Growing Up In Montana With Pioneer Artist F.Y. Cory (Cooney)

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A Breakfast "Fit for a King” (and Grandpa Cooney)

by Sayre Cooney Dodgson (The daughter of F.Y. Cory)


Then, what a breakfast. It wasn't a sketchy, hurried meal, grabbed up as people had time... It was a heart warming, vital, "good start for the day" time, together. The children all "got up" when they were called (whether they felt like it or not!). They all washed their faces in cold water (in a basin on a chair, in the far corner of the kitchen) (also whether they wanted to, or not) to "wake them up"! Then as everybody gathered around the oak table in the dining room as likely as not there would be a big platter piled high with pancakes with hot, home-made maple flavored syrup, or "cherry bounce" (which was jam, made out of wild "choke cherries") --or "buffalo berry jell" (how tart.). Mother and Dad enjoyed their coffee and let us have "cambric coffee" if we liked (mostly milk). Those were still the days when "children were supposed to be seen and not heard", so the three young Cooneys mostly listened as Mother and Daddy exchanged views on the politics of the day, or talked about the days' projects, or discussed some problems about the place. Often they all laughed and chuckled over old family jokes or talked about a forth-coming picnic, camping trip, fishing, swimming or skating party or hike, depending on the time of year. Often there was "hired help" also around the sociable round table. There might be "Bolo Bill," "Buckshot McGee", Grant McConnell, Earn Douglas, or other picturesque characters who helped Fred (Dad) with his horse-breaking and cattle roping and branding. Each, in turn, was more or less a member of the family, and inhabited the "bunk house" over past the corrals (except at meal times) when many hair-raising experiences with cattle or horses would be exchanged and laughed about. Sometimes a "hired girl" (to help Mother in the kitchen) would also be adopted into the family as Eliza Pyle, Dessie McGregor, or Dede Walker. In these days $25.00 a month was considered a good wage for "help" along with their board and room.


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F.Y. Cory (Cooney) and her rancher Husband Fred Cooney


As Sayre, Bob and Ted grew older, they all had chores to do, as setting the table, and wiping dishes (for Sayre), bringing in arm loads of wood from the wood pile to the wood box in the kitchen. The wood box was a perfect perch for visiting hunters --hunting for deer, ducks, grouses Canadian geese and prairie chickens. They would sit there and talk, while Fanny was getting supper gaily enjoying, with Fred, their laughter and jokes and tales of great hunting experiences. Another chore was drawing up and bringing in buckets of water from the well, for the boys. The well was a picturesque rock one, across the roadway from the back door, with a cottonwood tree on one side and a lilac bush on the other.


A slope beyond (behind the well) led down to the huge garden where all members of the family worked with more or less zeal. Originally it was Grandpa Cooneys pride, and he didn't wish anybody else to "monkey" with it! In the early days of Fanny and Fred's marriage, Fanny had a wonderful Chinese Cook, named "Gim", who had formerly worked for her and her floods of company at her retreat bungalow, at Beaver Creek --in the mountains to the northeast of Helena. Gim "fussed" over company she said, but always turned out marvelous meals! Well, unfortunately, he got in very bad with Grandpa Cooney by monkeying in his garden. Grandpa was heard to bellow that he'd "Just as soon have a cow in the garden as that Chinaman!" This was too much of an insult for poor Gim, who tearfully packed his few things together, saying that he couldn't live in the same house with that "old gentleman!" - and had Fred take him to "town" (Helena) in the "light wagon." Fanny confesses she had tears in her eyes too, as he left.


Grandpa Cooney really lived in a picturesque log cabin down the path on the bank of the Lake, where Avalanche Creek flowed into a "Pond," after it meandered between the lower edge of the garden and the higher ground, where the corrals and barn and bunkhouse were. This (Grandpa's) cabin had one door and three windows and looked up towards the "head of the lake" and the dreamy hills, (towards Winston) beyond. A huge willow tree grew nearby on the pond side and made a wonderful place for tree houses --the grandchildren later found. The small house itself was made of peeled logs which had been saved from the old Cooney house which had been Grandpa and Grandma's home much earlier, when they lived with their nine children (Ed, George, Tom, Fred, Ella, Ag, Alf, Sid, and Winnie) in the rich, low, Missouri River valley --before the Montana Power Co. had built a dam at Canyon Ferry. After the dam had "gone in" this rich "bottom land" had been flooded out --with its acres of natural pastureland and Indian arrowheads along the river. Grandpa had died, when the children were very small. While he had loved his little cabin on the lake in the summer, in the winter he had agreed to go to "town" with "Ma and the girls", on account of his "rheumatics." His great enjoyment in the summer was fishing for perch ("a parch is a good fash") with his long bamboo pole. The grandchildren had the honor of helping him dig and find angleworms. They would also run down the little winding path and call him for meals.


