Myrtle Wright McLeod (1876-1968), Ancestor No. 37*

In 1873, Jackson Wright, Nancy Thompson Wright, and their seven children moved from southwestern Pennsylvania to Madison County, Iowa. They would have two more children in Iowa before Nancy died in 1882. Jackson remarried almost immediately and started a second family with his new wife.

This event created a difficult set of circumstances for Nancy’s children, then ranging from 3 to 22 years of age. The eldest daughter had already married, so she was clear. Two boys headed off for the wilds of Montana almost immediately; the rest bided their time. In 1890, Jackson Wright died – and a lot of plans were set in motion.

By the time of the 1900 Census, the tiny town of Utica, Montana included: George F. Wright, his wife and family; Kate Wright Meacham, her husband and family; Lewis L. Wright (my great-grandfather), his wife and family; plus the two youngest siblings, Myrtle and Harvey.  Brothers Joseph and William each lived briefly in Utica before returning to Iowa. The Wrights’ exodus was complete by 1910 with the arrival in Utica of Verner, the youngest child of Jackson’s second family.

This post is about just one of the kids, though – Myrtle, the youngest daughter of Jackson Wright’s first marriage. The first problem I encountered researching Myrtle was her name – or rather, names. In Census lists, she’s listed as Christena M. or C.M. In her father’s estate papers, she’s Christena Myrtle May; and on her marriage license, Myrtle L (for Lillian). I’ve settled on that one.

Myrtle started teaching school back in Iowa while still in her teens. Once in Montana, she was hired as a teacher in the schoolhouse in Utica. This item ran in the Fergus County Argus on the 28th of February, 1900:

Birth-Opal Wright Fergus Co Argus 28 Feb 1900


School_at_Utica_Montana(3)

School_at_Utica_Montana (1)

These two images of the Utica School look to have been taken the same day, circa 1907. Myrtle is the teacher on the left, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the tall boy in back, third from left, is Little Jack Wright – not so little by this time.

I assume that Jack’s two school-age sisters are also in this photo. If I had to guess, I’d say the blonde girl sitting in front of the teacher on the right is Opal, whose birth was announced in the clipping above. Lillian, if she’s there, is probably standing somewhere in that cluster of older kids.

Myrtle had a long career as an educator in Central Montana, working for many years as principal of the Lincoln School in Lewistown.  And she made a pretty comfortable life for herself. She owned land around Utica, and eventually bought a parcel of property on Flathead Lake, up near Kalispell.

Ben McLeod was a Scotsman from Prince Edward Island, and had worked for years as a ranch hand in close proximity to most of the Wrights in Utica. In about 1920, he married another ranch worker, a cook named Martha McElwee, and they set off for a life together in the town of Ceres, near Modesto, in California’s Central Valley.

They had three daughters (Margaret, Jean and Patricia) before Martha died of consumption in 1926. I’m not sure exactly how it all went down, but Ben returned to Montana and clearly had a chat or two with Myrtle. On August 10, 1927, she married Ben at her Flathead Lake cabin and was soon in Ceres starting a new career as a loving and devoted stepmother.

Ben-Myrtle McLeod 1927

I’ve since learned that Myrtle was the person in her family – and every family has one – who did her best to keep in contact with everyone. Mom has a letter written to her parents sometime in the 1960s from one of Grandpa’s sisters. The writer was apparently tired of being Myrtle’s source of info on the Spokane branch of the family, so she was prodding Grandpa to write to Myrtle himself.

Myrtle died in 1968, when I was about nine years old – but I never met her. However, one of the first things I did after moving to Oakland in 2008 was take a drive to the cemetery in Modesto to snap some photographs.

IMG_0357

(* – Yes, I realize I’ve skipped a number. With the end of the blogging year looming, and my goal of 52 posts a loooong way off, I decided that my very first post “Setting the Scene” could be considered a suitable Ancestor post as well. So – I’m calling my great-grandfather Lewis L. Wright “Ancestor No. 36”.)

5 comments

  1. Hi there! I am so excited to have found you blog, and pictures. Myrtle is my step-grandmother. My mother is Patricia McLeod, one of the three girls born to Ben and Martha. I have been doing some research on Utica, the Wrights, and the Waites, because I’d like to write a historical novel with the setting of Utica and the heroine, Myrtle. My ‘grandmother’ was incredibly talented. When I was about ten years old she sent me an oil painting she had painted for me of her cabin at Flathead, and on the back had pasted a poem about Flathead lake that she wrote. Even at ten I realized how excellent both the painting and the poetry were. My parents visited Ben and Myrtle every year until Myrtle died. I think she came to Long Beach one time to visit Pat & Russ, my mom and dad, in about 1947 or 48. She was a very strong and independent woman. She even painted her two story clapboard home in Ceres by herself after my grandfather passed away. I remember she would harvest and shelled the almond crop from her trees by herself every year and then would send them along to friends and family every year. Your stories of you family are wonderful and I am so glad to ‘meet’ you!

    • Hi Sandra! Thanks for the comment – what great memories! I wish I could have known her!

      I love the idea for your novel! Montana is such a unique place.

      We’ve actually “met” before – over on Ancestry.com – but it’s a nice thing, whereever it happens.
      – Brad Watson

      • I wondered if this blog wasn’t yours.  Your writing style is wonderful.  The ancestry site is so specific, wonderful, but limited.  Your blog though is awesome and such a great way to really ‘get to know’ history and the people in our family that made that history.  Which is wonderful in itself, but the best part to me is how well you write.  What a great contribution you have made to Montana history!  I have been blown away at the artists that have been a special part of my life since y childhood, and such a surprise to me that they were also part of my grandparents’ lives in Judith Basin.  Charles Russell, James Will (Stormy the Cow Horse), and even Calamity Jane, who like my grandmother was a cook – Calamity at the Silver Dollar Salon and my grandmother for the Waite Ranch.  What a small and ‘remote’ corner of the world to have been the fertile soil of such a romantic time in our history.

      • Thanks very much, I need to get back into the writing groove… it’s been awhile. Have you seen the mtmemory.org site?? – found a couple of Myrtle’s school photos there, and the most of the Montana photos I’ve used in this blog. Note especially the photo of the guys in front of the haystack in the last post I did. The site id’d that one as men from Jack Waite’s ranch… That caught my eye for lots of reasons – besides the Wrights in Utica working with and for Waites all those years, I’ve got acres of Waites in my family – but back in New York state, on my dad’s side. I’d love to connect those dots some day! AND I’ve also got a connection to a woman who literally wrote the book on Utica-Fergus County history. My dad had a cousin who settled in Bozeman – his daughters are still there, and one of them married into this author-lady’s family – the Taurman is the name, and you’ll see it mostly in connection with the historical society in Utica.

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