thousand people left Montana during the twenties. Many people who stayed had to borrow money or run up bills at the market. They prayed for rain that didn’t come and got the wind instead. The wind picked the dirt off the tops of the furrows and other high places and dropped it in the low places. It seeped into the houses, and blinded the traveler. With the drought came the grasshoppers. At night the fence posts and sides of the buildings were black with them. During the day they rose with the wind to blacken the sky. Some said the chickens wouldn’t come out of the hen house and the stock wouldn’t graze. Others said they couldn’t eat the eggs if the chickens ate the hoppers.
The farmers who stayed were not to be outwitted by cycles of fickle weather. The government encouraged the use of the poison bran it provided the farmers, who could then mix it with water and spread it around the edge of the fields. More creative farmers found ways of gathering the hoppers and using them for feed. One man in particular, Robert O’Neil, built a box-like contraption to catch or gather grasshoppers, which he pulled around the fields by two horses. The grasshoppers caught in the box were put in bags and the bags set out on the cactus plants until thoroughly dry. It was feed for the chickens in the winter. Raising turkeys was something else that was promoted because they could eat a pound or more of grasshoppers a day. One hundred thousand turkeys were imported to eat them. It still did not stop the plague. Turkeys were big business for a few years, with the price reflecting market availability.
Among those who left the Big Sandy area was Dias. A small personal note about Dias Worstell appeared in the January 23, 1920 Mountaineer telling of his complete recovery from the broken leg he had sustained in late December. Possibly Dias, who lived in Glasgow, Montana, had the accident during the holidays while visiting his wife in Big Sandy, as she may still have been living there.
Dr. Worstell attended the State Medical Association meetings in Helena. He was the health officer in 1920 and was again concerned about an outbreak of flu. Efforts made to limit its spread may have included keeping sick people at home, since the town used and enforced quarantine. It is known, for example, that scarlet fever patients were quarantined for six weeks. There was an epidemic of diphtheria the winter of 1924 when a teacher contracted the disease at a teacher’s convention. Dr. Worstell, and other doctors, visited their patients as often as three times a day during the epidemic. Kate Miller was Dr. Worstell’s nurse during the twenties.
If the Worstells kept the Brush automobile, they were now a two-car family, since they had recently purchased the Ford. Ben was now fifteen and driving; but he does seem to have been a little accident-prone. He was starting the car, cranking it, and “The same old story — ‘A Ford Kicks.’ The darn thing kicked all the feeling out of his arm, breaking it in two places,” said the news item.
Grace and Fern said the family believed Ben was retarded. His twin sister, Fern, was very close to Ben, as twins often are, and always tried to help him with his school work. He was good at memorizing but couldn’t pass examinations. He was personable, helpful, and well liked. Paul Sonksen remembered Ben and took exception to the view that he was retarded. “He wasn’t retarded. He was crazy, but he wasn’t retarded. He was a daredevil who would do anything. He dove off a cliff into the river, just missing the rocks by a hair.” Richard may have been along on some of those adventures. On one occasion he himself dove into a pool or swimming hole, while holding his hands tight to his side. He grazed the bottom with his head. Richard often spoke of how dangerous it is to dive into water that way.
Gaylord purchased a lot in Big Sandy from the George Smiths in 1920. The research done for this narrative produced quite a number of recorded deeds for the Worstell family members. It is certainly not exhaustive research, but it serves to give an indication of the financial activity of not only the Worstells, but also the community as a whole. Deeds do not show whether there were improvements already on the lots Gaylord purchased, or whether he built, or hired built, the houses that eventually occupied them. Gaylord owned several rental properties. Property was an investment for Gaylord and rentals not only provided him with an income but an occupation, as he did the repairs and maintenance. Coming from a desperately poor family, Gaylord believed financial security was preceded only by education in importance. Richard remembered the philosophy of his father’s as follows:
Gaylord’s granddaughter, Rachel (Jane), remembered her “heart to heart” talk with him on the eve of W.W.II and the part concerning money. ‘“The way you can tell a successful man is right here,’ he said as he took out his bank book and pointed to the bottom line.” “Poor Richard was such a disappointment, always needing financial help,” Jane related. “Gaylord thought he would probably never make anything of himself,” she said. Gaylord had also invested in the stock market prior to the crash of 1929, which may have been another reason for valuing his real estate investments in later years. It was his personal assets that enabled him to extend his generosity to many people, whether parents, siblings, wife and children, community and church, or those in need of medical help. It was people with a little cash that enabled farmers to convert their land to money and to move on to greener pastures.
