Saturday, March 26, 2011

Poetess in the Family, Part Three.....Ruth Harvey Douglass

In this third installment of the stories and memories of Ruth Harvey Douglass you will read some more of the heartfelt poetry that Ruth wrote. Her "Canyons of Wyoming"   is particularly meaningful to all of us as most of our family has visited the old homestead areas near Albin and LaGrange, Wyoming and marveled at some of the beautiful scenic lands which Ruth recalled in her poetry.

She did such a good job of putting her memories down on paper and added many of the little details about her parents: James William Harvey and Fannie Lee Harvey that made them come to life from the pages. Her siblings: Elmer, Myrtle, James, Earl, and Mary all played important roles in her life and are fondly recalled in her memories. I hope everyone has enjoyed reading about a  little bit of the history of Wyoming as told through the recollections of Ruth.

Part three of  Ruth's memories and poetry:


Could I but walk again the paths of yesterday
Would they be the same or would they have changed?
My childhood footsteps blown away or are they still there
Among the flowers as I ran along that day?
Would trail herds still come up the hill
From ranches near LaGrange or are these, too, dust?
Do saddles still hang on the old corral
And cowboys still sing in the bunkhouse there?
For these were the boys of the old frontier
Clayton and Henry and Sharkey, too.
A cowboy named Curley who was the best
At story telling…I see him yet.
Sixty years have passed since then, and things
Would not be the same for all are blown away
In the wind.

We had very few Christmases at our house but one year mother said we could get a tree, provided we got a pine tree as she didn’t like the smell of cedar.  So Earl and I went after a tree.  We then had nothing to trim it with, but Myrtle had sent a box and there were handkerchiefs for all, so we draped them over the bunches of needles.  For me she had made a sewing box out of cardboard covered with green flannel with needles and pins in the underside of the lid and a little pair of shears.  How pretty it was and very neatly made.  One other year she sent me a doll which I had until after I was married and the children broke it.  I don’t think our mother ever had time to make a gift with seven of us to look after.  One Christmas the folks gave me a sled.

I remember a time mother and I sat under a pine tree along the rim of the canyon and the wind sang in the tree tip.  My mother began to cry and I asked why and she told me she was sad…had to leave her home State of Iowa, her friends, her married daughter, and the grave in the cemetery in which our baby sister, Dora, had been placed.  She never did get to see that grave again.  She was so sad it’s no wonder I remember so well the sighing of the wind.
James William Harvey and Fannie Lee Harvey, the parents of Leila Ruth Harvey Douglass, our Poetess

Along about then, Elmer decided he wanted to buy a steam plow and do plowing for others to help pay for it.  He went to Denver and bought a large outfit which cost a lot of money.  He also had to hire extra help to run it.  Then the Andersons decided to buy their own as they had so much land under cultivation and they too, plowed for others so this cut the profit Elmer had counted on making.  He still owed quite a bit on it and soon came in danger of losing the whole thing so Ed came to the rescue and sold his place to finish paying for the steam plow.  That ended the time of the steam plow and last I knew, it was sitting in a field, a pile of rusted metal.

Once when the men were moving the big steam engine, John Adcock wouldn’t let them cross on any of his land, causing them to have to go along the edge of a deep canyon with danger to themselves as well as the machine.  When Mother found that out, she was mad and she said “you just wait.  He’ll want a favor some time”.  And sure enough, one day he came to get her to go help them with a new baby and sickness and my mother said “No”.  This was very unusual, for my mother went where ever she was needed and many babies were brought into this life by her and without any Doctor.

I don’t know if I have told of the wild flowers in the canyons.  There were harebells of blue, sego lilies, a sand cherry that was about the size of a man’s thumb.  They grew close to the ground and had blossoms like plums.  The cherries tasted like chokecherries, only sweeter.  Another flower grew about eighteen or twenty inches tall and had light green leaves which would stick onto your dress without a pin.  These flowers were white, a white poppy that you couldn’t pick due to the white milk that ran out of the stems and was very sticky.  One bank was covered with fern and we called it “Fern Bank”.  Mary and I used to sit there in the shade.  A turtledove had her nest close by. 
She never was there much only to lay an egg and hatch one bird, then that little bird hatched the rest of the eggs she had laid.  A modern day babysitter.  She never was afraid of us.  In draws where water would run after a rain, nearly always we could find yellow sweet peas.  There were ground cherries, too, but they always grew where you didn’t want them.  Once we had a very hard rain and hail, water ran deep in all the draws and into the canyons.  After several days I heard a loud noise and the edge of the canyon had caved off.  It was a good thing I wasn’t there looking over the edge.

