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Owendale's History linked with Police Post

by Lois M. Stapleton
Newspaper Article dated Monday, August 8, 1955

If this epic had been written before the beginning of the new larger school divisions, a much smaller amount of territory would have been covered. As it is, however, the boundaries of the district stretch from the E. Bateman place in the district once known as Taylorville to the closest line fence of the G. L. Smith farm in the old Rolph Creek district.

In the early 1880's a Mounted Police barracks was erected on the land now owned by W. Komm of Cardston and it was here the red-coated guardians of the law went out to do their duty over all the South country. They were on hand to help the first Mormon settlers ford the St. Mary's River at the old Pilling crossing in 1901. This land on the east side of the river was bought by the LDS Church and here many settlers from the Salt Lake area and other LDS districts came.

Perhaps not the least of the RCMP's duties in the early days was to catch the whiskey smugglers who operated through Whiskey Gap from across the International border. The only remaining evidence of their vigil is a ram-shackled piece of an old log barracks. In the summer Mr. Komm's cattle take refuge from their age-old enemy the bot fly in it's shade.

Until the time Alberta became a province, the south country was a vast rolling prairie with but a tag end of a railway left barren and unused.

Back in 1905

In 1905 John Woolf, who had taken up his original homestead on the land which is now owned by T. Hatch, was elected to the new provincial legislature. He sensed the plight of the pioneers who had no place to market their wheat or livestock was instrumental in having elevators erected at Woolford. Although it meant a haul of some thirty miles for some farmers, at least this gave them some place closer than Cardston to haul their wheat and buy their winter supplies of coal and food.

The first settler east of the St. Mary's River was Nels Nelson who rented church land. This land is now the property of Fritz Komm of Woolford and the old original log house is still the main place of residence.

Last summer Mr. Komm had the interior of his home modernized and it had no sooner been completed than a bad thunder and lightning storm struck the east wall and almost completely demolished it.

From this rented homestead, Mr. Nelson moved to the old Kimball place in the district then known as Kimball but which is now in the immediate vicinity of Owendale. This land is still in the hands of E. E. Nelson, son of Nels.

Another son, Matthew, took up a homestead and built a two-room house on the banks of the Rolph Creek in 1904. This two-room house was built onto in 1937 by S. M. Stapleton who had purchased the land from the LDS Church. In January 1955, as part of the Stapleton residence (the kitchen and bedroom to be exact) this two room pioneer building was moved by K. N. Stewart: (a grandson of the old pioneer), to the village of Owendale. The land was sold to G. L. Smith.

One of the first settlers in the immediate vicinity of Owendale was Moroni Sheen who took up a homestead in Taylorville and later moved. Mr. Sheen had been the janitor of the present school for seven years and died during the last Christmas holidays of a heart attack. He was Lethbridge Herald correspondent for many years.

The first group of settlers to take up homesteads in Owendale district were a group of hardy pioneers from the Eastern States. Some of them had left good jobs to come out to the "wild and wooly" prairie and make it their home.

W. Rickmyer and his wife were the first of these to come and they broke virgin sod in 1910. The following spring Mr. and Mrs. J. Nay, G. Nay and W. Higgins acquired a tract of land in partnership. This land was later bought by the Nay brothers, and Mr. Higgins moved a few miles up the Rolph Creek and built himself a log house on the old Higgins homestead.

Two more brothers also came out that same spring, B. J. and W. Dawson. They batched for one year together until they could get a shack erected and then Mrs. R. J. Dawson with two small sons joined them.

R. J. Dawson had one of the first telephones in the district and he has been secretary of the telephone company for 11 years.

For many years the farmers of the district were indebted to Mrs. Rickmyer as an unpaid postmistress from 1911 until the railway came through to Owendale. Mrs. Rickmyer took the mail which came by horseback from Woolford, sorted it and left it in each neighbor's box. She told me that for twenty years her door was never locked and it was not an unusual thing for her to wake up in the morning to a number of uninvited and unbeknown breakfast guests. A good many of the houses along the way were used by the wheat haulers from Whiskey Gap and Del Bonita as half-way houses.

United Church Active

The United Church of Canada was the first church in the district and a small building was erected in 1911 which not only served the people as a place of worship but also rendered the service of an educational edifice.

There were five pupils in this first school. Miss A. Rickmyer, J. Wright, H. Hines and three Franks brothers. Of these five only one, J. Wright resides in this district. The first church secretary was W. Dawson. This capacity he held until his death some fifteen years after.

The first Ladies church organization was effected in 1915. In 1916 Mrs. Rickmyer was elected president and she held this position for 14 years and following that the position of secretary was held by her for the same length of time. She also served in the capacity of secretary for the ball team for twenty years.

The first school was built in 1914 and served its purpose until 1939 when Jefferson Centralized school was built. The old school house is now the residence of E. Wolsey and serves as district post-office.

Coming Railway

The coming of the railway meant many changes for the people of the area and in the years since 1922 when the first train came puffing through Joe Nay's pasture, they have prospered and grown old. No more does hauling their grain to market mean months of having horses and no more do they stop at old familiar haunts a good many of them are dead and those who are still in fair health sit by their fires and enjoy the comforts of Calgary Power.

Only the familiar figure of Joe Nortweed is seen as he goes from culvert to culvert letting the hurrying spring waters find their true course as he chops the mouth of the conduits free of ice. Even his step is getting slow and he told me that he has worked for Mr. Rickmyer for 36 years.

Fading eyesight makes it impossible for him to go as far afield as usual at his self-appointed spring task.

The new school as it is known to the oldsters of the district has done much to make them and us proud of its sons. Twice they have had Alberta championship basketball teams, last year saw Cardston the gainer as they acquired the one loss and the Cardston Cougars won over a much stronger and more powerful Winnipeg team. 8 of the Cougar's main team came from the small village of Owendale.

Curiously enough, little seems to be known about the enigmatic Mr. Owen from which the town acquired its name. It is known that he owned the land on which Orene Hansen has lived for many years and that it is his name which the district so proudly bears.

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Owendale Post Office Closed - Jan 1972

G. G. Walker, director of the Alberta district of western postal region has announced the temporarily closing of the post office at Owendale, Jan. 14.

Customers of the Owendale post office will now be served from the Cardston post-office by group box service.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup