Yellowstone County MTGenWeb

Yellowstone County History

Drake Family – South Hills Pioneers

[Reference: Trails & Tales[1], Article by Vernon Drake] 

Revised 6 February 2002

Mary F. Drake was a registered nurse. She came to Billings about 1900. Her cousin Leon Drake was a partner in the Stevon and Drake Mercantile and Livery Barn business. She served as the private nurse for members of the Yegen, Cardwell and other families for births and illnesses. In 1909, when the Duck Creek Area was opened for homesteading, she filed on forty acres; and in 191 1, she filed on three hundred twenty adjacent acres. A tarpaper shack was built on the first forty acres.

George, Verna, and Norman Drake with Baby Grand Chevrolet car (1920)

 Lew Robbins, her next-door neighbor, was hired to build a one-room house with a porch. It was located on the second filing and became the Drake home. Mary continued to make her home in the Lime Springs, Iowa area, and neighbors hired to do the work performed farming. The adjacent homestead was that of C. H. Perrine. Mrs. Perrine (Aunt Phoebe) was the sister of Mary's Aunt. Meanwhile, her brother George W. Drake had left his employment as a retail clerk in Lime Springs. He shipped his cows, chickens, and household goods in one-half of an immigrant railroad car to Ballantine where he took over a relinquished forty-acre homestead on the Huntley Project. In a short time, he was operating both his own and his sister's farms. Ultimately, he traded the Huntley property for Bull Mountain land and moved all operations to the Duck Creek farm. Each season, there was more sod to break, fences to build, horses to break, and the frequent eighteen-mile wagon trip to Billings. The house was expanded and a barn, granary, and chicken house were built. Work was traded with Lew Robbins, Joe Everett and C. H. Perrine. Farm equipment was loaned and borrowed as needed. Many of the young homesteaders were single, and social times were frequent. Bob Stratford; Frank, Grace and Ethel Robbins; Gertrude, Jane and Donald Blake; Leslie, Vic and Verna Williams; and John Germeraad were frequently together. By 1916, George had become a regular caller at the J. T. Williams home even when Verna was away teaching school at Carabella. She taught him to drive her father's Model "7'. In April 1917, he started shopping for a car for himself and built a garage for a new Chevrolet, which he purchased from Mr. Goan. It cost six hundred twenty-five dollars in Billings or F.O.B. factory for five hundred fifty dollars, with one-third down - one hundred eighty-four dollars; freight seventy five dollars, insurance eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents, equaling a total first payment of two hundred seventy-seven dollars and seventy-five cents with balance of three hundred sixty-six dollars due in eight months. Six gallons of gas cost one dollar seventy-four cents and tire chains cost two dollars sixty-five cents. It was a wet spring with rain every few days and three feet of snow on May 30, 191 7. The diary indicated frequently that the passenger and driver walked home.

In the fall of 1917, Verna took a teaching position at the Greeno School just six or seven miles away. On January 9, 1918, George and Verna were married at J. T. Williams' homestead on Duck Creek. In late November, the first son Norman was born. Raymond, Vernon, David and Glen followed in the next nine years. However, things did not all go well. Verna and baby Ray were seriously il1 in 1921 with diphtherias scarlet fever. In 1922, crops and the prices were terrible; and the family was broke. In 1923, finances were better, but Verna was in bad health. In 1930, a daughter Joy was born but soon died. In 1932, twins lived but a day. The farm had expanded to include the Charley Baxter homestead on the north, the Youngdahl place on the south, and the Zimmerman place on Blue Creek. Farming was done with the Fordson tractor in the early 1920's; and 1928 brought a new Farmall. In 1932, Norman started high school; so the family rented a farm north of Laurel which became the winter residence for the family, sheep, and cattle. The move was made with hayrack, wagons and trains as well as the 1919 Mode1 "7' Ford truck. In 1936, the family fortune again bottomed with the hospital and medical bills taking all of the sheep and cattle except three new calves found in the brush after the collectors had driven off the herd. The winter residence was switched to Billings. The ranch was operated by the boys and father who commuted and "batched'. By 1938, Norman had become a Northwest Airlines employee and soon married. In 1940, Ray and Vernon were off to college and summer jobs. 60th enlisted in the U.S. Army Aviation Cadet program in May 1942. The war soon found Norman in a civilian role in aviation; Ray and Vernon as Air Force pilots (combat flying in India and China); and Dave as a B-26 radio gunner over Germany. Glen enlisted in the Navy for a four-year hitch. Farming had become too much for George alone. Mary who was nearly seventy-five years old was forced to retire and enter a retirement home. Unannounced to George and Verna, Mary sold her farmland (the Drake home place) to neighbor Ernest Paulus. George was left with only the Zimmerman place and the acreage was too small to profitably operate. The two previous crops had been totally lost due to hail; so in June 1945, he sold out. The bumper crop that year paid for the farm. The five sons now have a total of ten daughters and nine sons.

[1] Published by ‘Trails and Tales Historical Committee’, Billings, Montana 1983 “Drake Family reprinted with permission.”

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Katy Hestand
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