Seagoing Cowboy wives carry the load at home

Women’s History Month is the perfect time to recognize seagoing cowboy wives and families left at home while their men took their journeys. For three Midwestern farm wives, winter weather presented challenges on the home front.

Evelyn Grisso Smith recalls the winter of 1945-1946 when her father, Harvey Grisso, left their home in New Carlisle, Ohio, to travel to Poland on the S. S. Park Victory. “Mother and I were alone on the farm,” she says. “That winter a terrific storm came through followed by a blizzard that not only closed all the roads, but also the long lane to our house.” Ordinarily, her father would plow open the lane with a bulldozer blade on his tractor. “But this winter we were stuck,” Evelyn says.

“Well, almost. Mother had the presence of mind to park the car across the field at a neighbor’s house near the highway. If we then had to go someplace, we’d put on boots, head scarves, gloves, several layers of clothing, and stomp across the field through the snow to the car. Upon return, it was a repeat performance, only this time carrying bags of groceries.”

After some days, her Uncle Orville came by to plow them out. “Mother and I walked out to watch.” When he got to the curve in the lane that dropped off down to a creek, “the tractor began sliding sideways down the cliff. I recall feeling very frightened that the tractor was going to roll over and kill Uncle Orville,” Evelyn says. “I started to cry and called for my Daddy. The tractor didn’t roll, and somehow Uncle Orville got the tractor out of there.”

The Grisso farm in New Carlisle, Ohio, in a lighter snowfall in a later year. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Grisso Smith.

Evelyn’s snowperson. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Grisso Smith.

The following winter, the George Weybright family accompanied him at Thanksgiving time on a car trip from their farm near Goshen, Indiana, to his ship in New Orleans. He was to be the cowboy supervisor for a Heifer Project shipment to China. “That was a big step in our lives,” his wife Rachel says.

Loren, twins Mike & Muriel, and Garry Weybright on the dock in New Orleans, November 1946. Photo courtesy of Garry Weybright.

Rachel Weybright, with her four children ages 2-1/2 to 9, took the long way driving home to visit friends in Iowa. Arriving on Friday evening, they intended to stay the weekend. “However, on Saturday morning,” Rachel says, “the weather forecast predicted a heavy snowstorm.” She changed plans and started home. “The storm kept chasing us, we kept going with just a skiff of snow in our path, and reached home about midnight. There was less than an inch of snow covering the ground when we got home, but by morning, we had about eight inches of it. To say I was glad to be home safely was a gross understatement!”

Problems arose at home when the hired man developed medical problems. A new hired man had to be sought in a hurry. Cows don’t wait to be milked. “[The new man’s] inabilities became more visible in February when we had an ice storm that covered electric wires with ice two inches thick,” Rachel says. “We were without power from Tuesday until Saturday evening, so we milked more than 20 cows by hand twice a day; carried water from a neighbor’s hand pump to water the cows, hogs, chickens, and people; ate cold meals or fireplace offerings….There was great rejoicing when the power came on!”

The Weybright family shortly after George’s return, May 17, 1947. Photo courtesy of Garry Weybright.

Ruth Wicks found herself snowed in that same winter in Adel, Iowa, while her husband, Dale Wicks, was on his trip to Italy. With two small children in tow, she had to walk out her gravel road to the main road where her parents picked them up to go to town or to church. Then notice came from the Red Cross of Dale’s accident in Sicily. “I knew he was thrown out on the lava, and I had horrors that his face had slid on the rocks and what his head would be like. After I saw the picture in the Des Moines paper, I was just so relieved.”

With his extended stay in Italy, planting season arrived before Dale did. “Family members helped out,” Ruth says, “so when Dale got home, they had the first crops already planted.

“Dale had been gone so long,” she says, “that our two-year-old daughter didn’t even recognize him. When he put his arms around me and kissed me, she didn’t like that strange man! After that, she did, though.”

Dale and Ruth Wicks, July 1, 2006. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Credit goes to all the seagoing cowboy wives for helping their men deliver hope to a war-torn world!

6 thoughts on “Seagoing Cowboy wives carry the load at home

  1. Peggy–how wonderful of you to think of researching what transpired on the “home front” while the cowboys were gone. Your stories show that the entire family–even if the wives and children stayed home–were involved (many in ways they hadn’t anticipated!). It isn’t something I had thought of before. Thank you for sharing these important stories. (Kirsten, daughter of cowboy Bob Leach)

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  2. Thanks for your amazing ability to keep the stories alive, Peggy. I remember Mom’s appreciation for your visits and your interest in the stories behind The Story. ~ Wanda Weybright Joseph

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  3. Peggy, Thank you so much for this post. As interested as I have been over all the cowboy stories, I really never thought about the hardships to their wives and families back home. They do deserve more recognition. Barb

    On 6:02AM, Fri, Mar 13, 2020 The Seagoing Cowboys Peggy Reiff Miller posted: “Women’s History Month is the perfect time to > recognize seagoing cowboy wives and families left at home while their men > took their journeys. For three Midwestern farm wives, winter weather > presented challenges on the home front. Evelyn Grisso Smith reca” >

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