Legacy Inductees (1877-1961) (1880-1963) MCHF District 4
Alfonse Valentine Vercruyssen took an unforgettable journey across the ocean, with his wife, Marie, and their two sons to the United States in December 1910, making their way to Chinook, where relatives and good friends were already settled.
The few dollars Alfonse had left after paying the homestead filing fee were used to purchase lumber, one cow, three chickens, and a rooster. In February 1911, he built a one room primitive shack for his family. He established residency upon his 320-acre homestead in the Fairview area, sixteen miles southeast of Chinook, on March 1, in an entirely Belgian community. He then went to work on the Millers Brothers Ranch, a neighboring sheep camp, for $40 a month, returning home each spring to cultivate a few more acres for grain and livestock feed. Meanwhile, Marie grew a large garden, canned produce, and raised pigeons to eat.
By 1916, Alfonse had a few good crop years and was able to build a barn, blacksmith shop, and a larger home. Their neighbors would trade labor to help cut and harvest the crops. All grain was cut with scythes. Marie often told of how raw and bloody her fingers became when picking up the hay in the field (prior to owning pitchforks).
Alfonse was grateful and proud when he received his Certificate of Naturalization on July 22, 1916, bringing opportunities and security for his family. He and Marie helped establish a church at Fairview, where the children and grandchildren were baptized and confirmed. They also assisted in organizing the Fairview Chester Whites 4-H Club, to provide youth opportunities for developing life skills.
In 1924, Alfonse won a Blaine County purebred Holstein bull calf from the Carnation stock farms at Seattle, presented by the Great Northern Railroad to boost the quality of dairy stock in the area. The oats and corn Alfonse raised placed first and second for Blaine County at the North Montana Corn and Seed Show in Plentywood.
After 37 years of ranching, Alfonse and Marie worried if they would enjoy retirement. They moved to the Bitterroot Valley in 1947, buying a small place one mile from Corvallis to raise chickens and garden vegetables. They moved to Woodside for their final years. Alfonse passed away on October 12, 1961, and Marie on February 6, 1963.
Like other Montana pioneers, Alfonse and Marie represent the early Western lifestyle, immigrating to Montana without being able to speak a word of English, embracing a life filled with hard work, low pay, little sleep, and very few possessions. The Vercruyssens were resilient, innovative, and made many sacrifices to help shape our culture. Their homestead on the Montana prairie was held in the family for 101 years, supporting their brood who ran livestock and kept the cowboy legacy.