The Prairie

When we first arrived in Canada it was virgin prairie. The only marks on that prairie were marks that were left by the original inhabitants. Most of these marks were made by the largest of these, Before all the native sod in the area was plowed, I used to follow these buffalo trails for long distances. Apparently large herds followed a leader single file when they migrated from one area to another. I can visualize these as being very long lines made as they migrated in the fall to the south. It seems that the buffalo would migrate when the first winter storm came in, and there was enough moisture (probably in the form of wet snow) to cause them to wear a trail from three to five inches deep across the prairie. Nearly all of the buffalo trails were in a north-south orientation. I believe they were made in the fall because nearly all ended on the south side of a steeper hill and ended in an area that was covered with what we called “buffalo wallows”. They were always near the bottom of a hill but not at the bottom. The size of wallows would indicate that twelve to twenty would gather in a group and mill around together for warmth at night or during a storm. The wallows were usually about one to two and one half feet deep on the [uphill side] and [at grade on the downhill side], and usually quite level in the bottom. There was some evidence that the ground at the lower end of the wallow was slightly higher than the normal slope of the hill. The bottom of the wallow was usually covered with a little gravel showing that the mud made by trampling ran out of the lower end of the wallow leaving the gravel in the bottom of the wallow.

About a year after arriving at our homestead a band of antelope came by our place. These were the only antelope that I know that came through after we settled there. The way they traveled made an impression on me. Even though they traveled very fast they never broke into a gallop like most animals but stayed in a very fast trot. These are known as pronghorn antelope or just pronghorn because they are not a true antelope, I understand.

We needed a supply of good water badly on our homestead. Several test holes were dug with no satisfactory supply being found. had a good well. We were never able, with our slow method of removing it, to lower the water level appreciably [in the neighbor's well]. The water was about 25 to 30 feet below ground level. It was very cold and changed little in temperature from summer to winter.

The only problem was in wintertime when water splashing out of the bucket as it was removed from the well top kept freezing on the well curbing down to a level of about 10 feet [—eventually becoming] so thick that the bucket would not go up or down. Then was when my job began. I was asked to get in the bucket and was let down below the ice accumulation with a hatchet to chip it off near the original size. Usually two such operations a winter would take care of it. You can imagine the thoughts passing through my mind during such an operation: What if the bucket handle would break? The rope come untied? I hit the rope with the hatchet? The pulley broke? etc. etc. One compensating factor was that it was the warmest job. Above with a wind chill factor ([though we didn't know any such measurement at the time]) the temperature would be -30° to -40°, in the well it would be much warmer, say about -10° or higher.

Lloyd mentioned on a number of occasions that while he was on these ice-chipping missions, he could see stars in the daytime sky from down inside the well. Although this experience is attested as far back as Aristotle, it is widely regarded by astronomers and others as impossible. Make of that what you will.

This undated photo, with the sod house in the background at left, is perhaps the only one taken of the Wright children on the homestead. From left they are Anna, Earl, Irvine, Edwin and Lloyd. Even though Lloyd is second oldest, he appears noticeably smaller than Anna and Edwin. This probably explains why he was the one assigned to descend into the well to chip ice in the winter. As an adult, at six feet tall and 200 pounds, Lloyd continued to be, as he put it, “the runt of the bunch.”

Also noteworthy in this picture is the rock pile in the background at right. The origin of these rocks is explained in the chapter “Wheat Farming.”

When we lived on the prairies of Alberta, Canada were about ½ mile east. There were no children in that family.

After nearly a year, arrived who had three children about our ages. and were the only close neighbors with children. So our neighborly contact was more with this family. The youngest of the three children in that family, David, was and was inclined to [be accident-prone]. He was different and a little slow mentally. Even though he could at times be very impulsive and exuberant, at other times he seemed to be in a dream world. The following two incidents well demonstrate these two distinct characteristics.

These neighbors came to visit us one Sunday afternoon and the older folks were in the house visiting and we were outside playing. Finally we started wandering [into the house,] with David coming in last. The only chair left for him was one which had the back broken off so he sat in it. After a bit, he decided to lean back in his chair and of course went over backwards onto the floor. Hurt little but quite embarrassed, he got up and walked out the door. The two families chuckled a little and went on visiting. After about 15 or 20 minutes of being alone, he came back in, sat in the only vacant chair, the same one as before. After a while he again decided to lean back and of course went over backwards as before. This time even more embarrassed, he went out and didn't return again the rest of the day.

Another time they were over and we were out around the farm. There was not much to do on these seemingly unending, rolling prairies, so in the summer sometimes we would just take a walk to see what had happened in our area since we had been there last, such as a new badger hole or whether a mother duck had hatched her young and was swimming with them in one of the ponds that were here and there on the prairie. We had had a rain a day or two before and we particularly liked to walk after we had one of our rare rainstorms or spells. We were nearly always all barefoot and the soles of our feet were about as tough as shoe leather. Even so, after a rain the ground was softer and cooler and it was much more pleasant walking and running.

After these rains the prairie was dotted with various fungus growths such as toadstools, mushrooms and what we called puffballs. Our particular interest on these occasions was the puffballs, which grew to be as large as a man's head. They were pure white outside and pure white throughout. We would run as hard as we could and kick them with our bare feet and splatter them into a thousand pieces. we were enjoying running around kicking puffballs until we came to an area in our back pasture where there were none to kick and we had slowed to a walk contemplating what next we could do that was interesting.

The prairie was strewn with rocks of all sizes from pebbles to ones that would weigh a ton or two. They were not only of various sizes, but various colors as well, from black to white and many colors between. We were told that these rocks were left as the glaciers of the ice age receded. In our pasture was one pure white rock about the size of a puffball. We didn't pay any attention to the rock because we had seen it before. Suddenly David took off at a run. Too late, we realized what was happening. He kicked that rock with his bare foot, thinking it was a puffball.

How he survived that incident without fracturing the bones in his foot we could not understand, but to our knowledge not one was broken. He did have a very sore foot for several days however. After he lay on the ground groaning for a while and holding his foot in his hands, we resumed our walk with him limping along.