Twenty miles north of Winifred is a remote, hostile, yet beautiful area in the Missouri Breaks National Monument called the Devil’s Pocket. Myrtle Hagadone Hledik, who died in 2006, was one of the last surviving homesteaders who had lived in that that wild area. The Devil’s Pocket was not a place of fond memories for Myrtle. Her parents married in 1913 and the couple had three daughters. Myrtle was the youngest. The family moved to the homestead about three miles upriver from the McCelland Ferry in 1917.
Myrtle recalled the Missouri River bottomlands as unbearably hot in summer, cruelly cold in winter, and a place of terrible hardship. They grew vegetables, and caught pike and catfish and seldom went hungry. But they had no well, and carried buckets of river water to the house, let the silt settle, and boiled it for cooking and drinking. Rattlesnakes were a terrible danger. They were everywhere, and Myrtle’s sister Mary was bitten once. Her father cut the bite with a straight-edged razor, sucked out the venom, and wrapped a freshly killed chicken around the bite to draw out the rest of the poison. Mary survived. After four years, Myrtle’s mother and father separated. He went to work at another homestead and her mother stayed and worked the homestead alone. She was a mean woman and sent the girls to board in town and go to school. Myrtle’s time at the homestead was done. She eventually learned to cook and worked for several ranches. While Myrtle’s sisters had more pleasant childhood memories, Myrtle remembered that the rugged landscape of that lonely place was something she never wanted to see again.
P.S. You can download a driving tour of some Missouri Breaks Homesteads. But you might want to wait for summer weather to make the trip!