A man who loved shiny new cars, who color coded entire sets of tools, a coin collector, a family man: this was my husband's great-grandfather. George Rice Westaby, III, was born 6 August 1890 in Forsyth, Montana. His parents were George "Rice" Westaby, II, son of English immigrants, and Rebecca Catherine Snook, of German descent. Originally from Illinois and Pennsylvania respectively, Rice and Rebecca had met and married after migrating with their extended families to Eastern Montana. George, III, was the eldest surviving child of their seven children. His siblings were Guy Steven Westaby (1892 - 1985); Izma Ann Westaby (a.k.a. Mrs. Corbin, and later Mrs. Leland) (1893 - after 1972); Charles Wilson Westaby (1895 - 1971); Reuben Wohlford Westaby (1902 - 1968); and Lynn Walker Westaby (1904 - c. 1923). Another sister, Clarice Orvilla Westaby, was born in 1889, but died in infancy.
George grew up, worked, played, and was educated in Forsyth, located on the south bank of the Yellowstone River along the Northern Pacific Railroad. His playmates included his siblings and his four girl cousins, daughters of his uncle Wilson Westaby (operator of the only ferry crossing over the Yellowstone for many miles in both directions). He probably watched wagon trains going west with his cousins, played in Boothill Cemetery with them, and enjoyed visiting his Snook grandparents as well. Forsyth was a new community which grew up along with George. Just a few years before his birth, it was merely a railroad stop whose block-long Main Street consisted of little more than two general stores and twelve saloons, all in tents. By the time George was born, there were many log houses in town, but some families were starting to build frame houses. The town had grown and could count a flourishing hotel and a livery stable as part of its business section.
George attended school in a frame building on Cedar Street that was added to as the student population grew. When he was nine, the school board hired an archeologist who was touring the West on bicycle, looking for fossils. The remains of a very large prehistoric animal were discovered just southeast of Cattle Butte, and Mr. Butler started excavating it. A portion of the dinosaur was shipped to Washington, D.C. That must have been an exciting school year for George! When he was ten, a brick schoolhouse was build on East Main Street, and the old building was converted to the county courthouse.
At the time of George's birth, Forsyth was within the borders of Custer County. The Westaby family was enumerated in Forsyth as a part of Custer County in the 1900 Federal Census. The following year, Custer County was divided and Forsyth became a part of newly-formed Rosebud County, named for the abundance of wild roses that grew in the vicinity. This is evident in the 1910 Federal Census, when we find the Westaby family, still living in Forsyth, albeit in Rosebud County.
In 1915, George was engaged to a young lady named Anna. Everything was set for the wedding, including the silver place settings engraved with Anna's initial. A delicate situation arose, however, when another young lady in the area named Rena Lerfald was found to be with child by George. This must have created quite a scandal amongst their families, as well as the small community. George and Rena were quickly married on Independence Day 1915, in neighboring Glendive, Dawson County, Montana. On October 28th of that year, their only child, Helen Mary Westaby, was born in Glendive.
On 4 June 1917, George had to register for the draft for World War I. From this information, we learn that he was working as a fireman for the Northern Pacific Railroad in Glendive, and that he was of medium build and height with blue eyes and dark hair. George never served in the war, and he and his family survived the notorious influenza epidemics which followed and left many family members mourning their losses.
In 1920, George and his family moved west to the Yakima Valley in Washington State, where they lived for the rest of their lives. A Westaby cousin had already moved to the area; perhaps a job was offered to George, or perhaps he was transferred to another position with the Northern Pacific. During the summer of 1920 the Federal Census was again taken; however, George, Rena and Helen seem to have missed the enumeration in both Montana and Washington, apparently because of the move.
In 1930, George, Rena and Helen lived in a rented house along the Inland Empire Highway in Parker, Yakima County, Washington. George was working as an engineer for Big Y Fruit Growers Association, a refrigeration company where he worked for 25 years. In 1943, George bought land in nearby Sawyer and built a house. He worked for the U and I Sugar Plant Company in Toppenish until 1955, when he retired. Following his retirement, he and Rena continued to live in Sawyer, enjoying their three grandchildren, and eventually their seven great-grandchildren. His mother would visit from her home in Salem, Oregon until her death in 1960 at the age of 94. Rena passed away in 1966. George contracted diabetes, which eventually caused his death on 26 January 1972. He was buried five days later at Lower Valley Memorial Gardens in his daughter's hometown of Sunnyside, next to Rena's grave. (obituary)
My husband's memories of his great-grandfather include those of a loving, warm, humorous man. One of his peculiarities was painting whole sets of tools one particular color, brightening his workshop with a rainbow of hues. Another amusing trait George had was when he was driving. Instead of slowing down before making a turn, he would stop the car completely, crank the wheel in the direction of the turn, and then proceed! He loved cars, and his were always in pristine, mint condition. Over thirty years later, his descendants continue to reminisce with fondness about their beloved grandfather.
Helen Mary Westaby - my husband's paternal grandmother
More about my husband's great-grandfather, George Rice Westaby, III, can be found in the upcoming AnceStories of his parents, George "Rice" Westaby, II, and Rebecca Catherine Snook, and in the AnceStories of his wife Rena Lerfald, and their daughter, Helen Mary Westaby.
Information sources: Helen Tucker; Carol McMaster; Troy Midkiff; Norm Midkiff; research of Forsyth, Montana and the Westaby family by Pat Roberts; 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 Federal Censuses; WWI Draft Registration Cards; Property Deeds; Washington State Death Index; Westaby Memorial Books; and the obituary of George Rice Westaby, III.
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