Grandma Vivian (Luce) Swanstrom ran away from home when she was 25.
Her parents had great ambitions for her, but she had other ideas. They sent her to finishing school in Denver, but she didn’t like it. She came home to the ranch at Big Piney after the first semester, and refused to go back. She was an accomplished pianist, so her parents sent her to University of Wyoming to study music. She decided she wanted to be an actress. Her father told her he’d rather see her dead. That was the end of university.
Her next choice was to become a nurse, like her heroes Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale. Her parents didn’t like that idea either.
Her parents didn’t believe women should work outside the home. They wanted her to marry a rancher. Someone nearby. Someone with money. Someone who could give her a comfortable life.
They arranged a marriage for her, then another, then another. She was engaged five times. She broke off every one. She ended the engagement with “the Alexander boy” by throwing his ring back in his face.
Grandma plotted her escape. She was taking a correspondence course in millinery. She told her parents she was going to spend the weekend at the house in town so she could get some ribbons she needed. Secretly, she packed her saddlebags with everything she planned to take with her. Her cover story would give her a few days to make her escape–as long as her mother stayed at the ranch that weekend.
In town, Grandma boarded her horse at the livery stable, then caught the stage coach to Opal. She kept (and I still have) her stage ticket. In Opal, she caught the train for Rock Springs.
The plan worked. Grandma got away.
In Rock Springs, she went to the hospital to see if they would hire her as a cook. The gods were with her. They didn’t have any openings in the kitchen, but they were looking for young women to enroll in their nurses’ training program.
Grandma was in. She was able to live in nurse’s quarters while she trained. Later, she boarded with Mrs. Josephine Swanstrom, a Swedish woman she knew from back home.
This was 1926. Grandma graduated in 1927. She worked as a nurse in Rock Springs, with a few breaks here and there, until they forced her to retire. In 1966, I think. After that, she snuck in a few more years working as a nurse in Rawlins until bureaucracy caught up with her, they figured out her age, and she really did have to retire.
Did her parents ever forgive her for running away? Grandma never said, but I think they must have. When the story of her life resumes, Grandma has a 1927 DeSoto Roadster, yellow with red wheels, that her dad gave her. That says forgiveness to me.
Follow the Route
A few days I was looking at an old 1903 map of Wyoming. I realized it was showing me Grandma’s route. The ranch at New Fork to Big Piney to Opal to Rock Springs:
- Post Master General, “Post route map of the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming showing post offices with the intermediate distances and mail routes in operation on the 1st of December, 1903,” Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at Boston Public Library, retrieved Sept. 23, 2021.
If you want to follow along, open the map. You’ll want to enlarge it for easier viewing.
We’re looking at the map on the right, along the left edge. Big Piney should be easy to find. It’s almost right on the county line. The Luce ranch was east of Big Piney, in the area between New Fork and Big Piney. The stage (postal) route runs south from Big Piney to Opal, then the railroad runs east from Opal through Green River to Rock Springs.