This is an incredible story of one family's quest for a better life. Jobs were hard to find. The Crosby sons of Floyd Wallace were each in their own way trying to find financial stability in a time of financial uncertainty. Floyd Wallace Crosby is fresh from Bartle, Cuba, after founding and helping with the family sawmill, now overseen by his son Jesse.
Anson Newell Crosby is a chiropractor by trade from Monroe, Wisconsin. He is the half-brother of Floyd Wallace. Anson must have learned about the available lands in the West for settlers. The lands were basically free, after completing residency requirements of the time, which were 5 years. It was Anson, who approached Floyd and George about Dry Land Wheat farming in Montana.
This chain of events led to a 43-year adventure in the dry lands of south eastern Montana.
The railroads played a very important role in settling the West. See Video Below.
The Montana story begins with the construction of the 12 x 14 Camp House. This was a featureless house, with no windows, a single door, no running water or any other of the modern conveniences.
Anson, Floyd, and George used this as living quarters while working at the Ranch. More importantly, this became the home for Floyd and Charlotte during their times on the ranch. Remember that Floyd and Charlotte were in their late 60’s by this time. This was hard core duty for them.
But, in reading their letters to the family, they seemed more than content.
There were two deaths in early 1919 which nearly ended the whole enterprise. Had it not been for the resolve and resilience of George Francis Crosby, it might have ended.
This is one of those stories which will make you proud to be a Crosby.
The video can only interpret what happened, but to read the words of George Francis Crosby in “The Family History of George Francis Crosby” is chilling and inspiring.
The homesteaders into Montana during this time period had a hard uphill battle for survival. Read their story!
And just as an added treat, here is a video of how they do it today. Wow, what a difference a few decades can make!
Epilogue - the life of George Francis Crosby
No story can be complete without an ending. As I studied the life of George Francis, it seemed that there was something incomplete about the story. There were stark contradictions in elements of his life, which needed to be understood.
Carol and I ventured back to Montana in June of 2018 to visit Minnie Eileen (age 93 – Daughter of George Francis); LaDonna (age 81 – Granddaughter), and Darlene (age 79 –Daughter in Law).
George Francis came from a family of many talents and experiences – a family which was entrepreneurial, very skilled in practical trades, willing to take risk, inventive, mutually supporting, and with the ability to survive adversity.
Yet, at the time of his death, he had accumulated about 2500 acres of Montana land. However, everything was mortgaged.
Adversity seemed to be a part of his life – crops wiped out numerous times by hail, flu epidemic of 1918, stolen crops, house burned down, and he died a tragic death when his tractor rolled over on him when he was 73 years old. His life style was one of poverty – living in substandard housing his whole life.
So – what was it that drove him to stay with that property all those years.
From discussion with the 3 ladies, it seems that these were the values that guided his life:
· He was greatly influenced by his religion – attending church both on Wednesday evenings and all-day Sunday – the family was required to attend with him.
· He was a friend to everyone.
· He was very particular and precise in what he did and how he did it.
· He would stick to what he considered worthwhile. Profit was not his motive. For example, rather than plant crops which would give him the best return, he tended to want to experiment.
We can only speculate how all of these elements affected his outlook and decision making.
His older brother Clarence, although not a land owner, had two of these same characteristics – religion and principle ahead of profit.
George Francis Crosby was an honorable man. He put his interpretation of religion and family above all else.
His youngest son Floyd Andrew and wife Darlene were willing to take on the challenge of making a living off the property. However, when George died in 1960, their dream died with the debt and pressure from his siblings to abandon the property to pay off the debt.
And so, from the beginnings in 1917 until the death of George in 1960, the Crosby’s of Toluca lived their dream for 43 years.
Larry Allen Crosby
July 17, 2018
Excerpts from the “The Family History of George Francis Crosby”
In the summer of 1917, Floyd and Charlotte, after visiting with Anson in Monroe, Wisconsin, had informed George that Anson would like to consult with him about going to Montana.
Floyd, Anson, and George boarded a train for Toluca, Montana on May 2, 1917 – “on their way to another pioneering adventure of which my father was very fond.” This according to the writings of George.
