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In little Dorma’s first days, our diarist leads a leisurely life while her Mama works her fingers to the bone washing, ironing, and sewing.  All of Baby’s clothing and diapers are hand-made (Moms, can you imagine this??)  Mama gets a small break one evening when she pays a visit to the Missoula Spiritualists and makes a successful connection with the beloved dead:


Spiritualist surrealism: poster art courtesy of


“Mon. Mar. 20

Mama was busy all day changeing Dormas pants.

            Jay went down to the Dr in morning & got Baby some colic medicine.

            Mama cut out my night gown & then it was night again.  Poor Mama is one busy gal.


Tue. Mar. 21

Mama washed & Jay helped what he could.

            Got thru about one & then she made my night gown all but the little holes & edgeing.

            Baby was pretty good all nite.

            Mrs. Muckler & the two girls were over in the evening. 

            Jay was down town most of the p.m.

            Beautiful day.


Wed. Mar. 22

Mama finished up my night gown, did some ironing, & was busy as a bee all day. 

In the evening Jay, Mama, Uncle Al, Baileys & the girls went a Spiritualist meeting and Grandma come to Mama. 

            Vera Dixon came over to see Dorma.  Aunt Lue stayed with me & kept Elvin also

            Dorma was good & slept all night fine.

            Snowed in the night but was soon gone.”

I wonder what Mama said to her mother: surely she reported the happy news of great grand-daughter Dorma’s birth! 


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.

Are you wondering why our diarist and her Mama are sewing little dresses and gowns when there was no way to tell if the baby was a boy or a girl?  Me too.

The answer is, families dressed little boys in dresses from infancy until 6 or so years old until as late as the 1930s.  And not manly little Carhartt dresses either, we’re talking skirts, and gowns with embroidery:

“Mon. Jan. 23

Mama cut out some skirts nighties & another flannel kimona for Baby & I tried my hand at Emb(roidery).

I called up Ruth & asked her to send down a couple chickens.

In p.m. we sewed a little while in Mrs. Andrews room & then went for a walk down town and looked at the big Sales.

Warm thru the day but nippy in evening.

Had soup & crackers for dinner.”

Here is a little guy in a dress, from around the turn of the century.Image:

Hard to imagine nowadays when expectant mothers factor gender into clothes and nursery furnishings, and friends give gendered gifts.  Back then you laid in a stock of little gowns and that was what Baby wore, boy or girl.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street: Downtown Missoula, MT on a winter's eve

Beautiful shot of Streetcar #50, now restored, plying the snowy streets sometime in the 1920s. Our diarist probably climbed aboard plenty of times while she stayed in town, waiting to have her baby.

Check out to learn more about this streetcar.

Our diarist and her Mama sewed so much for the coming baby, and themselves, that their eyes ached!  It must have invigorating, to say the least, to leave their stuffy rooms for the cold streets of downtown Missoula in search of food, friends, and after-Christmas sales.

“Sat. Jan. 21.

I emb. most all day for a.m.

Mama cut out a few new garments in p.m.  I went down stairs and looked for emb. patterns part of p.m.  Mama felt so bum & her head ached so much we layed down a little while then went down town for an airing.

Mrs Muckler & Virginia also Mrs. Nelson & Esther called in Evening.

My Dr. came also but late.  I had toast & soft egg for B. a little rice, potator & venison cooked fine together for dinner & Oatmeal for supper.

Alway milk to drink.”

Missoula probably seemed like a big town to her, but it numbered only 12,688 souls in 1920 (two years before).  Even today we haven’t hit the 67,000 mark yet.  Image

This shot facing north along the Higgins Bridge shows the city ran on steam heat–note the smokestacks.  The riverbanks, now Caras Park, were weedy lots that probably flooded every spring–the Corps of Engineers hadn’t built the levees yet.  The beloved Wilma Theatre, where our diarist may have gone to see a silent movie, shows its familiar pale beige side, and telephone line spaghetti is much in evidence.

See the streetcar?  Missoula pioneered the one-man operated trolley (first in the U.S.!)  I could swear that the narrow walkways on either side haven’t changed: there is still only room enough for two (not very chubby) people to squeeze past each other.  But it keeps us Missoulians friendly.

To travel back in time and hear a bit of city life in the 1920s, check out this wonderful audio project featured on  Yes, New York was a little bit bigger — but it gives you the feel.

Over the next few days our mystery lady seems not to be feeling very well…

“Thur. Jan. 5                                                                                    1922

Men worked on the ceiling. Ruth churned and watched the hen coop for eggs most of the day. & I felt bum. Got the kitchen about finished. Baked bread. I fixed Jays shirt and made him a finger stall for his sore thumb and fixed my red slippers.  Emb(roidered) in the p.m.

Didn’t feel very good in evening so the folks decided to ship me out of the Wilderness. Mama made me two aprons.”

(If you’re wondering: a finger-stall was basically a tube to protect your injured finger, usually attached with a band around the wrist).

“Fri. Jan. 6.                        21 above                                                1922

The folks washed & I played lady all day. Eat & ly down was all I did. Had kind of a hard headache in a.m.  Got a letter from Edna.

Ruth made cookies.

Sat. Jan. 7.                        22 above                                                1922

Mama & Ruth was busy most of the day prepareing for our journey to Missoula. Jay was busy all Pm taking the shoes off some of the horses. I was busy laying around. Frank & Dad set out more traps & Frank shot a coyote. The wind blew quite a lot.

Sun. Jan. 8.                        21 above                                                1922

I took my bath and fuddled around all morning and finally got ready for the trip to Missoula. The whole house hold was busy getting Jay, Mama, & I off to the big Potomac. We left home about one & got to Potomac about six. Stayed there all night.

Felt pretty blue at the thot of having to go away & leave my dear old Boy to come back without me.

Very pretty warm day.

Mon. Jan. 9.

Left Potomac about ten and got in Missoula about 2:20. Mama & I cleaned up a bit & went up & saw Dr. Thornton. He gave me some stuff for my stomach and a diet of milk, toast & cereals.

Jay got his money from the Reclamation office & then went up to Mr. Nelsons. Mr. Nelson came downtown with Jay & had us go up to his house for supper. Mama stayed there all night & Jay & I went down to the hotel.”

–Ah hah!  Travel to town, visit to the Doctor’s office, prescription for a bland starchy diet: our diarist is expecting!

A few days later phone call from the owner of Circle Square Antiques brought me back through that creaky wooden door.  “Come see what else was with the diaries,” said John, who I view as a friendly Charon guiding folks across the river Styx into myriad unknown pasts.

A small dingey envelope labelled “G. E. Schoffield, Ovando, MT”  lay on the glass counter.  The cursive writing in fountain pen was brisk; businesslike; nothing like our rancher lady’s cheerful looping script.  If you look carefully you can see how well-preserved it is: an Eastman-Kodak envelope (poor old Kodak!) from Smith’s Drug Store on HIggins Ave. in Missoula.

Who was G. E. Schoffield?  Was it our mystery lady, or one of her family members, or just a neighbor who rode a horse/drove a buggy/hopped on the New York Stagecoach/caught a ride in one of those newfangled CARS into Missoula?  And where in the heck is Ovando, Montana? 

Image  Image

Well, here’s a map, and a picture of the trading post today.  Ovando is still there, still small (81 souls at last census), still Euro-American (98.8%, with 41% German ancestry) and probably still mostly a ranching community (If one of you readers knows anything about G. E. Schoffield from Ovando MT please write to me pronto!)

Meanwhile, John carefully pulled out the negatives and we peered at them through the light of the window.