28. RETURN TO MONTANA
Well, on we came thru as pretty country you ever saw. Wilda Worstell
Wed. Evening 8 o’clock.
Dear Mama and Pop:
Just got here. Had a fine trip today — I sure did enjoy it. Just this evening we came thru some wonderful scenery. Nice and cool today and fair. This is Springview, Neb. Are in a private home. Is very good. Drove about 300 miles today. Car working fine so far. Had about a 20 or 25 mile detour today. Not bad tho. Ate the last of the chicken at noon today. Sure was good as can be and having a good time. Have had gravel all the way from Sioux City today but is very fine. As good as pavement and we sail along. Going or hope to be in Wyoming tomorrow nite. I did not think I’d enjoy the trip as much as I am. Write us at Big Sandy in a few days so will be there when we get there. Bye, Wilda.
The Worstells had paid their last visit to the Augustines, and packed their belongs in and on top of the car. Wilda prepared and packed food to take along. It was September 27th. The envelope from the first letter Wilda wrote home was postmarked Denison, Iowa, Sep. 28, 1932 but the letter is missing from the collected letters about the trip. As the end of a day approached, Dick and Wilda would watch for homes with a sign in the yard that said, “Tourist Rooms.” The rooms in private homes were usually the most inexpensive accommodations to be found and sometimes the only accommodations. Outside of hotels, tourist cabins were the first public accommodations before motels. Tourist Rooms could be found as late as the 1970s, but would soon be replaced with the Bed and Breakfast, which would not be the inexpensive accommodation of the past. During the trip, Ann Jean sat on Wilda’s lap, where one of her favorite pastimes on the trip was peeling the paper off the crayons. Wilda’s account of the trip was written in postcards to her mother:
Thursday. Dear Mama and Pop:
Arrived at Lusk, Wyoming about 7:30. Drove about 300 miles today and such scenery. Left Springview, Neb. where we staid all nite last nite about 6:15 this morning. Was wonderful driving this morning — and cool. Is hard driving late afternoon because the sun shines so bright in our eyes. Such fine roads — had some quite mountainous country today. Pop — saw a great many cattle today and they looked good. Today the towns were quite far apart. Drove about 20 mi. after dark tonite on an oiled road better than pavement. Could see Lusk miles and miles before we got to it. It surely is interesting — these towns and everything. Ann Jean is fine. she’s so peppy — Took two naps today but was ready for bed tonite. We have another nice cabin tonite — she’s sound asleep and has been for quite awhile — Bye — Wilda —
Friday Evening. Dear Mama and Pop:
We are in Sheridan, Wyoming. Had a fine trip today — about 300 miles over such a winding up and down road. Mountains to the right of us for so long. Had our lunch today near the famous Teapot Dome — Such an oilfield: Sure was interesting. Took us two days to come thru Neb. and between Buffalo, Wyoming and Sheridan they had irrigated and things looked green again, after so much sand and sage brush it sure looked good. This is a town of about 9,000 and is sure a pretty town. They say they are just beginning to feel the depression here. Ann Jean is certainly feeling fine and is as good as can be. The car working fine, and I have had no headache and not one speck tired when we stop. Are in a private home tonite for $1. Is a fine place. We all had a fine bath. Bye Wilda — See cowboys with big hats and boots.
The Teapot Dome affair occurred during the Harding administration. A Senate investigation in 1923 exposed the transfer by the Secretary of the Navy of government oil reserves to the Department of Interior, enabling the Secretary of Interior to lease oil fields to private producers, namely Doheny and Sinclair. The Secretary of the Interior received $400,000 from the oil companies for arranging the transfer. Both Secretaries were forced to resign. President Harding died shortly after first hearing of the onset of the investigations, but before the exposure of the scandals. In an effort to protect his memory, Mrs. Harding burned as much of his correspondence as she could.
Wilda would suffer from headaches, possibly migraine, occasionally during her life. She also got carsick frequently. Once she heard of a remedy or way to alleviate the condition. Women wore corsets, later corselets, a tight-fitting, one-piece undergarment with stays to help maintain a nice figure and smooth appearance. The carsickness remedy consisted of placing a folded newspaper between the corset and the stomach. She could somehow manage to do this while in the back seat of the moving car. She said it seemed to help. The headaches she occasionally got didn’t usually last more than a day or so and the carsickness disappeared when the trip was over, but they were not something one would wish on anybody. Howard, Wilda’s brother, was plagued all of his life with debilitating migraines. He sought medical help from physicians, allergists, homeopaths, and osteopaths.
Sunday Evening Dear Mama and Pop:
Well, Mama and Pop, we are here. Had such wonderful weather — but started to sprinkle rain about a half mile from here. Did not get to write you last nite — was tired so hurried right to bed. We staid at Lewistown — had a nice cabin there and had a good rest because we did not hurry off this morning as we only had 120 miles to come so tho’t we’d take our time. We had a fine ride yesterday thru the foot hills — saw great herds of sheep and cattle — Came thru some mighty pretty country — prairie and all. Such wonderful roads. Came thru the Custer Battlefield country yesterday. Car worked so good. This morning we left Lewistown, Montana at 10 after Dick washed and cleaned up the car and we sure had some experiences today. We cut across country as Dick’s father advised us to do — we got on the wrong road and the road led us down, down into the mts. to the river where we tho’t we were to ferry across the Missouri river — but we landed in somebody’s farm yard — was a wonderful road — but narrow and steep. Such scenery — We inquired the road and we had to go back up, up, up, that grade and we did not think we could make it. The man told us if we got stuck he’d come with his tractor but any car could make that hill. But ours did or does not pull hills good and we were loaded heavy — but we eased along — stopped once and we tho’t we were done for — Boy! looked bad a few minutes but on she went and we got up fine — that old car is a fine one. So we got up on the prairie again and the fellow told us when to cut across to the main road so we took it and was fine except for one little hill that was so steep that we had a terrible time to make it — had to get up it zigzag — then over we came on fine — Had to drop down to the river again and followed the river along for several miles — down in there with mts. all around us — we hoped we were on the right road — we followed the sign to the ferry — but we didn’t know. Well such a road to the ferry — Boy — I’d never advise anybody to take that road — not dangerous but it keeps your eyes open. Wasn’t traveled much so we weren’t sure. Well, pretty soon we drove into another farm lot and we were afraid to ask about the ferry. There was a man standing in the barn door with a lot of buildings around and such a beautiful house — well kept, nestling there among the trees with mountains all around with fine pastures leading up to the mts. with so many cattle. Well, the man said — “Just go down that lane and you’ll find the ferry,” what a relief, and I said we’d not have a hill to climb up as we came down. So on we went to the ferry. The ferry was on this side so the ferry man and his dog came over for us. Run the car right on and we staid right in the car. Cost $1.50. Ann Jean got a kick out of it. She had been sleepy for so long but she wanted to cross the river in the boat. We were then 44 miles to Big Sandy. The ferry man was such a pleasant old fellow and we had a lot of fun with him. We tho’t we’d better have some gas as there were no more stops — So we only got 3 gal as we had to pay 29 c. a gal. Gas is much higher out here. Even at Casper, Wyoming where they have so much we had to pay 23 c. The same kind as we paid 11, 12, or 13 c. in Iowa and Nebraska. Well, on we came and were soon on the rolling ground and came up over a hill onto a quite long stretch of prairie and sitting there in front of a little farm place was the newest finest, yellow airplane you ever saw — all parked to stay awhile. Was the second we had seen. The other was flying over the oil fields near Casper, Wyo. Well, on we came thru as pretty country you ever saw. Fine farming of wheat, you know, rolling fields — and off to the east a small range of mts. and to the west sloping off to the real rockies. But you can’t see the west ones plain from here. But right here its quite prairie — but a mile out the pretty country begins. Dick’s father was looking for us and had a stew on. He sure is an interesting man. Ann Jean is about the sweetest thing — she was so good on the trip. We rode in the front seat all the way. We’d tell stories and sing — and she never seemed to get a bit tired until time to go to bed. She’d take one or 2 naps every day. I never had the headache after the first day. Your letter here that you sent to Chicago and one from Mrs. Roan. They have a little girl 6 wks. old. Bye will write tomorrow.
The car got to missing the morning soon after we left Lewistown — Dick worked with it and went ok. We would never have gotten up that place if it had missed that way. But it sure did fine.
Custer Battlefield is located along the Little Big Horn River near Billings, Montana. In 1876 the US Army planned to round up the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians and bring them onto reservations. General Alfred H. Terry was in command. Gen. Terry ordered Gen. Custer to locate a certain Indian village, which he did. Expecting about 1,000 Indians instead of the 2,500 to 5,000 in the village, Custer split his forces into three columns for an immediate attack. After bloody fighting, one column retreated across the river and up the bluffs. A second column joined the first and held off the Indians until Gen. Terry arrived. In the meantime, the column led by Gen. Custer was attacked, and totally destroyed to a man.
