homestead

Alice Ivers Tubbs was born in Devonshire, England on February 17, 1851. She was the daughter of a conservative schoolmaster. While Alice was still a small girl, she moved with her family to the United States. The family first settled in Virginia, where Alice attended an elite boarding school for women. When she was a teenager, the family moved with the silver rush to Leadville, Colorado. As a young girl, Alice was raised to be a well-bred young lady, so few people would ever expect her to be known as “Poker Alice.” Nevertheless, marriage can change a person. While living in Leadville, Alice met a mining engineer named Frank Duffield, whom she married when she was just 20 years old. In the mining camps, gambling’s was quite common, and Frank was an enthusiastic player. He enjoyed visiting the gambling halls in Leadville and Alice naturally went along with him, rather than staying home alone. Alice stood quietly and watch her husband play…at first, but Alice was smart, and she picked up the game of poker easily. Soon she was sitting in on the games, and she was winning. Alice’s marriage to Frank Duffield was short-lived. Duffield, who worked in the mines as part of his job, was killed in an explosion. Needing to make a living, Alice, who was well educated, could have taught school, but even with 35,000 residents in Leadville, there was no school. There were also few jobs available for women, and those there were, did not appeal to Alice, so she decided to make a living gambling. Though Alice preferred the game of poker, she also learned to deal and play Faro. Very soon, she was in high demand…as a player and a dealer. Alice was a petite 5 foot 4 inch beauty, with blue eyes and thick brown hair. She was very rare in that she was a “lady” in a gambling hall…and not of the “soiled dove” variety. And Alice loved the latest fashions, she was a sight for the sore eyes of many a miner. Every time Alice had a big win, she began to take trips to New York City to buy the latest fashions.

Due to her traveling from one mining camp to another to play poker, Alice soon acquired the nickname “Poker Alice.” In addition to playing the game, she often worked as a dealer, in cities all over Colorado including Alamosa, Central City, Georgetown, and Trinidad. Later on, Alice began to puff on large black cigars, still wearing her fashionable frilly dresses. She, nevertheless, never gambled on Sundays because of her religious beliefs. Alice carried a .38 revolver and wasn’t afraid to use it. It was rather a necessity, due to her lifestyle. Alice soon left Colorado and made her way to Silver City, New Mexico, where she broke the bank at the Gold Dust Gambling House, winning some $6,000. The win was followed by a trip to New York City, to replenish her wardrobe of fashionable clothing. Afterward, she returned to Creede, Colorado. She went to work as a dealer in Bob Ford’s saloon…the man who had earlier killed Jesse James. Alice later moved to Deadwood, South Dakota around 1890. In Deadwood, she met a man named Warren G. Tubbs, who worked as a housepainter in Sturgis, but sidelined as a dealer and gambler. Alice usually beat Tubbs at poker, but that didn’t bother him. He was taken with her and they began to see each other socially. Once a drunken miner threatened Tubbs with a knife, Alice pulled out her .38 and put a bullet into the miner’s arm. I’m sure that man thought the threat was Tubbs, but the man should have watched Alice in stead. Later, the couple married and had seven children…four sons and three daughters. Because Tubbs was a painter by trade, he, along with Alice’s gambling profits, supported the family. The family moved out of Deadwood, to homesteaded a ranch near Sturgis on the Moreau River. Finally, Alice found something she loved more than gambling…for the most part. She helped with the ranch and raised her children. Then, fate would again deal Alice a bad hand. Tubbs was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Alice refused to leave his side. She planned to nurse him back to health. Tubbs lost his fight, and died of pneumonia in the winter of 1910. Alice was determined to give him a proper burial, so she loaded him into a horse-drawn wagon to take his body to Sturgis. It is thought that she had to pawn her wedding ring to pay for the funeral and afterward, went to a gambling parlor to earn the money to get her ring back.

For Alice, the time spent on the ranch were some of the happiest days of her life and that during those years, she didn’t miss the saloons and gambling halls. Alice liked the peace and quiet of the ranch. Still, she had to make a living, so after Tubbs’ death, she hired a man named George Huckert to take care of the homestead, and she moved to Sturgis to earn her way. Huckert quickly fell in love with Alice and proposed marriage to her several times. Alice didn’t really love him, but finally married him, saying flippantly, “I owed him so much in back wages; I figured it would be cheaper to marry him than pay him off. So I did.” Once again, the marriage would be short. Alice was widowed once again when Huckert died in 1913.

