Flash fiction story published by Reflex Fiction, November 2017 LINK
Flash fiction story published by BRILLIANT Flash Fiction, June 2017. LINK (Scroll down for my story)
Anthologized in: “Hunger: The Best of Brilliant Flash Fiction: 2014-1019,” October 2019
Further posts in this series:
Rule, Colo. 3.12.19
I received your letter a couple of weeks ago, but have been busy and didn’t notice how long it had been. Cattle are pretty thin and have to be watched mightily closely to see that they get to feed and don’t stray too far.
The loss has been very light, think I’ve only lost about 10 so far and if the weather will just partly behave from now on there should not be much more loss but most everything is thin now, even the range horses are weak so of course the cattle are bound to be thin.
I was in town last week and got the Heckler papers straightened out and ordered the abstracts. I expect that I’ll buy that land this spring, as he is going to leave and I can’t afford for anyone else to get the place. There are several places around me that are going to be for sale as soon as they are “proved up” and they are sure making me figure. Don’t want to buy anything that I can get a lease on.
Yes, I’ve been getting a novel every once in a while, and am ashamed ashamed that I’ve never even acknowledged the receipt of them but I always write in a hurry so forget about them. The Four Horsemen didn’t come but the W______ did come about that time. I’ve started to read it but have not finished it yet. Have not had much time for reading in the past month.
Do you expect to visit Oklahoma this summer? It is probable that at some yet uncertain date I’ll go down there to get me a housekeeper. There is no definite date yet other than before summer, for it is doubtful yet when I can get away. But if it is convenient and can be figured out far enough in advance I’d like for you to be there.
Must get to bed.
G B M Jr.
George Barton “Bart” Mahaffie, by 1919 having lived almost five years alone on his remote southeast Colorado homestead, was joking in this letter to his brother, that he wanted to “get me a housekeeper.” He meant he wanted to marry his sweetheart, Marye Traylor, and he wanted Charles to be there. Bart had lived alone almost 5 years on 480 acres of rough, dry, grazing land in southeastern Colorado, a bachelor rancher.
When I was six or seven, I remember my Great Uncle Oscar Beatty Mahaffie visited my grandparents at their Washington, DC home. It was the mid-1960s. Uncle Beatty and my grandfather, Charles, sat in the upstairs front room in large armchairs, Beatty about ten feet away from my Granddad, two grey, balding old men. They were “visiting,” which for old men like these, prairie-raised, meant sitting almost silent, sipping liquor, and immensely enjoying each other’s company.
But there was a brother missing, George Barton “Bart” Mahaffie. It’s hard to imagine him there. He died of the Spanish Influenza in 1919 at 29, young and in his prime, on his remote Colorado ranch.
The old pictures show the young Bart as an athlete, uniformed and with his teammates, as a scholar at Kingfisher College, and later, branding cattle or on horseback, on his Colorado ranch.
Bart died with most of his potential ahead of him. He endures for me as a tragic story. Yet I have fixed him in my mind as that young man from the old pictures, in his prime. The occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Influenza of 1918 made me think of Bart. I wanted to remember more than the tragedy, so I will tell the story of his life as far as we can know it.
Bart Mahaffie in the winter of 1919
In the late winter of 1919, Bart Mahaffie, aged 29, was hard at work on his ranch in rural southeast Colorado. Winters there were hard. He was at work “proving up” his homestead claims. That meant gaining title to free Federal land by living on it and improving it for stockraising and agriculture.
Bart planned to marry Marye Traylor of Elk City, Oklahoma that May and bring her to his ranch. The lonely bachelor’s life on the ranch would soon be over. He would have a partner to help him build his life in Colorado.
Marye was the daughter of W. E. Traylor. Her father had operated a Hobart, Oklahoma grocery in the mid-1910s. Marye, born in 1892, she was three years younger than Bart, but likely knew him from Hobart High School, or social events in town.
Marye was an accomplished young woman. She played basketball at Hobart High School. The Hobart papers noted her piano playing at weddings, performing Mendelssohn’s Wedding March for the bride and groom. Later she had a long career in business, working as a book bookkeeper and office manager. It’s not hard to imagine her being integral to Bart’s success as a rancher.
