In the "Roaring Twenties," when jazz music and flappers were in vogue in the big cities, my grandmother spent her childhood summers on horseback, at a sheep camp in a small canyon in southeastern Idaho.
My grandma, Mona Hymas Hill, is the little girl in this picture. My great-grandmother, Luella Matthews Hymas, is the woman on horseback. The man sitting behind her is a ranch hand, and I have a vague memory of grandma telling me they called ranch hands "camp jacks" in those days. (In case you're wondering why his hat has ears, there's another horse standing behind him!)
Years ago, when my grandmother was still alive and living in an assisted living center, I came across a couple of old photos from the sheep camp, and I asked grandma about them in the moment. The lost era they depict fascinated me utterly. Just look at those boots the ranch hand is wearing—and at my great-grandma's overalls! Grandma Mona was born in 1920, and she appears to be about 7 or 8 years old here, so this would have been right before the Great Depression and about a decade after World War I—in a lull between two great storms.
At the time, I begged my grandma to let me borrow them and scan them, promising to return them in pristine condition, which I did. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, but they captured my heart and I just had to have copies of my own.
This picture shows my great-grandpa, Simpson "Sim" Evans Hymas, at the sheep camp with his two sons (my grandma's younger brothers) Scott and Kip. (And a little dog, too!)
Kip, the baby in this picture, died at age 9 of a bowel obstruction, an event that affected my grandma deeply. Even 70 years after losing him, her face would cloud over whenever she mentioned him—her grief still palpable. And it may also explain why she worried so incessantly about all of us as children, warning us of every possible mortal danger, whether it be falling down her deep basement stairs or running while holding a flashlight. (She also apparently knew someone who had died from doing that.)
My grandma told me all about these pictures at the time I borrowed them, but I didn't write anything down in the moment, which I regret. I walked away with a general impression that these summers were grueling work but fondly remembered. She spoke admiringly of her mother, who spent her days on horseback, all summer long, with two children and a baby in tow. Imagine that.
I recently emailed these pictures to my dad and then called him for a bit of help filling in some of the blanks. He told me that Great-Grandpa Sim worked for his in-laws on the Matthews Brothers Sheep Ranch, which was located in Emigration Canyon in southeastern Idaho (which runs between the towns of Preston and Liberty).
And, incidentally, my dad also told me that grandpa Sim had that same thick mane of hair until the day he died, in the 1960s. The way he achieved that combed-back style was by sleeping with a woman's nylon stocking on his head to train his hair to bend backward. That's exactly the kind of quirky detail you'll never learn if you don't scan and share the photos you have and then talk to someone who knows a little something about them!
Speaking of details, I also vaguely remember a story of a beloved dog that was killed by a bear as he tried to either warn or protect my grandma and her mother. Was it the little white dog in this picture? I wonder. I'll have to ask my dad more about that one!
This post was inspired by Project Shoebox, a challenge happening this month on a local television show, KSL Studio 5. The idea is to challenge everyone this month to scan one old photo. Just one. Then share it. Then collect stories and feel the satisfaction. You will have created a memory with a memory. Like I just did!