Remembering old times with Sally Bitterman | TheFencePost.com
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Remembering old times with Sally Bitterman

Bess Arnold
Cheyenne, Wyo.
Sally values an oil painting in her home of the Tate homestead in Wyoming, outside of Glendo.

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Valora “Sally” Bitterman has learned over the past 96 years that nothing comes easy. “You have to work with whatever you have. I tried to teach my children and grandchildren that,” she said.

Sally knows the meaning of hard work because she helped build up the family homestead 20 miles east of Glendo, Wyo., shortly after Glendo began to experience growth.

She was born Oct. 2, 1910, in Luray, Kansas, in a rock house on her grandparent Tate’s farm to Mae Miller and Edwin Olin Tate.

In November of 1916, Ed Tate traveled to Glendo to stake a claim on a 160-acre homestead and returned home. In April 1917, they loaded up five cows, two horses, three dozen chickens, a wagon, a few pieces of farm machinery and household furniture with Grandpa Tate and their dog, Shep, on the train headed west. The rest of the family left Kansas in an open touring car to drive.

They left Kansas in the afternoon beginning a long, exhausting, muddy trip. On their first night, they stopped at a farmhouse where the farmer offered to let them sleep in the haystack. He could not offer them shelter in the house because his family had scarlet fever.

“It rained continually and I remember mud, mud, mud and dead hogs on the way.

The hogs had cholera. We got on the Union Pacific train in Ogallala to Denver, then to Cheyenne. From Cheyenne we took the Burlington train to Glendo.”

They stayed the night and had breakfast at Mrs. McDermott’s boarding house in Glendo then went back to the stockyards to join their grandpa with the livestock and wagon.

“We hitched the two horses and towed the cows behind the wagon, loaded up what furniture we had and the chickens, then started out to the homestead 20 miles east of Glendo.”

Amos Johnson offered them a place to live while they built a two-room log home on the homestead.

“I helped Dad carpenter. We went to the woods and got the logs for the house. The only things we bought were the windmill and the window glasses in the house. We took the logs to the sawmill and had the boards made for the floors. It was a lot of work, but you felt you had accomplished something.”

“Mom and I planted a garden. It was so wet that when she dug the hole, I dropped in the seed and it would cover up with water.”

They raised enough wheat, corn, barley, and buckwheat millet to feed the livestock. They raised money by selling eggs, milk, and cream. Even in hard times, the large variety of vegetables they grew provided them plenty to eat.

“We raised chickens and had fried chicken. When we got some pigs big enough to butcher, we had pork ” we used to make salt pork in the summertime. We were happy.”

The Tates knew nothing about Wyoming’s severe snowstorms when they arrived. “It was about the first day of April, probably two years after we got there, when a severe snowstorm hit. We just had the five old cows and it started to rain along toward evening. Dad said ‘We’ll just leave the barn door open and they’ll come home,’ which they did.”

“Mom had a bunch of little chickens. She had a stove in the little house where she had them and would have to get up at night and go out and put wood in the stove to keep them from freezing. We had a fence three wires high we could walk over. Dad made a path form the barn down to the well where the cows could get a drink and you could just see their backs going through the path ” it was deep.”

“On the prairie there was nothing to stop the wind. When the homesteaders built the fences, the cattle were used to running, not having anything to obstruct them. They piled up in those fences during the storm and froze to death ” hundreds of them.”

The community always came together in these times to help one another, as well as when a tragedy occurred to one family, such as when one of the neighbor’s houses burned, killing a baby.

“The mother was heating water on an oil stove for washing and went out to the field to take her husband some water. The fire started with the oil stove. My dad helped dig the grave for the baby and all the women went to the aid of the family. The house was not totally destroyed and the family did remain there.”

Sally was 9 years old before she could attend school because there was no schoolhouse nearby. In 1918 there were enough families to justify building a schoolhouse north of them, where she attended until sixth grade. Mrs. Nellie Schurr hauled the children 5 miles to school in a spring wagon drawn by Shetland ponies.

