Norcutt Montana Homestead Records

Gilbert McEwen Norcutt and Addie Kelly, my paternal great grandparents, moved their family to several locations throughout their marriage. Previous to living in Montana, the family moved from Exeter, Missouri to Goshen, Oregon, stayed a relatively short period, then returned to Missouri by early 1912. The journey took them across the midwestern prairies, over the Rocky Mountains, and through southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. The exact dates are not known but Missouri land records document they were in McDowell, Barry County, Missouri in 1909. The 1910 census (dated 5/2/1910) shows the family living in Goshen, Gilbert was 37 years old and Addie was 36. The children at home were Lucy Olive (14), Ora (13), Lottie (9), Noble (7), Forrest (5), Rachel (3), and Mamie (1 year and 7 months). They left Missouri after Mamie’s birth on 23 Sept 1908 and returned to Cabool, Missouri before Myrl Earl’s birth on January 18, 1912.

In my grandmother Ora’s personal papers, there is a comment that she was about 15 years old when they moved to Montana. On December 10, 1912, she celebrated her 16th birthday. Naomi was born in Geraldine, Chouteau, Montana on October 24, 1914. It seems that the family moved to Montana sometime in 1912 or 1913. They initially settled in the Clear Lake area which is north of Geraldine. A few years  later, Gilbert filed a homestead claim on farmland east of Clear Lake.

Why would Gilbert and Addie leave Missouri and head north to Montana? There must have been a strong, perhaps emotional, reason to move their young family such a long distance. Perhaps they had relatives already established in Montana. Earlier this year, I became acquainted with a Norcutt cousin, Cary, who lives in Montana. His great-grandparents, William H. and Alta Norcutt, moved to Montana in 1910 and established a dairy farm and a creamery near Stanford, Fergus County. William (aka Bill) was one of Gilbert’s older brothers.  It is likely Gilbert and Addie were inspired by Bill and Alta’s success.

Bill was not the only Norcutt sibling to take advantage of the agricultural boom and homesteading opportunities occurring  Montana. Brothers Henry and Spencer and sister, Lucy (wife of William H. Wright) had established homesteads and were farming their lands before Gilbert and family arrived. My great grandparents had the great advantage of immediate family members to support them in establishing a new life in Montana.

It is curious that Gilbert and Addie did not settle closer to the rest of the family. Perhaps there was more homestead land available in Chouteau County or perhaps Gilbert wanted to grow wheat on the vast prairie. His homestead (and my grandparents’) was located about 18 miles north of Geraldine. Travelling today’s roads, Geraldine is about 38 miles NE of Stanford and about 74 miles north of Lewistown. It would not have been an easy trip and likely, not one made on a frequent basis which makes their final location even more interesting.

My grandparents, Ora Norcutt and Arthur Wentworth, were wed in Lewistown on November 8, 1916. Fort Benton would have been a logical choice as a wedding destination as it is only 27 miles NW of Geraldine. My grandfather had no family in Montana but my grandmother had all those family members down in Lewistown. Going to the family likely was the reason for the long trip south.  So far, I have found no record of who attended the wedding but no doubt the Norcutt uncles, aunts, and cousins were present. What a great day that would have been for everyone to be together and celebrate a new beginning.

One more Norcutt family member filed a land patent, Gilbert and Addie’s daughter Lucy Olive Norcutt. Lucy, aka Olive, filed two claims on land adjacent to her sister and brother-in-law’s, Ora and Arthur, farm and across the road from her parents.

Homestead records are available through the General Land Office at the Bureau of Land Management website:  https://glorecords.blm.gov/default.aspx. Select “search records”. Using the tables below, you can search by name or Accession number to see the records on file as well as maps showing the locations. It is interesting to see where they were in relationship to each other, sometimes literally next door.

Gilbert Norcutt and Ada Kelly Biography

Gilbert McEven Norcutt and Ada “Addie” May Kelly were married on September 2, 1894 in Sleepy Eye, Brown County, Minnesota. Their daughter, Ora Norcutt Wentworth, was my paternal grandmother. Gilbert was born on June 9, 1872 in Nodaway, Iowa to Allison Henry Norcutt and Lucy Ann Boyles.  Addie was born in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota on September 24, 1873 to Peter Kelly and Rachel Wylie. They were blessed with ten children: Lucy Olive (1895-1955), Ora (1896-1994), Ella (1899-1900), Lottie (1900-1970), Noble Elias (1901-1927), Forrest S. (1904-1980), Rachel L. (1906-1933), Mamie (1908-1997), Myrl Earl (1912-1977), and Naomi Glenice (1914-1993).

