Grandparents Herman and Annie experienced a most unusual courtship. Little did they know where life planned to take them in the years to come.
Herman was born in 1890 in Brainerd, Minnesota. He moved to North Dakota in 1911, then to Forsyth in eastern Montana. In 1916, as Europe filled with the winds of war, he arrived in Billings, Montana. He had been hired to be a mail carrier.
Annie was born in 1895 on a small farm in Harlon County, Nebraska. Not even a blizzard dared to delay her birth. Her early schooling was spent in a sod school house. In 1915, her family moved to Leavenworth, Washington where she finished high school, worked in a photo shop, and was employed as a staff operator by the Great Northern Railroad.
Both of their unassuming lives intersected along the railroad tracks of the Great Northern. Herman was traveling to Fort Lewis outside of Seattle on a troop train. He was being trained to serve in the American army which was shipping troops to Europe during World War I.
Along the rail line, many young ladies passed out slips of paper with their name and address. Herman received one from Annie. Later, he sent her a card, and thus began a courtship by correspondence.
The two of them met briefly at Fort Lewis before Herman shipped out to France. Upon returning safely from the war, Herman met up with Annie to be married in 1919.
They moved to Billings where Herman still found his mail carrier job waiting. Together they raised a large family of six sons and two daughters. Ultimately, the siblings witnessed the blessing of 32 grandchildren.
This story recalled the start of my father’s family. Being the youngest child (born in 1935), Jim started a family of his own with the birth of his first child in 1956 (Richard). Eventually the family would number five sons and one daughter. My youngest brother became the final grandchild when he was born in 1967.
During World War II, countless men and women served unselfishly to preserve freedom and a democratic way of life. From a small Montana homestead came one of these true heroes.
Born in 1914 under the clouds of the Great War (now called World War I), Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa was born in eastern Montana where his family was operating a small farm. While the homestead site and local post office (Paris, Montana) disappeared long gone, certain memories will always remain.
Following graduation from Circle High School (McCone County in Montana), Vejtasa attended classes at both Montana State College (later renamed Montana State University) and the University of Montana.
In 1937, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy with the intention of becoming an aviator. In 1939, he earned his wings at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. His first carrier assignment was with the USS Yorktown. In 1942, he was assigned to the USS Enterprise.
Vejtasa’s heroic duty as a carrier pilot earned him three Navy Crosses. He was the only American naval aviator to be awarded medals for both dive bombing and aerial combat.
On May 7, 1942, Ensign Vejtasa earned his second Navy Cross at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Flying a SBD Dauntless dive bomber from the USS Yorktown, he successfully attacked and aided in the sinking of a Japanese aircraft carrier.
On October 6, 1942, Lieutenant Vejtasa earned his final Navy Cross while flying from the USS Enterprise as a fighter pilot. In the Battle of Santa Cruz, he and other pilots provided air cover for the carriers Hornet and Enterprise. Facing intense dogfights with Japanese fighter planes, he remained cool under fire. With courage and precision, the lieutenant shot down seven enemy aircraft.
Captain Vejtasa remained a career officer in the U.S. Navy, and he continued to serve his country until his retirement in 1970.
The following video captured memories of combat as shared by Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa. He described his experiences from the Battle of the Coral Sea.
One of Montana’s most enduring legacies has been the appearance of “3-7-77.” One might ask, what is this?
Right off the bat, the number might resemble a date (March 7, 1977 or March 7, 1877). Does anyone really know?
Historians are not on the same page with the meaning of this number, but most agree that the symbol was first used by the Vigilance Committee of Virginia City, Montana in the 1860s.
In southwestern Montana during the early 1860s, gold fever surpasses the nation’s Civil War in its importance. Even before the Montana Territory is created in 1864, the lure of gold is bringing hundreds and later thousands to the future Treasure State.
Three early gold discoveries set in motion the migration of fortune hunters into the areas of Grasshopper Creek, Alder Gulch, and Last Chance Gulch. Unfortunately, the undesirables often accompany the miners into the territory in search of appropriating gold dust from their rightful owners. Yes, highwaymen and robbers lurk in the shadows, waiting to strike.
