Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mother, by Joan Bochmann

Dorothy Dale (Elkins) Muirhead
Mother, by Joan Bochmann
(Written in March, 2003)
Back row: Hazel, Carroll, Gene. Front Row, Marvin, Dorothy—age 8 or 9, Grandma-Maude, Martha—age 4  

Dorothy Dale Muirhead is a middle child, the fourth child and second daughter of Clarence Claud and Maude Elkins. Another sister and brother were born to this family after Dorothy’s birth. Dorothy is the only survivor of these six children. What a survivor she is!

Born in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, she moved with her family to a ranch near Milner, Colorado. (For those not familiar with the geography, Milner is 10 miles west of Steamboat.) To get to the ranch they had to cross the Yampa River in a wagon. I believe Janet has previously related this story.*

Clarence (I’m going to call him Grandpa from here on out) was in poor health, having been shot with a poison arrow in the Philippines in the Spanish American war. However, he made a valiant effort to support his growing family in what was still something of a wilderness. (Maude (Grandma) learned to fire a weapon so she could defend her family from roving bandits or occasional Ute Indians.)
Dorothy age 4 or 5
However, the harsh winters were probably an even bigger threat. When Hazel, (Dorothy’s older sister) broke her leg in a tobogganing accident, Grandma stayed in Steamboat with Hazel, who was flat on her back for 9 weeks. (Ask Dorothy about how they set legs in those pre-cast days. You had to be TOUGH to survive medical treatment back then. Grandpa took the kids to school by team and sled, but one morning he told Gene and Dorothy—the two youngest—that it was just too cold for them to go to school and told Gene to take care of Dorothy (who was six-years old) until he returned. (By the way, too cold back then was at least 30 degrees below zero)

Dorothy remembers whimpering that she was scared, so Gene, a manly nine years old, assured her he would take care of her. However, he couldn’t resist pointing out either a hole or stain on the ceiling that looked like a big lion. This did little to reassure the frightened six year old, but her brave brother, (who had probably scared himself a bit with his lion stories) got a pistol from under Grandpa’s pillow, and told his little sister not to worry. Just as she may have begun to feel better, the gun went off and Gene shot himself in the kneecap.  Gene, standing in a pool of blood and white as a sheet, told Dorothy that she had to go get help. When she protested that she was afraid, he told her that if she didn’t go, he would surely die. Dorothy put on her coat, but didn’t even think of boots, mittens, or a cap and started across the pasture, up a hill to the nearest neighbor’s house. Mrs. Fields looked out of the window and saw the tiny girl running through the bitter cold morning.

“Something’s wrong,” she told her son. “Ski down and see what’s happened.”
The boy brought the shivering child into the kitchen, and when her story was told, his mother told him to take the horse and go meet Mr. Elkins. “Give Mr. Elkins your horse and bring his team and sled back for him.”

 Grandpa arrived on a dead run, meeting Mrs. Fields and Dorothy at his house where she was tending Gene. Both Gene and Dorothy were transported to Steamboat by team and wagon. They both survived the ordeal, and somehow, Grandma and Grandpa did too.

After Grandpa went to the veteran’s hospital in Hot Springs, South Dakota, Grandma and the kids stayed on the ranch for a while before moving to South Dakota to be near him. After he died of a ruptured appendix when Dorothy was 9 years old, Grandma moved back to Steamboat and sold the ranch to a brother in law.

Dorothy seemed to live in relative safety for a while, except for a broken arm, and appendicitis. She skied with friends all over the Yampa Valley, lettered in girls basketball, played tennis and picked strawberries during the summers.
In December of her senior year, Dorothy was invited to a birthday party for a schoolmate and there she met a handsome young cowboy who lived with his family on a ranch near the foot of Rabbit Ears Pass. He found ways to borrow a Model A often enough to escort Dorothy to dances and other events. (I recently asked Mom if she liked him immediately, or thought he was cute. She said, “oh, yeah!!!) In May, Allen proposed and Dorothy accepted, only to have second thoughts the next day. She wrote him a letter saying they should just be friends.

Wedding Day

 There is certainly a lot more history after 67years of marriage, six kids, 14 grandkids, and the list goes on, but those are stories for another day.

*The story Joan refers to about the river crossing was published, not once, but twice, in a small magazine called “Guide” or, formerly, “Junior Guide.” To make a long story very short, the wagon capsized in the river, and the four occupants—the driver, our great grandfather Luekens; Grandma Elkins; 3-year-old Gene; and Mom (Dorothy), a six- or seven-month-old baby at the time—were in danger of drowning. All survived.

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