During the Prohibition years, Alice opened a saloon called “Poker’s Palace” between Sturgis and Fort Meade that provided not only gambling and liquor, but also “women” who serviced the customers. One night, a drunken soldier began a fight in the saloon. He was destroying the furniture, and causing a ruckus. Alice pulled her .38 and shot the man. While in jail awaiting trial, she calmly smoked cigars and read the Bible. She was acquitted on grounds of self-defense, but her saloon had been shut down. Now, in her 70s and with her beauty and fashionable gowns long gone, Alice struggled in her last years. She continued to gamble, but these days, she dressed in men’s clothing. Once in a while, she was featured at events like the Diamond Jubilee, in Omaha, Nebraska, as a true frontier character, where she was known to have said, “At my age, I suppose I should be knitting. But I would rather play poker with five or six ‘experts’ than eat.” She continued to run a “house” of ill-repute in Sturgis during her later years and was often arrested for drunkenness and keeping a disorderly house. Though she paid her fines, she continued to operate the business until she was finally arrested for repeated convictions of running a brothel and sentenced to prison. The governor took pity on Alice, who was then 75 years old, and pardoned her. At the age of 79, Alice underwent a gall bladder operation in Rapid City. Unfortunately, she died of complications on February 27, 1930. She was buried at Saint Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis, South Dakota. In her lifetime, Alice claimed to have “won more than $250,000 at the gaming tables and never once cheated.” In fact, one of her favorite sayings was, “Praise the Lord and place your bets. I’ll take your money with no regrets.”

When the ranchers began to take over the western plains, there were those who were honest, and those who were scoundrels. One of those scoundrels was Albert John Bothwell (1855-1928), who was one of the main instigators of the Johnson County War in Wyoming. Bothwell was born in Iowa and migrated to Wyoming, where he quickly became one of the most prosperous cattlemen in Sweetwater County. Bothwell was an arrogant man, who tended to take what he wanted. He had been grazing his cattle on unclaimed homestead land, which was not his to use, but as I said, he tended to take what he wanted. When James Averell and his girlfriend, Ellen Watson came along in 1886, and filed a claim on the land Bothwell had been using, they found that he had gone so far as to illegally fence much of their land with barbed wire. In his mind, Bothwell had decided that the land was somehow his, that his needs were more important, or that no one would ever put in a claim on it, at least not if he had any say in the matter.

When Averell and Watson moved onto the land, Bothwell’s illegal use of the property came to light, and of course, led to repeated disputes between Bothwell and the young couple. Bothwell, was a powerful man, as many cattle barons are. They have men to keep what they believe to be theirs protected. The problem here was that the land wasn’t his…it belonged to Averell and Watson. When Averell wrote to the Casper Daily Mail criticizing Bothwell and claiming that the cattle barons had too much power, Bothwell retaliated by claiming that Averell and Watson were stealing his cattle. Dubbing Watson with the moniker of “Cattle Kate,” he also accused her of being a prostitute who sometimes accepted stolen cattle in payment.

As the dispute continued to rage over the next several months, Bothwell convinced other area ranchers of Averell and Watson’s guilt, and on July 20, 1889, he convinced five other men to help him hang the pair at a small canyon by the Sweetwater River. Though the men were charged with murder, key witnesses began to mysteriously die or disappear and all of them were acquitted. Both Averell and “Cattle Kate” were “tried” in the press, which was owned or influenced by the cattle barons, and branded as “outlaws.” Bothwell later acquired both homesteads of the murdered victims.

After the dust settled and many years had passed, re-investigations into the whole affair have found that most likely neither James Averell, nor his girlfriend Ellen “Cattle Kate” Watson, were guilty of any crime. In the meantime, this event, as well as several other similar events, led to the Johnson County War in Wyoming. Albert Bothwell, however, walked away free of any repercussion and continued to run his ranch until his retirement, when he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he died on March 1, 1928. No one was ever prosecuted for the murders of James Averell and Ellen Watson.

Cornealius SpencerLike many people, my great grand uncle, Cornealius Spencer and his wife Leola Stinson Spencer left Iowa and made their way to Oklahoma in the spring of 1893. With them were their children and Leola’s parents. They had heard that the government was giving away land and they had decided to make a new start. The homestead they received was 160 acres, but the land came with qualifications. The homestead owner was required to fence the land, build a building, and live on the land for a period of one year before it became theirs. When I think of those reasonable qualifications, in light of today and all we have now, I think that the land they received was really cheap…and maybe it was, but times were different then, and living on a piece of land that had no improvements, and the soil was hard and rocky, might not have been so easy. They didn’t have the farming equipment we have now, so they had to till the ground with a team of horses or a yoke of oxen and a hand plow. They couldn’t just run down to the lumber store to buy building supplies. They had to cut down their own logs to build a home, or live in a sod hut…which many people then did for a time.

The families arrived with two covered wagons and Leola with two small children…four year old Oren and two year old Edith. The wagons were pulled by a pair of oxen. With no bits or lines to guide the oxen. They pulled the wagon by a yoke and Leola had to guide them by the voice commands or “gee” and “haw” for left and right and “whoa” for stop. The milk cow was tied to the wagon and the family brought along a coop of chickens. They camped out at night, and let the chickens eat the bugs in the area. There were no roads to get to Oklahoma, so they had to simply go across the prairie.

