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See also The Clare Family History Back Home in Indiana and The Fire
Ballad of Harold & Emily
by Mary Clare Compton
"Let's do it, Emily!"
At last the decision was made. For months the pros and cons of the momentous move had been the young couple's only topic of conversa tion. Their decision would affect the rest of their lives. They were excited about the future and impatient to make plans. Harold swung Emily around in a circle and exclaimed, "Yes, after we get married, let's move to Wyoming."
It was 1918, and Harold was just 25. He had left the farm near Cortland, Nebraska four years ago to work in a bank in Lincoln. He knew the relentless work on the farm was not for him. Yet, the bank wasn't the answer, either. He had big ambitions and an adventuresome spirit. He wanted to make things happen.
He'd met Emily at a church dance in Lincoln in 1916, and he was sure she was the one. Emily was attending the University of Nebraska and had many boyfriends. But Harold knew he would win Emily's heart. And he did.
Their big decision to head for Wyoming was made in early 1917. The Homestead Act of 1862 permitted any citizen over 21 or any head of a family to acquire 640 acres of public land simply by giving legal notice of his intention-called "making entry." Most of the best land in Nebraska had been claimed, but he kept hearing stories of the wonderful opportunities in Wyoming.
Arrangements had to be made. It would take months. The proper papers had to be filled out, and the land set aside. It was a slow procedure, and the government was no more efficient then than now. Meanwhile, he had to save money for his "grubstake" before he quit his job.He made two quick trips west to be sure there were possibilities of a good life in Wyoming. He saw the general area where his homestead would be. Homesteading would be a way to get started. After each trip he was more certain that opportunities were there. He signed all the application papers and got preliminary approval. He and Emily decided they would leave right after the wedding to start their new life.
December 26, 1917 dawned bright and sunny. It was their wedding day. Though the sun shone brilliantly, deep drifts of snow could be seen on every roadside. A few of the guests arrived in Model-T Fords, but most of them came by horse and buggy.
The Clare family was large-six children. Harold's dad was a big farmer near Cortland. Many friends and relatives came to Lincoln to see this lovely girl who had finally tamed Harold.
Emily's family was large, too. She had three sisters and four brothers. Everyone helped prepare for the big event. Everything in their beautiful home and the church reflected the Christmas season. Christmas trees, bells, garlands and flowers would forever symbolize not only Christ's birth, but also their wedding day.
They were married in the Sisters of Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel. They had a simple service at low mass, with Rev. W. F. Bradley officiating. Emily's lifelong friend, Eleanor Draper, was her bridesmaid, and Leo Clare was Harold's groomsman. After the wedding, a reception was held in the Brian home.
Emily's four huge brothers, Bert, Harry, Roy and Frank--all over six feet tall-didn't make it easy for Harold. Though they heartily approved of the man Emily had chosen, it was the custom for the men in the family to provide a little challenge for the young groom. Harold's brothers Leo and Johnny helped the four Brian boys cut the straps that held the horse to the buggy. When the wedding party left the reception to go to the station, the horse went ahead at the "giddyup," but the buggy stayed in place.
Poor embarrassed Harold finally got the horse and buggy together and left for the train station, where their trunks were packed and ready to go on the evening train. Friends and relatives gave them a boisterous good-bye. Harold and Emily stood by the railing of the caboose and waved until their friends on the train platform were out of sight.
They had done it. They had cut all ties to Nebraska and were heading for their Wyoming honeymoon.
"All off. Douglas, Wyoming, next stop" called the conductor. Harold grabbed the suitcases as he and Emily stepped off the train. They stood for a moment surveying the surroundings. Douglas was a little one-street town with few trees to soften the view. There were some stores, a church, houses and a sprinkling of other old buildings. The train station seemed to be the center of activity.
The December wind was blowing the snow in every direction. For a moment they wondered what they had gotten into. It didn't take long for the dream of heading west to fade into the harsh reality of starting a new life in this bleak, cold place.
The young couple decided the first thing to do was to find a hotel room, which they would call their headquarters until their house was ready. Emily would stay in town until Harold could get a home built on their land.
They visited the land office, a busy place, where Harold checked on his homestead claim. He signed the final papers, paid the fees and got all the information he could about his land. He made an appointment with the "locator," who would take him to his land and show him the "four corners" the next day.
Harold found the bank where he deposited his grubstake--all that he had saved for the past two years. It would be a long time before they would have any income.
Their first home was a home on wheels, a forerunner of the modern-day trailer. It was called a sheep wagon, complete with rounded canvas top. Harold bought a good work horse to take the wagon on many trips to town over the next few years.
Their homestead was in the east-central part of Wyoming, about ten miles east and four miles north of Douglas.
To get there, one had to follow a little-used trail, which faded into nothing in many places. They were eager to get their first view of the place that would be their home. If, at first it appeared bleak, it didn't matter. It was theirs, and they felt only excitement.
