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Agnes Murray Crane
Birth: Jul. 23, 1879
Death: Sep. 7, 1976

Copyrighted by Catherine Byron and Marilyn Ballagh 2003
From Tartan Tales: Immigrants from Scotland to South Eastern Montana compiled by Jack McRae and Tootie Zook.

Agnes Murray was born on the Banks of Brechin, Forfar, Scotland, on July 23, 1879. Her parents were Alexander Murray and Agnes (Latto) Love Murray. Agnes Latto's father and uncle worked on the ships that transported Scottish emigrants from Glasgow, Scotland, to Auckland, New Zealand. Anges Latto's first husband, James Love (1835 - 1865) was a stonemason who died at the age of thirty before the couple had any children. As a young widow, Agnes Latto Love wore a bronze satin dress trimmed with ecru and beige lace for a wedding dress when she married Alexander Murray.

Alexander Murray worked as a coachman and kept the horses for the "swells," at Ardwall, Gatehouse of Fleet, Dunfrewshire, in Southern Scotland. The coachman was an expert horseman, and had a staff to look after the horses' feeding, bedding and grooming. He drove the elegant carriages with a groom seated beside him ready to hop down to open the carriage door. He knew he legendary faithful little Edinburgh terrier, Greyfriar's Bobby.

Agnes Murray, the fourth child in a family of five, attended Dean School that sat on the side of a hill overlooking Dean Village, Edinburgh. A tall stone wall with broken glass embedded in cement along the top insured the separation of girls and boys in the schoolyard. Children struck with severe bloody noses were sent to the janitor in the basement for first aid. He would place his large, cold keys under the backs of their necks as they lay on the cool floor waiting for the bleeding to stop.

At Dean School, Agnes learned to type on a monstrous typesetter's typewriter with separate keys for upper and lower case letters. All the students studied French.

At home the young Murray children learned to knit. Each morning they knit a few rows before dashing off to school. They knit their own stockings.

When Agnes was a child, a doctor arrived at their house in a horse-drawn buggy and shooed the children upstairs as he and the coachman began converting the dining room table into an operating table. His strong hands proceeded with the amputation of the leg while the coachman dripped chloroform onto a cloth gently draped over the patient's nose.

In her twenties, Agnes trained as a milliner - a hat maker and designer. She worked in a shop on the famous Princes Street in Edinburgh, and was often sent to London to bring back the latest designs. Carrying a sketchpad she stalked the sidewalks outside the best shops. She would draw the newest fashion hats and take notes to insure duplication of the hat in her Edinburgh shop. Occasionally, the London shopkeepers would spy her making the sketch, and would run out to the sidewalk ordering her to leave, scolding her for stealing the design. (Agnes also worked in a millinery shop in Dunoon on the West Coast of Scotland for a time.)

In those days it was the tradition and fashion for widows to wear veils for months after the loss of their husbands. Making these veils represented a significant part of the business in the millinery shops. Hemming the long black netting was tedious: lift one, skip two. The seamstress counted the threads in the finely woven net to stitch the hem in place. Working on black cloth in the dimly lighted workrooms challenged even the sharpest eyes.

Milliners frequently made special-order hats for elite customers. The process was one of precision. The woman's head was carefully measured, sketches were drawn as various styles were fitted, and special touches to the design were noted. Then the head milliner assigned the hat to one of the girls in the shop. Creating the hat to fill one of these orders nearly cost Agnes her job.

She measured, cut and stitched meticulously. It was indeed an honor to be requested by this particular customer. But, to everyone's dismay, when the woman came to pick up her hat, it was too big. The disappointed customer's loud and vocal disapproval could be heard throughout the entire shop. The head milliner took Agnes aside for a reprimand.

"Didn't you measure?" Accusation laced the sharp question.

Agnes pulled out her tape measure, and under her supervisor's watchful eye measured each dimension of the hat. The piece met every specification on the work order. The discovery cast suspicion on the measuring tapes. Ahah! The two discovered that Agnes' woven fabric measuring tape had stretched under heavy use. One inch on her tape measured longer than one inch on the head milliner's tape! The customer graciously accepted their sincere apologies, and came back another day to get her new hat in the proper size.

A handsome young man named Thomas Walker became an important part of future plans when Agnes was in her mid to late twenties. The young couple planned a life together in America - a land they felt offered greater opportunity than what they saw in Scotland. It was agreed that before they married Thomas would sail to America, get established, then return for Agnes. It was an emotional parting when he set sail.

Agnes anxiously waited two years, and never received a letter from her betrothed. Deciding that she had been jilted, she determined she would see the world for herself. She and a girl friend boarded a ship to visit mutual friends in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. As her ship left the harbor bound for Toronto, a second ship pulled into the harbor. Agnes later learned that her beloved Tom Walker was aboard the other ship, coming to marry her. Years of silence swallowed all explanations.

Agnes readily found work in the milliner shop at the prestigious Toronto Simpson store. One of the girls sharing her apartment invited a friend over to visit one evening. Charles Henry Crane came along with the friend. Charlie swept Agnes off her feet because "he was the spittin' image of the other one." A born storyteller, he may well have charmed them with stories of filing on a timber claim at Livingston and later a homestead on the Seven Blackfoot (Garfield County, Montana), tales of his gold prospecting adventures or stories of surveying Alaska. Little is known of their courtship, except that they were married on January 12, 1912, in Toronto, Canada. Agnes was 32 years of age. Charlie was 44.

From Toronto, the couple traveled by train to Chicago then to Montana. In Miles City the couple stood in front of a Justice of the Peace and repeated their marriage vows 17 days after the Canadian ceremony - January 29, 1912. Agnes wanted to be certain that the marriage was recognized under American law. On the Custer County marriage license, Ella Julla Rogers from Mercer County, Illinois, is listed as Charles' mother; Henry F. Crane as his father. (Both parents were born in Vermont, according to the 1870 Mercer County Illinois census.) Charlie gave Leedy as his place of resident. That was the post office used by the early homesteaders on the Blackfoot.

After the ceremony, the couple boarded the train again bound for Ingomar where they stayed in a hotel and prepared to drive a team and wagon (or sleigh) to Melstone to spend the rest of the winter. While Charlie busied himself with the team and preparations for the last leg of their honeymoon trip, Agnes was back in the hotel room sorting her wardrobe and the contents of her hat boxes. Most of her Toronto work clothes were not practical for the mud and ruggedness she found in this new frontier. A black woman everyone knew as Nigger Belle had admired on one of Agnes' dresses the day before. Agnes invited her to the room to look at the impractical outfits now put up for sale. Belle fell in love with the fashionable collection, and bought the lot.

The next morning when Charlie and Agnes climbed into their wagon to leave for Melstone, a fashionable dressed Belle and her husband passed them. Charlie looked down his nose as the couple pulled ahead and said to Agnes, "There! See how ridiculous you would've looked in all those clothes you wanted to bring?" He never knew the outfit had been purchased from his wife's trunks.

In the spring they traveled 90 miles north to Charlie's homestead on the Seven Blackfoot. He chose the site for its springs and timber. He dreamed of selling lumber to the railroad that was rumored to be coming through the area linking Lewistown with the eastern flank of Montana, but it never came.

Early homesteaders on the Seven Blackfoot forded the river river horseback to get their mail from the Leedy post office on the north side of the Missouri River. Other post offices these used through the years were Hazny, Antrim, Trouble, Uebra, Bruce, and finally, Brusett.

Life on the homestead was an adventure Agnes took in stride. The hope chest with the appropriate pieces of linens for starting a household made its way from the cobblestone streets in Edinburgh and Toronto to the dirt-floored log cabin. The first year found a linen tablecloth on the table, and a quilted tea cozy on the teapot. She heard from a friend that a neighbor had gone down the countryside saying, "That woman of Crane's is crazy. She puts a hat on her teapot!" It took many hours of hard scrubbing on the washboard to remove the greasy stains out of the tablecloths after some of the old timers propped their elbows on the sparkling white linens.

New Years - Hogmanay - is a big day of celebration in Scotland. Agnes waited until the stroke of midnight the first New Year's Eve in her homestead cabin to grab a cowbell and run outside ringing it. In Edinburgh, it would have been small part of a clamor. In Montana, it was a lone cowbell ringing on a cold, snowy night.

Agnes' Uncle Tom Murray sent rhubarb seeds from Scotland that were planted and continue to yield an abundance of fruit to this very day. Agnes gardened with a passion, pampering strawberries and roses and in later years, a row of tulips. If there was one "hardest" adjustment coming to tame this new land, it was no doubt the climate. In Scotland, gooseberries grow the size of pullet eggs. In this new land, one near the size of a child's thumb was considered a trophy. Fierce determination to have a climbing rose hedge around the cemetery where Charlie Crane was buried drove Agnes to plant hundreds of roses in the sandy soil. In spite of barrels of water ladled onto each plant, drought and hot winds sucked the life from every root.

Scottish doctors told Agnes that she probably would never bear children, but to be sure to seek good medical care if she proved them wrong. Surprised to discover that she was with child, she immediately made plans to return to Edinburgh and family a few months before the baby was expected. Her first son, Charles Alexander "Alex" Crane, was born March 27, 1913 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His birth on his mother's home soil gave him dual citizenship, a right that was never explored. When they sailed back to America on the Donaldson Line of Steamers" T.S.S. Saturnia on May 24, 1913, Mrs. Crane and infant and the famous Annie Oakley were named in the passenger list.

