About 2002, I received an email from a cousin and this individual suggested that I talk to another cousin who had done quite a bit of research on the Spracklin family back in the early and mid 1980’s. This cousin was my half cousin. She was a descendant of the second family of Daniel D. Spracklin and his wife Sarah. She lived in Miles City, Montana and I decided to go and visit her.
So in 2003, my sister and I, drove to Miles City in my 1995 Aerostar Van to visit our cousin. Neither one of us had met her before so it would be a great adventure. We would stop at motels or hotels as we got close to the end of the day and use the coupons you get in those newspaper booklets they distribute at rest stops. Usually I book my motels and lodging in advance because I don’t want to mess with it while driving around.
As usual my genealogy research trips are very complicated and involve many facets. On this trip it would be researching Spracklins, Mc/MacDonald’s, meeting family and visiting museums and various sites along the way.
We left Seattle about 11 am on Tuesday September 2nd and made it to Rathdrum, Idaho. It takes about five hours to get to Spokane if you don’t stop at all the rest stops for coffee and cookies.
We were going to meet up with a childhood family friend. Mickey had lived with our Aunt Vivian, our father’s sister, when he was a boy. He was her nephew on her husband’s side and a member of the McKanna family. He had a cabin near a lake just across the border from the Spokane area in Idaho and we were stopping there for the night. We knew him when we were kids and he is part of my Mac/McDonald family memory and I wanted to see him and have him tell me more stories. I had reconnected with him several years earlier. He had kindly loaned me a photo book that was formerly my Aunt Vivian’s, I had scanned all the photos and have used many of them in my posts on my blog: The Man Who Lived Airplanes. McKanna’s actually came to Miles City and Mickey asked me to see if I could find out anything more about them.
The next day we headed further east and stopped at Wallace. I was hoping to find out something about my great Uncle Angus McDonald so we stopped at the museum. I was trying to place him in the area but it was not going to happen. Angus was my grandfather’s older brother. http://wallace-id.com/ The Wallace District Mining Museum had city directories and there were McDonald’s listed but it was hard to tell if they were my McD’s. http://wallaceminingmuseum.org/
We arrived in Missoula, Montana where we stopped for lunch. We asked about the forest fires and decided to go a different route to stay as far away from them as possible. We could see and smell the smoke.
Here is a little excerpt from an online paper about those fires.
By most measures, the fire season of 2003 was historic for Northwest Montana. Not since 1910 had there been such an array of wildfire in the region, not to mention the rest of the northern Rockies.
By mid-September there were 16 large fires in Northwest Montana that ended up covering more than 300,000 acres.
Individual fire acreages were impressive: the Robert Fire covered 57,570 acres, Wedge Canyon 53,325 acres, Little Salmon Complex 88,000 acres, Rampage Complex 24,488 acres, Blackfoot Lake Complex 29,836 acres and Middle Fork Complex 11,851 acres.
Combined, the 2003 fires accounted for roughly half the acreage burned on the Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park over the previous 20 years.
“The year 2003 will go down as a very historic fire year,” declared Steve Barrett, a fire ecologist who has studied long-term fire histories across Northwest Montana. – By Jim Mann Daily InterLake, December 27, 2009. http://www.dailyinterlake.com/members/a-monster-year-for-fires/article_e529a93c-f2a6-11de-8498-001cc4c03286.html
We left Bozeman around 8:30 am on Wednesday September 3rd. We headed for the Lewis & Clark Cavern’s which was a very amazing experience. This is what I wrote in my travel journal in 2003: http://www.visitmt.com/listings/general/state-park/lewis-and-clark-caverns-state-park.html
Once inside the park we traveled a wiggly waggly road for about 4 miles before reaching the parking lot for the caverns. We paid for our tickets and checked out the little gift shop at the café. After a wait of about 30 minutes we started up the trail to the caverns. It was hot and so the trail up was warm but pretty easy except for the steepness of the grade. The vista was beautiful of the Jefferson River in the valley below. We waited about 15 minutes at the cavern entrance before the guide came and started with guidelines to the caverns. He was a young man who reminded me of friend but a bit shorter. He was very nice and friendly and cracked silly jokes. I was not prepared for the caverns at all but was truly amazed at what we found. It was a wonderous place and a world all its own. The stairs were tight to walk down in the dim light but I managed well. There were stalagmites and stalactites and strange formations that only a cave can create from the action of the water dripping down. Each area that we stopped in was unique and had its own eerie beauty. Several of the areas were large caverns with these incredible formations that had taken millions of years to make. Unfortunately damage had been done by guests of earlier years and you could see the ragged edges of the broken pieces that were left behind. The cave was supposed to have bats but there were not very many at this time of the year. It took the 2 hours that they said it would to view the caverns but it was well worth it especially the part that we had to get down on our butts and slide down a section of the trail. There was a lot of ducking of the head and I banged mine several times. The walk was mostly down and the steps took us to this cavern they called the Cavern of the Gods and it was like descending a long beautiful twisting spiral staircase. All great things come to an end and this little adventure found its own conclusion down a very long tunnel with two doors. The doors were there to prevent a wind tunnel effect that would rush the air in and cause the caverns to dry out. In 2010 I visited these caverns with my hubby. He is tall so it was a challenge for him.
