A E Wentworth and hired main

Homesteading in Montana (A.E. Wentworth, Ora Norcutt)

This is a story about a young man’s journey from the lush valleys and dairy farms of New Hampshire to the dry prairie and wheat fields of Montana. The young man was Arthur Elbridge Wentworth, my paternal grandfather. He was born in Jackson, Carroll County, New Hampshire on September 25, 1888. While the Wentworth name is prominent throughout New England’s history and Arthur’s ancestors included historical figures (Elder William Wentworth, Governor John Wentworth and other religious, military, and political leaders in Colonial New Hampshire and neighboring colonies), his father, grandfather, and several generations of great-grandfathers were farmers. The family farms were tucked in the beautiful, lush valleys in the foothills of the White Mountains. The small towns were near each other and family members lived close by.

In 1910, Arthur migrated to Fort Benton, Chouteau County, Montana. His daughter, Velma (Auntie Babe) told me that he said there was a shortage of jobs in New Hampshire. He and a buddy heard about working the wheat fields in Montana. They hopped trains, stopping to work and earn money to fund the next section of their journey until they arrived in Fort Benton, Montana. The distance between Jackson and Fort Benton is approximately 2,435 miles (travelling along today’s northern most route). What brave young men they were! No doubt full of hope and expectation of a better life.

The Central Montana prairie east and south of Fort Benton is flat, treeless, dry, with rocky outcroppings and buttes. The great Missouri River’s headwaters are in the Rocky Mountains in western Montana. The Missouri River flows eastward to  Fort Benton and continues eastward along the northwestern, northern, and eastern edges of the prairie. This section of the Missouri River is designated as the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument which protects the river and the badlands along the river. North Central Montana is dramatically different from New Hampshire in many ways including how crops are grown. In Montana, wheat and other grain crops are grown with the “dry-land farming” method.  The farmers rely upon precipitation for crop irrigation. Annual rainfall in Jackson, New Hampshire is about 41 inches; in Fort Benton, average annual precipitation is 13 inches. This was true in 1910 when Arthur and his friend arrived in Fort Benton. Life on the prairie was challenging. Supplies were scarce, mistakes and miscalculations could be disastrous, even deadly, and their survival would have been dependent upon their resourcefulness and adaptability to their new circumstances.

Local building materials were limited, there were no forests of native hardwood trees as in New Hampshire. Homesteaders used what was available and affordable: dirt, grass, and limited wood. Sod houses were typically built as claim houses to satisfy the homesteading requirements to live on the land and to improve it. In addition to fickle rainfall, bitter cold winters, and isolation, homesteaders routinely dealt with mice, snakes, and insect infestations.

Rail service played a major role in bringing people from the eastern states westward. The Great Northern Railway and the Northern Pacific Railway entered Montana in the late 19th century and their main lines eventually connected Chicago and Minneapolis to Seattle and Portland. In 1909 the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (“Milwaukee Road”) was completed through Montana. The Milwaukee Road was the third railroad to provide rail service from Chicago to the West Coast. The Milwaukee Road laid tracks from Livingston to Fort Benton, providing rail service through the north central prairie. The train depot in Geraldine was completed in 1914.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The US Congress passed the Enlarged Homestead Act in 1909 which doubled the amount of land deeded to each homesteader from 160 acres to 320 acres. The homesteader paid an annual filing fee, had to live on the land, cultivate crops, and improve the land for five years. Failure to do so would mean forfeiture of the patent and all improvements to the land. In 1912, Congress reduced the proving up time from five years to three years. More than 82,000 homesteaders moved to Montana between 1909 and 1919, most arriving via the Milwaukee Railroad.

On April 12, 1914, Arthur filed a Serial Land Patent for 331.26 acres on the prairie east of Fort Benton and north of Geraldine. His patent included seven parcels within two neighboring sections. Although the Missouri River flowed along the northern edges of the prairie, the farmers had no access to the river due to the badlands’ rocky terrain along the river. The homestead was about 18 miles northeast of Geraldine. The patent was obtained in the Central Montana District Land Office in Lewistown which is about 100 miles southeast from Fort Benton (75 miles from Geraldine). Again, the train was the most likely mode of transportation to the land office.

