Here are some notes I was given after my grandmother, Loveny Ruttan, née Skogheim, died. They were in a school scribbler, and two secretary note pads, with some inserted leaves. I transcribed them exactly as they appeared, spelling, repetition, and everything. Most of the black and white pictures are from her photo album. Others are from a book, "Those Years from Rail to Oil: A History of Hardisty and the Surrounding Area," one of the many community history books published to mark Alberta's 75th anniversary in 1981.
(1906-07) When we came to Hardisty from North Dakota my father chose a quarter section of land six miles northwest of town. This was to be our homestead. There was a lovely small lake at the south end with beautiful white swans on it. A small herd of antelope were grazing on the far side so this was the main reason for deciding on this piece of land.
With the help of a man by the name of Mr. Weysemple our wagon load of possessions was unloaded & a make-shift tent was put up. They looked over the place & decided where our house should be built, which was on a rise of ground just north of the lake shore.
My mother stayed in Hardisty with my baby brother & I to care for & wait for the shack to be built. It was decided that Mr. Weysemple would stay to help get lumber & supplies from town. He was hired by my father to help bring us all the way from Minot N. Dakota. He supplied the team of horses & wagon. There was a lot of work to be done & the time was limited because he was hired to help & every day the expenses mounted & he was anxious to get back to North Dakota.
A pair of oxen was bought & a wagon, so my father spent some time working with the oxen to get them trained to pull the wagon. They were quite unmanageable because they had not been broken. The horses were difficult to handle also. In fact due to the difficult horses & rough trail, my mother's sewing machine bounced off the wagon onto the ground & broke the metal stand which had the treadle on it to run the machine. Other things were broken too which was sad but the broken sewing machine was a real disaster.
In a few days they started to build the little house with two rooms. It was just a tar paper shack. When the frame & walls were up the roof was covered by stretching the canvas from the tent over the beams. Tar paper was put on the outside walls to keep the wind & rain & snow out. they used shiny metal disks the size of fifty cent pieces to put the nail through, to hold the paper on the boards. This black paper helped to keep the wind & weather from coming in through the cracks between the boards.
By now my father decided he could no longer afford to keep his hired man so after Mr. Weysemple brought my mother & us children from town he prepared to leave for his town in N. Dakota.
The stove was set up in the house with black stove pipe protruding though the canvas roof. Cooking was a problem because the groceries were so limited. Dried beans & peas & rice as well as dried prunes & apples were used. Potatoes were scarce because there were so few people who lived there with gardens. My father used the few potatoes he was able to get as seed. He broke up a patch of ground with the oxen & walking plow & put the cut up potatoes under each furrow. The oxen were difficult to handle especially when pulling the plow which was quite different from the wagon. With my mother's help the job was done. Meat for our table was no problem because the wild game was plentiful. Prairie chickens, ducks & rabbits were easy to get with the shot gun. There was never a thought of ever shooting an antelope.
With so much to do I am sure both my father & mother felt sort of helpless without Mr. Weysemple. He was a good man & would have been a great help. From daylight till dark on those long summer days there was no time to waste. A proper roof had to be put on the house with tarpaper & shingles. The heavy rains had come through the canvas so there was no time to waste.
There was great danger from prairie fires so the next important job was to plow a fire guard several feet wide around our shack. That proved to be good training for the stubborn oxen. There were not so many corners to turn as in the garden. We did see billows of smoke in the distance sometimes & were so thankful to have the fire guard finished in case it came towards our place.
[With so much to do, to be prepared for living there was no time to waste. From daylight to dark was a long day when the sun rose at 4 a.m. and the long twilight hours kept one going until late at night. It was in the evening that my father got the well dug. My mother helped by pulling up the bucket of earth and gravel. We children were asleep in the house which made it possible for my mother to help. This went on for weeks and weeks. During that time my father plowed in the field with a walking-plow pulled by the two oxen.]
