The Loves and Isolation

By Rebecca Hein

Some Easterners appear uneasy in the isolated parts of the West. For example, once I was standing beside the car with my New York State-bred cousin, Paul, between Casper and Medicine Bow on Wyoming Highway 77—the Shirley Rim Road. I wanted him to enjoy the scenery and, as I did, the experience of being out on the prairie.

But he said, “I feel nervous this far from anywhere.”

There was plenty of reading material in the ranch house living room, 1920s. Love family photo.

Years later, my aunt mentioned that Paul and his wife—then teaching at the University of Minnesota—felt like they were “practically living in cowboy and Indian country.”

This works both ways: The first time I was in downtown Chicago alone, I was certain I’d be mugged. Why? It was a large Midwestern city. Although I’d been in Seattle; San Francisco; Oakland; Berkeley; Denver and San Juan, Puerto Rico; I’d almost always been with others.

In the 1990s, when my husband and I decided to home school our children, we discovered that attitudes about home schooling cross Eastern and Western cultures. First, Paul’s sister, Laura, told me, “It’s bad for children to raise them in isolation.”

In discussing our plans with friends and neighbors in Casper, and my father, I heard indirect or straightforward versions of “But what about socialization?”

Apparently, these people meant socialization with age-peers. Nobody expressed concern about our children’s education or acknowledged that adults spend most of their careers with people of many different ages.

Thus, we discovered that at the time, home schooling was a renegade social movement. In fact, our children had plenty of contact with others, just not so much during their school hours. Eventually they began working with tutors. Our wonderful neighborhood was filled with doting proxy grandparents.

When our children were teens, they became involved in 4H and our local Audubon chapter. Audubon was especially useful because so many of its members encouraged our children in their developing passion for birdwatching. How were they not socialized?

Allan, left, Ethel, John, David and Phoebe Love at the boys’ high school graduation in Laramie, 1929. Love family photo.

Years later, this all came back to me while I was researching a WyoHistory article about John and Ethel Love. If ever three children could be said to be “raised in isolation,” they were Allan, David and Phoebe Love on their family’s ranch on Muskrat Creek south of Moneta. But at different times the children were around ranch hands, cowboys, neighbors, county-supplied teachers and visitors—both White and Native. David met his first geologists at age 5. “I like these men,” he told his mother. “They are different.” Ethel added, “They talked lightly of adventures in Mexico, China, and Alaska and, a song and a joke on their lips, gave an expert hand in the dish washing.”

Allan and David, when not doing ranch work, ranged over the countryside separately and together. “My parents had been wise enough to let me roam freely to study the natural wonders around me,” David wrote.

From these wanderings, including plenty of solitude and opportunities to notice things, David became curious about rock formations, often referring to Ethel’s book, Elements of Geology. Eventually he read the whole book.

Perhaps Phoebe was less isolated than her brothers; she attended school in Casper as soon as she was old enough. Allan and David, at ages 13 and 12,  entered ninth grade in Lander before transferring , after two years, to the University of Wyoming Preparatory School in Laramie.

All three Love children were successful adults: Allan an engineer, David an eminent geologist and Phoebe a reclamation specialist.

Those who think children shouldn’t be raised in “isolation” apparently fear they will fail to adjust to the “real world,” by which they mean college and the workplace as far as I can tell. But the Love family’s record tells a different story.

Rebecca Hein is an assistant editor of

Read The Sticking Power of Ethel Waxham Love