“Our schoolhouses weren’t fancy. They were one room with a few desks, the teacher’s desk and a stove. Mrs. Iris Schull was our teacher, who was paid about $30 a month. If she could find one of the boys who lived close by to start the fire early in the morning, she paid him $1 a month. The water bucket sat on a stool by the door and sometimes the dipper froze in it and our lunches froze. We had to warm them up to eat.”

The family moved when they could not get a good well on their homestead and Sally finished the eighth grade in a one-room log cabin.

In 1925 Mrs. Tate rented a place 2 miles from Glendo where they could sell their milk and cream. She took a job at a Glendo restaurant for $1 a day.

“When they closed at 4 p.m., they gave us the leftovers from the noon meal for our evening meal. I saw the time when mom had to hunt for three pennies to buy a postage stamp, but we didn’t know we were poor.”

Sally worked for board and room while attending high school and graduated from Glendo High School in 1927. Few, if any, extra-curricular activities were available at school. In grade school they made up their own games. “We played a little basketball in American Legion Hall, but in those days you went to school to learn.”

In the summertime, there was no time for games. The family had 25 milk cows. Sally rose at 4 a.m. to help milk them and worked in the fields all day. By 8 p.m. they were ready for bed. In the wintertime, they played cribbage, checkers, and Chinese checkers.

The community social life consisted of dinners, dances, school plays and box socials.

Sally recalls the problems between the homesteaders and ranchers. Douglas Roberts and his family homesteaded nearby. She said the ranchers had tried to run him off. In June 1921, an argument over fencing arose between Roberts and Captain William Jackson when they were on Cavington’s ranch. “He (Jackson) hit Roberts over the head with a rope with an iron swivel on the end.” According to the testimony in court, Roberts shot and killed Jackson after he was hit and the jury ruled the shot him in self-defense. However, Roberts spent a year in jail waiting for his trial because he could not afford the bail. Even though his neighbors had all signed a petition to have him released, no one had enough money to post bail for him.

Sally married Ray Hegglund in 1927. Ray worked at a garage, but also piloted a plane they used when they killed coyotes. He was killed when the plane crashed one day and Sally was left to raise her two children. She worked at the hospital for $15 a week and eight meals. She decided they could not make it there, so they moved to Cheyenne in 1943.

“During World War II there was a lot of work in Cheyenne. I drove a cab for four years for Checker Cab. People could phone for the cab from the restaurant owned by George Poulos or pick up a cab there. Yellow Cab was at the Union Pacific depot. They really got aggravated at you if you picked up anyone there. There must have been about 7,500 military men at Fort Warren and we made a lot of trips out there for 25 cents, but if we could get a load, we charged per person, and that made a dollar and a quarter. Fares from the VA Hospital, which was out of town, were 75 cents. Everything was downtown ” stores, restaurants, and entertainment. The UP Railroad was very busy. During the war there was a passenger train about every 15 minutes.

My son worked at the railroad and my daughter got a job after school working at the Atlas Theater for 25 cents an hour. I worked on a commission of 33 cents on the dollar for 12 hours, six days a week, which was about $40 a week and I thought I was really rich, coming from $15 dollars a week.”

Many women workers gave up their jobs when the servicemen returned from the war. Sally then began to work at Roedel’s Drug Store for 35 cents an hour. She worked there until 1947. She met Fred Bitterman who was also driving a cab when they got married. He then took a job as a UP freight conductor.

Even though the 1949 blizzard was terrible and Fred spent a week on the snowplow to Denver trying to dig out the frozen steam engines, she felt it wasn’t as bad as the storms they had when they were on the homestead.

Sally is grateful for the ability to remember her experiences growing up in Glendo and her life in Cheyenne.

“My folks were the nicest people you would ever want to meet. They never turned away a neighbor who wanted help and no animal went hungry. We learned from our folks.”

She hopes her children and grandchildren have learned from her.

Sally continues to reside and care for her own home in Orchard Valley in South Cheyenne, which she and Fred purchased 56 years ago.


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