May Family History (in the USA)
by Frank M. May, 1987
In order to get a good picture of some of the history of the May family one must go back a couple of generations. Great grandfather Morgan May was born at Sonning, England, in 1818, the youngest of 9 children. His father was Daniel May and his mother, Eleanor Barnard.
These people hob-nobbed around with the nobility. Morgan didn't care for this society so he left home at 16 and joined the East India Company. As midshipman he sailed with them for 4 years then transferred to the Royal Navy. He sailed around the world 3 times in a sailing ship, was shipwrecked 3 times, lived in Cape Town, South Africa for a few years and came to America in 1851 where he settled in New Orleans.
On account of the war between north and south and because he was considered a northerner and was listed for shooting, his brother-in-law advised him to leave the country. In 1853 he purchased a farm at Marine, Minnesota which eventually was extended to 2000 acres.
Shortly after he arrived in New Orleans he married Louise Polk, niece of the President. When he went back for her after the war between the north and the south he found that his wife and 3 children had died of the yellow fever.
He left New Orleans and returned to his farm at Marine where he proceeded to make it into a model farm. His farm was infested with hazel brush. He was told that if he had a bunch of sheep they would clean up the brush so he set out to look for sheep. A George McKenzie (a scaler) told him to go to his brother in Manitoba, that he had thousands of sheep. Forthwith he took a team and a light wagon and set out for Manitoba. You can imagine his embarrassment when he found Kenneth McKenzie of Burnside, Manitoba was the owner of only 12 sheep.
These gentlemen were not far from the same age and took a liking to each other at once. The climax of the matter was that Mr. May married Kenneth McKenzie's oldest daughter Catherine and they went to live at Marine, Minnesota. There were born to them 6 sons and one daughter.
He finally found the sheep somewhere and ridded the farm of a lot of the hazel brush.
There were 5 lakes on the farm and most of it was growing huge oak trees which reminded him of England. He made 3 trips back to England and received enough inheritance so he could do considerable speculating. For instance once in New Orleans he saw a shipload of cotton afire on the wharf. He bought the pile, got some help and with long poles they pushed the cotton bales into the sea. Then they hauled them ashore, opened the bales, spread them out, dried the cotton, picked out the burned parts and rebaled the balance. From this deal he netted about $250,000.00.
On one of his trips to Manitoba he arrived in the year of the grasshoppers. They had eaten all the crops and pastures clean for miles. The price of property slumped to an all time low so he bought a couple of blocks in the centre of Winnipeg. After spending 2-3 weeks at Burnside the grasshoppers got up and flew away. People's confidence returned and he sold his property at a good profit. Incidentally a lot of the hoppers landed in the lakes and were washed up on the shore about 4 feet deep. The two old gentlemen intended to go fishing but the stench was too much.
I mention the speculating because of its bearing on that which followed. There was a land boom on and his brothers-in-law, the McKenzies, being ever land hungry persuaded Mr. May to buy some six sections of Manitoba land. Included in this property was Harold McLeods section 25-12-16 and the Jakuboski section 33-13-15, also the south ½ of 16-12-15, a ½ section at Basswood and 3 sections at Shoal Lake. This land was bought near the peak of the boom and of course came down with a bump.
We have now to go back a few years to where the May family moved to Santa Barbara, California. Catharine had contracted consumption from her sister-in-law whom she had nursed till she died of same. Catharine was only expected to live a few months but the fine climate of Santa Barbara agreed with her and she lived 13 years.
In the meantime a depression had set in. People were not paying their rents and the whole country was really hard up.
In 1891 my father, Morgan May was 16. His father said to him, "we are really in bad shape. I have no money to pay taxes, etc. We have six sections of land in Manitoba and I would like You to go up there, start farming and see if you can keep the land from being sold for taxes. Your uncle at Burnside will help you get an outfit together."
He came to Carberry and worked for Adam. McKenzie for a year to get some experience at $80.00 a year. Kenneth McKenzie, his uncle at Burnside, gave him 3 horses about 800 pounds each, a walking plow, a wagon, and 3 sections of harrows. There was a shack and sod stable a few hundred yards west of the slough on 33-12-15. He moved into these and started breaking 33-12-15 with a 12" walking plow and his 3 ponies. just imagine trying to save 6 sections of land with 3 ponies and a 12" walking plow! Three of the sections at Shoal Lake were sold for taxes but he saved the rest.
His father had given him $50.00 in gold. He made $80.00 working for Adam McKenzie - that was his capital.
