Prison

Prison | Guy L. Pace

This is not a current cell in the Montana State Prison. This image is from the old prison.

Imagine, if you will, spending every day, every week, every month for years in a cell ten feet by six feet. You have a limited view of anything remotely resembling the outside. Your only contact with fresh air is the small time you spend in the exercise yard each day.

You might share this cell with another person. Your accommodations would be the metal frame bunk beds, a sink, a toilet, and a small desk with a cupboard. No privacy. One wall is just bars and a barred door.

My last post was about the Old Montana State Prison and my grandfather. Since then, I contacted the Montana State Prison and the prison librarian. I’d offered to donate a copy or two of my books to their library. She was very open and happy to get some new books. But, could I send four copies of each, please? See, the prison has four libraries in the different parts or security levels of the prison. I’m glad to do it.

Prisons Need Books

Montana State Prison needs lots of books, Wendy said, and they especially need dictionaries. The libraries Wendy oversees even have a Christian section and they could use more good fiction in that area. If you have new, or good used, books you can donate, please send some to:

Montana State Prisons Libraries
400 Conley Lake Road
Deer Lodge, MT 59722

Attn: Wendy Zunes

If you can, send four copies of each work. That helps.

I wasn’t certain how to get books to prisoners until a friend linked an article here. Granted the article is a few years old, but the information seems current. The article is a good guide to what to, and what not to donate. The Books Behind Bars organization often just wants cash to help fund the requests by prisons. Those books (usually used) get funneled through a couple of bookstores (one in Seattle, I understand).

But, sometimes, you can contact a prison directly and get books to them, as I did with Montana State Prison. With any prison, there are protocols to getting anything from the outside to them. I figured I could afford to donate a few copies of new books to the prison. I may contact a facility here in the Spokane area, too.

If you contact a local prison directly and have some success, you might post a comment here with an address like I did above. As mentioned in the linked article, prisons are for punishment. But they can also be places for second chances.

Keep writing.

(Note: Wendy said one of the most popular SF authors is Harry Turtledove and his alternate history books.)

 

Desperate Times

Lee Frank Harrison

Old Prison | Guy L. PaceThat’s the name of my maternal grandfather. According to Social Security and Montana death records, he passed away in August, 1978, in Browning, Montana.

Let’s start at the beginning. Lee Frank Harrison was born in Green Prairie, Morrison County, Minnesota, to Henry and May (Edden) Harrison on December 15, 1896. For some reason I have yet to discover, the family move west and landed in Montana in 1902. Grandfather was about five, and Henry Harrison (great-grandfather) was about 40. Grandfather had a brother, Henry George Harrison, who would have been about three in 1902. There was a sister, but I don’t have good information on her.

Something happened in Montana. Evidently, great-grandfather and Henry George continued west to Leavenworth, Washington. For some reason, Lee Frank Harrison stayed in Montana and the trail for May Edden vanished. I suspect there may have been relatives in Montana that took grandfather and his mother in.

Grandfather | Guy L. PaceAs of this writing, I have no good information about grandfather until 1921. This is in part because I haven’t known where to look. I got a windfall recently when I stumbled across a prison admission form for the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana, for one Lee Harrison (aka L. Frank Harrison, Frank L. Harrison, Frank Harrison, Lee F. Harrison). The photo here is the mug shot for the 1931 admission form. This form included information on a previous sentence.

Burglary

In September 1921, grandfather went to Montana State Prison sentenced to two to four years for a burglary in Phillips County (located north of Fort Peck Lake in north central Montana). Lee Frank was about 25. He earned parole a year later and probation until November 1924. He would be 28 that December.

Between 1924 and September 20, 1928, he met and fell in love with my grandmother, Opal B. Russell. He was 32 and grandmother was 19, and a judge in Butte, Montana, performed the marriage. After they married, Lee Frank got a tattoo on his upper left arm of a horse, with a scroll and flower. On the scroll: “O. B. + L. F. H.” The horse likely representative of Opal’s love of horses and her skill as a rider. Grandfather was a ranch hand as I understand it.

