Charles Cranston Jett is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and the Harvard Graduate School of Business. He served in the US Naval Nuclear Submarine Force and has thirty years’ experience in the management consulting and executive recruiting world. A native of the Western Dakotas, Mr. Jett is the author of “WANTED: Eight Critical Skills You Need to Succeed”, “The Doom Loop”, “Field Studies” and “Super Nuke!” A Memoir About Life as a Nuclear Submariner and the Contributions of a “Super Nuke” – the USS RAY (SSN653) Toward Winning the Cold War. He is also the author of the popular prequel to this book - “Bess: A Pioneer Woman’s Journey of Courage, Grit and Love”.
Into the Wind
by Charles Cranston Jett
Into the Wind
by Charles Cranston Jett
Published Jun 18, 2018
Genre: FICTION / Historical / General
Bess II - Into the Wind is the sequel to the popular “Bess” A Pioneer Woman’s Journey of Courage, Grit and Love. As a twenty-one year old single woman, Bess Parker ventured forth alone in 1908 into far southwestern North Dakota to establish a homestead and became a successful rancher. Her journey demonstrated her strengths and steely will as it was filled with challenges, heartache, a failed marriage, and ended in 1916 finding her and her four small children alone in a sod house. Bess II – Into the Wind carries her challenging story forward through the First World War, the Spanish Flu epidemic and into the twenties. It probes deeply her personal struggle with her heart and emotional needs, facing the challenges of raising small children on a growing and dangerous ranch on the pioneer prairie, and dealing with a special friendship developed during the period from 1916 through 1924 and the resulting social pressures of that relationship.
Chapter One July 1916: Near Haley, North Dakota The sun beat down relentlessly on the prairie between Bess Parker's homestead and the Teepee Buttes to the west. The same sun that was responsible for sprouting the new grass in the spring was now busy turning the wands of waist-high prairie grass a light golden hue. The royal blue sky was high with a few puffy clouds floating lazily toward the east, and the afternoon heat shimmered over the waving grass in the light gusting breeze. To the west, a few tumbleweeds danced along the broad pasture. Another hot summer day, Bess thought, as she stepped out of the sod house to fetch some eggs from the chicken coop just behind the shed. Bess's children--six-year-old Marion, five-year-old Helen, and three-year-old Billy--were playing on the dirt pile near the shed. Bess smiled as she watched them roll down the pile, kicking up dust and dirtying their faces. Her youngest, six-month-old Sidney, also known as Tip, was inside the house sleeping in his crib. Suddenly Helen jumped up and raced down the hill toward the well. "Hiss," she exclaimed with excitement. Without hesitation, Bess dashed forward to catch the little girl to see what she was chasing. "Hiss!" Helen shouted again as she pointed toward a huge snake that was slithering swiftly away. Hiss was a harmless bull snake, usually coiled in a corner of the shed on a bed of hay and was almost a pet that the children loved. But that snake is not Hiss, Bess thought with alarm, as she caught up to Helen and grabbed her arm. And she was right. A rattlesnake was coiling up near the well. The serpent was a light brown to green color with a yellowish belly and dark oval blotches like crossbands on its back. Its steely green oval eyes, the flickering forked tongue, and the unmistakable buzzing sound of the rattle signaled that the snake was angry . . . very angry. "That is a rattlesnake, Helen," Bess said sternly while drawing her breath. "They're bad! Really bad! They will bite you! Get away! Now!" She tightened her grip on Helen's arm and jerked her backward to a safe distance. Rattlesnakes were common on the western prairies of North and South Dakota, but Bess had never seen one so close to the house and had never seen one so big. One bite and its poisonous venom was lethal. Slowly she gripped Helen's hand and led her back up to the dirt pile by the shed where Marion and Billy were staring in wonder. In a stern voice, Bess said, "Stay here!” Then she dashed into the shed, grabbed the garden hoe, and ran back down toward the well. The snake was tightly coiled up by the well, basking in the heat of the sun, its forked tongue flicking in the air every few seconds. The serpent had stopped shaking his rattle, but Bess knew that if it sensed danger, the rattle would start buzzing again. Bess's heart pounded as she calmly gripped the hoe, raised her arms, then slammed it down--chopping again and again at the snake. After a few blows, she'd severed its head. Only then did she breathe a sigh of relief. The rattlesnake was nearly four feet long, and quite fat. Bess shivered at the thought of what might have happened if she hadn't been outside when Helen began to chase the lethal serpent. Prairie