On the left hand side of the well, under the cottonwood tree, was a long, low, wooden table, which held the tubs on washday. During all the early years, Fanny energetically scrubbed out the dirty clothes on a scrub board at the first tub, (many had to be boiled in a big clothes boiler, on the wood range, in the kitchen.) and then wrung them with hand wringer into the second tub and then into a big clothes basket to be pinned on the lines. In winter the washing had to be done in the kitchen, and clothes would freeze stiff as they were hung on the line. Whether winter or summer, how sweet they would always smell when they came into the house. There was a family story about how Fred (Daddy) had taken buckets of diapers, down to the lake to wash them, when we were very young. Dear little Fanny felt that the house should be so clean, for her marvelous babies, that she used to make or have Daddy mop her kitchen floor every single day. She even tried to do it in milk, for special. By the time Ted came along though, she didn't worry so much --but took it a little easier --"in stride". He was allowed to just sort of "grow", like "Topsy".


 In those "good old days" there were no drip-dry clothes --and, of course, no electric irons! Light irons had a detachable wooden handle and heavy, flat irons were lifted and handled with as many hot pads as necessary to keep ones hands from being burned since the irons were repeatedly heated on the hot kitchen stove. The ironing board was stretched between the "sink" or the small table and the top of a chair, or the breadboard, in the kitchen, where the range (stove) had to be kept "piping hot" to heat the irons. In the summer a slightly cooler place to work was the dining room through the little "entry". The entry was a cheery little hall between the kitchen and dining room --with shelves of dishes on one side and a window on the other. That window was hard to wash because it was divided in about 4" panes, set in deep block wood molding. A continuous row of three of these same type of windows, in the dining room, also faced the South. Facing the Lake (West) was a tall, diamond paned French-door type of window, which was harder yet to wash) where the ironing board could be stretched between a window ledge and the round dining table, with all the windows open. In summer, among other advantages, tall, colorful hollyhocks nodded in the window. In the winter a piece of tallow hung there for hungry birdies to peck and fight over.



The Romance of the Corals

by Sayre Cooney Dodgson (The daughter of F.Y. Cory)


The children, from a very early age, were intrigued by the "goings on" over at the corrals. Dad usually had hired men to help him round up and bring in a band of horses or cattle from the range. They would mill wildly around in the big corral (after they were finally driven in with much dust and breaking away this way and that). And then, as they were to be "halter broke", or branded, they were herded individually into one of the two "small" corrals --or into the "shoot" sometimes for horses. There would be a small fire by the saddle shed to heat branding irons to red hot. The Cooney brands were 7V for horses and 49 for calves. There would be expert twirling and throwing of lariat ropes and tying down of the kicking, struggling, frightened animals. Then there would be the smoke of branding irons, warnings of men to "be careful" and "look out", and sometimes the lunging of a wild brute against the fence. How very sturdily these corals had to be built!


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This watercolor was titled: “The Buckaroos”
“A Watercolor Painting of Western Child Life by Fanny Y. Cory of Montana”
Copyright 1920 by Perce Pearce

The coral was such a wonderful perch for extra cowboys who seemed to be always attracted at branding or breaking times –and who have been known to leap off precipitously, as a plunging steer or bronco careened into it! The children were allowed only to peek through the slats, and, indeed wouldn't have wished to get any closer. Mother always was in the kitchen, cooking up a big meal for any and all workers. In fact, it was an unwritten law at this time, in rural Montana, that whoever "dropped in" on horse-back, wagon, or on foot was invited to eat, with the family.



