Our last grandparent visit. Harry, of course, is no longer around to tell us what to see, but his hometown, Miles City, has done a remarkable job in saving its past. Many sites around town have plaques describing their history. And, the Range Riders' Museum has been in town for nearly 60 years. Started by a bunch of ranchers who were concerned that the old way of life would be forgotten, it has grown over time to include not only artifacts, photographs, and newspaper clippings, but has a "Pioneer Room", where photos and bios of over 700 Montanans are presented. The requirements: they all came to Montana before 1915, and are deceased.
There, I found my great-grandfather, John Samuel Truscott. He looked robust, with a steely prairie stare and bushy mustache. John was born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1858 (where I went to college!). He joined the Army Cavalry at age 19, and came west with General Nelson Miles in 1877. Gen. Miles had been sent to SE Montana to respond to the Little Big Horn debacle of George Custer. Miles built Ft. Keogh, which was abandoned and become Miles City within a decade. After two years service, John settled in Miles City. He joined the Elks, served on various commissions and boards, and raised 4 children, one of them Albert Truscott, my grandfather.
I remember Grandpa Al as a barrel-chested man who didn't say much, but was good-humored, and handy around tools and cars. My grandmother Helen could sing like a lark, and played the piano to match. She had been a music teacher, spending some time in San Francisco and at the Punahoe School in Honolulu. Their picture in the Pioneer Hall shows them soon before Al's death, with Helen seated at her piano, and Al looming over her, his smile punching thru his bushy eyebrows, his beefy hand resting on her shoulder.
Al graduated from Miles City HS, at the time the youngest graduate ever (my father would beat his record by one year). In 1916/7, he became a Fish and Game Warden, a Deputy US Marshall, and homesteaded 320 acres NW of Miles City, near the Yellowstone River. He found he liked business and city life better than ranching or farming, and became a livestock broker. By the end of the 30's he was lured to Omaha, to become VP of an agriculture bank there. During the war, he went to Seattle, and worked at Boeing, and Washington Iron works, retiring 20 years later to Fremont, California.
My father was born in 1916 (1 year too late to be a Pioneer!). He lived in a house in town, across the street from the grade school, and spent summers at the family ranch, while it lasted. The house site is now the playground for the school. He used to tell me about ice skating on the frozen Yellowstone, and playing on the butte just outside of town. He wrote a bunch of short stories in his 20's (and got a lot of rejection slips for his efforts), setting many of them in the ranch lands outside the town. He went to Annapolis, then on to U of Nebraska and Creighton (where his parents were), and met my mother, who was working at the same bank as my Grandpa Al. There always has to be a reason for meeting, and I for one am glad it worked out that way!
We wandered around town, and got a feel for what it must have been like for Harry; not much has changed there in the center of town in the last 50 years. Miles City boasts a "Truscott St.", named for my family. Intriguingly, it also has an Albert and a McKenzie St., giving me a hat trick in this small town. We took pictures of the namesakes under each sign, sparking the idea that a bizarre hobby would be to find towns with street names the same as you sur or given name, and photograph them. Great way to see the country, but people give you some stares.
Today, the biking was a challenge. First, the wind was 15-25 mph in our face. Second, the distance 102 miles. Third, the landscape was consistent with the Australian Outback. This area is truly a badland. Little grows here but hardy grass. The rolling prairie sits at 2500-3500' elevation, with constant winds and harsh winters. Cattle rule, but sparsely fill, the landscape. Jonathan Raban, a British ex-patriate now from Seattle, last year wrote a book, "Badland", about this corner of Montana. He focused on homesteaders along the Milwaukee Road RR in the 10s and 20s of this century. Lured by the Homestead Act of 1907, which gave 320 acres to families able to work the land for five years, and promises of "dry land" farming on the arid terrain, most of the towns and farms along the railroad failed within 15 years. A better law would have been to give 3200 or 320,000 acres for ranching; then, some of them might have succeeded "proving it up". Our route today followed the abandoned rail bed meeting such modern ghost towns as Vananda (which had an incongruous two story sandstone structure rising out of the vacant prairie lots around it), Ingomar, and Sumatra, which sits at the top of a Tibetan-like plateau.
Once, I rode up to Cheryl (I ws moving slowly today) while she was staring at come cattle beyond a swamp.
She said, "I had nothing better to do, so I stopped to watch these guys. You should have sen them. This cowgirl on a bike comes riding up to them [meaning herself]. They look up, and start to scatter. But they're knee-deep in the swamp, so they sort of lunbered, rather than stampeded. It was the funniest thing." That's the best example I can give, when this was the highlight of her day!
We saw no habitation for the first 65 miles, until we came to the Musselshell River valley. This lush flood plain featured cottonwoods, and the first consistent set of trees since New York. The granite outcrops along the edge of the valley, coupled with the evergreens dotting the heights, reminds us of Central Washington highlands, and makes us eager to get home. We are now out of the prairie, and hope to be truly in the Rockies tomorrow. The day after, we'll be joined for a week by some friends from home, with a daughter Ann's age. That, plus cooler temperatures, shorter rides, and higher peaks, should lift our spirits for the home stretch over the next two weeks.
Have you ever seen cows run? Well, I have and I must say that they run quite gracefully.
We passed through cow (my dad says that it is actually cattle because they are used for beef, not milk) country today and the cows were all bunched up into small herds or grazing with their babies. The odd thing was, though, I don't believe they have ever seen a tandem or even a single bike, and they were reasonably startled when they saw me and my dad riding by them. You know how I know they were startled? Every single cow we saw would look at us for a couple seconds then turn their heads and flipped their tails and dart off into the surrounding hillside (they actually didn't dart seeing as how cows are large and fat and they can't dart, but oh well). Once one cow did this, all the other cows would proceed to do the same exact thing.
I have no idea why this phenomenon happened, maybe it was something I said that offended so greatly (I did try mooing at them, but I can't imitate cows that well). If there is a cow expert out there who is reading this, and you know why this happened, please E-mail us promptly.
Oh yeah, I made a horse rear by neighing at him (I really like neighing at horses because I like them to neigh back). I wonder what I said meant in horsie language?
I will now leave you pondering my last question. (from Cody: apparently she forgot her last question....)
**Next Day's Journal**
Miles: Al (Tandem&single) 102; Cheryl (single) 54; Shaine (Tandem) 19; Ann (Tandem) 10
Total Miles: 2644