There were not trees around that part of the country - just willow bushes. Along Iron Creek a few trees could be found but most of them had been cut down for use as fence posts or fire wood or even building materials. The prairie fires of the past were frequent enough to have burned the trees. This meant going a distance of several miles to get wood for our stove. We did collect buffalo chips which were bleached white & scattered all over the grassland. They were good for a quick cooking fire but wood was necessary for winter fuel.
It was very promising to find the potatoes sprouting through the rough soil. The seeds my mother had planted on a strip she had smoothed to make it suitable for the small seeds also grew fast. [It was an impossible job to get the sod broken up and smoothed out in such a short time.]
Our water was hauled on the stone boat from the lake. [It tasted of alkali which probably was not good for our health. The work on the well progressed but after many feet down was abandoned because of no sign of water. I remember that old well which was partly filled in. So much clay lay on top and I found I liked the taste of that light-colored clay and when my mother found me eating it, I was in trouble! The badgers liked it too, because in a short time there were fresh badger holes around the well and we could watch the animals working on their digging. It was fascinating to have these furry lovely creatures working right next to our kitchen window.]
It didn't take long till a trip to town was necessary for more supplies. This did take much longer by ox team. It was six miles to Hardisty and about the same distance to Lougheed. It was mostly up-hill to Lougheed out of the Iron Creek Valley so with oxen I think the trip to Hardisty was easier. Both ways the Iron Creek had to be forded - no bridges. Also on the way to Hardisty we had the Goose Creek to ford. It was difficult because it was a slow moving stream flowing through swampy land which made poor footing for any kind of travel.
There were no fences anywhere. Our oxen were kept tethered until finally they seemed too tired or lazy to wander. Somehow my father managed to get a fresh cow, so we were looking forward to milk. Had been using canned milk. Getting the milk from the cow was easier said than done. The poor thing was so wild that she had to remain tied or we would never be able to catch her again. She kicked & snorted & bellowed until it became almost impossible to get much milk. In the process of all this difficulty, one of her horns broke off. This gave her a real evil look. She was black & white - a Holstein & eventually became a real pet. From her we had a calf every year & a good supply of milk.
Preparations for winter had to be considered while the weather was still warm. A shelter had to be built for the cow & oxen. A sod barn was built with help from some men to the west of us. The walking plow & oxen were put into use cutting strips of sod as even as possible. This sod was cut into slabs twice as long as the width. They were laid (always having the grass side up) in the way bricks are laid.The roof was made with poles slanting from the ridge-pole. The whole structure was re-inforced with poles at the corners & door-way. The barn was made with only one slope on the roof.Houses were usually built with a peaked roof which was more attractive.For the roof, willow branches were laid across the poles to help hold the sods which were laid over-lapping a little - much in the way shingles are laid. After a few years it was interesting to notice how the grass & weeds grew on the sod roof which eventually gave it the look of a thatched roof. My father often said we would have been much better off living in a sod house, because it was much warmer than our shack in the winter. Most of the sod houses I remember were very cozy. None of them had board floors which was awkward because nothing seemed to sit straight due to the uneven dirt floors. After wear & sweeping the center always dipped down to a hollow. The furniture was mostly home-made. Some very artistic bent willow chairs were very popular (I have an old bent willow table).
That first winter must have been awful. Wood was used for fuel & it had to be hauled from the banks of the Iron Creek which came out of the hills to the west of us. This would be three or four miles in the direction towards Lougheed.
We had high-backed chairs which we brought from N. Dakota. When it was bath time in the winter my mother would put the wash tub in the middle of the room & arrange the chairs around it & hang blankets on the chairs to keep out the cold draft while we were bathed in the tub. The water was heated on the stove in a boiler & then poured into the tub. In the winter we used ice from the lake which had to be melted first.