Further along our trip we took in the The Western Heritage Center in Billings, Montana which had a wonderful exhibit about the history of Montana and provided me with a basic history of the area when Reed Spracklin migrated there. We visited an old pioneer cemetery on Boot Hill and drove to the Pictograph Caves which are southeast of Billings. http://stateparks.mt.gov/pictograph-cave/.
Miles City is about two hours from Billings. We arrived in Miles City on Friday about 5 p.m. to be warmly greeted by Bertha at her trailer. We spent the evening chatting and settling in. We made cheese sandwiches to fill ourselves up. I gave the research copies of research from my trip to Iowa and more to her and she spent some time reviewing them. I spent a lot of the time at her kitchen table that week studying her research and learning about the Spracklin family and getting to know my cousin. She had done a lot of work and had gathered a lot of information by writing letters to family members and research archives seeking information about the family. She was very generous with her research and shared all that I wanted.
During our stay we visited the Custer County Community Cemetery where various family members are buried including Amos and Iva Spracklin, Bertha’s parents. This cemetery is in Miles City and Find A Grave has a listing for most of the cemetery.
We also visited the Range Rider Museum which is amazing. They have newspapers in flip displays, display cabinets filled with artifacts, black and white photos of the Indians that are outstanding, photographs of the ranchers in the area who are placed on their wall of fame. http://www.rangeridersmuseum.com/. The buildings outside house wagons, automobiles and more.
Unfortunately, Miles City’s genealogy society did not survive so you have to visit historical societies or go to museums like the Range Rider. We did visit the Miles City library where we did some obituary research. I did not go to the courthouse in Miles City another stop if you have ancestors there. It was a busy visit so I had to pick and choose and my focus was the research that my cousin had done.
Several days later Bertha took us to her ranch, west of Jordan, Montana. It was a two-hour drive from Miles City to Jordan and then about thirty minutes to the ranch. As we drove along I realized that Bertha was the rancher. She was raised in Montana and became her father’s right hand man. Amos and Iva’s children were all were girls. Amos of course, had wanted a son to help him with the ranch but it didn’t happen. So Bertha took on that role. She knew everything about the ranches along the highway and chatted away telling us the history of the area and story of the families that lived there. She knew about barbed wire and what each type was for and she could recognize individual cattle something her father had trouble with.
We arrived in Jordan the county seat of Garfield County. They have a the Garfield County Museum which we visited briefly.
The ranch is not too far from Jordan. You go west for about 20-30 minutes…
We approached a fork in the road and she mentioned the 1996 FBI standoff with the Montana Freemen that was located 20 miles up the road from the fork. The left fork in the road was the road to Bertha’s ranch. She said that we needed to go over several cattle guards before we got there and I think she said it was about 5 miles from the fork in the road. As we drove along she pointed out where her land was describing it to us and telling us she had 4850 acres all paid for. The road had become gravel a while back.
We passed a big pile of wood on the right and on the left were metal buildings that were the barn and corral. The house was up on a slight hill. Cars, trucks and other buildings were scattered about the land. We climbed out of the van. Bear, Bertha’s small white poodle, jumped out and was running around checking out the area and leaving his calling card. There was a beautiful Border Collie named Hey who was on a chain and he turned out to be a very friendly and a gentle dog. He was the black and white typical of that breed but his eyes were like a wolf’s. We entered the ranch house by way of the basement door. Ahead of us was a wooden staircase that lead up to the main floor of the double wide mobile home that Bertha had installed on a cement foundation. I later noticed the metal strip and the bolts along the lower part of the mobile home. The other thing that I first saw was the head of an antelope on the basement wall.