Charity begins at home, says the sage, and interpersonal relations within a family create patterns of emotions and stress that may be barely visible outside the home and impossible to reconstruct after the passage of time. Was the Worstell home one of love, respect, and charity? Or disdain, disregard, and selfishness? Or a mixture of all, depending on who was involved, who was observing, who was experiencing? Elsie and Gaylord were opposites in many ways. She was artistic and spiritual. He was scientific and logical. While he recognized the abilities of the Indian witch doctor, and he himself knew the benefits of hope and optimism for his patients, he did not pray for, or over, his patients, and he did not appreciate it when Elsie did. Elsie adopted the ways of a religion more strict than the Methodism at the church the Worstells attended. She did not wear jewelry, and some said she was a “holy roller” and a fanatic. Her spiritual life was so much a part of her earthly life that she would greet the morning with her arms outstretched and announce, “I’ve been asleep in the arms of Jesus.” She acquired a small house near the hospital that she used for prayer and to teach Bible school. Some children deliberately avoided walking down that street, since she was known to go out and bring them inside. Elsie also wrote religious songs and poems, which she referred to in her will: “My songs and poems, which were given to me in the Spirit, I would like to have published, as they are too precious to be lost.” No member of the Worstell family has ever made mention of them. It was Elsie’s wish that if her children did not wish to have them published, they should go to her sister, Florence Hale, along with her wishes regarding them.
Elsie certainly did not approve of smoking. Both Richard and his sisters remember the time Gaylord invited some of his friends for dinner. Afterward, when the gentlemen retired to the parlor to smoke cigars, Elsie came in and told them they couldn’t smoke in the house. Gaylord got testy and said, “This is my house and these are my friends and they can do anything they want to.”
Gaylord’s expectations for the women in the family did not seem to include higher education as Grace learned early. He expected to have the house, office and hospital work done as much by the family women as possible, with never any more than one nurse or maid to assist with the medical work. Most members of the Worstell family who knew Elsie and her situation agreed that she did a great deal of work.
Over time, Gaylord’s irritability toward Elsie escalated to an anger he found difficult to control. An uncle told Jane Morgan (Rachel Jane) that at one point, at the head of the stairs or on the stairs, Gaylord shoved Elsie and she fell down the stairs. Even as Gaylord reached the bottom of the stairs, his anger had still not abated and he kicked her.
Frank returned from North Dakota in September 1920 to take care of business, look after his interests in Verona, and visit friends. He still owned his original homestead land that included most of the lots in the town of Verona. After he returned to Devils Lake, he sold all of it to a man named W. E. Tompkins, January 14, 1922. A year later, all of the town sites returned to Frank’s ownership. Tompkins kept the remaining hundred acres of farmland and it is his name that appears on the plat map of homesteads in the Gathering of Memories, even though it was Frank’s homestead. Years later, owners of the old town site of Verona constructed a small roadside stop and erected a sign. The sign depicts Verona when it had two elevators, a railroad, and half a dozen houses, and includes a history of the town. The sign was there in 1990. It reads:
June 15, 1922, Frank married Beatrice (Bea) Marie Le Duc of Devils Lake, North Dakota. Those who knew her said she was pretty and dainty, and had black hair and a French appearance. She was outgoing and cheerful and people liked to have her tell their fortunes with tea leaves. After living for a time in Chicago (they were living there in 1927), Bea and Frank moved to Stevensville, Montana, a community in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. In the course of his life in Stevensville, he met and became good friends with a man who later was a dean at Valparaiso University sometime before 1930. The dean looked up the Alpheus Worstell family because he recognized the name and was a good friend of Frank. Frank died in 1941. His wife, Bea, was an invalid toward the end of her life. Her long time caregiver was Colly, her sister. In the late ‘40s, the Richard Worstells visited her and by then she was bedridden. In a letter to the Worstells some time later, Bea wrote she had multiple sclerosis. She wrote she was seeing a new doctor who was helping her become more mobile.
Bea died in 1962. Both Frank and Bea are buried in Stevensville in the cemetery of the oldest church in Montana. They had no children.