They realized that building their little house was going to be very difficult in the cold. Harold was glad he could get help from itinerants and Indians who lived in the area. It took innumerable trips into town to get lumber, glass for windows, tar for the roof, etc. The lumber yard in Douglas brought several loads of building materials to the land, but Harold was on his own. Life was an adventure, and he worked day and night getting things ready.
Soon the little two-room house was ready. It had a combined kitchen-parlor and one bedroom. The "closet," or outhouse, was a few feet out the back door.
The little house was sturdy, built of stone and wood, and it had all the essentials but certainly none of the luxuries that Emily had been used to in Nebraska. Harold knew they would be warm and comfortable while he was getting started. Better housing could be built later, as his family expanded.
Many years later, Emily often talked about her days on the homestead. She called those first few months her "Honeymoon on JC Ranch" (as noted in her wedding book). She felt no poverty or privation. Life was exciting, although it must have been difficult for this young wife from the big city.
Emily brought a hint of refinement to even this most primitive living arrangement. She made curtains from flour sacks, gaily printed in flowers and colorful designs just for such use by the early settlers.
The meager possessions she brought brightened every corner. She had her rocking chair. A table and two chairs that Harold scrounged in Douglas provided a place to sit near the cook stove in the kitchen. The bed in one corner was covered by quilts made by Grandma Brian to keep them warm on the freezing winter nights. A hand-painted water pitcher and wash basin sat on a washstand near the stove. Wood was stacked underneath. An old coal-oil lamp lighted the room at night. A four-drawer dresser stored their clothing. Family pictures decorated the white-washed interior walls.
A well not too far from the house provided water for the family and later for the sheep. To the north there was also a creek that provided more water.
Imagine the difficulty of washing diapers, linens and those long-skirted dresses worn in the early 20s. Everything had to be done by hand in tubs filled with water heated on the cook stove. The clothes were ironed with the iron heated on the stove.
Shortly after Harold got to Wyoming, his sister Marie and his Dad's brother Tom decided to file for land close to Harold's. They were able to secure land with "touching" corners. Tom built a shack on this land as the "improvement" necessary to prove a homestead. He hand his wife Lucy and adopted daughter Agnes lived in Douglas. Tom was a butcher and opened a meat market there. Marie lived in town and worked in a land office. Tom's old Model T often helped with transportation problems.
Emily loved to visit these relatives, and she often stayed overnight in "the big city" of Douglas when they did the monthly shopping. These trips were big events in her life. She and Harold went into town no more often than once a month. They went by wagon, as they still had no car. It took a lot of planning to be sure they would have all the necessary items for survival for a whole month out on the prairie. Emily was extremely organized and was great at making lists. She undoubtedly had things planned perfectly.
Shawnee was a little settlement just five miles south of their land, where they could occasionally get things at the little grocery store in an emergency.
By the end of the summer they knew a baby was on the way and would arrive the next March. Harold was concerned about Emily. There was no doctor anywhere near their home. They decided they would go back to Lincoln when the time came, so there would be no problems for Emily or the baby.
Harold was able to buy a small band of about 200 sheep during the summer. A small corral was built near the house, but the sheep were allowed to roam all summer finding grass and water as needed.
Nights were always cool during the summer months, but the days were warm and sunny. The altitude of the land here was nearly five thousand feet above sea level. The main concern during the next six months would be the survival of the animals during the hard winter.
On November 11, 1918 pandemonium broke loose in every town and village in Wyoming. The Armistice had been signed. World War I was over. People gathered in all the little towns and celebrated.
Harold, Emily, Tom, Lucy, Marie and Agnes joined the crowds in Douglas for the festivities. All stores and banks were closed, and people were hung out streamers and decorations of every kind. Harold had tried to enlist at the beginning of the war, but he was put on a 4-F deferment, because of a slight heart problem, although had no problems with his heart most of his life. On this day in 1918 he celebrated with everyone.
Thus passed their first year in Wyoming. Winter months were long and severe, but they managed to stay warm and healthy. Most of the sheep survived and were ready for the "lambing" and shearing, which was done in the spring of 1919.
Early in March of that year, Emily and Harold left on the train for Lincoln, Nebraska, where their first baby was born. Harold stayed until his son arrived on March 21. How thrilled they were to have a boy, and they named him Harold James Clare, Jr. after his proud dad.
Harold stayed in town a few days to be sure all was well, then he returned to Wyoming. Emily stayed in the hospital the usual two weeks and then went to her parents' house for another six weeks. This was the usual time of recuperation in those days. Emily was young and very healthy. And she was impatient to join Harold. She finally got the okay from her doctor and bought her train ticket back to Wyoming.
Some of her treasured possessions that she still had in Lincoln were to be shipped on the train with her, and she bought other necessities that couldn't be obtained in Wyoming.