We headed for the stairs to the main floor of the house. We turned a corner and found the son in the kitchen preparing dinner. He was standing over a large pan of sliced potatoes. I found myself wandering out to the deck area that had a vista of the land around the ranch. I wasn’t sure of the deck area but it seemed sturdy. The view took in the barn area and the land that stretched out before me. The wind was hot on my face and was blowing bits of dirt about. There were buttes in the distance and cattle out on the land grazing. There was much talk about wayward buffalo coming onto the land.
Dinner was served and the barbecued ribs just melted off their bones. They were delicious. The potatoes were also good and I ate two helpings. Everyone was gathered around the two tables in the kitchen area. Everyone ate heartily.
We then went on a tour of the ranch again, from my travel journal in 2003:
Bertha and son took us on a tour of the ranch showing the house that she grew up in. It was in a sad state of deterioration. It was also filled with farm things. The floor was rotting out and the ceiling was coming down. There were old torn and tattered pieces of furniture scattered and piled about. There was a stove or two. There were even jackets still hanging on hooks by the door. The house had only three rooms in the beginning but was later expanded to include the kitchen area. Amos and Iva slept in the bedroom on the first floor while kids slept upstairs. Behind the old farmhouse was the shed that was used for several tasks. The right end was for the chickens and the left end was used for the milking cows. The backside was used as the granary. It was showing its age and they were planning to tear it down. There were at least three round tower like structures now used for grain. They were better and easier to use. We then made our way down to the barn area and we walked around there. Bertha talked about repairs and rotted posts and what needed to be done to fix things up. They explained how the gates worked and walked us through the barn, pointing out their saddles and showing us the initials on the stalls for the horses. You had to walk carefully because there were cow piles all about and even a carcass of an antelope left to rot. I may not know much about ranching but it seemed to me to be a never-ending task.
The Lights of Jordan — I mean Jordan in Montana from my 2003 travel journal:
The evening was not yet over and the major event of the night was about to take place. Bertha wanted us to see the lights of Jordan from a bluff on her land. So just before dusk we all piled into her son’s big black truck. I had to climb up and in. We started out the gate of the ranch past the barn area and onto the gravel road crossing it towards the south. We picked up speed and so far things seems pretty okay and I would say he went about 4 miles then he make a sharp turn to the left off the road and we were as it is called “bushwhacking.” We bumped along over sagebrush with bunnies hopping frantically out-of-the-way. Bertha and her son discussed the route up the hill in their usual feisty way. He reminded her he knew the way as good as she did. I probably will never know how he knew the way in the dark but they both seemed to know exactly where they were and where every bump and creek bed was. I actually did pretty good although I was tossed around quite a bit. Just when I thought he was going to go over a big cliff and he stopped the truck and turned off the motor and pointed to the lights of Jordan in the distance. Then Bertha pointed to the house lights of the ranch. The son remembered and said that he used to come up to this hill with his Dad (Jim) and sit and look out for fires till 2 a.m. in the morning. Lighting was playing out its game to the right of us and sending strikes out but so far no rain. Within about 10 minutes or a little more he started the engine and proceeded to go straight ahead. The cliff that loomed before us was not as bad as I had thought but we did go pretty straight down for a bit. The drive back to the gravel road was a little less wild and bumpy and we actually seemed to get back to the road faster. As we drove along Bertha was pointing out deer and we couldn’t see anything. So the truck abruptly stopped by a big piece of farm equipment and out came a spotlight. They held up the spotlight and we then started to see lots of animals. First you see their eyes flashing in the dark and then you can make out there form. We were told that you can tell the type of animal by the color of their eyes. We saw lots of deer, the most I have ever seen in my life. It was great. We made it back to the house in one piece and I headed for bed. It was very hot.
On the way back from the ranch, the next day, we stopped at the Pioneer Cemetery in Jordan where Reed and Julia Spracklin are buried along with other family members.
We stayed in Miles City for about a week and then headed out. Our goal was to visit Yellowstone but we were going to do that in a little different way by viewing the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Park and then driving to Sheridan and across the Bighorn Mountains to Cody and from Cody to Yellowstone.
I drove to the battlefield. It was raining and the wind was blowing so the weather was not really great. We almost missed the battlefield because we got on the wrong road. We found the Crow Wing Agency sign and we doubled back and headed to the East until we caught up with the main road and it was just a little farther to go.
The wind was really cold at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. We arrived at around 3 pm. It took a lot longer than I anticipated to get there. We were able to attend a lecture by the ranger about the battle even though the wind was cold and the big nasty rain cloud threatened above. I was listening to the ranger talk but became quiet fascinated with the mud on his boots which was caking up and then falling off as he worked his way closer to the shelter as the rain came down on him. http://www.nps.gov/libi/index.htm
Custer’s last stand was definitely a broader and larger military maneuver than I had imagined. The events took place over a very big area stretching to the Wolf Mountains to the south. Custer’s part of the battle took place in a small area close to the visitor’s center. To see the rest of the battlefield we had to drive a road for about 3-5 miles. The formal cemetery was near the visitor center. They said that the Indian village stretched two miles in the valley below. That must have been a site to see. The Little Bighorn River Valley was beautiful to look down on from the hills where most of the fighting took place. Apparently this is the only battlefield that has tombstone markers scattered about the fields. The men were buried where they fell.
After our visit to the park, we headed to Sheridan in Wyoming. There were very ominous clouds in the distance but we made it before they dumped on us. We started up the highway to the Bighorns but decided it was getting too dark and we better find a place to stay. Sheridan was not far and found this wonderful old style hotel with creaky floors and a big steep staircase. The hotel room was lovely and old-fashioned making you think of bygone days. Spracklins lived in Sheridan, they are the descendants of Peter Spracklin a brother to our second great-grandfather Daniel D. Spracklin. So it was good to see the town. I didn’t have time to do any research there. If you want to know more about Peter and his family go to the blog Solomon Goss in Fearing Twp. for information.
After breakfast we made our way to the highway that takes you over the Bighorn Mountains. I am a big fan of Longmire having read the novels and watched the TV show. So when the show came on I was remembering the area. Absaroka County does not exist, but it is in the area on the west side of the Bighorns. The show is actually filmed in Arizona. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1836037/
The next morning after breakfast and gas for the car, we set out for the Bighorn Mountains. What an experience. The road winded up the side of the foothills going steeper and twisting around the sides of the hills. You could look ahead and see the road winding up the side of the mountain and could look back and see the valley below and get an incredible vista. The height of the passes in the Bighorns were 9000+ feet and we climbed and climbed up to a wonderland of trees and ground lightly laced with snow. The road itself was clear but the hills were snowy. Cattle are allowed to roam freely so we came upon some migrating down to better pastures. I will never forget the one white cattle that came at the car with such determination and with its power. I have never been in direct line of a large animal so it was cool to see it move toward us. They moved off the road toward the trees in order to avoid the car. There were about 20 coming down the road. They may have been domesticated animals but they were a site to see in this high mountain area. We came upon more of them along the road and had to stop, I believe one more times.
Arriving at the visitor center and we got out of the car. It was cool and crisp. The quiet and the stillness were almost soft. It was beautiful. We spent some time in the visitor center reading the exhibits. http://www.bighornmountains.com/ I bought a Smokey Bear doll as a memento he was very special to me when I was a kid.
As you get to the western side of the road you start going down and the scenery gets more barren and rocky. We chose to go the Shell Canyon route and that took us through some real magnificent geological formations of rock that had pushed up from the earth’s core. They looked like someone had laid then on their side.
We came off the Bighorn Mountains onto the Bighorn Plateau where the road took us to Cody, Wyoming. It took about 50-60 miles to traverse this big fertile plain which was rather flat, barren and straight. After awhile my sister, who was driving, became restless and wanted a curve in the road. As we approached the foothills to the Rockies we started to see more step formations. Cody lies at the base of these foothills before you head to Yellowstone.
We stopped in Cody and had some dinner and found a place to stay.
Apparently Buffalo Bill Cody founded the town of Cody and lived near it. The Buffalo Bill Museum is actually 4-5 museums. We spent time in the Plains Indian’s Exhibit. I took quick tours of the other exhibits and almost lost my sister in the first. http://centerofthewest.org/explore/buffalo-bill/
We had rented a cabin in Yellowstone near the main lodge so we needed to get there by Sunday night.
I had not been to Yellowstone since the mid 1950’s when we went their with our parents. I didn’t remember much except Old Faithful and the bears. There was one that my dad named Professor. He was a little black bear who was able to walk around the rim of the garbage cans. My mother and I sat in the car, our food was up in the tree on a rope. This type of behavior in bears is now discouraged for their safety as well as the visitors. I was about seven years old at that time. We also drove down to the Grand Tetons and I do remember them.