The project was off to a good start after they had built the camp house. (the 12x14 shed mentioned in the Family Letters)
George purchased an Emerson Brantingham tractor and a three-bottom plow to start the farming operation, and Floyd was building fence.
The whole country was badly infested with prairie dogs. It took much poisoning and re-poisoning to eradicate them.
By the fall of 1917, George had 180 acres plowed and ready for seed. He hired a neighbor to seed the land because he did not have a seeder.
George left Montana on October 23rd, and returned to Zion, Illinois where his family was staying.
“Both Father and Mother liked Montana extremely well and decided to stay over for another season. When the weather got a little too cold for comfort in the camp house they went to Billings for the winter.”
George worked the winter in Illinois, and then sold his home and furnishing in Zion, and with his family left Zion on July 1, 1918 headed for Montana. He was driving a 5 passenger Overland car.
“After thirteen days on the road, or trail, as lots of it was in that day, with no road maps to go by, and nothing more serious happening than several blowouts, we arrived safely at Toluca.”
The camp house was too small for father, mother and our family. So, we built a summer shed 16 x 32 feet. It was financed by Uncle Anson.
The wheat crop was ready to harvest, but George had no harvesting equipment. So, he made a work-labor agreement with a neighbor. There were 14 ranches in the area, and it required work-labor agreements all around to get the harvesting done.
When winter weather got too cold, all moved to Billings to live in a rented house – about 10 days before Christmas. Sister Bertha also came to Billings and lived with them during this time. She was in stenographer school.
This was the winter of the great influenza outbreak. About 10 days after they arrived, all 6 of George’s family came down with the flu at the same time. George then learned that the family who had been in the house previously had all been sick, and two of them had died there.
Olo Crosby, mother of 4, died several days later in the local hospital on January 12, 1919.
Floyd W and Charlotte had mild cases of the flu, but Floyd was diagnosed with liver cancer and died in Billings on April 5th of that same year.
Sister Nellie took George’s youngest daughter Evelyn with her to her home in Detroit after Floyd’s funeral. She was only 5 years old and needed a “mother’s” care.
Those who had survived returned to the A.N Crosby ranch in April. Charlotte remained with the family to help take care of the 3 children. She remained thru the summer.
In July of 1919, George purchased one of three of the first International Harvester combines to be brought into the area.
Brother Howard came to work on the ranch that same summer.
This was the summer during which they built the house. They moved into the new house by early fall.
This was also the summer that hail completely ruined the wheat crop that was ready to harvest with the new combine.
George was working until dark everynite, either on the ranch or working for neighbors. Oldest daughter Lois oversaw the house and the younger kids. She fixed the meals and took care of the house.
George hired a live-in housekeeper with a family to take care of the kids. He left during Christmas time to spend time with Evelyn in Detroit.
The family preferred someone they knew helping to raise the children. They convinced an old family friend from the Midwest, Minnie Packard, to come west and care for the kids – a one-year commitment. She arrived in Billings on June 8, 1920.
George married the housekeeper on March 2, 1921. Evelyn returned to live with the new family.
Charlotte returned in the fall of 1921 and remained until after the birth of Roland on December 10, 1921.
Three other children were born to George and Minnie – Minnie Eileen in 1923, Charlotte Jane in 1925, and Floyd Andrew in 1929.
Mr. Packard, the father of Minnie came to live with the family in 1928.
In 1930, George purchased his own ranch just to the South of the Anson Crosby property. He grew alfalfa seed as his main crop. They eventually accumulated 2,782 acres.
In 1958, the old log house burned down taking with it most of the family possessions.
Floyd and his wife Darlene came back to the farm during this time to help build a new house and run the ranch.
George died on October 17, 1960 while doing what he loved best – working his ranch.
After his death, the ranch was sold.
This branch of the Crosby family was well established in the Montana to Spokane region of the country.
