In 1908, my maternal great grandfather, William Frank Dunn, was President, Publisher and co-owner of the Chicago Journal, which later became the Chicago Daily News.  The newspaper consumed reams of newsprint that was purchased at exorbitant prices from Chicago jobbers. 

So Frank Dunn took the train to northern Wisconsin and negotiated directly with the lumber mill in Park Falls where wood pulp became paper that he bought at a more reasonable price.

While there he purchased land and built a cabin on a pristine lake, surrounded by pine forests in a newly established resort. One cabin became three cabins, and they were enjoyed during summers by each succeeding generation.  Last July, 2013, I was staying in our summer cabins the night I learned mother was hospitalized.  At dawn, I was packed and prepared to return to mother, when Marilyn called to say she had just passed away.  I headed home. 

In June of 2014, my brother and I returned with heavy hearts to the cabins our mother had frequented almost every summer of her life.  She was famous for saving family history, and we sorted through her legacy of generations of family photographs.  One picture particularly stood out from the rest.  This was the image of a very unattractive woman with a square, determined jaw, and a truly menacing look of blatant hostility.  It seemed to shout, “don’t mess with me!”  It took a while before I recognized Mable Hutchinson, my maternal great, great, great grandmother who went west in a covered wagon before the transcontinental railroad was completed.

Mable and her husband planned to travel by covered wagon to California in the 1860’s. Their family included an infant girl, and two toddler girls. Disaster occurred in Kansas City: Mable’s infant became ill and her husband ran off with a young Indian woman.  Mable sent the infant back to family in Illinois (she would later become Mrs. Frank Dunn’s), and the determined Mable and her toddler-girls continued westward in the covered wagon through hostile country where they survived savage indians and ruthless cowboys that beset upon the caravan.  Many men and women died during this perilous journey to California and the Pacific Ocean.  My grim portrait of Mable was taken sometime after the family’s arrival in southern California where Mable established a horse and cattle ranch.  Mable was probably never pretty, but survivor warriors hardly ever are.

Addendum: in the late 1960’s, I visited June and Ruby, Mable’s granddaughters, the offspring of the toddler girls.  It was my mother’s idea, and I arrived with my bride after a long drive from L.A.  I was told, “Don’t be shocked.  They’re cowgirls.  Just be careful.”

June and Ruby were elderly horse breeders with health concerns.  They had been married, one to an FBI agent the other to an insurance salesman.  They were no longer living with men, but quick to thrust whisky without ice into our hands.  The two tall, rugged women were enchanted to meet us. They talked about movie sets, rodeos, dead husbands, actors and stunt men.  They claimed John Wayne wanted their priceless tack collection. 

They laughed at how they began ridding horses the day they were born, but quickly became fragile as they recalled the pain five years ago when they had to give up their horses.  In the ensuing silence, Mable and June wondered if my wife and I might move in and take care of them.  June and Ruby were Mable’s last living descendants, but they were not helpless.  After sad embraces, we drove slowly out of their ranch into the setting sun.  I had not forgotten mother’s warning, which was confirmed by June and Ruby’s swimming pool that had no water but overflowed with empty whisky bottles.