Despite the hard winter, Bart could look forward and see his dreams coming into view.
The Spanish Flu of 1918
The Spanish Influenza hit hard in the U.S. the fall of 1918, particularly among massed and returning troops from World War I. Emerging in 1917, it was at first a mild flu; three days of fever, cough, and runny nose, and then a rapid recovery. But the flu virus, which mutates quickly, turned deadly in the summer and fall of 1918. It became a global, deadly pandemic, killing 20 to 50 million people, worldwide, and 675,000 in the United States. The biggest share of its victims were young adults. The lucky got the infection early, before it mutated. They were then protected against the new strain.
The Spanish Flu’s symptoms were fever, nausea, aches, and diarrhea. Many victims developed severe bronchopneumonia. Patients would have dark spots on their cheeks. The body under attack by the virus overran with immune response, attacking most aggressively in the lungs. Victims turned blue with a lack of oxygen as their lungs filled with a frothy, bloody discharge. They drowned in their own fluids before treatment could save them.
The flu spread easily and quickly. Doctors could not keep up. People often died before they could get help, but medical help was limited in any case. The flu had no direct treatment, with no antiviral medicines were yet developed. Doctors were not even clear that the disease was viral.
The flu in Colorado
The first cases in Colorado came in late September 1918, with a spike in infections at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The most deaths worldwide were that fall as well.
Mary Allen Hurd, grew up on a neighboring ranch to Bart’s. Years later she remembered: “the flu epidemic came along killing lots of people. Laughing Joe Smith knew there was a couple of new families who lived in a half dugout. He rode over one morning to see if they were all right. He saw stock in the corrals with cows bawling so he went to the house. This couple had four small children and a brother and his wife who lived there also had four small children. Laughing Joe Smith asked the children where their parents were and they said, ‘They are asleep and we can’t wake them up.’ So Joe went in and they were all dead.”
Later posts in this series:
Previous post in this series: Bart Mahaffie Part I — Introduction
George Barton “Bart” Mahaffie was the second son and third child of George B. “Doc” Mahaffie and Mary Frances “Mollie” Williams Mahaffie. He was born October 3, 1889, in Olathe, Kansas. His parents were farmers. They also operated a store in Olathe.
The Mahaffie’s were a pioneering family. Bart’s grandfather, James Beatty Mahaffie, and grandmother, Lucinda Henderson Mahaffie homesteaded in Olathe, west of Kansas City, and kept a stagecoach stop there at the eastern end of the Santa Fe Trail from 1858 to 1870.
Doc and Mollie moved their family when Bart was three to a new homestead in Oklahoma Territory, joining the 1893 Cherokee Strip Land Run which opened Oklahoma lands taken from Native Americans to homesteaders.
During the Land Run, Doc galloped ahead on horseback with his brother Billy to try to secure the best land. Molly drove the team pulling a covered wagon, her three children, Rose, Charles, and Bart, and a household’s supplies aboard. They settled in Kingfisher, Oklahoma Territory. Another child, Oscar Beatty Mahaffie was born there.
In 1901, when Bart was 11 or 12, the family moved further west to Komalty in Kiowa County, near Hobart, in west-central Oklahoma Territory.
Hobart then was newly settled, with only a few businesses. There Doc raised wheat and livestock, becoming a prosperous rancher trading cattle and mules as far as Amarillo and Wichita.
Mollie ran a busy household and established herself as a community leader, prominent in Hobart’s civic affairs and social clubs. She was elected to the Hobart School Board, its first woman member, and served as School Board President from 1916 to 1919.
Mollie demanded that her children get the best education they could. In older age she said, “We were determined to educate our children if we never had a dollar.”
Before she married, she had taught school for nine years, starting at the age of 16, studying at a teacher’s college, called a normal school, in the summers. That focus on education was surely behind her daughter, Rose, being a school teacher and the fact that all four of her children attended college, two completing advanced degrees.
A little more about Hobart, the Komalty homestead, and Bart’s family is here.