Before returning to the States, Agnes attended a cooking school. The skills Agnes learned there were enjoyed by many over the course of her lifetime! The fare served from her quaint kitchen was seasoned to perfection. Homemade breads, homegrown vegetables - fresh or canned, home churned butter, homemade cottage cheese, relishes, chutneys and pickles all graced this homesteader's menu. Neighborhood favorites included her tasty steamed puddings and apricot-rhubarb jam. Her cookies filled cookies jars, tasty treats for grandchildren and neighbor's visits alike. Her jams and jellies swept the blue ribbons at the Garfield County Fair for years.

When Agnes returned to the "old country" for a visit soon after WWII ended, she wrote back to Montana telling of the stringent food rationing in Britain. That marked the beginning of food "pear-sells" (parcels) shipped every six weeks until into the mid 1950s. A tin-can canner preserved elk, pork, venison, chicken, vegetables and fruit. Tins were packed into boxes wrapped in brown paper salvaged from 25-pound sugar sacks and shipped to the relatives overseas. Ian Grieve, an elderly Scottish cousin reminds us even today that the canned elk in those packages was the best meat he ever tasted.

Agnes' tailoring skills fashioned more than one grandchild's coat from a worn adult garment. Brightly printed flour sacks and the thump of the old treadle sewing machine produced smart fashion statements for growing granddaughters. Boy's shirts won ribbons at the local fair. In homesteading days she remodeled an 1880s church dress into a wedding dress for a young neighbor, Louise Merlak.

The Murray family had the distinction of two members being awarded the Order of the British Empire, O.B.E., or knighthood. The ceremonies were held at Buckingham Palace. Agnes Crane's older brother Tom, a seaman in the Merchant Marines who had heroically saved a fellow seaman after a ship went down, became Sir Thomas Murray.

The generation before, her paternal uncle, Sir Robert Murray, was knighted in recognition of his success in business and his public work (charitable work).

In addition to their son Alex, Agnes and Charlie had one daughter, Agnes Helen, born July 25, 1914, at Bruce Montana, and a son, Robert, born June 22, 1917, at Miss Darcy's Hospital in Miles City.

Agnes Murray Crane died on September 7, 1976, in the nursing home at Jordan, at the age of 97. Her husband and two children preceded her in death. Charlie died on June 3, 1950. Her son Alex, often called "The Scotchman," died November 13, 1965, in a tractor rollover on the family farm. Her daughter Agnes Helen "Nellie" Kerry died March 13, 1972, in Glasgow where she taught. All of them are buried at the Hearts at Peace cemetery on the Crane ranch northwest of Brusett.

Robert Scott, Agnes and Charlie's second son, passed away May 14, 1980. He was buried at the Sunset Memorial Gardens, now known as Central Montana Memorial Gardens near Lewistown, Montana, where he and his wife, Ruth (Kleeberger) Crane raised six sons.


Story written by her granddaughter in December 1959 based on an interview with Agnes Crane regarding Christmas in Scotland when she was a child:

Christmas at Bemersyde, Scotland
Seventy-Five Years Ago

In Scotland seventy-five years ago, the land was divided up into huge estates. Each one of these estates was owned by the gentry (rich people). The gentry were the owners of castles and had many luxuries as well as the estates. They also had estate workers such as foresters, gardeners, keepers, and workers to do the work on their estates.

The estate workers had houses on the estate where they worked. My grandmother's family's house was located behind the stables. These workers were not slaves, but people hired by Colonel Haig to work on his estate.

On Christmas Eve Colonel Haig invited all of his estate workers into his house for a small celebration.

The guests, which were the workers, were welcomed into the public room. In this room there was a big Christmas tree. (In those days, only the gentry could afford having one.) There were some little presents hung on the tree and others were under it.

Mrs. Haig and her daughters, Cicely and Eve, and her son, Guy, passed out the gifts. There was a small present for each child. The adults received a blanket and some tea.

After the distribution of the gifts, cake was served to the children. Occasionally a child's eyes would carefully survey the pieces on the platter, trying to find a large one. Mrs. Haig would realize what they were doing and tell them, "Take the piece nearest to you."

The children were soon taken home to be put to bed after the party. They would hang their stockings on the mantelpiece and stumble off to bed.

In the morning when they looked in their stockings they would find a small gift on top. Under that there was an orange and an apple and some sweeties. In the very toe there were some cinders for a joke.

After they had opened their gifts and eaten some breakfast, they began their four-mile walk to school. They attended school for half a day and then they were excused.

The kiddies would walk much faster coming home because they were hungry and when they got there, a Christmas dinner would be waiting for them. Usually the dinner consisted of a meat course, plum pudding, and mince pies.