I don't know a lot about the period 1891 to 1902 except that first Barnard came to help, then Kenneth the father died in 1902 and the land was divided up. Morgan, my father, got the E½ of 33-12-15. Tom got the west ½. Barnard got 25-12-16. Kenneth, Harry and Alfred got land in Minnesota as well as the S½ of 16-12-15.
When Morgan came from California the one important item he brought with him was a double barrelled 10 gauge shotgun and reloading tools. For the next few years this was to get his meat supply. He was a dead shot and would not shoot unless he could get two geese or ducks at once. They had to conserve on the number of shells expended. There was also prairie chicken and rabbits.
When Morgan was married Mr. Mack gave them a cow and calf and then they got a couple of pigs so the meat supply changed although for many year he went up to Norgate and got a moose.
With such a meagre dollar supply there had to be some other source of income. The one thing he liked to do was buy, break, and sell horses. He would sell the ones that he had got working good and reasonably quiet and buy a couple of wild broncos to take their place. A wild horse just off the range was worth $15 to $30. After working them for a couple of years they would fetch from $200 to $300. After the wild horse business came to an end Morgan bought colts at auction sales, raised them and sold them. But oddly enough he was happy to change to a tractor when they became practical.
Morgan wanted his sons to be horsemen too so he bought 2 Shetland poney mares 2 years old in the spring of 1910. These half‑starved lousy little creatures turned out to be real miniature blood horses, fine boned and could run like the wind. We proceeded to multiply and sell them and they gave Arthur and I our financial start.
Following the horse talk for a bit that McLeod section was used by Adam McKenzie for a number of years for a poney pasture because it had plenty of water on it. It is said Mr. McKenzie kept upwards of 100 horses. When Barney took over the section he raised a lot of horses too. A heavier grade than the ones my father preferred. Now the section is back in the horse business again with Harold McLeod carrying it on (pmu business).
The other thing my father liked to do was mechanical work. The year he worked for Adam McKenzie, whenever he wasn't working in. the field he would be helping the blacksmith in the shop. He learned to weld, sharpen plow shears, etc. This was to stand him in good stead when he started breaking land as a plow had to be very sharp in order to shear off the sod as shallow as it should be broken. My father told me that he sharpened the shear twice a day, one hot to draw it out a little and at noon he would work it cold. The sharper a shear was kept the longer it would last. 1 never did learn where he got his bellows and blacksmith coal.
By and by he was able to afford a 2 furrow gang plow then things went better.
His mechanical knowledge progressed through mowers, binders and all the crude farm machines. Oh yes, I must mention the tail gate seeder. It was a device that went on in place of the tail gate of a grain wagon and spread the grain evenly on the backsetting. When breaking and backsetting the strike outs were made 22 yards apart so that the seeder was driven up the strike out and down the dead furrow. This kept the seeding straight and even. Each land 1 mile long was exactly 4 acres so 2 one could set the seeder pretty accurately and also know how much land had been broken.
Threshing was a problem. Crops grew a lot of straw on new land and threshing machines were scarce so the crop was stacked to wait until a machine could be hired. A lot of the machines were in poor shape and progress was slow often continuing until Christmas.
About 1904 Kenny May bought a second-hand North-West separator and steam engine. Several engineers said they would come and run the engine but none materialized so my father had to take on the job of running the engine. He seemed to be a natural and enjoyed doing it. When Kenny May moved to Minnesota he left his threshing machine at Barney's place in a shed that he had built there then came up every fall to run it. The last year he threshed was 1915 for Bill Ford at Ingelow. This machine was for some years in the Western Development Museum at Saskatoon. In 1987, the Agricultural Museum of Austin got possession and brought it back to Manitoba.
In 1912 my father sold his farm to William Alexander and moved to 9 miles south of Gilbert Plains. In partnership with his brother-in-law Dr. Arthur Mack they bought 3 sections of land. It was good black land, 8 feet deep silt washed down off the north side of Riding Mountain. They got a crop in with some difficulty on account of wet weather. The wet never let up and the crop had to be cut with the binder on a sleigh with a 1½ H.P. engine driving the machine. Early in the summer they went out to plow 60 acres of summer fallow. They went a hundred yards or so and "crash!" the doubletree was broken. On looking for the culprit a stump was found holding the plow solid. It had been sawed off level with the ground and disked over. On close examination the whole 60 acres was found to be the same. Father came down to Munroe and bought a 75 HP Case steam engine and Nichols and. Shepard separator from William Kennedy. He also acquired a 24" high steel beam breaking plow. With this engine and plow they proceeded to plow up these stumps whenever the weather would let them.
I was 6 years old. Old enough to walk behind the plow and listen to the engine grunt whenever it hit a stump. 1 loved that powerful sound. Once in awhile they would hit a stump that the plow couldn't shear off or tear out. Then the engine would have to be taken around and pull the plow out backwards. They would get a great big chain on the stump and pull it this way and that until it came out. They tried twenty horses on that plow - they couldn't pull it! It took two men to carry that chain.
I mentioned, cutting the crop was a disaster. It was threshed wet and sold for 80c a bushel.
There was no well on the place. They got water from Campbell Creek. Glen Lyon school was 4 miles away and there was no church. My mother didn't like it there so they dissolved the partnership and my folks moved back to Oberon buying the farm now occupied by Edwin May in the spring of 1913.
The farm was infested with wild oats so for a couple of years the crops were not good. My father made up the shortfall by going out threshing with the machine he had bought from William Kennedy. People liked his threshing so for several years, until 1924, he did a lot of threshing. Also threshing in the district were Robert Dodds, Frank McBean and the Murphy ranch. Oh yes and we had better not forget Bill McKinnon (first settler of Oberon). Bill had acquired a Waterloo threshing outfit early in the game. He threshed all fall about to Christmas then moved to Norgate and took out timber all winter. As soon as the frost came out of the logs he steamed up his engine and started sawing till he had to go home for seeding, came back and finished the sawing, did a bit of breaking and moved the engine home to Oberon in time to start threshing again It certainly was a well worked engine! Further west was ES (Bert) and Will McDonald and the Jardine threshing outfit.
When the land was divided up McLeod's section was considered to be not very good on account of all the sloughs. After breaking it and taking a few crops Uncle Barney decided he had gotten too big a share so he wanted to give one quarter to my father. He refused to take it so Barney said, "then I will give it to Frank."
Barney died of the flu in the winter of 1918 as did their sister who was living in a home in Portage la Prairie. My father took over the SE¼ of 25-13-16 for me. We cleaned up the ¼, I say 'we' because by this time I was able to help. My special job was poisoning gophers. 1 spread enough poison to supposedly poison all the gophers on 1600 acres but we did succeed in cleaning them up. After we farmed it for 3 years Ernie McLeod decided he wanted it and pointed out to us that this farm, E½ of 31-12-15 belonging to Tom Robinson was up for sale. He bought SE¼ of 25-12-16 and Arthur my oldest brother, and 1 bought E½ of 31-12-15 late in the summer of 1925. 1 had left school and was working now.
Again we had a farm to clean up. It was filthy with wild oats so we skim plowed it in the fall of '26. It snowed about 4 inches the end of October but the ground didn't freeze so we plowed most of the 2 section with snow on it. We were advised by many people that plowing snow would grow nothing but weeds. Next spring we let the wild oats get an inch or two high then double cultivated it and sowed to barley. It was a bumper crop. We got in one half days threshing when the rains started. They continued for six weeks. By this time the crop was pretty well ruined. 12000 bushels went tough, rejected, sprouted - 20c a bushel. If we could have gotten it off dry we would have paid for the place in one year. Prices started going down and it took us 20 years to complete that job.
Now a little about the May brothers. They came one by one to help my father. First Barney, then Kenny, then the rest - Tom., Alfred and Harry. My father married Edith Mack in 1903. He had built a new house on E½ of 1 33-12-15 in 1901. Kenny and Barney started batching on 25-12-16 but objected to cooking. Mrs. Sam Thorn took pity on them and got a friend of hers Mrs. Marietta McLeod to come from Ontario and keep house for them. Mrs. McLeod had two sons, Lester and Ernest (Ernie). Barney and Marietta were married a couple of years later. Then Kenny married Emilie Goff from England. They had a sale and moved to their property in Minnesota. That would be about 1912. They raised Melva and David.
Tom came about 1901 and: took up housekeeping on W½ 33-12-15. Shortly after he married Sadie Hughes from Carberry. They raised Morgan, Louise, Isabel and Bill. They just stayed a couple of years then moved to Stoughton, Saskatchewan and then on to Vancouver where Tom worked the rest of his life as motor man and street car conductor.
Barney started his career as a news agent on the trains followed by several years as a candy maker. He was the envy of all the women the way he could make candy, icing, etc. To test to see if it was cooked long enough he would dip his fingers in cold water then into the boiling candy and back into the water and then feel the results. He was quite a story teller and at Christmas dues, etc. he would keep the audience in stitches. He was a staunch Mason and worked up to the high offices.
Alfred went back to California where he married Jennie. They raised Alene. We have lost touch with her. Alfred held the third highest position in the Southern California Gas and Electric Co. We found Alene and got her on the family tree.
