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A Brief History Of Kimball

Chief Mountain Country; pages 64 - 66

This community center is situated five miles north of the Canada-U.S. boundary in the west half of the northwest quarter of Section 31; T. I; R. 24; west of 4; on the east bank of the St. Mary (or St. Mary's) River, on a beautiful, low plateau skirting that river. The site is bounded on three sides-north, east, and south-by steep, abrupt hills, and on the west by the St. Mary River. Across the river the terrain also rises to high, rolling hills backed by a few peaks of the Rockies some 25 miles distant with Chief Mountain looming prominently as a landmark.

In 1899 the first L.D.S. settlers in the area located two or three miles north of the present townsite - notably the families of Elias and John Pilling. In that same area there was already a detachment of the North West Mounted Police, and an English "remittance man" - Henry Cope Colles - and his wife. Mr. Colles operated what amounted to a minor trading post, also had the post office, and, in time, gave his name to the first school house and district-called the Colles Public School District No. 443 of the North West Territories, officially registered June 30, 1897, at the same time as the Snake Creek School District, but with a slightly lower number.

The family of John M. Dunn were among the first to settle in the Kimball valley in 1890. The same year, James Kearl and Frank Bevans homesteaded southwest of Kimball on what is now the Rinehart ranch. Other families soon to settle in the area were those of the Kimballs, John Adams, Levi Wheeler, Monroe Pratt, Magnus Holm (or Holmes), James Gregson, John H. Bennett, John R. Wiggill, John Sloan, Nephi Nish, and many more.

The first L.D.S. organization in the area was a branch of the Aetna Ward in 1897, called the "East Aetna Branch. James Kearl was the Presiding Elder. The "Branch" met in the homes of members and in the Colles School house each Sunday of the month except the first when they went to church in Aetna. There was also a Sunday School organization with Magnus Holm as Superintendent; Elias Pilling and J. S. Dawson, Counsellors; and Ernest Kimball, Secretary.

In 1898 the Alberta Railroad and Irrigation Co. commenced work on the irrgation canal, tapping the St. Mary River with a dam and headgates being built at Kimball, (though the place was called "St. Mary's" until 1900). This marked the beginning of the commercial and industrial growth of the area. Other settlers flocked in from Utah to work on the canal. These included the families of Zera Wheeler, Alonzo Hovey, Thomas S. Low, Joseph Powell, Erastus Frodsham, Wesley Gibson, Wm R. Sloan, and others. Nearly all of these came by team and covered wagon to seek permanent homes in this new land. The canal was finished in July, 1900; then enlarged with a steam shovel in 1906.

In the meantime, John M. Dunn was made Branch President early in 1899. On December 24, 1899 the Kimball Ward was first organized with John M. Dunn as the Bishop, and Ernest Kimball as his Counselor, and T. Owen King as the Ward Clerk. Ada Pilling was the Ward Chorister; Margaret Dunn the first President of the Relief Society and Margaret King her Counselor. Next June, Frances M. Lyman, a general authority of the L.D.S. Church from Salt Lake City, officially named the ward "Kimball" in honor of half-dozen or more Kimball families-descendants of Heber C. Kimball-who were early settlers in the district.

The completion of the canal did not mark the end of settlement and development of Kimball. John Adams built a dance and pool hall with a lovely hardwood floor in 1900. That same year the L.D.S. people pooled their efforts and began building a church house, which was finished in 1901. In 1902 the Colles school house was moved into the townsite. Between these two buildings the religious, social, cultural, and educational activities of the community expanded rapidly.

Up to this point the children had walked or rode horseback to the Colles School, located on the southwest corner of the northwest quarter of Section 7; T. 2; R. 24; West of 4-a distance of two miles. The last teacher at the original location of the school was a Miss Darling. She followed the building into Kimball and taught the next year; and was followed by a Miss Kirkwood. Some students who attended the Colles School at both locations and who are still living include. Jack Dunn, Henrietta (Retta) Thompson Talbot, Julia Wheeler Wiggill, May (or Mae) Dunn Ady, Dolly Holm (or Holmes) Preston (in California), and perhaps others.

By 1905 the school population had outgrown the little one-room Colles school; so a two-story building was erected. But only the two rooms on the lower floor were ever used as classrooms. When the name of the school was changed to "Kimball" is not known. Many prominent and successful teachers- most of them homegrown-have taught in the Kimball School. The list includes Helen Kimball Orgal, Dr. Harris Walker, Luella R. Steed Smith, LaVeda Workman Gibb, Ina Mae Hummon, Willard Keith, Edward Low, Walter Brown, John F. Anderson, Phillip Sheffield, Lenore Scoville McNaughton, Eva May Parker, Muriel Matkin Neubauer, and many others.

After 1905 the Colles school house-being a frame building - was purchased by John H. Bennett and moved to his home at the south end of town, where it became a blacksmith shop. The building still stands, though badly warped and weathered.

