Archives for the month of: November, 2013

Over the next month or so, our diarist and her sister Ruth kept each other company in their upstairs rooms at Aunt Lue’s house in the heart of Missoula.  Then Mama came back from the ranch and took things into her own hands, cleaning and sewing up the lining for the baby’s basket.  Image

These nifty little baskets were how you kept Baby safe during the day and toted her around the house or yard.  Not too different from those big plastic seats with handles we use today but the old wicker and wood ones are much prettier.

So anyhow, let’s fast forward to March 15th, a very eventful day: Handsome husband Jay rides into Missoula on the stagecoach, just in time for something big…

“Wed. Mar. 15                                                                        1922

Mama went over to Mrs. Mucklers.  & Ruth & I kept house which is saying a lot.

To my hearts glad surprise while eating dinner looked out & saw my dear old Jay coming down the street & the world was all sunshine then.

J. Mama & I went down town in p.m. to see why Dad didn’t get his rubbers, & J got a shave & haircut.

Dorma Ruth began making me step around while down town about five or 4:30.

Glen came down on the stage with Jay & he came up here & took Ruth down town for supper & the show.  Mama & Aunt Lue decided about nine p.m. they better get busy with a few little necessities for my room so flew at it.

Ruth spent the night at Rubys & I spent the night in pains.  Dr. Thornton came about 10:30 & 2:30 Dorma Ruth arrived with quite a voice.”

A couple thoughts on giving birth in the Roaring 20s: in 1900, our diarist’s Mama and 90% of all American women had given birth at home assisted by experienced women.  But the 1920s marked a watershed when the medical profession declared war on mid-wives.  In the interests of ‘modern’ medicine, most mothers went along with this (although scholars now agree that fatalities actually increased for 15 years or so before antibiotics were understood).

Childbirth was considered a nasty event that should be gotten over with quickly.  Typically, women in labor were completely knocked out with chloroform or ether and babies were literally pulled out  of their mothers’ limp bodies with special forceps like these from the 1930s. Ouch.


Sounds like our diarist and her Mama decided to have it both ways: give birth in a home environment but with a doctor present.  Sounds like a sensible solution to me!

Put your best foot forward: 1920s style

These shoes are a good example of what our diarist would have found on department store shelves in Missoula, Montana in 1922. They are summer styles, which would most likely have been marked way down in Feb. of 1922. Love those little heels. This photo and great fashion of that era can be found at

After my grim exploration of the fate of poor Joe Vuckovich–the hanged man who barely rates a sentence in our mysterious Diary–it is almost a relief to turn to something a little lighter.  Our diarist continues to live a quiet life here in Missoula as she waits, along with her mother and a young woman named Ruth who I’m reasonably sure is her sister.

“Mon. Feb. 20                  1922

Ruth washed in the evening & I fussed around as usual.  In p.m. I took a little nap & then we went down town.  To the Donahue Dollar sale & got a little Blanket for Baby & a pair of shoes for Mama.  Stopped at Mrs. A. on our way home.  Ruth had the headache all afternoon.  Got a letter from Colette & Mrs. Holcomb.

I spent the evening down stairs.”

Let’s talk a little about shoe-shopping.  Women’s shoes back then cost about $5, give or take.  So if our diarist scored a pair of shoes for $1 she got a deal!  Below is an ad for Sears Roebuck & Co. showing shoes in fashion about three years after this diary entry.


I wouldn’t want to negotiate the snowy streets of Missoula in any of these, would you?  Our diarist and her family undoubtedly had galoshes in the closet of their rented house.  If you feel like a dose of 1920s fashion I found this ad at  Enjoy!

