Rock & Gem


The Original “Adam’s Family” Part II

- By Janie George Duncan

My father, Karl George, was born in 1902 followed by the birth of his brother Marion on what is now known as the JG bar ranch. There is an old family yarn about an incident that occurred at the ranch. When my father was eight years old, an outlaw moseyed up on to the George property on his horse. He dismounted and pulled out a hunting rifle and started shooting at the house. My father’s dad, John, quickly told his wife Jessie and the boys to go hide in the rear of the house while he got his gun out and went up to the second floor. He fired a few shots back, thinking he would scare the intruder away. Well he soon realized he must of have hit him as the dude fell over and wasn’t moving on the ground. John waited a good piece before he went out and realized the drifter was dead. They loaded him up in a wagon and took him into the sheriff in Absarokee and explained what had happened. When they got to town the deputy showed him a wanted poster of the culprit and told him that the outlaw had killed an entire family that were gunned down under similar circumstan­ces. There was a reward on his head dead or alive and John collected $50 for the bounty. That was quite a large sum at the time and Grandpa was the local hero.

The JG ranch was big enough to raise 100 head of cattle each year and when the calves were big enough in the fall, they were shipped by train to Omaha to the stockyards. John always traveled with the cows and the story goes that he had ordered a huge carved wooden dining room table from somewhere back east. He was told it was lost while being transporte­d by train. Two years later, John and his teenage sons were looking around the train yard and found an abandoned box car on a siding. Curious, they looked inside and found John’s missing table with his name on the packing slip!

The JG is on an alluvial plane that stretches up towards the Yellowston­e Park plateau. The land is very rocky, so growing crops was a real challenge. I learned to drive in an old 1940’s pickup truck in the hayfield, which meant dodging the boulders that were too big to roll off to the edge of the field. There is a bounty

of moss agate, jasper and petrified wood to be found and soon John and his sons were avid rock collectors. Both John his brother Marion went to boarding school at Wentworth Military Academy back in Missouri and were well educated. They both served in the National Guard. John’s geology education came from books.

My grandfathe­r and my father both knew of an area where Montana jade was found. I remember going way up on the mountainsi­de somewhere between Roscoe and Red Lodge to look for it as a kid. The area was not too far from the ranch as it was a day trip, but all maps and records have been lost. There is still a Native American burial ground on the property undisturbe­d. I do have some beads and artifacts, found on the ranch, in my collection today. John became an avid rockhound and built a lapidary workshop in one of the outbuildin­g across from the main house. There he taught my father Karl about lapidary.

His favorite projects were making book ends and cutting and polishing stones he found or traded for. He had a special display area off the dining room to show his collection to guests. Many of his specimens are in my basement museum. The discards are in piles up by the tractor barn and I would sift through them hours finding hidden treasures as a child.

During the early years on the ranch, there was a particular­ly bad winter. The snow kept coming far too long into the spring. Cattle were dying due to the lack of food. Grandpa John had good fertile land and had grown plenty of hay. He opened up his storehouse to neighborin­g ranchers to save their stock in the blizzard. Without his help, many would have lost their ranches and these farmers were always grateful for John’s generosity. John organized the adjacent ranches to dig an irrigation ditch that allowed everyone downhill to have fresh water for cattle and hay. On the United States Geographic­al Survey map of the area, you will see the “George” Ditch featured. I always wondered what kind of great rocks he dug up to construct the channel.

John’s land had rich black volcanic soil. The hay grew tall and thick for the cows. Before the tractors, haying was done with teams of horses and wagons. The old hay rack still sits weathering away on the ranch. There is a natural spring just below the ranch house where the water is so cold and pure you could drink right of it as it bubbled out of the ground. When I was a kid, there used to be an old metal milk can set down into the runoff, and it was full of buttermilk. The ladle hung on the side and anytime you were thirsty, you could scoop up buttermilk or ice-cold water to quench your thirst.

Just down the hill from the JG ranch is the Lazy E-L Ranch homesteade­d by Malcolm S. Mackay, a wall street stockbroke­r, philanthro­pist and outdoorsma­n. The Mackay family has worked their ranch for five generation­s. Malcolm was a good friend of Charlie Russell who spent a lot of time in Roscoe and was the area’s most famous celebrity.

The Mackay family donated numerous artworks to the Montana State Historical Society in Helena.

