Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
By Liz Taylor
May 19, 1982
Mouse River Farmer’s Press, Towner, N.D.
It is the wee hours of Sunday morning, May 16, and I cannot sleep. A little over an hour ago, we received a phone call from the hospital with the news that Bud’s mother had died in her sleep. Pearl Elizabeth (Larson) Taylor, dead at 87 years of age.
As I sit here, I cannot remember exactly how many years she was a resident of the extended care section of the hospital. It’s been awhile and before that, she had spent a few years at the Haaland Home in Rugby. I said she was “a resident” or “had spent some time,” I did not say that she had “lived” at these places. The reluctance to use the word “lived” is not meant as a criticism of these fine facilities, but that being in either one or both is not “living” as “living” was known by their elderly residents years ago. For the most part they were pioneers, and while it seems hard to believe, they were young once too; young, and involved with the struggle of life so different from the endless sameness of their life in retirement homes.
Pearl struggled for much of her life. She was a pioneer who saw changes in life in North Dakota that were almost unbelievable.
Her mother died when she was a young girl, and the work of caring for her younger brothers and sisters was thrust upon her in her father’s home in Grand Forks, N.D. I never knew whether she had to work so hard then because she was the oldest girl, or the oldest one at home, but she said she was 13 years old when her mother died. In any event, it was the end of her childhood and she did things that 13 year olds don’t have to do today—sewing, baking, washing clothes, all of it the hard way; that and comforting and caring for those younger than her. We talked about her girlhood only occasionally when she was still living on the ranch. Of course, as with my own mother at her death, I think of all the unanswered questions tonight.
She came to McHenry County to teach in a rural school when she was 17 years old. Why? I don’t know why, only that she did. She taught near Granville, and south of Towner prior to 1914, when she married Clyde Durward Taylor, a rancher.
Pearl talked quite a bit about those early days on the Taylor Ranch. There were happy times, but the hard times and sad times stay in my memory the most. She lived here with her husband, his parents, Harvey and Mary Taylor, and her husband’s brother, Marshall Ney Taylor, in those years. It must have been difficult, crowded even, but that was the way most folks lived then, and you accepted life as it was.
They were busy years. She told how they always started making hay the Monday after the 4th of July with several horse mowers, and the hired men. Then there were the long winters of feeding the hay to the cattle and horses, all seasons were busy times.
Her first born, a son, Harvey Allen Taylor, was born October 15, 1919, and second, Marshall Edwin “Bud” was born August 9, 1921. According to a book on the history of the Taylor family written by Mrs. Harvey A. Taylor of Lisbon, N.D., there was another son born, probably earlier; and dead at birth, who was buried on the ranch.
The sad times began with the death of Marshall Ney Taylor (Uncle Marshall) in the fall of 1921 on November 17. He was injured, stepped on the chest by a steer in branding, and died seventeen days later. He was only twenty years old, and Pearl spoke of him with affection. Marshall shared her love of music and played the piano and sang, as did Pearl. He was teaching in a rural school a few miles east of the ranch when he died and Pearl finished his teaching term, leaving her two sons in the care of their father and grandmother during the day.
Tragedy struck again a few months later when Harvey Taylor, Clyde and Marshall’s father, died on April 27, 1922, leaving his wife, Mary Arlene Taylor, a widow. Clyde continued to run the ranch with his mother and wife, and it must have been a difficult time for all of them.
Sometime that winter Clyde called on a neighbor, we have never learned who, the name lost in memory over the years. The lady of the house had recently given birth to twins, and it is believed some of the children there, or another visitor, had smallpox. Sometime later, Clyde contracted smallpox, and on February 15, 1923, he died.
I can only speculate as to the desolation of that winter. With Clyde’s death, all of the Taylor men on the ranch had died within a time span of fifteen months. At the time of her husband’s death, Pearl was expecting a third child. This child, her only daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Taylor was born on May 20, 1923.
Two widows, and three small children, could not operate a ranch on the inhospitable prairie in those days; indeed, it couldn’t be done today. They sold much of the personal property, kept some of the cattle which they received a share of by the renter and moved into Towner. The struggle did not end then, but as the years passed, the memory of those sad times when there were three deaths in the family in such a short time, dimmed, and only surfaced when Pearl spoke of them. It was during one of these conversations that she shared with me her sorrow at the death of her husband when she was 28 that he didn’t have a funeral in a church.
“People were so afraid of smallpox in those days that we really didn’t have a funeral,” she related, “Rev. Wanberg came out to the cemetery for the graveside rites. It was an awfully cold and windy day.” She looked away for a moment and sighed, “Dying is easy. It’s living that’s hard.”
Pearl Elizabeth Larson Taylor was born on May 31, 1894, and died in her sleep on May 16, 1982.