Dick and Lydia lived on a ranch in Encampment, Wyoming from the early 1930’s until their deaths in 1959.
In 1934, Dick received a homestead patent for 640 acres of grazing land. Unlike my ancestors who obtained land under the Homestead Act of 1862, Dick Parr’s patent was obtained pursuant to the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916. This type of homestead was for 640 acres and only granted surface rights to the property. The government retained the mineral rights. Once awarded the land, the applicant had to make at least half of the necessary permanent improvements within three years.
The General Land Office website shows how their 640-acre ranch lies relative to the town of Encampment and Riverside (the blue outline below). I tried to access the ranch when I was there two weeks ago, but there aren’t any public roads that go into the area.
The cabin in the background of some of the photos from last time could very well be one of the required permanent improvements that Dick and Lydia would have had to make in order to perfect their homestead patent.
Other than the photos I collected from the Grand Encampment Museum a couple of weeks ago, I have very little information about Dick and Lydia’s life on the ranch. I did not inherit any letters that Lydia may have sent to her family back home. However, given the 14-year age difference between Lydia and her oldest brother P.W. (my great-grandfather), and the fact that P.W. left home as a teenager, there may not have been enough of a relationship between them to foster regular correspondence.
Their death certificates and obituaries provide some tantalizing tidbits to fill in a few gaps.
Lydia passed away on June 20, 1959 at the age of 68. She had been admitted to the hospital four days earlier. The cause of death was “cardiovascular accident” – in other words, a stroke. A contributing cause was “rheumatoid arthritis generalized”. Dick was the informant and was able to identify Lydia’s father as “Chris Pearson”, but he did not know her mother’s maiden name.
Lydia’s obituary provides some interesting facts and surprises that I didn’t know at the outset of my research:
Some interesting facts from the obituary:
- Lydia moved to Walden in 1916, much earlier than I had previously estimated. This means she moved away fairly soon after her first husband died, and she would have lived as a single woman in Walden for five years before her marriage to Dick Parr.
- After they were married, Dick and Lydia moved to Oregon (!) prior to settling in Encampment in 1928. Wow, Oregon! I wonder what sent them there, and why they returned. A cursory look at available records on Ancestry doesn’t turn up anything. Unfortunately, their time there falls in between the decadal census records.
- Lydia’s only surviving sibling at the time of her death was older sister Lena living in Michigan. Lena would have been almost 80. Even if she was physically able, it probably wasn’t possible for her to travel to a funeral in remote Encampment on short notice.
- The other names of friends and relatives traveling to attend her funeral are mostly unknown to me, except for the Sawtell’s (see below). Of note, however, is the number of people from Walden attending her funeral, suggesting that she forged life-long friendships during the time she spent there between 1916 and 1921.
Dick’s death followed a few short months later on October 30, 1959 at the age of 70. Dick’s death certificate tells a sad story. He was hospitalized for more than two months prior to his death. The cause of death was “bronchopneumonia”, but a contributing cause was “psychotic depressive reaction”. Connecting the dots, I would surmise that Dick struggled terribly after Lydia’s death. According to family lore, Lydia suffered with rheumatoid arthritis for several years prior to her death. We can only imagine how difficult this disease would be without regular medical care and the treatments that are available today. Dick was probably her primary caregiver, and to lose Lydia and his life’s purpose as her caregiver was probably more than he could bear.
Dick’s obituary lists many of the same guests that attended Lydia’s funeral.
From Dick’s obituary:
- His service in World War I is mentioned. We saw this previously in a newspaper article from 1918.
- It also states that he worked for the railroad as a section hand for many years. I’ve confirmed that his pension records are available from the National Archives. Maybe I’ll order them someday…
Both obituaries list Mr. and Mrs. James Sawtell as guests at the funerals. I’ve determined the Mrs. Sawtell was actually Ruth Parr Morgan Sawtell – Dick’s niece, the daughter of his brother James.
Shortly after Dick’s death, Ruth applied for a veteran’s headstone for Dick’s grave:
It appears that his service made him eligible for such a headstone, but for some reason the application was cancelled.
Dick and Lydia are buried together at the Mountain View Cemetery east of Riverside. The cemetery is at the top of a hill and their ranch land lies directly to the west.
Did you notice the flowers in front of their tombstone? Someone in Encampment still remembers them.
I took a 180-degree panorama from south to north. Their ranch would be close to where the sun is setting; their gravesite is adjacent to the larger red tombstone near the center of the panorama. How lovely that they’re within sight of their beloved ranch.
So I was curious – what became of the ranch after their death?
The tour guide at Grand Encampment Museum, Karen, who is a Parr family descendant, remembered visiting Dick and Lydia in town in the late 1950’s. This suggests that they left the ranch at some point, perhaps due to Lydia’s declining health. I don’t believe, however, that they sold the ranch during their lifetimes.
Carbon County has online images of grantor/grantee and tract indexes of land ownership. In 1961, the index shows land passing from the jurisdiction of the District Court to Mrs. James Sawtell – Dick’s niece. My guess is that she was designated as the heir in a will. Just two months later, she sold the property to the Carroll family and a few years after that, the land transferred to the Cow Creek Cattle Company. The online index ends in 1992.
Today, the land is in the hands of the the Silver Spur Ranch. Silver Spur Ranch is held by John Malone. Formerly the CEO and President of TCI, he is the now largest individual land owner in the United States, recently surpassing Ted Turner. Malone is supposedly committed to maintaining traditional ranching practices on his properties which, if true, would be a fitting tribute to the many years of hard work put forth by Dick and Lydia.
What an experience it has been to learn about my great-great-aunt Lydia. I’ve concluded that she was a free spirit, unafraid to break tradition and seek out adventure. I’m glad she found love with her handsome cowboy, and I’m glad their place of eternal rest is within sight of the ranch that they homesteaded together.
For a musical tribute to Dick and Lydia, here’s a lovely song about an older couple from New Engalnd – but seems like it could have been written about Dick and Lydia. Enjoy.
Here are links to all the installments in this story line:
- Aunt Lydie, re-examined
- Lydia Novak
- Lydia Parr
- Dick and Lydia in Colorado
- Dick and Lydia in Encampment
- Dick and Lydia’s final years
Speaking of thrills…what fun it was this week to enter my new grand-daughter and her birth date into my genealogy database! Welcome to the world, beautiful Shyanne!