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John H. and Maggie Mains

Heritage of the High Country
A History of Del Bonita and Surrounding Districts
Pages 434-435
by Frank Mains - 1966

1, Frank Mains was born in Ontario in the year 1895. My dad, John H. Mains, was a blacksmith who worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He followed the steel west to Fernie, B.C. There, he left the railroad and set up his own blacksmith shop.

We lived in Fernie for about three years, then moved to Cardston, Alberta. Dad, again, set up his shop. (I would be, at that time, five years old, and the year would be 1900.)

When we moved to Cardston, everything had to be brought in by freight team. That was big business in those days, and Dad made good money shoeing their horses. Those freight teams had to always wear shoes and be sharp shod in the winter.

In 1902 Dad homesteaded N.E. 31-1-21-W4th, along the Milk River. In 1903, my brother who is older than me by three and a half years, and I went out to the ranch and stayed with a hired man. Our work consisted of learning about cattle and ranch life. Mr. Huens, the hired man, was rather a fine older man and an excellent violinist.

We herded cattle, and slowly drove them out in the morning until noon. Then Mr. Huens would leave my brother and me with them and he would ride in and get dinner ready. After he ate we took our turn, and cleaned up. A few months later, when Dad closed down his shop in Cardston, he came to live at the ranch but didn't bring Mother or my sister. Then Mr. Huens left us and I never saw him again.

Late in the month of June, the flood came. We had been out with the cattle all day till about four o'clock, when it started to rain. We were out south and a little west of Taylor's ranch. By the time we got home we had had our spring baths. We unsaddled our horses, turned them out and went in the house. A fire was made in the cook stove and we were trying to dry out. We had been in, maybe, an hour, when suddenly the cellar door jumped six inches up in the air and floated up against the east wall of the one-roomed house. About that time, Dad thought of the two little pigs that he had bought from a neighbor. When he went out to the pen, the little pigs were swimming in deep water. He caught them, put them in a crate and brought them into the house. They were put on the table. The water ran out of the pig crate right into the can of sugar. Needless to say, we didn't have any sugar until the next trip to town. The water rose in the house until it was half-way up to the fire box of the cook stove. Dad stayed up all night watching and waiting for the house to go. We kids climbed up on the top bunk and finally went to sleep.

The next big event was the May Snow storm in 1903. The Knight Ranching Company had the big lease between our place and the Montana border at that time. They were running sheep on the land and lost hundreds of them in that storm. All our stock except four horses drifted over into Montana.

Some of the Knight sheepherders came to our place during the storm, a few carrying little motherless lambs under their coats. They would get something to eat and a cup of tea, leave the lambs and go out again. It was hopeless, they couldn't do anything, but let the sheep drift with the storm. They piled up in gullies, and pot holes, three or four feet deep. As soon as the storm let up, Knights sent feed to what was left of the stock. I remember two big loads of feed coming through our place, and before the men could get back with more, the sheep were eating the wool off each other's backs. The lambs that were left at our place had to be killed because we had no milk for them. After the storm there had to be a big round-up to get our cattle back from Montana. We found calves without mothers and mothers without calves. All the ranches lost heavily in that storm.

One of our big problems was finding something to burn as fuel. We could get coal from Lethbridge, but that was a long way to our place, so we didn't always have coal. Later McIntyre's opened up a mine on the home ranch. We got coal there several times, but it didn't burn well. Then Ross opened up a mine that had good coal. When we didn't have coal, we collected buffalo chips and used that for fuel. We had a good many meals cooked on just that.

We may not have had all the comforts of a modern house, but we always had plenty to eat and lots of milk and butter. Dad usually killed a beef in the fall and he always kept some pigs and chickens, as well as what the shotgun brought in. Mother got permission from Colonel Roberts, R.C.M.P., to put the fish trap in the river.

When we came to the ranch the prairie was still white with buffalo bones. Some of the skulls were almost good enough to mount. About a year and a half after the flood we moved our house up into the coulee where the rocks are. We were told that a Mounted Policeman was buried there. A large stone was supposed to have been his grave marker.

We had visitors quite often. Mr. and Mrs. Deal and the Mendenhalls came frequently. Mr. and Mrs. Tom Mendenhall would come to visit on Sunday. Some of the Cardston people, especially Rev. and Mrs. Gavin Hamilton, came out for a week or two. He was the Presbyterian minister in Cardston. Rev. Hamilton liked duck hunting so Dad always planned a hunt or two when they stayed at our place. Rev. Hamilton was one of the first ministers to be sent out west. Sometimes he would stay a week at our place, but would go to Cardston and Mountain View to preach his sermon and then come back. Mrs. Hamilton sometimes stayed longer. Our neighbors, the Ross'es, were good people. One evening when Taylors came to visit, Mother made some candy and was cooling it on the snow. Emily grabbed a piece and burnt her fingers.

For two or three years we milked thirty cows once a day, and let the calves have the rest of the milk. The milk was set in pans, then cream skimmed off in the morning. Mother churned twice on Monday and every other day of the week. The butter was sold in Raymond, Magrath, Lethbridge or wherever Dad could get rid of it. Sometimes the price was as low as five cents a pound.

On one trip to Magrath, his team ran away in town. They ran through several gardens, knocked down clothes lines, tipped over outhouses and by the time he caught them, he was pretty glad to head back to the ranch and forget what he had gone to town for.

Then came a big event in our lives. Dad brought home a cream separator. It was the Daddy of all cream separators. We had to stand on a box to pour the milk into the tank. It took two of us to turn the handle, but after all was said and done, it did separate the cream from the milk. We milked those cows for three summers and finally decided it wasn't worth it, so quit milking and went back to raising better calves.

One summer Dad and Mr. Taylor worked together haying. They would cut for a while, then stack. In the meantime, Mrs. Taylor took very sick. Mother went there to look after her, but she got worse. Mother went out to where the men were working and told Dad and Mr. Taylor that someone should go for the doctor. Dad said he'd go. He came home in a hurry and saddled his best horse, Bert. Dad rode to Cardston, a matter of thirty-five miles, and by the time he got there it was getting very late at night. He got the doctor out of bed. His young wife insisted on going too. On the way to Cardston, everything had been all right, but coming back the St. Mary's River was in flood. Dad rode into the river and twice Bert turned and came out. The horse didn't think it was safe. On the third try Dad used a little more persuasion. That time he won the argument as far as Bert was concerned. The doctor's team was following. They and the buggy started to go downstream, so Dad had to rope one of the horses and was able to pull them out on the other side of the river. Finally the doctor was safely brought out to Mrs. Taylor. She got better and lived many years after, but I know the doctor and his wife would never forget that trip, which would be only one of many they would have like that.

I remember a little Indian pony, named Whitey, that us kids used to ride, double. My youngest sister, Ella, and I had been riding him one fine day. We rode home and tied him to the grindstone. In those days, a person bought the stone and made the frame. Dad had just fixed it up. Whitey backed up and the grindstone moved a little. Soon Whitey was backing in a circle and the grindstone was swinging up at the end of his bridle rein. Finally the grindstone hit the corner of the house. Needless to say that was the death of the grindstone. That wasn't funny. We weren't scared of what we had done, but scared of what Dad would do to us. Luckily, he could see the funny side of it. I don't know who told him the sad story, but I am sure I didn't.

Mange was quite bad among the cattle at that time. Ranchers were supposed to dip the cattle once a year. We drove ours to Mclntyre's once, then to Mendenhall's several times. They had dipping vats. We drove the cattle into a corral, then into the chute leading to the dipping vat. The cattle had to swim through the hot liquid in the vat. That meant they went right in over their heads to start with. This gave them a disinfecting which would last a year. Then it had to done again.

The prairie wolves were not bad at that time. Sometimes we heard their long drawn out howl at night. It really made the shivers run up and down our spines.

In about 1904, Dad rented another ranch near Kimball, twenty-five miles from the home ranch. We moved there, and ran the two ranches. Sometimes we would winter on one ranch and summer on the other; or if the feed was good we stayed on the one and put up hay on the other.

Sometimes we got the prairie itch. The cure was a bath and red parisifit and lard rubbed on. For ringworm the cure was gun powder and lard rubbed on. If we had a pain we were given a dose of salts, Mother saw to that.

When Mother wasn't at the ranch the house work fell on the shoulders of my youngest sister Ella. I still remember her first baking of bread. It didn't turn out so good, but it kept us going and she got to be a real good cook. She milked her share of those thirty cows, and did her own roping and tying of the ones that had to be snubbed to a post, and their hind feet tied so they couldn't kick. She was a good sister, and raised a good family of her own.

My oldest sister, Ora, was on the ranch for a while, then went to Cardston and worked at Rev. Hamilton's. She then went to Calgary, where she married George Bolton. About this time, Grandma Mains, came out to visit us. She was a fine old lady, and had seen her share of life, but hadn't seen her boy, Johnny, since he had left Ontario for the west. Grandma thought we were living in the worst place in this world. Her expression was "Johnny, if you stay here, these children will be marrying Mormons", or "All of you will be scalped in your bed". Little did she know about Alberta. We were as safe here as we could be anywhere. But anyway, the next thing we knew, we were moving down to Saskatchewan where we had relatives. Dad sold the ranch to a Mr. Pilling. The cattle went with the ranch, but Dad kept the best horses and shipped them from Cardston to Gainsborough, Saskatchewan. Many times we kids wished we had stayed in Alberta.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup