MARY'S GENEALOGY TREASURES
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.
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
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
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.
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 capacitiy
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.
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
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
engimatic 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.
G. G. Walker, director of the Alberta district of western
postal region has announced the temperarly 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.