By Milton Cust
“I’m going to raise me a whole passel of cattle, horses and kids but not necessarily in that order.” Len James started making that brag from almost the moment
he arrived in Riviere Que Barre.
He was a young bachelor who arrived in the small community to claim a homestead in 1933. It was the heart of the Great Depression and most people in the area had nothing but the clothes on their
back and the will to carry on until things got better.
Len was in the same boat. He lived in a small wooden shack he had built on his newly acquired land a few miles outside of town and supported himself by doing odd jobs for
the more established farmers in the area. He rarely got any cash. Instead he was paid with whatever produce the farmer could afford to give him. It didn’t seem to bother Len who cheerfully performed any task given to him and always had enough chicken,
beef, pork and vegetables to keep him-self well fed.
My dad first met him when they were helping a local farmer with his harvest. They would often sit and talk in the shade of a tree while eating their lunch.
Since it was what was called The Dirty Thirties, the farmers had very little machinery so good work horses, like the ones my dad owned, were in great demand during harvest season. Dad also had a pair of lighter horses which were said to be the fastest in the
area. He had no idea the team would soon be used to help Len steal his bride.
It was during the harvest season when Len first set his eyes on Loretta Horner. She was a pretty, buxom girl with long, black hair and she was also
the daughter of the man he was working for. Every day at noon she would drive a buckboard out to the field with lunch for the harvest crew. Then she would have to sit around and wait until everyone had finished so she could gather up the dishes and take them
back to the house.
My dad suddenly discovered that Len was no longer eating lunch with him. Instead Len was always eating over at the buckboard and talking to pretty Loretta. He seemed to be doing pretty well with her too, at
least Loretta never complained about his presence and often seemed to take a very long time gathering up her dishes. The harvest crew caught on quickly to what was going on and began speculating about whether or not they were witnessing young love blossoming.
It wasn’t long before Len and Loretta were an item in the small village.
The signs were all there and everybody thought there would soon be a wedding in the town church, especially when Len
became a regular Sunday afternoon guest at the Horner farm.
However, the prediction was only partially correct. There would be a wedding all right but not like anybody expected.
The saying says
“true love never runs smooth” and Len and Loretta were about to discover the full meaning of that maximum.
No sooner had the speculation about a pending wedding started than Mrs. Horner proceeded to throw up a road
block for the young lovers.
She thought Loretta could do better. After all, Len was just a poor farmer still struggling to survive let alone build a proper house for her daughter. She also thought it was rather unbecoming for
Len to be claiming he was now going to make good his boast of raising a bunch of horses, cattle and kids. It made her think Len was a bit too crude and vulgar for Loretta.
With this mind, Mrs. Horner cast her eye around the
village for other eligible bachelors more suitable for her daughter. It landed on young James McEnro who was in the process of establishing a brand new store in the community. She quickly came to the conclusion that this was the proper man for her daughter.
James was a bit of dandy who always wore a suit, starched white shirt and tie. He liked to call himself James T. McEnro because he felt it was more distinguished. Len was just known as Len or Lenny and his daily attire of
work pants, shirt and work boots paled in comparison to James’ fancy clothes but Loretta didn’t seem to mind.
In fact, when her mother informed her that James would become the Sunday afternoon guest instead of Len,
she threw a screaming fit and refused to come out of her room until James had left.
The battle between mother and daughter went on several more months, before Loretta relented and gave into her mother’s wishes. For in
those days, a daughter was considered duty bound to obey her mother. There was hardly ever any thought of a proper young woman rebelling and going her own way.
So for several months James and Loretta spent Sunday afternoons
together and Mrs Horner was quite pleased with her match making. James seemed like such a wonderful catch for her daughter. What she didn’t know was that Loretta was still seeing Len. In fact, every moment she could get away from her mother she was spending
When Mrs. Horner found out she was so furious with her daughter that she began insisting that Loretta not only stay completely away from Len, but she marry James immediately to get “anymore nonsense out of her
Len, frantic over the idea of losing his beloved Loretta, tried to convince her to elope with him, but she refused. She claimed she just couldn’t go against her mother’s wishes so Len decided he needed
to take more drastic measures.
