rocket tracking


Sunday, September 26, 2010

More Questions than answers

This is one of my favorite family photosgraphs. It shows my great grandmother, Helen Johanna Dempsey Ellis (known as "Josephine" or "Josie" as she hated the name "Helen Johanna") proving a land claim. According to my grandmother, this was the claim in Havre, Montana. Grandma Josie told me that the dog was given to her by a cowboy.

My great-grandfather, Elmer Esmond Ellis, was a banker and worked in town. Grandma stayed at the landclaim and made a you can see, it wasn't much of a home, but these shacks were common in the early years of Montana and you can still see them dotting the landscape. Many were the initial homesteading claims, some were oilmen's shacks and others were for the herdsmen, whether sheep or cattle. Every day, a cowboy would ride by and (according to the tale) tip his hat at my grandmother before moving on. It turns out he was worried about this single lady on the plains and in order to help keep her safe, he gave her this dog which looks to have some boxer or Staffordshire terrier in his lineage.

I don't know much about Elmer Esmond Ellis, other than the fact that he was always trying to get ahead. He died in 1942 in Dawson's Pass where he went to mine mind you, he was middle aged at the time and my mother (his grandchild) was about 12 years old. I think that this is the only photo I have of him. He's standing here with his girls, he never had any boys, but he gave them all "boy" nicknames. My grandmother was "Jimmy." Her sisters were "Stubb", "Spike", and I foget the third one. My grandmother's name stuck...and she went through life as "Jimmy", far better than "Leona" which was her name.

I remember my great grandmother most from the visit we made in 1972. Here you see my dad, my uncle Ray, my grandma Jimmy, my mom, Aunt Mayme, Grandma Josie, Aunt Ceil and me. We flew out in my dad's Beechcraft Bonanaza from Michigan in order to settle my mother's aunt's estate.

While I was visiting this time, my sister and my niece drove down to Havre to see the land claim. My niece had researched the claim and found the records for two 90 acre claims. The first peculiar thing about this was that the claim was dated 1922, which doesn't much fit with the photograph. By 1922, Grandma had 3 kids, and I doubt that she, the girls and my grandfather could have all fit in the shack. In addition, I think the photograph is much earlier, based on the clothing. The photograph of Grandpa Ellis and the girls would have been about 1925, about the same time as the land deed was recorded.

When we got there, we were even more puzzled by the piece of land. Here's the access...the area adjoining what was the Ellis property is now the landfill.

It is a plateau, with a climb of about 30 - 50 feet to get to the top. Once we were there, we could find no evidence of habitation, even on the bottom before the climb there was no disturbance to indicate any kind of shack, and this soil tells you whatever has happened to it.

Along the fence line, there had been a graded road, but that's just about it. The land wasn't tillable, and could only have been used for pasturage. With it only being a total of 180 acres, that wouldn't have been enough to do much with.

So, was the photo of my grandmother and the shack from an earlier claim? She supposedly lived in a soddy in Morris, Minnesota before coming out to Montana....We know she was a linotype operator and left her home alone and came to Montana to take a job as a young woman....she was a very adventuresome.

Unfortunately, we can do very little hunting or tresspassing in order to find out the real story.


Shady Character said...

That is very, very interesting. If you continue to dig, I hope you find some more information. I've often wondered about some of the details in my own family's history but have no known way of researching them.

Vivien Zepf said...

Great family history and mystery!