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Ina Yaeger, 99, remembers growing up in Central Montana
Lewistown News Argus **
Sunday, December 18, 1994
Christmas Edition by Carol Poppenga

     Ask Ina Yaeger a question and sit back.

    Watch her Crystal blue eyes as they seem to focus on a distance measured in time, not space, while she searches her memory before she speaks.

    Some answers might take awhile, but be patient. Ina has to search through a few more memories than most. This past August marked her 99th birthday.

    Tell Ina that she's going to be in the newspaper and her eyes roll.

    "Fools' names like fools' faces are often seen in public places. My Father always said that!" Ina chuckles. The secret to her long life might be summed in her smile. Ina can laugh at herself.

    Talking about nearly a century's worth of living, she touched on several memories that put a smile on her face.

    Ina was born August 10, 1895 to Angus and Annie McMillan. She was one of seven children. Of those children, only Ina and one of her brothers, Donald McMillan, are still alive.

    Angus and Annie McMillan both migrated from a community named Van Leckhill located in Glengarry County, Ontario, Canada. In 1880, in anticipation of establishing a homestead, Angus instructed two men to build a cabin on a claim he had on Cottonwood Creek in the vicinity of what is now Glengarry.

    Angus also wanted the men to put up enough hay to feed the band of sheep he intended to trail to the claim in the fall of that year. An accident prevent[ed] the hired men from putting up a sufficient amount of hay and many sheep were lost due to lack of feed and greater than normal snow fall and cold temperatures.

    In 1881, Angus moved to a timber claim on Beaver Creek, which was to become the McMillan ranch of today. Angus brought his wife to the homestead ranch in 1884.

    "My father got 160 acres for staying on it. He built a log house first. It was never hot in summer, but it was cold in the winter time!"

    For winter heating needs, Ina said there was a coal mine up Rock Creek. "People went and dug it (coal) up for themselves.

    Ina's father eventually bought one house from the abandoned Fort Maginnis. "He and two carpenters tore it down and rebuilt it on his place. Seven of us were raised in that house."
Ina's nephew, also named Angus McMillan, currently lives on the original homestead ranch.

    Some of Ina's earliest memories revolve around the one-room school she attended as a child.

    "The school was only a quarter mile from my parents' house," said Ina. "One teacher taught eight grades. There were students from age 5 up to 21 years old.

    "The older ones (students) were the ones who had to work - they only got about five months of schooling in each year."

    Ina said she remembers riding a saddle horse to school. "My two older sisters drove a one horse buggy to school."

    Ina said she remembers there were two schools - a winter school was held at Beaver Creek and a summer one at Cottonwood.

    During the winter months, the Beaver Creek school was kept warm with wood heat. Ina said the teacher would take care of stoking the wood stove during class sessions. "But the school board would usually hire someone to cut and split the wood. There were plenty of willows up and down the creek and evergreens in the woods."

    According to Ina, her mother would give the teacher board and room. Asked what it was like to have the school teacher around when school was not in session, Ina smiled. "It didn't make any difference to us."

    School teachers were not the only guests who stayed at the McMillan home. Ina said a traveling man of the cloth, Brother William Wesley Van Orsdell, also would spend some time at the home. Known as Brother Van, he established close to 100 Methodist churches across the state.

    Ina recalled some of the household chores she was responsible for as a child.

    "There were dishes to wash. And always, always potatoes to peel because there were hired men around to be fed. I also milked cows. I started milking cows when I was 9 years old - it was the woman's job to milk the cows." Ina commented that her mother made butter and traded it for groceries.

    However, everyone helped out with the gardening chores, Ina said. "It was not necessarily mother's job. But when I got to be head of a family (after marriage) - then it was my job."

    One of the preserving tasks Ina recalled was making syrup from native fruit such as chokecherries, buffalo berries and gooseberries. "But I didn't use pectin - I just cooked them down."

    Ina said that at one time, her father - before 1880- had a vegetable garden in Helena.

    "He raised vegetables and sold them around the back doors. He dug pits and put a week's supply in the pits with straw over the top. Then he made weekly deliveries. He sold vegetables to the gold miners."

    Some of Ina's most fond memories are of the social gatherings and dances in Cottonwood. She said empty hotels there had large day rooms that accommodated the dances.