“One of the most popular young men who ever lived in Hobart”
As Bart grew he learned ranching under his father’s tutelage and he got a good schooling under his mother’s direction. He grew to be a popular young member of the community.
Bart was a tall, handsome young man. He had blue eyes and dark hair. By high school, and surely before, he had distinguished himself as an athlete. He stood out, among other places, on the Hobart High School football team. After one game in 1905, the Hobart paper reported: “the sensational play of the game was made by Bart Mahaffie when Lee, Granite’s splendid left halfback, broke away and raced down the field for a touchdown, with a clear track before him excepting Bart, who made a flying tackle and saved Hobart from being scored against.”
High school graduation
Bart graduated from Hobart High School on Friday, May 18, 1906. The ceremony took place at the Presbyterian Church. There were a total of six graduates, most of whom spoke or performed at the ceremony. Bart’s part was to make a speech on the “Flight of the Bat”.
In the fall of 1906, Bart started at Kingfisher College where his older brother Charles had graduated in 1905. Over four years, he studied and played sports at Kingfisher, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in June 1910.
That fall, Bart began studying law at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. He was enrolled for two years, but did not take a degree. While studying in Norman, he joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and played on the Sooners football team.
After college Bart tried his hand at various jobs. In 1911, he was in Hobart, working for a real estate firm. By 1912, he had gone to work in Dallas for U.S. Bond & Mortgage Co. He visited Hobart late that summer on his way to Oklahoma City, where he was being transferred by his company. Bart continued to work in Oklahoma City until at least April 1914. Likely it was that summer when he left for Colorado to homestead.
Seeing a path for himself
Bart came at last to see a path for himself: to be a stock man like his father, but his own boss with his own ranch.
American generations tended, in the 1800s, to move a state or more westward as each rose to adulthood. Westward meant land and it meant opportunity, a chance to make one’s own way. Families were large and the home place would only be more crowded, less able to support another adult and family.
The Mahaffie’s followed that path through their American generations; Bart Mahaffie’s great great grandfather crossing from Northern Ireland to Pennsylvania, his great grandfather from Pennsylvania to Ohio and then Indiana, his grandfather from Indiana to Kansas. Bart’s father, Doc, moved from Kansas to Oklahoma for new land. And now Bart was moving another state west for his own chance.
There was still land to be had, further west. The papers regularly wrote about Colorado, touting the opportunity to claim land and the state’s beauty and healthful climate. Colorado beckoned.
Later posts in this series:
Previous posts in this series:
We don’t have an account of Bart Mahaffie’s 1915 move to Colorado to homestead. But to bring the story into view, the passage below tells it as if we do. It makes the best conjectures possible from news accounts, old photos, family and public records, and other settlers’ reminiscences. The boxed passages are from a 1915 guide for homesteaders. 1)Free Homestead Lands of Colorado Described: A Handbook for Settlers. George Samuel Clason. Clason map Company, 1915 – Colorado – 318 pages.
In the late winter of 1915, Bart Mahaffie, raised on a western Oklahoma homestead was working in the farm mortgage business in Oklahoma City. But the idea of securing his own place would not stop tumbling in his thoughts. He’d had his fill of the farm mortgage business. He’d lived in Dallas and then Oklahoma City. City life didn’t suit him.
With his job, Bart spent a lot of time with stock men, and the chatter among them would so often turn to the land you could homestead, if you went west. Some men were going, for sure. A lot more said they might or they wished they could.
Word of the land to be had also came in newspaper ads, pamphlets, annotated maps, and books. Bart borrowed “Free Homestead Lands in Colorado Described: A Handbook for Settlers” from a rancher in Hobart. The book was plain about the hard work it would take, but it got him excited about Colorado and the chance to have his own ranch there.
“Colorado has over 300 sun shiny days each year. Those who lived in damp foggy countries can appreciate the desirability of this. Unquestionably it is one of our greatest assets and combined with clear bracing atmosphere gives a vim and enthusiasm to our citizens that accounts for their physical and mental activities. It is rare indeed to find anyone with whom the climate of Colorado does not agree. Many who come to this State suffering from diseases in their incipiency become well and strong.”