I‘ve found the following information about the highly controversial hanging of Joe Vuckovich in Feb. 1922, Missoula, Montana:

  • Vuckovich, reportedly a notorious ladies’ man about town, was accused of murdering Mrs. Nora Ellan Shea by shooting her in the head.  The prosecution stated she had refused to leave her husband and her baby girls for Vuckovich.  Evidence was scanty, merely that a young woman saw Vuckovich “run around a corner from the murder victim’s home with one hand under his coat, as though he may have been concealing something.”
  • Vuckovich proclaimed his innocence right to the end, with his defense counsel unsuccessfully attempting to prove that the victim’s husband, Jerry Shea, was the murderer. Vuckovich’s attorneys never had him take the stand, for reasons unknown.
  • Despite the efforts of Vuckovich’s defense and a petition to Governor Joseph M. Dixon with 5,000 signatures from Missoulians, Governor Dixon stated he would not intervene in the proceedings.  The Montana Supreme Court denied Vuckovich’s appeal and request for a re-trial.
  • Public sentiment was strongly against the hanging and thousands of Missoulians gathered outside the stockade before the execution, multiplying throughout the day and into the night. Due to threats, Sheriff Cole took extreme caution by keeping the stockade well guarded inside, outside, and on all the cross streets. Added to the controversial sentencing was the fact that the hanging itself did not go smoothly and Vuckovich died a hard death.

Ironically, the young woman whose testimony helped to hang Vuckovich would find her own husband, William Cates, in the same jail cell awaiting death by hanging thirteen years after the Vuckovich hanging.

I gathered most of this from a short bio of Sheriff Cole:, “GEORGE A. COLE, 30th Missoula County Sheriff. 


Galloping Gertie Gallows, Montana Territorial Prison

These gallows were a special moveable or ‘galloping’ model that could be moved from site to site. The gallows used in the execution of Joe Vuckovich and a number of other people in Missoula were probably stationary, but this photo taken at the territorial prison in Deerlodge MT captures the menace of these machines.

Photo taken from a fascinating blog about unusual prisons, you should check it out:

Out of the blue comes this diary entry:

“Fri. Feb. 17.

Poor old Volchavitch hung at 6:15 in the a.m.

I stamped a little dress over. And Ruth worked on a new cap for me.

In p.m. Ruth bathed & we just got cleaned up when Esther nelson came.  She stayed until about 4:30 then we went down town for our walk & got medicine for me & turpentine for Ruth’s side.

Nice warm day.  Snowed a little.”

It may have been modern 1922 with streetcars, movie theatres, and department stores — but this is a shade of the wild west I find chilling, as is our pregnant young diarist’s matter-of-fact description.

Who was poor old Volchavitch, and why did they hang him?  My first step was, of course to search the internet…first, his name was really Joe Vuckovich.  The historic records agree with our diarist; he was hanged on what became a nice warm day, Feb. 17.  Though I doubt it was very warm on those gallows in the pre-dawn blackness of the old jail yard in Montana winter.

Over the next few days our diarist is bored, and chilly.   The old rental house is so dang cold that houseplants froze up and died.  She and Mama are thrilled when Ruth, who I think is the diarist’s sister, comes to Missoula for a visit.

The women take lots of walks thru downtown Missoula, and take in silent flicks like a western called ‘Bar Nothin’  (nothin’ available about that movie on-line, sadly).

Then Ruth gets a nasty stomach-ache…

“Mon. Feb. 6.                                                                         1922

Mama & Ruth sent down to the Dr. to see about Ruths side & Mama came back pretty blue.  Dr. Thornton thot she had cronic appendicitis.

Ruth & I went down town in P.m. as Ruth had to go to the Dr. again & be exam. By the other Thornton. ”

But Ruth continues to putter around the house, go for walks with her sister, and eat dinner at friends’ houses.  Her doctors do not recommend surgery at all; but today, it would be required — for acute appendicitis, anyway.

Here’s why folks avoided surgery in the 1920s: Your chances of dying during or after an operation were high, up to 50%!  If the anaesthesia (chloroform, ether, and nitrous oxide) didn’t get you, the surgery itself or nasty post-operative infections would. After all, this was only a couple generations after field surgeries of the Civil War (chloroform if you were lucky, something to bite on if you weren’t, you got tied down with leather straps and then they dug out the bullets or sawed off your limbs).

Can you blame Ruth for avoiding the hospital?