‘The Canyons of Wyoming’

The incredible stillness in the canyon depths is only broken by
The soft songs of unseen birds or a few pebbles, falling from some
crevice to the floor below.

Beneath the protection of overhanging ledges the ancient ones who
lived here so long ago walk again through these canyons.  Near
the spring of soft, cooling water the smoke from cooking fires
rose upward to mingle with the white clouds that drifted
overhead, proof that this quiet and peaceful place was once
populated with dreamers such as me.

I Love you, canyons of Wyoming…….

Over yonder butte black clouds form with distant lightning and thunder.
Sheets of rain are falling and prairies are running deep with water.
The distant roar tells that it is dashing down through the canyons
in its race to the floor below, only to disappear into the sand. 
As suddenly as they came, the storm clouds vanish
and the sun emerges to guild every blade of grass,
every pine tree with fairy jewels.  Birds sing again,
white clouds float across the sky to fade away into the distance.

I Love you, canyons of Wyoming…….

In the coolness of the evening, soft winds blow and a million
stars blossom in the skies…seems we merely need reach up to
touch them.  The call of a night bird and sounds of coyotes in
the far distance breaks the stillness.  Where once I roamed there
is now lonely emptiness and the stillness is only broken by my

I Love You, Canyons of Wyoming

We had quite a few horses by now…some good ones and some not so good.  One big black that was Elmer’s never could be counted on for he might do anything.  Once he rose up in the air and almost hit me as he came down.  He did hit a little fluffy duck of mother’s and that big old hoof flattened the duck out as thin as paper.  Old Dan broke his leg going through a deep snow drift and had to be shot.  Ed had a beautiful brown mare he was keeping to raise colts and someone stole her and we never did find her.  Ed had a horse named Frank, too, that we could ride or drive.  He never could be trusted either!  Elmer bought a big black stallion named Rex and we liked to watch him run in circles around Elmer on a long chain.  Earl didn’t have much of these things and left home to take a homestead near Slater, Wyoming where he got his start.  Ed also left and located near Earl.  Ed had married Helen Douglass and Earl married Hilda Larson.  Elmer married Lou Edminston.

I have, no doubt, missed many of the things that should be written about.  We could still find buffalo skulls on the prairies, we could tell the difference by the shape and the short horns.  There were no antelope or deer around by 1904 and the men used to go over north of “Old 66” to hunt them.

Uncle Pete killed a deer with a single shot Winchester rifle, 44 caliber, and he was probably a hundred yards away.  He missed the first shot and the deer ran over to the canyons southwest of where we lived.  Pete, Ed Anderson and his brother, followed it and killed it about a mile west of John McMann’s house.  The second shot hit the horn and the deer turned around and came right back by Uncle Pete, which gave him time to reload that single shot rifle and the third shot he got him right through the heart.  That was the last deer that was ever seen in the country around Albin.

I remember my Grandpa Lee. (1)  He was well known to the early residents of the Pine Bluffs area as he was one of the very earliest settlers and endured all of the harsh privations and hardships that always come to new countries.  He saw this section develop from a land of buffalo grass and roaming herds of cattle to a modern farming community with rural mail routes, telephones, truck transportation and so forth.  He came to Wyoming in 1889 and settled on a homestead twenty miles north of Pine Bluffs.

Grandpa raised a lot of chickens and he wouldn’t let Granny kill one.  If she got to eat one she killed it when he went to town and she put the feathers in a pail back of the stove and buried the head in the manure pile.  If Pete and grandma wanted a hen to cook, Pete would take the gun and yell “an old hen crowed”, and would run out and shot one, as Grandad said it was bad luck for a hen to crow.  A pretty sneaky way to get a chicken, wasn’t it?

Granny had to use white pepper for if she used black pepper, Grandpa wouldn’t eat the food.  I many ways he was so unkind and so disagreeable but Granny was always so serene and happy…She never acted as though she heard what he said.  She had red hair and brown eyes.  She told me that in those early days the blizzards were so bad that they set posts on the way to the barn from the house and had a w ore on them so they could hold on to it to get from the house to the barn as they had to walk with their backs to the storm and couldn’t see where they were going.  The snow was so fine and the wind so fierce it would just take your breath.