In the Bannock and Virginia City areas, robberies continue to be a problem, and eventually miners and others feel a need to create their own methods of policing with quick justice.
In February, 1864, justice comes at the end of a hangman’s rope for 21 villains, including Sheriff Henry Plummer in Bannock. The sheriff is presumed to be working outside of the law in cooperation with a gang of criminals, who have been successfully robbing gold shipments from the mines.
Let’s return back to “3-7-77” and see where this investigation goes.
A few quick questions come to mind:
Is the symbol a warning to other robbers and highwaymen?
Could it be a command for certain roughnecks to leave town?
Do the numbers represent the dimensions of a grave (3 feet by 7 feet by 77 inches)?
Whether used as a warning, code, or cipher, the symbol of “3-7-77” remains pretty much a mystery. Is it just some type of secret vigilante code or something more?
Some historians feel that the Freemasons were quite involved in the organization of the Vigilance Committee. In Bannock, the first lodge meeting takes place in 1862 with “three” founders present. Perhaps “seven” Freemasons organized the Vigilance Committee. At the same time, Mason #77 (last name Bell) died from the fever.
Could the use of “3-7-77” have been a vigilante warning to outlaws to get out of town in 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 77 seconds?
In nearby Helena, were occasional roughnecks sent out of town with a $3 ticket on the 7:00 a.m. stagecoach to Butte by order of a secret committee of 77?
Again, much is left to speculation because many Freemasons were opposed to vigilante actions and were never excited about publically displaying secret codes such as “3-7-77.”
Over time, the symbol of “3-7-77” has been painted on doors, walls, fences. Some suspected criminals, who were caught and hanged, were discovered with a note attached to their clothing with “3-7-77.”
In modern times, “3-7-77” remains visible in one way that many Montanans see frequently. In 1956, the Highway Patrol adopted the symbol as a tribute to the vigilantes, Montana’s first police force. The emblem on their uniform shirts proudly displays “3-7-77.”
Fewer Montanans know that the Montana Air National Guard uses the symbol on their flight suits.
The meaning of “3-7-77” will be debated for years to come, but one truth is clear. The early gold rush days in Montana create an environment ripe for robbers and outlaws. Without any type of organized law enforcement in the 1860s, concerned citizens find a way to take action with the formation of a Vigilance Committee.
Gracing the Treasure State with a magical oasis, Columbia Gardens will always reign as one of Montana’s past gems. Now forgotten along with the “richest hill on earth,” Butte’s utopian paradise hearkens back to its mining past.
Copper ruled Montana from the underground mines of Butte to the State Capitol in Helena. The ore from copper-rich veins even reached across America to influence the nation’s capital. Many knew of Butte, America (the city liked to say).
Businessman and mining magnate, William A. Clark, welcomed an opportunity to gift the mining families of Butte as well as to pave the way to his election as U.S. Senator. He bestowed a magnificent park with every imaginable attraction; while at the same time, he purchased a significant vote in the Montana legislature (U.S. Senators back in the day were elected by each state’s legislature until the 17th Amendment allowed for their direct election).
Built in 1899, Columbia Gardens would eventually grow to cover 68 acres in the city of Butte. Admission would always be free, and concessions and rides could be purchased for a small price. Over its lifetime, the park would never generate a profit. The “richest hill on earth” always paid the bills.
The park became well-known outside of the Treasure State when President Theodore Roosevelt visited in 1903. Thousands would continue to enjoy Columbia Gardens for almost eight decades.
Here’s a quick synopsis of the major Columbia Gardens’ attractions:
Grand Pavilion: Big band music and dancing
Sports Stadium: Baseball home for minor league’s Butte Miners
Roller Coaster: Multiple stories high (built in 1906)
Zoo: Featuring Montana’s wildlife
Various Rides: Ferris wheel, mini train, carousel, bi-planes
Visitors also enjoyed walking the well-maintained grounds. The immaculate park shined as a garden for the ages. Every week one day was set aside as a “Children’s Day” with the emphasis on just plain ol’ fun.