Gilbert grew up in Nodaway and Addie in the Sleepy Eye / Leavenworth, Minnesota area. Although their childhoods were firmly rooted in the area they were born, Gilbert and Addie relocated numerous times during their life together. Their children’s birthplaces gives us an idea of how often and how far they travelled.  Lucy and Ora were born in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Ella, Lottie, Noble,  and Rachel were born in Pleasant Hope, Polk County, Missouri. Forrest was born in Bolivar, Polk County, Missouri (which is only 16 miles from Pleasant Hope). Mamie was born in Exeter, Barry County, Missouri which is 84 miles southeast of Pleasant Hope. Myrl was born in Cabool, Texas County, Missouri and Naomi was born in Geraldine, Montana. They also lived in Goshen, Lane County, Oregon.

Gilbert was a farmer per U.S. Census and Montana Homestead Patent records. However; in Yale College’s 1858 Yearbook, his father’s (Allison Henry Norcutt) biography listed his son as Rev. Gilbert M. who lived in Exeter, Missouri. Thus far I have found no records to support Gilbert being a pastor. He apparently was successful as a farmer. Records indicate that he purchased rather than rented land and he was able to obtain financing in multiple locations.

Addie and Gilbert were willing to take risks, to start over, and what a life they had together. I did not have the pleasure of knowing them or all of my great aunts and uncles but seeing how my grandmother, Ora, approached life gives me a good idea of their values. Grandma Ora was hardworking, devoted to her family, plain spoken, and goal driven. She also was very competitive, especially  baking contests!

Gilbert and Addie made their way to Mapleton, Bourbon County, Timberhill Township, Kansas and spent their final years there. Gilbert passed on February 22, 1930 at age 57. Addie followed her  mother’s example by maintaining the farm after her husband’s death. The 1930 census date was April 3rd.  Addie was widowed, she lived on a farm which she owned, and her occupation was farming. Olive (Lucy), Forest, Rachel, Mamie, Myrl, and Naomi were still living at home with her in 1930.

Addie passed on January 8, 1947 at age 74 in Mapleton. She and Gilbert are laid to rest at Yates Center Cemetery, Woodson County, Kansas in Section B Lot 18.

 

 

 

Addie Kelly Norcutt in Montana

Naomi Norcutt as a child in Montana

Rachel Norcutt with nephew Melvin Wentworth

Forest Norcutt in his chair with his dog

Ora Norcutt Wentworth, niece Juanita Sloan Miller, sister Mamie Norcutt 1985

Gilbert Norcutt’s headstone, Yates Center Cemetery, Kansas

Addie Kelly Norcutt’s headstone, Yates Center Cemetery, Kansas

Mamie Norcutt outside her bedroom window

Addie Kelly Norcutt and 2 unidentified ladies

Daniel Wentworth and Nancy Emery Wentworth Biography

My paternal great grandparents, Daniel Wentworth and Nancy Emery, lived their entire lives within a small area in Carroll County, New Hampshire. Daniel was born in Jackson on March 13, 1857 to Levi Wentworth and Adaline Perkins Wentworth. Nine miles northeast of Jackson in the small town of Bartlett, Nancy Emery was born on April 9, 1866 to Stephen Emery and Margaret Dana. This is a rural area within the White Mountains in the northern third of the state close to the Maine border. Members of both families crossed back and forth over the border so we find the extended families spreading out across the northeast. Daniel and Nancy, however, did not stray far from their hometowns.

Daniel and Nancy married in Jackson on February 1, 1885.  Between 1886 and 1901, ten children were born, four of them died in childhood. My grandfather, Arthur Elbridge was their second born child and first born son. He was named after his mother's Emery ancestors.

Their children were Alice M. (1886-1934), Arthur Elbridge (1888-1976), Eugene E. (1891-1905, age 14 years), Shirley Aldo (male) (1892-1975), Mary E. (1893-1975), Lillian Georgiana (1895-1937), Hollis S. (1897-1897, age 25 days, cause: pneumonia), Rosie I. (1899-1899, age 5 months 27 days, unknown cause), Ellen F. (1900-1904, age 4 years 5 months and 13 days, cause: pneumonia ), and William H. (1901-1958). What heartache to lose four children as infants and young children.

