One year, 1916 I think, we had a one-time plague of small beetles that stripped all the leaves off the small trees, the only kind we had. They ate other things also, but the most noticeable was that these aspen-like trees had just turned nice and green and about three weeks later they were all bare and winter-like again. The ponds had great islands of floating beetles on the water. The birds had just laid their eggs and were setting on them. If you spotted a green leaf or two you would know that a bird's nest was just below even though you could not see it. We did not time the plague but it seemed to last about three weeks, then things started to green up again, but a little slower the second time. To give some idea of the size of the trees, one with a diameter of five inches would be a very large one. Two to three inches was about normal.
When we went back [to Alberta] for a visit in 1958 we were told that they had a period of over a dozen years of good crops. The warehouses or elevators were about full of wheat. The farmers were allowed to sell only so much per acre and with many years of good crops, some farmers could sell wheat for two or three years without producing any more. It would seem that wisdom would decree that the surplus should be maintained to protect against a time like when we were there, when only three years out of eleven produced good crops.
One winter we had fairly mild weather and our cattle were out nearly every day roaming around probably within a mile of home. One day about mid-afternoon a blizzard came up and the cattle didn't come home. The blizzard lasted about three days but slacked off toward the end of the third day. About dusk the cattle came home but it was evident one of the cows had had a calf. So we went back along the trail in the snow with a lantern to see if we could find it. The snow was about one and one half feet deep so we had to watch closely to be sure we did not miss it. About two thirds of a mile back we found it lying in the snow. It was a good thing we found it. It would not have survived the night. With only the dim light of the lantern it was a miracle we found it [—all the more so because it] was a white calf, [and because a little snow was still falling]. Of course white in a calf is not as pure as snow. [But still,] it was a miracle. We put it in a sack and carried it home. It survived. Carrying that calf that far through the snow, we were about done in.
One summer or late spring Mama became quite ill and was bedfast for about two weeks. It fell my lot to take her place. I do not remember for sure but am quite sure that I was about twelve years old. Put suddenly in charge of a job of that magnitude and that I knew very little about was quite a responsibility. The first few days were not too bad, but as time went on the burden became harder to bear. I conferred with Mama some, but didn't want to bother her any more than necessary. My sister Anna was also a lot of help. We nearly always got along well.
One of the largest burdens was baking bread. Mama's recipe turned out 12 or 13 loaves at a time and entailed quite a little work. The first batch was the hardest. Because I got too much liquid in it, the proper consistency was reached by adding flour. [As a result,] it turned out about four more loaves than it was supposed to. Because of the greater volume for the amount of yeast prepared, the rising was slowed down about 30% so it turned out to be a long day. The bread, though inferior, was not too bad. The next batches turned out better (nearly normal). The complete job of keeping house even with the help of my sister Anna bore down heavier and heavier as the days went by. After two weeks or a little more Mama finally got up one morning and after [I did] a few little chores I walked out of the door [and just kept walking and walking across the prairie]. I didn't come back until I got hungry which was probably about two o'clock. The reason I got so "bushed" was the long hours that I put in. [After being cooped up in the house all that time, I just had to be out.]
[We had a horse named Kit, and] it seemed she was nearly always giving us trouble one way or another. All of our horses could be left for a time while we were doing something except Kit. She was, at the slightest excuse, always running off if left standing a few moments, or even on occasion, taking off while being driven, without any apparent excuse. One time we were loading some straw into the Democrat [wagon] to use for bedding when she took off for the barn full speed. She was hitched to the rig with a pair of shafts so it could be pulled by one horse for light work. When she got home she ran [through] the open barn door. The door was only large enough for one horse to get in at one time. The shafts spread out to fasten to the rig so when she ran in, the sides of the barn door forced the back part of the shafts together and shattered them. The rig [came to rest with] the wheels against the barn wall on each side of the door.
We went to visit the Watsons one Sunday and toward evening were preparing to come home. Kit was hitched to the Democrat and we were preparing to load up when Kit took off. Luckily, this time the right line wrapped around the hub of the rig and yanked her head around against her side and sat her down on her haunches. We were fortunate that the line and bridle did not break but brought her to that kind of sudden stop.
1917 Model T Touring Car
A neighbor of ours had a Model T touring car. One day we saw him driving at random across the prairie, bouncing and going in circles, and we could not figure out what was going on. [The activity] slowly worked closer and closer to our house, until we could see that the wheels were running over something first on the right side, then the left. Soon the action got close enough that we could see that a badger was moving through the prairie grass and the car was running over him [again and again].
Image credit: Gary M. Stolz, USFWS
A badger is a very compact animal, [but] heavy and very tough and strong. It is about as heavy [as] a large coyote or a small wolf, [if not heavier,] but has short legs and a flat body, probably a little less than a foot high. It can dig a large hole in the ground very fast. Badgers are very much disliked [by farmers] because of the big holes they make in the ground. Dogs hate badgers, but usually do them little harm. They usually tangle with them about once, if at all. [There is a badger] native to eastern Oregon, though [it] seem[s] to be a little smaller than the one in Alberta.
I do not know of any animal that would bother [badgers,] but they seem very cautious. I happened to watch a badger family of three move from one place to another and they didn't move as a group.
Like lots of pioneers we used to gather what we called "cow chips" (dried cow manure) for fuel for the cook stove in summer. It was really pretty good fuel. One day Mama sent Irvine and Ed and I out to gather fuel. Irvine and I got our sacks full and Ed had gathered virtually none. Being that he was the youngest we were expected to help him finish filling his sack, but we were not going to fill his sack since he had virtually nothing.
Scattered over the prairie were ant hills. They were a fairly large ant about 5/8 of an inch long and red and black in color. Each hill had thousands of ants in it and was about one and a half to two feet in diameter and built up six to eight inches above ground level. The hill was built of grass stems cut in pieces that averaged about an inch or a little better. The ants had pinchers and would use them if disturbed but were not poisonous. Their pinch did not hurt much but was a little unpleasant.
Now back to Ed. In the area where we worked was an anthill so we set him on it and held him there till hundreds of ants crawled all over him up to about his armpits—mostly on the outside, but some inside his clothes. We expected him to go home when we turned him loose, [which] he did. Irvine and I filled his sack and brought the three of them home. We expected to be in trouble when we got home but after an explanation as to why, the matter was dropped.
Alberta is like much of the mid-Western part of the continent, where changes in weather and temperature can be sudden and drastic either summer or winter, though much more so in winter. One winter we had experienced a few days of a Chinook wind (a soft wind several degrees above freezing which causes the snow to melt). [At such times,] we usually played outside and got ourselves soaked to the skin and a little cold in the process. Such was the case in this instance, when we suddenly heard a call of warning from our mother, “You'd better water the stock and get your other chores done early. The weather is going to change.” By the time Mother sounded the warning, the approaching storm was only a few minutes away by the looks of the weather. We looked off to the northwest and knew we were in trouble. It was not our mother's fault because the change had been barely noticeable until it was too late.
We set about doing what needed to be done and almost immediately the cold wind started to freeze things that had been thawing a short time before. When softer snow melts there is a tendency for there to be a kind of thin slush that stays on top of the snow. With the cold wind that slush immediately started to freeze along with our wet clothes. In about a half hour the slush had turned to a sheet of ice from one forth to three-eighths of an inch thick. The stock were breaking through that ice and the wind was sending pieces of ice sailing through the air. We did what we could to protect ourselves from the sailing sheets of ice.
It took us about an hour and a half to get our work done. We had no thermometer to tell us what the temperature change had been, but judging from the speed with which things froze up, the temperature must have dropped from +40° to -20° in about an hour. My, how we suffered! I don't remember being that uncomfortable before or since. It was sure good to get into our sod house and get warmed up.