Other business ventures came to Kimball after 1900. Spencer and Stoddard of Cardston built a large general store there in 1902. It had a John Deere machine agency attached, and was managed by Thomas S. Low. In 1904 the C.P.R. extended a railroad grade from Woolford to within a mile of the top of the Kimball hill. This undoubtedly spurred development in the valley, but no track was ever laid over this extension. The town also had a livery stable run by Ralph Talbot, and later by Sam Smith. A hotel was owned and operated by Mrs. Alfred Talbot. There was a blacksmith shop run by Alma Thompson. In 1900 the ward population was 230; but it increased considerably after that. The peak of the boom is estimated to be in 1910 or 11.

Even so, a Chinese cafe was opened in the Adams hall by a Mr. Sing Lee in 1916; and John and Annie Gould built a store in Kimball in 1917, which they operated for three years. But as populations declined, businesses closed. Town homes were sold and either moved out on to farms or torn down. The telephone, the automobile, the radio, and good roads brought many changes in people's interests. The Kimball school closed in the early 1940's when centralized schools were organized and children were bussed to school, first in Jefferson, then Aetna and Cardston. The school was sold to Glen Nish. It was torn down and the material used to build a home on his farm. The school bell was sold to East Cardston Colony for $50.00 The school barn was sold to Dave Schneider.

The Kimball Ward was finally closed down in 1948, and the membership was given to the Aetna Ward.

Suceeding bishops of Kimball following Bishop Dunn were: Wm. R. Sloan, 1903-1907; Daniel A. (not David R.) Thompson, 1907-1909; Thomas S. Gregson, 1909- 1913; James E. Nielson, 1913-1918; Thomas S. Low, 1918- 1923; John H . Bennett, 1923- 1927; James R. Frodsham, 1927- 1928; John E. Peterson, 1928- 1939; Gerald Low, 1939-1941; Edward L. Wolsey, 1942-1944; and Maurice L. Bennett, 1944-1948.

The people of Kimball suffered many of the disasters and setbacks of a pioneering community. Two major floods in 1902 and 1908 caused considerable damage and heartbreaks. During the 1908 flood, two Indian girls- relatives of "Old Irons" were drowned while trying to ford the St. Mary River. In 1920 Ira Bennett was drowned in the Canal. In 1923 June Frodsham and Connie Brown were drowned in the river.

Two very severe winters of 1906-07 and 1919-20 took the lives of many livestock, and set the people back financially. These winters are still referred to as the "hard winters" .

Whenever an epidemic or other disaster overtook the people, help was immediately given by friends and neighbors. Doctor was miles away, and travel was slow by horse and buggy. Notable among neighborly "angels of mercy", was Levi Wheeler. When sickness and death came, the Relief Society sisters, and many of the men pooled their efforts to help in any way possible.

Shortly after the arrival of Ferdinand and Bertha Sommerfeldt and their family from Germany in 1905, he and Wm. R. Sloan were mining coal in Coal Mine Coulee southwest of Kimball when a cave-in occurred, burying both men up to their necks. They prayed for relief; and although Sommerfeldt could not speak a word of English, they conversed and understood each other until help arrived and they were rescued after four hours of imprisonment. They escaped with severe scratches and bruises.

There were many happy times, too, in Kimball. There were celebrations on Dominion Day and Pioneer Day (July 24), house parties, and dances. Christmas and Easter parties and ward reunions were gala events.

Pioneer Day celebrations included parades, programs, races, and games. Neighboring wards often joined in and competed in the games and for the reigning queen. Sometimes there was performed a realistic pageantry of pioneer days when a caravan of covered wagons drove into a circle and were "attacked" by Indians coming down the coulees and shooting it out with guns, bows and arrows, etc. Occasionally a young white boy or girl would be captured and carried off.

Ward reunions usually took the form of a program, a huge banquet, and a big dance in the evening.

These events served to bring everyone closer together in a bond of brotherhood. There wasn't a lot of money to spend; but by resourcefulness and faith, the early settlers of Kimball got along very well. Mrs. Levi Wheeler tells of going into the first winter with 30 cents in cash, part of which was spent for a Church magazine.

The menfolk of Kimball were always keenly interested in sports, and participated in baseball, wrestling, boxing, track and field, and basketball. Baseball games were a part of every celebration, as were also novelty races for both young and old of both sexes.

Although the glory that was once Kimball's has faded, and her pioneers rest in her graveyard a mile to the north-when the new grass of early spring bathes the rolling hills in a carpet of green; when the crocuses, buttercups, and buffalo beans impregnate the air with nature's perfume; when the bloom of wild chokecherry and saskatoon bushes turn the hillside to pink and white; and when the robin, bluebird, and meadow lark sing their welcome to a new year of productivity and accomplish- ment; one is convinced anew that the Kimball valley is still one of God's chosen spots, and that the early settlers have left a fine heritage to generations yet unborn.

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Mary Tollestrup