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By Donna Flood
Chapter 7 - Questions

Dean drove over the rough roads slowly as he did  when there were the sharp little rocks that could cut a tire as surely as any knife. While he drove, he comforted Bertha.  The shopping seemed to have calmed her and for a while,  she forgot her pain. 

“You know, Bertha, I’ve been thinking.  Leon and Buddy are awfully tired of our dairy herd.  The convenience of a modern barn makes the work easier, but these men working for us are from a ranching community. They really don’t like milking cows.  The herd is now thirty-six. Believe me, that is a lot of work to do by hand.  They have been complaining a lot and I haven’t talked with you about it, because I didn’t want to bother you.  I know we enjoy the cream, butter and having plenty of milk to share with the community.  There is no dairy like it in Osage County.  This might be the opportune time to sell.  Milk cows always go at a premium,  and if we  sold them, even  one by one, there would be the money we need for Mayo Clinic.

Bertha knew how much,  the family enjoyed the dairy both for its production and the profits brought.  Their income was centered around the quarterly oil royalties but sometimes three months could be lengthy for waiting on income.   Elizabeth, their cook, Bell,  mother-in-law, Velma,  sister-in-law,   Dean and she were all engaged in using the butter churns, daily.  What was left over they sold to the store in town.

Dean’s wife was agreeable.  She knew her husband always had a way of making their life comfortable.  If the men were worn out with the project, Dean would certainly know about it.

“You make the decisions on that kind of thing, Dean.”  As usual Bertha was giving the people around her freedom to operate in any way they felt to be the best thing to do.

Buddy Bochious was Leon’s foreman, but he was more than that.  His own mother, Joe’s sister Juda,  had been murdered by the same criminals who were dynamiting the homes of the Osages,  earlier.  Buddy’s Uncle Joe kept a vigilant eye on the boy,  and he had become a part of the family. 

Buddy’s father, Henry Bochious, came from well-educated people,  who lived in Pennsylvania.  The man worked diligently with his children after their mother’s death and was happy to see his son fit so well into the Jones household. Buddy  was a strong, good-looking man, who was always well dressed.  His appearance striking, because Bertha enjoyed buying nice clothes for him. Even his working cowboy garb his wife kept clean and neatly pressed.   Bertha paid him wages along with his wife, Elizabeth. She acted as their cook and baby sitter.   Buddy was protective of Bertha.  Maybe because of the terror of his own mother’s loss he was alert and became a kind of body-guard for Bertha. He and Elizabeth lived in one of the tenant houses on the property. Now, Bertha felt if he was tired of the dairy that was enough for her.  She and Dean  made the decision on their way home, to sell.

Their car was always driven  up to the front porch, especially,  when there were things to unload.  Weldon and the cook knew there would be sacks of groceries Bertha was known to bring home. The two, in anticipation,   came running  out the front door,  and then, were busily carrying the groceries across the long living room, through the wide formal dining room and on,  to the kitchen. Dean followed them and the three  were putting the food in its place inside the tall, spacious cabinets.  Everyone was in a good mood, laughing and talking about what they would have for an evening meal. The kitchen was small,  but had plenty room for more than one person to work there. Weldon, like all the children, loved the cook. Elizabeth was a thoughtful and considerate person with  any of the kids in her care.  He loved to hang around the kitchen, while she cooked.

“What was that?  Dean  stopped suddenly. “I think Bertha fell!  She had fainted before from the pain she was enduring,  and he was sure this is what had again happened.

There was a distance to be covered from kitchen to their bedroom and Weldon, kid that he was, was first to get to the door of his mother’s room.  He too,  thought she had fallen.

Dean was more cautious and reached down to turn her head,  so he could look at her face.  There was a small hole in the middle of her forehead. A bit of white that was her brain  puffed out from the hole.  The little pistol always kept in the bedroom was on the floor.

Dean told that the sound of the gun was not heard in the kitchen, but the weight of Bertha’s  fall caused a loud noise.

Years later the stories were mixed.  Some said she fell forward over the bed with her legs going under it.  A newspaper article told  she was sitting at the roll top desk. That article said she was going over books and was despondent about financial matters.  Dean himself remembered that she was sitting on the floor with her back and head against the foot of the four-poster, bed.

Knowing about law enforcement, Dean warned the family not to touch anything,  while he rushed to call the sheriff. When they arrived, their investigation of the murder scene was complete.  They covered the grounds looking for strange tire tracks, but didn’t think to look for a horse’s tracks.  Dean was questioned over and over as was Elizabeth.  Buddy was interrogated, too. Weldon was a child, eight years old,  but those were the days before children were protected. The lawmen took the boy into the kitchen,  closed the door,  and  questioned him, intensely for hours.  They were never able to shake the story he told or,  his truthfulness about what had happened. 

