Wednesday, March 18, 2015

1915 - Great-Uncle Jesse J. Porteous Farming in Montana

This post is a little added information that goes to my June 5, 2012 posting “We looked at noses, ears, eyes last Friday night! where I talked about cousin Sharon showing me an image picturing a few people, a horse, and small animals standing in front of what looks like a pile of grain. It looked like they were out in a vast wide open space, too. We wondered where it could have been taken. When you read the post, we did figure out they were standing on land in Montana. Sharon's picture was accompanied by a description note which was a godsend because without that note, cousin Sharon and I could never have identified the family.

“Vera is holding the horse Dean is in the saddle Florence stands by me the thing standing in front of Vera is our dog we have killed the little one that stands between Vera and the horse the other dog that stands under the horse belongs to Fred Hepp. The boy that done the shooting.”  Searching the name "Vera" in my family tree database, there was only one family with children Vera, [George] Dean, and Florence... the Jesse James Porteous family. I suspect it was great-uncle Jesse who wrote this identifier note. 

We were also given a little bonus…Sharon’s image reminded me of a long-time unidentified picture I had of a horse, children, and adults! We matched my image to Sharon’s, and even though the people posing were in a little different positions, it certainly was the same family with the addition of great-aunt Mabel. There are a two children missing from the picture... Charles Dean and Dorothy Marion. They may have been in school. We have no idea who took the picture either.

I believe great-uncle Jesse was seeking a good piece of land for farming and since he could get double the acreage at a reasonable price he went for it. According to “History of Montana” on Wikipedia: <Farming"By 1908, the open range that had sustained Native American tribes and government-subsidized cattle barons was pockmarked with small ranchers and struggling farmers. The revised Homestead Act of the early 1900s greatly affected the settlement of Montana. This act expanded the land that was provided by the Homestead Act of 1862 from 160 acres (0.65 km) to 320 acres (65-130 ha). When the latter act was signed by President William Taft, it also reduced the time necessary to prove up from five years to three years and permitted five months absence from the claim each year."

Great-uncle Jesse James Porteous and wife Mabel (Hubbard) married in 1896 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Seven children were born to them between May 1897 and July 1908. All were born in Libertyville, Illinois. Two died in infancy. Jesse was a carpenter. A few years ago, I found him in a 2006 newspaper article titled “100 years ago…” and he was a tax collector in 1906. I had no idea he had been a farmer until we identified those images.

Almost 20 years after they married, they were homesteaders in Montana near Billings. I don’t know when they first arrived in the state, but they were there in 1915. Cousin Sharon sent me a copy of Jesse's “claim” to land under the Act of Congress of May 20, 1862 for the land “south half of Section thirty-four in Township one north of Range twenty-one east of the Montana Meridian, Montana, containing three hundred twenty acres,”; President Woodrow Wilson was in office when Jesse laid claim/purchased his land dated 4 June 1915.

I haven't been able to pinpoint where exactly this piece of property is located, but they posted a birthday greetings (postcard below) in Park City which is almost 25 miles southwest of Billings. Of course, settlers would use the nearest P.O. and Park City was the one. On Google Maps, I-90 runs through Park City. The Yellowstone River runs not too far south of there either. In the late 1970s, much before I was doing research, I was on a trip to Alberta, Canada, and went through that area...if I had only known...

We know they were in Montana in 1916 because of a postcard with birthday greetings to Jesse’s father John in Area, Illinois (now Mundelein). Postmarked Park City, Montana, July 17 1916, to John Porteous, Area, Ills., R.F.D. [John is my great-grandfather and Sharon's great-great-grandfather.]

Dear Father this is to show that we remembered your birthday   But a little late, we are having hot weather now and awful dry to.   charlie has gone to the mountains to fish   been gone 9 days every thing looks good around here but some of the wheat is only half crop.   how is every body and every thing back there. J.J. Porteous (Charlie was about 17 years old at the time he went fishing in the mountains.)

Evidently they didn’t stay in Montana very many years. They can be found in the 1910 census for Libertyville, Illinois, and in 1920 census, McHenry County, Harvard Ward 1, Dist. 119. I looked for an agricultural state census for 1915, but had no luck. 

According to the Wikipedia article History of Montana For several years after 1918, droughts and hot winds destroyed the crops, bringing severe hardships and driving out all but the most determined of the settlers. Much of the land was acquired by stockmen, who have turned it back to grazing cattle.” This could be the reason we find the family back in Illinois in 1920.

Jesse and Mabel seemed to not stay in one place very many years at a time. I've searched and searched the 1940 census on Ancestry for a couple years now and finally today I found them in Pasadena, California, indexed as Jesse J. PORTESU. That is the strangest spelling of Porteous I have found in all my 20 some years of research!

In the mid 1950s both Jesse and Mabel died back in Illinois and are buried in the Lakeside Cemetery, Libertyville, Illinois. Jesse's memorial and headstone image are on Find A Grave.

If anyone can add to this story about Jesse in Montana, I would love to hear from you. Please e-mail to my address in my "ABOUT ME" profile on the right.

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