As short time ago I posted a story written by Lottie Sklapsky-Krepps entitled Memoirs of Hillsburgh – Frank J. Sklapsky. In it she related her experiences with her family as they homesteaded the Brock area of Saskatchewan in the early 1900’s. Below is her future husbands recounting of his experiences at around the same time.
GEORGE E. KREPPS
In the spring of 1911 I came to Saskatchewan from the State of Michigan, U.S.A., and filed on the north-east quarter of section 4-28-19-W. 3rd at the Saskatoon Land Titles Office, and paid by homestead fee of $10.00. I settled this land myself, both of my parents being deceased, and I chose it because some of my neighbors from Michigan were already there. The land was raw prairie, and I named my homestead of 160 acres “Glendale Farm.” Not having any livestock at first, if I wanted to go anywhere, I just walked. I built my first house in 1911, a 10×12 shack, and the lumber was purchased in Zealandia. I had to pay for it to be hauled out to my homestead. I built a better house in 1912, and used the old shack for a barn. Lumber at this time could be purchased in Brock. I now had four head of oxen purchased in Plenty for $400.00, and a horse. I was nine miles from Brock where I bought my groceries and other supplies, and I walked this distance before I had a horse. I also got my mail in Brock, and from 1912 to 1915 J. R. Ward was postmaster, the post office being in his store.
The R. M. of Hillsburgh was formed about the time I homesteaded, and John Craig was Reeve, and C. A. McDonald was our councillor for division one. Travel on the railway when I came was by mixed train. I got some land broken in 1912, and had a good crop in 1913, but had to haul it four miles to get it threshed. There wos a very good crop in 1915, but in 1916 it was poor being damaged by frost and rust. My near neighbors were D. McCarthy, Sam Horner, Ed Wilcox, Walker St. John, Perry Pettit and Bud Sperry. I do not own this land now, but sold it to W. L. Keil. It now belongs to McDermott St. John.
The first winter on the homestead was something of an ordeal. My homestead shack was 10×12, single boards of shiplap and covered with tar paper on the outside. As I was nine miles from town and had very little cash, I only kept a fire in my sheet iron stove in the day time. This served as a cook stove as well as a heater. When I went to bed necessity made me let the fire go out. Every morning the blankets were covered with frost and everything froze solid. As soon as the fire was lit it did not take long to get warm. I kept the potatoes outside the shack frozen all the time until I was ready to cook them. The shack had one door and one window. It was lucky there were no more os they were not very tight. I had no horses or oxen then and to get a load of coal out cost me one day’s work picking stone for a neighbor who had horses. I could only buy half a ton at a time so had to work hard for one day to get that much hauled out. It was the same when I needed flour. It cost me one day’s stone picking to get 100 pounds of flour out to the shack.
I used to go over to my neighbors, Frank Sklapsky, at least once a week to get a good home-cooked meal. He and his wife were very good to me during those trying winter days. They had two daughters and I was very fond of one of them; in fact I married the eldest daughter Lottie in December 1916. Then the next summer I worked for Jack Tackaberry west of Brock, and I used to walk home each Saturday night after work and carry my provisions for the week-end then back again Monday morning, a distance of ten miles. I remember one Saturday night when going home I become lost on the prairie. The old Penkill trail went about half a mile north of my shack so I thought I would cut across the prairie. Well I sure was lost for hours with my groceries in a gunny sack over my back. I would see a hill or I thought I did and when I got there it was just level prairie. Finally at about 2 am, I saw on object darker than the rest so decided to go to it and it was the back of my shack. The old 10×12 looked good to me that night.
One of the worst pests that summer was the mosquitoes, and there were millions of them. When a breeze would blow them they would stay in the grass but as soon as it was calm they swarmed like bees. I used to wear a netted veil to protect my face and neck and gloves to protect my hands. If you did not they would be almost unbearable. I have seen them so thick that summer that I was almost sure a swarm of bees was all around me.
I never did have a well on the homestead, but used to get water from the sloughs or buffalo wallows. It was not too bad after you strained the wigglers out of it if you took time to do so. Sometimes I was so thirsty I just did not bother to strain it. After all what were a few wigglers when you were thirsty. My neighbour Dan McCarthy then dug a dug-out so it was a little better water supply, about a half mile from the shack. I remember the first winter I used to take the shot gun and walk for miles hoping to shoot a jack rabbit but they were few and far between.