Sleigh runners were bought to set the wagon box on. Going to town with the oxen was a slow cold trip. My father would get out & walk behind the sleigh to keep warm. There was no worry of the oxen running away. Some times there would be no trail to follow because of the drifted snow so the going was difficult. The creeks were frozen so the crossing was easy. [Once in a while there would be happy times when my father would return with letters from the old country and some Norwegian newspapers. The one I remember was called the "Noröena Paper."]
The prairie chickens, partridges & rabbits kept us in meat because they were there all winter in the willows near our house. The coyotes howled at night & some times we would see them crossing our land in the daytime. The swans & ducks had gone south. The gophers & weasels were hibernating in the holes in the ground. The badgers had burrows near our house.
Spring finally came. The snow gradually melted away. The bluebirds & robins came back & we could hear the meadow larks in the distance. The hillsides were covered with wild blue crocus. A slough formed behind our house to the north which was caused by the snow melting & draining in this low place.
We no longer had to keep the big heater going. Our kitchen stove was all that was needed for heat. The heater was something I have never seen in use - only in pictures. It was low & long with a door opening at one end & holes with lids on top for cooking. The sides & door were embossed with flower designs of roses & daisies. Long sticks of wood could be used (1 yd) which were put in through the door at the front. Cutting that wood was easier & it lasted longer in the stove, I remember it so well. [My mother cooked on top of this stove until a proper kitchen cook stove was purchased which had a oven & a reservoir for heating water. We had a waffle iron which fitted over one of the holes on top & would turn over when the lid was off so the iron was right over the flames. I have a waffle iron just like it for a keepsake.]
From now on I remember so many things. Before this I sort of faintly remembered things my parents would talk about.
Now that spring was here there were so many things to be done. The border lines of our quarter section had to be marked. There was a metal stake at each corner with 4 square holes dug around it. This was a marker put in by the gov. & must not be disturbed. Any way it was good to know where our land ended so when time came to break the land (plough) we would know where to start & finish.
Most of the few settlers around us were from U.S.A. They were alright but the fact that we were Norwegian & talked with an accent made it sort of difficult. We had to prove ourselves before we were accepted. One Scottish man - a Mr. Murray - was my parents' friend from the start. He lived alone in a sod house near the crossing on the Iron Creek on the way to Lougheed. He was not so popular with the Americans because he had a very British accent. Actually he was Scottish. He came from New Zealand & was trying to raise sheep in Alberta. With mostly Americans in the district, Mr. Murray was not very popular. A sheep herder was considered the lowest class of settler. American ranchers had the idea of a lot of land with cattle & horses grazing free. Even farmers who plowed the land were considered not too smart & were referred to as sod-busters by the Americans.
Proving up the land was the most important thing for the new settlers. If the required amount of improvements were not completed in the stated time, the homesteader would lose his claim on it.
A few acres of our land had been broken so the winter snow & frost made it easer to disk & harrow in time to seed some grain. With the two oxen & the walking plow it was very slow & the animals soon tired out. It was decided to get a couple more oxen - faster ones if possible. Horses were too expensive.
These new oxen certainly were more lively & smaller than the first team. We named them Slim & Paul. They had to be trained first to pull the wagon & then the plow. Having that fast team really paid off. One day that spring clouds of smoke appeared to the east of our place & steadily came closer until we became alarmed & realized the fireguard might not be wide enough to stop. With great haste Slim & Paul were hitched to the plow & in a hurry a few more furrows were turned over along the front facing the direction of the fire. Buckets of water were brought & gunny sacks to soak in readiness for fighting the fire. A couple of neighbors arrived from the west of us which was a great relief because my mother & father were exhausted by all the work & excitement. It was with great relief that the wind seemed to change & of course the grass was eaten off shorter by our cows & oxen in that area so the force of the fire died down enough to keep it from jumping over the fire guard. The men went to work with the wet sacks & in time had the flames under control. We might have lost everything so we were very thankful that the speed of Slim & Paul helped save our place.