Fairy Stories and Books

by Sayre Cooney Dodgson (The daughter of F.Y. Cory)


There may not be many people today who have heard about "The Nine Little Green Men". But there were three small people some years ago, who would rather listen to stories of "the little green men" than anything else --as they sat around Mother's knee, by the cozy stove in their "front room", before going to bed. The best part of these fanciful stories was that these three small people saw themselves taking important parts in the fascinating adventures that tripped so easily from Mother's lips! She never seemed to be too tired to give her time to making these children happy, before sending them off to bed. And the last ritual of all --after their last urgent teasing for "more story" had failed, was their "Now I lay me" prayer, which she had taught them at her knee.


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F.Y. Cory with her 3 kids gathered around her chair on the Montana ranch.

Left to Right: Bob, Ted and Sayre


As their little Mother had always been a great reader of books and said she couldn't remember a time when she wasn't able to read, she had read every book in the Helena Public Library by the time she was eleven! So, very early, she started reading books to her three babies --for their mutual pleasure. They were such books as: The Secret Garden, Little Women, Little Men, Under the Lilacs, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Ivanhoe and The Jungle Books. These and many, many others held us spellbound, night after night. Small Ted would rebel, as Mother started to read a new Dickens (they were usually large volumes and so were given to lengthy descriptions) --but, as the story progressed and gained in excitement, he was the most fascinated listener of all! In these days, reading at night was done by kerosene lamp and sometimes, when the kerosene ran out, Mother even read with a candle in one hand. She made the characters come alive by her dramatic renditions as she sat in her rocking chair by the cozy stove, during long winter evenings with her appreciative audience close around her. After Dad had read his paper by the dining room table, he would often join them, stretching on the couch --and sometimes being soothed to sleep.


At a certain stage in Bob and Ted's lives the romantic novels of "when knighthood was in flower" completely captivated their imaginations! They became knights, bold and brave, having thrilling and blood-curdling adventures. They spent much time drawing suits of armor with highly decorated shields and helmets with plumes flying! Ted thought of himself as "Sir William the Great," and made up a poem, which contained these words: "Sir William the Great hit him over the pate. Now don't you think that's a terrible fate?"



The Most Important Thing

by Sayre Cooney Dodgson (The daughter of F.Y. Cory)


When the children were ready to pull hair in a rage, Mother gave them a serious (motherly) talk which they knew that she meant --and which they would never forget (though they might not always act upon it.) It was this: "Do you know that love is the most important thing in this whole world? It is the strongest thing in this whole world, too! The children couldn't quite see how this was true, but if Mother said so, it must be!


She would punish them in the good, old-fashioned way, with her hand on their bare "bottoms". And when she found this was too hard on her hand, she used a brisk hairbrush. This was a marvelous instrument of correction until young Ted hid it one day! Mother didn't "lay on the paddy whacks" until her anger was kindled to the boiling point! And then, her children (seeing that flash in her eyes) would scream "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'll never do it again!" Whether or not the "paddy whacks" fell, there was always a marvelous reconciliation, afterwards. There were great outpourings of tears, and huggings, with many an "I love you!" from both sides.


When Mother lost her patience with Daddy, and said some hot words to him, she would very soon come up close, and give him a warm little pat on the arm and whisper "I'm sorry." This was, whether or not, she thought she had really been wrong! So, her teaching of loving and forgiving each other was probably Mother's most valuable lesson to her family, as we look back, through the years.



That Unquenchable Sparkle

by Sayre Cooney Dodgson (The daughter of F.Y. Cory)


Many can have talent, but genius is another matter. As Fanny Y. Cory's son, Bob, once quipped many years ago (having reference to himself, brother Ted and sister Sayre, who were fond of dreams and were slightly impractical) "We have all the attributes of genius, but the genius!"


Fanny Y. Cory (Mother) always insisted that I had more talent than she had. Said she, "Sayre would be a greater artist" (than she was, herself) some day --when she had gone to "art school", and all. What a lovely dream this was through all my growing up years. With the dream in mind, after High School, I worked as library assistant at the Helena Public Library where I became so interested in library work that I might possibly have been sidetracked, except for that wonderful dream. Finally, the time came when enough money was saved up --and Mother was doing her adorable cartoon feature, "Sonny-Sayings" for the Ledger Syndicate in Philadelphia, so that the long cherished dream could become a reality!


