Scalese-Ward Family – by Joe Ward
Dell T Hales first came out to Toole County in the spring of 1910. She was teaching near Ipswitch, South Dakota and 21 years old. She’d grown up near Mt. Sterling, in southeast Iowa, on a farm called Clover Home, where her father raised grain and hay and fed cattle for a company out of Chicago. Her father had taken the family west to South Dakota in hopes of getting enough land to make farmers of his three sons. One of those sons, Miller, went on west to look for land in Montana. He found a couple of adjacent half-sections in Toole County. You could homestead half a section in those days, and he figured that if he could get Dell to grab the adjacent half-section, he could eventually buy it from her, and maybe have enough land to actually make a living on. Her motivation was to be to get money to finish college.
But time was of essence. Somebody else could file on the other half-section at any time, and there would go the whole plan. So he got word back to his father that she needed to get on the train west immediately. She got home from school on a Friday afternoon and was told to hurry. Among other things, her father pumped water for a railroad with a line right through their place, and the train was stopped as they spoke. She had 15 minutes to make it. She did.
Miller took her out to see the place and had arranged for her to stay with a family already in residence nearby. She remembered a commotion in the house next morning because the children had forgotten to put out a saucer of water the previous night for the mice. Consequently, two mice had been found floating in the water barrel. They had to haul water a long way in those days in that country, and they couldn’t be too squeamish. The father said the water would be okay if he dipped it out of the other side of the barrel from where the nice were found.
Anyway. Dell T, my grandmother, filed on the half section, and went back to finish out the school year and then came back later in the year to take possession. Miller had some men put up his 12 by 14-foot cabin in a day, but Grandma had a tent up on her half-section. She said she put a bed in the tent and the wind would whip the canvas against the bedstead in such a way that she never could stay in the tent the whole night. She would wrap herself in her blanket and make her way across the dark prairie to Miller’s cabin in the middle of the night and sleep on his floor.
She had moved up to a chicken house – before the chickens took residence – by October. Then, on a trip to Galata for supplies one day, Miller found out she could get a job teaching school in Galata if she wanted to. Galata was just getting started as a town then and the school was in the feed store, across a really muddy street from the boarding house. The teacher who’d been hired for the job had arrived on a train one morning and departed on another that night. So Grandma took the school, about 25 miles south of her homestead. She’d teach all week and then ride out to the homestead on the weekend so that nobody could file against her, arguing that she wasn’t spending enough time on the claim. She said years later that she sometimes had wondered since why she thought anybody would want the place.
But she would go to the livery stable on Friday nights and hire a horse and climb on and ride the 25 miles in the dwindling light, often in frigid temperatures. We, her grandchildren, are in the process of establishing a 25-mile recurring group bike ride to retrace her steps in honor of her effort. Back in 1910, though, as it happened, the guy who ran the livery stable was Frank S. Scalese, an Italian immigrant who had been in the country around Galata for a number of years. He had worked on the railroad through there, then drove freight wagons up toward Gold Butte, where he also worked for a a mining company for awhile. He also was and expert sheep shearer, among other things.
Grandma had met Grandpa at the boarding house. Besides running the livery stable, he also hauled the ever-precious water, and was, Grandma allowed, “Galata’s indispensable man.” He sat at the head of the table at the boarding house, even though it also served a banker and a lawyer. He took a shine to Grandma, and would make sure she had a good horse for the treks, north and was well wrapped in her blanket on those cold nights. Within two years they were married at the hotel in Gold Butte, with the whole town attending. That was to the chagrin of Great-Uncle Miller, who saw his full-section plan disintegrating as Grandma took more interest in her homestead and less in selling it to go to college. Eventually Uncle Miller left the country for World War I, met a woman in Tacoma, and let his part of the place go for taxes. Grandpa bought it, and also homesteaded another chunk on the other side of Grandma’s place.
Scalese rhymed with “Dallas” in the American pronunciation, though I found out years later on a trip to his native village of Borboruso in the hills of Italy’s Calabria – in the instep of the boot – that it’s Sca –LAY-zay there. I ran into a man in a store in Augusta once who had known him as “Sam Charles,” a name he apparently used in his freighter days. The man who told me that story said young men around there in those days often took such names, so that if they ever disgraced themselves the word would never get back to their families. But hardly any of them ever did. We grandchildren thought that the need for an alias was especially humorous with regard to our grandfather, who didn’t smoke and didn’t drink, and – apart from that one bad night at Vaughn Junction when he let six years’ savings from his railroad days go in a card game in about half an hour – you couldn’t have found anything checkered in his past if you’d hired Bulldog Drummond.
Boroboruso is an agricultural village. I met Angelo Scalese there in 2008, one of Grandpa’s nephews, who had a huge garden behind his house on one of the three streets of the place. He also had olives and chestnuts and timber in various places around the village. When my wife and I showed up unexpected Angelo’s wife, Yolanda, went up the street to another of his houses and gathered an egg from the chicken house there, cracked it into some spaghetti with a few vegetables and whatnot to produced the best pasta we’d ever eaten, four- and five-star restaurants notwithstanding. If that’s not agriculture, I don’t know what is.
