The General History of the Ross Family of Tain.

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Notes written by Alexander Ross from Webster South Dakota who was born in Tain in 1859.

Webster, South Dakota, U.S.A. March 3, 1930.


The waters of the North Sea wash the foot of the high bank on which this ancient town of Tain is situated. When the tide is at flood and when it ebbs, recedes for a mile or more, so that, if the Highland railroad should drop you some time at the station down by the sea and the tide is in, six hours afterwards, looking out on the Firth the sea would have receded and the water poured out to the wide North Sea between the Gizzen Brigs, the name given for unknown ages to the headlands.

Back of the town, rising in a gentle slope for several miles is the wooded and heather-covered hill of Tain. Here we loved to ascend and sit among the purple heather and toast our eyes on that wonderful panorama, Now, I wish that I had some part of the gift that was bestowed on the immortal Scot, that I might be able to describe, in some degree, the loveliness of that scene. Arriving at the summit of the hill we look back down from where we have come, over the sleepy town and out to the North Sea, and as it is early turning, the great red disk of the sun is rising out of the water and casts a shimmering path of silvery light up to the town, for the tide is at flood.

The county of Ross is one of the largest counties and extends clear across Scotland from the North Sea on the east, to the Atlantic, and we are in Easter Ross and looking' down this morning on some of the finest estates and farms in the world. A great number of the finest bred cattle and horses that are exported from this country go from this land spread out before us. These are large farms employing many hands. The farmers in this section, as in most of Scotland, especially the east coast, are the gentry, the name commonly used to distinguish them from the humbler and working class,

A few miles away to the south of us is the stately ancient castle of Balnagown, the seat of Sir Charles Ross. Every year, while I was learning my trade as a jeweller and watchmaker, I spent several days at this charming estate, going over the many clocks. Perhaps, later on, we may refer to this fine estate. To the south and west of us, Ben Wives raises its dark head and to the north, Ben More casts aloft high above the surrounding hills its stony pinnacles, looking west as far as the eye can see, an unbroken, beautiful stretch of woodland hill and dale, dashing, tumbling streams and lakes, all of which a faint picture of this Beautiful Easter Ross, as seen from the Hill of Tain. We are looking, in all, down on five counties, Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, Moray and Inverness.

To this country came my father down from the hills to the north, why he came we know not, but safe to guess it was in search of work, and sad to say, that is as far back as we can go. We may try later to describe the hill country and the mode of living there, as I knew it, from spending a few weeks every year, in my school days, with an aunt up in what we always called 'The Highlands’. Although, all of the north is Highlands, yet to go up to Coreshellach was always to go to the highlands to us…

And here we might pause to wonder how father acquired the by-name by which he was known, a name which we children resented so much but which we later in life, learned to be proud of. Every family seemed to have, what was termed a by-name and father was “Sandy the Gail”. The people of the North Country from which he came were all Gails or Galles- the first settlers coming over from the continent a thousand years ago and talking a distinct language of their own- Gaelic. No Norse blood ever penetrated up into these mountain fastnesses, a well-defined line marks the halt of their invasion, as to penetrate these wilds meant to never come back.

Whether the family by-name was acquired by father after he came to Tain or his family known by it, we do not know, one of the many things we could so easily have found out, but how little it meant to us then.

Of our mother, we know a little more. Morrison is distinctly Norse and her people came originally from further south, although they must have lived in Ross-shire many years, otherwise, mother and her parents could not have spoken such fluent Gaelic. William Morrison, my grandfather, was a farmhand, or ploughman, as they have always been called. He was on the estate of Calrossie, about four miles from Tain. There they lived in a cottage on the farm. A fine, quiet, kind-hearted large man. Among my earliest memories is being hauled out to Calrossie to Granny’s on a little red wagon that my father had made for me. It stayed in the family a good many years and older children, I presume, all rode in it. I can describe it accurately. Perhaps a little drawing would describe it better. How much we thought of the little secret drawer under the seat. I used to be at Granny's a good deal.