The baby was doing well on her breast milk, so she had no problems feeding him. Her whole family went to the station in Lincoln and helped her get her things settled for the trip. It was a long, two-day and two-night trip. She had a "Pullman" that made into a bed, so she could rest comfortably at night. She carried a basket of things to eat as there was no diner on that train.
Baby Jimmy seemed to love the ride and never made a peep the whole trip. He thrived on the clickety-clack of the rails heading west. Imagine the reunion at the railroad station when they arrived!
Knowing my Dad, I know he had tears of happiness flowing down his cheeks that day. Mom, too, was sentimental, but not like Dad. What a happy day it must have been for them.
As they drove over the hills, the landscape looked much as it does today-the rock and sand, the sagebrush and bunch grasses. One would expect nothing else in the arid West. But on this May day, the landscape was alive with wildflower color. Red paintbrushes were in bloom everywhere, and pink primrose and yellow sunflowers dotted the landscape.
At last, they would have a little income off the wool from the shearing-not much, but at least it was encouraging. And the young couple was thrilled at the thought of all those new little lambs they would have. This was progress! They felt like "old timers" now and knew that things could only get better. They couldn't have been happier than they were with this new life they had chosen.
The winter of 1919-20 went down in Wyoming history as one of the hardest winters of the century, and it was hard in every sense of the word. It started in September and lasted until the following June. The wind never stopped blowing. Snow drifts piled up around every building and shrub.
There was no feed of any description on the range, a deep snow lay on the ground for months, and the weather was bitterly cold.
January and February saw some relief from the steady snowfall, but the temperature dropped to around forty degrees below zero every night. It was the blowing, drifting kind of snow and for days no one dared venture outside. Harold and Emily huddled over the potbelly stove, thankful that there was a plentiful supply of wood inside to keep the little house and the baby warm.
Harold tried to keep the sheep enclosed in the corrals during this extreme cold weather, and he kept them fed as well as he could. An animal with a full belly can endure a lot, but underfed, they soon give up the struggle.
For two days and nights, this icy blast of wind and incessant snow kept Harold from even going outside. When they got a little break in the weather, he was able to dig a path out the door and down to the corrals-only to see most of his sheep frozen stiff-still standing.
Everyone in the area suffered the same setback. No one had escaped. Thousands of sheep died that year, and the homesteaders were deeply discouraged.
Those months were a constant challenge to Emily, too. Just the simple job of doing the wash and hanging it to dry became almost impossible. If the sun did shine a little, she hung the clothes outside on the line. Darkness came early, though, and many times she had to bring the clothes in frozen stiff. They had to be draped around the room and would eventually dry out.
Summer gave them renewed hope, but Harold was beginning to face facts. By enacting the 640-acre Grazing Homestead Act our Congress erred. There was no way in which a small farmer could make a living on un-irrigated western land. No single section of land could produce enough feed to sustain the number of sheep needed to support a family. Yet the homesteaders were willing and eager to be misled. They wanted that land.
However, it was increasingly clear to Harold that different plans had to be made. He went into Casper on the train to see what the opportunities might be there.
He had never seen such activity in one place. Casper was an oil-boom town. The Standard Oil Company of Indiana was building a large refinery. Residences were in construction everywhere. He returned to the homestead, and he and Emily discussed the possibility of moving to the burgeoning boom town.
In March of 1921, Harold got a job in the Casper National Bank and the decision to move to Casper was made.
By that time, Emily was expecting a second child — me. The young couple decided that Harold would go ahead to Casper, get a house, and Emily would join him as soon as the baby arrived. Her doctor was opening a new "birthing clinic" at his office in Douglas, and Emily had great confidence in Dr. J. R. Hylton. She wanted to stay there in Douglas to have her second baby. In April she moved off the homestead and into Douglas with Uncle Tom. She stayed there until I was born on April 26th. Lucy, Tom's wife, took care of Jimmy, now three, until we were all able to join Harold in Casper.
I was the first baby to be born in the new clinic, and Mom was very pleased with the attention she got while there. One week later I was baptized "Mary Eileen" by Father Patterson in Douglas. Uncle Tom and Aunt Lucy were my godparents. When I was two weeks old, Uncle Tom took us all to Casper in his Model T, and the few possessions they wanted to keep were shipped to Casper by train.
Later, Uncle Tom and Lucy also moved to Casper. Tom opened another meat market there, and he was very successful.
I remember my uncle Tom very well. He was tall and handsome and so good to all of us kids as we were growing up. Many years later we named our first son after my adventuresome Dad and our second son after Uncle Tom.
Dad had been on his homestead long enough to have possession. He eventually sold the land-for fifty cents an acre, I think. But he retained the mineral rights, which proved very worthwhile in the years to come.
The mineral rights that he always retained as he bought and sold land in those early days continue to pay small royalties to all of his children.
When I get one of those checks (usually only about $35), I always reflect on the stories he always told us and think about the adventures he had in those early pioneer days in Wyoming. I smile, look up and say "thanks, Dad! What a story you had to tell about those early days in Wyoming!"
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