Lawton Family in Montana

Written by: Leo Lawton, as told to him by his Aunt Clara Lawton

December 22, 2019

Glasgow, Montana

At approximately 7 years of age, in 1918, Clara Lawton and her family moved by covered wagon to Glasgow, Montana. One covered wagon, one spring seat wagon, a hay wagon, three teams of horses, the family dog and a duck made the long trip. The only reason the duck went was because Clara cried, and her father gave in and brought the duck. The duck laid an egg each day and Clara ate her egg each morning for breakfast.

It took approximately a month to travel from Saskatchewan to Montana. The reason the family made this move was because Clara’s Uncle Charles had died in the service and had left a ranch to Cora.

While traveling, they met Indians and herds of sheep being watched by men on mules and horses. They also encountered coyotes chasing them. Cora beat the coyotes with the horse whip to keep them away from the dog and wagons. The Indians were friendly but dressed in headdresses with feathers. Clara remembers being afraid of them.

During the trip, Floyd had an appendicitis attack. They stopped at a ranch. It delayed the trip better than a week. Floyd never had to have an operation. They packed his side in ice and put cans of hot water all around him to keep him warm and to prevent a “chill”. Floyd got better, and while on the ranch, Clara remembers playing with the owner’s cats and playing on an old rocking horse with bright colors on it.

When the Lawton’s finally reached Glasgow, William found they had to go 40 miles more to reach the foot of the Black Hills. Clara remembers how they were all so tired of traveling that her mother started crying. When they finally reached their destination, the ranch was actually a log cabin sitting in a cotton wood tree grove. The cabin sat where the Milk River ran into the Missouri River. The cabin was one big room. The boys climbed a ladder and slept on mattresses on the floor of the loft. Their parents hung a curtain across the end of the cabin to make their bedroom. Clara had a bunk in the kitchen area. It was heated with a cook stove. There were 300 to 400 acres of barren land and trees.

When it rained, Clara was not allowed outdoors to play because the ground was shale and when wet, it stuck to her feet, making it impossible to pick up her feet or move her legs freely to walk. Clara recalls one time of sitting at the table by the window and when she looked up, there was a cat staring in at her. William did not dare run outside because he was afraid the cat would burst through the window. He grabbed his gun and shot through the window, killing the animal. They took a lantern outside and found William had killed a large bobcat.

It was forty miles to the nearest town and school. Cora said she would not stay there during the winter because they would surely freeze to death. They moved closer to Glasgow until spring. William sold the wagon and most all of their belongings. He kept one team of horses. They moved to Natural Bridge, New York in the summer of 1919. Clara was 8 years of age.


From a Homestead in Ernfold, Saskatchewan to another in Litmas, Montana

The Journey

Will, Cora, and their three children began a 210 mile trip to Glasgow, Montana by covered wagon. Will fashioned a canvas tarp over a hay wagon which was pulled by a team, while Cora, with Clara, drove a team on a spring seat wagon, and the boys drove yet a third hay wagon with another team. A dog and a duck made up the remaining entourage. They passed herds of sheep being shepherded by men on mules and horses. They also encountered bands of roving Indians. Although friendly, Clara wasn’t so sure, and was afraid of them. Floyd had an appendicitis attack en route and the family took refuge with a ranch family for over a week.

Upon reaching Glasgow, Montana they discovered it was yet another 40 miles to the homestead. All together it took them more than a month to reach their destination. The ranch, at Lismas, consisted of a 12’ square log cabin overlooking the confluence of the Milk and Missouri Rivers, surrounded by 320 acres of barren land and trees. There was no sign of any livestock other than what they had brought with them. The land was heavy clay.

Every time it rained it was nearly impossible to walk due to the mud clinging to their feet. With no way to make a living Cora refused to stay there that winter of 1919/20. She swore they would all freeze to death if not starve first. They had already sold nearly all of their belongings and kept only one team of horses. Will met an elderly ranch-owning couple, nearer to Glasgow, that wanted to winter in Florida. Will agreed to live in their home and tend their cattle and horses, so that is where his family spent that winter.