An American Citizen

Moose in the Stillwater River, Columbus, Montana. Watercolor by Wendy Harty July 2021

United States of America

Declaration of Intention State of Montana County of Yellowstone

I, Hiram Gibbs, aged 64 years, occupation Farmer, do declare on oath that my personal description is: color White, complexion: Ruddy, height 5 feet 10 inches, weight 150 pounds, color of hair grey, eye blue, other distinctive marks: first and third fingers on left hand bent and stiff. I was born in Farnham, Canada on the 10th of May, 1846. I now reside at Broadview, Montana. I emigrated to the United States of America from Coutts, Alberta, Canada on the A.R.and I Co. Railroad; my last foreign residence was Viking, Alberta Canada. It is my bona fide intention to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, and particularly to George V King of Great Britain and Ireland, of whom I am now a subject; I arrived at the port of Sweetgrass on the 30th day of April, 1912; I am not an anarchist; I am not a polygamist nor a believer in the practice of polygamy; and it is my intention in good faith to become a citizen of the United States of America and to permanently reside therein; SO HELP ME GOD. Sworn before me this 6th day of May, 1912 Lorin T. Jones Clerk of the said court.

I’ve decided to unpack more of the history from this one official form signed by Hiram Gibbs.

Farnham takes its name from the Township of Farnham, established before 1800. It was named for the Farnham in the United Kingdom, 30 miles of London where the Bishops of Winchester resided. The monks staying at the first Cistercian abbey, Waverley Abbey, in England were recorded as living in famine and poverty. The first “Farnhamiens” were mostly Loyalists from the United States. The town was named in 1876. It borders the Saint Lawrence lowlands, and built on the shores of the Yamaska River.

Hiram’s grandfather, Isaac Gibbs, son of Abraham and Keziah Atwood Gibbs, was NOT a loyalist. Isaac and his brother Joshua joined George Washington’s troops. He was captured at “The Cedars” in blog “Pieces of the Puzzle”. They survived the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge as noted in my blog “Changing the Course of History” part 1, 2 and 3. They participated in the Battle of Monmouth the biggest and longest one day battle of the war. Isaac and Joshua were with the 1st New Hampshire Regiment led by Brigadier General Enock Poor. Isaac and Joshua were honorably discharged March 20, 1780 having fought for nearly 5 years during the Revolutionary War, a year before the war ended. The next 12 years, I don’t know what, where or why or how they lived. In 1792 Isaac is on a passenger list to Canada, where he settled along the Missisquoi Bay. He signed an Oath of Allegiance claiming to be a farmer on the Seignory of St. Armand and came into the Province of Lower Canada by water by way of Lake Champlain on the 9th day of October, 1792. I imagined he kept his mouth shut about his past amongst those loyalists! My 4th great grandparents, Isaac Gibbs and wife Lydia (last name unknown) were named on their two boys marriage certificates. Abraham my 3rd great grandfather was born in 1806 at Missisquoi, Quebec married Anna Saxe, from a loyalist family. His brother Hiram was born in 1812. Abraham and Annie Gibb’s son also named, Hiram, my 2nd great grandfather was born on May 10, 1846, at Farnham, Quebec and given the name Hiram Garner Gibbs. Brome-Missisquoi is the county municipality. By the time Hiram was born here, Upper and Lower Canada which were a British colony were united as the Province of Canada, 1841. During Abraham Gibbs tenure in Quebec, the War of 1812, was fought, a rebellion that challenged the British rule of the predominantly French population. Then the Rebellion of 1837-38 was crushed by the British Army and Loyal volunteers. Any travel was by water on the St. Lawrence River until steamboats 1815 and railways 1850’s. In 1853, Hiram Gibbs, at age 7 came to Port Hope, on Michigan’s Upper Thumb region, situated on the shore of Lake Huron. 40 acre land warrants from the US Government were set aside as pension benefits for veterans of the War of 1812. Does this mean Hiram’s father, Abraham, participated on the side of the American’s? I am thinking he did otherwise why settle at Port Hope?