Their only son, Hector, tall and handsome, with dark curly hair, was well educated but was a confirmed invalid from chronic stomach trouble. He, Hector Morrison, was very kind to me. How deathly sick he would be at times. He got over his trouble in later years, married and went to the south of England where he had a good position. He died comparatively young. He was a good son and never forgot his mother and sent her a regular allowance. Two boys were born to them and, I think, are still living although we have gotten out of touch with them, Grandfather Morrison passed away long before Grandmother, she having died after we left home.  Grandfather Ross, I can just remember seeing on his death bed.

Perhaps here, it might be well to endeavour in some feeble way to try and picture our parents. Father, I have little hesitation in describing him as a remarkable man, and with even a little education, might have made a name for himself.

Always able to turn his hand to anything and do it well. Buoyant of spirit, a trait that I did not inherit as I took after my mother. Resourceful, strong, and inclined to be masterful, set in his way and hard to change, short of temper, but anger, soon forgotten. His word was law, and we always said we would rather take a whipping from mother them a look from father. When he came in it was always a signal for quiet. He was always kind and doing and making things for us, for me, at least, as I was the eldest. I began to prize and appreciate the things he made for me. Well, do I remember how I was envied by all the boys in our and of the town the marvellous crossbow he made me. In this & I tried to copy this wonderful bow for my own boys but what a feeble imitation of that splendidly made gun that would shoot an arrow out of sight in the air.

Whatever he made was well made. Home was a happy one as is every home with loving and kind parents however humble and our parents were kind and good. How they made ends meet has always been a wonder to me. We will always remember it being remarked on the street, "How can Sandy Ross keep his family so well clad?" Father was always "Sandy" and his wife, "Sandy Wife".

My mother, Jessie Vass Morrison, was a very pretty girl, just as her brother, Hector, was one of the handsomest men in the countryside. She was cheerful and uncomplaining, and yet, the victim of a foreboding and anxious mind, a complex that I have in a measure, inherited from her. How well we knew and understood one another, and sympathized with each other! How she would gently chide me for worrying about the things that should never enter the head of a boy of my age, for I was only fourteen when out of a clear and happy sky came that terrible blow, just at the time when we needed her most, she was taken away from us. We know that it is hard to lose a mother at any age, but I question if the period in which we are emerging from childhood to young man or womanhood is perhaps not the age at which this most bitter of all adversities is hardest to bear.

To live, for me was simply not possible, I thought, How I prayed that God would somehow bring her back, or if not, to take me too. Life held nothing for me without my mother. Sad days were those when we tried to adjust and bear up under it. Poor Poor father completely stunned. I was just old enough to understand, in some little measure, what he was bravely trying to bear up under. That morning, dear, dear, how plainly it comes back to me after a night of anxious, yet hopeful watching, father and myself, the blinds were drawn up and the early sun flooded the room. Mother opened her eyes for a moment and said, 'Thank God for the light of another day'. (Dear children, we are thankful, are we not, that your dear mother has been allowed to remain with us and that you have been spared a blow as terrible as this.) She drew me to her and said, "Alick”, I know about your dream". A few days before I had had a dream about her and had mentioned it at the table, that I had had a strange dream but I would not tell what it was or who it was about. Sometime in the forenoon father saw what I failed to notice. He fell across her dear body and spoke two Galic words, for they often used Galic to each other, "He Guale", Galic for "My love"! And, she was gone, and with her all that was worth living for. Kind healing hands of time!

Often I think about how futile were all the kindness and goodness of the neighbours as they came to comfort us. What they could not do the merciful and soothing hands of time slowly did, healing up the awful wound. Without its healing influence life could not be lived. Only the rich could have a doctor. All of us came into the world with the aid of a midwife, and safely too until this last one could not withstand blood poison and the doctor came too late. The baby was buried with his mother. If perhaps, any of you children should sometime go abroad, you will visit the old town and the old cemetery. On the north side of the ancient ruin you will find the headstone, where lie the remains of our parents and a little brother, Hugh, who lived only a year or two.