Weldon’s testimony  was the thing to save Dean from being accused of his wife’s murder. The files on this investigation are still sealed in 2008. The case was closed, records sealed and officially the crime was reported to be a suicide as so many of the murders of the Osage people were erroneously recorded to be.

The lawmen told Dean,  because the barrel had been pressed so hard against Bertha’s  head the sound didn’t register. History tells that women rarely commit suicide with a gun.  The question could be asked, “Would she have held it directly to the middle of her forehead with the gun in an uncomfortable position?  Someone else, who was savvy about guns might have known how to muffle a shot. Bertha abhorred guns and she made it plain they were not welcome close around her. 

          Another question;  if she had confidence in her husband’s willingness to care for the family,  and we know she did,  if she had engaged in conversation for him to be thinking of a  way to raise money by selling the dairy herd as money to be used for  her medical care,  why would she,  then,  kill herself?

Another question remains.  Did the superintendent at Pawhuska see Dean wrestling with his wife over the gun?   The man would have had plenty of time to call ahead to Foraker.  If he was a thief, wouldn’t he have been able to stoop to murder in order to cover his crimes?  Was there someone waiting for Bertha in the closet of her bedroom? If there was,  it had to be a person,   who knew the ranch well enough for being able to get past Buddy and slip out of the house. They could run  down the hallway,  out the  bedroom where the windows allowed a person to step through them onto the  porch,  and then, easily slip out the back door.  The people running to Bertha’s aid would not have seen anyone, who was making an escape. The size of the house itself contributed to an activity like this.

Dean’s paranoid behavior after his wife’s death certainly told that he must have believed she was murdered.  The Joneses coming out from under the conditions of the Civil War knew the power of the federal government and they were always careful not to rile the powers that be.

At any rate, later in 1938, the year of Bertha’s  death, that same superintendent, who had denied Bertha  access to her money,  was investigated. He along with his secretary was indicted for having taken great sums of money from the individual accounts of the Osage people.  The federal government payed millions of dollars that had been extorted, back to the tribe, but not to Bertha’s personal account.

Bertha was born June 1, 1906, died January 31, 1938.  She and Dean had been married in Cleveland County, circa 1920,  when he was nineteen and she was fourteen.  Her lovely handwriting  recorded the event in the family Bible. That Bible was taken from the author’s home but not before a copy of the marriage record was made.

The year of 1938 was particularly difficult for their family.  Dean wasn’t dealing with Bertha’s death,  at all.  He was hyper, paranoid, and distrustful of any and everyone. Weldon and Mariah were not abandoned,  but his attention to them was on and off. You would have thought the experience with guns might have caused him to take a new perspective regarding their use.  Instead, he became even more careful to always have one near.  As habitually as he would have put on his pants or the Stetson hat that was part of his wardrobe, so too he wore the shoulder holster for his handgun. Rifles were purchased, along with a twelve-gage pump shotgun, and a 22 riffle.  Winchesters were the brand of choice,  but other brands served as well. The guns were always loaded and kept in a locked case.  Each gun was explained to have a use. The shotgun for quail hunting, a 22 riffle for distance, and the most fearsome, the handgun for self-protection.

If Dean had communicated with someone regarding what he knew he might have been able to have been more understood by the people around him. He didn’t tell about the 2000.00 quarterly “insurance” he paid. Today that would be like 180,000.00 every three months.  The family couldn’t understand why he was always grabbing for money.  Maybe Joe understood because he was very quiet now.  It seemed as if he was ever pensive and watchful.  He had been a man of few words,  but now,  he hardly ever spoke.  Velma, his daughter-in-law,  was the only one who could engage in him conversation, and then, his comments were something like,

 “Everything’s, gone hay-wire,”  which was simple slang to say, everything had gone wrong. But did this have a clue to deeper hidden meanings? The Joneses could speak in riddles. Was the statement in reference to competition between and from the bigger ranches in that area.  Something akin to a knowing respect was held for the Chapman-Barnard Ranch where it was a warning.

“Don’t let yourself,  get caught on their grounds at night.”

That ranch then, was operated by men up from Texas.  Today those lands are 200,000 acres and, hold a buffalo tall grass prairie preserve.  Chevron oil gave them a grant to create and maintain a wondrous place of beauty on that range. This is just ten miles from the Old Jones place.

Leon and Velma were now responsible for Weldon a lot of the time. The child cried at nights for his mother.   This was in Leon and Velma’s home at the Strike-Axe place. 

Leon continued with projects about the ranch: fence building, constructing water saving projects for the cattle, helping Velma with her chickens, gardening and other food preservation,  chores.

The money Dean was neurotically paying for protection

took away from their being able to hire help. Bertha was no longer there to do the book keeping, check writing and all. The bulk of the manual  labor landed on Leon’s shoulders.  He was a worker and that didn’t bother him, but dealing with Velma’s unhappiness was more difficult.  Velma and Bertha had been good friends. They were really like girls with the same goals and objectives.  Because the Ponca and Osage tribe was similar in their culture the two worked together.  Even their languages were similar.  Velma might chuckle over Bertha’s folks calling a horse, “she’ no dah, which was what the Ponca’s called a dog,

but still, there was a shared understanding of each other’s ways.

“Leon, I dreamed of Bertha last night,” Velma told her husband.  “I dreamed she was in her casket while I stood there crying, beside her body.  Then, Bertha opened her eyes and looked up at me.

“Don’t cry, Kid,” she said.  “I’m not dead, I’m just fooling them.”

Maybe Velma did not feel Bertha was dead.  All that her friend had accomplished was still of benefit to  her family, but then, possibly Velma was just sad, and didn’t want to believe  Bertha, was gone.

“Dean needs someone to come up and work around the house.  You know there’s never much to do, mostly dusting.  He’s so neat nothing is ever out of place.  Do you think you could find time for that?”  Leon knew she was busy but too, that she was always accommodating.

“He’ll be gone today, as usual.  It would be a good time to work up there.”

“You know I don’t like Suicide Hill.”  She had named the place.

Leon was careful not to respond to her remark.  They had enough to think about without quarreling among themselves.

Weldon was deeply affected by his mother’s death.  At first he cried a lot at night and then he had shingles.  They had to spend the nights up with him to both comfort and try to sooth the shingles while bathing him with clothes dipped in cool water.  This was the beginning of his loneliness.  He was a sweet, gentle child though and the whole family took time out for him.  Slowly and gradually the boy began to adjust to having lost his Mother.

Mariah seemed to fare better, but, in actuality she did not.  Her grief was simply sandwiched away to come upon her in other ways when she was older.  Dean kept her busy with riding lessons, singing lessons, and whatever he could do to distract her.  She had a friend from a  family who was willing to share their daughter with them.  The two girls were constant companions.

Dean bought a German Shepard Dog for his son and that seemed to be the best thing to do  for Weldon.  The two were always together.

Weldon named the dog Ranger and it was a good name. The two roamed the pastures, fishing holes, and the total area on the prairie. The dog was a friend to the whole family.  If Joe was in his leather rocking chair, Ranger dropped down beside him and stayed until the elderly gentlemen decided to leave. Bell loved their pet, too.  In snapshots she seemed comfortable and proud of the big dog while she patted him on his head or let her hand fall down to his back.

When Velma was cooking in the kitchen he often took the door handle in his mouth and came in by himself.

“Ranger!  You scare me when you come in here so quietly,” Velma would fuss at him, before she gave him a bone to chew.  After all, he was her baby sitter,  while her children were in the yard.  He stayed beside them and she didn’t worry.

Miles of snow-covered  ground  made the prairie look like a flat, solid sheet of white at one time Weldon was eleven.  The rabbits were always prolific and it was an occasion for hunting. By the time he was at this age he was a seasoned hunter, but he had never hunted that much in the snow.  One time he stumbled, the gun discharged and it blew the end of the barrel off. Dean took it and had the length of it cut  off and it became a sawed off shotgun. That accident should have told them Weldon needed more direction for hunting in the snow.  Without a mother to worry over him he was mostly on his own,  and went about his business doing whatever he could do. 

Velma looked up to see Weldon plopped down into one of the overstuffed chairs in the living room.  This was a strange thing because the men always came onto the back porch with their wet boots and clothing. The boy was now quiet, gun in hand, still in his snow clothing.  There were giant tears rolling down his face.

“What is wrong, Weldon?  What happened?”  Velma knew he hardly ever cried over anything and was almost fearful to learn what  must,  be amiss.

“I shot Ranger!  My dog’s dead.  He jumped up to chase a rabbit just as I pulled the trigger. The shotgun got him.”

What was it, this fascination with firearms?  One thing after another,  had happened with guns to cause suffering and sadness, but instead of  evaluating what was happening,  they continued toward a course to take them farther and farther down a path of destruction.  It was like a narcotic to which they were addicted.

One day at a time was how they all had lived through Bertha’s death, each one dealing with the tragedy in their own way. The days had become weeks, the weeks, months and then years.  Weldon was eleven and Mariah was seventeen.  The family managed and had worked its way through the sorrow,  but the inevitable weakness caused by Bertha’s absence;  therefore, lack of direction during crisis brought about the failure of the two ranches and  both families bought property in Foraker, a small town just five miles away from the ranches. 

For that time, this was a good thing for Weldon.  He became involved in 4-H, a club to teach him so much about raising stock. The home  Dean bought had a number of lots beside the house where Weldon was able to keep his show animals.  He worked with sheep, cattle and one or two pigs. All during his high school years the boy was busy,  for the first time,  with projects that were positive and constructive.  This would have been around the years of 1946.  

