RONAN — For one whose achievements reflect his compassion and regard for community, Ed has had a good long ride. "I came into this valley in the fall of 1923," is the way George Edward Bratton described his birth. His father Neil homesteaded in the Irvine Flats area, then married Helen Findley, whose family settled here from Iowa.
His first trip to the Polson Hospital was at the age of 3, when he walked up behind his father to show him that he had filled a basket with chicken eggs. His father was splitting wood at the time, and without noticing his son, he drew back his ax. The blade sliced the young boy's neck. His mother gathered him into her dress keeping pressure on the wound as his father quickly loaded a couple of bags of wood into the Model T. He wanted to make the most of the 16-mile trip into town.
Trips off the ranch were few, and included traveling to Kalispell for supplies. His family loaded onto a buckboard wagon, following the rutted trail over the hill through Big Arm, to an Inn on Angel Point. Returning from Kalispell loaded with goods, they would stay again at the Inn near Lakeside, making it a three-day trip. Long-time friend John Bartel is now the keeper of this wagon.
Uncle Vernon Findley introduced Ed to the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, where the men would pack a string of horses into hunting camp every fall. They would begin at the Ridenhour's home on Finley Point, riding over Hellroaring Pass. At Goat Creek, Vernon's dump truck awaited, filled with supplies. The pack train pushed on into the Bob, continuing east, following the Bunker Creek to the South Fork of the Flathead. This annual adventure continued into the 1990s, later trucking the pack train to the trail head at Holland Lake. As the camp's chief cook and horse wrangler in his final 10 years, he no longer packed a gun.
Ed was elected class president in his senior year at Montana State College (now MSU), the year that the attendance doubled to over 2,000 students. With a degree in agriculture, he returned to the valley, working as assistant manager of Gold Medal Dairy. He worked alongside a beautiful young office manager named Ruby Christopherson.
They married and were soon raising two rambunctious boys. Ed became the new County Extension Agent for Lincoln County in 1959. He would jokingly say that he and Ruby moved to Libby, and the boys found them two weeks later. In 1962 he returned to Ronan, as our new County Agent. During his time here, he taught many aspiring farmers their trade through the GI Bill. He also sold insurance, and became an expert in agricultural accounting. Tax season was a very busy time in Ed's home office. He was still offering this service at the age of 90.
Ed joined the St. Luke Hospital Board in the 1950s. In mid-December of 1954 with temperatures reaching a negative 35, he kept the oil furnace burning.
In the late 1950s, operating costs nearly closed down the hospital. In response, the board recruited Charles, of Thornton Brother's Hospital (now Community) in Missoula. After notification of repossession from the company supplying medical equipment, Dr. Thornton recruited Ed and Cal to launch a dollar-per-month pledge program. This raised a healthy monthly payment that paid the bills, and the hospital thrived.
He was the secretary of the Wool Grower's Assn., and secretary of the NW Cattleman's Association, organizing the annual fall rail shipment of cattle to Omaha, NE. He also managed the Lake County Junior Fair, taking a leadership role in 4-H and FFA. He continued at the Lake County Extension Service until his retirement in 1985. He was also a member of the Round Butte Grange for over 60 years.
Ed was a skilled horseman and team driver. He was among the cowboys who worked the buffalo during the annual roundup at the National Bison Range.
Beginning at the Dixon Bridge, the Westmont Wagoneers camped, played music and built friendships as they journeyed down the Flathead River each spring. Ed never missed this annual affair, and was the wagon master on many occasions. Music had always been a part of Ed's life, beginning with his fiddle-playing father. His appreciation for this instrument compelled him to get involved with the State Fiddle Championships, once an annual event in Polson. He was the association's Master of Ceremony for 34 years, long past its removal to Red Lodge.
As children, many may remember his homemade horse-drawn sleigh rides. This same sleigh would be filled with gifts and Santa Clause every holiday season. He made sure his stops included the local retirement homes, delivering treats donated by the Lion's Club. Ed was a member of the Lion's Club for over 50 years.
Ed had a powerful personality that was especially playful, drawing the attention of many children. They always had a place on his lap, where he encouraged magical thinking, and often taught them how to make rope out of twine, how to twirl a rope or introduce them to his extensive collection of fascinating antique tools.
Everywhere Ed went, he knew someone. This is a result of his magnetism. He always had time for a toddy, hosting many at his Ronan home. This practice became a weekly affair in his later years, as friends and family gathered every Tuesday for "Whiskey Night."
Ed passed away Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, at St. Luke Community Hospital in Ronan. He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife Ruby of 46 years, his sister Jane (Bill), brothers Neil (Stevie), Don (Midge), and Phil's wife Ruth. He is survived by his special partner of 17 years, Clara Likens, his brother Phil (Gay) of Stevensville and his youngest brother Gene (Jeannie) of Greenville, South Carolina. He leaves two sons, Bob Bratton of Billings and Dick Bratton (Sandy Rooney) of Polson. He also leaves Clara's daughter, Martha Smith (Slim Arends) of Arizona, Ed was blessed with four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life will take place at the Ronan Community Center, Thursday, March 8, at 11 a.m. In his honor, donations can be made to the Lake County 4H, FFA or a charity of choice. Messages of condolence may be sent to the family online at shriderthompson.com. Shrider-Thompson Funeral Home, Ronan, is assisting the Bratton family with arrangements.