In June 1888, Jerome “Jerry” A. Kearful traveled by train from Missouri into the untamed Montana Territory. He tried his luck at gold mining in Helena, before settling in the Bears Paw Mountains, fifteen miles south of Chinook, using squatter rights.
Flora May Tibbits, following the loss of her parents, migrated with her older brother, their grandmother, and two aunts to South Dakota. After five years of “starved-out” farming, they gathered their remaining possessions and relocated to Chinook in 1889. Flora had superb side saddle horsemanship and was an excellent shooter and trapper. When age twenty-one, she qualified to homestead—one of only two single women within fifty miles of her settlement.
Jerry Kearful joked of Flora, “If the young lady isn’t Kearful [pronounced “Careful”] she soon will become one.”
Jerry and Flora were married on January 5, 1895, joining their homesteads as the Eden Ranch. They raised chickens, cattle, and sheep, along with a huge garden. Locally, Jerry was known as the Clear Creek “Cabbage King,” having grown heads that weighed as much as twenty pounds each. At the first Hill County Fair in 1912, the Kearfuls were awarded a sizeable trophy cup by Jim Hill of the Great Northern Railroad for the best display of irrigated grain and vegetables.
The quality of the Kearfuls’ meat and produce earned them a substantial income and the nickname: “The Bonanza Farmers of the Bears Paw.” When robbers began waiting outside of town for them, Flora commenced to carrying a pistol and lengthy horse whip. Attempts dwindled after that.
Jerry was leery of banks and kept his money buried in the backyard. Flora deposited her money, and when the banking system crashed, she received one cent for every dollar.
Flora believed “life’s richest dividends consist, not of money, but of happiness and contentment.” She crocheted, groomed her two-acre yard, wrote of Montana life for the Daily Tribune, and was devoted to her husband. At age 70, she was given an old Model T Ford, and a willing, young hired man taught her to drive. (Jerry disliked the Model T, refusing to have anything to do with it.)
Living up to his reputation of being a tireless worker, Jerry created and cleaned miles of irrigation ditches by hand to collect any spring runoff. He made his shovel handles from willow trees and fence posts from timber along the creek. In the spring and fall, he traveled to town for supplies, to tend to business, and to enjoy a few cold beers. His sheep dog was always close beside him, helping move the nearly 500 sheep to forage. He read everything he could lay his hands on and wrote articles for the Northwest Magazine.
Knowing the importance of community, he belonged to the Knights of Columbus, Eagles Club, and respectfully served on juries.
Believing education was vital to sustaining a more comfortable life, he was instrumental in establishing the local school district, housing teachers, and serving as a board member.
Over 100 old timers and friends gathered at the Eden Ranch for a picnic in June 1938 to celebrate the Kearfuls’ 50th anniversary of continuous residence on Clear Creek. They reminisced of courage, endurance, overcoming hardships, and love of the land.