Once they arrived in Blaine county, the men filed on two places that were next to each other. Each place had a spring for water, until a well could be dug. They dug a dugout near the spring, and were settled by June 12, Leona Stinson Spencer 1893, when their new daughter Elsie Jane was born. They lived in the dugout until a home could be built. There were no towns close, so they had to rely on what they could hunt. Thankfully there was an abundance of deer, rabbits, turkeys, and even squirrels, so they never went hungry. Both Cornealius and Leola were excellent shots, so it didn’t matter who was available to hunt, both were able to get food for the family.

I can fully understand why it was so hard to make a homestead work now, because the supplies the homesteaders needed were not readily available. Many people gave up and headed back east, but my great grand uncle and his family stuck it out, and spent their remaining years in Oklahoma. They would raise their ten children there and were very successful in their endeavors. Homesteading wasn’t designed to be easy. Getting 160 acres of land is a big deal, and while the land ended up being free in the monetary sense, it certainly did not in the blood, sweat, and tears sense. The homesteader earned every inch of that property.

Building a houseIn days gone by, there just weren’t a lot of construction companies out west. People built their own houses. Of course, if a man has to build his own house, you can bet it took him a while to complete it. I don’t really think a lot of people built their house all by themselves however, because if they lived anywhere near the neighbors, people just seemed to show up to help. I’m not sure just how they knew that you were in the process of building a house or barn back in the old west, but somehow they did, and so they came to help. There was a camaraderie back then that doesn’t always exist today. Too many people don’t want to get involved, or they just decide that they are too busy with their own lives to go and spend time helping others.

With droughts and thunderstorms causing buildings to burn, and no fire trucks or fire stations available, your neighbors always seemed to be the first responders to fire emergencies, or any other emergency, for that matter. Unfortunately with the neighbors living so far away from each other, the house or barn was usually gone before anyone could get there to help you put out the fire, and when all you are using is a bucket and a wet towel, it’s pretty much a lost cause before you even start. Nevertheless, they were right there to help you rebuild, so that you weren’t left without shelter for your family or your animals. That was just how neighbors were in the old west.

When you think about it, it was how they had to be in order to survive. With the Indian uprisings, and the old west outlaws, the pioneers had to stick together. There wasn’t a lot of lumber companies, and if they homesteaded a piece of land with an abundance of trees on it, they could cut down the trees to clear the field, and use the logs to build the cabin too. That was doing it the hard way, of course, so having friendly neighbors to help you get the job done before winter set in was essential. And of course, meeting the neighbors and offering to help them with their house or barn always meant a big potluck dinner and barn dance when the work was done. They didn’t have to get all dressed up and go somewhere fancy to have a great evening, they just got together with the neighbors and had a hoe down.

With time and modern equipment, came more construction companies, big cities, and less neighborly camaraderie. In fact, people these days are as likely not to know their neighbors as they are to know them. Sad when you think about it. We don’t live in such a big Raising a garagecity, that all of that has gone away. Our neighbor, Bill has a snow blower, and if it snows while we are at work, he is out there with that snow blower doing the sidewalks and driveways for about half the block. It’s very nice for Bob to be able to come home and not have to get out the and shovel every thing off. Of course, Bill knows that anytime he needs help, all he has to do is ask, because we will be there with bells on, and likely as not, Bob is out there doing something for Bill before he has a chance to ask. I love our neighbors, and after all, that is what being neighborly is all about.

Allen, Laura, and Anna editedDuring the early years of my grandparents marriage, they lived  in several places, as many people do. They spent time in Lisbon, North Dakota, and several areas of Minnesota, including Loman, Minnesota, where they had a homestead. My Aunt Laura was born in International Falls, Minnesota, which is 21 miles from Loman. These days, that is a 24 minute drive, but back then it was quite a bit more, especially since not everyone owned a car in those days. In 1918, 1 in 13 families owned a car. Then by 1929, 4 out of 5 families owned a car. A lot has changed in the years since then. Most families have at least 2 vehicles. Nevertheless, at the time my Aunt Laura was born in 1912, cars, or motor buggies as they were called, were a novelty item owned by the wealthy. That said, I would expect that my grandparents were living in International Falls at the time of my aunt’s birth, and then moved to Loman, Minnesota after that time.

At some point in the year 1918, my grandfather and grandmother decided to leave the life they had built in Minnesota, spread their wings, and head south to look for greener pastures, so to speak. They had gone as far as Kansas City, presumably by train, where they bought what I’m sure was their first automobile, and headed off to Mena, Arkansas. I’m not sure how long they were in Mena, Arkansas, but eventually they ended up in Ranger, Texas, where it would appear that he might have worked in the oil fields for a time.