In the summers, John worked the ranch with hired hands. In the winters, he and the family traveled all over the U.S. and Mexico. In their later years, they wintered in Florida. I have many postcards from Cypress Gardens, home of the best water-skiing extravagan­za and the other interestin­g places they visited.

They camped and shared their hobbies of rockhuntin­g, geology, radio and photograph­y with the people they met along the way. I have pictures of the family from the coast of Maine, Washington DC, Natural Bridge of Virginia, sugar cane fields of Florida, Hollywood, Steamships in San Francisco Bay, Pyramids of Mexico, Indian ruins of the Southwest and much more. All my life, I remember my dad never eating pork and beans because he said when they were out on the road, they had beans at every meal when camping.

My father, Karl George, married my mother, Hallie Lutzenhise­r, his second wife, on his birthday in 1933 so he wouldn’t forget the date. Mom was born in 1910 the day that Halley’s comet passed the earth and she vowed to live long enough to see it, and she did in 1986. Mom said the first time she met my dad he rode up on a horse and she remembered his bright red hair. They married in Columbus at the courthouse and that night traveled back to Roscoe where they had rented a one-room cabin. When they got there at dusk the previous renters told them they could not move out until the next day, so my parents spent their wedding night in a hay stack.

According to the family history, the cabin had been used for grain storage, and Dad caught as many as three mice at a time in a trap. When my father took his new bride to meet his mom and dad for the first time, it did not go well. Karl’s first marriage was arranged by Jessie, his mother. It did not last long, and Jessie was mad as a wet hen that Karl married someone she did not approve of. When they visited the ranch, Jessie, who had a terrible temper, chased Hallie with a pitchfork. Thank goodness my mom was a quick stepper! Many years later my sister carried on the family tradition by sleeping in a haystack somewhere in Utah on her honeymoon. My husband, Chris Duncan, and I were married in

the courthouse in Pasadena after the judge had just finishing giving a murderer life in prison with no chance of parole for double homicide. He joked saying he had never given out two life sentences in one day before.

My mother’s side of the family has a interestin­g history too. My great grandfathe­r on her side once held the title of “Wheat King of the World.” The best quality, highest yield, of any farmer in the world. In Hallie’s linage her distant relatives, Sarah and Adelaide Yates married Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese conjoined twins, from Siam, now known as Thailand. They were born in 1811, connected at the waist, and no doctor ever attempted to separate them. Born in a small fishing, village word spread throughout the land of the strange humans. The king requested they be brought to his palace to meet them in person.

There they met Robert Hunter from Scotland, who was in port, trading cargo. He convinced their mother to sell them the boys for $500 after her husband passed away. The young twins set sail for Boston with him as a side-show attraction. The twins never returned home. They had traveled the world as circus oddities, meeting most of the great heads of Europe. Years later they

saved up enough money to buy their freedom from the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. Chang and Eng settled in America and became naturalize­d American citizens under the name of Bunker, the name of an old woman they loved who had helped them.

One of my mom’s other famous relatives was Captain George Yates, an officer in the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment, who was killed in the Battle of the Little Bighorn under Lt. Colonel George Custer. Custer’s Battlefiel­d is located only seventy-seven miles east of Laurel, and has a wonderful visitor’s center. When I was a youngster in Girl Scouts, we went to the battlefiel­d on the train in a cattle car. Looking back, I remember it was a nightmare. Over 100 degrees, no bathrooms in the car, and there was no refrigerat­ion for our sack lunches. It was hell! Not at all like today with our air-conditione­d automobile­s.

My parents, Karl and Hallie, worked hard and built a gas station in Absorokee, Montana. Today, just west of Absorokee, on the road to Roscoe, you will see the sign telling you to turn towards the small town of Nye, Montana. This is where Sibanye-Stillwater Mining Company operates the Stillwater and East Boulder platinum/palladium mines. The United States is the fifth largest platinum producer in the world, with a production of 3.6 metric tons in 2018 produced from the two mines in the Beartooth Mountains.

The area has a history of chromium mining and copper. On a trip to Montana a few years back, I visited the Carbon County Historical Museum in Red Lodge. There is a picture of Timothy and Amanda George, my great grandparen­ts, on the wall when you walk in the door. One of the caretakers there was also interested in rocks and gave me a core sample from the Stillwater mine. I never thought I would have something so rare in my collection. In 1972, the mines were used by NASA to geological­ly train the Apollo Astronauts in recognizin­g a coarse-grained igneous intrusion.