Eugene's story is unexpected as he died while an inmate at the State Reform School. There is little personal documentation but there is general information about the justice system and social issues at the time as well as about the school. The State Reform School (renamed the State Industrial School and now know as the Youth Development Center) opened in 1857 and is located in Manchester, 111 miles south of Jackson.  Manchester was already a large city in early 1900's. Eugene was 14 years old when he arrived at the SRS. He had been arrested, charged with a lawfully punishable offense, had a trial before a judge, been found guilty, and sentenced to be held as an inmate until age 21. With good conduct and other assessment, he would have been initially considered for parole at age 16. The top reasons for a boy or girl being an inmate were 1) larceny, 2) stubbornness (uncontrollable),  3) breaking entering, with larceny, and 4) breaking and entering. While some children, especially from the larger cities, were homeless vagrants, most inmates had families. Many children were runaways and it is possible Eugene was a runaway. My grandfather admitted to not getting along with his father , described Daniel as mean spirited, and rarely spoke of his childhood.

Eugene had been at the Reform School only three weeks when he suffered sunstroke and died three days later on July 12, 1905. The inmates had some class time but they also labored. The boys worked the large farm operation and the hosiery mill. The girls were taught to sew and other domestic skills. Conditions would have been very hot in July. Coming from a farming community, Eugene likely was a field laborer. His body was returned to Carroll County and he was buried in the Jackson Village Cemetery.

Daniel worked as a farmer and later as a caretaker or gardener. He seemed to make enough to get by and by 1910, he and Nancy owned their house.

Nancy died on September 9, 1911 due to uterine cancer. She left four children, ages 8 to 17, in the home.  After Nancy's death, the family slowly fell apart and the older kids seemed to be on their own. The two youngest daughters left Jackson and found employment in Concord as a housekeeper for a wealthy family (Mary) and as a cook for a hospital serving women and children (Lillian). Both were live-in situations. Shirley (the oldest at home) married and lived in Hillsborough, NH. The youngest, William, had a difficult time and apparently he go into trouble. My grandparents who were homesteading in Montana were asked to take him and straighten him out but they were newly married and felt he would be better off with other relatives. William was about eight years old when my grandfather left New Hampshire, so at 16 or 17 years of, his oldest brother would have been a stranger. William ended up in Boston, married a Catholic girl, and worked as a chauffeur.

Daniel is missing from the 1920 Federal Census although he appears to be in Jackson. He make three curious voyages to Hamilton, Bermuda in 1914 and 1915 with his brother, George and a solo trip in 1922. These were party cruises on smaller luxury steamships. They were designed to entertain the wealthy socialites along the east coast (including Canada). Drinking was allowed off shore during Prohibition and there was ample alcohol, food, gambling, and entertainment aboard the ships. Hamilton was well known as a party destination. Curious items are 1) how did George and Daniel afford the passage, they were listed as passengers not crew, 2)  how long did they stay in Bermuda and where, and 3) was there a purpose other than self entertainment? Another interesting observation is that while other passengers gave full residence details, Daniel listed his address as Jackson, NH.

Daniel passed on May 13, 1933 in Bartlett, Carroll County, New Hampshire.  Although two of his children and a large extended family lived in either Jackson or Bartlett, he resided with William and Jennie Pittman, former neighbors of Daniel and Nancy.   He was listed as their laborer. He is buried in the Jackson Village Cemetery next to Nancy.

 

 

 

Daniel Wentworth and his dog

Daniel Wentworth senior years

Nancy Emery Wentworth

Ora Norcutt Biography

My paternal grandmother, Ora Norcutt, was born on December 10, 1896 in Sleepy Eye, Brown County, Minnesota to Ada “Addie” May Kelly and Gilbert McEwen Norcutt. She was the second born of ten children: Lucy Olive (1895-1955), Ora (1896-1994), Ella (1899-1900), Lottie (1900-1970), Noble Elias (1901-1927), Forrest Silas (1904-1980), Rachel Lillie (1906-1933), Mamie (1908-1997), Myrl Earl (1912-1977), and Naomi Glenice (1914-1993). Her mother, Addie, was born in Sleepy Eye and many Kelly family members remained in the area. By the time her sister Ella was born, the family had moved to Pleasant Hope, Polk County, Missouri. Her father was a farmer and the family would remain in Pleasant Hope for several years. In 1908, sister Mamie was born in Exeter, Barry County, Missouri which is about 85 miles southwest of Pleasant Hope.

The 1910 Federal Census shows that the family was living in Goshen, Lane County, Oregon. The family crossed the Rocky Mountains a second time and returned to Missouri. Her brother, Myrl Earl, was born on January 18, 1912 in Cabool, Texas County, Missouri. Per her personal papers, the family settled in the Clear Lake area in Chouteau County, Montana when she was 15 years old. Likely the family were in Montana in 1913. The northern Montana grasslands were being developed to grow wheat via the dry farming method. The transformation of virgin prairie into wheat fields was challenging.  It was a hard life for the entire family.