Mountains that Wilda referred to are not mountains. The deeply eroded land along the rivers in Montana is called “breaks,” “breaks badlands,” or “coolies” if along a small stream or drainage. Much of Montana that is flat prairie is ‘cut’ or ‘broken’ by erosion of the rivers. This erosion through the soft clays and conglomerates leaves steep hills and hoodoos bereft of any but the hardiest grasses and other small vegetation.
Three free ferries still operate on the Missouri between Great Falls and Big Sandy between March and October.
Wilda would never lose her love of Montana scenery. From the last home Richard and Wilda had, she would always enjoy her view from the window toward the west and the mountains on the far horizon.
Soon after Dick and the family got settled in the hospital with Gaylord, Wilda wrote a letter home; she never dated her letters except by the day of the week.
Tuesday Afternoon — Dear Mama and Pop:
This is another fine day, such blue skies. Just put Ann Jean to bed. She’s not sleepy either. My! she is feeling so good — and she is so good. Plays around contented. I think her playmates kept her excited, and she never was contented. She wouldn’t talk at first — now I am afraid she talks too much. She likes to talk to the Dr’s patients. He was out all nite last nite. Left about 9. Got home this morning about 10:30. Out west of here about 18 miles. A baby boy – 11 lbs. His patients are interesting — a lady just left that run a nail clear threw her foot. Said she jumped on it. I like to hear him talk about them. You should see the curtains he has in this house. Said they cost him almost $250.00 — He got them two years ago. Grace, the girl in California sent them to him. She also sent two chairs and davenport — but the rest of the furniture is not so good. The mountains look so pretty today — they are sixteen miles from here. We took a ride around town since dinner today — went by the stock yards. Lot of cattle just in to be shipped. They certainly looked fine; they mostly go to Chicago or St. Paul. Ann Jean found her calf today — She’s been having fun showing it to the people that come in. The Dr. got a big kick out of it. Nothing much to write about today. tho’t sure I’d hear from you before this. I hope you are not sick. Please write often — Bye Wilda —
Wilda’s memories of the hospital included an event that took place later that year. She recalled that late one night people brought in a man who had been badly burned. She remembered his screams. The next morning Wilda went to clean up the office, as she accepted this role in the household. It was something she had not experienced before. During the cleaning, she found a large section of skin, still in the shape of the man’s hand, fingers and all, that had “come off like a glove.”
The Worstell hospital-residence was a cubical building of wood frame construction with stucco exterior. It had a porch on both floors that went the width of the building, since a necessary requirement for the treatment of some diseases was access to fresh air and sunshine. The floor plan of the hospital-residence was simple. The first floor was divided front to back by a wide hallway and stairs to the second floor and basement. There were two rooms on either side. The front room on the left was the office, connected to the kitchen in back. The front room off the hall on the right was the parlor, and at the end of the hall was the door to the dining room on the right. Ann Jean, not yet four years old, has a few memories from the house that made up her world.
There was a chair in a favorite spot in the doctor’s office, between his roll top desk and the door to the kitchen, where Mother and I could sit alone and apart from Gramp and Daddy. Somewhere along the wall were shelves filled with books, National Geographic, and bottles of pills and medicines. The large bottles each contained different colored pills, but all were acetylsalicylic acid — aspirin. The roll top desk was always covered with a muddle of papers, and a swivel office chair sat nearby. In the middle of the room were an examination or operating table and a stool. I sat on my mother’s lap in the only other chair in the room while she read to me or told me stories. It was the newspaper that I anticipated the most. The paper carried the serialized stories of Thornton Waldo Burgess. He wrote stories of personified animals on the order of Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit) and Jill Barklem (Brambly Hedge). It was in Gramp’s house that Mother found Riley—Child-Rhymes with Hoosier Pictures, by James Whitcomb Riley. Our favorite poems and stories were “Little Orphant Annie,” “The Nine Little Goblins,” “The Bear Story,” and “The Raggedy Man.” When I got a little older, “Out to Old Aunt Mary’s” was a favorite.
Gaylord remembered one of these poems and wrote in his Rensselaer letter, “He [Richard] has a daughter of four years who seems to know all about Riley’s poems. Just recently, before a large audience, she acquitted herself nicely on ‘Little Orphant Annie.’” Continuing with memories:
Mother occasionally told me stories of her youth. Halloween was just a month after we arrived in Big Sandy, and Mother and I both remembered the party from the year before. I don’t remember any special activity planned in Big Sandy, but Mother tried to make me feel a little excitement by telling me about some Halloween tricks she knew. She told me that you could make a scary, eerie sound by attaching a string to the outside of the window frame with a nail and rubbing rosin along the string. I went outside in the dark by myself to try this, but without much success.