Astronauts who would use this training included Apollo 16’s John Young and Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt. Jack was a profession­al geologist. I have a personal interest in NASA, as my nephew’s wife, Sandy George, won two regional Emmys Awards for upgrading NASA TV into a digital format. She is an electrical engineer and works as a NASA contractor. My nephew, Vance George, helped set up telecommun­ications gateways around the world including Russia. When he was working in Moscow, Vance got to visit a state-run private museum where he was able to touch the reentry capsule that Yuri Gagarin returned to earth on the world’s first manned space flight.

In 1940, Karl sold his first gas station to his brother, Marian George, and moved to Laurel Montana where he built a second gas station, George’s Tower Service.

In the office of the new building, Karl, designed a display area for his fabulous rock collection. He liked minerals, but fossils were the main focus. Karl had to go to Wyoming to buy gasoline from the gas refinery and trucked it back where he delivered it to local farms as well as the gas station.

He timed his weekly trips so that he could go out searching for fossils near Cody, Wyoming where the refinery was located. Dad knew all about the dinosaurs’ bones found there. Wyoming is one of the richest sources of dinosaur fossils in the nation, with many major discoverie­s found in the sedimentar­y rock of the Morrison Formation of the Big Horn Basin.

Millions of years ago evidence shows the current Jurassic Mile Dinosaur Site hosted a good water source and abundant vegetation in which dinosaurs flourished. The Jurassic period terrain was made up by a large floodplain leading to tidal flats on the shore of an inland sea. Along the shoreline, dinosaur tracks have been found in fossilized form. We don’t know how many years my dad searched before his big find in 1938 when he found a three-foot-long dinosaur femur bone. He carefully brought it home where it was the center of his rock room. However, he was never able to find out what kind of dinosaur bone he had discovered. This bone was his legacy left to me and my future generation­s.

My dad was an entreprene­ur. He ran the gas station, built and rented four cabins, repaired cars, television­s, and enjoyed boating and cameras. He offered a film-developing service in our basement and belonged to a camera club.

My brother Gene and my sister Carol were born in the house that my dad built on the main road that ran through the town of Laurel. I came along unexpected­ly twelve years later when dad had planned to retire at the age of fifty. All the Georges have outgoing personalit­ies and love to show our rock collection­s to anybody who is willing to talk to us. My dad, Karl, took many fieldtrips and went rockhuntin­g down on the Yellowston­e River. He hunted for moss agates, petrified wood, ammonites and bacculites. He closed the station on Sundays, because it was rock hunting day for the family.

I remember walking with a bunch of children one day along the riverbank and a boy runs up to my dad and asks what kind of rock is this? My dad said it was a “rabbit rock. Only good enough to throw at rabbits.” He never wanted to hurt a child’s feelings by telling them a rock was worthless.

Another time my dad led a large group of people out into the Pryor Mountains to look for dryhead agate and petrified wood. They left my mom to watch all the children for hours. She tried to entertain the children by having a ball game near the cars. The ball rolled into some bushes and when she recovered it, she found a huge example of petrified wood about a foot across. When the explorers returned disappoint­ed with the day’s dismal discovery, she had the last laugh. Dad named the specimen the “Wishing Stone,” and when guests visited the rock room they could rub the rock and make a wish. This went on for many years.

In 1940, my dad went rock hunting near Shell, Wyoming, a locality famous for its large fossils. The well-known dig-sites in the Bighorn Basin include the Howe Dinosaur Quarry. The “Buffalo Bill Center of the West” also has a long history with Wyoming dinosaurs. My son is named Cody after Wild Bill and the town of Cody, one of my favorite places. In the early 1870s, Buffalo Bill Cody traveled through Wyoming with famed Yale University paleontolo­gist Othniel Charles Marsh. Marsh collected tons of dinosaur fossils and shipped them by boxcar back to Yale. He discovered many spectacula­r fossils in the area while Buffalo Bill guided the expedition­s. Can you picture the Yale party, mounted on ponies armed with guns, and rock picks?

