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William and Edith Peterson

Heritage of the High Country
A History of Del Bonita and Surrounding Districts
Pages 470-471
by Helen Jorgensen

William "Bill" Peterson came to Canada in the spring of 1928 from North Dakota. He left the coal mines there to come to work for Frank Swanson, Edith's brother, on the farm. Bill's wife and children came later on when he had a place for them to live. This was the Jack Bridge place on the west side of Shanks Lake.

The two oldest sons remained in the States with their wives and children. Later they both moved to Auburn, Washington. There were five more sons and two daughters. Three children died in infancy, and the youngest son was born in Canada in 1931 at the Frank Swanson home at Shanks Lake. Hester Swanson was a midwife, and as there was no doctor close she took care of Mrs. Peterson.

Bill worked in the fields picking rock and driving the teams. Times were very hard and money was scarce, so he had to take a team and wagon for part of his pay. He needed these anyway for transportation. He used one of Mr. Swanson's teams to drive back and forth to work. One evening when he turned the horses out in the pasture, one of them wanted to get back home. It drowned trying to swim the lake.

A year later they moved a few miles further east to the old Fisher farm. It had a nice old farm home and a good spring for water. Mr. Swanson also farmed that land, so Bill didn't have to drive to work. About two years later Bill got a homestead in the Twin River district. They lived in an old house until he could get a place built.

Bill couldn't afford to buy lumber for a house so he built a sod house. It was very warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Ernest Swanson, Frank's son, plowed the furrows in a slough bottom. It made good sod as there were long roots to hold the sod together. They cut them in lengths. The walls were a foot or a foot and a half thick. It took them several days to build as it was heavy, tiring work.

The family moved in before the roof was completely finished, and one evening it started to rain. Ernie and the youngsters were busy setting out pots and pans to catch the drips.

Ernie got just as much fun out of it as the younger children. Ernie spent quite a lot of time at the Peterson home. Mrs. Peterson had taken care of him for some time in the States, after his mother passed away, and Mr. Swanson had moved to Canada.

Bill had no machinery to farm his land, so he worked for the farmers for one dollar a day picking rock and doing other jobs. In return they would seed his crop and harvest it. The crops were very poor in the 1930's as it was so hot and dry. There was no prairie hay to put up for feed. One hard winter they lost all the milk cows but one. They put her down by the North Fork of the Milk River, and she managed to get some grass and ate the bushes.

Bill had no education, but he learned to read and write and was fairly good in figures. He did carpentry work and had to do quite a lot of figuring. He built an addition on to John Tangen's house, also one for Jorgensens. He built the house just west of the Del Bonita store for Celdar Collet, and did other jobs around the area.

He never had any lessons, but could play the violin by ear. When Mr. and Mrs. Frank Brown came to visit, Frank would ask Bill to play, and he would get Edith or one of the girls to get up and polka with him. He loved to dance. George Spence came over several times bringing his violin and they would practise. Sometimes they would play for a dance in the old Twin River school.

Mrs. Peterson sewed and crocheted. She sewed all the clothes by hand for years. Finally she got a second hand Singer sewing machine. She had no patterns. She did the washing by scrub board for years. It was quite a treat for her when she got a hand washer, but it was also tiring standing and turning it. Mrs. Swanson bought a spinning wheel for Mrs. Peterson, and she spun yarn for payment. It took quite a few pounds of yarn. She would wash and card the wool and spin it into yarn. Then she made skeins and skeins of yarn, which she would knit into socks, mitts, and sweaters for the family. If she had any extra she would sell them. Edith always put in a large garden and would can the vegetables if the garden turned out well. She also baked all the bread for the family of nine, and churned the butter.

Life was very hard for them, so when their two sons wanted them to move to Auburn, Washington, where their dad could get work at the shipyards at Tacoma, Washington, they decided to go. They sold their farm to a neighbor for three hundred dollars. That gave them enough for their fare and to tide them over until Bill got his first pay cheque. They stayed with one of the sons for a short while, then they bought a home and some land just outside of Auburn. Bill worked at the shipyards until he had a stroke. It was quite severe and he was never able to work again. He spent about four years at home, and the last two years in a nursing home. He passed away in September 1954.

Mrs. Peterson and the youngest son stayed on the place. After he finished school and got married, she moved into town to a trailer court. She lived alone and was in very good health until the last two years. She had several strokes and passes away in a rest home on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1978.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup