Pearl Sklapsky-Holben Memoir – written April 22.1989

Being able to see Clarence Federspiel’s house those first few days reassured Mother there was someone else there and they had all summer to prepare for winter. Breaking of the prairie sod, gardening, putting up hay for the animals for the winter as well as the tough day-to-day living, kept them pretty busy.

That first morning, the prairie put its best foot forward to welcome them. A gorgeous sunrise competed with a symphony of wild birdsong from sparrows, meadow-larks, killdeer, and black birds singing as though their hearts were bursting with joy to be alive on such a glorious morning. The kids, anxious to explore, saw only bare prairie grass for miles, a clear blue sky as far as the eye could see, and no trees to block their sight no matter which way they looked. Dad pointed to Mom the direction Brock lay, “West, see? That’s Clarence and Blanche Federspiel’s place.” Just three miles, but it looked four times that far. There must have been other neighbours as there were homesteads taken up; Wolfe, Cox, Wilcox, Parks, Thompsons, Pettit, and of course George Krepps and the St. John family, but these were not visible due to the rolling hills.

Dad had taken the household effects in his settlers’ car, so he had some of the things unpacked and settled in the house. The next thing in store was for Mother to familiarize herself to her new surroundings. Things needed to be put away, and fixed up, a garden needed to be planted. This must have been a very tiring experience for Mother, but she was made of good stuff, as they say. There were many new and different experiences in store for her and her family. They saw gophers for the first time, and mosquitoes which were really pesky things. After getting things into perspective, it was time to clean up the clothes they had travelled in and it was then that Mother realized how the Mountie came to know they were from the United States.

Coming out from Saskatoon there was a young Northwest Mounted Policeman in their car and Fred became interested in his spurs, getting down and inspecting these wonderful things. He decided he’d have them and proceeded to try to undo them. Unknown to him, the Mountie was keeping his eye on the little lad and just about the time Fred had them ready to undo, the Policeman would move his feet. Well, that brought a storm of protests from Fritz. He began to use words that would uncurl the curliest hair. Mother hushed him and tried to talk to him, but Fritz burst into tears. He was so mad. The Mountie’s remark was, “Poor little feller’s tired. He’s come a long way!” They then told the Mountie where they were from. When Mother was cleaning the clothes she realized the U.S.A. buttons on Fred’s coat showed they were a long way from home.

This was their home now, for a while at any rate. One big problem was water. The well Dad and Clarence had started to dig had caved in, but the sloughs were always full of water then and the oxen were hitched to a stone boat, a small platform built on 4 x 6 runners with a hole bored through for an iron rod with a hitch fixed to it. Oxen were hitched to this and several barrels of water were hauled to assure water for the week. The stone boat was usually used to haul huge rocks to the rock piles, and it is this use that provided the name. However, stone boats were also used to haul slough water for households. It wasn’t very good drinking water, but was better than nothing and quenched the thirst. As Lottie said, “Strained of mosquito larvae, and boiled, it was nice soft water for washing.”

Dad and Mr. Federspiel dug another well with a well digging outfit which the oxen turned, going around and around, stepping over the digger and continuing to circle until they finally hit water at one hundred sixteen feet. There was plenty of water, very hard, but cold and clear, until the day the rope broke and the bucket ended up down in the well. From then on it was rusty, but was lovely cold water and used by many people around the area.

I remember them hitching a horse to a long rope, attaching the rope to a bucket and dropping the bucket way down the well to the water. They would send the horse up the hill and the bucket of water would rise from the depths. The men would grab the bucket, empty it in the wooden trough, and the horse would return to make the trip again. It would take many such trips to fill the trough for the next day’s watering of the animals, and the household supply was put into a large barrel and covered to keep it clean. It was a job that was performed every night after supper, in the evening when it was cooler.

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