CHARLES HERMIN BARTLING AND FAMILY
by AJ. Bartling 1911
Fairmont Minnesota - U.S.A.
In late September 1911, my father Charles Hermin Bartling started a trip to look for a homestead, going first to Montana to look at some land still available. Arriving there he found a lot of rock, sand, jackpine and rattlesnakes. Refusing to give up he promptly caught a train to Vermilion, Alberta, and from there headed for the Elk Point district. He chose this area because his friend and ex Minnesota neighbor John Babcock had moved there a couple of years previously. It was October and there already was a lot of snow on the ground. He filed on the N.W. 24-57-R7-W4, picking this particular quarter because there wasn't too much brush on it. There was a reason for this lack of brush of course. Because of the number of stones few trees could grow. There were two ridges running across the land where it was possible to walk on rocks every step of the way. None of this was discovered until later on. It cost $10.00 to file on 160 acres of land. Father returned to Minnesota and began making plans for the move.
By March, 1912 we were ready. A sale had been held disposing of everything except some machinery, household effects, one team of young mares and a small number of domestic fowl. Two railway boxcars were rented for our belongings as well as a team of horses, a sleigh and wagon be. longing to Albert Eckmann, my sister Anna's fiance. My brother-in-law William Millholland Sr., travelled in the car carrying the animals so that he could feed and care for them. The rest of us travelled by coach, almost filling one up ourselves. We had a large family to make the move: Father, who was then fifty years of age; Mother, Wilhemena; brothers George, Edward, Carl, William, August and Erwin; sisters Elizabeth, (Mrs. William Milholland), Anna, Ella and Minnie. Our ages ranged from George, who was twentyone years to baby Minnie who was two years old. I was nine years old. My oldest brother Arthur did not come with us and except for a couple of visits to the Elk Point area never did become a pioneer. Brother John was born later on in Canada. Also accompanying us were Elizabeth's children - Russell, Cora and Leona Milliolland; Albert Eckmann; John and Francis Heins, and their daughter Roberta. Francis Heins was the daughter of Albert Helinsky who came to Elk Point a short time later with his family - Ann, Rudy and George.
We crossed into Canada at Emerson, Manitoba and travelled on to Winnipeg where we were delayed one full day. We sat in the C.N.R. Station along with a large crowd of people waiting for a train to take us west. Francis Heins was very apprehensive about our journey and knowing very little about Canada was quite nervous to say the least. My father had jokingly told her many tall stories about Canada including one in which he said that in Canada most people went about naked. Finally at about 2:00 aan. a train came in from Montreal carrying more homesteaders heading west. We rushed out and
attempted to board the nearest coach. It was full of emigrants from Europe. The first thing we noticed was the unbearable heat of the crowded car and the heavy, heavy scent of garlic. Then we noticed the occupants, lying about on seats and in the aisles sleeping in various states of disarray, naked bottoms etc., peeping out in an attempt to cool off. Francis gasped and fainted. Just then the conductor entered and said, "Move along folks; this is a private car." Two days later, after many starts and stops, we arrived at Vermilion and headed for the old Vermilion Hotel. We rented what rooms we could with most of us ending up sleeping on the floor. Mother stayed up all night killing bedbugs. When this hotel burned to the ground in 1918, the Vermilion paper, running an account of the fire, jokingly stated, "Millions of lives were lost".
We parted company with the Heins family who remained in Vermilion and began loading the sleighs. Father had made arrangements with John Babcock's son Leo to meet us as well as Merion Plummer and his son-in-law Al Hawkes. Merion Plummer was a veterinarian who had moved to the Elk Point district around the same time as Babcocks. Later on he moved to Landonville. We loaded their sleighs with all they could hold and had to store our wagons and machinery at the lumber yard. It took our two sleighs to carry all of the people. We left Vermilion for Elk Point on March 28th, 1912.
About ten miles north of Vermilion we came upon a lot of rabbits which caused a great deal of excitement. My father and older brothers loved to hunt so stop we must. We had a piano case organ packed in a large crate which also held their guns wrapped in clothing. The boys pried open the crate, rummaged about and brought out two .22 calibre rifles. After they had shot about forty rabbits we were on our way again. We crossed the river at Elk Point on the ice. Father had rented the Jim Ward place 3/4 mile south and 3/4 miles east of Elk Point to live on until our log house could be built on our homestead. He also had bought a stack of green feed bundles. When we arrived at the Ward place over half the stack of feed was gone, eaten of course by rabbits which were thick as flies. Talk about red faces. Packing those rabbits all that way when there certainly wasn't any shortage anywhere in the country. Our first job was to move what little green feed was left onto the top of a flat-roof stable.
The weather was lovely and by April Fools Day the ducks had arrived and the geese and cranes were flying north. The older boys returned to Vermilion for the rest of our belongings before the roads and the river were bare of snow and ice.
The Milliolland family stayed on the McClary place, which now belongs to John Sly wka, until their home could be built. They filed on the same section of land as my father, which would be three and a half miles north on Highway 41 and a half mile west. They had the southeast of section of 24, Albert Eckmann filed the southwest, my brother George the northeast, and as mentioned before, we had the northwest quarter. Elk Point, at this time, was nothing more than the post office located in the home of Charles Hood. Spring, 1912, we put our first crop in on the Jim Ward place,plantmg only oats as wheat was stifi a risky crop to grow, usually being touched by frost before it had a chance to ripen. In July my sister Anna and Albert Eckmann were married by preacher Harry Day. With the help of our good neighbours,
Father and my older brothers built our log house and Albert's that summer. At that time a good sized building could be built in a day. Ten to a dozen neighbours would arfive early in the morning with five or six teams of oxen and cut down trees, haul them in and put up a building by night-fall. The pay was nothing more than food for them and their oxen plus your heartfelt thanks and gratitude. Our home was a two storey log house, 28' by 30'. The lower floor consisted of one room with a beam running through the centre held by two posts to hold the upstairs floor. We put in a tongue and groove floor, most people having only clay or rough lumber. The sod for the roof was hauled from just north of Hopkins ferry where there is an alkali flat. This type of sod turned rain really well if the roof wasn't too flat.
School was held in the spring, summer and fall months only. We started in April at the Elk Point School which was located on the Jim Ford homestead across the corner from the Gil Lindsey homestead (later purchased by Tom Aarbo). Our teacher was Henry Ramsbottom who had taken over the job from Mrs. Day. Some of our classmates were the Mark-stead girls - Alta, Ester and Hattie; the Magnussons - Myrtha, Emma, Edward, Ted and Lawrence; Alva and Lester Plummer; Raymond Keitges; the Ramsbottoms - Claire and Victor; the Lamb rights - Margaret and Ruth; the Aarbos - Alfield and Jens; Romanzo Fish; the Milliollands - Russell and Cora; and Harold DeForest Smith. The Bartlings attending at that time were Edward, Carl, William, August and Erwin.
That fall in 1912 we had a fair crop of oats and when it was in stook and ready to thresh my brother Bill and I were sent over to see if the LaRose brothers could come and do our threshing. Jack and Bill LaRose lived a mile and a half east of Frank Pinder. They had a big steam tractor and separator. They said they would come in a couple of days but sent instructions that we were to cut about ten cords of wood for the steamer. We had a lot of fire-killed poplar handy so the next day we cut up what we thought was enough wood for the steamer with plenty left over. They were supposed to arrive at our place before noon so Mother had a large dinner ready and waiting. About two that afternoon Bill LaRose came puffmg up on foot and said they had run out of wood about two miles away. We loaded up a wagon full of wood and set out to rescue them. By the time they got to our place it was about five o'clock and as they hadn't had anything to eat that was the first thing on the program. About seven 0'-clock they got the outfit lined up and decided to check how the separator was working. Something shook loose in the feeder and went through the cylinder, breaking the concave. Well, all the time that hungry steamer was eating wood. So off they went to J.C. Lambright's place for help. J.C. was a good blacksmith and worked half the night repairing the damage. The old steamer kept eating and eating and by the time we got them off our place with enough wood to move them on to the next job we had cut down almost everything in sight.
The winter of 1913 we had our first large party on our homestead and it became a custom for many years to follow. The occasion was my parents' birthdays. My mother's birthday was January 24th, Father's, March 24th, both dates celebrated separately. On the day of the party people began
arriving early in the afternoon, some coming fifteen miles and more. They came by horse and sleigh and many with oxen. Oxen could stand the cold better than horses. All you needed for them was a sleigh box of hay and they would stand outside in any kind of weather and eat, often without even a blanket over them. Mother was a fine cook and she didn't skimp on the food. She would bake a hundred pounds of flour into buns for the party. A 200 pound pig was roasted. Father had bought a big white sow and eight little pigs from Frank Pinder in the spring of 1912 and one of those got to do the honours. Mother also prepared moose, rabbit, bush partridge and prafrie chicken. We ate and we danced, the dancing continuing all night. That year the music was supplied by George Rice, our neighbour Charlie Willes on the fiddle, my Father on the trumpet, other members of our family and anyone else that felt like playing. People would begin to leave around noon the next day.