He wasn’t married. He had nothing to keep him back. Twenty-some years back, his father had made his way west for land. So could Bart. After all, he knew a lot about stock raising.
It was time to give notice and make plans. Bart’s folks, Doc and Mollie, understood. He had their blessing. And Doc offered to help with a loan, a wagon, and a team of horses.
When the weather warmed, Bart made his plan. His best prospects were in southeastern Colorado. By wagon, the journey was 400 miles. That meant at least 20 days on the road. His Hobart friend Dick Cline said he’d go along for the adventure of it. So in the late spring, they hitched a team to a light spring wagon and said goodbye to their families. Mollie snapped a picture of the young men as they started off.*
They were 25 days on the trail, out through the Oklahoma Panhandle and then up into Colorado. They arrived, exhausted from the journey, in Lamar, where the Federal Land Office was. The town lay on the Santa Fe Trail. At the Eastern end, in Kansas, Bart’s grandfather and grandmother had operated a stage coach stop back in the 1860s.
Dick and Bart secured their gear and horses at a stable and took a room in town. The next day they found their way to a saloon and listened to the stories sweeping around about the claims to be had. Bart took it all in, there were truths to be found among the lies and tall tales and opinions.
One old fellow nodded his head towards the country outside, “you can’t find better soil for crops and gardens if you get rain.”
“There’s good land still to be had, but a man needs to hurry before it’s gone or too far from town,” they heard.
“Well, you’re already going thirty or forty miles, for good land,” another man said in response.
The next morning they called at the General Land Office and collected a map that showed available sections.
“Look fellas,” the clerk said, “understand, by the time you get to a spot, or get back here to claim on it, someone else may have filed.”
They needed to work fast. Bart and Dick jumped on their horses and started south. They worked their way south and west following Rule Creek toward Walker Canyon and Hackberry Springs, a promsing in Las Animas County. At over 30 miles, it was most of two days on the wagon road that ran along the creek. They camped the second night on Rule Creek.
A rancher living near the creek rode over to say hello. He sent his daughter to bring them a pail of hot beef stew from their kitchen.
“Happy to have fine young fellas like you in these parts,” the rancher said.
The man pointed some promising sections out on Bart’s map, and then rode with them up a nearby ridge to point the way.
Bart found land he liked in that north east corner of Las Animas County, some bottom land in a narrow valley, and the bluffs on either side.
They met another man who would be Bart’s neighbor. Bert Thomas operated the post office out of his ranch just to the southeast.
“Welcome to Rule, Colorado,” Bert said.
Dick asked him, “Well just where is the town?”
“It ain’t a town,” Bert said, “It’s this here post office and the folks that live around it.”
They rode fast back to Lamar in one 35-mile day. Bart secured the land by filing his first claim, a half-section, 320 acres. He was benefiting from the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909, which raised the size of an allowable claim for just this sort of dry acreage.
With the claim secured, it was time to get to work improving the land. Before being opened for homesteading, the area had been open range land, with the JJ brand cattle of the Pairie Cattle Company grazing all through it.
“Listen young man,” Bart’s neighbor told him, “The J.J. cattle like to get into the fields and eat our crops. You’re fencing them out, more’n you’re fencing your own in. When feed and water gets scarce in the rangeland, they’ll come for yours.”
In any case, by law Bart had to improve his land for livestock and put up at least a one-room house. And he had to cultivate a portion of it. If he did so and lived and worked the land for three years, it would be his.
Dick Cline had a few weeks to help out. The two men gathered a wagonful of supplies in Lamar, and planned straightaway to fix a pen for cattle and a place to keep some laying hens. They buildt a corral out of the crooked trunks of cedar and pinyon trees they dragged down off on the bluffs.
They got to work putting up a house. At least the main material was free and close by. Bart built his house out of the red-brown sandstone plentiful in the area. They laid the rough stones for the walls, and brought windows and hardware back from town on each trip. They roofed the house with sheets of tin and weighted them down against the prairie winds with more stones.
