P.S. I Like You Very Much
I know a land where the gray hills lie
On October 20th, 1905 the Rawlins-to-Lander stagecoach rattled north toward the Sweetwater River in central Wyoming. On board was an unusual passenger, a 23-year-old named Ethel Waxham.
She was a city girl from Denver, a graduate of Wellesley College who had spent a summer doing volunteer work in the slums of New York. Schooled in four languages, she dabbled in poetry, enjoyed staging amateur theatricals, and was voraciously curious about the world. Just a few weeks earlier, she had been offered her first full-time job -- as a teacher in a remote one room school in the center of Wyoming.
"My mother, who was always great for adventure, decided she would take the job. Of course, the adventure started when the Mills family, with whom she would live and whose three children she would teach, wrote her and told her what things to bring and what kind of clothing and what to expect. But there was no mention of how beautiful the ranch was, and what the scenery was like, and what the people were like. So, all those things were a surprise and a revelation to her."
She moved into the Red Bluff ranch and started recording her observations of the remarkable new life she'd begun to lead. And she began teaching -- seven students in all, ages 8 to 16.
The first fifteen minutes or half hour are given to reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or "Kidnapped," while we all sit about the stove to keep warm. Usually in the middle of the reading the sound of a horse galloping down the frozen road distracts the attention of the boys.
A few moments later, six foot George Schlichting opens the door, a sack of oats in one hand, his lunch tied up in a dishrag in the other. Cold from his five mile ride, he sits down on the floor by the stove, unbuckles his spurs, pulls off his leather chaps... unwinds three red handkerchiefs from about his neck and ears, takes off one or two coats, according to the temperature, and straightening his leather cuffs, is ready for business.
Visitors to the ranch where Ethel lived were few -- sometimes no one for days. But among those who came by with increasing regularity, despite a difficult eleven hour ride, was a rugged sheep rancher named John Galloway Love.
Mr. Love is a Scotchman about thirty-five years old... His face was kindly, with shrewd blue twinkling eyes... But his voice was most peculiar and characteristic. Close analysis fails to find the charm of it. A little Scotch dialect, a little slow drawl, a little nasal quality... and a tone as if he were speaking out of doors... He is full of quaint turns of speech, and unusual expressions. For he is not a common sheepherder, it is said, but a sheep baron, or "mutton-aire."
"My father was unmarried and he was beginning to make a little money and he wanted a wife. And here was this beautiful school marm and so, of course, he fell in love with her. But she did not fall in love with him. No bells and whistles rang. But she was intrigued."
John Love was born in Wisconsin, to Scottish parents. He was bright and resourceful, but high spirited and got himself expelled from the University of Nebraska in 1891. Then he had invested what little money he had in two horses and a buggy, and headed for Wyoming. When his horses died after drinking poisoned water, Love abandoned his belongings and went the last hundred miles on foot.
Since then, he had spent seven years on the range, herding other people's sheep, caring for their cattle, saving up enough money to start a sheep ranch of his own in Fremont County on a treeless stretch of land along Muskrat Creek.
"I have asked him many times why that Godforsaken country would be his home. He knew about the Red Bluff Ranch and other places along the Wind River Front. But he chose that because, as he said simply, he needed a lot of room. He wanted his outfit to grow."
Ethel Waxham enjoyed Love's wit and his stories about ranching, but when he proposed marriage, she turned him down and went on with her work.
When the school year ended, Ethel left Wyoming and entered the University of Colorado, and began to work towards a master's degree in literature. Then letters began to arrive.
Dear Miss Waxham,
Finally, in the spring of 1910, Ethel Waxham agreed to be John Love's wife.
"When my father was sure that my mother was going to marry him, he had a sheep wagon built especially to his order. And that was to be the honeymoon sheep wagon. They were married on June 20th, in 1910, and it was pretty hot, so they started out for the mountains, and from then on there is a blank in our knowledge. Mother rarely discussed it, except in times of crisis. And my father never discussed it. But apparently it rained a great deal. The horses got away and they were marooned, and they never got to the mountains.
It was the first test John and Ethel Love would face together, but it would not be the last.
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