Milk Can Journals | TheFencePost.com

Milk Can Journals

Ray E. Butler
Patoka, Ill.

These stories are from the journals found in several painted steel milk cans discovered in an old storage barn on our ranch. Each milk can has a journal and pieces of memorabilia from different times in our ranch’s history. The journals were written and the milk cans painted by five generations of women who lived on the ranch from the year 1878 until just a few years ago.

The following is from my great-grandmother’s journal. It is dated June 5, 1879, and revealed a secret unknown to anyone until just recently.

June 5, 1879

“Phillip has been short with me all week and for the life of me, I don’t know why.

Ever since that rain storm knocked down that old cottonwood by the river, he has been as surly as an ole mountain lion with a thorn in his paw. Wish he would tell me what’s bothering him. It has to have something to do with that dang old tree. He won’t even let any of the ranch hands help him chop it up. He insists on doing it his self and has barely said 10 words to me since it fell. He’s about to get my dander up, though.”

June 8, 1879

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” Phillip finished with that tree yesterday and seems to be in better spirits since we had a go-’round about his moods lately. Of course, now I feel like the biggest crone in the state for pushing the matter like I did.

“I was right, though, about it having something to do with that ole tree. But I would have never guessed just how, if I live to be a hundred.

“When Phillip and I first met in New Orleans in 1871, he told me that his father and older brother were killed in an accident a few years before in Colorado. He made it quite clear that he didn’t like talking about it, so I never pressed any further, figuring he would tell me in his own time. Until last night, we never spoke of it again.

“The year was 1867 and Gold Fever was rampant throughout Colorado. Phillip’s father and older brother caught it as well. Though they had established the ranch in 1865, more and more Phillip was left in charge while they went off seeking gold around Leadville. In November of ’67, a mine shaft collapsed, killing and burying them both. Phillip was only 16, but big for his age. Since a sickness took his mother when he was only 10, he had pretty much raised himself anyway. And a man in this part of the country did what he had the guts for. So Phillip continued to own and operate the ranch. The ironic twist to this tale, though, is where that ole cottonwood tree comes into the picture.

“When Phillip rode out to survey the damage the storm did, he found the blown over tree. Its massive roots exposed and glinting in the sunlight for some reason. Upon closer inspection, he found the glinting came from hundreds of gold nuggets throughout the dirt in the roots and the hole they came from.

“The very reason his father and brother lost their lives lay before him in abundance, not more than a mile from the house they helped to build, then abandoned to hunt for the shiny yellow metal. All Phillip could see was the pain and heartache this represented. So he collected all he could find and put them into saddlebags he had with him. I could hardly believe it when he showed me them in the barn.

“We discussed at length what should be done and we both agreed that the nuggets were neither needed nor wanted. So, we buried the saddle bags in one of the stalls of the barn and swore we would leave them alone there unless it were dire to our survival.”

Apparently great-grandmother and great-grandfather never had that dire need, because a few months ago, it took less than an hour with a metal detector and a shovel to find those buried saddle bags. The nuggets are now in a trust for the grandchildren, and the Milk Can Journals continue on.