Gladys Maria Venable Cain (1910-2011)

Gladys Maria (Venable) Cain was born on September 26, 1910, in Balko, Oklahoma. Upon the arrival of her 100th birthday, she celebrated the milestone with one hundred fifty friends and relatives at the Range Riders Museum in Miles City. It was the request of Gladys that the dinner of fried chicken and roast beef be similar to that which she would have served to folks who came on Sunday’s to visit her and her husband at their ranch on the East Fork of Little Pumpkin Creek in Powder River County.

When Gladys was growing up, she knew firsthand what it meant to be poor. Her father struggled to make a living for his family and moved from one job to another, often leaving his wife and children to live with relatives. When Gladys was about six or seven, she and her family left Oklahoma in a covered wagon and traveled to a homestead in Lamar, Colorado. The family lived there for five years, and as Gladys recalled, “we were happy then, we had a real house to live in and our school was close. I had a good friend to play with, but then Dad decided things would be better in Montana, so he packed us up and we moved to Miles City.”

Gladys’s father worked for several different ranches yet it remained a challenge for her mother to feed and take care of the family. As a teenager, Gladys wrapped bread for the folks who ran the Modern Bakery. The money she received for this work was used to buy food for her brothers and sister.

Gladys loved to dance. As a teenager, she often went to area dances with her friends. After all these years, she still talks about going to a dance in Terry and not being allowed in because her dress was too short. It hung just below her knees.

On December 24, 1928, Gladys married Oscar “Sal” Cain. Oscar came from a family of fifteen, and as a young man, he worked away from the Cain Homestead to put food on the table for his family. When he married Gladys, he was working as a ranch hand for the Sutton Brothers Ranch on Marvel Creek, a tributary of Little Pumpkin Creek. After taking their marriage vows at the courthouse in Miles City, the young couple moved in with the three Sutton brothers. Gladys soon became the ranch cook and housekeeper. She fondly talks about her time with Bob and Buck Sutton. “I wasn't much of a cook, but with the advice of these two old bachelors and the ladies of the Stacey Community, I got better at it and even learned to make pies.” Gladys remembers, “Buck always wanted to go back to Texas where the roses bloomed year-round, and Bob had a girlfriend who often came to the ranch and was good company for me.”

In 1931, Sal and Gladys bought two railroad sections of land south of the Sutton Ranch. Sal, with the help of a brother, built a one room log cabin on their land, and in the spring of 1932, the Cain family, which now included son Donald, moved into their first home. Even though her new house was in very remote country and she only traveled to town once or twice a year, Gladys was happy. With the money Sal made shearing sheep in the spring and his employment with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), they had plenty to eat. They even managed to buy one new set of clothes for the children each year. Gladys says, “the fourteen years I spent in my log cabin were the happiest days of my life.”

In the early 40s, Sal and Gladys moved to the Shy Ranch which they leased and later bought. The Shy place joined the Cain Ranch, so it was a good fit for their family, which now included two sons and three daughters. Eventually, Sal and Gladys accumulated five sections of land and a 130 head cow/calf lease on National Forest Service land. Gladys, with her oldest son Donald, still owns the ranch and even though she no longer lives there, she still takes an active interest in it and does not hesitate to give orders to those working there.

Starting with her early days of living in the hills of southeastern Montana, Gladys recognized how important it was to preserve in writing the stories of the people who had settled in this remote country. She compiled many personal histories of those who lived on or near the Cain Ranch before she and Sal came to the area. She had headstones made for three people who were buried in unmarked graves just east of the ranch buildings. And when the Range Riders Museum wanted a log home to put with its collection, Gladys donated her first home to the museum.

Along with her strong sense of preserving local history, Gladys agreed to have the ranch buildings, many of which were built in 1905 as part of the George Cheever Homestead, placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Plans are underway to repair the large two story chicken house and the shop. A small log cabin built by Sal in 1935 has been completely restored. Gladys is committed to preserving the ranch buildings because they are outstanding examples of the homestead era.

Several years ago, Gladys began putting together stories about her own time and experience on the land to share with others. In the column, Eighty Years in Powder River, she recalled seeing her first automobile as a young girl in Oklahoma and riding in a covered wagon to Colorado. She told of her memoires of both world wars, the Great Depression which brought the country to its knees, and the despair she felt when the hordes of crickets and grasshoppers devoured her garden during the dust filled days of the Dirty ‘30s. The column is very popular with folks, and Gladys receives many calls and notes about her writings.

In 2008, Gladys served as the Grand Marshall for the Bucking Horse Sale. She fondly remembers seeing local cowboys riding wild horses on the flat west of Miles City with the “arena” being formed from a circle of Model T Fords.

But, if you asked Gladys what is the most significant thing about her life, she would say it’s the ranch, the ranch which she and Sal put together and was recently honored by the Montana Stock Growers for belonging to the same family for more than 100 years. As a young woman, Gladys walked and rode horseback over her beloved hills. And after Sal passed away in 1973, she stayed on the ranch, the place which was a dream come true for a young couple who just wanted to raise cattle and make a living off the land.