My aunt, Nancy Ellen, was born on May 26, 1929. Of course, the stock market crash was coming and things would get desperate for everyone. The family lived in Wise River, Montana (south and west of Butte), in a log cabin that is no longer there. Grandfather was working for a rancher in that valley. My mother, Verna Jeanne, was born on December 18, 1930. The economy continued to decline and weather hammered the little village of Wise River.

LFH Warden | Guy L. PaceThings got desperate. Grandfather, with an associate named Pietila, committed highway robbery (armed robbery) for the sum of $7.80 on the streets of Butte. They were caught and grandfather pled guilty. Montana State Prison admitted him on June, 3, 1931, to serve a six-year term. The image here details his eye and hair color, shoe size, education, and religious preference.

This left grandmother and her two children without a breadwinner. She moved the family to Butte.

Moccasins

During this term in prison, Lee Frank took advantage of the craft and art resources provided to prisoners. The prison encouraged the arts and crafts and often the prisoners earned money making horsehair tack and other items. He made and sent home moccasins for his daughters. My mother kept a pair in her cedar chest for many years and I think one of the grandchildren has them now. One of my sister’s children also has a charcoal drawing he made. We don’t know if he did this in prison or another time, but grandfather evidently had some artistic talent.

From here, we have information mostly based on my mother’s memory. She remembered that he moved the family back to Wise River some short time later. I may get further information on Lee Frank’s second term in prison from prison records. He may have paroled in a couple of years so my mother would not know why he was gone. This lasted until my mother was about six, and in first grade. Then, grandmother took the girls to Helena, Montana, and left them at the Catholic orphanage. She evidently divorced Lee Frank, but I can’t find records. Opal ran off with a rich man, Bert Dolbeer, who didn’t like or want children around.

My mother and aunt stayed in the orphanage until about eighth grade when they went to Great Falls for high school. Grandmother would visit periodically. My mother didn’t have a regular relationship with her until after graduation.

Lee Frank may have ended up in Spokane, Washington, with his sister, but there is nothing to verify that. Yet.

Research

We as a family dug around looking for information about grandfather for years. It just turned out that we weren’t looking in the right places. My mother always wanted to find out more about him, even reconnect if that were possible. Opal, though, cast a lot of misinformation on the waters while she was alive, making it difficult for my mother. Still, persistence pays off.

My father, in his effort to find my mother’s birthplace so we could scatter her ashes this spring, came across some folks in the Wise River area who knew of Lee Frank and the little family in the cabin. This led him to a death record online.

The death record was the key to finding other information about Lee Frank, including the prison record. The prison record led to information about his brother, and possibly his father (I’m still working on that). Believe me when I tell you there are many Lee, Henry, and Frank Harrisons in the genealogy, census, and other records. Grandfather made some of the search a little more difficult by using aliases (L. Frank, Lee F., Frank L., etc.).

The information is out there, and likely linked to relatives I don’t know. I’ll find it eventually.

The Story

Research like this is slow and difficult. Records are not always accurate or available. Genealogy records are often fraught with misspelled names and incorrect birth, marriage, and death dates. US Census data is excellent, when you can figure out where ancestors were living during one of them.

But, what comes out as a result of all this effort is a story of a person’s life. I have much more to learn about Lee Frank Harrison and I intend to continue digging. I want to know more about this man, his life, and what happened to him.

He was, after all, my grandfather.

Keep writing.

 

The Hole

The Hole

The Hole | Guy L. PaceThe things you discover in your travels can change the way you see certain life events. Or, certain people.

This week’s post is just a placeholder for next week. There were travels. There were discoveries.

Things learned.

It all started with a desire to find out more about my maternal grandfather.

Lee Frank Harrison.

More to come next week.

Keep writing.

 

 

Poor Choices

Poor Choices

Choices | Guy L. PacePeople sometimes make poor choices. Sometimes they turn out okay. Sometimes they don’t.

Unfortunately, our history is full of people who made poor choices and/or led others to bad ends. We learn about the Donner Party in school, and how poor choices all along their way across the West brought them to the winter camp near Truckee Lake. They took the Hastings’ Cutoff, promoted by Lansford Hastings, a poorly considered option to the well-known Oregon and California trails. Of the 87 (or 90) souls who took Hastings Cutoff, only 45 survived.

