Thursday, January 26, 2017

Frank Whitman & Mary Smith Raney Part 2 - Early Marriage

Mary Smith Raney suffered from migraines, as had her father Eugene Smith. My mother Jean had them and I've had them, so if you get migraines, you know from whom they are inherited. She writes one last letter to Whitman before their marriage in June, dated April 4, 1910, thanking him for being so good to her the previous evening when her headache spoiled their time together. " . . my dearest one, your kind and loveing [sic] words was such a healp [sic] . . ." Although she claims to be feeling better, though "still weak and [nervous]," her handwriting shows she's feeling pretty awful. But the next line is so much our grandmother. "Well, my dear, I hope you got home all right and I hope you are well. [N]ow don't worry about me I will be all right. So goodby [sic] my dearest lover till I get to see you again, from your truest love . . . a thousand kisses to your dear."

James was born the following April (1911) and than Paul (1913). But Whitman Raney was always restless. He took a job in Neodosha, Kansas, still in Wilson County. She writes on July 1, 1913: ". . We are all pretty well except little Paul [born Feb 14th that year], he don't seem to feel very well. I guess it must be his teeth . . . I hope you can come Saturday. You surely [ought] to have a little money left . . . last Sunday was such a long day. I was so lonesome . . . Little James often say[s] papa. He say[s] papa went on toot toot. He found your picture Saturday and began to jump up and down and just kiss your picture. It made me feel so bad I had to cry . . ."

They lived for a short time in Coffeyville, Kansas (I don't know what years) and then moved back to Princeton, Indiana, where Whitman's dad got him a job on the Southern Railway where he worked. Dennis was born in Princeton (1915).  Mary and the boys returned to Fredonia in late September 1916 for a visit. In her letter of October 4th, the first thing she tells Whitman is that she hasn't had a sick headache since she came home. "I went down [to] Uncle Frank Petty-John Sunday afternoon and stayed till Tuesday . . . [T]oday we went down [to] uncle Jules . . ." A lot of Louise Smith's Petitjean relatives lived in the county.  " . . Mamma, Laura the babies and I, we sure had a good dinner. Dearest I wish you was here. I eat chicken nearly ever[y] day . . . the[y] all have such nice big chickens. Last Sunday morning Gus (her brother) kill[ed] two ducks. There are lots of ducks around here now. . ." And here is the first hint that the family is going to move north.  "Papa is almost afraid to go to Montana. [H]e is afraid he cant [sic] stand the cold. . . " She speaks of five-year-old James enjoying himself and "Little Dennis . . . what a time we got to keep him in the house. He wants to get out and you know there is no grass in the yard and my what a sight. He gets so dirty. Laura thinks he is the sweetest baby. . . We have to watch them so close on account of the horses. They are not afraid of them."  She tells him that her [railroad] pass runs out on October 19th, so she'll have to start back on the 14th and he can meet them in St. Louis on Sunday.  She was having a great time, but not  so Whitman back in Princeton. Typhoid fever was sweeping through southern Indiana and  acquaintances were dying. "Carl Cline died Wednesday morning . . . He will be buried Friday morning at Mt. Tabor where they buried their little girl. Mrs. Cline is a little better this evening, but they don't think there is much of a chance for her (she is mentioned in a letter a few years later, so survived). Mr. Revise, that lives where we used to live has got the Typhoid Fever now and Mrs. Ritchie's father has also got it. You know they live up toward Grover's there [at] that Red House. . . Well, dear, when are you coming home. I am so lonesome I don't know what to do with myself. Sweetheart you don't know how I need you . . .Well, dear I won't beg you to come home any longer as I see you don't pay any attention to it . . ."

Princeton, Indiana, depot. Of course Whitman worked at the roundhouse (long gone)
Louise Ann Raney was born in April 1918 in Princeton, Indiana.  The Great War had been ongoing since August 1914, seemingly unending.  Now the United States was embroiled in it. Wheat prices were sky-high.  I think it was our great-uncle Gus who that summer convinced the Smith family to pack up, leave their rented farm, and move up to Canada -- to raise wheat.