The Harndens moved to San Francisco in 1920 or before and resided at 35 Belvedere, just off the east end of Golden Gate Park. Emery appears in the telephone phone book for the year 1922, and in the city directory for the year 1923, as a stenographer. In 1921 or ‘22, Grace enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley. Fern lived in the Bay area for two years between 1920 and 1922. (Gaylord and Elsie sold/transferred a lot in Big Sandy to Fern in 1919.)
Part of the time, Fern lived with Harndens doing housework for board and room. By a Big Sandy news account Fern attended art school while living there. She was a good artist and also did needlepoint. Fern’s daughter, Jane Hofstetter, has chairs covered with the needlepoint done by Fern.
In 1921 or ‘22, Grace enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley. She was accepted without a high school diploma. Sometime during their married life, the Harndens became acquainted with Arthur C. Mauerhan, credit manager for Gullixson Bros. Inc., a furniture store. Arthur’s address at that time was 58 Divisadero, a dozen blocks or so from Belvedere, on the other side of Buena Vista Park. It became a friendly threesome, especially for Grace and Arthur. When Emery was off golfing, Grace and Arthur would be off on a hike and picnic in one of the parks. Their daughter, Jane Harnden Morgan, said that on these occasions she was usually left alone, although occasionally Fern took care of her, and on rare occasions she accompanied Grace and Arthur.
When Grace and Emery decided to divorce, Emery was their lawyer, so the story goes. He told Grace and Arthur they would have to wait a year before they could get married. So Grace and Arthur went to Europe for a while and Jane, still known as Rachel, stayed with her father. It’s possible that people named Larkin, with whom Grace stayed while she was going to school in Great Falls, moved to San Francisco by this time. If so, Rachel Jane, now in school, stayed with them when she was sick and unable to attend school. After Grace and Arthur returned from Europe, Jane lived with the Larkins, and so, Jane said, did Arthur. Then Grace and Jane made an extended visit to the Kaub home in Southern California after the divorce, perhaps during the summer. Grace and Emery, who were married for nine years, divorced in 1924. Mr. Harnden was still residing in Oakland in the 1940s.
Grace graduated from UC Berkeley in 1925. The Mountaineer referred to Grace as Mrs. Grace Harnden when they published the following item on May 21, 1925:
Grace was a Phi Beta Kappa. University records indicate she was a teaching fellow in the Philosophy Department from 1925 to 1928. Today’s usage of the term “fellow” frequently means a teaching assistant and often a graduate student. At the University of California, Berkeley, teaching assistants have carried the main teaching load for many years, especially the undergraduate courses. Among the classes Grace taught was logic.
If Jane Morgan is correct in implying that Arthur and Grace expected to get married as soon as the divorce was final, they got married after May, in 1925. However, Grace was still using the name Harnden while associated with the University of California until 1928. Property deeds indicate Grace and Arthur were married between February 1928 and October 1929. In February 1928, Emery and Grace Harnden sold their Big Sandy house to Gaylord alone, who assumed the mortgage and the 1927 taxes. A property deed dated October 10, 1929, recorded that Gaylord and Elsie Worstell of Bellingham, Washington, together sold or deeded the same property back to Grace Mauerhan of Berkeley. The following day, Gaylord and Elsie deeded another Big Sandy property to Grace Mauerhan.
Arthur and Grace had a very successful home interior decorating business. (Also in the Oakland area during the 1920s was a John Mauerhan, who had a curtain or drapery store.) According to Tom Robinson, Fern’s son, Grace handled the business aspect and Arthur the art and design work of their company. One method they had of attracting business was to invite friends, acquaintances, and former clientele to tea at the show rooms and introduce the guests to a new line of fabric or furniture. Another technique was to place a piece of art or decor in a home on a trial basis. This led to confusion at times, with the recipient understanding it was a gift, Grace explaining it was a loan. This may have led to some use of the phrase, “Crazy Gracie.” However, Jane Hofstetter, Fern’s daughter, spoke fondly of her and said Grace had been kind and helpful to her when she had been going through hard times.
Although Everett Worstell, the dentist, never made Big Sandy his full-time home, he seemed to have a heart for Big Sandy even though he didn’t keep his practice there. He appreciated spending time in the dry climate of Montana during the dog days in Chicago, and July 1921 was no exception as he was in Big Sandy that summer.
