Overview: “Growing Up in The Rockies”

I was born on August 17, 1950 in Butte, Montana. My parents were Fred Wilson and Eleanor Edna (Pritchert) Richards. I had one sister, Jeanine Arlee (Richards) Schmidt, who was four years older than me. I was the baby of the family and although I didn’t think I was the spoiled one, my sister would probably argue that point. Butte was a traditional mining town, which I will address through out the chapters of this book.

There were more bars than churches, backroom gambling, red light districts and many other things you would expect in a mining town. However, because the town was a melting pot of cultures coming from all over the world with many languages spoken, everyone was friendly, and helped each other.

The main practiced religion was Catholic and the most predominant nationality was Irish. I was taught at an early age there were two things you didn’t talk about if you wanted to stay out of trouble. You never talked about religion or politics and life was good. I have tried to use that rule to live by in dealing with life’s experiences. Throughout my life it has kept me out of many arguments growing up, for those were the social verbal taboos. Back then it was not like today when everyone wants to argue over these issues.

The only industry was mining, so if you didn’t want to work in the mines you had to learn a trade or skill. Back in those days there were apprenticeships, where you learned a trade on the job. That was what my father did to become a linotyper, after he returned home from World War II. There wasn’t money for a college education unless you were amongst the wealthy few, and even then jobs were scarce. However, an apprenticeship was easier to come by since they paid lower wages while you learned the trade or skill. Once you passed your apprenticeship you earned full wages.

Although we had many cultures, I never experienced racial discrimination as I was growing up. It was a time when you were taught to go with your own kind, meaning race, religion and economic status. I learned from my father to give anyone a chance until they proved you wrong, which I still do to this day. I didn’t understand growing up what it meant to go with your own kind, but I have learned to understand it completely over the years. Butte was a melting pot of culture for the city, because it attracted workers from Wales, England, Ireland, Canada, Finland, Austria, Lebanon, Serbia, Italy, China, Syria, Croatia, Montenegro and Mexico, in addition to all the areas of the United States.

Although the town was very friendly and everyone waved at everyone including strangers passing through, people kept pretty much to themselves. The kids would play with each other outside in front of the houses, in the streets, or yards. Parents worked hard and when they went home they stayed in for the most part. People took pride in their homes and yards. They spent their time taking care of what they had no matter how little that might be.

My father taught us that a lady was never seen in a bar, and that gentleman never swore in front of a lady.  More than once I can recall my father going out and scolding boys in the neighborhood for cussing, because “There were ladies present,” telling them to take their gutter mouths somewhere else. I always respected and admired him for that.

I was always amazed when going to town with my father that everyone knew him and would shake his hand. He was a man who was respected by all and he seemed to know everyone. My oldest son, Shawn comments on that frequently, as he experienced the same thing when going to town with his grandpa. That was always a good feeling to know he had the respect of others.

My mother was very active in church organizations. She was happy trying new recipes, or designing new sewing patterns. She always had some project going on. We always went home to home cooked meals and desserts. She created and sewed all our clothes, and even clothes for our dolls, making whatever creation she came up with. She was an artist and could visualize her projects before she started. That was one talent I wish I had inherited from her.

My father only attended church when we were performing for holiday activities, weddings, or funerals. However, he believed in being with God in nature. He frequently would say that you couldn’t be any closer to God than on a riverbank, fishing, and enjoying the beauty of the Rockies. He believed that nature was his Church.

Although in his later years, he went back to church after making a commitment to God, that if my nephew Benjamin (who had SIDS) lived he would regularly attend church. God held him accountable. My nephew lived and my father kept his word.

My sister spent most of her time reading. She was very quiet and shy except with me. She was a good student, which caused me some agony later on in school. We joke about it now. I was the risk taker. She grew up enjoying the piano and had an interest in antiques. She always loved animals and showed her passion of horses. My sister, like my father and mother, was an artist. Later on her talents would show in decorating her own home.

I was the musician, the adventurer, and a lover of life. I challenged everything I could and enjoyed life as much as I was allowed to. The Rocky Mountains was my playground. I enjoyed sharing it with all that shared in my life. Everything I did left its mark and memories with me, whether it was a skinned up knee from running to fast on slopes, or whether it was a wild animal. I loved it all. The mountains were where I learned passion for the beauty of our world. My father helped me to understand the passion and respect for nature. He always taught us never take more from nature than you need to survive. You don’t kill for enjoyment you kill for food. We were always taught to leave nature as we found it, unharmed so the next person could enjoy its beauty. You never did anything that would alter the balance of nature. My father believed that all living things should be enjoyed in their natural habitat.


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