A young man from New Hampshire, Arthur Elbridge Wentworth, homesteaded 331.26 acres northeast of Geraldine, Montana in 1914. His land was located east of the Norcutts. On November 16, 1916, my grandparents wed in Lewistown, Fergus County, Montana. They lived on the land Grandpa homesteaded. In 1917, her father, Gilbert,  homesteaded land that was only a mile west of the newlyweds. Her sister, Lucy Olive, homesteaded 40 acres adjacent to Arthur and Ora’s land.

Three children were born in Montana; Melvin Arthur (1917-1976), Glennis Addie (1919-2002), Deloris Eleanor (1923-2016). After several years of crop failure, they decided to leave Montana in 1923. They joined a group travelling west in wagons. Their original destination was Oregon but Ora was pregnant with their fourth child so they decided to spend the winter in Princeton, Idaho. My father, Ronald Daniel, was born on September 5, 1923. In the spring of 1924, they joined a group headed to western Washington.

They settled in the Chehalis River valley between the towns of Oakville and Elma in Grays Harbor County. Grandpa returned to his roots of dairy farming. They rented land for a few years before purchasing a farm on South Bank Road. Two more children were born, Thelma Lavell (1924-1977) and Velma Loretta (1926).

Grandma raised chickens and sold eggs to families in town. She always had a large vegetable garden with dahlias lining the edge along the lawn. She harvested the produce, fruits and vegetables, and preserved them. She worked from early morning until after dinner. She never took much time for leisure activities, she always had a list of chores to complete.

She was not shy about putting others to work. I fondly remember sitting under her dining table with ornately carved legs, Murphy’s oil soaked rag in hand, happily polishing the table legs. I would help her with the chickens, gathering eggs, working in the garden, and just being with her. She believed in keeping hands busy, especially the grandchildren’s.

My brother, Art, and I had a name for her which was unique to us. Our maternal grandmother was Nora so as small children, it was confusing to have grandmothers with such similar names. We solved our problem by calling Ora ‘Grandma Up The Road’.  We called her that for a long time before we dropped the geographic reference, then she was simply Grandma.

They were members of the Sharon Grange and always took us kids to the annual Christmas party. We got dressed up and tried to behave ourselves! I remember singing Christmas carols in the main hall and how pretty the hall looked with the Christmas décor. Of course, the punch, cookies, and Santa Claus were big hits with all the kids. The Grange was very important to my grandparents.

After a series of strokes, she moved to a nearby care facility.  It was a small facility with only 39 residents and she received excellent care  The staff would purposely set her place setting wrong and she would correct them every time. Her mind would be clear one time and less clear at other times but she always knew where the fork and knife were suppose to be placed at her place setting.

She passed on July 13, 1994 at age 97 years. She shares a grave site with Grandpa at the Masonic Cemetery in Elma, Washington.

Ronald, Christine, and Ora Norcutt Wentworth, 3 generations, 1956

Ora Norcutt Wentworth and Arthur E. Wentworth golden years together

Ora Norcutt Wentworth, niece Juanita Sloan Miller, sister Mamie Norcutt, 1985

50th wedding anniversary 1966 Sharon Grange Hall, Oakville, Washington

Ora Norcutt Wentworth circa 1980’s

Ora Norcutt Wentworth nursing home 1993

Ora Norcutt Wentworth and Arthur Wentworth

Arthur Elbridge Wentworth Biography

Arthur Elbridge Wentworth, my paternal grandfather, was born on September 25, 1888 in Jackson, Carroll County, New Hampshire. His parents were Daniel Wentworth and Nancy Emery. He was the second of ten children: Alice (1886-1934), Arthur ((1888-1976), Eugene (1891-1905), Shirley Aldo (male)(1892-1965), Mary (1893-1975), Lillian (1895-1937), Hollis (1897-1897), Rosie (1899-1899), Ellen (1900-1904), and William (1901-1958).

Grandpa was a farmer as were his father, Daniel, and his grandfather, Levi.  The Bartlett/Jackson area is in the White Mountains. Many family dairy farms and small towns were in the lush valleys. Family members lived close by and most of Arthur's immediate family members  never left the general area. He was the exception to the normal path chosen.

He left New Hampshire when he was a young adult because work opportunities were limited. He and a friend rode the trains (hobo style) to Montana. See my post 'Homesteading in Montana' for more about that adventure. In the 1910 census, he was farming in Stanford, Fergus County, Montana.

