By Robert Lucke
Imagine a person talking about when in Chinook there was only mud and boardwalks and his after school job was taking care of horses and buggies in Jack Ryan's stable.
The Dowen family of Chinook has an interesting past. Mildred and Rupert Dowen came from Michigan to Chinook in 1892 when oldest son, Claude was 15 months old. Rupert Dowen was a barber and, to this day, is billed as the best Democrat that Chinook ever saw. Of his 13 children, three were even named for prominent Democrats of the time. William Jennings Bryan Dowen, Grover Cleveland Dowen and Woodrow Wilson Dowen.
The elder Dowens Rupert and Mildred died within six hours of each other in 1962.
Of the 13 children, four are living and three James, Alta and Frank are living in Havre.
Imagine remembering your parents celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary at the Chinook Methodist Church in 1942. Frank does. And he takes up the story.
"I lived in Chinook, homesteaded and worked for a wealthy land owner until the Second World War started," Dowen said. "Then I moved to San Diego and helped build B54 bombers. After the war, I worked in Sunburst, Montana for eight years, and then in Ashland, Ore. until 1984, and Cottonwood, Ore. and Tucson, Ariz. until 1997 when my wife passed away and I came here."
Dowen has one son, W.P. Dowen of Laurel.
And now Dowen has come 20 miles less full circle of returning to his childhood home. How he remembers those early years.
"A man named Jack Ryan had a livery barn and I got adopted to that," Dowen said. "Every Saturday, I would go in. He gave me a pony to ride. Men came in with their surreys and they would tip me enough to see Charlie Chaplin at the movie hall. You know, Jack Ryan wanted to adopt me, but my dad said no, so I went home."
What hasn't Dowen done during his life is the question.
"I have done everything. Pat Maney had a drey line and I worked for him," Dowen said. "I left home at 16, like a fool. I should have never done that, but it was easier than to get a job when you had quit school than it is now."
And after 40 years, Frank Dowen is back. Regrets? A few.
"When I left this country, I missed a lot of good friends. I loved Chinook and this county when I was young," he said. "In the old days, it was a young man's country. You know folks like the Millers and the Kuhrs, they made this country."
And there were always the dances. Not the kind you might think.
"My dad played a violin and I loved to dance," Dowen said. "My mother loved to waltz and was one of the best waltzers in the country. In Harlem, I waltzed against Jack Kelly and took first place."
Dowen remembers cowboys carrying six-shooters but not in the tradition of Gene Autry.
"When I was young, the cowpuncher wore a six-shooter always," he said. "They used their guns to kill rattlesnakes or if they ever got caught in the stirrup, well, they would shoot the horse before they got drug to death."
Dowen remembers Havre as a young man in a young town, too.
"You know, Havre was known as one of the roughest towns to the west," Dowen said with a smile. "You could always get a drink in Havre during prohibition. Shorty Young ran the town."
Tomorrow at the care center in Havre from 2 to 4 p.m. there will be a birthday celebration for Frank Dowen. He invites all his family's friends to attend.
And of course, Frank Dowen has some advice about how to live to 100.
"I know just how I did it," Dowen said. "Remember that honesty is the best policy and drink three brandies each day."