In the days before running water in homes, people had to go to river to bath, or bring water into the house from the river, creek, or well, and heat it on the stove so the family could bathe. Since families were usually large, the whole process took time, and heating water over and over again was not really feasible. What that meant was that the family pretty much all bathed in the same bath water. For the last guy, that had to be…well, disgusting, but that was the way it was done back in the old west, and even in more recent times when there was no running water in homes. For the little kids, however, I seriously doubt if it mattered. Getting wet was getting wet, and it really just didn’t matter what the water looked like…at least to the little boys. Girls might have felt differently. I think I would have.
Personally, if I had a river or creek available, I think I would use that…in the summer anyway. Then again, there is very little privacy in a river or creek…and you can’t exactly put up a curtain around a river. I can’t really imagine how they lived that way exactly. I guess in that way I’m a modern girl, and don’t try to take my shower away from me. Maybe that’s why Bob and I don’t go camping…no running water, or if there is, it’s very inconvenient. As I have said before, I love hiking and being outdoors, but I like the modern conveniences of a hotel room afterward.
Of course, when homes got running water, bathing in an old tin bath tub went the way of all things old west. Nevertheless, for babies…it doesn’t matter if they are bathing or just playing in a bucket, pan, or clothes basket. Kids just like to play in them. I don’t think there is anything so amazing about that, like a throwback to the old west days of bathing in a barrel, but rather that kids just like finding different places to play. Things like an old box, barrel, or clothes basket are perfect. In that way, they remind me of cats. If you have ever watched a cat, you will find that they see a space, and if it looks fairly close to a good fit, in they dive. Babies tend to be that way too…but, the thing that is the funniest about that is when the baby tries to fit into a box that is seriously too small. Nevertheless, it’s a baby or cat thing.
The states we now know as Montana and Wyoming, were originally supposed to belong to the Indians…a fact that many people don’t realize. Unfortunately, the White Man only stuck to a plan as long as the plan worked for the White Man. When gold was found in the Black Hills, there was no holding the White Man back. The plan was to try to buy the land from the Indians, but when that was not well received, they gave them an ultimatum…report to the reservations…or else. It was a matter of sell to us or we will take it…sound familar? The Indians simply did not take to the White Man’s plan very well. War broke out pretty quickly, and it was different than other wars, because the Indians did not play be the White Man’s rules of engagement. It was a very different type of war, and to win, the White Man would have to learn how to fight in a very different way. And it was a way they were not very good at.
Most people remember the Battle of the Little Big Horn, in that so many men rode to their deaths. While Custer was in a place he shouldn’t have been, and a battle in which he was outnumbered, it is my opinion that he took a bad situation and did the best he could do with it. He went into battle knowing he would not survive it, and in that way it was brave. Even if the battle was not going to be won, it was brave. Still, that battle was not the only battle that showed bravery against daunting odds.
Just eight days earlier, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians won a major victory over General Crook’s forces at the Battle of the Rosebud. General Cook was in command of one of three columns of soldiers who were converging on the Big Horn Country of southern Montana that June. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and several other chiefs had joined forces in the area. They were there in defiance on the US demands that the Indians confine themselves to the reservations. The army saw this protest as an opportunity to launch a massive three-proged attack, fully expecting to win a decisive vistory over the Indians.
Crook and his men marched north from Fort Fetterman in Wyoming Terretory, intending to join the two others, the columns of General Gibbon and General Terry. General Terry’s force included the soon to be famous 7th Cavalry under the command of General George Custer. Given the distances between the troops and the lack of reliable communication, it was difficult to coordinate the three armys. Their plan was to converge on the valley of the Big Horn River and stage their assault. The biggest problem was that they had only a vague idea of how many men their enemy included, and they were way off.
Upon their arrival in the area, Crook’s scouts told him that there were signs of a major Sioux force in the area. Crook was convinced that the Sioux would run rather than fight, and he thought they were encamped near the Rosebud Creek. He wanted to attack before they had time to run. Unfortunately for him, they did not have the intel to know that they were severely outnumbered, not did he know that Crazy Horse was a brilliant war chief. The scouts tried to warn General Crook that Crazy Horse would never allow him to attack a stationary village, and he soon learned that they were right.
At around 8:00am on this day, June 17, 1876, Crook halted his force of 1,300 men in the bowl of a small valley along the Rosebud Creek to allow the rest of his men to catch up. The men unsaddled their horses, and within minutes a mass of Sioux Indians converged on them. They were hit by a force of 1,500 Sioux Indians and unbeknownst to Crook, Crazy Horse had an additional 2,500 warriors in reserve. Crazy Horse’s 4,000 warriors outnumbered Crook’s divided and unprepared army three to one. Had it not been for the wisdom and courage of Crook’s Indian allies, the battle would have ended just like the Battle of the Little Big Horn. There were numerous brave acts on both sides, including a Cheyenne girl who rescued her brother after his horse had been shot out from under him. In the end, 28 men were killed and 56 were seriously wounded. Crook withdrew his men. The warriors were emboldened and eight days later they joined up with their tribesmen in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, which of course, wiped out General George Custer and the 7th Cavalry.