Looking at a current map of Chouteau County, the homestead was at the intersection of Flat Creek Rd to the west and Graceville Rd. N. to the south property lines. Section 31 is located at that corner, section 30 is adjacent on the north side. Section 31 extends east to Hole in the Wall Rd. The land is at an elevation averaging 3100 ft. and is describes as being flat with rolling conditions.

Arthur’s circumstances changed in a dramatic fashion when he met Ora Norcutt and her family. Her parents were Gilbert and Ada (Addie) Norcutt. Addie’s parents were Peter Kelly and Rachel Wylie. Ora was born in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota on December 10, 1896. She grew up in Sleepy Eye and in Polk, County Missouri. In 1910, Gilbert, Addie, and their seven children still at home; Lucy “Olive”, Ora, Lottie, Noble, Forest, Rachel, and Mamie (youngest) were living in Goshen, Lane County, Oregon. Per Ora’s personal documentation, they arrived in Montana when she was 15 (circa 1912) and settled north of Geraldine in Clear Lake.

On November 8, 1916, Arthur wed Ora in Lewiston, Fergus County, Montana. Methodist Pastor Chas. M. Donaldson officiated. Witnesses were Olive Norcutt (sister of the bride) and Earl Modlin (friend of the groom).  Three of Arthur and Ora’s six children were born in Montana. Ora’s personal papers note the birthplaces as Geraldine, Montana. Melvin was born in 1917, Glennis in 1919, and Deloris in 1921.

Ora’s father, Gilbert Norcutt, filed a land patent on 320 acres on October 1, 1917 in an adjacent township.  Ora’s sister Lucy Olive Norcutt filed a homestead land patent on four parcels totaling 50.44 acres adjacent to Arthur and Ora’s land. Her filing date was December 5, 1921. The distance between Gilbert’s land and Arthur’s land was no more than a mile.

The wet years during the early to mid-1910’s became the dry years at the end of the decade. Times were difficult. Without adequate rainfall, crops failed, land values hit rock bottom, and the homesteaders left in droves. The Bureau of Land Management records show some 60,000 homesteaders had given up their patents by the early 1920’s. Their abandoned land reverted to government held land.

Family folklore is that after seven years of failed crops, attributed to drought and the locust that flourished in the dry conditions.  Facing enormous debt and literally, losing their farm, Arthur and Ora packed up the kids, and left Montana in 1923. They joined a wagon train and headed for Oregon. They left the caravan in Princeton, Idaho as Ora was pregnant with my father, Ronald, and could not continue the journey. He was born in Princeton on Sept 5, 1923. They stayed through the winter with plans to continue west in the spring. In 1924, they joined another group travelling to Western Washington.

Gilbert and Addie and children, including Olive, were back in Missouri by 1920. Their family included Naomi who was born in 1914 in Montana.

In closing, researching this story has been exciting and surprising. Arthur and Ora did not talk much about the past (or maybe I was playing with the calves and missed the stories). I would ask questions from time to time and Grandma Ora usually would remark that those old stories were nothing special, just living.

They were pioneers in Montana’s history, facing circumstances that were challenging, they were successful, and and they failed.  They did not give up, they moved on to another opportunity. I am in awe of what they experienced, what they did, and how resilient they were during their years in Montana.

When Arthur arrived in Montana, he likely had few resources to begin his new life. Probably, he had a few clothes, items easily carried around, a bit of money, youthful optimism, a strong body, and a stubborn will.

Ora crossed the Rockies Mountains three times! She travelled with her family from Missouri to Oregon to Missouri to Montana to Washington. The conditions were extreme. Crossing not once but three times is an incredible feat.

Gilbert and Addie moved their family back and forth across the country, Ora was only 13 when they arrived in Oregon. Naomi, their youngest child, was born in Montana when Addie was 41 years old. Talk about a woman of iron clad strength!

Olive apparently returned to Montana as she filed her land patent one year after the family returned to Missouri. She would have been required to complete the filing in person.

