Museum will host Author of book covering a story of life in early Eastern MT
By Cindy Mullet
Ranger-Reveiw Staff Writer
In the middle of February 1883, 7-year-old Fred Van Blaricom made his way across the frozen Yellowstone River, wading through ankle-deep slush, to reach the railroad tracks south of Forsyth and start the trek to Glendive where his father and some of his eight siblings were living.
H. Norman Hyatt, who will be at the Frontier Gateway Museum, July 13, for a book signing, uses the story of that trip, and the horrendous abuse that prompted it, to begin his recently released book, “A Hard Won Life: A Boy on His Own on the Montana Frontier.” The book is based on a memoir Fred, Hyatt’s great uncle, wrote at the age of 69. Hyatt adds additional historical details gleaned from his extensive research into the early days of Glendive and Dawson County.
“I hit the railroad track and started down toward Glendive, 125 miles to go, my grubstake two slices of bread, two pieces of beefsteak, no water, and no houses for miles, and no one that gave a damn whether I made it or not … and me seven years old,” Hyatt writes in Fred’s voice.
The Van Blaricom family had come to Glendive in April 1882, part of a larger family group moving west from Minnesota. In September, Fred’s mother died and his father was unable to care for the couple’s nine children, ranging in age from 13-year-old Norton to 2-month-old Effie. The younger children were sent to live with various relatives. The three older boys struck out on their own.
With the help of a kind Italian man working on a railroad maintenance crew, he made the 125 mile trip and was reunited with his father. That gripping story is only one of many Hyatt relates as Fred tries to fit into Glendive schools, goes on hunting excursions with his father around Eastern Montana, meets many local personalities and works for various area families. Also included is his experience at the Harpsters’ winter camp during the disastrous winter of 1886-87.
Snow started in November that year, temperatures dropped to 30 below zero, freezing the wet snow with a crust that a team and wagon could drive on. For about six weeks the temperature ranged from 20 to 60 below zero with the wind blowing almost the entire time.
“After the first two weeks, the cattle all over Eastern Montana were starving and freezing to death by the thousands,” Fred recalled.
The Harpsters were unable to go to town for supplies until the first week of March. “We put in six weeks of that winter on the bran they had taken out to supplement the bulls,” he added.
In May 1887, many of the extended Van Blaricom family left Glendive for the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. Fred went with them and spent the remainder of his life in western Montana.
Hyatt, who lives in Yakima, Wash., began researching Glendive history after a 1990 visit, part of a longer trip on his quest to trace Van Blaricom genealogy. He published his first book, “An Uncommon Journey: The History of Old Dawson County, Montana Territory, the Biography of Stephen Norton Van Blaricom,” in 2009 and has plans for two more books in the series.
Cindy Mullet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get your copy of "A Hard Won Life: A Boy on His Own on the Montana Frontier" at the Ranger-Review.