Great-Grandma Hilda ran cat­tle on the open ranges of Mon­tana.

Be­fore women could vote, she trailed cat­tle by her­self and ran the fam­ily ranch.

Country - - CONTENTS - BY JULIE VERPLOEGEN

My great-grandma Honora “Hilda” Red­wing told us many sto­ries about her days work­ing cat­tle in the Mon­tana Hi-Line, just south of the Cana­dian bor­der. How I wish we’d writ­ten them all down! Hilda, who was in­ducted into the Mon­tana Cow­boy Hall of Fame in 2008, was born in Min­nesota on July 12, 1885. She came to Havre at age 8 with her mother and two broth­ers to meet up with her fa­ther, John. Her mother, Delia, be­came the deputy postmaster and ran a board­ing­house. John filed a desert claim for 320 acres 18 miles south of Havre and built a nice log house in the Bear Paw Moun­tains. Within eight years, they moved to Chi­nook. Hilda was courted by two men, in­clud­ing Ed Red­wing, a rancher 14 years her se­nior. Her other suitor, a tall, lanky cow­boy named “Long” Ge­orge Francis, pur­sued her even af­ter she lost in­ter­est (he left love letters in their se­cret hid­ing spot). When Hilda and Ed mar­ried in 1904, Ge­orge—who ap­par­ently was the jeal­ous sort—stole cat­tle from their ranch. Ge­orge was found guilty of cat­tle rustling, but be­fore he could serve his sen­tence, he drove off the road in a bl­iz­zard and died soon there­after. At the time of her mar­riage Hilda rode sidesad­dle, but it wasn’t long be­fore Ed got her rid­ing astride and wear­ing a pair of bib over­alls. He be­lieved the sidesad­dle was too hard on the horse for all the rid­ing they did, and per­haps was afraid Hilda could get hurt much more eas­ily rid­ing that way. Though she be­came a skilled rider who broke many of her own horses, she wasn’t a roper. She had just enough skill to snare a horse. Back then Mon­tana was open range and live­stock could scat­ter more than 20 miles away from the ranch. Cow­boys spent a lot of time push­ing cat­tle home. One time, Hilda and her young daugh­ter Rose (my grand­mother) found a cow and calf far from the ranch and be­gan trail­ing them. Soon it was too dark to ride any far­ther. Pick­et­ing their horses, Hilda and Rose slept un­der their sad­dle blan­kets that night be­fore trail­ing the pair home in the morn­ing. Hilda trailed cat­tle many times, of­ten alone, while Ed scouted the route ahead in his car. He grazed cat­tle all over, in­clud­ing near Brown­ing, which is 180 miles away, then later in Canada, which was much closer (60 miles). Hilda told of the time a storm came up. She was alone, push­ing the cat­tle in un­fa­mil­iar coun­try, and she needed shel­ter from the wet, blind­ing snow. All she could do was to keep mov­ing the cat­tle and pray some­thing would ap­pear. At last, she spot­ted an old shack on the prairie and took shel­ter overnight. It was the only time I re­call that she ever hinted at be­ing up­set with her hus­band. Be­cause she was out­side so much, Hilda be­gan hir­ing girls in 1910 to tend the house and watch their daugh­ters: Meryl, born in 1905, and Edna “Rose,” born in 1907. Mar­garet came along later, in 1915. When Ed bought a new car, Hilda got a new house, which they started build­ing in 1916. It was two sto­ries high, with 10 rooms, a large porch, mod­ern plumb­ing and elec­tric lights. The en­tire fam­ily—ex­cept Hilda—got the Span­ish flu dur­ing the epi­demic in 1919. It was cus­tom­ary at the time to ride the train when tak­ing cat­tle to market,

and Ed brought the ill­ness home af­ter one such trip to Chicago. Hilda said he al­ways brought some­thing home when he went. Ed and one of the neigh­bors got it the worst, so Hilda took care of both fam­i­lies. In the early 1920s the Redwings had some fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, so Hilda milked 20 to 30 of their range cows. Ed didn’t know how to milk, but he de­liv­ered the whole milk to the Havre cream­ery. One time Ed wasn’t around and Hilda de­cided she would drive her­self into town in the Model T. I’m not sure how far she made it, but she rolled the car and the metal but­ton from the fold­ing canopy landed on her head, cut­ting her ear. In 1948, Hilda and Ed moved to town. She kept busy, though it must have seemed mild com­pared to ev­ery­day ranch life. In town, Hilda cro­cheted and pieced to­gether quilts that are still in the fam­ily. Hilda’s cooking was prac­ti­cal. My dad, Nick Faber, stayed with her dur­ing high school and he said she would bake a cake and serve it plain for a few days. Then she’d add frost­ing. If it still wasn’t gone in a few more days, she would pour hot sauce over the top. Dad said that once he and a cousin were out rid­ing and saw a potato ly­ing on the ground near a gate. Oh, dear, they thought, Grandma lost her lunch. It was a known fact that Hilda would put a baked potato—or even a raw one—into her pocket for the day’s lunch. In her 70s and 80s, Hilda still trailed cows on the home ranch. I’m sure she was happy when there were cat­tle to be moved. She rode in Havre’s Fourth of July pa­rade and in rodeos that gave a spe­cial recog­ni­tion to the older cow­boys. Dur­ing one cer­e­mony, Hilda, who was 85 at the time, broke her an­kle while mount­ing a horse. She in­sisted on stay­ing in the sad­dle un­til the end. Hilda passed away in 1980. Though the homestead was sold in 1986, our fam­ily still ranches. Dad is 80 and shows no signs of re­tir­ing. He was in­ducted into the Mon­tana Cow­boy Hall of Fame in 2017. My hus­band and I grow wheat and raise mostly Black Angus cat­tle north of Havre. We still ride horses, but all-ter­rain ve­hi­cles can cover dis­tances so much faster. Two of our chil­dren also raise cat­tle. Ranch­ing is in our blood.

“In her 70s and 80s, Hilda still trailed cows on the home ranch.”

Ed and Hilda Red­wing were mar­ried for 50 years. They raised three daugh­ters and built a cat­tle busi­ness in Mon­tana.

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