Butte’s slow demise from its greatness as the “richest hill on earth” caved in as the 1970s approached. In 1973, Columbia Gardens closed for good. No longer would summers be filled with the excitement of another season at the park. Copper’s riches had built the park, and now they would take it away.
Downstream from the steamboat port of Fort Benton, the currents of the Missouri River find ways to hide a mystery from the night.
Montana Territorial Secretary, Thomas Francis Meagher, has disappeared late at night outside of Fort Benton. In the absence of the Territorial Governor, he is the acting governor.
What has happened to Meagher on this quiet evening on July 1, 1867?
Traveling by steamboat, Meagher appears to have fallen overboard. His body is quickly swallowed up by the Missouri River’s unforgiving waters, never to be seen again.
No one really knows what actually has happened, or better yet, they are keeping quiet about the dark happenings on this July night.
Meagher is known to be a heavy drinker. Is he killed in an accidental drowning when he mysteriously falls overboard?
Or did he succumb to suicide provoked by disillusionment with his shattered, personal dreams?
With many enemies, perhaps Meagher is murdered aboard this steamboat, and his body is forgotten as it conveniently floats far downstream in the swift currents of the river.
This “immortal” Irishman’s life is honored with a high degree of irony. In an unusual tribute for a relatively unknown man with a dubious past, a statue of him is erected in 1905 and placed on the grounds in front of the State Capitol in Helena. In the central region of the state, Meagher County is named for him.
Here are a few additional facts about Thomas Francis Meagher:
He is born in Ireland in 1823.
As an Irish nationalist, he participates in the Rebellion of 1848 and is sentenced to serve in a Tasmanian prison. However, he escapes in 1852, and eventually ends up in the United States.
During the American Civil War, he joins the Union Army as part of the “Fighting 69th” Irish Brigade. He rises to the rank of brigadier general.
Following the war, his dreams take him to the Montana Territory. In his future, he hopes to build an Irish-Catholic colony and pursue a career as a U.S. Senator.
The longest river in the United States is the Missouri River, and its headwaters are found in southwestern Montana near the town of Three Forks. The 1930s and the Great Depression held the Treasure State in its catastrophic grip, but economic relief was on the way.
The rest of the story takes place in northeastern Montana, not far from the communities of Glasgow and Nashua. Here the largest construction project in the state’s history would create a man-made lake covering 134 miles with 1,520 miles of shoreline. By far, this lake would be the largest in the state.
With the blessings of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, construction of the Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River began in 1933. This massive undertaking would finally see completion in 1940 as World War II was tearing the European continent apart.
Providing work for nearly 11,000 displaced people was the driving force behind the project. Several small towns sprang up near the construction area: Fort Peck, Square Deal, New Deal, Park Grove, Delano Heights, and Wheeler. Today, only Fort Peck and Park Grove remain.
Fort Peck Dam is the world’s largest hydraulic earth-filled dam. Dredge cuts in the area remind one of the searches for much needed mud and earth to be used in building the dam.
Here is a sampling of a few facts about the dam.
The dam’s length is about 3.5 miles, and Montana Highway 24 runs over it as well as the spillway.
The spillway is actually three miles east of the dam. The first cover of LIFE magazine (November, 1936) featured the mammoth spillway under construction.
Four diversion tunnels go under the dam to bring water from the reservoir to the hydroelectric power plant. Each is about a mile in length and 24 feet in diameter.
Fort Peck Lake provides six recreation areas, numerous fishing and boating access sites, and an interpretative center and museum (found near the power plant).
On a personal note, I had the privilege to know Joe Morin who worked on the construction of the dam. Here’s a quote of his, “Everybody knew what a massive project it was, but everybody was so thankful to have a job.” Joe’s work ethic would serve him well for the rest of his life, with most of it spent in Montana’s McCone County.