Gusta Smith standing to the side of wagon

The Smiths settled outside of Didsbury, Alberta. The war ended that November, 1918 and the price of wheat plummeted. Mary's sister, Laura Smith writes Mary and her family a Christmas letter in the family's name: "Dear Children and Babies . . . Christmas is near. There will be some sad and others happy this year with this flu and the war. We seen on the paper [the hometown Fredonia newspaper, which came by mail] that Father Dominic died at Pittsburg, Kansas with the flu . . . and there are many others. . . We will send you a little Christmas present this year as Laura crochet[ed] some lace for Louise['s] little skirt and a pin cushion for you, Mary and also a $5 bill for all of you.children, as this is all we can send you this time. We can't hardly buy anything in this old town as ever thing is so high and not very good . . . There will not be no Christmas entertainment at the school house on account of the flu. It is starting again . . . Tell the dear Babies that Maw said for them to be good so Santa Claus will bring them lots of presents. . ." It is a sad letter Laura wrote. The family realized they'd made a terrible mistake moving to Canada. And fear of the flu pandemic that was killing thousands was making life even less secure.

The following summer, 1919, Whitman, Mary and the children traveled by train pass to Didsbury, Alberta, and to the rented farm outside town, initially to visit, but then decided to settle there. Whitman, ever restless for a new start, returned to Princeton to sell off their household goods while Mary and the children remained with her parents and siblings. It appears that Mary was pleased with this decision. Although the town had burned down in 1914, at least it was on the Canadian Pacific Railway line.

The red dot for Didsbury isn't showing - it is about a quarter of the way up Alberta and on the left at the foot of the Rockies.
I know nothing of this migration. I don't recall Grandma or Grandpa mentioning it. On 15 July Mary writes to Whitman, expressing hope that he got to Princeton safely and did his folks wonder why she hadn't returned with him? She mentions that the children are 'so mean and won't hardly mind well." Whitman's initial intention was to draw his railroad pay (he must have been paid monthly), sell everything, except their phonograph, and quickly return to his family.  That didn't happen.  There may have been some railroad union agitation for higher wages, and he expected some back pay out of a railroad settlement, believing he had to be present, or so he wrote her, when these wages were awarded.

On July 21, 1919, Mary writes that "James and Paul caught a gofer [sic] Sunday. They took a twine string and fix[ed] it over the hole and when he come out he got his head through the loop and they pull[ed] on the string and the[y] got it. What a time the[y] had. They [ran] all through the yard with it.  Paul didn't want to kill it, so it got away from them and Paul he cried."  She wrote on July 31 that Laura had the flu as did her father (the children were also sick), that her mother's hand was better and she could now milk the cow. No one died, so possibly they didn't have that killing flu (although both Laura and Eugene Smith were weak for many weeks afterward). There was going to be a big turnout for returning Canadian troops in town and Gus thought he might go. The crops were looking good - the potatoes, anyway. They received a letter from Wilson (a friend?) in Montana, who said horses were going for $10.00 a head with no takers (all those horses bred for the war and for an expected thriving economy.)

When Whitman writes back, he tells her he didn't sleep in their rented house the first few nights for missing her [he stayed with his parents] and then "[s]lept with your nightgown on last night, that was as close as I could get to you, but still it gave me pleasant thoughts, you know." He was a romantic. And a depressant, getting "so blue" he didn't go to work because he hadn't heard from her, accusing her of not wanting to write to him.  He sold their cook stove, bed, china closet, washing machine, her canned gooseberries and canning jars, but hadn't sold much else. And then he got sick, but the doctor said it wasn't typhoid. Still, he told her how sick and weak he was and that he couldn't go to work yet, but added that she shouldn't come home because she wouldn't find much in the house. "Sometimes I think you don't love me as much as you say you do, or you would write oftener. I know it isn't because you are so busy."  He's reading the newspaper and writes her that the Indiana wheat crop was poor, averaging only 19 bushels to the acre; and then ticks off the prices of foodstuffs: butterfat 51 cents per pound; eggs 30 cents; old hens 32 cents a pound; young chickens 30 cents a pound; old roosters 10 cents a pound; new potatoes $3.60 a bushel. "Pretty high, isn't it."  Shipping their goods by rail  to Didsbury would cost $4.04 per hundred pounds. A  week later he sells the rest of their furniture, but after paying some bills has only $20.00 left. His dad sold his old car and bought a larger one, "a great big fellow with six cylinders. It cost him fifteen hundred dollars." That seems a lot for a car in 1918.  On July 21, he writes of how much he misses her (he writes the same in each of his many letters), adding, " . . . how I would love to take you in my arms and hug and kiss you till your sweet lips would hurt. But never mind Dearest I don't think it will be long now until we will meet and then, good night nurse, what a time we will have." This expression arose from a 1918 Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton silent film. Read about it here

Mary writes in early August that the "kids are out of clothes, that is, overalls. I keep patching on patches, and dear my shoes are almost to give out on me. The soles are worn through on my slippers and I won't wear my hightops out here for they are too nice for every day. . . I believe sister [daughter Louise] is getting bigger every day. She is so sweet, her little cheeks are so rosy. . ." On August 8th, she asks if he can get sugar in Indiana because they haven't been able to get sugar for two weeks, but they made sixteen loaves of bread and she wishes he could have been there to have some good bread, sweet butter and clabber milk with them. His missing work for 10 days might have been from having a kidney stone, although he later says the doctor said it was from his being thrown off a horse so hard. [After his death in 1969, an autopsy revealed one kidney shriveled and non-functioning.] He says he'll come the following week.