He came over to my dad’s place one day and spilled out his tale of woe and then asked if he could borrow his light team of horses.
When dad asked what he intended
to do, Len announced he was going to steal the bride right off the church steps on the day of her wedding.
“All you have to do, John, is to make sure your horses and a buggy are left behind the church. I’ll do the
My dad, always willing to help a friend in need, readily agreed and on Loretta’s wedding day drove his horses up behind the church and left them there.
He then walked around
to the front of the church to see what would happen next.
According to custom, the groom arrived first. James was dressed in his finest attire for the occasion. He wore a three piece suit, shiny shoes with buckles and a top
hat. He barely took time to greet the well-wishers gathered outside the church before he disappeared inside.
Shortly after that Loretta arrived with her mother and father. She looked beautiful in a white wedding gown and veil
and stood outside the church to wait until they heard the Here Comes the Bride tune.
Loretta’s family was still waiting for their cue to enter the church when Len suddenly appeared with dad’s horses and buggy. He
stopped directly in front of the church, and hollered at Loretta.
“You aren’t really going to marry that pompous ass are you?
Come away with me instead.”
The shocked bride
turned towards Len and suddenly realized how right he had been all along. She knew marrying James would be the biggest mistake of her life. To hell with what her mother wanted.
She suddenly threw her bouquet of flowers over
her shoulders, not caring where they landed. She ran down the church steps as fast as she could in her wedding gown and climbed aboard the buckboard beside Len.
Loretta was barely seated before Len had the horses moving. In
a few moments he had them going at a full gallop with Loretta holding onto her wedding veil with one hand and clutching a bar on the buggy with the other.
In the meantime, somebody had rushed into the church and told James about
what had just happened and he rushed out furious and determined not to let Len get away with this outrage.
He felt that Len had made him the laughing stock of the whole village. He could see the snickers on the faces and hear
the hoots of laughter ringing in his ears.
James quickly climbed into his buggy that had been decorated with just married signs, ribbons, flowers and a string of tin cans. The cans bounced loudly and some of the flowers and
ribbons were blown from the buggy as he raced his team through the town in hot pursuit of Len and his bride.
Several miles outside the village, Len turned to look back. He could see the dust from James’ buggy.
“Have to keep going,” he informed Loretta who was still clinging to the buggy for dear life. Len kept the horses at a run for another couple of miles and was thinking he had managed to outrun James when trouble occurred.
The buggy’s rear axle was smoking and he knew if he drove it much further the wheel would probably fall off. They happened to be right at a farmer’s driveway so they drove the buggy up to the house.
A frantic Len
leaped off the buggy and quickly explained the problem to the woman who came to the door.
“We need grease so we can fix the wheel before James catches up to us.”
The amused wife listened
to their story and said she would be willing to help but informed them they had no grease.
“But I do have some lard from our pigs and some turkey fat. Will that do?” she asked.
have to,” Len replied.
The housewife went to get it while Len got the buggy ready.
He had the wheel off by the time the pig lard and turkey fat arrived. Here his bride to be showed her mettle.
Without a concern about ruining her wedding dress, she helped the housewife plaster the axle while Len held the buggy up.
In no time Len had the wheel back on and they were tearing out of the farmer’s yard. They could
see the dust from James’ buggy and he appeared to be still coming fast and almost at the farm.
“He’s still chasing us but our horses have had a rest so there’s no way he can catch us now,” Len announced
They drove the buggy into the next town where Len had arranged for a minister to be waiting for them. The couple rushed into the church. Loretta only took a few minutes to wipe some of the mess off her wedding gown. It was only
then that she realized she had lost her veil during the wild buggy ride. It didn’t bother her in the least. She rushed to the altar and recited her marriage vows without it.
Just as the newly married couple were leaving
the church, James arrived but he was too late, there was nothing he could do about it.
“You were right, they are the fastest team around,” Len told my dad when he brought back his horses.
He then took his bride on a honeymoon. By the time they returned her mother had calmed down and was ready to accept Len as part of the family.
As for Len’s boast? He and Loretta had 13 children and a big ranch with lots
of horses and cattle.