Richard graduated from Valparaiso in May 1922 with a major in chemistry. He had been a good student, receiving mostly A’s and B’s. He was a charter member of Kappa Delta Pi fraternity in 1920. Social fraternities were not allowed at Valparaiso University until 1919, and then only local ones were permitted. (In the 1950’s the local fraternities were allowed to join national Greek organizations.) Richard’s yearbook summary listed his activities as vice-president Acacia Club, American Chemistry Society, Physics Club, Y.M.C.A., and Assistant Class Editor. He listed his Ambition: “‘Mary’ ‘Organic Chemistry’ ‘Physics’.” (Did they misspell Mary, or not?)
The 15-by-16-inch vellum, or sheepskin graduation diploma, showing its age by the soft peaks and valleys in the parchment, is printed with beautiful calligraphy; only the date, 25th day of May Nineteen hundred and 22, is in handwritten pen and ink; it grants the degree of Bachelor of Science.
Richard made a bit of a splash when he got home from college. He purchased and installed the first radio receiving set in the community. It was a VT [vacuum tube] set with two stages of amplification, complete with headphones and loudspeaker. “Montgomery Wards best at a bargain price of $200.00,” Richard wrote. Yes, there was a station in the area. The Great Falls Tribune radio station had begun broadcasting.
Fern, now seventeen (1922) returned to Big Sandy for what her father hoped would be a permanent move. She enrolled in Big Sandy High School from Piedmont High School (California) for her senior year. When Fern completed high school, Gaylord gave her a car. She was hired to teach in one of the rural area schools and the car was her transportation to school. On one occasion during the year she taught there, the car stalled while negotiating the steep railroad crossing, leaving her straddling the tracks. Before she could get it started she heard the train coming. Determined not to abandon her first car on the tracks, she cranked and cranked the car without success, until finally she managed to push the car off the tracks.
As most teachers of her day, Fern was responsible for bringing in the wood and coal, building and maintaining the fire in the pot-bellied stove, and doing other janitorial work around the school. Fern derived considerable satisfaction from her teaching experience. She enjoyed being able to spot the children with vision and hearing problems, discussing those problems with their parents, and seeing the improvement in the school work when the children got their glasses or extra help. By the end of her year of teaching, Montana had enacted a requirement that teachers must have two years of college or normal school to be able to teach in public school. Fern’s determination to go to college was in conflict with Gaylord’s desire for her to stay in Big Sandy and keep house for him. She wanted Gaylord to give his blessing to her pursuit and to see her off on the train. This he would not do, and she recalled that on boarding the train she “shook the dust of Big Sandy off her feet,” and headed to Bellingham, Washington.
A major change occurred in the Worstell family between 1920 and 1923; Gaylord and Elsie separated. Big Sandy High School records indicate that Ben completed three years of high school, but they do not indicate that he graduated. He completed the three years in the spring of 1922. On July 15, 1920, when Fern first went to California, she mailed a card from Ogden, Utah, addressed only to Dr. Gaylord Worstell. Was Elsie gone by 1920? One possibility is that Elsie moved to California by herself in 1921 and left Ben with Gaylord for a year to complete his third year of high school in Big Sandy. There is a reason for believing that Elsie moved before May 1923. Fern’s daughter believes Gaylord promised to send Fern and Elsie to Europe for her graduation. When Fern graduated in 1922, Elsie was apparently not living in Big Sandy and the trip did not take place. (Later that promise became the reason that Fern took her daughter, Jane, on a European trip when Jane graduated.) There are family members who believe that whenever it was that Elsie moved west, she stayed with Grace and Emery in San Francisco. According to an item in a Bellingham, Washington newspaper, Elsie’s sister, Florence Hale, (her husband not mentioned), was living in California in 1933. It has not been determined whether this is true, or if true, when it was that Florence moved to California. If it were as early as 1920, it would provide the Worstell women with a family connection to California.