Montana’s PBS has produced a well-received documentary about the Fort Peck Dam. Even if one doesn’t have time to view the entire video, the first few minutes capture the magnitude and significance of this construction project to the people of northeastern Montana.
Here are links to the previous two posts featuring more Big Sky Treasures:
During my teaching career, I taught 25 years in the eastern prairie country of Montana. Today, many small farming communities struggle for survival while others such as the one in this poem live on only as memories.
Early spring foliage surrounds the tranquil setting of Walnut Creek in central Ohio.
Here is the massive spillway of the Fort Peck Dam in northeastern Montana. The dam was constructed in the 1930s as a Public Works Administration project to create jobs during the Great Depression. Life magazine’s first cover (November 23, 1936) displayed a photo of the spillway under construction along with an article about the boom towns which grew up around the dam site. (Click on this link to read more: Fort Peck Dam
An autumn walk discovers this “huge” hole in a tree trunk, perhaps created by a woodpecker and now providing a home for a nest. My camera enjoys making journeys to nearby nature parks such as Chestnut Ridge Metro Park.
My Bobcat Spirit lives on (Class of 1978). This collage of photos was taken inside of the Strand Union Building on the campus of Montana State University. The city of Bozeman and the MSU Bobcats will always be part of my memories.
Peeking through the shadows of the thick vegetation, bright sunlight captures a meadow filled with tall, lush grass. There are many scenes like this one to be found when walking the trails at Chestnut Ridge Metro Park near Columbus, Ohio.
Capturing the crashing surf along the beach at Ocean City, Maryland. This picture reminds us that God’s creation continues to thrive and bring us hope.
The village of Oxford offers a unique bed and breakfast experience on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Oxford Inn combines warm hospitality, charming and simple rooms, and a delicious breakfast menu. A limited dinner menu is usually available on certain nights of the week.
A view up one of the peaks at Big Sky Resort in Montana. Big Sky offers impressive skiing conditions, and it rates as one of top skiing destinations in the U.S.
A restored car from yesteryear proudly shows off in the annual Labor Day Parade in Pickerington, Ohio.
Welcome to a Bozeman tradition, and one of Montana’s treasures. The small sandwich shop on the right is the Pickle Barrel, famous for its delicious sub sandwiches. This building used to be a barber shop before being renovated into a sandwich shop in 1974. The shop is located on West College Street across from Montana State University. If you visit, remember to retrieve a fresh pickle from the pickle barrel. Your sandwich will thank you.
An early morning sunrise awakens around a farm in central Ohio.
From an overlook along Interstate 68, one finds an impressive view of the Youghiogheny River, which creates a natural border between West Virginia and Maryland.
A picturesque Montana scene as the Yellowstone River flows eastward with a background of trees, hillsides, and mountains.
Near Westerville, the Hoover Dam provides the city of Columbus, Ohio and surrounding communities with much of their water supply. Completed in 1955, the Hoover Reservoir uses the water from Big Walnut Creek for a multitude of recreational opportunities as well.
The Madison River canyon is the site of a major earthquake which occurred in the Hebgen Lake area on a quiet summer evening in August, 1959. Pictured on the other side of the highway, one can still see the scar left on the mountainside when a quake-induced landslide tore away the face of the mountain.
Foggy conditions surround the giant sycamore tree at Walnut Woods Metro Park in central Ohio. This is one of my favorite places to walk, and adding fog to the mystery of the park is a welcome opportunity for my camera to capture.
A unique summer moment is captured with a praying mantis who is enjoying the sun while resting on the door of my automobile.
Long Wharf along the Choptank River at Cambridge, Maryland offers a fascinating bit of history. Pictured is the FDR Smokestack Memorial, and it is the honored resting place for one of the actual smokestacks from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Presidential yacht, the USS Potomac. The ship was equipped with two smokestacks, but one was covertly converted into a simple elevator to allow FDR (stricken with polio) to move his wheelchair between decks.
What do you think? Does this rebuilt cabin look ready for use? At least, there is a small pile of firewood and useful work table outside. The roof may need some work before the next rain. This scene was captured in Nevada City, Montana (located a “gold nuggets” throw away from its larger sister community of Virginia City in history-rich Madison County).
An early fall setting is captured at central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park. The landscape colors are beginning to change as images of the sky’s clouds reflect in the pond.
A peaceful and tranquil Hebgen Lake is captured in the late afternoon. The lake is created by a dam on the Madison River (dam is pictured in the background). Hebgen Lake is located in southwestern Montana, not far from Yellowstone National Park.
Walking along the beach at Ocean City, Maryland and finding an amazing and inspiring sand sculpture.
Chestnut Ridge Metro Park is one of gems in the park system surrounding Columbus, Ohio. The distinctive fall colors illustrate a dynamic presentation of God’s creative spirit.
Viewed from its western face, Sphinx Mountain is a well-known landmark in southwestern Montana’s Madison Range. With its elevation of 10,840 feet, the mountain brings an imposing presence above the valley below.
Autumn’s colorful scenery arrives at Walnut Woods Metro Park in central Ohio.
Southwestern Montana’s landscape offers the diversity of grassy valleys, wandering rivers, tree-lined foothills, and majestic mountains (still with a splash of snow in July).
An abandoned corn silo stands watch over a corn field which is ready for harvest in central Ohio, just minutes outside of Canal Winchester.
Following the highway between Ennis, Montana and Hebgen Lake, offers many venues for a photographer’s camera lens to capture. The entrance to the Mill Creek Ranch offers plenty of contrast with blooming sweet clover along the road along with the Madison Range of mountains in the background. Notice the snow still clinging to a few of the north-facing slopes (picture was taken in July).
The rising sun illuminates a small boat checking crab pots (traps) on the Choptank River near Cambridge, Maryland.
Late summer brings bright colors to the wooded areas of nearby parks in central Ohio.
A walk down the main street of Ennis, in southwestern Montana, offers views of some of the most unique storefronts anywhere. One can see and feel the passion of the community’s proud heritage and way of life.
A peaceful and tranquil garden is found late in the summer in the village of Lithopolis, which is located south of the Columbus, Ohio metro area.
A drive through the Hysham Hills along Montana’s I-94 offers contrast between the grasslands and ponderosa pines dotting the hillsides. The ponderosa pine is the state tree of Montana. This photo was taken about an hour’s drive east of Billings.
An April view of tranquil surroundings along Walnut Creek in central Ohio.
Pausing for a moment along Montana’s Madison River (between Ennis and Hebgen Lake), offers a scene of tranquility and beauty.
A massive American Sycamore tree is framed by surrounding trees at Walnut Woods Metro Park in central Ohio. The tree may be over a hundred years old, and it is a well-known landmark at the park.
Growing in Chestnut Ridge Metro Park in central Ohio, many hikers stop and admire this unusually shaped fruit growing above their heads. The pawpaw tree is a native tree to Ohio, and its fruit is a vital part of the food chain for many types of wildlife. The fruit offers a unique taste that is somewhere between a mango and a banana.
Just down the road from Ennis, Montana, visitors will find Virginia City as well as Nevada City. Both communities contain rich artifacts of history from the gold rush days of the 1860s and 1870s. This small cabin was probably moved into Nevada City, but it represents some of the housing found during the time period.
Blooming flowers announce the arrival of spring at Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park.
In downtown Billings, the unique architecture of the Western Heritage Center stands as witness of the city’s rich and diverse history in the Big Sky Country. Built in 1901, the structure originally provided a home for the Parmly Billings Memorial Library.
Nature shows off her green splendor and sends peaceful vibes outward on an early June morning at central Ohio’s Walnut Woods Metro Park.
The Beartooth Mountains frame the background above a Montana valley. If one looks closely, snow is still hiding in the upper ridges of the peaks on a mid-summer afternoon.
