Mabel Halverson: A small town matriarch

Mabel Kratzer Halverson spent the last 69 of her 87 years living in a three-mile radius.

She started in a one-room cabin before upgrading to a so-called “mansion” by comparison. As her family expanded, so did their quarters, shifting homes to accommodate their growing numbers.

The walls of the family matriarch’s current Lower Deer Creek home can barely contain the hundreds of photographs displayed upon them — faces of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren smile out at the woman who taught them to live off the land, appreciate the simple things and, above all, love others.

— Growing Up —

Mabel was born July 2, 1928, in Harlowton, though her family returned to Sweet Grass County within a day, and here she has remained. 

Growing up, her family didn’t have much money. Mabel’s father worked to put up hay for other ranchers throughout the summer. The winters were often long and harsh, but the Kratzer kids never went hungry and never went cold.

“You don’t miss what you don’t have, so we grew up without a lot of material things,” Mabel said.

The family moved often, including a stint in an old, uninsulated train car in Melville, but always stayed in Sweet Grass County.

With the help of a horse-drawn cart, Mabel and her brothers, Ray and Bill, made the hearty four-mile trek to the Glasston rural school each day. 

As the years passed, Mabel and Bill made the transition to the old Sweet Grass County High School in Big Timber. After school, they would hurry home to tend to their chores. 

It was Mabel’s job to get the fire going and get supper ready, and Bill’s job to bring in and milk the cows. As a teenage girl, Mabel was “really fussy” about her hair. While she was preparing supper one evening, Ray kept teasing her and messing with her hair. By the fifth time, Mabel was irritated. 

She warned him, “You do it again, I’m gonna hit you with the stove poker.” 

Well, he did it again, and Mabel stayed true to her word. Luckily for Ray, brother Bill chose that moment to walk into the kitchen and pull his little sister — and the stove poker — away from Ray. 

— Married life —

Jack Halverson was a classmate of Mabel’s throughout high school. After graduation, she went to nurse’s training, and Jack stuck around. 

They were married in October of 1946 and lived on the Halverson Ranch in a one-room log cabin with no water, no telephone and kerosene lamps as their only source of light. 

Mabel and Jack’s first son, Danny, was born in that one room cabin in 1948. As the years passed, more kids were born to them. For several years, four of their children — Danny, Kevin, Becky and Joanie — slept in a “little bitty rockin’ crib,” she said. 

Other kids followed in quick succession, and by 1966, they were the proud parents of six. The additions forced the family to move to a bigger home —Mabel’s first with a bathroom and running water. 

— Lifelong friends —

Arlene Birkeland Pile, Jack’s cousin, has been Mabel’s neighbor and friend for more than 60 years. 

Arlene and Mabel have an unmistakable air of kinship and camaraderie between them, automatically finishing one another’s sentences and stories. Arlene was, after all, by Mabel’s side.

Both women have lived in Sweet Grass County for more than 80 years and have a deep appreciation for the ranching that has provided their livelihoods. 

Though Arlene would happily move cows on horseback any day, Mabel’s roots guided her more towards love for sheep. 

To read Mabel's full story and see our staff pick favorite photos, pick up the Nov. 26 edition of the Pioneer or subscribe to our E-edition. Current subscribers are provided complimentary access to the e-edition with registration.

By Erin Dringman / Sheepherder Editor

Photos by MACKENZIE REISS / Big Timber Pioneer



Hi Mable how are you? I haven't seen you in ages. Do you remember me, I use to work for you at the Inn. I was your favorite I'm sure,ha ha.Remember how much fun Karen, Patti, Becky and all of us girls had working for you. Those were the good ole days. Nice to see you!

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