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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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
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.
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?”
“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
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
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
“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.”