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Sayre Cooney Dodgson as a young lady standing in front of the Montana ranch house.


How the dear relatives and neighbors banded together the night of that dramatic departure, when Fanny (who was going with me, to get me started) and I took off from Helen on the Northern Pacific, heading East! There had been a warm-hearted gathering at the little house on 6th Avenue (across from "Grandma's") with refreshments and joking, and gay well wishes! All the "gang" were there, made up of Sheriffs, Durfees and Miles (and Abe and Len Knowles). I was even bold enough to kiss Court Sheriff, Margaret and John Hall and Roy Durfee good-by!


F.Y.C. was taking a little "time off" from her busy life to see that Sayre got a good start at Art School. And surely the two wild travelers had a wonderful trip --stopping for a visit to see "Aunt Tiny" and parents (and the "Mahony girls" --Molly and Eva) in Omaha and Cousin John and Elise McDougall in Chicago (He was a member of the Board of Trade) following in the footsteps of his father. Then we were entertained in Washington, D.C. by a kind family of "Thompsons", who were "Sonny fans" and had become acquainted with Mother by letters. Their daughter, Joan, (around 9 years old) was a darling girl, who had her own Sonny book, made of clippings from "The Washington Star." They entertained us royally and took us on a personally conducted tour of their famous city. My head was swimming --finding myself in the center of famous places, about which I had long heard, read and dreamed! Could it be true?



Fanny Young Cory --Remembering

By Fanny Y. Cory (written when she was 91 years old.)


You (Sayre) had a little potty poo chair and I'd put you on it and tell you if you would try hard and have a movement I would "dance and sing" with glee. So if you met with success in your efforts you'd reach down and tap on the floor and cry "Dance and sing! Dance and sing" and I'd cavort around like mad, to your great glee.


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F.Y. Cory in her 90s at her home on Camano Island, WA with her daughter Sayre Cooney Dodgson and her grandson Bob Dodgson


Once I was getting ready to go to a ladies afternoon --heating the curling iron over a lamp. Bob was watching me with deep interest and finally remarked thoughtfully "I spose you're the oldest woman in the world, ain't you muver?" Thus taking me off my high horse.


One day Sayre was making a lot of noise in her play and I said, "If you must scream, go outdoors to do it!" Hours later I heard her screaming terribly and flew out in a great fright to find her standing at the corner of the house with her mouth wide open letting out scream after scream. "What is it?" I cried in a great fright, fearing a rattlesnake bite at the least --but she said calmly, "You told me to go outdoors to do it and I am. "What could I say? I had told her that.


Rattlesnakes were my constant fear for the children. Bob and Sayre ran in one day to say that Ted was poking at a snake that had run down a hole. I rushed out. Sure enough, there was little Ted poking with much earnestness in a hole --made no doubt by a gopher. But, they were often taken over by the snakes as a nice cool place to rest in. Now, there was a high flat area above our house, where the gophers had lived in times past but the snakes had driven them out and taken over. In going after the milk cow Sayre had seen two big snakes up there, and had come back and told me. She was looking pretty scared but she still brought the cow in. I went right up with the shotgun and sure enough two big rattlers were sunning themselves at the edge of two separate holes. I shot them --but we called that "rattlesnake flat" from then on --and we seldom failed to see one or more whenever we went up there. In fact at breakfast one morning, we had been entertaining visitors when someone said "What will we do this morning?" we said, "Let's go rattlesnaking." They laughed thinking we were joking, but we took them up on the flat and sure enough killed several.


I think they must have found that a nice dry place to live, and having killed the little owners took over. There was a den of rattlesnakes at the mouth of Whites Gulch. The men found it and a hundred or so snakes. By this time you'll never see one. I asked Grandma how she managed to raise her family in such a place. She said, "The big, ones took care of the little ones, and the Lord took care of us all." He must have, for they all grew up to man and womanhood. At one point, Fred was sent to find his little sister, Winnie. He found her gathering eggs and about to reach into a high up box. Fred took the little hand down. Being taller, he could see a rattlesnake coiled in the box. That's the sort of thing they risked and survived. Nowadays the children run more risks --of a different kind. But, I trust God will still look after them.

This page was created by Fanny Young Cory’s grandson –Bob Dodgson

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