In 1891, Othniel C. Marsh discovered ichthyosau­rs and plesiosaur­s in the Sundance Formation of the Bighorn Basin. These reptiles lived in a shallow, inland sea that covered the area about 150 million years ago. The fossil remains of ammonites, several fish species, clams, oysters, and crinoids are commonly found with these dinosaurs. My dad, while rock hunting on a hillside, scored a huge ammonite almost two feet across. He eventually met another rockhound who had been hunting in the same area. The other collector told dad he also had a very large ammonite half. They talked on the phone many times and came to the conclusion

that both specimens were found on the same hillside. After a few years, the men finally got together, and they each had one half of the same ammonite! Of course, both men wanted the other half, and ultimately my dad traded a quarter of his rock collection to get the complete fossil. Dad researched the ammonite and called it ad on van dos au ru sc he ph lo pod ammo ni te pond a ha us. I am not sure this name is correct, but I had the word memorized by the time I was six, so I could tell daddy’s story of the ammonite. The family historians say that he put it in the back of his pickup truck and drove it to Washington, D.C. on a summer vacation, to the Smithsonia­n, where he had it documented and was told it is the sixth-largest in the world of this species. This is where my love for ammonites started.

Dad loved to hunt for agates in the Yellowston­e river down by Glendive. This is not far from “Pompay’s Pillar,” which is a Cretaceous sandstone rock formation that stands 150 feet above the river. The rock features petroglyph­s and is the only physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark expedition. There you can still see the signature of William Clark engraved in stone on July 25th, 1806. My folks would drive down to the “Pillar” and launch the boat into the river with my mom ready to drive the truck back to pick them up miles downstream. The boaters could hunt the sandbars and areas that you could not reach from the shoreline.

One day my dad and a friend went out on the river. It was springtime which is always the best time to hunt agates after the thaw. You need to wait until the water level drops, leaving fresh deposits visible along the banks and islands. The men hit the mother lode that day and got a little too greedy. They were headed towards the rapids and my dad was caught between “a rock and a hard place.” Keep his moss agates or lighten the load. He did have enough time and when the boat hit the rapids the craft was too heavy and tipped over and sank. Both men swam to shore, walked out to a farm, and called my mom to pick them up. Dad had lost everything. The boat, motor and all the agates! His wallet and keys were buttoned in his front pockets and that was all he swam out with. He and his buddy learned an important lesson that day. As a child growing up, I spent many days boating and rockhuntin­g with my dad. I was pole man. I sat on the very front of the boat and when dad signaled, I would put the pole with one end painted red down towards the bottom of the river. If it hit, it was too shallow, and Dad would raise up the motor to protect it from damage by the propeller hitting the sandbar underneath. He would not let anyone in the boat unless you wore a life preserver and knew how to swim.

He must have taught dozens of people how to swim, from little kids to elderly, and had an amazing ability to give them confidence and not be fearful. Dad also made us wear these red hard safari hats so he could see you in the water if you fell overboard.

I still have mine from when I was a child.

Karl often hosted free picture nights where he showed his travelogue­s and taught geology through slides and movies. He never charged for these shows and he provided them to many groups and on native American Indian reservatio­ns. I remember one time Dad showed a movie and rock display in the auditorium on the Crow Reservatio­n. At the end, when the lights came on, we looked down in horror as all the film on the reel was in a pile about 3 foot deep on the floor and we had to wind it all back on the reel before we could drive 200 miles home in the night. My dad had all the film editing and developing equipment in our basement photo lab.

He also tinted black and white pictures by hand with oil paints and Q-tips. I would sit for hours watching him bring a photo to life.

In 1959 the Hebgen Lake 7.2 earthquake occurred in Yellowston­e Park. The 7.2 earthquake destructio­n was catastroph­ic. My dad documented the quake aftermath from an airplane the following day and taught earthquake geology with a slide show. Although

it is almost 200 miles from Laurel, Montana where we lived, I will never forget waking up when the shaking rolled me off my bed when I was five years old.

When I was in eighth grade my mother’s great uncle Abe died and she received a small inheritanc­e due as old Abe had never married nor had any children. I was born on his birthday and out of all the young’ ins that gave us a special bond.

My mom debated what to do with the funds. She finally decided to buy apple trees for our new house. It was a couple of acres and she got seven trees. Mom knew her apples as she spent ten years living in Lake Chelan, Washington, where her father owned an apple orchard growing up. Soon the trees at our house started producing and all the years we lived there we enjoyed uncle Abe’s apples. Many years later when I married my husband Chris in California, we got a whopping $25 as a wedding present. With that money I bought a lemon and a tangerine tree and today,

40 years later, we are still enjoying the fruits of our marriage. I am telling you I think it is a fine idea.

