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More Merl Morgan Memories

Recollections from Theo Morgan

Theo Gene Morgan is a son of Leon Baugh Morgan and grandson of George William Morgan. So Merl Morgan was his uncle.


Sunbeam Creek

When I was born on June 25, 1928, Grandpa and Grandma G.W. and Emily Alice Morgan had already moved a little two room house onto the site where the South Fork and the East Fork of Sunbeam Creek come together down in a valley known as "The Gardens" because of the tall trees and grass around some fresh water springs. They landscaped a yard and planted flowers and developed a large garden area and strawberry and raspberry patch that was known for miles around and was the only green area in the country because of the arid and dry farm conditions in the surrounding area that had to depend on rainfall to raise wheat and hay for the livestock. That was why it was known as "The Gardens" and still is today even though in later years, the East Fork of Sunbeam Creek flooded during high water and washed away most of the homestead and it was never rebuilt. Grandma Emily Alice passed away in 1929.

My early memories of Merl and Earl are of their little one room log cabin they built for a bedroom where they slept under the tall trees adjacent to the house. It had a dirt floor and they had saved and cured some cow hides which they used for rugs. I was always fascinated and thought it was so neat to have cow hides for a rug. I remember how cold that bedroom was in the winter.

They went to the hills up by Bannock Peak and got out logs and built a log barn and poles for a round pole corral where they broke and trained their horses and worked their cattle. All of the farm and ranch work was done with horses as we had no tractors and we were always breaking horses to work and to ride and to trade for supplies because there was no money during the Great Depression. They broke a lot of horses for other people for $5.00 a head and were generally paid in kind. Merl always wore cowboy boots and I never saw him in a pair of shoes until he was about 30 years old.

We lived about 2 miles down the creek and had to travel on a dirt road up past their place and then another 5 miles to town in American Falls. The roads were not passable when it stormed and we were always snowbound each winter and could only travel with a team and wagon or bob-sleigh and saddle horses. They rode their saddle horses up the creek several miles to the old Sunbeam school or else rode in the bob-sleigh which my Dad drove each morning up the creek picking up kids along the way to school.

In about 1934, the year I started school, the Sunbeam school closed because so many farms and ranches were foreclosed and abandoned and everyone moved away and the only choice was to ride into American Falls for school. Dad and Mother moved an old abandoned farm house through the hills to a place on the west end of our ranch on Sunbeam road that was closer to town and we moved over there and started over again by building barns and corrals again from logs and poles we got out of the hills.

Each morning after they started high school in American Falls, Merl and Earl would ride their horses past our place on their way to school and would stop and get warm and we would ride our horses the other 3 miles to school with them. They were always so helpful in breaking trails through the deep snow drifts so we could get through and then the wind would blow the trail closed and we would have to break new trails through the deep snow drifts coming back home at night. I remember my feet dragging in the deep snow as our horses had to lunge to get through the drifts.

Merl and Earl always had a dog and I remember ol' Tip who was black and white with a big white tip on his tail and who was their constant companion wherever they rode. After they moved to a ranch by Pocatello on Michaud Creek several years later, ol' tip died and they brought him back to Sunbeam and buried him on the old ranch. They were inseparable as they were growing up and when World War ll started, Earl was drafted into the U.S. army and fought the German and Italian armies across North Africa and through Italy. Merl was left to run the ranch and was visibly very lonely and worried about him until the war was over and Earl returned.

They were always interested and involved in my life as we spent a lot of time riding the range and working cattle together and exchanging work and helping each other as families. Whenever I would get a new dog or another horse, they would come to see it and be involved. My life long dream was to be a cowboy with a ranch of my own. About this time of my life, they started making Levi's to fit boys and this was a sign that you were now a man and would no longer have to wear bib overalls. The dream of every young man was to own a pair of Levi's that had a special little pocket that would hold a pocket watch. I now owned the Levi's and had received a pocket watch for my birthday, so Merl and Earl bought a little silver saddle watch fob that attached to the watch and hung outside of the pocket and gave it to me. This was the identification that you were now a real cowboy and they treated me as such. They were always willing to share anything they had with anyone.

