“When you let your dreams die, something dies within you.”
– Denson Franklin
(Pictured above: Eli’s parents, Alexis and Modeste Cyr – circa. 1881)
Eli was only 8 years old in 1890, when his mother died of lung fever. The eldest of five children, his youngest sister was only 6 months old. His father, having just lost his wife and with a recent move from Maine to Montana, realized that it was beyond his means to care for his children and sent his three oldest – all boys – to the St. Ignatious Mission in Missoula, Montana to be raised by the Brothers and Sisters there. The two youngest daughters, both under the age of 3, stayed with relatives for a short time and then joined their brothers at the Mission.
By the time he was 13 or 14 years old, Eli was ready to move on. He left the Mission and got a job working at a bakery. He’d learned many skills and trades while under the care of the Brothers and Sisters, among them cooking, carpentry, shoe making and a little bit of music. But what Eli wanted more than anything was to be a farmer. The one skill he hadn’t acquired.
After years of moving his wife and daughter between Hoquim, Washington to Central Oregon, Eli, ever-restless to realize his dream, filed on a homestead near Wapinitia, Oregon in 1912. For nearly five years, Eli and his family labored to make ends meet. The farm proved to be unprofitable so every year they would travel to other farms to harvest wheat and earn money for the year. Eli subsidized their income by leading bands. Finally, in 1917 it was too much. Eli moved his family to Maupin and bought a confectionary and pool hall.
(Pictured above: The Cyr homestead; Wapinitia, Oregon. Wife, Clara in doorway; Eli on stairs; daughter, Mabel on horse – circa 1913-1914)
Disappointment was a feeling that, surely, Eli was familiar with. In 1921, a fire broke out in Maupin and his confectionary, along with several other businesses, burned to the ground. It was time to start again. He put his cobbling skills to use and opened a shoe repair shop, but all the while, his heart longed to be working the land.
In 1939, Eli and his wife pursued the dream one last time. They had spent so much time helping other farms succeed, while having struggled so much with their own. Certainly, it was their time to be met with success. For thirteen years, Eli worked his own land. It never led to much and in 1952, they moved back to Maupin because Eli, at the age of 70 was failing in health. Five years later, he would die.
For all the struggles, all the moves, all the odd jobs and all the arguments it must have caused, Eli’s steadfast determination to realize his dream is encouraging. Nothing came easy for he and his wife and daughter. Nothing came easy for most of the pioneers. There was great loss and sacrifice as they pushed their way west. There was unimaginable risk around every corner.
And while Eli wasn’t crossing The Oregon Trail, he was striking out on a different sort of journey. He was a young man trying to provide for his family, to lead them into a better life, yet still seek fulfillment within his own soul.
Did Eli choose the right path? Not financially. But when faced with his fork in the road, ultimately, he stayed true to himself and by doing so, has shown me, his great, great granddaughter, that dreams are scary and without guarantee, but if we take shelter from the risk of dreaming a little part of us will die. Despite the odds, Eli lived life well.