A couple of neighbors came by to help lift timbers up onto the rock house for its roof. Bart hadn’t been afraid to ask for help. He’d already learned some of the ways of the folks in the County.
Folks along Rule Creek had told him, “Listen, we want to be good neighbors and help out, but when we do we expect you to pay back and we will get along fine if you do.”
And some men from the nearby ranch were happy to come and help.
“Those who realize best the problems a settler must confront advise that he should have at least three milch cows, one or more sows, and some chickens to start in with. With this livestock as well as a good team and wagon, he is assured of a good living for his family and the ability to plow his land and take care of his crops. The cows supply the necessary cream and milk for the family and also provide more or less butter and cream to be sold or traded at the store. Many a successful settler, however, has made his start without most of these things. Oftentimes, his principal asset is a willing wife and a family of hungry children. Rabbits, grouse, and fish have helped out the larder at many critical times.”
Bart was glad to have Dick as long as he could. After Dick went home, he’d try to get a neighbor or two to help out from time to time. He wrote the home folks that he sure hoped his father and Beatty could come out that summer and see his place and maybe lend a hand.
After four weeks, he took Dick to town for a train home. Then Bart settled in to work the ranch on his own.
The days were long and hard. There was never enough daylight, even in June and July, to get enough done. But Bart made progress and felt the pride of seeing his place come into shape.
He soon brought a few head of cattle to get his herd started. He dubbed the homestead “The 500 Ranch” registering “500” as his brand.
Men from the neighboring homesteads came to help out with branding and other work a man on his own would struggle to do. In return, Bart helped them where he could. The neighbors came to count on him as a willing and able hand.
Learning to manage ranch life meant learning to live off the land. Bart had heard folks on Lamar say you could tell how long a homesteader would last on his claim by the pile of tins cans around his house. If it was a big heap, he wouldn’t last. But if a fellow lived on beans and what he could raise and hunt, he would make it.
In the first months, Bart grew to have a sense of the wildness of the area. The countryside had its share of wild animals, some useful to hunt, and some troublesome. Skunks, jackrabbits, possum, all sorts of creatures turned up, generally when you didn’t expect or want it. There were coyotes and wolves too, more of a threat to a stockman’s investment.
It wasn’t all hard work. George Heckler’s place, a mile or so off, was a sort of headquarters for the area bachelors. Bart made a visit when he could. The men would gather there, and fix up some Mexican beans, deer or antelope meat or mulligan stew, dried apples, rice and raisins and sour dough biscuits. It was a welcome break from the lonely ranch. But going home from George Hecker’s always made the 500 Ranch seem even lonelier.
*It’s quite possible that Bart and Dick did not take a wagon all the way to Colorado. They may have driven in a motor vehicle, or taken trains. HERE is a look at the arguments on either side of the question.
Later post in this series:
|↑1||Free Homestead Lands of Colorado Described: A Handbook for Settlers. George Samuel Clason. Clason map Company, 1915 – Colorado – 318 pages.|
Previous posts in this series:
The winter of 1918-1919 in southeastern Colorado was especially hard, as Bart wrote in his March 12, 1919 letter to his brother Charles. (The letter is at the front of Post I [LINK] in this series.)
Bart did as other ranchers in the area did when heavy snowfall covered the forage. They burned thorns off cactus with a gas torch or held the pads on a pitchfork over a fire, and fed them to the cattle. Mary Allen Hurd 1)Mary Allen Hurd grew up near Bart Mahaffie’s ranch in Colorado and knew of Bart. An upublished collection of her reminiscences has circulated in Las Animas County, and I’ve drawn on it and cited her in these posts recalled how the cattle happily ate the cactus pads hot. It was often all they got, and some still succcumbed to hunger during the hard winters.
But Bart wasn’t discouraged. He had 480 acres in two homestead claims. He’d done the work to prove them up, building his house and improving the land.
Bart wrote to Charles about getting more acreage, with plans to acquire his neighbor George Heckler’s 320 acres. Heckler, an older man, was proved up and planned to sell. Later records also show Bart was working to get 320 further acres from Cleveland Hersom, another neighbor.