Grandpa’s father, though, was a railroad employee who contracted labor that helped build railroads in Europe and such as the Great Northern across America. He came to America several times himself, occasionally leaving a son behind each time, but always returning to Borboruso. Grandpa’s agriculture days started pretty much when he was casting about for things to do while freighting and mining in Toole County. He’d given up on one dessert claim and lost one 320-acre homestead before he met Grandma.
Grandma built a house on her place with $350 she had from her South Dakota teaching days. It’s still on there. We grandchildren and great grandchildren put a new foundation under it a few years ago, and once in awhile some of us chase the mice out of it and stay there for a few days.
Grandma and Grandpa moved in there in early 1912 and commenced to doing agriculture. They started off with eight brood sows and a team of Clydesdales and an old jersey cow Grandma had brought from Iowa. The big team didn’t make it through more than a couple of winters in the harsh Montana climate, and their huge bones still lay out on the prairie for grandchildren to marvel at many years later. Grandpa and Grtandma raised a “good crop of oats” that first year, Grandma said, and fed them to the hogs. But they came out at the end of the year with one brood sow and four piglets left. That was the end of the pig business for them. But the old jersey provided good milk and butter for the brood of kids that came along shortly for several years.
They tried cattle, but soon learned that you really have to run through a lot of volume to make any money if it costs more to keep the cows than you get for the calves. They did pick out a few range cows that looked like they might be milkers, and tried selling cream. One of the four children would hold a cow’s head and another rope its hind feet together, and Grandma would milk. Grandpa was often off sheep shearing or hauling the mail or in others of the pursuits it took to keep a place going in those days. They skimmed the cream off and made some money on that for awhile. They also worked out a deal with some people who had a small coal mine nearby to trade butter for coal, and thereby kept the house reasonably warm, and were able to cook.
Grandma had been a gardener back in Iowa and she had Grandpa plow up a piece of land at the bottom a sort of coulee behind the house. She tried all sort of produce, and in short order had a garden she considered to be the equal of any anybody ever raised in Iowa. It not only made her a serious threat at the Marias Fair for many years, but provided a lot of food for the family and enough surplus for some cash-money requirements.. She said the horseradish crop paid the taxes for several years, for example. She would grind it and add her special ingredients, and her children would peddle it door to door in places like Cut Bank. Once two of her boys offered some there to an oil field worker named J. Hugo Aronson – then just a few years into Montana where he famously got his start with an English vocabulary consisting of the term, “ham and eggs.” He scoffed at the boys’ horseradish concoction, suggesting it would be “mild as goosemilk.” But he tried it and was hooked, and years later, after he became governor of Montana, he still joked with my uncles about that underestimation.
The farm also sustained itself with various critters that wandered across it. Antelope and deer added to the larder in pre-fish and game-law days, and hides of various kinds added to the $300 cash money Grandma calculated at one point it took to keep the place afloat for a year. Grandma and Grandpa trapped and skinned enough badgers one year to pay for a Model A car. Their first car, though, was a Model T touring car, purchased in 1914 for $406 to help with the mail route, and described by Grandma this way: “It had a top that folded back. You could take it down. It also had three doors. The man on the driver’s side knew how to jump over the side of the car to get into the driver’s seat, and that was the way everybody else’s Ford worked, so it was all right with us.”
And so it went, eking out an existence. Grandma would get permission from neighboring ranchers to skin winter-killed cattle with her butcher knife for the $5 a hide would bring. She said the enterprising couple never really felt secure on the homestead until about 1925 when the oil interests started moving into the country and leasing rights for cash. Eventually Grandma and Grandpa got about $2,000 a year that way – “for nothing, essentially,” Grandma said -- and it covered their needs, along with what actual agriculture could bring in.
By the time Grandpa died in 1957 the homestead was mostly a sheep ranch. Cream prices had gone south in earlier years, and Grandma and the kids had taken to getting bum lambs from the ranches around, and putting the milk into them instead. The sheep multiplied rapidly and produced cash from wool and lambs. Eventually there were 800 on the place. Cattle peaked out at about 60, Grandma said. The family ate a lot of mutton, right down to the grandchildren. I, for one remember my first taste of beef, which did not taste right. Something missing. Which goes to show you what sort of beast was important on the Scalese ranch.
The Scaleses produced four offspring on the place. The eldest, Frank, died in 1924 at eight. Appendicitis. The nearest hospital, in Conrad, was too far away by the time they realized how serious it was. Grandma spoke poignantly years later of the cactus flowers Uncle Frank’s classmates used to line his grave on the prairie, and of other children who had died young on places nearby, pulling grindstones over on themselves, among other things. “It was part of the price people were paying for their homesteads,” Grandma said.
The second child was Teresa, my mother, who got a few semesters toward her teaching degree before hooking up with another agricultural family down in the Marias River Country south of Chester. They needed a teacher for the Erikson School down there, and the Erikson School would board its teachers with the Ward family. Mom was 16 when she started, a couple of years younger than Walter, the eldest Ward boy. He got to squiring her around to school dances in the country, and a year and a half or so later, they eloped.
