My grandfather’s brother, Ernest, owned a small ranch on the north fork of Little Butte Creek, while my grandparents had a large working ranch on the south fork. The north fork was fast and cold, dropping through a dark canyon of steep slopes and tall firs. Ernest had a cabin there, and he diverted water from the river through a channel in which he had a water mill for producing electricity. I remember the burnt-out refrigerators and washing machines sitting around his property; his regulator for the power was not very effective.
My grandmother didn’t think highly of Ernest: she thought he was lazy and a “smooth operator”, not a compliment in those days. It’s true that Ernest took a relaxed approach to caring for his land, and he did not run cattle of his own, spending a good part of the year in Arizona. Sometimes he would come to our ranch to play guitar while Papa played the fiddle and Celeste played the harmonica. I think he must have enjoyed his life a good bit.
Once when I was quite young he showed me the bullet lodged in his wrist; the doctors had been unable to extract it without doing damage. He and my grandfather told the story of how when Ernest was 22 and Papa was 18, (around 1910, in Arizona territory) their father bought a gold mine from a fellow they called the Frenchman. Apparently the Frenchman changed his mind and wanted the mine back, and a dispute resulted. As the two young men were riding with their father up a canyon to the mine, the Frenchman ambushed them and shot my great-grandfather and Uncle Ernest. Ernest, though wounded gravely in the stomach, shot back and killed the Frenchman. My grandfather was arrested for murder and held in jail for a month while the authorities awaited Ernest’s recovery, so that he could give his version of the story. Papa loved to tell us that he wore out a brand new pair of boots pacing in that jail cell, not knowing if he was headed for the gallows. I still have a copy of the newspaper account of the events.