October 21, 2018

Finding Fred 4 of 5: Answer To A Question

Frederick Augustus Bagley, colorized by Brenda Wilbee, his great-granddaughter
Fred Bagley
I STARTED MY JOURNEY looking for my grandmother Leona Bagley, but Fred's cookie-crumb trail had taken on a life's of its own. I heard about my mother's cousin Doug Connelly, son of Leona's younger sister Marian. A rancher, he lived at Pincher Creek with his wife Sally. And yes, it turns out that Doug and Sally were the couple to donate Fred's badges that my son Phil found in the Pincher Creek Museum several years before. "Cousins perhaps?" was now a solid "cousins once removed." Or is it "second cousins?"

Remember, family lore held that when Leona wanted to leave my Grandpa Les and return home, Fred Bagley had told her yes, but leave the brat behind. It had irked me, but but what I was learning about Fred was that he loved music, horses, and kids. Did he love my mother?

Pincher Creek, photo by Brenda Wilbee
Pincher Creek
PINCHER CREEK LIES in the Porcupine foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Southern Alberta. Here the Mounties of Canada West bred their horses and here is where Old Buck, Fred's pony, was put to pasture in his old age. A singular reward; all the others were unceremoniously sent off to a glue factory. No one had it in their hearts to condemn a famous and faithful pony to such a fate. Old Buck, however, was allowed to roam the prairie at at will.

Old Buck, Frederick Augustus Bagley's Mountie pony
Old Buck
my great-grandfather's pony
He quickly formed a routine, circling between Fort Macleod, Fort Calgary, and Pincher Creek, where he was always welcomed with carrots and apples. But in 1898, at 32 years of age and ancient in horse years, he was "humanely put down." This is the year before master, my great-grandfather, after 25 years of service with the Mounties, resigned. Fred and Old Buck were in it together, beginning to end.

Here too in Pincher Creek is the old homestead and home of my mother's lost-and-found cousin, Doug Connelly, keeper of the Bagley artifacts, manuscripts, and family Bible. Doug's grandfather homesteaded this land and his mother, Fred's youngest daughter, married into this cozy place on the prairie.

Doug and Sally Connelly Gate
Doug and Sally Connelly
Pincher Creek AB
I hardly knew what to expect when I drove up to the gate--though my mother insisted and assured me that Doug and Sally would be happy to meet me. Turns out Mum was right, so right in fact that Doug and Sally let me spend the entire day at their kitchen table pouring through letters and military orders and diaries, and showing me the many artifacts still in their possession. Much of the material has been loaned out to Glenbow in Calgary and the little museum in Pincher Creek, but Doug has retained several of our grandfather's things: a swagger stick; a cane of sorts; a souvenir horse-bit given to him when he escorted Queen Victoria's carriage in her Diamond Jubilee parade through London's streets in 1887; a silver tea set he won in rifle match I believe it was; as well as many other interesting and fascinating things.

The most fascinating, however, was my mother's name recorded in Fred's handwriting in his Bible. There she was, Shirley Elizabeth Goodfellow--Oct. 2, 1928. My mother's name, Fred's pen. I think I loved my great-grandfather at that moment and found it hard not to cry, to see that he did in fact acknowledge my mother. Her brother's story of Fred wheeling a whicker pram onto the train in Banff and off again in Vancouver, a gift to her, came to mind. I no longer had to wonder. Fred Bagley loved my mother.

This much came even more clear as I read his many letters to his youngest daughter Marian. His affection, his humor, his delight in all three of his girls--Kate, Pittising (Leona), and Tiny (Marian)--comes singing off the antiquated pages. And his joy and concern for his grandchildren are equally evident. Did he, each October 2nd, wonder where his eldest grandchild was? Did he wonder how she was doing? Did he look at her name in his Bible and ponder the mysterious circumstances that brought about their separation? Did her absence bring him sorrow?

He was a man who kept track of his brother and sisters scattered about the States and Canada; he kept track of his daughters; he loaded his Christmas tree each year in Banff with gifts for Dale, Doug, and Mick. Did he miss not having presents for Mum?

Leona and Les Goodfellow
Leona and Les
The other discovery that made me happy were three photographs of my grandparents: Les and Leona. All three reveal an affection and energy. Despite what happened, Les and Leona were a couple in love--and in love over a long period of time.

"The three girls," Doug told me, speaking of his mother, my grandmother, and our aunt Kate, "were very close. They kept Leona's secret all those years--at least until Kate spilled the beans on her deathbed." Doug speaks and I stare at these images of my grandparents, so in love, so happy, sharing their lives in a way I've never experienced--and I wonder, what happened to them? How did this all fall apart?

I know Les had invited his best friend to live with him and Leona. I know my grandfather was an alcoholic. He liked to party and was probably very much the Roaring Twenties playboy. I'm not sure how all this sat with Leona. But at some point Les moved out of the little home she'd bought with her own money to go live with Marguerite. He left Philip behind. What was that all about? We know Leona was alone when Mum was born.

So what happened in that little house in Vancouver? And why did it mean I lost my grandmother? And Fred?

After saying good-bye around five o'clock, I drove west to Fort Macleod and the open prairie. I camped along the Bow River, a place I'd taken my sons one year. Sleeping in the back of my jeep, listening to the river play over the rocks, and then the rain, I thought of families and how when we do the best we can and still do lose.

Some people easily sum up the story with a shrug and "it's all for the best." I don't think so. We just don't have the luxury to line up "what was" and "what could have been" and declare a winner.

All I know is this. Fred lived a life of adventure, intrigue, and faithful duty, surrounding himself with love, music, and family. From his perspective, it wasn't my grandmother and himself who'd gone missing. From his corner, it was my mother who was lost.

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