On May 8, 1867, Hiram Gibbs married my second great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Smith at Huron, Michigan. The couple raised 8 out of 10 children: Nellie Mary, James Abraham, Charles Hiram, George Arthur, Marion Anna, Nettie Estella, William Henry, Lendley Edgar, Minnie and Rachel Lillian Francis. The family lived through the two Thumb fires of Huron, Michigan which devastated the area. (blogs called Port Hope and Fires at the Thumb 1871 and 1881). They moved west taking the southern route through Sac City, Iowa. They could have gone into South Dakota Territory by train, as the railroad had been built. Then would have had to cross in wagons pulled with oxen as they pushed further west to Flathead Lake, Montana settling on a fruit farm near Kalispell. (blog Let’s Go Homesteading at Gilpin, Alberta).

July 4, 1904, Hiram and Mary Elizabeth, with most of the family but Nellie Mary went homesteading at Gilpin, Alberta. Gilpin is no longer on a map but the nearest town is Viking, which Hiram listed as his residence. It was unsettled, raw prairie, a flat treeless landscape. They lived in a tent for 3 months until a log home was built 36 x 34 feet. The homestead was “proved” on July 16, 1907 which meant they owned 160 acres of land. By 1911 the family was very discouraged. The sons left looking for work back in the mines of Columbus, Stillwater, Montana beside the Yellowstone Park. Hiram and Mary Elizabeth would get on the A.R. and I. Co. Railroad at Edmonton, Alberta, escorting the son’s wives and came through the Coutts/Sweetgrass Border Crossing on April 30th, 1912. It is at Stillwater County, Yellowstone, Montana he renounced his British/Canadian allegiance, stating he wished to permanently reside and become a citizen of the USA. Stillwater is a beautiful place, today you can drive a two lane country road, where you can travel across the valley and the open plains that reach towards the bluest skies. If the family would have stayed here, I imagine me working in the Columbus Metallurgical Complex, a smelting facility and base metal refinery situated between Stillwater mine and the town of Billings. It is one of the world’s largest producers of recycled parts from spent automotive catalytic converters.

He also swore he was not a polygamist nor believed in the practice of polygamy. Why was this included in the oath of allegiance? In 1852 polygamy became a significant social and political issue. It resulted in an intense legal conflict and the LDS Church abandoned the practice on September 25, 1890. Break away Mormon fundamentalist groups living in the western US, Canada and Mexico were still practicing. Any immigrant coming to the United States to practice polygamy was inadmissible. Polygamy was a felony crime. In Canada it was also a criminal offence with a penalty of five years imprisonment. Scots-Irish settlers carried long standing multiple partner traditions from Europe. In the Supreme Court of BC in 2018 the law was upheld against polygamy.

Hiram died at Stillwater, Montana on June 9, 1913. Today, I am thinking about all the decisions he had to make as the patriarch of the family! Just imagine the logistics of moving a large family, steamboat down the St. Lawrence River across Lake Huron, wagon train pulled by oxen across from Deadwood, Dakota, the trip on the A.R. I Co. Railroad.

The Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company (A.R.I. Co.) began as the North Western Coal Company in 1882. It was formed by Sir Alexander Galt to encourage colonization. The plan was to encourage coal mining that would drive settlement to what would become the province of Alberta. Galt had a contract to purchase 20,000 tons of coal per year for 5 years at $5 per ton. In 1889 the goal of the company was to reach the US, 65 miles from Lethbridge to Coutts. Access to Montana was a state charter to build an extension across the border from Coutts to Sweetgrass. Thus when Hiram named the A.R.I. Co. he would have stepped off in the center of the lunch/dining room of a large freight station, owned by the railroad, built directly on the border, the international line running straight through the center of the station which included a post office, telegraph services and customs inspection. The year Hiram immigrated the company was taken over by the CPR, 1912.

Would Hiram remain a US citizen today? Would he be in favor of the wars the US participated in? What would he think of individual states closing down polling places, disqualifying voters, gerrymandering the districts, an aggressive attack on the right to vote. Would he be a Republican denying the existence of covid-19 as a hoax? If he could watch the attack on the capital of the United States, what would his thoughts be? My great grandfather, his son, George Arthur Gibbs, made these questions mute, as he and his mother, Mary Elizabeth Smith Gibbs, moved back to Alberta, Canada, where I enjoy my right to vote and am fully vaccinated. And here’s a closing thought, if the family would have stayed in Montana, I could be an extra in the movie, “Yellowstone” filmed with Kevin Costner, and the question I ask myself is, “What would Beth Dutton do?”

You all have a good day, thinking about the decisions others have made to get to where you are today!

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