Timeline for the Crosby Family in Toluca, Montana
This is a timeline of Crosby Activities in Toluca, Montana. The sources of this information are the “Ancestors and Descendants of Floyd W. and Charlotte P. Crosby” and “The Family History of George Francis Crosby”. The entire text of both of these documents can be found on the Sources page. There is also a great deal of information in the Family Letters. Other sources are the Land Records located at the Big Horn County Court House in Hardin, Mt.
February 17 - Anson purchases 320 acres near the town of Toluca, Montana for $8,262. (EHalf Sec 16 T1S R31E)
May 2 - Uncle Anson, Floyd W., and George boarded a train at Zion, Illinois headed for Montana via Chicago, Illinois.
Fall - 180 acres plowed and ready for seeding
October 23 - George boarded train back to Zion. Floyd and Charlotte stay on ranch.
July 1 - George and family leave Zion, Il in Overland 5 passenger car headed for Montana
Late summer - harvested crops using work-labor agreements with neighboring ranches
December - Floyd and George rent house in Billings, Montana
December 15 - George, Olo, Lois, Francis, George Jr, Evelyn, Floyd, and Charlotte move to rented house
December - Bertha comes to stay with them
December 25 - George, Olo, and 4 kids come down with serious cases of flu. Floyd and Charlotte also infected, but not nearly as bad
January 12 - Olo dies in Billings, Montana hospital
April 5 - Floyd dies of liver cancer in Billings, Montana at home - body returned to South Wayne, Wisconsin for burial in Eastman Cemetery
April - Nellie takes Evelyn (5 years old) to Detroit to live for 1 year
May - George, Lois, Francis, George Jr, and Charlotte return to Anson's ranch
July - second crop of wheat ready for harvest
July - George purchases International Harvester combine - one of first three in region
July - Howard comes from Cuba to work on ranch
August - entire wheat crop destroyed by hail
October - house construction completed and family moved into house
November - December - George hires housekeeper and family to stay in house and look after children
December - George goes to Detroit to see Evelyn for Christmas
Spring - George returns and discharges housekeeper
June 8 - Minnie Packard arrives at Billings, Montana - new housekeeper - family friend
March 2 - George and Minnie marry
April - Minnie goes to Cleveland, Oklahoma to get Evelyn
Fall - Charlotte returns to visit and stays until late December
December 10 - Rolland Dillon is born
August 29 - Minnie Eileen is born
September 8 - George purchases 640 acres in the name of Minnie, directly across the road from Anson's property for $500. (Sec 21 T1S R31E)
August 10 - Charlotte Jane is born
November 20 - Floyd Andrew is born
May 21 - George leases 160 acres for $285 from Big Horn County. (NE Qtr Sec 20 T1S R31E)
April 5 - Anson purchases 80 acres east of his property for $200. (W Half NW Qtr, NW Qtr,SW Qtr Sec 15 T1S R31E)
May 25 - Anson purchases another 320 acres east of his property for $3,600. (E Half NW Qtr, NE Qtr SW Qtr, S Half SW Qtr, SE Qtr Sec 15 T1S R31E)
January 6 - George purchases 160 acres for $300, which was previously leased from Big Horn County. (NE Qtr Sec 20 T1S R31E)
January 9 - George enters indenture agreement with Bank. 640 acres for $600. (Section 8 T1S R31E)
April 12 - Anson Quit Claim Deeds all of his Montana property to Nicholas Keifer of Illinois, and on the same day Nicholas Keifer Quit Claim Deeds the property back to Anson.
October 21 - George purchases 640 acres for $1. (Section 17 T1S R31E)
May 2 - George ends up with 1/2 interest on 640 acres for $1 - from previous indenture agreement. (Section 8 T1S R31E)
December 5 - George purchase 640 acres for $1 - indenture agreement with Big Horn County (Section 22 T1S R31E)
July - Anson Newell Crosby dies in Monroe, WI.
July 12 - Dora E. Shank Crosby files Estate Settlement with Big Horn County - declares property in Section 15 & 16 & No 3 National Drilling Rig.
September 8 - Dora Shank Crosby enters Royalty and Warranty Deed Agreement with Dringman, Otto for all Anson Crosby property.
October 17 - George Francis dies of heart failure resulting in tractor roll over while working on dam on ranch property.