Kremlin Homesteader Ross Cameron, 1917

This history of Kremlin Homesteader Ross Cameron was part of a group of histories of early Kremlin Homesteaders based on interviews and compiled for the U.S. Bicentennial.

Kremlin Homesteader Ross Cameron was among the earliest arriving
Kremlin homesteaders in 1917.

L. (Leo) Ross and Clara (Strode) Cameron were born, grew up, courted and married in central Illinois. He, 2 miles south of Smithfield and she, near Ipava. Between them was the little town of Bernadotte through which ran the Spoon River.

In order to get across the river it was necessary to travel through a covered bridge. Ross told of how "spooky" this was on dark nights on his way home from courting Clara. The miles between them were traveled by horse and buggy. No doubt he tied the lines to the "whip stand" and let his horse take him home while he got a few winks of sleep.

They were married in October of 1906. Clara changed her name from Strode to Cameron and they set up housekeeping and farming 2 miles south of Smithfield on the Cameron farm. This served two purposes; first it gave them a home and secondly it helped Ross's mother, Alice Mae (Hinderliter) Cameron, who was now alone after Ross's father, John William Cameron's death. Clara and Ross lived here a few years early in their marriage.

Two children, a daughter Fern, and son were born. The son died three days after birth. Shortly after that they bought an 80 acre farm 3½ miles south of Smithfield. Here another son, Eldon, was born and they lived and did well here until the spring of 1917.

The Move To Montana

Clara's father, James Strode and brother Will Strode decided to take a tour out west. James was a widower with two teen-aged children to raise. Ross traveled with James and Will while they toured the Red River Valley. Ross returned to Smithfield while the other two traveled on west to visit an uncle, Watt Bishop who farmed a mile north of Kremlin, Montana.

This was the summer of 1916. James and Will Strode were greatly impressed by the "bumper crop" at Kremlin, Montana that summer so they both bought farms there. James, 2 miles northwest and Will 3 miles north. They returned to central Illinois to inspire more families to move west. Clara and Ross and family among them.

Early in March of 1917 Ross sold his farm in Illinois, and held an auction sale. At the request of the children the family dog was not sold. The dog rode to Kremlin, Montana in the freight car with other belongings. Ross' first car, a Ford, was sold at that sale.

It took over a week for the freight car to arrive in Montana. Ross, Clara and children took the Great Northern passenger train to Havre. Enroute the son, Eldon, had his first birthday.

There was a layover at Havre, and the train was not scheduled to stop at Kremlin when the journey resumed. Since the infant was so young, a request was made for special permission for the train to make a quick stop at Kremlin to avoid having to make the 25 mile journey from Havre to Kremlin another way with the young child. Ivy Rolston was on the same train with a young child too, and wanted the stop and permission was granted.

Ivy and family settled south of Kremlin while Ross and family drove horse and buggy to the James Strode Farm where the 7 of them, Camerons and Strodes, lived for a time in the one room shack.

Not long after arrival, Ross came home from Kremlin with the surprise that he had bought a 160 acre farm northeast of Kremlin from Mr. Mills. There was a neat 4 room house with a rock fence out in front of the yard. But there wasn't a well of water. All the years Ross hauled tanks of water filling cement cisterns for family and livestock use.

Farming and Learning

Beginning with 1917 crop planting there never was a sizable income from that land. At first it was drought, later a series of cut worms, grasshoppers, and hail, but with each year of defeat there was a seed for success "next year".

A great deal of learning took place with the advent of the experiment station at Fort Assinniboine, 4-H clubs, Home Demonstration groups. Ross and Clara took advantage of all this. New farming methods and home-making ideas were learned.

Ross had done diversified farming in Illinois so he incorporated this into the prairie land. He started growing corn and perfected the "Jehu Flint" variety of corn. It was a low growing corn with an abundance of small ears. Since this was cultivated well with space between rows there was enough moisture to produce crops.

Then came the summer fallow method of farming and more tractor-drawn machinery. This also made more acreage being farmed and altogether the "whole picture became brighter." The wives learned new and safer methods of food preservation so gardens could be stored for winter use.

Getting By

By 1920 all of Clara's families that had settled around Kremlin were relocated back in Illinois. These included her Strode brothers and a sister, Sally Hulvey, and large family. She and her husband had tried homesteading across the Missouri River near Roy but that didn't work. They almost starved there one winter.

Ross and Clara decided to get their invested money back and not pull up stakes and leave all behind. They proved a living could be made by supplementing with various jobs Ross could do like carrying mail on a northwest route out of the Kremlin post office and taking on the school custodian job at another time.

Clara sold eggs, cream and butter as well as raised herds of turkeys. It's a mystery how those turkeys made it to holiday dinners because they were sold back east in St. Paul, Minnesota. There had to be refrigerator cars at the time on the trains.

Then one time Ross sold the rocks from out in front of the house to the road construction work being done to crush gravel for Highway #2 covering.

There always seemed to be a way because they had the will and the know-how to do things. There was a determination not to return to Illinois broke. At the time more and more people returned to their original homes. There was more land for sale around Kremlin. Some of it sold for delinquent taxes while others just plain sold out for what they could get. Ross did buy some this way and stayed on.

The Horse Shoe Gang

The Church was the social center for those who hung on. Out of this group came the "Horse Shoe Gang" as it was called. The men played the game and the ladies prepared the food.

There was the home made ice cream because Ross had hauled the ice from the Milk River in the winter and stored it in the ice house. This and the coal-hauling from the near-by mines at Box Elder was all done with horses and wagon. The ice could have been hauled on a sled too.

The names associated with the "Horse Shoe Gang" were: Horeish, Swartout, Howser, Wilgus, Cady, Winter, Hill, Rolston, and Cameron. These are family names of people who formed the early days of this community and held everything together when it could have fallen apart and become deserted. It was the school, church and close relationships that held them together and gave them courage to do what had to be done.

The James Strode farm was purchased by John Reynolds and is still in possession of that family. The Will Strode farm was owned by Marvin and Grace Winter and his daughter, Mary Frances (Winter) Johnson and husband Norton Johnson's family still owns it.

There is some addition to the 160 acres Ross and Clara bought originally, but they and son Eldon are deceased now, and the Cameron Estate is being leased and farmed by neighbors, Ray Vogel and Son-in-law Roger Larsen and his wife, Fern. The Cameron daughter, Fern, lives at Bigfork, Montana. Ross and Clara have four grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren, all living in Montana or close by. [Written between 1976 and 1989]




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