J. W. Ralston (1861-1943), Ancestor No. 35

Finally – again, at long last – a post that actually has something to do with Montana!

JW Ralston 1942

My great-great-grandfather, John Wesley Ralston, was the elder brother of Alonzo (from my last post) – older by most of ten years. They were two of the eleven children of John Ralston and Hannah Wright, who started their life together back in NW Pennsylvania. Their big move west took them to the Wisconsin towns of Clifton and Diamond Bluff, on the Mississippi River.  In the late 1870s, the family crossed the Mississippi into Minnesota, then trooped clean across Minnesota nearly all the way to the Red River, the area around Crookston.

May 12 1892 Bessie
An 1892 birth announcement (of sorts) from the Crookston paper.

J.W. did a lot of horse breeding and general ranch work, and also worked on the Great Northern railroad line as it was being constructed around 1910. (Neither here nor there, several of his siblings and children became either barbers or ran diners, bars, or eateries of one kind or another.)

The family would stay in Crookston about forty years before heading further west to Montana. In 1930, nearly his entire family worked on the Wickstrom ranch in Madison, Montana. His wife Lula was the cook, J.W. (aged 69) and five sons were laborers, and his daughter Katie’s family was there too. – her husband Frank managed the adjacent sheep ranch. But for the most part, the Ralstons were fixtures in the tiny town of White Sulphur Springs, east of Helena and south of Great Falls.

I have an odd clipping from the Helena Independent (July 1924) indicating he had been found not guilty of violating the Volstead Act (that is, Prohibition). No details beyond that though. Those found guilty at the same time received fines of $100-$150, and one got 30 days in the county jail. So, all in all, a good thing to have avoided.

The very first Ancestor I profiled back in January was J.W.’s wife, Lula. They married when he was about 20 and she was just 14. Crazy, right? But sometimes crazy stuff actually works out. The cropped photo at top was taken on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary in 1941.

And the final bit I’d like to share is a letter J.W. wrote to my mom when she was a very little girl. Such a sweet little glimpse into who he really was. While he signed himself “Grandpa”, he was actually mom’s great-grandfather – and the “grandma” he refers to his is daughter Lottie, mom’s grandmother.

JW Ralston ltr Apr 1940

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