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Herman Hillmer and
Maude Greep Hillmer

"Heritage of the High Country-
A History of Del Bonita and surrounding Districts
Page 381

Herman A. Hillmer, son of George Christoff Hillmer, was born in North Dakota in 1878. He farmed in North and South Dakota before coming to Magrath, Alberta in 1908, where he and his brother took up farming west of Magrath.

In 1916, Hillmer brothers took a homestead on the south side of Milk River. In 1918, Herm, Hank and wife Ella, bought a five thousand acre ranch, formerly the Page Ranch, on the north banks of the Milk River. The buildings are on SE 1/4 15-2-21-W4th and SW V4 14-2-21-W4th. This was known as Hillmer Brothers' Ranch. They brought with them cattle, horses, and sheep.

On August 16, 1920, Herm married Maude Greep, daughter of Mrs. Mary Greep, who had a homestead on the south side of the river, just north of Hatelys.

Maude recalls how she met Herm. She was driving four horses and a wagon loaded with grain to Magrath. Herm was on his way to Del Bonita with a herd of cows to be pastured on the homestead. Herm was impressed with the way Maude handled the horses, and decided, "That's the woman I want."

In 1924, Herm and Hank dissolved the partnership and Herm remained on the ranch. For many years, the sheep were the major income, with the herd totaling over forty-five hundred head. Maude recalls Herm buying sheep for twenty-five dollars to thirty dollars a head and having to sell them the next year for three to four dollars a head. In those years, there were seven or eight men working on the ranch and between 1921 and 1926, Maude and Herm had five children, two daughters and three sons. With five children and men to cook for, Maude needed help. Some of the girls who worked for her were Doris Robinson, Pearl Helgeson, Maggie Cook from Raymond, who later married Andrew Bressler, and Mrs. Annie Brunner, who had her son, John. John and Maude's son were the same age, and both were just learning to walk at that time. Her husband, Ludwig, also worked on the ranch.

Hired men came and went, but one who stayed and herded sheep from 1925 until his death in 1956, was Irishman, Bill Dougherty.

Maude remembers the snow storm during the winter of 1931-32 that drove their herd of sheep far from home. Many were dead in snow drifts and others were found in the United States. south of Casey Jones'. About a third of the herd was destroyed in that storm. Over the next several years, Herm gradually reduced the sheep herd while increasing the cattle, keeping about one thousand head of sheep, which were sold two weeks before his death in 1962.

During 1931 and 1932, Len Thomas, Ernie Hillmer, and Black Nick were hired to halter break horses. During that year, they halter broke three carloads of horses for the B.C. Trust Company. This reduced the herd to about twenty head, which were kept for use on the ranch.

About 1943, Herm bought a threshing machine from Bernard Powlesland and for several years threshed for his neighbors.

When school at Shanks Lake was opened in 1931, three of the children all started together. The children had to cross the river and go to school on horseback. During the spring, Herm had to take them around by the bridge at Swallow's in his car, and sometimes Andrew Kolasko took them.

One of Herm's main concerns was getting the children to school, and he tried for years to convince the school board in Cardston that he needed a bridge and a van to get the children to school. The school superintendent came to discuss this and Herm stalled the man until he saw the children coming home. Then he said, "Here come those kids now, get on that horse and help them across the river." The superintendent replied, "Oh no, I'm not riding that horse across that river. " Herm said, "But those kids have to do that twice a day." The superintendent said that something would be done, but for the next few years, Len Thomas and Ernie Hillmer took turns helping the children cross the river. Finally, about 1937, Herm convinced the school board to allow him to van the children to school, and he built one of the first official school vans in the district. In 1939, the Shanks Lake school was closed and Herm drove the van to Del Bonita. The bridge was finally constructed in 1945 after Ernie Hillmer and Sharpe Henry met with the school board in Cardston to get the bus route changed so that Emie's daughter, Betty, could attend school. The bridge washed out the next spring, but the route was established and Herm drove the van until 1949 when it was taken over by Hubert West.

During these years Herm served on the school board, representing the district on the north side of the river, which to this day is known as Hillmer district.

Henn continued ranching until his death. Maude still resides on the ranch at Del Bonita. (1980)

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup