OSCAR (SAL) AND GLADYS VENABLE CAIN
From 'Fanning the Embers', published 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana
By Gladys Cain
Beaver County, Okla., is the first place that I can remember calling home. My Dad, Hugh Venable, came from Missouri to Oklahoma when it was opened for settlement. Mother, Ella Norris, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. L. D. Norris, came from Texas to farm in Oklahoma. They met there and were married.
For the first two years of school I stayed with my grandparents, the Norrises, on their farm. Ava and Iva, my aunts, drove an old white horse hitched to a buggy to school six miles away and I accompanied them. One time Grandma and I were going to feed the calves when a wild cat jumped on my back. He sure gave me a good clawing and I was scared to death. The next day Grandpa found the tom cat hiding in the barn and shot it; I sure was glad.
Dad and Mother moved to Colorado where we lived for several years. Then we moved to Miles City, Mont. There I met Oscar Cain and in 1928 we were married. Oscar (Sal) is the son of Horace and Bessie Williams Cain who homesteaded on Big Pumpkin Creek.
Our first home was on the Sutton ranch where Sal had been working. Here I had my first real experience with cooking for Sal and the three Sutton bachelors. With time and the help of the older Stacey ladies, my cooking improved greatly.
During the three years we lived on the Sutton ranch our first two children were born. Donald was born November, 1929, and Helen was born May, 1931. They both became favorites with the bachelor brothers. One day Donald took the dog and wandered away from the yard. The haying crew set out to search and in the late afternoon they were found walking down the road toward the Scott ranch.
In 1931 we bought two railroad sections of land and started to build up our own ranch. Sal built our home out of pine logs and as we lived in the hills he did not have far to skid the logs. Later he built a log barn, shop, hen house and bunkhouse.
Our second son, Gene, was born February, 1933, at Sal's mother's home on Pumpkin Creek and it was three weeks before we were able to return home because of the weather.
The two sections of land were not enough to provide for the growing family and Sal worked for the neighboring ranches, getting $1 a day. He also sheared sheep all over Powder River county each spring.
We had a few head of cattle and one milk cow that was a real prize; she provided milk and was a pet to the kids. They could ride her as she was so gentle.
A favorite horse we called Hank would let as many children ride him as could find a place to sit on his back, so many times he was the center of attraction when we had company. Donald rode Hank six miles to school for two years. One winter day a terrible blizzard came up and I was sick with worry that they would get lost but at nightfall Hank came into the corral with Donald on his back. On Feb. 19, 1941, Gene came into the house and told us that Hank was dead in the barn. The date was always remembered as that was Gene's birthday.
We always had good work horses on the place as Sal broke them. It seemed as if he was continually breaking a bronc either to work or to ride. Many a time those tree-covered hills were turned into a race track as these green animals took matters into their own heads. One morning a trip to the neighbors ended this way. Sal had hitched up one of his broncs, with a gentle horse, to the wagon and the kids and I had gotten into the wagon when all of a sudden the bronc took off through the trees, leaving the kids and I sitting on the ground. We picked ourselves up and walked back to the house with a firm determination never to ride behind a bronc again.
The summer storms often came up suddenly with a flurry of thunder and lightning and usually rain. I always made the kids come into the house and sit quietly until the storm passed. Not too many people or animals were ever struck by lightning but no one ever took a chance if they didn't have to.
Many people who were around probably remember the fire that started at the base of Home Creek butte. The fire quickly spread up the side of this mile-high butte, wiping out the lookout tower and forcing the watchman down the other side. The fire was an extremely hot one as many of the 50-foot jack pines burned. It required quite a crew to put it out and Sal had to stay on it for three days.
Home Creek butte was named because the early range riders could find their direction by it as it is nearly a mile high. When the
Custer National Forest was designated in 1918, it included the butte and much of the surrounding country. Today it is used by ranchers as summer pasture for cattle. Recently wild turkeys were planted in the area and deer, both mule and white tail, are plentiful.
I could probably write a good-size book about my early life in these hills. We lead a pretty isolated existence but never regretted it. It was ten miles to the Stacey post office, so until the 1930's when we got our first automobile, we didn't get our mail very often. Bobcats and coyotes kept our chicken flock within a manageable number. We had seven white ducks once but a bobcat caught one a dayso ended the duck business on the Cain ranch.
It was common to see cowboys trailing cattle, and to hear them talking to the cattle as they went along; but one day our attention was attracted by some very strange sounds. We were all surprised and amazed (especially Sal) to see Grandpa Lee Hansen and his well-trained dog move through our place driving a bunch of hogs ahead of him. He was taking them from his place to the Sam Hoglin ranch. As we later learned, he made the trip without losing a single pig.
One of the big events of each year was the 4th of July celebration held at the White Tail Ranger Station. All of the people of the Stacey community attended, as well as many others. Each family brought varied food and the meal was most enjoyable among the tall pines of the area. The delicious homemade ice cream topped off the day. The afternoon was spent playing baseball and other games. A dance at the old CC Hall started after the evening meal, dancing to music that was furnished by some of the local men. We attended our first picnic in 1929, and nearly everyone that was held for the next 30 years.
In December, 1942, our second daughter, Carol, was born. The following spring we left our log house and moved to the Ernest Shy ranch about four miles away. We had leased the place from Ernest when he retired; he had been on the ranch some 40 years.
With this ranch came Amos and Andy, a favorite work team of Ernest's. Andy was a speckled white horse and weighed close to 1800 pounds; Amos was a bit smaller at about 1600 pounds and was a strawberry roan. Ernest had bought them from Milton Simpson. In the summer they pulled the mowing machine and when winter set in they pulled the sled, covering about ten miles a day, feeding the cattle. If the sled broke down the men could ride Amos and Andy back to the house; they might have looked funny but it sure beat walking. Sal, Donald and Gene used the team for a few years but because of age they let them gradually retire. I am sure that if there is a heaven for horses, Amos and Andy are there, standing side by side, as they did when they were in the pasture together.
When we moved to the Shy place we had a telephone, a forest service line which had been there since 1927. Even though everyone on the line had their own ring, all the rings were heard by everyone, so good and bad news alike was accessible to all. Our youngest daughter, Ella Mae, who was born March, 1947, was always busy answering the phone and often would just pick up the receiver to see if anyone was talking. One day she picked up the receiver and heard two of the neighbor ladies talking and to my dismay she blurted right into the phone, "You old hens better get off the line, because I want to talk."
Shortly after we moved we purchased a tractor and this was a help in haying but horses are still used to feed in the winter because of the deep snow. In 1950 the REA installed electricity in the community and we all thought that we were really modernized then. I still haven't parted with my old Majestic cookstove and when the electricity goes off, as it did for 18 days once, I am thankful for still having it. This stove has a long history of service behind it and warming half-drowned little chickens on the oven door almost proved disastrous once. I had gone outside to finish chores and when I came in each poor chicken had a hotfoot.
In the early 50's Sal and Donald purchased the Young ranch from Albert and Mattie Young. They had lived on the place for 20 years and decided to retire to Miles City, where they still live. They had bought the ranch from Joe Hannon, a bachelor, who had lived on the place for some 40 years.
In the fall of 1956, we purchased a ranch from Russell Churchill, two miles east of Home Creek butte. This ranch is one of the oldest in the Stacey community, settled by Joe Adams in the early 1900's. The first mail route through this area passed through the Adams ranch from Beebe and Stacey and then on to the Selway post office on Big Pumpkin Creek. Joe took the mail contract and he hired Hughie Daily to work for him. The Adams ranch was an overnight stop for the mail stage and also the place where the horses were kept for the run. Shortly after Adams began carrying the mail some of the cowhands at the Selway ranch decided to play a trick on one of the stage drivers and re-live a little of the old west. They hid in some rocks near the trail and as the stage went by they started yelling and hollared for the driver to halt and throw down his gun. Instead, the fearless driver picked up his 30-30 rifle and blasted away at the cowboys, searing these fun-lovers out of their wits.
Adams sold the ranch to Rube Miller and Shorty McCann, who ranched on it for about 50 years. After both men passed away, it was operated by Ed Travaskis, son-in-law of Mr. Miller. The Travaskis sold the ranch to Russell Churchill.
School for our children was attending country grade school and boarding away from home for high school in either Broadus or Miles City.
In re-counting the history of this family, I am sure that one of the most memorable and joyful occasions that Sal and I look forward to are the somewhat infrequent reunions that our family enjoys and our six grandchildren. Ella Mae cooks some of her gourmet dishes for us that her husband, Mike Howard, has approved. Donald and Connie come down from their home nearby and Mark agrees to pound the ice to freeze the ice cream that Carol has mixed up. Marlene's cake turned out real good but Carl, Helen and Austin's boy, is giving her a bad time about it. Gene and Marianna drove up from Nebraska and the three boys, Rodney, Wesley and David, are out getting old Queen in; 'she's 23 now but still has patience to give the kids a ride.
It is at times like this that I realize how thankful I am for my family and for the good life we have shared on this ranch below Home Creek butte.