The men were all blackened with soot but my father was in the worst shape. He was plastered from head to foot with manure when poor Slim in his effort to help pull the plow let fly with all he had. Maybe he had some kind of stomach trouble which accounted for his skinny build.
It certainly was a wilderness to the east of us. No settlers had moved into that area of hills which we called the badlands. Now it was all blackened & ominous until new green grass covered it all.
A patch of ground near the house was prepared for a garden & planted. A trip to town in the meantime was necessary for supplies. The breaking of the field was continued. This continued all summer & required renting some of the machinery to disk & harrow & seed. It was too late to plant all the field so it had to be left for seeding the next year.
Later that spring we got some chickens - a few hens & a rooster. That really made the yard seem like a lively place with their noisy activities. They were free to wander around the barn 7 yard. A big wooden box became their shelter until a chicken house could be built.
The chicken house was made of sod in the same way the barn was guilt. It was set to the south of the barn leaving a space between the two for a good sized corral.
The garden showed great promise & soon needed cultivating. The worst problem was the trouble we were having with the horses from the ranch next to our place. They often came right through our yard which was dangerous because they were so wild.
Some fences had to be put up so that became the main job for several weeks. Help was needed so arrangements were made for a couple of men to come & help.
Hay was cut from the meadow near the lake. It was stacked near the barn for winter use. It was soon time to cut the grain which required a binder which we rented from one of the men. After the grain had dried for a while in the field where it was stooked it was hauled in & stacked in a neat round stack (peaked on top) near the barn.
By now the fencing was done to protect the buildings & the grain field. Fresh vegetables from the garden were a real treat. It made cooking for the hired men a little easier for my mother. Soon the potatoes were dug & what was left of the other vegetables were picked up & cleaned & ready to put away for use later. We traded some garden stuff with a neighbor several miles away. In return we got some meat from a freshly butchered pig. Father had dug a sort of root cellar on a slope near to the house on the north side. It was good for keeping carrots buried in sand & cabbages hung along the walls. This was intended to be frost free but that winter was so severe that things froze before we could use it all.[1st Spring no field had been planted. 2nd Spring plowing started. 3rd Spring planting.]This went on until spring & then it was time to put in a crop - wheat & some oats maybe. A disk was borrowed to cut up the breaking & then it was harrowed. The farm equipment was passed on from farm to farm. Eventually everyone purchased their own but in the beginning everyone helped their neighbor. They traded goods & food among them & helped in building sod houses all around us. In the corner of every quarter section was a square hole dug by the surveyors with a metal (iron) stake in the middle. The hole was about a yard (36") sq. It was unlawful to pull out that iron stake. There were no fences so often strange cattle would wander into our yard. Even horses seemed to be running wild at times which was quite frightening because they would attempt to eat up the hay we had stacked near the sod barn to feed our cows & oxen. When we tried to chase the horses away they would rear up on their hind legs & try to strike us down.
So then a year or two went by and & by now it was time to build a proper house. By now we had a sod chicken house & a few Plymouth Rock hens & a rooster. It was time for our new calf to arrive & it was very cold with snow every where so I remember the calf was put in the end of the chicken house & we trained it to drink out of a bucket so we could have some of the milk for our own use. How do you train a calf to drink out of a bucket? It seemed easy but I have been told it is impossible sometimes. Just take a bucket of warm milk right from the cow - go to the calf, let it smell the milk & put your fingers in its mouth & let it lower its head following your hand into the milk. Let it suck on your fingers down in the milk until it has taken all the milk.
It was fun to gather the eggs. The nest were made by my mother with some hay in boxes. Some of the nests had a chalk artificial egg called a nest egg. When a hen became "broodie," in the spring she usually settled in one of the nests with a nest-egg in it & she laid her eggs there & refused to move so we would not take the eggs away which she laid & eventually she would hatch her young chicks. Sometimes a hen or two would hide away in the side of the hay stack with her clutch of eggs & we would have a surprise brood of chicks.
I remember once my mother got some turkey eggs & put them under a broodie hen to hatch. The poor hen nearly went berserk trying to keep up with those crazy turkey chicks. They never seemed to have the sense to come running to her to get under her wings when it rained so a few of them just died from exposure. We had to catch them & put them into the chicken house if we could. Later on when they got older & bigger they preferred to sit on top of the hen house even when it rained & the weather got cold. Chickens always had sense enough to come in out of the cold & rain. How I love the sound of the chickens in the hen house at sun down. They seem to talk quietly to one another & all of a sudden when it is dark all is silence -- just a sort of purring with satisfaction here & there.
It was terrifying when the hawks would come flying over our yard & once in a while grab a young chicken & fly away. Such a noise - the chickens would shriek & cackle & the hawks would scream & fly away. Must say my father never got the shot gun out to settle the matter. I guess it wasn't his idea to fight nature. To kill prairie chickens for food was O.K.
By now we had "cows." My father must have purchased a couple of cows. I suppose we needed more milk to have cream enough for making butter. This was something else again. With no fences the cows were free to wander so the trend was for them to follow the old buffalo trail to the east in the bad lands. This path was narrow & was overgrown with grass but it was deep enough to be evident to the cattle. This path led to the big slough which never dried up in the bummer. It was a real watering place for the wild buffalo, deer & antelope before we came to our home-stead. I remember the whitened bones & buffalo wallows along the way which were still evident when I was old enough to go after the cows.
Thank goodness by then we had a dog called Nero because I was very frightened to go over the hill into that blackened badlands. I remember it from the time of the prairie fire & it seemed haunted to me. Anyway with Nero along I was comforted in my fear of the unknown badlands & brought the cows home many times.
Some people to the west of us (Hobsons) raised horses for sale. They ran wild all over our area & quite often pastured where our cows were. One evening when I went to get the cows I was attacked by one of the horses. It chased me like fury & reared up on its hind legs right over me. I dodged away & was protected by Nero, my barking friend.
With the crop planted & a garden growing it was necessary to protect one's property from the stock wandering around. Barbed wire fences were the thing so that was a big job to be done. Digging post holes. No one used the idea of sharpening the poles & driving them into the ground. The holes were dug with a post-hole digger which was done by hand & the poles planted sort of. The wire had to be stretched from pole to pole & fastened on with staples. This stretcher cost money so who ever owned one loaned it out at a price. Things were getting more strict now. People in the district had been troubled by cattle & horses running over their land. Some resented the fences because it cut down their grazing areas for their stock. Others were not free to cut across peoples' land in travelling from place to place. That old saying "don't fence me in" was the feeling a few had of this new free land in Canada's West. Most of these people in our area were from U.S.A. They had come from more settled places in the States to find a home in this free part of Canada & got homesteads free.
By this time our lake to the south of our house had dried up to a hay meadow. The swans were gone & now our cows could graze there. Once in a while we would see a group of antelope cross over our pasture on their way further east towards the badlands.
I remember our neighbors to the north of us by the name of Crozier's. They had a sod house & their place bordered ours to the north. There was Mr. & Mrs. Crozier, two sons Fred & George & a younger daughter Pearl. Mrs. Crozier was a gentle, kind person but her husband was brutal & demanding. He would not allow his grown-up boys to be neighborly nor friendly to anyone. He - the father showed no friendship or hospitality to anyone while his wife did her best to make up for his hostility. The father suffered from arthritis & spent most of his time in bed or in a wheel chair. Poor Mrs. Crozier with that impossible man to care for & two grown sons to cook for. Pearl was not much help. She cried a lot because she wanted to go back to the States where they came from. There was no school for her to attend. No school had been built yet in our district.
3. More Stories - Prairie Fire, Lightning Strike, Lurid things. More lists, and biographies of Townspeople.