The Morgan's were a close knit family and helped each other during haying and harvest time and each fall would get together and butcher several hogs and cure the meat for the coming winter. In the summertime during family dinners and picnics, the day would not end without the inevitable water melon rind throwing at each other and water throwing fights with everyone getting drenched before going home. The party always included a game of 'mumble peg' in which the one who drew the short straw would have to use his lips and teeth to pull a little stick out of the ground without using his hands and another that I don't recall the name of where we would use an open pocket knife to skillfully stick the blade into the ground from several points of the body. The humor and laughter during any family get together was a Morgan trademark.

I don't know where it originated but the Morgan family had a tradition of giving the males nicknames and using those instead of their given names and which some were known for the rest of their lives. Grandpa's brothers Golden was known as "Jack"; Marvin was known as "J.P."; Clifton was known as "Dick"; and his boys Leon was known as "Lee"; Kyrel was known as "K.B." or "Pete"; Von as "V.E."; Merl as "Ike" and Earl as "Jim". I have no idea where they came up with it but Merl and Earl always called me "Bunk". I was always reluctant to learn what that connotation meant and finally outgrew it when I got married and they called me by my given name. I remember the times we would ride our horses up the creek fishing and end up skinny-dipping in the beaver ponds.

When Merl and Grandpa bought the Dawson ranch on Withington Creek in Salmon in about 1943, he was still leasing the Michaud Creek ranch by Pocatello. After he put up the 1st crop of hay in Salmon, he had to go back to Michaud so Dad sent me to Salmon to stay with Grandpa and irrigate Merl's ranch the rest of the summer. After we moved to Salmon, we would go deer hunting together. One time we were hunting up at the head of Withington Creek and Merl and I were walking up this ridge about 50 feet apart when I saw a big buck walk out in front of Merl and I was trying to get his attention without scaring the deer. When Merl was able to see the deer so close through the pine trees, he got "Buck Fever" and was so excited that when he shot, he just grazed the deer's head and stunned him and he dropped to the ground.

Merl ran to the deer and was so excited he couldn't get his knife out of his pocket to cut his throat and had dropped his rifle on the ground. By the time I got over there, Merl was standing astraddle the deer's neck and the deer was starting to revive and when I yelled for him to shoot the deer again, he reached for his gun on the ground and held it about a foot away from the deer's head but he was shaking so bad that he missed. When the deer heard the rifle shot between his ears, he jumped up with Merl on board his neck with his short legs not touching the ground. The deer turned and charged straight down the mountain and here is Merl with a rifle in one hand and the deer's antler in the other hand going for the ride of his life.

Merl had a favorite saying he used when he was in a tight spot and needing some help and I guess he figured this was one of those times because as he and the deer flew by me going straight down hill, I heard him yell to me, "Somebody better come 'eer"!!! The deer eventually stumbled over a log and Merl and the deer ended up on top of each other. All's well that ends well.

When Merl bought another ranch on Wimpy Creek and moved his family over there, I had bought a ranch up at Seventeen Mile. The ranch economy was tough and we were both starting out trying to build up our cattle herd and acquire some equipment with little money and a large family to provide for, so we both worked at the Salmon Livestock Auction each Monday where we earned $4.75 each week to help buy groceries. In the fall after I had my stack yards fenced and winter wood sawed up, I would work in town in the store during the winter cutting up meat to earn some money to pay for the ranch operating bills. Times were pretty tough.

One time Merl confided in me that he could not make his annual ranch payment of $1,000.00 and was trying to sell out before the payment was due but with the bad economy, there were not many ranch buyers available. On the Sunday before his payment was due, I drove up to Merl's and visited with him and he was very discouraged but too proud to ask for help. The day before his payment was due, I went to the bank and asked if they would loan me the $1,000.00 and they agreed as long as I was working at the store and earning money but it would be due when I left work and started farming again the next spring.

That night after work as I was driving home, I drove up to Merl's and when he saw the car lights coming over the hill, he was sure a ranch buyer was coming but it was only me. I spent hours trying to get him to come with me the next day to the bank and I would borrow the money for him to make his payment and save the ranch but to no avail because he was afraid it would jeapordize my ranch if we couldn't pay it back when it was due. He wouldn't come out and say so but I knew he thought that Grandpa and Uncle Roy would step up and help him save the ranch. It was none of my business but I always felt like they let him down when he needed it the most and especially the circumstances he struggled under for years after but I never heard him complain.

Merl was a good and honest man. You can be proud of your heritage. Always remember who you are and what you may become. Be all that you can be and be the best that you can be regardless of the challenges you may face or the circumstances in which you may find yourself.