I have pieced together these stories from Grandma Ora’s handwritten documents, government records (land and censuses), and historical documentation of life on the Montana prairie during the time frame they were there. I am in awe of their aspirations and admire what they achieved under the most challenging circumstances.

Arthur Wentworth and Ora Norcutt wedding day portrait

Arthur and Ora’s wedding license

Rachel Norcutt holding nephew Melvin Wentworth

Irene Davis

Irene Nora Davis Biography

My mother, Irene Nora Davis, was born in April 1932 in Tacoma, Washington. Her parents were Ernest Nathaniel Davis and Nora Ethel Waller. She was the third of three children. The family spent the first several years of Irene's life living in Tacoma and in Moclips, a small community along the Pacific coastline.

When she was about three years old, a neighbor suggested that her parents have her hips evaluated for possible orthopedic issues.  Mom was diagnosed with dislocated hips. She underwent a year long treatment to move her hips into proper alignment at Children's Hospital in Seattle, Washington. The treatment consisted of applying a series of full body casts to slowly cause movement. She recalls being in the hospital for a month at a time without seeing her family. Her family had to return to Moclips (along the Pacific coast) and it was a long, challenging trip. The hospital staff took great care with her. During the year in the body casts, she was carried as she was immobile.

The family remained in Moclips until concerns about security along the Pacific coast during WWII prompted a departure. She remembers bunkers being dug in the sand dunes (one was directly behind their house) and watching the soldiers' maneuvers on the beach. It was a time of great anxiety for the adults but the kids were fascinated by the soldiers.  My grandparents moved back to the house on 56th Ave NE in Tacoma, Washington in 1943. Work was available for both of them at the nearby Tacoma Shipyards.

NE Tacoma is located on a large bluff area overlooking the Port of Tacoma to the south and Puget Sound to the west. This would remain the family home Ernie's death in 1965. They lived close to Davis and Waller family members in Tacoma and Gig Harbor. Family gatherings with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins took place regularly. Mom was close to her first cousins, most of whom were older, and treasured their childhood times together.

Mom had a grand adventure when about she was ten years old. She went on a car camping trip with her Aunt Margaret (Ernie's sister) and Uncle Alton. They took a meandering path to Yellowstone National Park and back to Tacoma.  Margaret and Alton were a couple of free spirits and there many spontaneous side trips. They slept in a tent and cooked over campfires. It was a memorable summer.

Ernie and Nora divorced in the mid 1940's. Mom and her brothers, Kenneth and Wayne, stayed with their father in the family house. Her mother, Nora, lived nearby in downtown Tacoma. Mom did not want to attend Stadium High School which was a very large school. True to her independent nature, she walked several blocks to take a city bus to Federal Way High school and graduated in 1950. After graduating, she went to cosmetology school and worked in a salon in Tacoma.

She met my father, Ronald Daniel Wentworth, at a dance hall in 1955. They married three months later in Tacoma and she moved to the Wentworth family farm near Oakville, Washington. Being a dairy farmer's wife was a new adventure for her. She was  not always happy with the cows, especially when they broke through a fence and had to be chased down, rounded up, and put back into their pasture. I think she was very happy when my brother, Art and I, were old enough to ride horses (and/or bikes) and herd the heifers and cows when needed. In time, she became a country girl at heart and enjoyed living in the country.

My dad hired a hay crew every summer consisting of high school boys. Mom and I  would cook a hot lunch for them every day. These boys would eat a lot of food. We would prepare feasts consisting of platters of meat, multiple vegetables, salad, bread, and desserts.  She always had plenty of ice cold water and snacks for them throughout the day. If they were going to be working late, we would cook them dinner as well.

When Mom wasn't chasing cows, cooking, doing laundry, taking care of kids, doing garden work, canning, and everything else a farm wife does, she enjoyed sewing, crocheting, decorating cakes, and other crafts. She was always busy. After they retired from farming, mom and dad would regularly meet friends at the Elma Senior Center. While Dad played cards, she enjoyed making crafts with the ladies. The crafted items were sold and produced a steady income benefiting the center.

Mom never returned to the big city life. She is happily living on a small piece of land which was part of the original Wentworth family farm. She enjoys playing Mexican Train dominoes with her friends weekly, putting together jigsaw puzzles, watching TV movies, and she especially loves watching Live PD.

Irene Davis, playmate at Moclips beach, Washington 1935

Irene Davis and playmate Moclips, WA

Irene Davis senior picture 1950

Irene Davis senior picture 1950

Irene Nora Davis and Ronald Daniel Wentworth wedding day; May 28, 1955 Tacoma, WA

Irene, Christine, Mary, Nora- Christine's first birthday party

Irene Davis Wentworth, baby Christine, Mary Stevens Walko, Nora Waller Davis Tippie

Irene Davis Wentworth

Irene Davis Wentworth at home 2016

Ronald Daniel Wentworth Biography

My father, Ronald Daniel Wentworth, was born in Princeton, Idaho on September 5, 1923. His parents, Ora Norcutt and Arthur E. Wentworth, were moving the family from Geraldine, Montana to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The mode of travel was a old fashioned wagon train. Grandma Ora was pregnant with my dad so they decided to remain in Princeton and prepare for the baby’s arrival. Grandpa, Grandma, their three children, Melvin, Glennis, and Melvin, and baby Ronald spent the winter in Princeton with plans to resume their journey in the spring.

In the spring of 1924, they joined another group travelling to Western Washington. They settled along the Chehalis River between the small towns of Elma and Oakville in Grays Harbor County. Two more children, Thelma and Velma, were born in Washington. Grandpa rented and then purchased 70 acres for a dairy farm.

The children attended school until 8th grade at the Ford Prairie School which was about one and one-half miles from the farm. Grandpa would provide a horse, usually somewhat lame, for the three youngest children to ride and the older children walked. The school had a corral and hay for the horses. The teacher looked after the horses as well as the children.

There were many small family farms along the river and Dad developed lifelong friends, many who stayed on the farm as adults. The kids attended high school in Oakville and Dad graduated in 1941. He served in the Army for four years and upon being honorarily discharged, he drove a passenger bus for a while. But soon, Dad returned to farm with his father. The time in the Army and driving bus was the only time during his life that he was away from his family, his friend, and the farm.

My parents met at a dance hall in 1955 and married three months later. They purchased 65 acres located one-half mile from my grandparent’s farm. Money was tight so they purchased two half houses formerly used to house the railroad workers laying railroad tracks through the valley. The half houses were connected and porches were added to make a farmhouse.  Years later when an interior wall was opened, the shingles on the original outer walls were still in place.

After retirement, Dad kept busy working during the haying season, bringing his own equipment to cut, rake, and bale the fields. He and Mom enjoying fishing and camping trips, raising small farm animals, and growing a fine vegetable garden. Retirement was very active for my folks. Dad loved playing cards and was a regular at the Elma Senior Center pinochle tables.

They lived most of their retirement years on two and one-half acres that was separated from the original dairy farm by the railroad and county road. They always had a couple of dogs and cats in addition to the chickens, ducks, and rabbits. Frequently, friends and family gathered for potlucks, telling tall tales, playing cards, and/or playing board games.

Just a few years after retiring from dairying, in 1979, Dad was involved in a horrific car accident. His car was hit head on just a few miles from home by a driver under the influence of street drugs. Dad and his friend, Ralph, were severely injured and Ralph’s wife, Jo, was killed. Both Dad and Ralph were hospitalized for an extended time, underwent numerous surgeries but thankfully they both recovered. Although the doctors repeatedly said he likely would not walk again, he proved the doctors wrong. He was determined to walk and to lead a normal life and so he did.

He did not allow his physical limitations slow him down or keep him off of the house! One time, a neighbor and good friend stopped her car on the one lane road in front of the house to tell him to get down off of the roof! She thought he had no business being up there at his age.

