Part five of a series
Sisters Barbara and Juliet Lee, on horseback, rampaged through downtown Spring Grove. Onlookers on that mid-1920s Sunday afternoon thought the teenage girls were showing off. After all, they were the daughters of renown horsemen Knute Lee. But recalling that speedy spectacle years later, Juliet told her son Mark that the girls were just holding on as best they could; It was the horses controlling the pace. Their mounts somehow became spooked during this memorable venture downtown and did not ease up until they reached “The Switch” about two-and-a-half miles east of Spring Grove.
Juliet played the organ, with her sister Barbara working the bellows, for Sunday services at the Lutheran church in Black Hammer. They would ride horses from home to church, change into their church clothes for the worship service and then back into their riding togs for the horseback return home.
Early in her school-teaching career, Juliet taught in a rural school near Black Hammer and boarded during the week with area families. Back home on weekends, she would begin the school week by riding out to school and then turning her horse loose to return home alone. If necessary, there was a note attached to the saddle asking whomever to take the horse back to Knute Lee. Everyone knew her father, who would ride out to bring her home at the end of the school week.
It was a plan used by some of her maternal uncles, one of whom would ride to a party on a horse named Fanny. Sometimes, he would turn her loose and Fanny would go home. The family tale does not report how the uncle got home.
Juliet’s mother, Mathilda (Glasrud) Lee, claimed to be afraid of horses. As a young girl, Mathilda admitted she did not have the courage to ride horses. “I was brave about many things, but I wasn’t brave about that. I was afraid of horses when they were out in the yard.” At age 18 or 19, she and her brother Edwin Glasrud had taken a team of horses and wagon to pick up a calf at her uncle’s farm between Spring Grove and Caledonia. After dropping off her brother during the return trip to Black Hammer, she alone had to handle the team the rest of the way home. But a loose pig spooked the horses. “I held on… down on my knees on the floor of the rig.” Heading uphill, she managed to turn them into an embankment where the broken tongue went into the earth; the horses stopped. She was shaken but not injured, but traveling in a crate in the back, the calf needed attention for a broken leg. Ironically, Mathilda would marry the area’s best young horsemen, Knute Lee.
Decades after her Main Street scare in Spring Grove, Juliet would have another harrowing, runaway ride – at age 86. On a beautiful January Sunday afternoon near Rochester in 1999, she accepted an invitation for a mule-team sleigh ride with her son Mark, his wife Sue and Ole the dog. Juliet was an experienced driver, but to better enjoy the scenery, she opted to just be a passenger. However, the reins of one mule were attached only to a broken bridle instead of the mule, making it nearly impossible to steer or stop the mules. With the mules trotting briskly, Mark handed the reins to his wife and jumped out to run ahead in front to stop the rig. But in two feet of snow, he was no match for outrunning the mules. He regained the reins from Sue and hung on. At age 86, Juliet, a veteran of many runaways during her youth, jumped out, followed by Sue. Mark, his feet wedged into the braces of the sled, and Ole helplessly finished the ride with snow flying in their faces over fields, across a road, dodging trees and through a garden before stopping at a barnyard gate.
After making do with some baling twine, Mark and Ole were back aboard, returning for the ladies, who covered with snow, were trudging through snow. Juliet’s broken wrist received attention in the emergency room. Only Ole would agree to another sleigh ride with Mark.
Sources: the book, “Mathilda’s Journey” by Robert E. A. Lee. Also oral and written reflections of Mark Skustad and his mother Juliet.