That summer meant he’d get married to Marye Traylor and bring her to live on the ranch. The house was ready, expanded with a proper addition. With a bigger ranch he could earn more to support a family.
And at last the March days flirted with warmer temperatures and the snow was melting. The day he wrote Charles, the temperature reached 70 degrees. There was reason to be encouraged.
The flu reaches Bart
But the Spanish influenza virus was waiting for Bart. The historic epidemic looked to be over after its awful surge in the fall of 1918. But it had one more rampage and Bart was among its targets.
He did not contract the flu until March of 1919. He was unfortunate to be among is last deadly wave of victims that came that winter.
Living on a remote ranch kept him from getting the infection sooner. Of course he did business in town. Trains brought people and goods from other places. They readily brought the virus. And the homesteaders in his corner of Las Animas County were a community that visited and helped each other out with ranch work. Even a bachelor making his living alone on a ranch had occasion to be with others and to risk the infection.
Word of Bart’s illness
We don’t know how Bart alerted someone that he was sick. The flu tended to come on quickly. He may have felt ill during a day when he saw others, or a neighbor may have come to check on him. Someone soon came to help and alerted Bart’s family in Oklahoma. Bart would have seen others get the flu and probably knew about the symptoms and his prognosis.
Mary Allen Hurd recalled that the ranchers were far from doctors. They had to make do with whatever they knew how to do for each other.
George Heckler, Bart’s neighbor, was the knowledgeable veteran among the settlers. It’s possible it was George who first saw to Bart when he took sick.
Mary Allen Hurd recalled how George knew old remedies and how to make Mountain Sage Tea for congestion and other symptoms. She said “it either killed or cured.” But those remedies could do little when the flu hit. Not even doctors had much to offer when Bart took sick.
Late on Wednesday March 26, 1919, Bart’s parents, Doc and Mollie, got a telegram, probably arranged by a concerned neighbor, alerting them to Bart’s illness. They left by train on Thursday morning to go to him. The folks in Hobart knew Bart well, and his illness meant a short mention, “Bart Mahaffie Ill” in the Hobart paper, the Republican.
Based on the timing, we can assume that Doc and Mollie got to Bart’s bedside by the 27th or 28th. At least their presence could be of comfort to him.
Bart only had treatment for his symptoms and some comfort from not being alone in his rock house. But the ravages of the flu’s attack on his lungs meant a short, but excruciating decline, no doubt abject fear, and death. Gravely ill, he held on for two days longer, but succumbed on Saturday March 29th.
Bart’s funeral lagged until his oldest brother, Charles Mahaffie, could arrive from Washington, DC. The Hobart Republican wrote: “Scores of people attended the service to pay their last token of tribute to one of the most popular young men who ever lived in Hobart.”
Bart was buried in the Hobart Rose Cemetery.
Aftermath: those he left behind
Doc and Mollie, the August after Bart’s death, closed up their house in Komalty outside Hobart and sold their stock for what was an indefinite move to Rule, Colorado and Bart’s ranch. As Bart’s heirs, the ranch was now theirs to manage.
Bart had died before his Colorado claims were officially “proved up” which would normally happen after requirements were met and three years had passed.
The two patents on his original claims show an issue date of October 7, 1919, which means his heirs, namely Doc Mahaffie, his father, presented proof of qualification, and took ownership.
Doc and Mollie went to Colorado complete that process and the transaction acquiring George Heckler’s place and Cleveland Hersom’s land.
The ranch was remote and the house small, a far cry from the substantial lifestyle and busy town they were used to. They were in their mid-60s, late to take up a life in a rough, remote place like Rule.
Doc may have had his eye on making Bart’s ranch big enough to be attractive to a buyer, or just saw opportunity in the additional land to be had cheap from frustrated homesteaders.
What became of Marye Traylor
After the death of her fiance, Marye worked as a bookkeeper in an ice plant in Elk City, Oklahoma. For a time after Bart’s death, Marye and her family kept in close touch with the Mahaffies.