Harry stayed single, moved back to Santa Barbara. Then he spent some years as a mill-wright in Hawaii, I think about 12 years, came back to Santa Barbara and built and sold houses.
Catharine had one of those minds that never developed beyond about 9 years of age. She lived in the home in Portage la Prairie after her mother passed away.
Morgan May and Edith Mack had Arthur in 1904, Alfred in 1905 who died in infancy, Frank (me) in 1907, Arnold in 1910 and Robert in 1916.
Arthur and I bought the West ½ of 31-12-15 in 1933. He married Marie Mitchell of Douglas in 1943. They have 9 children - Edith, Murray, Phyllis, Edwin, Arnold, Anna, Leslie, Douglas and Austin.
Arnold, my brother, and Margery Byram were married in 1934. They raised Byram, Morgan and John. Arnold went to Dunwoody Institute in St. Paul where he enhanced his knowledge of electricity. After he graduated they went to California where he worked for several power companies at Pollock Pines, Big Creek and Los Angeles. Arnold passed away in 1975 and is survived by Margery who lives in Packwood, Washington. Margery died in 1986.
Robert married Vimetta Gunson in 1941 or 42. They had Roger, Margaret and Lorna. Robert also went to Dunwoody Institute where he learned to be a welder, a machinist and a tool and die maker. He was in business in Brookdale for a few years but on account of his asthma he went back to California. In Brookdale he worked with William. Kinney for a time, then overhauled the old livery stable and set up a machine shop in there together with the Case agency. When he went back to California he worked for a company that made meters - gas meters, water meters, fuel meters, etc. When he retired they moved to Marysville, Washington to be near their children. Robert passed away in 1983. His wife Nettie still lives at Marysville. She was a graduate of the Brandon School of Nursing.
Vera Connell, also a graduate of the Brandon School of Nursing, and I were married in July, 1934. It was a bad year for farmers with drought and grasshoppers. A lot of our crop was very poor so we made it into hay and fallow - 550 acres. The next year '35 we seeded all this good land to Ceres wheat. The weather man sent rain every week-end and it looked like a bumper crop. Then rust set in. The farmers who were smart and had experience set fire to it, including my father. I just could not believe that it as no good so cut, stooked and we threshed No. 2 feed wheat - 50c a bushel. I lost about 15c on every bushel that went through the machine. The one bright spot was that James Morgan was born in October, 1935 and thrived even though we had no money.
This was the time of the depression. In 1933 we had decided no use waiting any longer to get married but we needed a house. Next thing to an impossibility! However there was a church for sale at Glendale (near Franklin). This 1 bought for $125.00 and proceeded to tear it down, nail by nail. 1 never would have succeeded but my father knew how and helped all he could.
We got the basement finished and the floor down by October 18th when it snowed. It snowed and thawed a little every day until Christmas. By this time we had the walls up. The floor was ruined from wet and we had to leave the roof until spring. In the spring of '34 we finished the shell then in the fall we got a Mr. Albert Bird from Melita to do the finishing downstairs.
We had been using a very mediocre Massey spring-tooth cultivator. I thought if a little cultivating is good a lot would be better so I built a cultivator that would work 8" or 9" deep. The crop was no good but I never dreamed it was I who had ruined it so I did it again next year. Same thing - 5 bushels to the acre. My father had just harrowed and sowed his and it went 35 bushels to the acre. Then I saw the light - DON'T WORK THE LAND TOO DEEP! I put the deep tiller in the bush and there it stayed until we cut it up for iron.
This is supposed to be a history of the Mays and not a lesson in agronomy so we will go back to Flora Katharine - first little May girl born in 30 years was born in October 1936. As she grew she showed signs of many talents; singing, dancing, drawing and above all she loved horses. She could go up to a pasture fence and whinney like a horse and the horses all over the pasture would come to see the newcomer. She also modelled little horses and cattle. The cattle were used for a 4-H exhibit. At 13 she outgrew her Shetland pony so 1 got her a riding horse. Coming home from school one afternoon the horse slipped on some ice, fell and fractured Katharine's skull. She lived just a matter of hours.
Kenneth Roy came along in May, 1940. As he grew up he liked farming better than studying so he helped me on the farm after writing his grade 11. Many years later he took to studying again and got his grade 12 as well as a 4th Class engineering certificate in power engineering. He is now studying for his 3rd Class certificate. He married Diana. Fierback in 1970. They now have 3 boys and 1 girl - Mark, Trent, Andrea and Jason.