We found our cabin behind the main lodge and settled in. I called my hubby to check in and a coyote ran by as I was talking to him. http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm
While we were at Yellowstone we participated in several Buffalo Jams. A Buffalo Jam is where the buffalo get on the highway and you have to stop and wait.
It was rutting season so the males were being distracted and butting heads. They made this guttural puffing sound.
We saw a coyote eating a wolf kill. He was very cautious because the wolves would kill him if they found him.
There was elk and one male was herding his females across the river.
I did remember the lake for it was big:
Yellowstone has abundant geysers and we explored. Unfortunately I did not keep careful records of where we went, so I have pretty geyser pictures but I am not sure what geyser areas we were at. You can walk out over some of the areas to get close up on these board walks.
There is a lot of texture in the geysers, steam, heat and the smell of sulfur.
The pools are many and beautiful…
I did remember the mud pots because I thought they were funny back when I was a kid. The sound was gulp gulp. Trying to get a picture of them erupting is very difficult, this took a bit of time.
Of course you cannot miss old Faithful which I do remember from my childhood visit. This time I got to sit on the veranda of the lodge with a nice glass of wine to watch the spectacle.
We headed back to Seattle a couple of days later and just made the drive from Yellowstone to home. It was a good trip. I was pleased. The trip was about 2427 miles with little excursions here and there. My Aerostar Van did great. This might be my longest car trip for it beats Ontario.
MAKE A JOURNAL OF YOUR TRAVELS, a little advice…
About 2003 I started to journal my trips, both genealogical and vacation, because I realized that I was forgetting. A journal of our trip to Yellowstone in the mid 50’s would be amazing to have now. Some of the trips I had taken required me to backtrack and recreate what happened. Currently, I journal at night before going to bed each day of the trip. It is still fresh in my mind. I learned this from our cousin Paul Goss who did a lot of research on the Goss family in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. He traveled to many places and met relatives and interviewed them about the Goss family but he didn’t realize that his trips were actually sources and important, especially when he talked to family and got their stories. Going back to my early years I wish I had journals of those trips, not to mention photographs. It is difficult for me to remember when and where we went on all the camping trips with my parents.
I would like to encourage you to journal your trips or at least write out an outline of the days events. You would want to put in your journal the following. Here are a few suggestions and don’t forget to take pictures.
- What you saw that day like a bridge that was really cool, a valley view, a river, what towns you passed through a picture of the sign announcing the town. A town’s water tower. A museum, library or archive you visited. A ferry you took. I wrote in my Ontario journal that I was in Paris, Paris in Ontario. I also drove across the Thames river several times. The Thames is a river in Ontario that flows through London, Ontario. What road were you on, what was the weather like. My trip from London to Strathroy in Ontario it was pouring rain and getting into my hotel was a big experience. I was driving in western Ontario and there were these amazing windmills coming out of the ground. The only thing I didn’t do was get a good picture.
- When driving you can get lost and that can be an interesting experience. Or there is a really scary part of the road like the round about in Montreal that I barely made it through.
- Where you stayed. I have had some really interesting experiences at motels. The one I stayed in Hartford, CT the first time was really bad so the second time through I found a better place south of that city in a lovely B&B. One man had a toupee on and I noticed this as he was checking me in. What was the place like? I like Bed and Breakfasts and they can be really beautiful or it is a beautiful old hotel.
- What you ate and where you ate it. Yes, really, so if you go back you can find that same restaurant especially if you liked it. We did this in Hawaii and I did this in Ontario.
- Who you met both family and people you encounter. At Niagara Falls my waitress at the restaurant overlooking the falls was very knowledgeable and we chatted about the falls. She told me many interesting things. I spent a lot of great time visiting with cousins and close cousins and I tried to write out what was talked about. Now, not all encounters a great and I write about them in my journal.
- I have several large binders with my trip itineraries, journals, maps and memorabilia and I frequently refer to them. My Aunt Miriam went to Russia with my mother. She did a journal but there was no mention of my mom or other people, just the facts. She did mention me taking them to the airport. What I would give to get her impressions of the people she interacted with.
- Yes, I post my travels online with photos. I also journal my trip in a Word.doc which allows me to write a more personal version. They are all saved on my G drive under Genealogy trips Vol. I, Vacation Vol. II in my binders.
What I have written above is a short version of the actual trip to Montana in 2003 and this particular trip I did not post online because I didn’t start blogging till about 2010.