A couple of weeks ago my spouse and I decided to take a little road trip. It was mainly to get away from the daily grind and close out the summer but we each had other ideas as well. She wanted to visit a niece that she hadn’t seen for a while and I wanted to make a stop at my father’s birthplace. Well, we accomplished both of those goals and managed to cover a lot of beautiful country in the process. This post, however, is about my encounter with my father’s past.
My father (Ivan “Hap” Murray) was born in 1918 near the tiny little town of Coffee Creek, Montana. It is about 60 miles southeast of Great Falls and smack in the middle of the Montana flat lands. I had contacted a second cousin, who still lives in the area, prior to the trip and fortunately we were able to hook up for the day and he agreed to take us on a tour of the old homeland. Both of our grandfathers (who were brothers) had settled homesteads in the area when it opened up for homesteading in 1910. My grandfather only lasted until the beginning of the depression, and took off for the west coast around 1930 when my father was 12 years old, but his grandfather had stayed and worked the homestead until he passed away in the ’90s. My guide had lived on the original homestead until he was old enough to strike out on his own. We went to the site (see the attached photo), which is now part of a much larger farm nearby, and took it all in. The old, crumbling barn was probably built in the ’20s but the house was in good enough shape when the property was sold that it was moved to another location. The hill in the background is called Square Butte and is the only prominent geological landmark in the region.
Coffee Creek is still there, still tiny, and pretty well worn down. Viewed from the little cemetery on the hill above town it doesn’t make much of an impression. But my father spent his childhood here and there is a tremendous amount of family history tied to it. To give you an idea of its importance to the family, two of my great-grandmothers are buried in that little cemetery as well as my guide’s grandparents and many other assorted relatives.
We met another second cousin when we stopped for lunch at another little town (Denton) nearby and apparently the intersection near the homestead site is still referred to by the family name Murray Corner.
It was a very rewarding trip and I am really glad I took the time. Most every family has places like this that held the family for a while and soaked into the fabric of their being. My father and my grandparents talked about that place all the while I was growing up. I needed to make that stop.