November 23, 2005
No Place for a Girl to Grow Up
Cecelia Crowley as a Teen, Probably About 1930 (Click for a Larger View)
Cecilia Cynthia Crowley was born February 6, 1915 at the family homestead west of Thunder Butte. Cece, as she was called by nearly everyone who knew her, was about nine years of age when I first remember her. And, I do remember her very well because I was like her kid, doll, toy, or whatever term fit the situation. She assumed the responsibility of caring for me when I was too young to care for myself, and it does seem to come natural to little girls to watch over their younger siblings.
Cece was slight of build, as I first remember her, with long blonde curls. Her hair later turned to a dark brown. She had big blue eyes, set wide apart and, although slight of build, she was very wiry, holding her own with all of the wild people and creatures of the South Dakota landscape.
When I began the first grade in school, at the age of six, I was accompanied to school by Cece, on our horses. She was then ten. Soon after, before the year had well begun, Cece quit school. The long ride in the cold and the country kids with their snotty noses were just too much for her.
When Cece was about twelve or thirteen years old, she went to live with our Aunt Cynthia in Lake Williams, North Dakota. Lake Williams is almost in the center of the state of North Dakota. It is on the shore of a beautiful lake where the estate of James J. Hill is located. Mr. Hill started the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad.
Cynthia Shockley Gulden was my mother’s sister. She had married well, as they used to say. Her husband, Lee Gulden was a partner in Gulden Brothers and Faulk, which had lumber yards, farm implement stores and real estate. At one time they owned many thousands of acres of North Dakota farm land which they put out on shares to local farmers. Cynthia kept in close communication with my mother.
About this time there were three basic types of guys on the South Dakota plains, cowboys, coyotes and sheepherders. As my mother and Cynthia saw it, this was no place for a sweet, beautiful young girl to grow into womanhood. She began grade school in Lake Williams and apparently finished there. After grade school she went to a Beautician’s school in Jamestown, North Dakota, and later a "charm school” in the same town. These later became modeling schools and agencies.
From time to time, Cece would come home to the ranch. For summer vacation and other special occasions. One of these times, when she was about fifteen and we were living on Thunder Butte Creek, we suffered an experience which colored my life. I was sent out, as usual, just before dark one day to round up the milk cows and bring them in for the night’s milking. The system of finding the cows was to ride up on a high hill, sit quietly on the horse and listen for the cow-bell which would sound out as the cows threw their heads about while eating and swatting insects. If you didn’t hear the bell, you rode on to other hills and repeated the process.
This particular night, as it grew dark, I could not find the cows and eventually had to go home and confess failure. Cece said, "I’ll go get them,” and she set off on horseback to complete the job that I had failed at. Long after dark—she had been gone for about two hours—Cece came home on foot and told the following story.
She had ridden in to a place where there had been a wire fence. There were piles of old barbed wire on the ground, but she and the horse were unable to see the wire until the horse had become entangled in it. He got excited and thrashed about in the wire. She got off to try untangling him when he jerked her into the wire and entangled her in the wire, as well. I remember my mother removing Cece’s clothing to treat her lacerations. Her chest, stomach and shoulders were severely lacerated and she was covered with blood. Of course I was the butt of some pretty severe criticism, because Cece was out there trying to find the cows and it had been my job to find them. Well, I guess you know how I felt.