I can imagine how exciting this trip must have been for my Aunt Laura, who was 7 years old at the time. Not only was she going on a whole new adventure, to a whole new place, but she was going the family’s first automobile. When you are used to going places in a horse drawn buggy this new mode of travel must have been very exciting. It had speed without the horses, and better control. She could feel the wind in her hair as they flew down the road. It was a huge new adventure, a fast paced adventure, for a girl who was used to life in a slow paced world.
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I’m not sure just how long they lived in Texas, but I do know that by the time my Uncle Bill was born in 1922, the family was back in the north, living in Superior, Wisconsin. Maybe they didn’t like the heat or maybe they missed the Great Lakes region in general. I don’t know why for sure, but I do know that except for a few short years, my grandparents would live out their lives in Superior, Wisconsin. Aunt Laura, who didn’t like the cold much would spread her wings again later in her life and head out west, finally settling in Oregon, where she felt most at home.

The Homestead (Cornelius Byer in center)For any one whose ancestors came out to the West, homesteading probably is a word we know, and something we know a little about. Even if it is back in the history of our family, we knew that yes, the land was given to the homesteader, but in reality, they earned every blade of grass that was on their homestead. Homesteading was no easy way to live. Homesteading began when the United States government decided to give 65 acres to anyone who wanted to move out west and settle. They had to work the land for 5 years and then it became theirs. This all sounded like an amazing opportunity to many people, but there were many who came out west to get a homestead and then went back home before the 5 year timeframe was passed. They just couldn’t make it. The didn’t have what it takes. Homesteading was not a lazy man’s way to get land. This land was hard and full of rocks and trees. It had not been plowed and planted before. They would be the first to do that, and they didn’t have all the equipment we have these days to plow up the hard soil so it was suitable for growing crops on.

My grandparent were among those who came out and earned that homestead, by working that land and making it grow the crops they wanted it to grow. I doubt that they got by without ever losing a crop, because hail, drought, flood, fire, and tornados were bound to have happened at least once during that 5 year timeframe, but they stuck it out and made it work. They proved that they were tough enough to earn that homestead…to the government and to themselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that the ones that went home were no good, they just didn’t have what it took to make it in the old west. This was rough country, and you Pow Wow 2had to be tough to stick it out here. They had to learn to get along with the Indians too, because the Indians weren’t real happy with the White Man being here at all. Treaties had been broken to allow the west to be settled, and they didn’t like it one bit. I think we can all agree that this country was going to expand one way or the other, because as people have children and those children have children, and those children have children, and so on…well, more space was bound to be needed. Still, I suppose we should have handled it in a different way. Nevertheless, many White Men made peace with the Indians, and learned to live together. The White Man had come to the West. He was here to stay, because he had earned that homestead.

I never knew my Great Grandpa Byer, because he passed away in 1930, long before I was born. Most of what I know of him comes from my genealogy research, pictures I have found, and the stories I have heard from my mom. The first time I remember hearing about him was when I gave birth to my oldest daughter, Corrie. My mother mention that I might want to name her Cornelia, so that it would be after her great great grandpa. I was not willing to go so far as to change the name I had chosen, but the name did attach itself to Corrie anyway, in the form of a nickname…that I loved, by the way.

My research told me that my great grandfather was born in Russia, which very much surprised me, as I thought that part of the family came from Germany. My mother filled in the blanks there, by telling me that in the 1780’s, my 6th great grandfather, who was concerned because of wars in Europe, and wanting to keep his family, and especially his son safe from the increasing German interest in jumping into the war. So, he moved his family to Russia, where my part of the family would live until, my great grandfather’s family immigrated to the United States. He eventually settled in South Dakota, where he married my great grandmother.

Picture documentation, at the point, places my great grandparents on a homestead in Nebraska. During his time in South Dakota and Nebraska, he befriended many of the Indians in the area. He was well respected by them and was invited to their Pow Wow’s. It is at this point in the family history that I came across another picture that made me wonder about its inclusion in the other family pictures. It still seems odd to me, but my mom assures me with her story, that it indeed fits in the family history. The picture is of a group of men in a pool hall. When I asked mom about the picture, she told me that she didn’t know the men in the picture, but the pool hall had belonged to her grandfather. I am still trying to figure out how he went from homesteading to a pool hall owner, but that is what he did. I’m sure that like most career changes, the decision was based on the income possibilities, because the main thing is to be able to support your family. The pool hall is not surprising to me because of what it was, but because of the fact that he had been a homesteader and farmer by trade for so long. Things change, as the needs change, and that is as simple as that. He saw a way to make a living, or even supplement the family income, and he did it. It is an interesting twist to my history.

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