Member Story Time

NEW! We will periodically publish interesting or humorous anecdotes from our members.

Editor’s note: If you have an interesting story to tell, get in touch with Lee Boylan  –

DADDY’S SURPRISE – by Betsy Ross Kerr

My Mom and Dad met around 1918 when he was learning to fly “Jennies” at March Field near
Riverside, CA, and she was a teacher at a one-room schoolhouse near Lake Elsinore. The
educators and airmen got together for parties, apparently. They married in 1919 and had our
Dad was born, poor, in Chicago, was orphaned as a teenager, and moved to live with a foster
family in Terry, Montana, where he attended Terry High School until his junior year. He felt he
needed to support himself, so he dropped out and got a job ‘riding fences’ in that dry sheep
country with his chaps, cowboy hat and horse named “Star.” After three years of that very lonely
job, the high school principal convinced him to return, sleep in the school basement if need be,
and get his diploma. There were nine in his senior class.
In 2001, Dick and I took our RV on a nine-month trip around the U.S. and Canada and stopped in Terry (pop. 500) to see where my Dad had lived. We stopped at the post office to pick up our
General Delivery mail that my daughter forwarded to us periodically, to be quizzed by the Lady
“Who are you?!” “Why are you in Terry?!”
I explained.
Coincidentally, Lady Clerk also worked at the local museum and often did ancestral research for
escaped families. She asked me Dad’s name.
“Orrin Ross,” I said, and her jaw dropped.
She had been researching an entirely different Ross family, but of course read newspaper
articles and school documents about Orrin, also.
She said, “He was married, you know.”
Wha’? No!
It was amazing that she would remember details about a stranger, but she commenced to reel
off an unbelievable tale. She had read old school documents and local newspaper accounts
dating about 1915, 1916. My Dad was seeing a young sophomore, Coza Shaw, age 17. One news
article said that soon after H.S. graduation, Orrin and Coza “suddenly got married.” Lady Clerk
thinks they went to Boise to visit her uncle on a honeymoon.
Six weeks later, she died.
The edition of the local paper that would have detailed this tragedy was not in the museum.
Lady Clerk went on to say that Coza’s gravestone is in the cemetery three miles west of town.
Sure enough, we found a large, elaborate marble plaque: “Coza Shaw Ross: My Love, My Life,
My Bride”.
Did my mother, Florence, know about Coza?
I’ll never know.