He married my grandmother, Ora Norcutt, on November 8, 1916 in Lewistown, Fergus, Montana. Three of their children were born in Montana: Melvin Arthur (1917-1985), Glennis Addie (1919-2002), and Deloris Eleanor (1921-2016). My father, Ronald, was born on the way from Montana to the West Coast in Princeton, Idaho (1923-2007). Thelma Lavell (1924-1977) and Velma Loretta (1926) were born in Elma, Grays Harbor County, Washington.

Upon arriving in Grays Harbor County, the family farmed on rented property on Russell Rd in the Chehalis River valley. They moved to a nearby farm on South Bank Road which per the U.S. Census; they rented in 1930 and had purchased by 1940. The dairy farm would remain in the family until the early 1970's. Their children attended grade school at the Fords Prairie school which was about a mile from the farm. The younger children rode on a horse, usually slightly lame, and the older children walked alongside. They all attended high school in Oakville, Washington.

My father, Ronald, returned to the farm after serving four years in the Army and driving a passenger bus for a while. Dad and Grandpa farmed together until 1972.  Grandpa especially loved taking care of the calves and being on a tractor, working the soil, and harvesting the grass crops. When I was quite young, probably in the mid-1960's, he had a massive heart attack. He was told to go home, take it easy, and absolutely no more farming. Grandpa rejected the doctor's advice and he was back feeding calves, driving his tractor, and farming in no time. He retired from dairy farming in 1972.

My family lived on a farm one-half mile from the dairy farm. When my grandparents' farm was sold, a house was built for them on a parcel of land across the road from our farm. They would live in the "little house" for the rest of their lives. After retirement, they remained active members in the Sharon and Pomona Granges, grew a large vegetable garden, and raised chickens.

One of my fondest memories is Grandpa sitting in the kitchen of the old farmhouse as close to the wood stove as possible without his chair . It would be so hot on that side of the large country-style kitchen that I could barely breathe. Grandma would be across the room with the window open year round. During the colder months, it was freezing cold on her half of the room. They were happy as can be. Usually Grandma was cooking or baking and the kitchen smelled good.  I always felt happy and safe in their kitchen.

Another memory is being in the backseat of their 1958 brown and cream Chevrolet sedan with my brother, Art. Grandpa would drive part of the way between the two farms with his hands in the air.  We were amazed that he could drive the car with no hands on the steering wheel. We begged him to drive with no hands all the time. He delighted in accommodating our back seat pleas! Grandpa got into big trouble with Grandma when she found out what was going on. To our great disappointment, Grandpa drove the car like everyone else, both hands on the wheel, from then on. I believe he was as disappointed as we were.

On May 30, 1976, he had a fatal heart attack. Just a couple days prior, most of the family had seen him at my wedding. It was a blessing that so many were able to be with him that day. He worked hard all of his life, took care of his family, and was vibrant and healthy to the end of his life.

The farm on South Bank Rd, Oakville, Grays Harbor County, Washington

Arthur E. Wentworth, kitchen in old farm house

Arthur Wentworth and farm truck, So. Bank Rd. farm

A E Wentworth Monanta 1913

Picture Postcards Montana Homesteading

Recently, I discovered several picture postcards featuring my Wentworth and Norcutt ancestors homesteading in Montana. The time frame is the mid 1910’s and this was a popular trend then. Most of the postcards in the collection are not postmarked, only a few are stamped and postmarked.  As I identify who is in the postcards, I will make future postings.

My paternal grandparents, Arthur Elbridge Wentworth and Ora Norcutt, and Ora’s brother, Forrest Norcutt are featured.

The card was address to Mr. A. E. Wentworth, Graceville, Montana. The one cent stamp was postmarked in Benton, Montana on May 22, 1913.  The message is:

Yank, Can you recognize this? Dave

The image on the card is more faded than the actual photograph with the details of the house and man in the background faded. Grandpa and his horse are fairly clear. The other interesting thing is that small details such as the blanket under the saddle are clearer which makes me wonder if the printmaker was able to manipulate the final image.

This postcard was not postmarked and there is no message except Ora Norcutt’s notation that this is a picture of her brother, Forrest Norcutt, and a team of draft horses. This image is faded which seems to be common. I believe the location was Geraldine, Montana in the mid-1910’s. Grandpa talked about farming in Montana with huge draft teams.

As you can see, Forrest is a young man. His father homesteaded land very near to his sister (Ora) and her husband, Arthur Wentworth in 1914 near Graceville, Montana.

This is an image of Arthur Wentworth and his wife, Ora Norcutt Wentworth, taken on the Montana prairie during their homesteading years near Geraldine, Montana. The image is a bit faded but I believe there is a house in the background to the left of Arthur’s shoulder.

It is interesting to note the flat landscape and the very wide dirt road (to accommodate the horse drawn thrashing machines?).

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

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