Chapter 8: Backstory, my maternal grandparents — Dec 26, 1894 • Fruita, Colorado ~ In a ceremony in her parents’ home, 21-year-old Nellie Chamberlin married Charles Henry Chatfield, a ranching man of 24. Nellie was a no-nonsense Catholic girl and exceedingly religious, but she also had a mind of her own and refused to consummate the marriage. In frustration, Charles took his new bride to the priest who married them, hoping for guidance. Father Carr sat Nellie down and gave her a talking to, instructing her to go home and perform her wifely duties. Nine months later my grandmother bore her first child—and over the next twenty years, delivered nine more.
Nellie Chamberlin and Charles Chatfield
1907 • Sanders, Montana ~ Charles moved the family to Rosebud County, Montana, where for six years he managed a ranch near the hamlet of Sanders. In 1913 news came from family in California about the golden opportunities there: land was cheap, the weather was mild, and rice was the big new crop. Though Charles was a successful rancher, Nellie had tired of the cold and persuaded her husband to sell their holdings and join the relatives out west. Completing most of the preparations for the move, Charles rode into town to finalize their affairs. After being gone for four days, Nellie sent a ranch hand to find him. Not only was he found dead drunk, it turned out that he’d also gambled away all their money.
Nellie remained determined to move. She sold their wagon and team of horses for $300, using part of the proceeds for their train tickets. My grandmother silently readied her household for the long trip to California. She said nothing as she crated her New Haven kitchen-clock, a gift from her husband at the birth of their first child; said nothing as she boxed her button collection, her sewing needles, and her nearly completed crazy quilt—a crayon-colored piece she’d started during her first pregnancy; said nothing as she packed her trunks with her high-necked blouses, petticoats, and linens, and said nothing as she packed away her family pictures, cast-iron pots, and her past.
In a fit of venom while ironing her traveling skirt, she dropped the hot sad iron on her foot. With “all aboard!” and nine children in tow, she boarded the train in a wheelchair, leaving her husband behind. Nellie, now forty, carried her wrath. Charley, the oldest at seventeen, carried his silver timepiece and small leather-bound pocket diary. Leo, two years younger, carried his case knife. Howard, a scrappy fourteen-year-old, carried a chip on his shoulder. Roy, not quite eleven, stayed close to Nellie; he carted the food baskets and what was needed for the little ones. Her first girl, Nella May, a wisp of a child not yet ten, had both hands full hanging on to Verda who was four and tow-headed Arden who was two-and-a-half. Gordon, seven, toted his mother’s hatbox. On Nellie’s lap was tiny three-month-old Ina.
1913 — Diary of Charley Chatfield, age 17, oldest child of Charles and Nellie:
Feb 24 Warm and clear, chopped wood. Got a new baby sister. (Ina)
May 23 Warm and clear. Went to Forsyth in an automobile. May 25 Warm and clear. Packed some stuff.
May 27 Hot. Went to Hysham. Got my money.
May 28 Warm and clear. Left Sanders for Los Molinos, California
To be continued…