Family Patriarch The Last Of A Breed He’s A Cattleman, Civil War Museum Curator, Cemetery Caretaker
Eight miles southwest of Pullman, at a place called Union Flats, is a hill where they bury Hatleys.
Marble stones stand row on row. All but two mark, by birth or marriage, Hatleys.
Come Memorial Day weekend, Norm Hatley will make a place for the ashes of three more. He’ll be host of the annual Hatley reunion and the meeting of the cemetery board.
On the agenda: what to do about the family’s Civil War museum, the one Norm had devoted part of his life and house to - until the house burned six weeks ago.
You must pass Norm’s ruined home and the old homestead to get to Hatley hill. Past working dogs and rusting pickups, past the 1990s into the 1880s, when a saddle horse and a good dog were what mattered.
For Norm is not the last of the Hatleys, but he is the last of a breed.
He is the son of a Civil War veteran, Riley B. Hatley, and he is as his father was - a cattleman.
“It’s in the blood,” says Norm, 76. “I can’t remember a time I wasn’t riding a horse that had a cow in front of him.”
Riley B. Hatley came to the Palouse in 1877 on reports the grass was higher than his stirrups. A volunteer for the Union, he had fought two years in the 13th Tennessee Calvary of the Army of Cumberland. Hatley was on his second family (his first wife died) and nearly 80 when his 16th child, Norm, was born.
The old man was buried on Hatley hill 15 months later. But his Civil War pension helped raise Norm and his brothers and sisters, and his Civil War service fed their imaginations.
At night, young Norm would stare at a picture of the Battle of Chattanooga above the wood stove. He became the unofficial curator of Union knives, photographs, Confederate ammunition and other artifacts family members had collected.
They were displayed in the house he and his wife, Rose, moved into 42 years ago with their children Lynnetta and Lee.
The rest of the Hatleys had grown and moved on. The land, too valuable for cattle, was leased to other farmers.
In order to ranch, Norm ran cattle on the Snake River in the winters and into Idaho in the spring, always returning to the home place. He quarried the stone facade for the house from Freezeout Mountain and laid the hardwood floors himself.
Then, the last Saturday in March, Norm was firing up the old oil stove in the cellar when it exploded. It blew him through the door. He barely had time to wake Rose and get her out before black smoke and flames overtook the house.
Volunteer firefighters got there in 20 minutes and saved the museum. But there is hardly a corner of the house that isn’t blistered, a wall that isn’t oily black. The floor, the china cabinet, the hand-painted saws are gone.
Someone told Norm a fire is like a death in the family, and each day, he passes the open grave.
“There’s a million things we lost that just make us sick,” he says. “But I have been married to that woman for 54 years and I am just so thankful I still have her.”
The house was not insured, so the Hatleys are staying next to the old place in their son Lee’s double-wide. They’ll never rebuild but may put up a trailer someday. There is no question he won’t retire.
A friend his age he used to ride with moved to Lewiston and now just sits and watches television.
“If I went to an apartment, you could bury me in a year’s time,” Norm says.
In June, as he has done for decades, he will negotiate leases with the government and timber companies. Then Norm will saddle up his horse Cinnamon and drive 300 cows and calves onto 50,000 acres of open range between Clarkia, Idaho, and Western Montana.
Staying in a rustic cow camp, he’ll stop each night at the local tavern - for lemonade only - to hear from loggers and fishermen where cows branded with the Rocking HR might be.
Norm relies on hired help more than he used to, and when he leaves his pickup, he leaves a note saying where he might be. But otherwise, there is little change in his ranching.
The price of cattle has fallen by half in the last three years, and his son makes more in a month as Washington State University’s interim assistant director of housing maintenance than Norm has in some years. But Norm Hatley says he’ll die a rich man.
“Every man is entitled to one good horse, one good dog and one good woman,” he says. “And I’ve had all three.”
“I don’t think they make people like that anymore,” says son Lee. “He loves ranching, he loves cattle. He tried to make a living at it, but it wasn’t ever about the money. It was the lifestyle.”
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