rattlesnakes were quite common in this area and most people never were aware that at any time one might be no more than twenty feet from one of the deadly critters. A cold chill crawled up her spine. Bess wiped the sweat from her brow. Her arms and hands shook. After she caught her breath, she walked back up the hill to the shed where the children were playing. "Never chase a snake," she said to them, shaking her finger. "Hiss is good, but the others are bad. Dangerous. Never chase them!" "I'm sorry, Mama," Helen said. "I won't do it again." Her brown eyes peered up at Bess. "Yeah! You could've been bitten!" Billy chimed in. "It's okay," Bess said. "Just be careful. It's not safe." Bess put the hoe back into the shed, grabbed a shovel and an old empty burlap gunnysack, and headed down the hill toward the dead rattler. She shoveled the snake into the sack and carefully put the severed head in with the carcass. Afterward, she dug a hole about two feet deep in the soft dirt behind the chicken coop, put the bag in the hole, filled it up with dirt and stomped on it. Then she found a large flat rock and placed it over the buried serpent. Rattlesnakes were only one of the many dangers on the prairie. She rubbed her hands together, breathed a sigh of relief after disposing of the snake, and walked over to the small bench beside the root cellar. She sat down and rolled a cigarette—with Bull-Durham tobacco her favorite. As she saw the children play, she drew in a deep puff of the fresh tobacco, her memories drifting away with the cloud of smoke. The summer of 1916 marked the eighth year since Bess had ventured west from her childhood home in Cando, North Dakota, to homestead in far southwestern North Dakota. Ever since she remembered, she had always wanted to be a rancher. When Bess was a child, she enthusiastically helped Papa on their farm. She loved the smell of fresh-cut wheat and how the air carried speckles of dust from the nearby fields where other farmers planted their crops. Papa was the manager of the grain elevator in Cando--the place where farmers brought their harvested grain--and he always encouraged Bess to learn all she was able to know about farming and ranching. "You gotta have a plan, my Bessie!" he'd always said. "Take chances. Smart chances. Like when sailors are out on the ocean, they often have to sail into the wind. In this life, you have to learn to sail into the wind." When Bess started high school, she had a plan--a plan to learn about ranching. She spent many hours in the Cando public library pouring over documents and books--learning about the Homestead Act of 1862 which stated that any adult who had never taken up arms against the United States government could apply for a homestead--160 acres of land—as a grant. If the homesteader proved that he or she had made "improvements" on the land over a five-year period, he or she would receive permanent ownership of the land. The act was aimed at any citizen--male or female--who was at least twenty-one years old. That's me, Bess thought. Homesteading is what I want to do! And she did it! In 1908, right after Bess had turned twenty-one, she had become eligible for a federal homestead grant and had set out on her adventure--a single woman traveling alone and heading west toward the vast expanses of the unknown. But she had been prepared. She had had her plan. She'd secured her federal homestead grant and the adventure had begun. And she had become successful--at present through successful acquisition of land other homesteaders had abandoned--she now owned 1,440 acres of good ranch land. During those eight years since Bess homesteaded and proved up on her land about a mile just south of Haley, North Dakota and bordering the North and South Dakota state line, she had witnessed the slow transformation of the virgin prairie into fenced-in pastures and broad stretches of plowed ground where the wheat, oats, and flax were now waving in the breeze like a light tan lake. Beautiful, like what one might see on the ocean, she thought as she sat there smoking her cigarette and gazing west toward the Teepee Buttes and the vast undulating prairie. She never grew tired of the lulling and hypnotic wave-like motions of the tall prairie grass and the wheat. Over near the dirt pile she heard a shout. "Don't do that!" Helen screamed at Billy. He was dangling a slimy worm in front of her face. Bess chuckled. Billy was always teasing the girls. Of all her children, Billy reminded her of Doc the most. He had the same wide blue eyes and crooked smile. It had been three weeks since Doc had left and Bess couldn't be happier. It felt like a giant weight had been lifted and floated away. Soon after Bess had arrived in the west, she'd met Doc who drove the wagon carrying her supplies from Dickinson to Haley. His birth name was Chris Stewart and he had come to Haley from Galesburg, Illinois just before 1900. Shortly after he arrived in Haley, a man traveling through