Return to Utica – a Montanatude Adjustment

Yep, it’s time to dive in on this saga. Back to Utica!

(But before we go there, let me say that I hate what WordPress has done to this site. I’m really not a moron, but I can’t figure out how to do anything to my piece here. It used to be simple, now it’s not. So the result is an annoyingly basic and confusing-looking post, I think. I apologize.) Now then…

So many members of my Grandpa Wright’s family used Utica as their first step outside Madison County, Iowa. Only daughters Ella and Della stayed put – and of course, Annabelle, the eldest, who died at 18 in 1877.

For the Wright family, the early 1880s were a difficult time. Mother Nancy died in 1882 – in childbirth at age 42 – and father Jackson remarried the following year. His bride was a girl of perhaps 18 years of age, AND his son-in-law’s half-sister. I can’t know, of course, how life was for them at this point – but I do know, as hard as it probably was, it would get much more challenging for everyone.

George Franklin Wright (1865-1939) was the first of the siblings to venture outward. His bio in the Utica book says he arrived in the “early 1880s” with “the Phillips family”. There were two Phillips families in Utica in the early days – and I don’t think they were related. For various reasons, I think we’re concerned with the Jonathan S. Phillips family. 

Yes, the two families arrived in the general area at about the same time (1884, give or take), and yes, the aptly-named Horace Greeley Phillips family – the OTHER Phillips family – was much more part of the daily workings of Utica, as they ran one of the general stores in town. But I didn’t have nearly the same number of OMG moments researching them as I did researching Jonathan’s family. But I’ll put that story on the back burner until I figure out how it ends. In the meanwhile…

The Lewistown Democrat News printed the following account of George Wright:  

“George Franklin Wright was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, April 18, 1865.  In 1882 when but a youth of 17, he came west and for several years was located in the Utica, Montana, area.  He worked for a large cattle outfit and with famed cowboys of those days, such as the late Charles Russell, noted cowboy artist. 

Later, he started large-scale ranching operations of his own.  For many years the George Wright Ranch was one of the largest and most successfully operated outfits in this part of Montana.

George was married in May, 1893, in old Philbrook (near Hobson), to Ruth M. Fisher.  They had two children, Gladys and Lois.  In [about 1915] Mr. Wright moved with his family to Lewistown, and in 1918 he was elected county commissioner.

George Wright’s quiet, reserved nature, and his great love of the outdoors was exemplified in his lifelong hobby of fishing and hunting.  ‘His loyalty to wife, family and friends, were three outstanding characteristics that made him beloved and respected by all,’ said the Rev. George Hurst, in addressing the large throng which turned out February 22, 1939, to pay their last tributes of love and respect to this man.”

Brother Joseph Henry Wright (1863-1943) also went Montana, probably in the mid-1880s, but he didn’t stay long. He was back in Iowa for several years, marrying Eva Huss in 1891. But she died young-ish, and Joe ended up in Crow Wing, Minnesota with his two sons.

According to her obituary, middle sister Catherine J “Kate” Wright (1870-1938) went to Utica at age 18 (1888) – perhaps alone… maybe with Joe.

Somewhere I picked up a story, sadly impossible to confirm or debunk, about Kate trying to keep house for her brother George and the painter Charley Russell, and that she routinely threatened to, and did, burn the scrap-paper sketches and drawings that he left sitting around. 

But family goings-on forced her to back Iowa for a time. And that seems to be a good place to end this first installment.


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