Weldon and I were sitting on the back steps of our house. We lived only a lot away from where he lived in town.  Weldon was eight years older than I.  He never really took much time out for me. My cousin was all boy and kept busy with his  activities.  This day, though, he was sitting beside me, with his full attention focused.

“You know you are pronouncing some words incorrectly?”

“No.”  I told him. Really,  I had never noticed that I was.

“You are, though.”  He was looking directly at me. “Let me hear you say, Vinegar?”

“Binger,” I immediately replied.

“No, let me hear you pronounce  it correctly?  V is not B.”  He then proceeded to show me how to say the letter V, by his repeating it several times. 

In a little while, I had the proper sound.  He went from one word to another I had been  mispronouncing. Here was this sixteen-year-old boy,  who had always been someone I worshiped from afar,  taking the time  to teach me how to pronounce words.   This was the way he was.  A responsible person, soon to be an adult,  was there watching over us in small ways, and he was our protector.  The most time we ever had to spend with him, it seemed,  was when we were walking home from school.  He always slowed his pace so that,  he kept us reasonably close. 

“I am so afraid of that big,  dog,  behind that fence!”  I once told him.

“He barks so, he scares me.  Will you walk beside us?”

“Sure,” he said and he did just that.  The dog still barked but something about Weldon being closer to the fence and the dog, was a comfort.  I was less afraid.  I don’t ever remember him scolding us or being out of sorts.  His personality was that of a gentle giant.  All the time I remembered him he never allowed himself to be close to anyone for any length of time. It was almost as if he didn’t ever fit into any place.

Halloween was one of the first holidays I remembered while we were now living in town.  The settlers in the outbacks of that community were of German immigrants. Living was serious business and certainly, no time was wasted.  Neither did our parents waste any time.  Even though Dean’s family had the easy income at their fingertips, Dad did not.  Our living was tightly scheduled in accordance with the seasons but not for holidays.  There was a season for gardening, a time for the calves to drop, a time to harvest and preserve food, so on and so forth.  If recreation was practiced that too, had a purpose.  Entertaining great numbers of people on our own grounds was fun and pleasure for others, but a way of taking care of unfinished or needed repairs.

To now be experiencing this bit of celebration on the town’s part was a new thing.  As children we were looking around us to see the events transpiring.  Kids whose  mischievous,  tricks were accepted was almost a shock to us.

 “An out house had been pushed over?  Why?” We thought.  “A chicken house being vandalized?  Why pick on chickens, who had to have their rest so they could lay-eggs.”  We had not been allowed to even be inside their space during the day, lest we disturb their peace.  Eggs were food,  and we, though children, understood that.

The worst thing of it all was that our hero, Weldon, evidently had been involved in the lawlessness,  and that was a disappointment even with unconditional love.

“Our favorite,  did what?  He helped put a cow upstairs in the school building?”  The animal shuffled around there all night and was most destructive. Losses were specimens of rattlesnakes, and other prairie animals that had been preserved in jars of liquid,  preservatives.  Personally,  I knew I would miss those.  As we walked between the tall shelves on our way to the lunch room these specimens held a special fascination for me.  Whatever the consequences for Weldon were,  we never knew.  The thing was hushed up and nothing more said.  Dean being on the school board probably had to pay.

It seemed that all the miserable chores,   other people didn’t want to do,  were given to Weldon. Usually this meant he had to be the one to destroy animals that were maimed, injured or diseased.  Those were the days when a veterinarian was not called that easily.  Usually, only after the death of an animal of some suspicious cause was the vet. called. In this way, possible disease might be recognized, so that other animals could be treated.

“Have Weldon do away with that cat the dogs have injured.” I heard Mariah’s husband tell her.  Because I was a child,  I knew there would be no way I could change their minds.  The kitten I had taken care of with food and water because its back legs were damaged and it couldn’t walk.  The poor little thing had to drag its back legs. The kitten could live but would never be productive as a mouser. For that reason it was to be destroyed.  I never liked Mariah’s husband, much, after that.

If the kitten had to be destroyed why didn’t he do it, instead of pushing the deed off onto Weldon. The kitten, nevertheless,  did disappear.

“Tell, Weldon to slaughter that goose I’ve been feeding for our Thanksgiving Dinner?”  Velma was heard to say.

The goose had been around for most of the summer and actually was a pet. I didn’t want to hear we were going to eat her for Thanksgiving.  I watched through the window while Weldon, axe in hand, walked out to where she rested under a rack Mother had used for vines the summer before.  As he approached the goose  simply stuck her long neck out from under and Weldon in one stroke lopped her head off.

“Did you have any trouble?”  Velma asked Weldon as he came wagging the big bird along. 

“None at all, she stuck her neck out like she was waiting for me and I whacked her head off with one stroke.”

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