town had fallen off his horse and Chris had helped set the broken leg, thus earning him the nickname "Doc." Doc was a handsome man--tall, slender with a full head of bushy brown hair, and sky-blue eyes. A memory I would just as soon forget, thought Bess. Back then, it was all so promising. In 1909, Bess was twenty-two years old and the world was hers to take. Her friendship with Doc flourished. They attended local baseball games together and she frequently hosted him for supper. Soon it became clear that his affection for her was becoming serious, but Bess had a secret: she was not attracted to men; instead, she was physically attracted to women. All her life Bess understood she was different from her friends and classmates. Whenever her girlfriends would become excited about boys, Bess found solace in working in the field. It wasn't until she headed out west did she comes to terms with the fact that she was attracted to women--physically and emotionally. "Linda," she whispered. She shook the thought away and focused on her children. Helen and Marion were chasing Billy around now. If she had to thank Doc for anything it would be her four beautiful children. At the time, she was quite fond of Doc. She'd gone through heartbreak with Linda and an unspeakable tragedy, and she'd drawn the conclusion that what she needed at that moment--being alone on the prairie--was security. So, when he'd popped the question of marriage, it seemed more like a business arrangement for her and a way to garner some security and not be alone. To be frank, she enjoyed his company and figured that she would grow to love him. And she did eventually love him . . . in a plutonic way. It had been silly of her to think that deep inside she could suppress who she really was. She'd spent many lonely nights in her marriage lying next to a snoring Doc while her heart and soul were at conflict and her real physical needs unsatisfied. After they wed, Doc spent time on his ranch about ten miles away raising workhorses while Bess raised sheep and cattle on her homestead. For a while they prospered--becoming financially secure--but then mechanization initiated the decline in Doc's horse business. The grain farmers switched to tractors, which created virtually no need for workhorses to pull plows and other equipment. More people were getting automobiles, so the need for horses to pull buggies was also in decline. When Marion was born, Bess's world had been turned upside down . . . in a good way. She'd taken on a new role as mother, and she and Doc had become somewhat closer in terms of shared ideals. They were in this together . . . or so she'd thought. A year later, Helen entered the world, and Doc became withdrawn and quiet. Every so often he would bounce the girls on his legs or chase them around the room pretending he was a scary monster, and it was in those moments where Bess caught a glimpse of the old Doc, the Doc who smiled and laughed. When Billy arrived two years later, Doc had a spark in his eyes at the joy of having a son, but that, too, soon waned and something dreadful entered their lives. Whisky. By the time Tip was born, Doc had become a drunken mess. Over the last three years of their seven-year marriage, Doc had been a regular at Kiley's bar in Haley. He would come to the homestead drunk as a skunk late into the night, say little, and leave early the next morning without so much as a good-bye. He seemed to have no interest in Bess or the children. Last fall, he'd been accidentally shot in the leg after a drunken brawl at Kiley's, and that had been the last straw as far as the marriage was concerned. Bess was fed up with the drinking. The day Doc had finally left, he quietly said, "I'm not the man I used to be." Bess noticed the sadness in his eyes and his voice, the only part of him that she recognized. He'd left a broken, hollow man with a severe limp and she had no doubt that he would be crippled for the rest of his life. He returned to his original home in Galesburg, Illinois. Every emotion swarmed through Bess in the days after Doc had left--frustration, anger, sadness, triumph, relief, failure, hope. She was terrified of being a single mother with four small children, and she cursed Doc up and down from dawn to sundown. But one thing Bess always prided herself on was her inner strength and resolve. If she wanted something, she would get it, even if that mean getting her hands dirty. Raising four kids alone would be a challenge, but Bess was confident that she would pull through . . . especially when things got tough. So, with a spring in her step, Bess had filed for divorce right after Doc left and changed her name from Stewart back to Parker Now, she and her four young children were alone, but they were Parkers. "Nothing stops a Parker," Bess said as she stubbed out her cigarette in the dirt. She stood and stretched her limbs. It was a beautiful summer day as the Parker children's laughter floated away with the breeze.