His stubbornness served him well again later in life. In June 2006, he suffered a massive stroke which left him completely  disabled on his right side. Every motor skill was affected on that side as well as his ability to speak. He never gave up and he showed great grace as he went through a long and painful rehabilitation and ultimately, accepting his limitations. He continued to live fully, even being able to play cards at the Senior Center with help from his friends. Eighteen months after the stroke, he fell at home and sustained a head injury from which he did not recover. He passed on December 11, 2007 with my mom, Irene, my brother, Art, his sister Velma (Babe), daughter-in-law Debra, and myself at his bedside. With a quiet final breath, he was gone. He led a quiet, humble life and it was fitting that his departure from this life was quiet and humble.

 

Grade School class photo. Front row, Melvin: far left, Ronald: 5th from right, Row 2, Thelma: 4th from left, Row 3, Deloris, far right.

Ronald and salmon caught in the Pacific Ocean off shore from Westport, WA

1981 portrait of Ronald wearing one of his hats

Ronald, Christine, Claude at Waller family picnic circa 1985-1987

Welcome to Cousin Junction

Discovering ancestors and connecting with cousins

 

Chris Wentworth RoserWelcome to Cousin Junction genealogy blog!  My name is Christine (Chris) Wentworth Roser.  I initially became interested in genealogy because I was curious about my paternal grandfather’s family.  When I was a little girl, I asked him “what are we?”. He stuck his thumbs into his jean pockets and said, “We are mutts, just like Mutt (his dog).”  As he started naming off a long list of nationalities, my grandmother quickly told him to hush. She exclaimed that he knew that he was mostly English and she was English, Irish, and Scottish. Grandpa had a big grin on his face and I was fairly certain he knew he was pushing buttons. But, I couldn’t help wonder if I really was double English plus Irish, and Scottish or was I a genealogical mutt? Thirty years later, I still wondered. I decided to see what I could find and I would start with Grandpa’s family, the Wentworths.

With only knowing my great-grandfather’s name and location, I visited a Family History Center. The volunteers gave me helpful information but I was clueless as to how to find my ancestors who colonized New Hampshire. I played around with genealogy for a few years with mixed results. After moving to Texas in 2004, I joined the local genealogy society and bought an Ancestry.com membership. It did not take long before I was hooked and I became serious about genealogy. Through Ancestry.com’s DNA testing, I have connected with extended family members and embrace this wonderful journey of discovering my family.

The purpose for this website is to nurture family relationships and establish new relationships by sharing our common ancestors’ stories and my personal stories. My inspiration is my memories of multiple generations gathered to eat good food, tell stories, and enjoy each other’s company. Thankfully, through technology, we are collaborate with each other no matter where we are, and preserve our rich legacy.

My husband, Jeff, and I live in Arlington, Texas. We became reacquainted at our 30th high school reunion in western Washington.  A few months later, we were married in Reno, Nevada. Jeff has been here since 1976 and I immigrated in 2004 when we married. Texas is like another country when compared to Washington state. As our ancestors did, I have assimilated well. I speak Texan pretty “good”, I love TexMex food and margaritas, and I am a fast driver. I still have not embraced sweet iced tea. If y’all are even in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, come on over for a visit.

My grandparents, Arthur E. Wentworth and Ora Norcutt, settled along the Chehalis River in Grays Harbor County, Washington in 1924.  They established a small family dairy farm.  After serving in the Army and driving a passenger bus for a short time, my father, Ronald Wentworth, returned to the farm, and married my mother, Irene Davis. My brother, Art, and I grew up on a farm located one-half mile from our grandparents’ farm. We were a three generation dairy family working the two farms.

During our childhood, we spent a good deal of time with extended family; aunts, uncles, and lots of cousins.  Art, and I enjoyed the benefits of hanging out during the summer months with our visiting older cousins. August was “Family Reunion Month”.  The Waller Family Reunion was at the beginning of the month, the Davis Family Reunion was usually mid month, and the Wentworth Family Reunion was the third Saturday.  My parents hosted family gatherings throughout the year which included family members from both sides of the family, neighbors, and friends. Those are cherished memories.

Surnames:
Paternal line: Wentworth, Emery, Perkins, Dana, Abbott, Littlefield, Norcutt, Kelly, Carlisle, Wylie, Haven, Boyles, Tuttle.

Maternal line: Davis, Bristol, Sparks, Pool, Howe, Waller, Calkins, Dewitt, Wedge, Holloway.