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Harry Lovatt

Page history last edited by Judi Myers 12 years, 7 months ago

Harry Lovatt

A true Sublette County old-timer, Harry Ansell Lovatt was born on the family ranch 8 miles east of Boulder, WY on January 28, 1908.  His parents were George ‘Toot’, a wagon-maker and blacksmith, and Eleanor.  Harry, his uncles and brothers had no children so he was the last member carrying the Lovatt name.  He and his wife Mercy, a school teacher, were married in 1935.  Harry had a versatile career: rancher, trapper, Forest Ranger, construction earth mover, tie hack, Naval SeaBee, world traveler, clockbuilder and expert carpenter- house builder.  Mercy Sterling Steele Lovatt was born in 1899 in Oconto Falls, Wi and died in 1986. Harry died a week short of his 81st birthday on January 24, 1989.

Harry started school in 1914 at the Silver Creek School near his father’s ranch.  The Pinedale Roundup praised young Harry for saving the life of Enid Stark one day after school, but Harry is more modest: “The water in Silver Creek couldn’t drown anyone.  I just pulled her out when she slipped.”  Of his schooling, Harry recalled, “When we got past the 8th grade we had to board out.  No buses in those days.  Pinedale just had a one year high school so I went to Rock Springs.  We had to pay our own room and board.  I earned my money as a janitor, working in stores and unloading freight train cars.  It took two of us almost all night to unload one car and we each earned $5.00.”  Harry graduated in 1927.

As a young man Harry took any job he could get.  One of these was digging the ditch for Ed Steele’s hot springs pool.  The ditch was 11 feet deep and just wider than a man’s shoulder.  One day Harry was at the bottom of the trench with his wide-brimmed cowboy hat on, leaning on his shovel to rest, when the ditch suddenly caved in.  The hat caused a pocket of air to form around his face and saved his life as friends on top frantically dug down through four feet of dirt to free him.

In the early 1930s Harry filed for Homestead on South Soda Lake, not far from the family ranch.  His father was very upset over Harry’s plans to locate there & finally had to tell Harry his reason.  Years earlier in July, 1902, when cattlemen raided sheep camps near Raid Lake, a sheepherder was killed.  Teenagers found the body floating in South Soda Lake the next morning so the Lovatt brothers and other Boulder ranchers went up to the site and built a raft out of what little logs they could find on the shore.  To remove evidence of the murder, they took the sheepherders body, tied heavy rocks to it with barbed wire, pushed him out on the raft and rolled him into the lake.  There is a point of rocks near the center of the lake where the body was ‘laid to rest’.  Harry’s father still held a bad feeling for the area and Harry never did prove up on his claim there.

Harry often worked for other ranchers haying, grubbing sagebrush and irrigating.  He said, “I worked for everybody in the country and then I went back & worked for them again.”  All except one rancher in the Daniel area.

This particular cattleman hired Harry to take a cattle drive to Opal.  Harry was just a kid and wanted to ride his own horse.  The cowman said that would be fine.  Harry remembers, “It took ten days or so to go to Opal & the rancher then went on to Omaha.  I brought the horses back to his ranch.  He was to pay me $1.00 a day to go down there and when he paid me, he took off 50 cents a day for my horse’s feed!  You know he cheated that kid – ME – just because I wanted to ride my own horse.  I never worked for him again.  In fact I never would work for his son or his grandson either.  That 50 cents a day still rankles me and that was 70 years ago!”

The summer of 1934 found Harry on the jury for the first murder conviction in Sublette County.  He said, “It was the first time I paid my taxes and sure enough, I got called for jury.  It was as straight a case of murder as could be (Jack Parkel shot Mike O’Blak on Pinion Ridge).  It wasn’t even self-defense.  It was an ambush, an out & out murder.  We gave Parkel life imprisonment but then he got a new trial & his sentence didn’t amount to much.

“During the trial Pat Dew & I were jurors and George Hubbard was the bailiff.  Beings it was a murder trial Hubbard was suppose to keep good track of us.  We was eating lunch at the Fardy Hotel and Pat & I went outside for a chew.  We sat down on the far side of the running board of a car there.  Pat Holt, the sheriff, came along and Pat Dew says to him: ‘Let’s have some fun with the bailiff.  Go ask Hubbard where the hell Lovatt & Dew are.’  So, Sheriff Holt went in, looked the bunch over and said, ‘Hubbard, where in the world are Dew & Lovatt?  This is a murder trial.’  Oh, Hubbard was all over, looking for us and after we thought the joke had went far enough Dew & I come out from behind the car.  Well, the whole thing backfired cause after that Hubbard never let us out of his sight for the rest of the trial.  He followed us everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE!”

Another of Harry’s careers was tie hacking west of Merna.  As he recalls, “When I was a tie hack up Horse Creek a unionizer came out and told us we were getting a bad deal.  He gave us a big line so we all paid our dues & joined up.  We went out on strike and he got in his car & drove off.  We never seen or heard from him again.  We were out on strike about 6 weeks and then we went back to work for less money than we were getting before.  That’s the only union I ever belonged to!”

During World War II Harry belonged to the SeaBees – the Naval Construction Battalion.  “We were mostly older guys who built prefab docks for the marines to land on.  I served almost 4 years in the Pacific and the other soldiers say the SeaBees didn’t do any fighting, but they should have been with us in San Francisco!”

One hobby that Harry & his wife Mercy enjoyed was racing speed boats.  They often traveled all over the state in order to participate.  Harry said, “Mercy loved to go fast.  Nowadays all they have is sailboat racing.  It’s like watching paint dry.”  In their retirement years the Lovatts traveled the world over & shared their slides & adventures with anyone who was interested.

After his 80th birthday Harry purchased a new car & decided to take a spin to Boulder.  He said, “In my old car the wind roars and this new one is so smooth I wasn’t watching what the hell I was doing.  I was going 80.  The patrolman stopped me and I was guilty just as sure as can be.  The fine was $80.00 and when I walked uptown the next morning for the mail, all I heard was ‘Oh, eighty at eighty!  Eighty and eighty!’  I don’t know how it ever spread so fast.”

The years treated Harry well and he kept himself on the go with daily walks.  He enjoyed good health up until a week before his death.  Sublette County has lost a storehouse of knowledge and a very special person.

By Judi Myers, 1989

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