Steve's Place

Boys of Battery A

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William lived for over six decades following his experiences of war. It was a time of westward expansion, and Spafford was very much a part of that.

[Figure 37: William Henry Spafford]

Following a few months at home for recuperation, he set out on the trail and as noted above, headed for the Rocky Mountains where he worked — probably at stringing telegraph lines at Pike’s Peak — which at the time referred to everything from Denver through much of the Rockies.

Settling down in Fremont of Dodge County in Nebraska by 1866 and working with the Union Pacific as a line repairman, he married and raised a dozen children with Phoebe Orlena Day, taking various positions with the railroad, though raising most of his children in Grand Island where his eldest girls sold fresh fruit from a stand outside their rented home near the downtown. Sometimes Spafford worked at keeping telegraph lines in repair, sometimes he managed Union Pacific crews, or held down positions as a Western Union Office manager.

The Union Pacific and Western Union were symbiotic entities in the day. Especially following a disastrous fall off an unlit railroad platform late one night at Rawlins, Spafford focused more on office work in stations, sometimes managing downtown Western Union offices. An avid reader on everything from politics to philosophy, he set himself up as a News Dealer in Grand Island and carried all the pictorial weeklies and monthly magazines with an assortment of stationary at a small shop, first door east of the Post Office — mainly so that he could afford to keep abreast of current publications.

A Baptist and a Masonic meetings to attend every week, William helped found a YMCA chapter for Laramie, though intermittent pain and swelling from earlier leg injuries often made working unbearable.

[Figure 38: Laramie Train station from 1868 included hotel and restaurant]

The family’s economic situation worsened with time, and though his eldest son, who had been working as an apprentice to a pharmacist by the age of 13 moved ahead in the print shop to become the head of print operations for major Republican newspapers in Wyoming, the youngest Spafford children worked after school at janitorial tasks, for his lodge had allowed the family use of a small apartment in the basement of their building in exchange for work.

If America was moving west in those days — after the nation had been knit together with electronic communication and the railroad systems built following the Civil War, so were the Spaffords. William shared his skills as a telegrapher with several of his children — leaving them free and portable to find work anywhere along the line. Ruth trained her husband in what she knew, and they headed out the line to station themselves in Eastern Oregon. Cora then found little difficulty in securing a rail pass and had a place to visit — meeting along the way a soon to be mining speculator — the daughter of a French bar keep and a red haired Irishwoman. Before long she was off to Spokane as her husband struggled to sell shares in Canadian gold mines at Rossland BC. That hot rush soon went bust as the couple moved to Great Falls in Montana — then a brand new city at the headwaters of the Missouri River where speculators could sometimes find investors.

When the Spafford’s third daughter to set out for the West, her husband Ward had gone in advance, taking up a land claim at Coeur d’Alene Idaho which had been located with the help of Cora’s husband and mining friends. The village of Medimont, along the floodplain shores of the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River before it terminates in the lake at Harrison was a beautiful if fated area to settle. Ward West had gone onto the place, cleared land, and set an orchard before the October, 1900 wedding of Spafford daughter “Gerty — the Ripper” who had been a seamstress. The Wests were joined on their homestead by William and Phoebe, with at least three of their children. All of the family then were in the Pacific Northwest and remained remarkably close.

[Figure 39: Cave Lake with Medicine Lake in the background, the homestead at far left.]

[Figure 40: Medimont area with homestead at tan patch the far side of lakes center.]

The logging town of Harrison was one of the fastest growing communities in the state, though being down-river from a massive silver and lead mining district put the village in the path of disastrous pollution. The beauty of the place was apparent, and Lake Coeur d’Alene is often described as one of the most beautiful in the world, though the extent of hazard was not always apparent at the time. Even by then the tundra swans, so beautiful in the marshlands, often could not fly after their migratory visits from poisoning by heavy mineral deposits in the water.

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