The Wards were homesteaders, too. Les Ward, Walter’s father, my grandfather, had come out from Wisconsin in 1910. His father-in-law, Emmett Martell, a French Canadian, had come down from Alberta the year before. They were grain farmers, though Grandpa Ward did his time in livery stables and other jobs as well. My dad remembered his grandfather cutting a sizable field of wheat with a scythe in the ‘20s. The dry years and the crash of wheat prices after World War I put the Wards on an even more precarious footing on their homestead than the Scaleses ever were. Grandpa Ward had to let his claim go for taxes in the early ‘20s, to go over to the mountains near Rexford and make his living logging for several years. Fortunately, Grandma Martell was in a position to buy the place at the tax auction, and he sold it back to his daughter and son-in-law when economics improved about 1927. Grandpa Ward farmed that place until he retired in the late 1940s.
My father went back over to the mountains after his elopement and worked in the woods, teaching Civilian Conservation Corps boys how to use an axe, among other things. Eventually, though, harvest time came south of Chester and Grandpa Ward needed help, and he knew my dad knew what to do. So Daddy was lured back to the wheat country, soon to have his own place near Grandpa’s and to put in many a crop before he officially gave it up in the 1970s. He did have a shot at agriculture down in the balmy Bitterroot Valley in the 1950s, and then spent some time as a truck driver and mechanic, before getting back into the wheat business on Grandpa and Grandma Scalese’s Toole County homestead after they had both died – Grandma in 1975. Teresa’s skills with bum lambs, gardening and teaching got her husband and the 11 children they eventually raised through a good bit of that agriculture.
Dady’s father, Aden, farmed the Ward place for many years, spreading out eventually to land in Canada. His grandson is still farming down on the Marias.
Hales Angelo Scalese was actually the first of Scalese children to get into agriculture off the home place. He went to work on a cattle ranch north and east of the homestead as a young man, and eventually bought up a big chunk of it, where he still raises angus cattle with his youngest son, Steve. They still run some cattle and cut some hay on Grandma’s original homestead.
Tom, the Scalese child just younger than Teresa, went off to the oilfields as a young man, and then moved back onto a part of the homestead to raise hereford cattle for many years.
Teresa’s eldest daughter, Sally, married Joe Evans, who mostly worked in the furnace and roofing businesses, but who raised and milked cows, and kept a few horses, for a number of years at Browning. Their son, Boyd, continues in his father’s business and still has cattle and a few wandering buffalo in that area. His wife, Lila, is a state representative. Another son, Tony, now diseased, was a cowboy, though he moved cattle the modern way, by truck. Joe and Sally’s daughter, Wendy works at KSEN, where she must work a little agriculture news in with the basketball. She married Bob Nielsen, a diesel mechanic who keeps a lot of agricultural equipment running up and down the Hi-Line. In keeping with the family tradition of multi-tasking, he also delivers the Great Falls Tribune.
Teresa’s eldest son, John, worked on dairy and other farms, mostly in the Bitterroot, to make his way through college, and then taught school in Montana, Alberta and Nevada for many years. He usually had a little chunk of ground with a few goats and chickens and rabbits and such wherever he went. In his ‘70s he pulled up stakes and followed a woman to upstate New York, where he lives with her and a few critters.
One of Teresa’s daughters, Margo, a school teacher and later school principal, taught school around Montana and Oregon and Nevada, and eventually married a cowboy. Is marrying a cowboy considered agriculture?
The next child – and that would be I – worked for the Chester Trading Company a couple of summers when I was in high school. Helen Baker, the crafty owner of that establishment, once over bought eggs and got to worrying about having them go bad on her. So she suggested I take a few gross dozen to a larger grocery in Shelby, tell them I was from a farm nearby, and see if I could unload them. It was my first inkling that commerce doesn’t always get done in this country through a strict adherence to the truth. But the grocer in Shelby recognized Helen’s blue, 1955 Chevrolet station wagon, and I was busted on the spot. I hauled the eggs back to Chester, and we sold most of them. Faux agriculture?
Later, I left home as a junior in high school to work on a dairy farm in the Bitterroot, and then went off to the air force and to college. I became a newspaper reporter in Louisville Kentucky, and wrote extensively about tobacco, corn, soybeans, whiskey, and thoroughbred horses for many years. I was called the agriculture reporter. I also taught a couple of semesters at the University of Kentucky, one of the first land-grant colleges.
Caroline, child next younger than me, and Karen, fourth down from there, married brothers – Orville and Steve Forseth – and those families have eked out a decent living on the Fairfield Bench, mostly on land well-watered by a Franklin D. Roosevelt irrigation project. Though, as good Republicans, they don’t bring up the Roosevelt part a lot. Caroline taught for many years. Their son, Clayton, also married a school teacher, and is farming on the bench near his father. Calyton’s sister, Teresa, raised a daughter, Stephanie, who is a newly-minted teacher. Karen and Steve also raised a teacher, Amie. Their son, Stacey, grew up in agriculture but has wandered from that as an adult, and is now working on a railroad. Full circle.