Meek Cutoff, another poor choice along the Oregon Trail, cost the lives of almost 50 souls of the more than 1,000 led across Central Oregon. Steven Meek, to his credit, wasn’t working from a complete lack of information. He d visited the Harney area during a good water year and it looked promising. When he arrived in 1845 with more than 1,000 emigrants, what he saw was the results of one or more drought years.

Meek Cutoff | Guy L. PaceBy the time the wagon trains taking the Meek Cutoff reached The Dalles on the Columbia River, 25 of their number died. Adding the Elliott Cutoff and some other changes to crossing points made the cutoff workable.

The Goodale’s Cutoff came about when “John Jeffrey began promoting a trail following traditional Shoshoni paths to generate business for his ferry on the Blackfoot River.” It got more use after the Northern Shoshone and Bannock started resisting the numbers of white settlers passing through their lands. Massacre Rocks State Park now provides some information to visitors to that area.

Goodale’s Cutoff

Goodale’s Cutoff wasn’t a bad choice. As the web site suggests, seven of ten wagons coming through after 1863 took that cutoff. The first leg of the journey through what is now Arco, and Craters of the Moon, was hard on wagons and their owners. If you’ve ever been to the Craters of the Moon, put yourself in the place of immigrants seeing that for the first time. Imagine how depressing and discouraging that landscape looked to a family in a covered wagon. The National Park Service provides more information. But, put simply, most wagon trains crossed there in full summer (July). The route was one lane, slow, and the lava beds and dry heat took a toll on the wood wagons.

There are almost always consequences to a choice, be it good or bad.

We, as authors, would like to think our main characters won’t make bad choices. They are, after all, the heroes. Right? But, if you want your hero more real, more human, he/she will make a poor choice once in a while. And, there will be consequences. Maybe not as dire as the Donner Party. Even Goodale’s Cutoff was a choice between two dangerous routes. You might not survive the one, and you might die on the other.

Give your character choices. Make them real. Add danger. Make sure the results, the consequences, fit the plot.

Keep writing.

 

 

Perception and Reality

Perception and Reality

Eldorado Ditch | Guy L. Pace

Plaque at historical site in Unity, Oregon.

Writing involves perception and reality. How we perceive things and how things really are.

On the one hand, we might be like William H. Packwood, who thought that bringing water to the Willow Creek Drainage in Malheur County in Oregon would be a great idea. His perception was that gold miners in the Willow Creek area needed the additional water. The reality is, the ditch–once constructed–took water badly needed by the ranchers in Baker County. Things got heated and–at one point–explosive.

Politics aside, the ditch was a pretty amazing construction. It wound about 140 miles, five feet at the bottom, seven feet at the top, with a grade of 4.8 feet per mile across mountainous country (Eldorado Pass is 4,623 feet, Willow Creek averages 2,000 feet). Constructed by Chinese laborers.

The perception is the Chinese laborers were cheaper and more reliable. That makes perfectly good, economic sense. You can read about the reality in the link above. It’s an old story of how they built things in the west.

You can still see much of the canal today if you travel through that part of North Central Oregon. If you get to this area, stop at the Unity historical site for more information. A small population of the descendants of the Chinese laborers still live in Baker City. More information on this engineering feat and the people involved is available at The Blue Pine Publishing website.

Travel

So, I didn’t know anything about this canal until earlier this summer when I stopped at the historical site in Unity, OR. I knew some sketchy things about mining in the Blue Mountains and I’ve seen the large dredge in Sumpter, OR (worth a visit!). But, I didn’t get the full picture until I found the historical site in Unity and found a few other online resources as a result. Sometimes you just have to know the questions to ask and the search terms to use.

As I travel, I do try to stop at interpretive sites as much as possible. It’s amazing the information they provide and adjust my perceptions of what happened in the past. Will I use this in a story or novel? Maybe.

Think about it. It makes a good story line. A group hires a brilliant engineer to build something. The project takes precious resources away from another group. There are consequences. Other story threads that would weave through it is the indentured labor used and the “side businesses” that crop up around that activity. And there’s the anger of the other contract laborers who lost out to the cheaper indentured laborers.

I used the word “explosive” earlier. Yes, that would accurately describe that story.

Keep writing.