Then he writes to say that he won't be coming back the following week because all the railroads were out on strike and they won't sell him a ticket. He thinks he'll be called out [to picket]. And he didn't draw much wages on pay day on account of being sick so long [10 days - no work, no pay], "I wish I could send you some money but I am afraid to send it on account of the strike. I am afraid it would get lost. If you need any money just borrow some from the folks and I will pay them when I come out there." He must have been a sort of safety inspector for the Southern Railway [although the 1916 Princeton Directory lists him as a "car repairman."]  "I don't do enough work in a day to get dirty hardly. I shure [sic] am taking it easy while I can. Of course it keeps me pretty busy watching the men to see they don't get hurt but that isn't hard. Just walk around and call them down once in a while to let them know that I am still on the job. We haven't had anyone hurt since I've been back. [T]he yards were pretty well filled with old stuff when I came back but it didn't take me long to get someone cleaning it up. It sure does me good to get a chance to rip one of the big fellows and they haven't no come back at me at all. I had a laugh at my boss today.  I went after him pretty hard and he got pretty sore at me. [H]e said while you were away we had it pretty [peaceable] here but since you came back you raise hell all the time. I told him that was what the company was paying me for . . ."'

He had been complaining about his mother's and sister's cooking and that when they packed his lunchbox they put fried potatoes in it "and you know how much I like cold fried potatoes at any time let alone in my lunch . . . Dearest girl, you are the finest cook in all the world."  He continued to praise her cooking throughout his life.

On August 11, he writes that he won't be back for some time. ". . . we had a special call meeting to night of all Shop men [to] prepare ourselves for a big strike some time this month. It will be all over the United States and part of Canada. I don't know just when we will come out or how long we will stay out, but it will be until we get our settlement if it takes a year."  A few days later he writes that only the mail trains are operating, which is why she's getting his letters. Apparently, he sent her some money.  But, I find no evidence that there was a railroad strike in August of 1919.

He returned to his family some time in August, but then went off looking for work. The rental farm couldn't support so many. The next letter from Whitman is dated September 13, 1919 and he writes Mary from Castlegar, British Columbia, to say that he can't find work anywhere. ". . . This leaves me well but awfully down hearted. I can't find work of any kind no where. I don't know what to do, my money is all most all gone and I am a long ways from home. I guess I will have to go on the bum. . ."  Later the same day, he writes from Trail, B.C. ". . .[W]ho said the thirteenth was unlucky. . . a man came along and I got to talking with him and he said for me to come back to Trail and he would see to it that I got a job so here I am and I got the job to go to work at seven o'clock in the morning, but my, what a choice I have to make. The Refinery is on top of a Mountain but my job is inside. It is a copper refinery [later a lead and zinc refinery].
. . . I get $4.00 a day to start with. It will amount to about $121.50 a month. I have to pay $40.00 a month board here at the [Palace] Hotel. I was lucky to get here. It is about as close to my work as I can get . . . I will send you some money just as soon as I get a pay-day. If you need some money before then, borrow some from the folks and you can pay them back when I send you some. . . " Mary writes back on September 18, that she received a check from Washington, D.C. after cashing in their fourth Liberty Bond  for $62.50 [people were pressured to buy them during the war, but most did out of patriotic duty,  to support its cost] and that she would send him some money for she worried that he would need some before pay-day. But James needed shoes. "He can hardly wear his old ones they hurt his feet." [A fore-shadowing of his sad end.] Gus and her papa got the oats all cut and the hay in. "They are cutting green oats now, dear one, and don't worry, we will get through some way." Always appearing confident her love would sustain him in trying to be a good husband and provider.

  An interesting history of the Trail, B.C. refinery is here

 In my next blog, I'll tell how the Raneys and Smiths came to Spokane in the early 1920s.


  1. Thank you again for another interesting story! I can't wait for the next!

    1. Tbanks, Annie. I'll be posting tomorrow.Words of encouragement always welcome. Kerry

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