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Down on the farm

Down on the farm
Out of the woods.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mary Elizabeth's Great Adventure

My paternal grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Plumlee Downs was a woman who knew her own mind. What was right was right. God was her Father, Jesus was her Savior, and the Bible was her guide. These facts didn't change because her husband abandoned her. She gave up her beloved spot on the Board of Directors of St. Elizabeth Hospital in East St. Louis, her church and her dream job as high school English teacher.  She sold the elegant, and lovingly polished furniture, and left the grand old apartment building to head west.
At least one brother and two sisters lived in the area in and around Bozeman, Montana. Brother Clinton and his wife ran a motel just outside of Yellowstone Park during the summer months. They owned a house in Bozeman, but in the winter months they ran a motel and lived on a nut farm north of Los Angeles about 60 miles. Sister Sara owned a meat market/neighborhood grocery store. She and her two sons lived behind the store in a tiny apartment, not much more than a kitchen with two bedrooms and a bathroom. Sister Laura lived in Helena. They quickly closed ranks around their beloved baby sister. During the winter, while Clinton was in California, Mary Elizabeth stayed in the Bozeman house, got her Montana teacher's license and applied for work. No local jobs were open.
Then she learned that the mining companies badly needed teachers due to new legislation requiring them to provide one teacher for every thirteen children living in the mine village. Transportation, housing, and food supplies were included along with a salary higher than most teachers ever saw in a lifetime. However, only single women under the age of fifty need apply.  Grandma was over 50, married and planning to stay that way, but evidently figured they didn't need to know all that. She was hired.
Her first job was at the Mike Horse Mine and she loved to tell the story of how the mine was discovered.
In 1890 a miner, Joseph Hartmiller and his horse Mike, were out prospecting along Beartrap Creek. Old Mike was startled by a rattler and began to buck. As he kicked he struck a stone and uncovered a vein of ore. The prospector made his fortune but never forgot it was the horse that found the mine, and Mike Horse lived out his days in green pastures.
 I do not believe she was their first teacher, but was certainly their last. She taught all the children from kindergarten through ninth grade. She was proudest when one of "her" children went on to high school.
 When the mine shut down, she collected and redistributed the books stamped Mike Horse Mine School and moved on to another mine to teach.
ME and Grandpa Downs never shared a home again, although they traveled together during summer vacation and for holidays. Grandpa died of an overdose of barbiturates in about 1967. Grandma lived well into her 90s.