Sometime in the late 1950’s Grandpa, John George, bought two man made diamond rings on one of his travels. He gave one to his wife, Jessie, and one to my mother. Did you know that researcher­s at General Electric created the first, small, gem quality, synthetic diamonds that could be faceted into gemstones? Initially, they were mostly small and yellow, but the quality steadily improved. My mom’s ring was passed on to me as my engagement ring. Growing up I was told the ring was mine if I graduated from college or got married. I ended up getting hitched. I have had an expert look at it and it is not very valuable as it is softer than a real diamond. It is a pastel yellow in color, and has scratches around the crown, but so few of these early man-made diamonds survived.

Another inspiring person in my life was my brother, Gene, who was 15 years older than me. He built his own telescope and the first observator­y in the state of Montana and in our backyard in Laurel. He went on to become the first glassblowe­r in the United States Army. Near the end of his army career he was able to set up the first laser that was used in research for the government. Gene continued his education at the University of Montana for his degree as a physicist. He worked as a seismologi­st outside of Bozeman, Montana inside an old mining tunnel. I remember going with him deep inside to read the seismograp­h instrument that records the shaking of the earth’s surface caused by seismic waves. It had to be placed on solid rock for the correct readings. He had to carry a gun with him as the rattlesnak­es also liked the cool, dry climate inside the cave. He killed three in one day.

My brother, Gene, also went on to become an optical physicist and invented the measuring device that measured liquid fuel in the Saturn 5 rocket and worked on the camera equipment that took the first pictures of the dark side of the moon. He belonged to an astronomy club with Werner Von Braun.

Gene was a real jack of all trades. He had many hobbies including knife making and inlaid woodwork. He repaired musical instrument­s and designed jewelry. He was a fabulous photograph­er carrying on dad’s hobby. My favorite picture was of an epic battle between a rooster and a rattlesnak­e.

My sister Carol eventually became a camp director using dad’s skills. She was a school teacher and bragged that her dad had taught her how to skin a rattlesnak­e. One week one of her students brought a dead snake to class and she had to show them how it was done. My sister was also a good shot with her rifle and got her own buck at age fifteen. On the way home from the hunt, my dad and sister were stopped by the game warden in Columbus, Montana on the way home. The cop did not think my sister had shot the buck, so he asked Carol to shoot at a highway sign. She nailed it, which much to my dad’s delight, broke a state law for defacing public property. The story was printed in the local newspaper, where she was listed as the new “Annie Oakley.” My sister has been a volunteer for the Billing Police Department for the last fifteen years as a cold case reporter and then as a fingerprin­t processor. My sister and her husband David also wrote a book “History Galore: Ghost Towns and More, which was an accumulati­on of twelve years of research on Montana ghost towns, of which the majority are old mining towns.

As I said, in Part I of this series, my family truly may be the original “Adam’s Family,” with unique characters and stories galore.

 ??  ?? Karl George with son Gene George in front of gas station. Look at the rock and shell pillars Karl built.
Karl George with son Gene George in front of gas station. Look at the rock and shell pillars Karl built.
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 ??  ?? Karl George boating and rock hunting in the Yellowston­e River near Laurel Montana.
Karl George boating and rock hunting in the Yellowston­e River near Laurel Montana.
 ??  ?? Karl George looking for gold in Montana in1926.
Karl George looking for gold in Montana in1926.
 ??  ?? George family tour of Mammoth Cave in 1954. Second row from bottom on the left side Carol Hallie Gene and Karl George.
George family tour of Mammoth Cave in 1954. Second row from bottom on the left side Carol Hallie Gene and Karl George.
 ??  ?? Dad’s bone in picture taken in 1943. Rock cases are in now Janie’s Good Old Days Museum Monrovia CA. Look closely at Karl George varnishing his large ammonite.
Dad’s bone in picture taken in 1943. Rock cases are in now Janie’s Good Old Days Museum Monrovia CA. Look closely at Karl George varnishing his large ammonite.
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 ??  ?? Karl and Hallie George in their first cabin after they got married in 1933.
Karl and Hallie George in their first cabin after they got married in 1933.
 ??  ?? Karl George with the boat he made out of oil cans from his gas station
Karl George with the boat he made out of oil cans from his gas station

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