She Never Met A Stranger
Alice McClintock Gagner
November 27, 1900--March 13, 1992
Chapter I-- Early Years
My mother, Wilhemina "Minnie" Barker, was the eldest of Mary Link Barker's ten children.
She married my father, Finley Alexander McClintock - "Mack" - when she was twenty-three years old, in 1893. He was twenty years older than she. I was told that he walked to Montana from Missouri to get a start in the west when he was in his teens. He worked as a bullwhacker and also drove eight horse wagon teams, hauling freight to the mining camps at Virginia City and Helena from Fort Benton, the last paddle wheeler stop on the upper Missouri River. Helena had become the state capital in 1889 prior to the end of the mining boom in 1893. A bronze statue of a bullwhacker resembling him presently stands on Last Chance Gulch, Helena's main street. My parents lived in Broadwater County, near Townsend, until 1898 and by then had had four children. The first, a handicapped boy, died within a few weeks, then two girls, Mary, born in 1895, Clara in 1896 and another boy, Frank, born in 1898.
About that time Crow Indian land in southeastern Montana was opened and Papa homesteaded eighty acres of good farmland, with water, in Carbon County, close to Billings. This was about two hundred
miles southeast of Broadwater County. He left his family of four with Mama's grandparents in Confederate Gulch, bought a wagon, a team of horses, Charlie and Prince, and was off to their new
homestead. He lived in a tent while cutting and hauling logs fifteen miles to build a two-room log cabin, by himself.
Then, Mama and the three small children took a two coach train from Townsend to Logan where they changed trains, with a second change at Laurel and finally on to Rockvale, with all of their belongings, to join Papa in the midst of many Crow Indians.
Papa built a springhouse and made boxes for milk and food storage in our ample supply of good spring water.
Milk was kept there for cooling in big flat tins, which allowed the cream to rise. It was then skimmed off and churned in an old fashioned wood churn with a wooden dasher. Butter was separated from the milk, washed in cold water, salted and formed or put in a big bowl, and the remaining buttermilk was used for drinking or cooking. Papa also built a root cellar for storage of winter vegetables and apples, a small barn, an outdoor toilet (privy), and a smoke house for hams and bacon. He planted fruit trees, raspberry, current and gooseberry bushes, strawberries, rhubarb and a garden with horseradish, salsify (oyster plant) and parsnips that we dug after the first frost. Salsify was used in milk soup and tasted like oyster soup. How the tears would run when we grated the horseradish! Our yard was fenced and there were cottonwood trees, silver leaf poplars, box elder trees and bugs all around. We climbed the trees.
The family was well settled by the time I arrived on 27 November 1900, the first child born in our cabin.
Papa went several miles to get a neighbor's wife, Flora James, to assist him in my birth. Flora wasn't credited with much knowledge; so, presumably, he was in control. It must have been confining with such bad weather and three other small children under foot. I was named Alice Adeline - I think the mid-wife named me. Mama told me she found me under a cabbage leaf. I later doubted that since the cabbage would have already been harvested and made into sauerkraut and stored in crocks in the root cellar. It also conflicted with the story about uncle John coming on the train from Helena at that time, getting off at Joliet and walking eight miles to our farm during a record breaking cold spell and freezing his ears. Two years later my brother Roy was born, in 1903, and two years after Roy, Minnie Ellen who lived but a few days. The mid-wife always wanted one of the girls to be named after her. Then, a year later, in 1906, Ruth Florence came along who finally got Flora's name. Mama had all these babies at home, without a doctor, just a neighbor woman assisting.
The Crow Indian agency headquarters was at Pryor, about ten miles east in the poor dry land hills where the government had put them after taking their good land. They came around for years, wandered
over the area, with their skinny cayuses and broken down wagons. They came begging, walking in without knocking and camped along the roadside close to our home, trading beads and blankets for meat
- especially offal. I remember them sitting in their teepees at night and around the campfires chanting and dancing. Sometimes we were frightened when they threatened to go on the warpath -
they never did - after certain whites stole their cattle.
We were friends of Chief Plenty Coups, last chief of the Crow, and would go to Pryor for celebrations. Papa was considerate of the Indians and they got along well. When hauling freight he had come in contact with many Indians as well as bandits.
Even with eight people living in two rooms, we made visitors welcome and found room. Sometimes we would have ten or twelve people in our two rooms but I don't remember being crowded. It was
fun and even less crowded in summer after Mama bought a tent, with a floor, from neighbors who were moving away. Her family used to visit us. Ralph, Mama's youngest brother and Elizabeth came
almost every summer. He was about the same age as my older sisters, and was afraid of Indians so we teased him that "the Indians are coming!" and he would run and hide in the privy.
In one room we had a cook stove, table, cupboard, wash stand, a few kitchen chairs and a bed where Frank and Roy slept. In the other room were a heating stove, table, rocking chair and two double
beds. Papa, Mama and Ruth slept in one and Mary, Clara and I slept in the other.
We each had an apple box under the bed for our clothes and the few treasures we possessed. We didn't like the outdoor privy, a three holer with one seat low for the kids, in the wintertime.
When the family first homesteaded there was no school, so the neighbors got together, acquired a small, old, one room wood frame house and started a school at Rockvale near a small country store.
With very little money to support it, they persevered, hired a teacher and a school was begun. Everyone walked, in our case two and a half miles. With such big families, sometimes the older ones were finished when the younger ones started as the school had only grades one through eight. Ten years later when there were about thirty pupils it was decided to build a new school with two cloakrooms, two privies, a well with a pump and a big play yard. There was still just one teacher for eight grades and nearly every year we had a change, some men, some new graduates from normal school and a few newcomers from the East that had some training. One outstanding teacher was a young man, Don Rogers, who came out from Detroit, Michigan. He and his younger brother, Andy, homesteaded on a dry land place in the hills where they batched so he had to walk several miles to school carrying his lunch. He maintained good discipline, was imaginative, intelligent and introduced many new ideas and organized recreation. He taught us baseball, basketball and other games, for both boys and girls. He had interesting programs for the different holidays with all students participating and it was always exciting to attend the Christmas tree program. A community collection provided funds and everyone received a bag of treats, which included walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts, Brazil nuts, mixed candy, hard pillows, ribbon candy, bon-bon creams and chocolates. What fun picking out your choice! There were also popcorn balls. Going to the program in a horse drawn sleigh, with quilts for warmth and sitting on the hay while singing Christmas carols was exciting. Once, Mr. Rogers received from his mother a black walnut cake that he shared with us, but since we had never had black walnuts, weren't sure we liked them. Except for some dropouts and those who had to work there was very little absenteeism. He taught for several years at our school and worked on the roads during summers. I thought it interesting that he chewed gum and stuck it on his hatband. Andy did odd jobs, eventually married a local girl, had several children and moved to Detroit.