Just a couple of feet through the door and I was into another little spot of warmth and comfort. The big black range and the kitchen table and chairs were all close to the door to the office, and are all that I remember of the kitchen. It was where Gramp and Daddy might be, where I could sit on Daddy’s lap and maybe play with a toy, and where mother did the cooking. One morning when she was making breakfast, she asked me to go upstairs and wake Gramp. I don’t remember just how many rooms were upstairs; I suppose about four plus the bathroom. I went and stood by Gramp’s bed. He was facing me, sound asleep. By the bed was a small table. On the table were an eyecup and his glass eye, and a glass of water with his false teeth. I looked at them, I looked at him. Then I went downstairs and told Mother that she should go upstairs and see Gramp. “There’s something wrong with Gramp,” I said.
Across the hall from the kitchen was the dining room. I only remember eating in there one time, although we may have eaten there more than once. We had company on this one occasion and it could have been Grandmother and Grandfather Augustine, and Uncle Howard, who came to visit us in the spring, but my vague memory tells me that on this particular occasion it was other relatives. I do remember that hominy was served at that company dinner, and some of it was put on my plate. I had never eaten it before and I thought I had to eat it. I gagged when I tried and had to get up from the table. Mother came out to the kitchen and told me to chew it up. That’s when I found out you could eat a little of any food if you chewed it, since most food doesn’t taste that bad. I was a picky eater, but mostly I just didn’t eat much, and I was tall and thin for my age, at least until I “matured.”
The parlor was a dark and quiet room. No one used it. It had a nice big davenport with high arms and on the wall above it was a picture painted by my grandmother. It was a picture of a girl in a rowboat, contemplating the water and rushes in the moonlight. It was on the davenport that I could take my naps and daydream while looking at the picture. I have no memory of any other furnishings in the room.
I’m sure I shared the bedroom with my parents. The beds all had iron frames, and from later experience, I know that some were high, hospital style. The bed I slept in was probably a hospital bed for young children, oversized, crib style, iron. It was next to a window and Mother enjoyed my hearty laughter when the window blind would fly out of her hand and go flapping around the roller. We said a prayer together when she put me to bed: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” There are times I still say that prayer.
The bathroom was a step up from floor level to accommodate the plumbing. It’s where I remember being given the “little pink pill,” a laxative. I had not yet learned to swallow pills with water, and the sugar coating of the pill dissolved before I could get it down. It was very bitter; as they say, “It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”
The basement was a scary place. I remember following Gramp and Daddy part way down the stairs. Light from a single hanging bulb made eerie shadows among the miscellaneous stuff stored down there. The cobwebs were thick along the side of the stairs. The walls were rough, the basement deep. I never did go all the way down. Had I been induced to go down the stairs by my self, and someone turned out the light, I expect it would have been the scariest moment of my life.
My world wasn’t very large, and my memory of it even smaller. I had a playmate catty corner from the hospital. I don’t remember playing with him, I just remember standing in the shallow ditch with tall yellow clover at the edge of the road and calling to him. “Come over and play with me,” he would answer, “You come over here.” A small town, graveled street, little or no traffic, yet two young children were well trained not to cross or play in the street. Gramp had a nice lawn on the south side of the house. Dandelions, clover, and the blossoms from the hollyhocks that grew beside the house provided me a lot of entertainment.
The little boy in the preceding story may have been one of the guests at the little birthday party that Wilda hosted for Ann Jean. It was reported in the newspaper:
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, Ann Jean Worstell, charming little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Worstell, celebrated her fourth birthday by entertaining several of her little friends at her home here. Two hours in the afternoon were pleasantly spent with games and stories, while a fishpond, at which each young guest received a prize, delighted the children. A birthday cake bearing four candles was the principal attraction when refreshments were served late in the afternoon.
Thirteen children attended the party and cards were received from two children not listed in the newspaper; they may have been ill. Christmas vacation 1932-33 was extended for one week due to a siege of influenza.
In the spring, the Augustines, Al, Adda, and Howard, paid a visit to the Worstells in Big Sandy. Wilda couldn’t have been happier to see anyone. Ann Jean has no memory of the visit,but pictures provide the information.
Pictured to the left are
Al and Adda Augustine,
Wilda, Richard and
Gaylord Worstell, and
child Ann Jean.