She moved to Oklahoma City in the late 1920s. By 1930 she was heading her own household there, living with her father, sister, and brother in law. She worked as a bookkeeper at the Wetherbee Electric Company.
By the late 1930s, she had married a co-worker, Ernest Tanner, a foreman and salesman in the company. They moved to El Reno, just outside Oklahoma City. Ernest started his own business, Tanner Electric Co. in El Reno.
Marye was active in the El Reno community, a member of the Center Grove Home Demonstration Club, but also the El Reno Business and Professional Women’s Club, serving on its executive committee. Ernest died in November 1954.
Surviving her husband, Mary lived to 101 years. She died in 1993, and is buried in El Reno.
The ranch to the present
After Bart died, his family made a number of land transactions to finish out purchases Bart had set in motion with two neighboring ranchers, and perhaps to consolidate a more valuable and salable ranch. Doc and Charles were both savvy about money and investment. Both had loaned Bart money or guaranteed the notes he promised the men he transacted with for land.
Between land that Bart had acquired or planned to before he died, and transactions completed after he died by Doc and Charles, the holdings grew to 1120 acres in Las Animas and Baca Counties, Colorado.
The land stayed in the Mahaffie family, owned by Bart’s brother Charles until his death in 1969. It then passed to his wife and later his son. Mark and Kimberly Wilson, whose family had long leased the land from the Mahaffies, bought it in 2009, and continue to raise cattle there.
So many homesteaders in that dry, tough corner of Colorado tried and gave up. Bart had the makings of success and a fiance that had business savvy and drive of her own. We see what Bart was able to do on his own, and can imagine what Bart and Marye could have done together. In learning all we can know to know about Bart and his intended wife Marye, I’ve come to believe they not only would have made it, but would have thrived.
|↑1||Mary Allen Hurd grew up near Bart Mahaffie’s ranch in Colorado and knew of Bart. An upublished collection of her reminiscences has circulated in Las Animas County, and I’ve drawn on it and cited her in these posts|
The Western Maryland countryside is a pretty scape of rolling hills and farms. Annie Kelly has a big farm there with silos and lots of out-buildings. She lives in a house, sturdy but unimproved, that dates to about 1890. Driving up, you don’t know what to expect. The Valley Craft Network Studio Tours weekend map showed a yarn store, Kiparoo Farm Studio, Bussard Road, Middletown, Maryland. Some in our party wanted to see it.
Annie’s Kiparoo Farm sits in the valley between the Catoctin Mountains and South Mountain, west of Frederick. The big town is Middletown, population about 4,000. Pennsylvania Dutch people settled the valley in the 1700s and a lot of German names survive on the streets, headstones, and among the farmers.
We parked and had trouble opening the car doors in a gale blowing at exactly the wrong angle. Annie Kelly met us on the farmhouse porch, helping us wrestle her front door against the gale. In a second, she made us welcome, cracking jokes about the wind and saying “come on in!”
Annie has large, symmetrical curls in her chestnut-colored hair, worn in a throwback, 50s, even 40s style, medium length, practical, but still some care taken, time in curlers at home, or even at a salon. And as we got a sense of her, it grew more remarkable that she had time to curl her hair.
Annie runs the farm and a yarn business. If she has a partner, that person made themselves scarce during the craft weekend open houses. This was her nightmare. For all the evidence I could see, Annie runs cattle, raises sheep, gets them shorn, spins yarn, makes dyes and dyes the wool, knits, and sells yarn and patterns. Sidelines, as if she needed more, include making soap and ice cream.
“What time do you even get up in the morning?”
“Oh, I’m a 4:15 girl,” she says. “Girl” somehow fits only because she uses it.
She points out, not 4:15 to milk the cows, they aren’t ready that early.
Annie is at least 60 and about 5’ 6”. But I’ll bet she’s as strong as anyone with that frame. Small as she is, it’s like Annie’s made of steel and leather straps. You know she can milk dozens of cows and then get all the other work started, even before she mentions milking. Annie ricocheted around the three-room shop and studio, answering questions, specifying knitting needle gauges, and commenting on patterns.
