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Free Clifton and
Mary Ann Rasmussen Clifton

Heritage of the High Country
A History of Del Bonita and
Surrounding Districts, Pages 297 - 298
by Dorothy Chipman

Free Clifton was born in Paris, Idaho on September 7, 1884. He came to Magrath with his parents George and Alice Clifton and family at the age of seventeen.

He worked for McIntyre Ranch until the Lease was opened for homesteading. He was among the first ten people to file.

The first winter Free was in Canada, Elije Bourne and he lived in a dugout at the spring on the old Orcutt place. They herded McIntyre cattle to keep them from going back across the line, and see that they had water. They rode back to the ranch once a month for food, tobacco, and news. They read and re-read one western, Diamond Dick, and the Bible till they knew them both by heart. It was a long cold winter for a boy of eighteen.

On November 28, 1912, after finishing a one roomed shack, he married Mary Anne Rasmussen at Magrath. They left the next day with a wagon load of secondhand furniture for their honeymoon cottage in Lens, and to spend a good many more years of their lives there.

Four sons and one daughter were born to Free and Mary. The two oldest children started at Lens School with Zelpha Harris for a teacher. The next term they went to Rinard and from there on that was their school. Their first teacher there was Miss Myrtle Anderson.

The nearest neighbors were Carl Strate on the south, and Daddy Miller by the river to the north. He had a small coal mine for the local homesteaders. It was dirty coal, but kept many a family warm those first years.

Later the Millers moved up by Rinard and ran a small store and post office, and the river place was sold to Cye Coleman of Magrath. He had the first hundred dollar bill the Cilftons ever saw and the last for a good many years.

Free Clifton and Ernie Kersey had one of the first threshing machines. It was powered by eight horses. Free cut the twine on the bundles and hand fed the separator. The straw was hand stacked from a straw carrier on the separator. Carl Strate was the driver on horse power, and round and round they went all day.

About 1925 the Cliftons were almost finished binding their grain when the binder broke down. No repairs were available closer than Cardston or Magrath, and the grain was really ripe. Free went over to their neighbor, Bill Veale Sr., and asked if he could borrow his binder, since he was just finishing his field. Bill wouldn't loan it, but when he finished the piece he was on, he drove the binder right over to Cliftons and finished theirs in about half a day. When Free asked him how much he owed him, he refused payment, saying, "It didn't 'urt me and it didn't 'urt the binder."

The Christmas of 1926 was a hot one for the Cliftons. Three of the children were left at home while the folks went to the neighbors to fill Christmas stockings. The kids lit some of the Christmas candles out in the old straw barn and burned it down before the folks got home.

The little creek that started up by Rinard school and ran to the river through the farm was usually dry, or so small you could step across it anywhere, but when a chinook hit in the spring, it would fill so full that it would swim a horse to get across.

During these years their crops were small and grain was cheap. They got by somehow with a few cows to milk. This brought in a small cream check each week. They also had a few chickens, and a few turkeys each year. If there was a wild berry anywhere to pick Pete Rasmussen, Carl Strate, and Cliftons were out after them.

Mary helped Free farm and milk cows, sewed, made over clothes, made quilts from home washed wool, and often dyed flour sacks or old coats and pants. She delivered babies for the neighbors and helped in community and church affairs.

It was a three day trip to the town of Magrath with a grain wagon and four horses; one day in starting at four or five A.M.; one day to the coal mine for the winter coal and the third day back home. How we kids loved our turn to go with Dad. One load of grain went to Rockport Colony Mill for flour and porridge. This would last a year. Quilts, sheets, pillow cases, aprons, girls' bloomers, slips, boys' shirts, dish towels, and often curtains were made from the flour sacks.

The standby fuel in the summer was buffalo chips. It was the kids' job to gather these. If it looked like a storm the whole family would take a wagon and fill it with cow chips. Many years later telling of things that happened in Del Bonita, "The Burning of the Chips" was not believed by listeners.

One winter the Ralph Talbots and John Herrons brought home radios. One person at a time could listen on ear phones. Amos and Andy was the big thing of the day. Between squeaks and groans and fade-outs, each took their turn and repeated the gag of the moment. Outside wires ran from this to the pole thirty to forty feet high. This was the biggest thing that ever happened. The neighbors all took turns visiting.

For years the children rode old Buck the war horse, to school. She was the meanest kickingest horse and no other horse could come near or bang she went with both hind feet. She never drank at the edge of a pond, but kept walking a bit farther and pulling the lines till she got in deep enough water. Then she would lie down and stay there till the kids got off and waded to shore. Then out she came, laughing and shook herself all over them.

The family moved to Magrath to the old Rasmussen place in October, 1930. They sold the old farm to Anton Gruninger and Hank Graveland about 1950.

Free died at Taber, August 26, 1969. Mary died at Magrath, February 20, 1980. Both are buried in Magrath.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup