Stanislaus and Agnes Maday named all their children after Catholic saints. John, Clare (above left), Victoria (above right), Dorothy and Veronica.
Fairmont, Minnesota (1929)
Victoria as a senior in high school. Nineteen sparse years on the northern Plains were quite sufficient for this girls’ lifetime, thank you very much.
Fairmont, Minnesota (1920s)
Victoria (second from left) with some high school chums. Fitzgerald called these times an age of miracles, art, excess and satire.
Fairmont, Minnesota (1940s)
The sacraments and the dogma defined Agnes Maday. Trust God and tend to the rutabagas.
St. Paul, Minnesota (1931)
Victoria met Ell Matson at the University of Minnesota. Neither felt compelled to earn a four-year degree to succeed. What's a piece of paper, when you have intelligence, creativity and a knack?
Spokane, Washington (1933)
Complications with Champ's birth left Victoria unable to have additional children. Her relationship with her only son was defined by her alcoholism.
Walla Walla, Washington (1934)
Victoria was preggers with Champ when she rode in the sidecar on the cross-country adventure from New Orleans to Washington state. A womb within a womb.
Grand Coulee, Washington (1934)
The newspapers called Grand Coulee Dam the ‘greatest structure in the world.’ Ell's surveying work combined his sense of adventure with steady work in the heart of a Great Depression.
Three generations (left to right): J. Ellsworth Matson III (Champ), J. Ellsworth Matson II (Ell), Dr. J. Ellsworth Matson (J.E.).
Ell named his son Champ because perceptions mattered to him. You could be small and if your name is J. Ellsworth the Third, you're still small.
Shuttling between the Reclamation Bureau work sites in the west and Fairmont, Champ grew accustomed to prolonged periods of time without his father, but those periods of time always ended. Until they didn't.
Shasta Dam site, California (1938)
When they were with Ell at his work sites, Victoria (center) and Champ (the shirtless kid), enjoyed the rough outdoor living. Champ carried his love of the west, camping and the outdoors the rest of his life.
Redding, California (1938)
Champ started the 1st grade in Redding and finished it in Fairmont. He's in the middle of the second row from the top, in the striped shirt. It was not until the 5th grade that Champ would spend the entire school year in one place.
Shasta Dam site, California (1938)
Ell called the shots. This did not always sit well with Victoria, who had a mind of her own and a stubborn streak. Ell's in the center, Champ's seated on the ground, Victoria's on the far right. The others are just camp hangers-on, I guess.
Victoria in her 20s
I’m left with the impression she was ahead of her time. She clashed with Ell over his ‘I call the shots’ approach. “There’s nothing in the world wrong with having an idea,” she once told him. “I have ideas, too.”
Anchorage, Alaska (1941)
Ell (left) on the snowshoes. Throughout the west, he rotated between three land surveying jobs: Transitman, Levelman and Rodman. Ell considered himself a measurement specialist. When he drank, he aimed high.
Ell (center) and his work crews would leave civilization for days, even weeks at a time, operating out of temporary worksheds. A decidedly masculine environment replete with pinup girls, guns and booze.
Anchorage, Alaska (Winter 1942)
This photo was taken days, maybe even hours before Victoria used wartime evacuation of women and children from Alaska as cover for leaving Ell. Champ would never see his father again.
Everett, Washington (1943)
Champ and his Dixie Cup. Victoria thought her son was fearless.
Ellensburg, Washington (1944)
Champ as gangster. The photos were taken as a joke, but given the family turmoil, Champ's path could have easily led him astray. As a Boy Scout, he earned a merit badge in pathfinding.
Ellensburg, Washington (1947)
Champ pumped gasoline, washed lettuce heads and ran Tyrone Power Imitations out the back door with a shotgun.
Plainville, Kansas (1948)
In her Corral Cafe uniform in the oilfield trash house on 5th Street Southwest. Within a week of her arrival on the High Plains, Victoria's reputation was sealed.
Victor Ordway (1948)
The coffee shop default response evolved gradually from, “He married oil,” to “He does a lot of things, and is good at all of them.”
Ellis/Rooks County line (late 40s)
The Bemis Pool would become among the largest producing oil fields on the North American continent. Victor Ordway liked driving through at night, seeing the derricks all lit up.
Plainville, Kansas (1949)
Champ in high school, with his '41 Chrysler Piece of Shit. Singularly focused on his Two-Point Plan.
Plainville, Kansas (1950)
“You goin’ out for football next year?” If he was asked that question once, Champ was asked a dozen times when he arrived in Plainville. Football was the community's badge of honor.
Plainville, Kansas (1951) Victoria's Geographic
During Champ's senior year at Plainville High, Victoria and her third husband (Joseph Cotten, only shorter) moved to Colorado Springs. Champ was not sad to see them go and suspected the man would be handed his hat in Colorado. He was right.
Plainville, Kansas (1951)
Champ’s senior photo. When Victoria called long distance from Colorado and asked if he was going to Mass, Champ didn’t hesitate. “Nope.”
Plainville, Kansas (1951)
Some of the Plainville High Class of '51. A month before graduating, Champ (back row in the middle) cut class, drove to Salina, joined the Navy and changed his name in the bargain. I think the guy on his left may be Big Dumb.
The whispers were consistent and predictable: “Can't spell ‘spoiled’ without ‘oil.’” Victor Ordway did not set out to intentionally flaunt his wealth, but his actions spoke otherwise, like buying Gera a grand piano for her 16th birthday.
Rooks County, Kansas (1951)
Since he wasn’t very good at feelings, Champ was flying blind when it came to his relationship with Gera. He really had no guiding force, no template and no one to ask about the protocol and expectations.