And Annie is heart and head strong too. You wonder at her years of working her way along, a woman who was not going to do what women in her society are supposed to do. A woman who set out to do, and does, man’s work in addition to women’s.
That Annie is not all steel showed through. She picked up a skein of royal purple yarn and looked at it, and then held it to her chest and closed her eyes.
“Oh, did you see it? The speech? She wore this.”
She about teared up remembering. It was a few weeks after Hilary Clinton’s concession speech. Annie, living deep in Trump territory, was with Her, and not afraid to tell anyone that.
These days it seems like some kind of hell is going to hit us, superstorm or politics-inspired violence. Or economic meltdown. If those things happen, I’ll want the steel, the guts, the know-how: raise food, make what you need, hold off threats of every kind, and do it cheerful. If those things hit us, I’m with Annie.
This is an update on the post: “NaFFWriMo–A flash fiction story, every day of November” from mid-November
Well, I managed to write 30 stories during November 2016, one each day. My goal was to see what it would mean to let raw creation dominate my writing efforts, rather than thinking, researching, overthinking, over-researching.
I enjoyed it. Most days, I was up early and spent about 40 minutes creating a rough germ of a story. Of the 30, maybe 5 excite me. Another 10 or 12 at least have potential. Perhaps 7 or 8 have a beginning, middle, and end. As many as ten proved to go nowhere, and I don’t expect them to turn into something.
My effort had for fuel a list of over 100 story ideas. But stories often just emerged from my head, somehow, or ricocheted off the original idea and went in a new direction. I still value the time I spent making, and the existence of that list, and it has about 70 unused story ideas, some with potential.
Shut up and write
“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” —Ray Bradbury
I read Ray Bradbury’s advice on writing, and remembered it wrong, but I got the spirit, if not the letter of it, right. I took the wisdom as, write a short story every day. It’s likely I was remembering his advice to read a short story every day.
For three previous years November has meant my participation in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) program. This year, I decided to give the same sort of effort, but instead writing short fiction.
I committed to myself to write one flash fiction story each day for the month of November. You might call it, “NaFFWriMo.” Flash stories are as short as a few hundred and up to 1000 words. That means a piece of flash fiction is shorter than the daily average words needed to complete NaNoWriMo, 1,667. Four or eight hundred words is enough for my “NaFFWriMo” effort.
I have now reached 11 days–11 stories, despite a day when I felt horribly sick, and a day when I felt angry and sad and wholly distracted because of the U.S. election.
What have I learned so far?
I expected and it has been true that most of the stories, for which I can only give about 40 good pre-dawn minutes, are rough, raw, and may not pan out. Some have a premise and a start, but don’t arrive somewhere. Some are wooden and uninteresting, even to me. But two or three show great promise, and several others may pan out with more work.
Thirty or 40 minutes is not much time for writing, but with a bit of inspiration, it’s enough for a burst of creative work, and a good raw start.
I had built and banked and continue to tinker with a list of 100 ideas for stories, which I rated on a 0, 1, 2, 3 scale of most to least appealing to me to write, generally based on the degree to which I know what the point of the story would be.
That list has proved useful, but, in fact, the stories still seem most often to just arrive at the tips of my fingers as I sit down to write. That bit of magic that happens is a mystery to me. But I think the act of list building is part of the juice that goes into it, even if I don’t always pluck a theme from the list and set to writing the list.
Is it good for my writing to do this?
Yes! Like NaNoWriMo, the “get it written” pace means you just create, you don’t fuss, double back, edit, tinker, slave over structure, etc. This, like NaNoWriMo, prevents my worst habits as a writer from being allowed: researching junkets, restructuring while writing, losing the spark in some side journey in the process.
What will happen to all this work?
I will develop the stories that appeal to me, and work on them along with others I have written prior. I’ll find critical eyes to share them with, and I hope to learn how to submit them for publication.
And I will report further here about the effort. The next test is Thanksgiving, which has its own distractions and delights. But the family doesn’t get up as early as I do.
Here is the update: “30 days, 30 flash stories — how it turned out“