For the next 2 years Roy continued to write to his Wyoming girl. At the end of the 1914 logging season, he once again went to spend the winter break in Wyoming. He had been saddened when his parents had decided to move to Missouri to be close to his mother’s family. He considered moving with them but he liked Puyallup. Maybe he could buy his parent’s home, he thought. He was thankful when they decided to make the trip a visit rather than a permanent move.
His parents were getting older and particularly his father was showing his age. He preferred they lived close so he and his brothers could look after them. His brother Joe married at the end of 1914. Sometimes both his brothers joined him for a time in the logging camp. Their presence kept him from feeling lonely for family, especially when Richard was there as he would often serenade, he and Gus in the evenings with his violin playing. He continued to care for his raspberry field. But at the end of the season in 1915 decided to let the field go. His dad could use the income selling the property would yield. Roy purchased the lot next to his parents house from his dad in hopes he could some day build his forever home on it.
By the fall of 1915 logging wages were low. Rumbles of discontent filled the air. Men in all sorts of work talked of striking and forming unions. Roy preferred to avoid conflict if I could be avoided.
Thoughts of Mae continued to occupy his days. Her parents were having a tough time making a living off their homestead property. They both hoped her parents would decide to sell the property and join their family in the Puyallup area. Instead, they moved from their ranch to Belle Fourche to run a boarding house.
In November a logging operation in Spearfish, South Dakota, where he’d inquired about work the previous winter, wrote, and said they were looking for loggers, if he was interested.
As much as he hated to leave his family and friends in Puyallup, he needed to be closer to Mae. He made the difficult decision move to South Dakota. He’d hang on to the lot of land he had purchased from his father. He still hoped to one day return, build his Wyoming girl her dream home, where together they’d raise a family and grow old. In the meantime, he’d cast his lot in South Dakota.
On a chilly day in early December, he stood with his parents waiting beside the tracks to board a train headed to the Black Hills.
His mother wiped tears from her eyes, “Please give the Phillips our regards, especially Mae. And bundle up, it get’s so cold there.”
He gave his mother a gentle hug. “Don’t worry I remember the cold we got in Oklahoma. And don’t forget I have already spent the better part of two winters there.”
His father reached out his hand to shake and then thought better and gave him a hug. “Son, please tell me you will bring that girl of yours back for at least a visit if not to live. This isn’t good-bye it’s just adios until we see each other again. Soon, I hope.”
Logging in Spearfish allowed him to see Mae on weekends. In December of 1916 he left his Spearfish logging camp and arrived in Belle Fourche and took a room in the hotel. After he deposited his bag and gave himself a shave. He descended the stairs out to the street whistling Jingle Bells in anticipation of seeing Mae in a few minutes.
On arrival Mae flung open the door. He read the look of alarm on her face. His gut felt sucker punched..
He reached for her hand. “What is it?
She handed him a telegram.
“This arrived this morning from your mother.”
His heart started to palpitate as he took it from her hands. Something happened to my father, or it’s one of my brothers. His hands trembled as he opened it.
Mr. Cook killed yesterday in accident. Planning for his burial in Sumner. Details will follow in a letter. Mother and Dad.
Mae took one look at his blanched face. “Its sad news isn’t it. Is it your father?”
“No,” he said, “It’s Gus, he’s dead.”
“Oh no,” said Mae. “He’s so young. Here sit down, this is such a shock. Does it say what happened?”
Roy shook his head. “No just it was an accident that occurred yesterday. I am in shock.”
“Let me get you some tea”
“No, I don’t need want any. I’m sorry I don’t think I want to go out for dinner , I need to be alone for a bit and get some air.”
“It’s alright,” she said softly. “I understand. But please come back in a bit and let me know you’re okay.”
He got up to leave. He walked down the steps of their boarding house not sure where he was headed. He walked aimlessly for the next hour. Gus who’d been so full of life. His falling partner, an orphaned kid from Sweden who’d come to make his fortune in America. His life snuffed out too soon. He wondered if a tree he’d been falling had taken him. He’d seen other men lose their life that way. It wasn’t an image he wanted of Gus. No, he’d remember him the way he’d been when he’d left the logging camp in November. Full of life and plans for a future on a piece of land he’d recently purchased. He shook his head wondering if he’d be dead too if he’d been working with him yesterday. Or could he have done something to save him? Just like the day he lost his big brother, in an instant life is gone. He took a gulp of fresh air. There was only one place he wanted to be right now. That was in the arms of his sweetheart. He looked around, he wandered around a bit and was now over by the town stockyards. He turned left and headed back for the Phillips boarding house. He knew Mae would be there anxiously waiting for his return.
A few days later Roy received a letter from his mother with the details of Gus’ death.
October 10, 1916,
Your father and I have just returned from laying Gus to rest. We buried him in the Sumner cemetery. I know you must wonder what happened. From what we were told by the loggers who accompanied his body to town, a large limb fell unexpectedly from a tree, breaking his neck and crushing his skull instantly. You can take comfort in knowing his death was instantaneous.
I am told his will leaves you as sole heir. I have enclosed the address for the attorney, taking care of his matters. He asks that you write immediately so the probate can be closed. Your presence in town will not be necessary, he can take care of the matter by mail.
Roy folded the letter in half. And took a deep breath of air. So it was a “widow maker,” the name his fellow loggers gave to the giant limbs that storms left lodged in the tree canopy until one day something set them flying from the tree. One could run from a falling tree, but if you didn’t see one of those coming, they were impossible to escape.
It didn’t surprise him Gus had left him the heir of his will, but it was sad he had so few to mourn his loss.
Logging in South Dakota provided even lower wages than Roy had been earning in Washington. No matter how careful he was with his money, he’d never be able to support a family on it. Working in Lead at the Home Stake mine seemed to be the only alternative. Faced between choosing to work in the mine or leaving Mae behind, he chose the mine. It would be another year before Mae turned twenty-one. Though they’d talked of marrying anyway, Roy was a man of his word.
“Mae I promised you Father I’d wait until your twenty-one before asking for you hand in marriage. Some cowboy might still come along and sweep you off your feet.”
She laughed, “Fat chance of that. I only have eyes for you.”
[i] Gus Cook was a real person and my grandfather’s falling partner. His death certificate confirms the date of death and that he was killed by a falling limb giving him a crushed skull and broken neck. Roy’s mother Margaret Caple was listed on his death certificate as person giving his date of birth, place, etc. It stated he had no known family. He is buried in the Sumner cemetery, Pierce County, Washington. Roy inherited the piece of land he had recently purchased just outside of Puyallup city limits.