Saturday, March 13, 2021

Vananda Montana - 1916

West is what I committed to and West it shall be but the story starts in the Midwest, a few miles south of Oskaloosa, Iowa.  Or in Cardiff, Wales but going back that far will have to wait for another story.  This adventure jumps forward from there to the Nineteen Aughts.

Just about the only thing left in Vananda, MT, the 3 story schoolhouse that was actually quite grand in its day.

Brother Kevin took this photo while on one of his Sturgis trips, a quick dash up into MT from western SD.

Now back to Iowa....

Dad's mom's family were the Beard's, her father Castile Clegget, her mother Jane Hannah Jones.  Castile or C.C. was born in Harrison Township, Mahaska County which is southeast of Oskaloosa, Iowa in 1872.  Jane, or Jennie was born in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania in 1876.  They farmed in Section 21 of Harrison Township and that's where my grandmother was born in 1904.

Here's the 1913 Platbook and there they are in Sec. 21, just across the road from Moses.  The C.N.& W. Railroad ran right through the middle of their farm, using a few acres of what would have been a total of 210.  C.C. and his brother John were partners of a fashion, more on that in a bit.

Historic Map Works Image

There was scandal, quite a bit of it actually, that and many other things documented in detail in extensive long hand writings that Gram put down and that later on, Gramp typed up into quite a document and from what I can tell, created in the 1970's.  A fight between brothers, based on Gram's side of things, was the result of one of them that worked and one that didn't, and not only that, but theft...meat, eggs, grain, an entire 40 thing after another.  That 1/4 of a 1/4 Section, 40 acres that has brother J.W.'s name in it on the plat, was sold in the dark of night, a forged signature the reason.  By that time, C.C. had had enough.  One of the neighbors, a trusted friend, said, "Why don't you move out to Montana?  Lots of land, it's cheap and crops are growing well!"  He wasn't alone in that assessment, many were moving to central MT from the Midwest during those years, fortune and good times in clear view.

Jennie, C.C.'s wife, was absolutely against going to MT, questioning why going north to Waterloo or Belle Plaine wouldn't be enough....Iowa, the world they knew and understood.  "Why so far??"

A neighbor, Harry B. (later a brother-in-law) heard about C.C.'s interest in going west and together, their enthusiasm grew.  In 1914, after the hay was made and the oats were in the barn, they both ventured west to Havre, didn't like what they found, came back to Vananda and each bought a half section, 320 acres from the Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.  The town was established as a water stop for the trains in around 1908, the entire area being promoted for settlement.

In 1915, again after the crops were in back in Oskaloosa, both C.C. and Harry went back to Vananda and built two houses.  There were troubles back at the farm while the men were out west.  A couple of neighbors charged with doing the daily chores spent their evenings frolicking in Oskaloosa, the animals and assigned duties on the farm neglected.  Gram's mother Jennie had to call the police, Gram and her sisters took care of things until dad and Harry returned.

The move to Montana happened in March of 1916.  I'm going to quote Gram directly here....

"Dad began selling some of his horses, he kept Dolly, Nancy, Kate and Trix.  He sold all but 2 cows and some machinery and the buggy, kept what he called the spring wagon and also the big wagon.  A lot of things were left on the place, also a lot in the house, the dresser mom's folks gave us with the pink marble top, stoves, some beds, and many other things.  Oscar Chandler took dad, mom and us three girls up to mom's cousin for dinner and then to the depot to take the train into Minneapolis.  We got there just when it was getting daylight.  A man with a gray tram with seats on both sides took us to another depot, seemed like a long ways.  We took the Milwaukee No. 15 to Montana, there had been snow in Minneapolis and dust in Montana.  When we got there, we ate dinner at Marie's she also had rooms, we stayed there until the railroad car came with stock, furniture and all.  Brother Fred and George Perry was with the car.  In the P.M. after dinner first day, we walked through the dust out to our ranch, we led mom around the 2 room house dad had built and she said, how do you think 7 people are going to live here in Vananda?"

Gram was 12 at this point, her younger sisters 9 and 6.  In 1910 when Gram was 6 years old, her mother Jennie began to lose her sight, something Gram blamed herself for.  Mom was still been bedridden after the birth of the youngest daughter.  Gram was out exploring with the dog in an Iowa pasture, a violent summer storm came up and mom, worried got out of bed and went out in the storm to retrieve her oldest daughter.  "Blood poisoning" is what Gram wrote as the cause.

"There had been a newspaper started up but soon quit so the building sat empty so dad bought the building and had the Schow brothers move it out and then a carpenter joined it to the house but left a space in between for us to put a bunk and storage underneath.  Dad bought a tent and we stored things in there and (brother)Fred and Perry slept out there.  Dad had Schow's plow up to plant wheat 1st year and just before it was ready to harvest a hail storm came and the entire crop was gone.  We had some very blue days for our dad.  He had a man name of Frietag come to drill us a well, he said Beard I don't want to put this bit in the ground.  What you should do is get a railroad car and leave, you can't make it with hail as big as baseballs and hot winds.  He said I've been here 5 years and leaving this year but dad told him to go ahead and drill.  He came in and said they sure have some real liars here, then told how big he said the hail was.  But he saw it later that same year."

"Then the next April 1917 the 27th Fred said he was going to Miles City for a physical that evening to join the Navy.  Lyle Ballard rode in on his horse with a telegram that Fred had joined the Navy and was being sent to Mare Island Naval Base in California.  That floored us all, found out later Fred had Cook and Jesse Smith sign for him to join."

Fred was barely 18.

"I was in the 8th grade and things got so bogged down at home mom would be crying so I quit school and helped dad and mom so they wouldn't have to worry so much.  It's very hard mom losing her sight so young and trying to do housework and raise a family.  No wonder she didn't lose her mind, she had lots of patience.  It was hard for our horses to work Dr. Parker gave them shots when they left Iowa then in Mont. a vet Al Frisle came and said they had to have shots in Montana too.  Dad told him but he would not listen and different atmosphere air seemed lighter, they were sick."

"We never had one good crop in 1919 summer, we moved down to Johnson's as they were gone, and lived there all winter.  Harry B. moved over to our place."

That is as far as Gram's story transcribed to Gramp's typewriter goes and I'm not finding any documented details about what followed from Gram's perspective but Gramp took over and wrote his part down in the saga.  When the Beard family left the ranch and moved back into town (I'm reaching out to Rosebud County officials to see exactly which two 320 acre plots belonged to the family), I'm told they took over the hotel in town, C.C. Beard became Section Master for the railroad, blind mother Jennie and the three girls ran the hotel.  Stories I've always heard, Jennie and her daughters were quite the piano players and singers, entertaining themselves and guests.  Harry B. married Gram's youngest sister sometime later, after everyone had moved back to the Minnesota.

The house...

Gram Bea and her sister Blanche...Gramp's rig cut off there on the right.

The 3 Beard girls, Burnice (Bernie), Beatrice (Bea our grandmother) and Blanche.


Newspaper story from  1953.....

How Gramp wound up in Montana is highlighted in a Post I wrote back in December, 2017.  Basically, he went West looking for work, eventually arriving in Vananda and meeting my grandmother Bea.  That was 1922 but they weren't married until 1925 in St. Paul.  Bea left MT around 1924 and returned to Iowa for reasons I've had to read between the lines to understand.  What is clear is that all of the Beard's left Vananda in September, 1925 arriving in St. Paul on the 12th.  The railroad car arrived in Vananda on the 7th, was loaded and C.C. left with the horses and household goods on the 9th., the women left on the 11th.  Grandpa Allen and his wife Bea met them at the St.Paul Union Depot on the 12th and brought them to the newlywed's apartment at 1923 St. Clair St. in St. Paul.  The family moved to a farm on the east side of Pine City, MN and in April of 1926, our dad Robert was born on that farm.

Gramp goes into great detail of how, when and why he ventured to MT with his HD sidecar rig and it's covered in my December 2017 Post

Some other links to what is now a Historical District at Vananda.


  1. Add family sojourn into Montana is quite the tale!

  2. It was fun discovering and learning more, putting some of the pieces together that were only partially clear in the past. If you can imagine it, some new questions arose :)

  3. I saw a Vananda Avenue in the town of Ajo, AZ...thought of this posting.

    1. That's interesting, the Coop version is the only one I've known.

      With all of my employment trips to Iowa, Oskaloosa is a place that I haven't been sent to yet. It looks like that will change in the near future. I've got some farm fields to fly over and a cemetery to walk through during that time.