Saturday evening, February 13, 1937 

The worst storm in years is raging and finds me with little to do so I am looking over some old papers and among them, this tale: - I began it way back in 1930, and regardless of good intentions, never finished it. I find it stopped with my mother's death. I well remember I could not go on at that time.

I left school some little time before my mother's death. I must have been between 14 and 15 years old. For some time I worked with my father in the various jobs, stone blasting, thatching, mason work and road work. He always said that he would like me to have a job that would permit me to be at home as his own work was so frequently far from home. Finding that H. and J. Fraser, our watchmaker, was about to take on an apprentice, he came home with the news that H Fraser would try me out a few months before in-denture papers were made out. I think we have willed to Hrs. Charles Booth the cumbersome parchment signed by all three, Mr Fraser, my father and myself. Wages, half a crown a week the first year with an advance of 12 cents (per week) each year. On completion of the five long years, I would get Journeyman wages of one pound (five dollars) a week.

For some months I stayed until the boy who came after me was able to take my place, when I left for Edinburgh, having secured a job there. I was so homesick that I was glad, after a few months, to have my job at home offered to me. Incidentally, I discovered that the young man who came after me was not keeping up with the work. I wrote Mr, Fraser and received a hurried reply. I couldn't get there quick enough.

Three young men left our town for the States and the Territory of Dakota. One of them came back home for the winter and got some of the young men interested, including my brother, Will, and myself. The time had come when again I had to make a change. I shall always remember that evening with all of us sitting around the open fire. I broached the subject to Father saying, "Will and I are going to America'. Nothing was said for quite a while. 'Well, he said, it might be all right. From then on we began to make plans. The country and, indeed, all of Damps was flooded with colourful advertising, principally by transportation, steamship and American Railway Companies.

The morning finally arrived and five young men leaving the little highland town seemed quite an event. The Pipe band and the greater number of the townsfolk were at the station to see us away.

The story of our embarking at Glasgow with steerage tickets, the stormy voyage which then took eleven days, we have told before, Maybe some copies of the tale might be unearthed and attached to this but it is not essential. From Minneapolis, where two cousins met us, we took a train for Fargo, N. D. A sister of my mother lived at Banff, a town on the east coast of Scotland. Their father, a seaman captain, passed away some years before and the two boys, William and George, carpenters, helped build the first hotel in Yellowstone Park. They afterwards went into the lumber business in Livingstone, Montana.

From Fargo, where my brother and I worked at various jobs during the summer of '83, I came to Groton in response to an advertisement. From there to the little village of Webster in the Dakota hills, to anchor for 55 Years, On New Years' eve of 84 I met the dear, pretty girl who became my wife. The little business began to grow and in the fall of '86 we had a little house all ready to go housekeeping, yes, the same house where I am writing tonight,

Needless to go on to minute details of our lives from then on. The babies came fast. They were years of anxiety, yet, as I look back on them, I think I can safely say, that those were our happiest when our little flock was growing up.

Findlay, our brother, had served his apprenticeship as a druggist back home, and a year after he came to America he came and got a good job at once in Chicago. Two years after we came over, one morning came the sad news of Father's death by drowning. Father was the manager of mussel beds owned by the town. It was his business to sell the shells to the fishermen who came with them to our shore. One early morning he and our younger brother, Hector, were upset in a sailboat when a squall struck. All three got on the bottom of the boat but the tide was ebbing fast and was drawing them out through the narrows to sea, Father, a good swimmer as he was, thought he could make it to a partly submerged bank and from there to another and so to shore to give the alarm. He never made the first bank and his body was carried into the house at seven in the morning. Hector and the hired man were sighted from shore and a boat free a ship in the firth rescued them.

To go back to the early days when our family was growing up. Day’s when, with all our care, we could take time off to play with them and share with then, hunting, fishing, and sailing. But, of all that, perhaps you children will sometime be writing for your children.