    "Violin and guitar were played. For dances there would be toe taps, waltzes and square dancing. And quadrilles!"

    Food played a big part in the festivities. "Was there food? There sure was!" Ina exclaimed. "Coffee and cake and sandwiches. We would stop (dancing) and have supper at midnight."

    Held mostly on Friday or Saturday nights, the dances went on into the early morning hours - 3 or 4 a.m.

    "But not in the summer. People would have to be working early the next day."

    Depending on the Season, Ina said she would travel the four miles to Cottonwood either by sleigh or wagon. "We had two boards on the sleigh box, but we would load it up with hay, and we sat in the hay to keep warm."

    Two other modes of transportation, stage and train, were routed near the area Ina lived but, she said, she did not ride either.

    "The Milwaukee railroad came in the early 1900s. There was a station at Glengarry, I think." Although she did not actually see any of the rail lines laid, Ina does recall that the construction was accomplished using horse teams and scrapers to level the raised track beds. She said supplies were freighted from Fort Benton to Judith Gap, Beaver Creek and to Lewistown.

    "We' would get supplies every week in Lewistown. A man by the name of Thompson would come in a covered wagon, bringing supplies - either dried or canned- from Fort Benton, One time he brought oranges." Ina smiled. "A neighbor's girl was 21 years old and she saw her first orange."

   Ina recalled that the stageline ran one mile north of her parents' place."There was a place where they stopped and changed horses." She added that White Sulphur Springs at one time was the closest post office and that people would rotate the responsibility for the weekly mail run.

    Ina said she remembers first seeing automobiles around 1914. I was about 20 years old, J. D. Waite had an electric car. It didn't go very far on the battery.

    "I first drove a car during WW I, picking up things for the Red Cross. We had an active Red Cross group out here, making things for the boys.

    Among the things Ina would collect were socks. "The Swiss women here knitted socks using the German pattern," said Ina, "That meant all the toes were wrong -they were pointed instead of square, It was my job to cut the toes out and make them right." She said sweaters were also knitted "for the boys."

    Ina graduated from Fergus County High School in 1914. She spent the next school year at Montana State University at Bozeman, taking accounting, bookkeeping and shorthand.

    But I didn't get a teaching certificate. I worked at home, " she said. "My father had 125 head of cattle. My sister Anna and I helped take care of them." She said her father raised sheep too. "But they were kept fenced in."

    Ina said her sister also drove a reaper on her father's place. "But I never did - I was too short."

    Ina married Frank Yaeger in 1921. Ina recalled an incident involving geese and her husband.

    "I had four geese. My husbands mother wanted some, so he gave her two. But she got two drakes and I got the two hens." Ina chuckled. "We were out of business shortly there after.

    Another time, Ina said, she cut a diamond willow to make a cane out of.

    "I put it (aside) so it could dry - then I could peel the bark off it. Later I discovered it was gone. My husband took it and put it in the hen house for the hens to roost on!"

    Ina said she taught Sunday school for many years. "I taught in Glengarry - and in Lewistown too. When Rev. Jones was here (in the late 1950s), he taught us (women of the church) and then we taught the Sunday school. In Lewistown I taught older women. In Glengarry it was just children."

    Ina and Frank initially made their home in Cottonwood, where they raised two sons and a daughter - Robert, Harold and Janet.

    "Bob retired from the Soil Conservation Service in Wyoming when he got to be 60," Ina said.
Harold eventually ended up farming in the Flathead Valley near Kalispell and Janet (now Lewellen) has remained in Lewistown.

    In the 1950s Ina and her husband moved to Lewistown. Even with advancing age, Ina continued to raise a garden each year, filled with numerous flowers - gladiolus, irises, peonies, lilies and snapdragons.

    "I had a little garden shovel and I turned the garden soil by hand." Ina smiled and joked. "That's why I'm so old now.

Copyright 1998-2006 - Ann Kramlich and Betty Distad - All Rights Reserved

** Consent to post the stories and photos for non commercial use from the Lewistown News Argus was graciously granted by Dave Byerly owner and Publisher. These stories and photos may not be used by any commercial entity for any reason without consent from the  Lewistown News Argus.