The incident of the Grey wolf, as told to me by Granny Lee.  It was getting dark and there was a terrible blizzard outside.  Pete had gone to the barn t o feed the horses and on the way back to the house, a big grey wolf chased him clear to the door.*  As Pete dashed through the door, he slammed it shut on the wolf’s head.  In the excitement they never thought of the gun and Grandad was beating the wolf on the head with a stick of stove wood.  The wolf finally jerked loose and got away.  Considering this happened in the year 1889, it could have been possible and I have no reason to doubt Granny Lee’s word.  At that time they were living in a dugout on one of the Anderson places before they filed on the homestead.
*(Earl Harvey, Ruth’s brother, said the wolf chased the dog to the door, not Uncle Pete).

A trip to Aunt Mary Jackson’s house at Bayard, Nebraska.

As mother had not seen her sister for so long, the family decided to go visit them.  All of us were packed into Grandpa Lee’s covered wagon with Granny sitting right in the middle of the wagon bed.  Grandpa and Pete were on the seat, so mother, Mary and I were filling g in the rest of the spaces along with food and extra cots to sleep on.  It must haven been late in the fall…November or December, because it was cold.  Of course, Grandad had his usual nit so was feeling pretty spry.  We were warm in the wagon but cramped.

We drove all day and when we came to Pumpkin Creek it was frozen over and Grandad yelled, “Look Out, Old Maude is going to Jump”!  She did and when the wheels hit the ice they broke through and a cot fell over and hit Mary on the ear and she let out a blood curdling yell.  We stayed all night with some people and it was so cold that the telephone wires sang all night and I didn’t sleep much.  We all slept on the floor.

We went through a range of hills and a place called “Wright’s Gap.”  Only one wagon could go through at a time, so Pete walked through to see if the other side was clear before we started through.  Mary and I walked and the tracks through the sandstone were worn down until they were hub deep by so many wagons going through for so many years.

I can’t remember much more about the trip, although we did see frozen wild pumpkin vines along the creek and the prairie grass was the color of dead grass and clean as though it had been swept with a broom.  We spent Christmas with them and all of us went to the Church to hear the program and see the tree.   No gifts were on the tree but each got a mosquito-bar sock of treats, some were red and some were green.

Aunt Mary had quite a few children so we had a lot of fun.  Going at that time of the year was pretty risky but we got home without any trouble.  I can’t remember all of the Jackson children's names but there was J.D., Grace, Daphne, and Merle.  J.D. passed away many years ago and as far as I know, all live around Bayard except a baby, Helen, who was born after we were there and she lives in California.  Grace married a Robert Cleveland.  She also taught school for several years.  These children always loved us and all came that could, when Mother and Father passed away, showing a bond of relationship that can’t be equaled.  J.D. was only named J.D., so in later years he named himself John David.  He said he didn’t see why anyone would name a baby just two initials…J.D..

About 1906 Wad and Mary Robinson came from Iowa to homestead and they were friends of our Grandparents so they lived with them until they had a place.  Wad was a great hand to pretend he was sick so he could lie in bed.   He was always asking his wife to bake him a hot apple pie before he got up.  Wad and Mary had a parrot called “Teddy” and they left him with our Grandparents a lot.  He said a lot of things like ‘Teddy wants a strawberry” or a cracker.  Took a bath and washed his feed in his water cup.  Once when the men went to town and came home, Pete said, “Do you know what we forgot?  We forgot the tobacco.”  And Teddy started that silly laugh of his and repeated “They forgot the tobacco.”

Granny Lee used to tell me many things about their lives and the trip they made to the Jackson Hole Country from Iowa in a covered wagon in 1895. (1)  I was but one year old.  She spoke of Fort Laramie as ‘old’ then.  I have been to Fort Laramie several times and I even attended a dance there in “Old Bedlam.”  All of my poems seem to be around these things in the past and when I realize that Earl, who is 80, and I am now74, are all that are left in the the golden chain of our family, I am really sad and lonesome.  Many, many of my days are spent in quiet thinking and my love of letters to and from friends.  Also, I think of the many, many who should be living today, for they were not old when they went away.

Ruth Harvey Douglass

 There will be one last chapter to "Poetess In the Family.....Ruth Harvey Douglass" to follow next week.

Poetess In the Family, Ruth Harvey Douglass- part one: here
Poetess In the Family, Ruth Harvey Douglass- part two: here
Poetess In the Family, Ruth Harvey Douglass- part four: here

(1) Hannah and Milton Lee's story is told in "Hannah Lee's Overland Journal"  , a three part article which may be found here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

All stories, poetry and photographs in this series are owned and copyrighted© by the Harvey and Hopkins families and may not be reprinted without the permission of the family. Contact clchopkins[at]gmail[dot]com


  1. I love her stories.How lucky you are that she cared enough to write them down.