By Barb Hauge
My husband Art's mother, Mabel Thorpe Banta came to Montana in the early part of the 20th century. She had just graduated from a Young Ladies Academy in Brooklyn, New York, and would be teaching Gannaway School down by the Milk River. Louise Gannaway Dolven remembers "We really gave Miss Banta a bad time. At recess we'd go skating on the river. If we skated around the bend we couldn't hear her bell so we'd just keep on skating." They were disciplined by being made to stay inside the school grounds.
Mable came to Montana in response to an urgent plea from her uncles, the Cowan Brothers, to take up a homestead. Scott, Arthur and George Cowan were trying to hold on to the area of Woody Island Ranch which they had been sheeping off. Mabel homesteaded on land that later became part of Petrie's ranch and married Martin Hauge in 1917. It was a very different life from the one she had known as daughter of a New York furrier. When I came to the farm there was still a beautiful Russian Sable packed in loose tobacco in the attic.
Mable's ancestors go back to Epke Jacobse Banta who sailed on the ship "De Trouw" from Herlengen, Holland, to New Amsterdam (which later became New York) Feb. 12, 1659, with his wife and five sons all under the age of seven. He became a Judge in Peter Stuyvesant's Colony. Originally the Bantas were Fresians from a separate country in Northern Netherlands. We have a copy of Epke Jacobse Banta's portrait painted by one of the Dutch Masters, though we don't know who.
The family prospered greatly, were Tories who opposed the American Revolution and when two of Art's maiden aunts (who were cat lovers) died in New York City they left three million dollars to establish a cat home/hospital. The family joke is that all of our ancestral wealth went to a Cat House. In 1893, Theodore M. Banta published the family genealogy "A Fresian Family."
Mabel Thorpe Banta's mother was Margaret Elizabeth Cowan. By 1893, her brothers, Arthur, George and Winfield Scott Cowan had established Woody Island Ranch on the eastern portion of The Big Flat. Their parents were William and Mary Watters Cowan, emigrants from Northern Ireland who ran a Resort in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.
In 1895, Mary Payne Brockway Cowan, wife of Arthur Cowan, kept a diary. I incorporated this in a book "Woody Island Diary of 1895" illustrated with old family pictures. Mary begins Jan. 1, 1895, by saying "Today I begin a record of the New Year and I hope to not have to record anything that will cause me sorrow. Jan. 23. Twenty degrees below zero this morning. Arthur tended sheep today. This is very cold lonely weather. How glad I shall be when this cold is over. Seems like I can hardly endure this life but it will be over after awhile." She speaks of the men hunting in Ten Mile Timber and bringing back jackrabbits, prairie chickens, deer, antelope, coyote, bobcats and wolves. And always and forever they tended sheep, usually having one sick bunch to nurse. In winter they made soap, mended shoes, and repaired gear and clothing. "June 30. Very warm, lots of mosquitoes. Am very tired an nearly sick of the heat." When they sold Woody Island Ranch, which at its peak ran five thousand sheep and had over thirty thousand acres, Arthur built Mary a large home in Harlem where they helped to develop yet another community, far away from both the Old and the New Amsterdam of Art's ancestors.