RALPH AND DOROTHY CONLEY
From 'Fanning the Embers', published 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana
By Dorothy Hart Conley
Although born in California, I've spent my entire life in "Dear Old Montana." As a small child I came to Montana with my parents, Rollo and Blanche Hart, who had filed on a homestead near Brandenburg. I grew up in the sagebrush and coyote country and played along the old Tongue River.
At that time, pets played a very important part in a child's life, and the pet saddle horse was often considered man's best friend. As my father often said, "If one is ever lost in the hills while riding, just loosen the reins and your pony will take you home." We each had our own horses; my mother's was called Snorts, my father's was Shorty, and mine was Old Paint. And we had many other pets to entertain us in those days. One day my father brought me a baby porcupine that he had found while he was mowing hay. I dearly loved that "Porky" and brought it up on a bottle. He loved to swing back and forth hanging onto my hands with his tiny feet, and sometimes he'd take a ride on the lamb's woolly back galloping off across the flats hanging on for dear life. In later years Porky wandered across the slough and into the deep timber. Much to everyone's surprise, and against the laws of nature, Porky would come waddling back when I'd call his name.
As a kid, the neighbors offered us 5c for magpie eggs and 15c for a young magpie. It didn't take long for us just to save the eggs we found until they hatched, getting a bigger payoff!
My father planned to give me a heifer calf each year to save for my college education. As you can guess, the offspring soon exceeded his! In the rough Thirties, the Government marked the condemned cattle with a green slash. Those years took the college savings. I remember shedding many tears as they condemned the twin calves and cruelly shot them down.
I went to the country schools as a young girl, and then on to Custer County High School, Mt. Ellis Academy at Bozeman, and then Eastern Montana College at Billings. My first teaching assignment was the SH school at Garland, for the fabulous salary of $65.00 a month. I taught there one year, and then back to Eastern to get a degree in elementary education. After this I taught three years at the Quietus school, where I met and married my husband Ralph. He was a lover of the cowboy country and had come from Truesdale, Kan. to visit his brother Charles A. Conley and uncle, who were living in the Quietus country, and later Ralph worked there for Walter Bales. We were married and settled on a homestead on Hart Creek, named for my grandfather and near the Hart home ranch (ours was the last homestead in Rosebud County, and was relinquished by an aunt, Myrtle Hart). I continued teaching for a total of about 14 years in the rural area, while Ralph worked with my father on the home ranch.
That first winter after we were married it was 55 below. We found some of the children on their way to school one morning nearly frozen to death. We put them on our horses and hurried them to the school house. Their feet were saved, but they suffered the loss of several toes.
During one of my teaching years, a skunk went into the teacherage, when I was out visiting. I spent most of the night in the car, not able to face the consequences if I went in to get him out.
I vividly recall another spring while I was teaching and had to' cross Tongue River to get to school The ice had gone out and cakes of ice were piled deep and it flooded everywhere. When I insisted on going back to school, Ralph and my father insisted we all take saddle horses and they'd accompany me across for safety. The big laugh was on them (or me?); I followed closely behind the trail they wished me to follow, but must have got a bit off course, as suddenly I hit a hole. Old Paint and I went completely out of sight. As I went down, I heard my husband's voice echo in my ears, "Grab that saddle horn!" Good old Paint brought me up to safety-but I shall never forget that cold icy bath!
In the summer we enjoyed riding the range together, Ralph on "Old Zeb" and I on "Old Paint." One summer we killed approximately 60 rattlers; pennants were very popular wall decorations then, and we made one up with our brand designed on it with the rattles.
We had some rough days starting out, but loved every day. Our first attempt with baby chicks was disastrous. They grew up and roosted at the back of the house. One night we were awakened by a loud noise, and when Ralph rushed out he found Mr. Bobcat bouncing on our prize fryers. The pack rats called on us, too, and stood on their hind legs and removed the cups from the hangers. They planned on adding those to their collection of wrist watches, silverware and other valuables in a nest of cacti, in the cellar-but the cups broke as they fell to the table.
We were blessed with two children: Ron born on June 28, 1946, and Renee' on Jan. 26, 1949, and Old Paint lived to carry them around the ranch too. Old Paint is gone now, but we still have his robe, which was beautifully tanned.
A foster daughter, Ruth, also joined the family circle and spent eight years with us while Ron and Renee' were growing up.
Our children played freely all over the ranch. They played Tarzan and Tarzana (together they climbed in the tree houses) and made forts all over the ranch. One day they came in with a gallon berry can, holding a little play shovel over the top, saying "Look, Mom, what we've got." To my horror they had a rattle snake in there! I'll never know how they acquired it.
In 1949 we moved to town, where Ralph worked for the Milwaukee Railroad for about one year, and for the VA Hospital for one year, and since 1951 has been employed by the City of Miles City as water plant operator. Ron is married now to the former Patti Medley and they have two sons, and Ron has been teaching for the last three years. Renee', too, is majoring in education.