The green, lush vegetation welcomes all to central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park where anyone feels in harmony with God’s creation.
Visiting a shop in Montana’s historic Virginia City, a person just might happen to find this fine gentleman offering greetings to all who drop in.
A foggy, misty morning outlines a beautiful framed image of a spider’s web between the posts on the Big Run bridge at central Ohio’s Walnut Woods Metro Park.
A roadside stop allows a moment to capture the scenic view along Interstate 15 in Montana between Great Falls and Helena. A highway bridge that was constructed in the 1930s is visible at the bottom of the narrow valley.
Arrival of flowers marks the return of spring to Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park.
Montana’s Holter Lake offers many types of recreation for anyone with a boat. A small marina is shown (from the summer of 2018), and the lake is located near the small community of Wolf Creek.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is well-known for its outstanding array of wildlife from around the world as well as its animal conservation efforts. The “Heart of Africa” exhibit displays the African savanna as one might find it . . . filled with village life, giraffes, zebras, and so much more.
A final look back at winter as shown near Lone Mountain in the Madison Range near Big Sky, Montana. As one looks at the far peaks in the background, think of the snowmelt that will soon fill the raging whitewater in the Gallatin River.
Summer shadows greet any walker at central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park. This photo was taken from a trail through the trees into a grassy meadow.
This summer garden comes from Billings, Montana at the Moss Mansion, which is an historic house now maintained as a museum.
With winter fading away in favor of the spring season, thoughts will soon be thinking of beautiful wild flowers and rich green fields. This photo was taken last summer at Chestnut Ridge Metro Park in central Ohio.
My youngest daughter and her husband completed a winter hike into Hyalite Canyon south of Bozeman, Montana. The popular recreation area is located between the Gallatin Canyon and the Paradise Valley.
The Polar vortex and repeated snowstorms in central Ohio have made the winter of January-February, 2019 one to remember.
The beauty of western Montana is captured at Holter Lake, near the small town of Wolf Creek. The lake is a popular summer recreation destination as seen in this photo from late July of 2018.
These Canadian geese seem immune to the polar vortex and snowfall in central Ohio.
A February snowstorm moves over the summit of Lone Mountain in southwestern Montana. The Big Sky Resort occupies the mountain, which is well known for its first-class skiing in the wintertime.
Ohio’s winter blankets the ground with a fresh coating of snow. The Canadian geese on the pond don’t seem to mind winter’s arrival.
Pioneer Falls in the Spanish Peaks of Montana’s Madison Range is expertly captured by my daughter and her husband on one of their wilderness hikes.
An early autumn sunset dazzles and amazes as night arrives in central Ohio.
Central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park in full summer foliage.
My youngest daughter and her husband are avid skiers. They took this picture of Blaze Mountain in the Spanish Peaks of the Madison Range of southwestern Montana. They have skied the backcountry ski line a few times during the summer. The beautiful and long snowfield fills a small gully that runs down the northwestern face of the mountain. Skiers have to hike to the snowfield, but for an avid skier, it is well worth the effort.
A view of downtown Billings, Montana from this past summer. Notice the smoked-filled sky in the background; the smoke came from fires far from Billings.
From Walnut Woods Metro Park, the landscape has changed from the bright colors of autumn to the gray and barrenness of the coming winter.
Summer’s clouds create shadows that cover part of the vast countryside near the Little Bighorn Battlefield in southeastern Montana.
A nesting pair of Canadian geese prepare to make a new home this past spring.
Autumn’s leaves have fallen, and winter is on the way at central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park.
Soon the mountains of the Big Sky Country will be filled with snow just as seen in this scene from last winter near Lone Mountain at Big Sky, Montana.
An autumn sunrise illuminates the beauty of Ohio’s Walnut Woods Metro Park.
Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park during mid-summer.
A late July view of the Gallatin Valley, just outside of Bozeman, Montana.
The images and traditions prior to the start of an Ohio State University football game. This photo was taken by my daughter who attended the game with her husband.