In the middle of the afternoon, people would visit one another. When some visitors arrived, wine was served to the ladies and a stronger brew was served to the men. Shortbread, Scotch bun and fruit cake were served also.

In Scotland at that time, the different parts of it had different customs for Christmas. This is the way my grandmother celebrated Christmas when she was there, however the customs have changed greatly since then.

Scotland still celebrates Christmas in a manner similar to the way they did then, but still, different communities have different customs which they use. Although Christmas customs differ in different countries, really, we are all doing it for the very same reason: the birth of Christ.


The following email came from John Collins, son of Ruby Grieve & Jim Collins in Glasgow, Scotland. Ruby was Granny Crane's first cousin. Jim was a highly esteemed physical science instructor at Glasgow University. John works for Rolls Royce. He is responding to receipt of the Bemersyde story in the spring of 2011.

Hi Catherine,
Bemersyde is about an hours drive south form Edinburgh so I guess about 40 miles. Nearest town is St Boswell's which in turn is close to Melrose , lovely country.

I have a memory myself and parents , Angela must have been out of the house by then , went down to stay in St Boswells for a long weekend. My mother I think trying to re trace some steps. We went to the small church on the Sunday and I was fascinated because it had a special pew for the Haig family. I have a vague memory that there was one of the family there and he participated in taking in the collection.

You caused me to Google the Haig's as I knew their claim to fame (or infamy) was Field Marshall Haig was the head of the British Army in WWI and many held him responsible for the tactics and hence deaths of so many soldiers. The major UK Military Charity the Poppy Fund was set up by him.

Interestingly sometime in late 19th century they seem to have had one of these dilemmas of the gentry that there were 3 daughters and no male heir so the estate was signed over to a cousin. We have had a superb Upstairs – Downstairs series on TV called ‘Downton Abbey.' Worth the watch if it is screened in the US; a family going through similar issues and so much just as Jenny described it.

Glad to say we are well. Lucy (22 in July) is heading off to Switzerland for a long weekend to catch up with one of her school chums. Viv and I are off in 3 weeks time to Kenya for a week's beach holiday. Wacky idea , I saw the offer for a ridiculously low price but we have since forked out a fortune for immunisations and anti malarial tablets. In between times I've got a business trip out to Kazakhstan but if it is like last year when I went it was rain and low cloud just like Glasgow so didn't see much.
Take care

Agnes Crane's Steamed Pudding
This was a common dessert served in Agnes'

1 cup sugar
1 cup suet (or shortening)
1 cup raisins
1 cup currants (usually omitted)

Sift together:
2 cups flour (can be 1 cup flour & 1 cup bread crumbs)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon (heaping)
1 teaspoon ginger

Add dry ingredients to creamed shortening mixture, adding 1 cup of milk to make a moist cake-like dough.

Place inside a greased and floured tin with a lid. You can use tin foil tied tightly with a string if you have no lid.
Put inside a kettle containing 4" - 5" of water. Bring to a boil, and allow the pudding to steam for 3 hours or so.

When done, remove from the can by shaking it out onto a plate. Slice. Serve with a the sauce of your choice over the top.

Clear sauce:
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
Generous amount of vanilla
Add boiling water until it is a sauce consistency.

Richer sauce:
1 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
cream to make a sauce consistency
Flavor with orange juice and zest or vanilla or whatever you like.
Family links: 
  Charles Henry Crane (1867 - 1950)*
  Alex Crane (1913 - 1965)*
  Agnes Helen Crane Kerr (1915 - 1972)*
  Robert Scott Crane (1917 - 1980)*
*Calculated relationship
Note: Wife of Charles Henry Crane. Born and raised in Scotland. Homesteaded near here in 1912. Mother of Charles Alexander Crane.
Hearts At Peace Cemetery
Garfield County
Montana, USA
Created by: Catherine Byron
Record added: Sep 01, 2002
Find A Grave Memorial# 6739422
Agnes <i>Murray</i> Crane
Added by: Anonymous
Agnes <i>Murray</i> Crane
Added by: Anonymous
Agnes <i>Murray</i> Crane
Added by: Catherine Byron
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Roses for you, in memory
- Karen Griswold Stroh
 Added: Aug. 10, 2011
Granny Crane is all we knew you by. I remember spending the night with you, Catherine, and Marilyn in your little house when we would go from the other side of Montana to visit Auntie Amy and Uncle Alex. I loved to listen to you talk! And the huge water...(Read more)
- Patsy Beall Mattingley
 Added: Jul. 25, 2009
Here are some daffodils like you told us grew in the pastures wild in Scotland, Granny. I'm filled with admiration for your fortitude - especially after walking the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, and seeing all that you left to come to your little log c...(Read more)
- Catherine Byron
 Added: Sep. 1, 2002
This page is sponsored by: Catherine Byron

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