As Walsh-Groves company moved into Trego to start work on the tunnel, I learned an unexpected abbreviation – CIO, California Improved Okie. Since the Okies had made the mass exodus to California less than 35 years earlier, and those California Improved Okies that stayed have been our neighbors here for over fifty years, I got to thinking how they became Montana Improved Californians . . . virtually indistinguishable from long-term residents.
The first oddity I recall was a CIO grandparent hunting squirrels. Obviously this was a holdover from the Okie or Arkie past – but out local Trego squirrels are Douglas squirrels, or Chickarees – and just too small to be a reasonable food item. The Montana Improved descendents of the CIOs no longer hunt and eat squirrels.
We’ve a long history of Montana Improved Californians – from the early days, if we look at Montana’s Cowboy Hall of Fame, we encounter Granville Stuart. He arrived in Montana after first trying California: “In the spring of 1852, along with his father and a brother, Granville journeyed to the California gold fields; his father later returned to Iowa. In the spring of 1857, Granville decided to return home to visit his parents. On June 14 of that year, the journey home to Iowa encountered an unexpected delay. Brigham Young, president of the Mormon Church, had declared the State of Utah free and independent of the United States. In fact, he had seceded from the Union, and United States troops were sent to squelch the uprising. Because of this, Granville Stuart decided to reroute his trip and headed north to Montana, crossing the Rocky Mountain Divide on October 10, 1857, then spending the winter in the Beaverhead Valley. Granville and his party spent Christmas Day 1857 with Captain Grant at the present-day location of the Grant-Kohrs Ranch.
Granville’s trip to Iowa was permanently delayed when he discovered gold at Gold Creek the following year. Gold Creek was located in Missoula County, at that time a part of Washington Territory. He is often credited as the first man to discover gold in Montana.”
The occasional harsh winter selects for the Montana Improved Californian – the less resilient head for warmer climates, while those who stay learn to drive icy and snow-packed roads, get their firewood early in the year, and handle being snow-bound without cracking to cabin fever.
Will Rogers claimed that when the Okies moved to California, it raised the IQ in both states. I’m not sure this happened with the California migration to Montana. I hear it more from the new migrants – folks who ask who does somebody with education talk with here. After living here a while, you learn that there are some intelligent people in the backwoods who might, or might not, have formal education.
The Montana Improved Californian has moved from an area with a lot of restrictions on guns to an area where the only restrictions are federal. In the early years, that means using that new freedom . . . as time goes on and the Montana improvements take a stronger hold, the firearms become more normal and less seen.
Driving? The Californian (or Texan for that matter) never gets concerned about traffic in Montana. Malfunction junction doesn’t even register on the timid ones. Those who stay learn to drive in Winter. Those who don’t, Winter drives south.
Some come from parts of California where country-western is the norm. . . and that’s OK. In general, the Montana Improved Californian is an acceptable neighbor . . . and, the reality is that our state is young enough that a lot of us came from somewhere else.