Fern was looking for a place to get work and an education. Washington state was a popular state for people who left Montana, and schools in Washington could still hire high school graduates for teachers in elementary schools. Bellingham had a normal school, which made it a good choice for Fern. She got a teaching job in a small rural school. Bellingham is a beautiful town on the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the northern Washington coast. The Bellingham Normal School was situated on a hill overlooking the strait. Ben was also in Bellingham and he and Fern shared quarters. Elsie came to Bellingham and joined them, probably in 1922 or ‘23. Elsie Worstell is listed in the Polk city directory at 708 High street across from the original college campus, a good location for the three of them. Fern was enrolled in the college, now called Western Washington University, from 1924 through the summer term of 1926.
Carrie Nolan, resident of Bellingham and whose relation to Elsie is unknown, owned a lot with E. V. and Grace Day in Big Sandy, Montana. They sold this lot to Elsie Worstell in February 1926. This makes it seem that Elsie’s financial situation was somewhat secure and that perhaps these people are another Worstell connection to Bellingham.
When Fern obtained her teaching credential, Elsie and Fern moved to Seattle, Washington, where Fern obtained a teaching position. It was in Seattle that Fern was teaching Elsie to drive when Elsie lost control of the car and cried out about her “sin.” On a similar occasion she called out to Fern, “Stop it! Stop it! It’s possessed.” One of these incidents may have had serious consequences. In February 1927, Richard wrote to his wife about his mother:
Fern got married sometime after 1926. In Elsie’s will of January 1928, Fern’s name was Fern Metras. This marriage didn’t last long (she said her husband only wanted a sex slave), and Fern moved back to California. Elsie and Ben went back to Bellingham and made their home there. Fern got a job teaching school in Kensington, north of Berkeley, in Thousand Oaks School, and other schools during the next few years. She enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, and completed her bachelor’s degree in 1932 or ’33.
A choice of a dentist for some dental care turned out to be fortuitous for Fern. The dentist was Dr. Thomas Oney Robinson, who became Fern’s second husband. They were married sometime after March 1933. Dr. Robinson was a well-known dental surgeon. Besides his private practice, he was on the staff of San Francisco hospital and did dental surgeries for the inmates at San Quentin. One surgery involved the use of a piece of the patient’s thighbone to reconstruct his jawbone. The Robinsons also believed in the benefits of rental properties. They acquired several and Fern was the manager.
In 1924, after Fern moved to Washington, Everett Worstell retired from his dental practice in Chicago and moved to Big Sandy to live with Gaylord. In the spring of 1927, Gaylord wrote to Richard and told him that Everett was going to go visit another brother. This was possibly Frank who was still living in Chicago at the time. Gaylord wrote Richard that he was looking forward to the spring and summer and a chance to take trips in his new Master Six Buick Brougham. Richard noted, “Dad will be rather lonely all to himself.” Gaylord had been fortunate the previous winter. Two thieves from North Dakota had stolen his fur coat. A heavy coat is something a country doctor would find a necessity in making his rounds in a car without a heater. Fortunately the thieves were apprehended in Great Falls, and presumably he got his coat back.
Nineteen twenty-six is the year the osteopaths, Emerson and Harriet Worstell, pulled up stakes in Canton, Ohio, and moved to Long Beach, California. They reinvested in real estate in the Long Beach area. After the stock market crash in 1928, Harriet suggested to Emerson that they take their money out of the bank. Emerson thought otherwise, saying that he felt that “if the bank failed, everything would.” In a way, of course, that’s what happened, and in 1931 the bank failed. The next year, Emerson was repairing a radio aerial on the third-floor roof of one of his rentals and fell to his death. Their life insurance company investigated and ruled it a suicide. Shortly after that, Harriet was hired as a company doctor for a Chicago firm and she moved the family to Chicago. Gaylord was helpful and generous to Harriet, and she was appreciative and admired him. She felt he was more generous than her own brothers. Harriet acquired some rentals in Chicago and there were times the payments were slow in coming. Gaylord paid the family a visit in 1935 when money was tight. Harriet needed a loan and Gaylord loaned her $300 interest free.
After graduation, in the fall of 1922, Richard got a teaching position in Fort Shaw, a community west of Great Falls, as a high school science and math teacher. The following year he accepted the position of superintendent and science teacher in the small community of Cardwell, between Three Forks and Butte. This was followed by a year in Smith Center, Kansas, as Assistant High School Principal and science teacher. In 1925, he moved on to Ft. Madison, Iowa, where he was head of the science department, teaching chemistry, physics, visual education, and coached basketball until 1930. During the four summers of 1923 to 1926, he was a graduate student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.