Frank Robert was born in 1945. He took his schooling at Oberon and Brookdale and two semesters at the University of Los Angeles. He came back home and started taking flying lessons at the Brandon Flying Club. After receiving his Commercial licence he flew power lines for Cordon Murray of Neepawa then moved on to work for the fire control department of forestry in Alberta. After flying for Lambair, Ilford Riverton, Transair, and others he finally got a licence of his own to fly out of Rankin Inlet, N.W.T., the administrative capital of the District of Keewatin in the N.W.T. Because he had one of the first licences to fly out of Rankin Inlet he called his company Keewatin Air. Robert is the president and managing director. This company has grown from very small beginnings to be a very substantial company indeed. Judy Saxby, his wife, manages the office. They have Virginia and Morgan.
Gordon Harris arrived in 1946. He took his schooling at Oberon and Brookdale, then United College in Winnipeg for 2 years, then 2 years in Simon Fraser in Vancouver. Most of the Mays had that wanderlust tendency. Cordon had it too. He kept moving, changing jobs, went to Europe. Here he met an old girlfriend Colleen O'Hagan in England and married her. They came back to Toronto where he worked sometime as an actor. Then they moved to Vancouver where he taught in the Browndale schools. Browndale was a school for disturbed children. He then moved to Peace River, Alberta where he worked in the bush and on oil rigs. When that all came to a stand still he moved to Bowser on Vancouver Island where he is presently building a house on a waterfront property. Work is scarce in B.C. His pet is the local fire department where he is second man. They have Jennifer, Ryan and Candice.
I see I omitted saying anything about James Morgan. He took his schooling at Oberon and Brookdale then a diploma course in Agriculture. As a boy he showed promise as a mechanic so I taught him to weld. After his course at the Agricultural College he taught welding for a winter. In his travels he met Elaine McCullough at a university dance. They were married in 1960. Jim worked for Co-op Implements for a time also water resources. By and by he got a garage and machine agency at Brookdale, then moved to Meepawa. A recession set in and he gave up the machine agency and moved to Selkirk where Elaine got on the teaching staff. Jim now works for V. C. North and Associates in Winnipeg as a trouble shooter and general mechanic. They sell hospital supplies and especially whirl baths for old or crippled people. Jim and Elaine have one boy and two girls. Kim, Kirby and Krista. Kim. is now married. The other two are taking university courses.
A thing or two I didn't see a place to put in:
When the May's moved to Santa Barbara, California their home was near the Spreckles Wharf. It was a dandy lace for all the kids to play, swim and talk to fishermen and sailors. A real melting pot of nationalities. Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, etc. their kids were all there. People called them the wharf rats. In this environment they were all equals and to some extent learned each others languages. My father could understand Spanish, quite well although he always answered in English.
Uncle Barney made an effort and learned to talk quite a bit of Chinese. After he grew up. and was travelling he would go to a Chinese restaurant, speak a few words to the proprietor and he would have the whole staff around his table, no one else getting any service. It was one of his ways of having fun.
At an early age we all went to Sunday school. My mother played the organ for Sunday school and church besides teaching a class.
When church union and the depression arrived our church could not afford a regular minister so we had students. Mostly these young fellows stayed at our place. Being college men they were full of zip and ambition so we learned a lot from them.
When time moved on Vera taught in the Sunday school and then I did. I don't know how many years she has to her credit but I have 25.
A time came when we couldn't keep our church open any longer so we moved to Brookdale.
This wouldn't be complete without saying a word for Marietta May. She played the organ at Brookdale church for years and years. Oh yes, others took over from time to time When they would go away the congregation would again call on Mrs. May and then Mrs. Robert Dodds as she had married Bob as he was called. This same thing happened to my mother. Players came and went and she went on. Then it was my wife who took over and played whenever needed.
We had really no connections with our folks in England but we always wondered if there were a lot of Mays in England. From what little we could find out, the male members were so badly shot up in the First World War that the May name had died out over there. Tom May was in the 1st World War and visited some of the Mays of Sonning and told us this. We knew some men were still living, but he had this notion. Vera set out to find out the truth. She finally contacted a genealogical society in Winnipeg who gave her the address of the Berkshire Family History Society which she joined. In one of the journals they sent, she saw a Mr. Stevens in England asking for the same Mays of Reading that she was trying to contact, so she wrote him a letter. He answered and said his grandmother was a May and that my father would be her 3rd cousin. He told us that there are still May relatives in the UK and sent us a family tree that goes back to 1450. Morgan May was on the tree as born in 1818 but that was all they knew of him. He had simply disappeared. Mr. Stevens was very pleased indeed to find Mays thriving in America.
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