Montana Experience

By Carolyn Hanks

Dave graduated in May. It didn’t seem important then for me to graduate, but I since have wished over and over that we had gone an extra quarter. It certainly would have meant a lot fewer classes that I would have to take later. We came up to Minidoka and worked for Dave's brothers on their farm. Dave had dreams of having registered Angus cattle, and he had a few at their place. Every night, I would follow him around the corrals. He would plan and dream. I took an Animal Husbandry class, by correspondence, so I wouldn’t be so dumb and could tell the different breeds apart.

In the fall, we moved into Burley, with our cattle (3 head), to the little house on David’s Dad’s place. Here we spent some cold winters, had some big gardens in the summer, and had many growing experiences. I went to work at Spencer’s Office Supply as a clerk. I chose this store because it also sold books. They were very good to me, but it was very boring and time passed so slowly.

We finally decided that we should get off on our own, however, so we decided to take a trip through northern Idaho and western Montana to decide where we should move. This was typical of our adventures. We had no money at all, but full of faith that things would work out. Plus, we had lots of youthful enthusiasm and a driving goal to establish a top Angus herd. We didn’t have to complete our trip, however, because as soon as we crossed the pass into Montana, we knew we were home. So we stopped at Dillon and looked at places. We made two or three trips and finally found something. We borrowed the down payment from Daddy, and with a $100 from Dave’s Dad, a milk cow, two sacks of flour, and 12 Angus cows, we moved. On the way up, the U-haul jack knifed, and we had to pay a wrecker to pull us up a hill (our pickup just wouldn’t make it).

In 1962, we arrived in Dillon, broke, but the banker was impressed by our enthusiasm, willingness to work, and ability to do without, so we were always able to borrow money to run our farm. The place was dreadfully dirty and run down. We spent many nights, after Dave’s work at the neighbors, cleaning and fixing up. We decided to live in the bunk house and rent out our house. This gave us a little money for groceries. We lived in a one room log cabin – with no bathroom or running water – and heated and cooked on an old wood-burning stove. I chopped lots of wood, and it was cold in the mornings, but we both have very fond memories of those years. Having a goal made it easy to do without the material things of the world.

Our trips were all Angus oriented and we traveled a lot to fairs and shows with our cattle, and to see other folk’s cattle. David also helped the Corbett Angus Ranch with their show string at various fairs and sales. We met many interesting people. It was a good life.

In 1966, we moved into our house and applied to adopt a baby. We had waited for so long and it seemed like it took forever to hear from them. Finally, the call came. They said they had a little girl that was just perfect for us. She was two and one half months old and was premature. She had only weighed two pounds and ten ounces at birth but had never had a moment’s trouble. Did we want her? Of course we did!! There was no question about it. Our own little girl! The lady asked, when we would be up, thinking in a day or two. I told her we would be there in two hours – which was how long it took to drive to Helena. At last, we had a family. She was so tiny and would never eat very much. She ate a lot of Cheerios. She always went with us out on the ranch – no matter how cold the weather. We’d just don her little blue snowsuit and go out and work cattle or haul hay or whatever. I’d pull her around in her little wagon. She had rosy cheeks and was very healthy.

But, of course, our family was not complete without a boy. In 1968, we got Bryan. When they called, they said that they had a special big boy that was meant just for us, but he had eye problems. We were delighted with him. It only took a little bit of love and attention, and his eye muscles started working on their own. He was fat and cuddly and happy. He loved to eat, and would chuckle every time I went to the refrigerator to get food for him. He was solidly made and his small body seemed so very heavy for one so young. He also loved his family and they loved him. He would crawl all over his Dad when he caught him lying on the floor – which was where he was a lot because of his back. Elizabeth doted on him and they were quite close.

We had some very good neighbors. They were all so good to us. Emmett and Voris Blomquist lived to the north and had registered Herefords. Sharon and Otha Graham lived to the south and were our very good friends. They were always helping us. We became part of their family group. In Montana, cattle were the way of life, and so were the main topic of conversation. This was one reason why we liked it so well. It also seemed like most people had a different set of values. They were not so materialistic. Things were really looking up for us—our herd had grown, and we had a good production sale. Then, the next year, a series of disasters struck: cattle prices fell, we had a poor production sale with big expenses, and there was extremely cold weather when we were calving. We lost quite a few calves. Dave’s back became so bad that he could hardly get around, and he had to have surgery. With all this, we had to sell the ranch and have a dispersal sale. This was a hard thing for both of us. We truly loved it there.

Our final year there, David went to Western Montana College and got his teaching certificate. That summer while he was down from his surgery, his nephews, Lee and John, lived with us and helped me with the ranch and cattle. I did most of the irrigating myself, but they moved the sprinklers on the front part, and fed the bulls, and hauled hay. They were a big help! Lee stayed with us until Christmas.

Life then changed, as we then were forced to move back to Idaho. It was at that point that I got my teaching certificate. Dave and I both started a career as school teachers and the rest is history.

(In front of the bunk house - with our St. Bernard puppy - where we lived for two years)