most originally published in Alberta History
summer 1985 edition (Volume 33 No.33, pages 9 to 18)
under the title "Over the Red Deer: Life of a Homestead Missionary."
posted by Brian M. Brown
one big file.
32 thumbnail images:
photos and post cards.
Explore Violet's trunk.
In the fall of 1907, my husband’s brother Tom and his wife Mary came from Chicago. Tom and my husband took up homesteads and pre-emptions in the area known as "Over the Red Deer". In the spring of 1908 they made a trip in the buggy to look over the land; they had filed on it without seeing it.
When they reached the Red Deer River they could not ford it, as the 2water was deep, it being spring, but that did not daunt them. They slept the night at the home of Mr. Greentree.
He owned a row boat, a leaky one to be sure, but he told them that if one of them could row the boat while the other baled the water out of it, they could make it across the river. This they did, then set out on foot for the homestead . . . . My husband and his brother found the homesteads and got back safely to Mr. Greentree’s before dark.
The men each drove a team of horses pulling a load of household effects. On one of the loads was a box containing our twenty hens and a turkey, and another box held our cat. The two dogs followed the horses, but the smallest one got under the buggy wheels and went limping back to the house. We tried to bring the cow, she had to be left for the next trip.
My sister-in-law and I drove in the buggy with her baby, Aileen, aged nine weeks, our two children, Margaret, then two years old, and Hugh, aged eight weeks. Their little girl Anna, then six years old, came on the load with her father. It was no easy task to drive with Hugh in my arms, especially as the horse persisted in trotting down the hills and wandering over the level prairie to eat grass and otherwise showing the perversity characteristic of a western broncho.
Near the end of the journey, one of our loads upset and stoves, bedding, trunks, etc., went tumbling over the prairie. This delayed us half a day.
When within four miles of our destination, we were overtaken by darkness and had the difficult task of finding our way over the prairie as best we could, with little to guide us. We were most thankful to reach the end of it, to grope our way into our own shack, make ourselves a cup of tea, and lie down to rest.
We stacked all of our first crops. We never knew how long it would be before a threshing machine came around. . . . Mr. John Ewin had a small threshing machine run by four horses.
Of course, we had our own milk, butter, eggs, and sometimes meat and vegetables. One whole summer our only meat was home cured bacon. It became very monotonous. We also got some lovely heads of cabbage but they did not keep too well in our cellar, which was just a hole in the ground under the shack. In a later year, a carload of vegetables was sent to our community from some district near Edmonton when we had a failure and they had plenty.
We used rabbits for food in the early years. A roasted rabbit with dressing in it made a delicious meal. I made hamburger of one rabbit and had it fried when the children came home from school. They said, "Who’s been to town today?" They knew there was no meat in the house. It was good and we had a fine meal. In later years, most of the rabbits were diseased.
Occasionally we had a good dinner of wild duck; a day’s fishing at the Red Deer sometimes resulted in a meal of fresh fish, mostly gold eyes. Most of the early years there was a good crop of saskatoon along the Red Deer River and at the Hand Hills. Many a summer day we took lunch to the river, picked saskatoons till late in the afternoon, bathed in the river, and got home in time for the evening chores. We cooked the berries with sliced lemons (when we could get them), vinegar or rhubarb to take away the flat taste.
Arthur had a good strong school shirt about the colour of coffee. Finally, his elbows wore through and I had nothing suitable to patch it with. The sleeves soon were past mending. . . it lasted for months till the crop came off.
Handkerchiefs were made of empty ten cent salt sacks, neatly hemmed. Shoe laces were strong string soaked in ink, with the ends waxed. Empty flour sacks were the standby; they were made into sheets, pillow cases, mattress covers, tea towels and undergarments of all kinds.
One of those early winters we had a Literary Society at the Livingstone School. It met every two weeks, and people came to it for miles around. We had good programs, and some real good debates. On special occasions, like the Christmas Concert, we had lunch. The coffee was made, and the cakes cut at the Charter’s home, and everything had to be carried across the road to the school.
One day the two men were out shooting and Tom raised his gun to fire at a prairie chicken, but the gun accidentally discharged and shot Mr. Gibson. We were in the garden and saw Tom come over the hill, waving his arms and shouting for someone to come. My husband went over at once and when he saw what had happened he drove to Drumheller in a hurry, for the doctor but Mr. Gibson died before the doctor arrived.
Then there was the ever present danger of fire. It was many years before we had a brick chimney. At first the stove pipe went straight up through the roof and the distance between the stove and the roof was far too short.
One hot summer day I decided to do my washing out behind the shack in the shade. I made a wood fire in the stove to heat the water and was washing away when I heard a crackling noise . . . . I looked up and saw flames coming out under the roof . . . . I used the wash basin to throw the water up to the roof and finally got the fire out . . . .
This is what was left of the homestead shack in 1956. This photo is part of an aerial photograph which