Kids seem to think that they are invincible. I don’t know where they got such an idea, but they often take chances without giving a second thought to how dangerous something might be and whether or not they will get hurt…or worse, killed. It has been the same way throughout time, I think. Recently, while visiting my Uncle Bill Spencer, his son Bill asked him if, while walking across a railroad trestle, they had ever encountered a train. Uncle Bill confirmed that they had, and when asked what they did, he said, “We dropped under the trestle and hung on until the train had gone over.” He said that it really shook. Well, I don’t mind saying that my uncle’s revelation made my blood run cold, but when I later mentioned that to my cousin Laurie Carlson Stepp, she told me that she had done that too, and that I shouldn’t tell her mother about it. Well, Laurie, I don’t think your mom gats to read my stories, so I have kept my promise, I think. Laurie told me that all the kids she knew did that, and never gave a thought to whether or not it might be dangerous. Yes, I’m sure that’s right. Kids don’t think about stuff like that. They are invincible…right?
My dad and Uncle Bill, and possibly even my Aunt Ruth, did the same thing. They never gave it a thought…or not that they would admit. When I think about the trestle they were on when the trains came over, the distance to the ground from there, and the fact that there was only a creek at the bottom of that trestle…I cringe. It might be my extreme dislike of heights, or it could be that hanging under a railroad trestle while a train is going over is…seriously crazy!! Nevertheless, you can’t tell kids how dangerous or crazy something is, because they know everything…right! My dad and my Uncle Bill, I have learned over the years, were certain that they were invincible. They messed around with dynamite, walked on railroad trestles, jumped on the trains even though they had a pass, and countless other stunts that make me cringe, but somehow both lived to tell about it…but I’m quite sure they didn’t tell their mother either.
A lot of the chances kids take in driving their cars can be pretty dangerous too. Things like four wheeling up a steep hill. I have seen video after video of people rolling their vehicle trying that one. I’ve never tried that, but I can say that I’ve driven my car much faster than I should have. I think I’ll decline to say how fast, because my mother does read my stories every day, and since I have to see her pretty often, I don’t really want her to shoot me. I can say, Mom, that it was only one time, I was 18, and even my friends told me to slow down. After that, I decided that taking that kind of stupid chance with my life and the lives of my friends wasn’t worth any thrill it might have given. Like most kids, I’m wiser now.
On our trek back into our past, we took a drive to see some of the places my dad’s family had lived, like the town of Holyoke, Minnesota…my dad and his siblings’ old stomping grounds, I felt as if I was walking in my dad’s shoes so to speak…or at the very least traveling along on the same journey he had taken as a young boy. As we drove into the area, I recognized the railroad trestle that my dad and Uncle Bill had played on as kids. We had just talked to Uncle Bill, who told us that when a train came, they would just drop down and hang on, because there wasn’t room enough to stand there while a train went over. They said it shook a lot, and I personally wouldn’t recommend such a thing to anyone.
Our next stop was at the park across the street. This park was a favorite hangout for most of the Holyoke kids, and was located just down the hill from the school, making it convenient for after school ball games or hanging out in the creek that ran through it. The park is in great condition, and looks like it is still used a lot today, but I could picture the little boys, who were my dad and uncle hanging out there with their friends and avoiding the chores that probably awaited them at home.
We drove past the old church that they attended, who’s alter had been built by my Aunt Laura Fredrick’s ex-husband, Fritz. We were very sorry to see the state it was in. The front of the building looked pretty good, but when viewed from the side, we could see that the roof had caved in, and all that was still standing was three sides. That really made me sad, because it was the church they had attended for so many years of their lives.
Heading out of town, we came to a section of red dirt road that went for about a mile or so before returning to the pavement. Our cousin, Bill Spencer, who was our tour guide for the day, told us that his dad, our Uncle Bill and our dad had ridden their bikes to Superior, Wisconsin on this road. That was astounding, in that it was about thirty miles…one way…and they went to town and home in the same day, on the old clunky bicycles of those days. It was here, as we drove from Holyoke back into Superior, that I felt like I was traveling along the same journey that my dad had taken so many times. It was a lonely feeling, in that I really missed my dad right then, but it was also an interesting, in that they had gone so far in just one day.
I think that sometimes, we don’t realize just how amazing our parents lives were. We forget that technology and transportation have come a long, long way since their day. It seems like the work was harder and yet, the times easier somehow. I thought of my dad and Uncle Bill riding happily into Superior to spend the day, and what their plans might have been. Maybe it was just the idea of being free for the day…with no one to tell you what to do, or maybe they were meeting friends. I’ll probably never know, but I do know that it was strange to be traveling the same road to Superior, that dad had taken so long ago.