On June 15th, 1913 my brother John was born on the homestead, the last of our family and the only one Canadian born. We did some more breaking of land, my brothers working the horses and oxen four abreast on the plough. The rock picking continued with no end in sight. It seemed as though for every one we picked, two more took its place. We planted a large garden, an acre or more of potatoes and garden truck. Mother always planted lots of sugar beets to boil and make syrup. The syrup was a very dark brown and had a strong flavour but it was okay on pancakes and could also be used for making spice cakes. We did a lot of fishing at Long Lake and Father built a smoke house to smoke the fish as well as pork and moose meat. When we needed lumber we went by wagon and oxen to the Garneau sawmill three miles east of Long Lake. When we had a lot of milk Mother would make cheese, enough for a year. She would wrap her finished product with cheese cloth and then cover that with parowax. To be good the cheese had to age for one hundred days. I can say that the last lot was pretty strong stuff. We trapped weasels for 40 cents a piece to buy the things we couldn't make or grow. I remember my Mother sending an order to the T. Eaton Co. at Winnipeg for fifty pounds of green coffee beans at 13c a pound. She roasted and ground the beans as needed. We had a three gallon coffee pot that was on the stove all the time and if she caught anyone removing any of the coffee grounds they would certainly catch it. Shedecided when there were too many grounds in the pot, taking out just so much, adding fresh coffee and boiling water. We took our moose hides to the Indians to be tanned and Mother made us moccasins, first taking apart a pair made by the Indians to get a pattern. She also made us jackets. She bought a fleece of wool near Vermilion and spun it on her spinning wheel brought from Minnesota. From this she made our socks and mitts. We all picked wild berries and Mother would can and preserve five to six hundred quarts of fruit andjam. 1913 was a poor crop year but even though it was marked by frost we managed to salvage enough wheat to take to Weibes Flour Mill in Vermilion. Out of this we got enough flour, bran and cream of wheat to do us a year.
I'd like to mention here as a matter of interest the living conditions faced by many of the early settlers. In the summer of 1913 Hank Siems filed on the SW. 26-57-7-W4. He built a 14' x 20' log cabin with a log partition running down the centre. Hank lived in one part, his team of oxen in the other. They were later joined by a cow he bought. This arrangement was not uncommon at that time. He batched there for several years and then gave up his homestead to file on another in Shamrock Valley living there until Highway 28 was put through his land, right through the spot where his house stood. By this time he was married to a Chippewa girl named Mary from the Cold Lake Reserve so they sold their land to Dr. F.G. Miller and moved to Cold Lake.
The year 1914 was much the same kind of year as 1913 with early frost and a cold winter. With the start of World War I many of our young men from the Elk Point district left to join up and many of course did not return. This was the year the Paramount School was built and opened and our family started attending there, enjoying the short distance. The first school teacher was eighteen year old Miss Mable Eng. Some of the classmates that I remember were the Jepsons - Hans, Fred and Art; the Hobdens - Louise, Bill and Harold; Archie and Emery Bartholemew; Glen White; Lois Babcock; Lyle and Nellie Valentine. I know there were many more but I can't remember them all. Miss Eng had a hard time controlling us, being not much older than many of the students. The Jepson boys' father, Marinius, was on the school board and decided to pay a surprise visit to us one afternoon about two o'clock. When he arrived a dance was in full progress. I was playing the mouthorgan and the other students were singing along as they danced, and right in the centre of it all was Miss Eng dancing up a storm with one of the older boys. Mr. Jepson was very angry and finished off the blast that followed with, "I knew my boys didn't know anything but now I have a good idea why." Miss Eng was replaced the next year by Bill Hustler who taught for the next two terms, 1915, and 1916. He was an excellent teacher and certainly had his work cut out for him trying to smarten us allup.
In the summer of 1914, my brother, Bill, and I were walking on the Hudson Bay trail, one half mile north of Dad's homestead. We met Robert Chandler, N.W.M.P., riding horseback. He was trailing a horse with a prisoner he had arrested at Athabasca for cattle theft at North Battleford, Saskatchewan. He asked us how far he was from the North Saskatchewan River. He said he would follow the river to Battle-ford. We told him, when he came to the old telegraph line that went to Mooswa, Onion Lake, and on to Battleford, to follow the line and he would have a much better route. He told us he had left Fort Edmonton. By the time he returned, it would be a six weeks trip. Those days, no one seemed to mind hardship. You just took it as another day's work.
In 1915 we got rain when we needed it and no frost until mid October. Most of Canada had the best crop year ever. At this time the Elk Point area was made up of roughly 90 percent Americans so the fourth of July was always celebrated. I particularly remember the 1915 celebration. The morning of July 4 Father told my brothers Carl, Bill and myself that we could go to the fourth of July doings at Hopkins ferry but we would have to make the eleven mile trip on foot as the one team of horses we owned was needed at home. We left early in the morning carrying a ten pound lard pail full of
lunch packed by Mother for the three of us. We also had twenty-five cents each to squander on the big day. Along the way we passed the Jepson place, picking up Fred and Hans with their lunch pails. Passing Bartholemews we were joined by Archie and Emery so we did not mind the long walk. We arrived at Hopkins near noon and found a lot of people had already arrived. A good program had been planned for the day. I liked the potato race which was played with men on horses, each man holding a long sharpened stick about six to seven feet long. Each rider had two boxes on the ground about one hundred feet apart. One box empty, the other one contained six potatoes placed there by the judge. The riders lined up along side their empty boxes and when the judge gave the "go" signal they galloped like mad to the boxes holding the potatoes, the idea being to spear a potato, turn and race back and drop the potato off the stick into their empty boxes. Should they lose the potato they had to stop their horses and try to spear it back on to the stick. The rider that got his six potatoes into the box was the winner. An-other race I remember was also played on horseback. Two posts about twelve feet long were placed in the ground with a cross bar across the top. On this hung a just-killed, tame goose, feet first with the head and body hanging down. The head and neck were well greased with lard. The racers would ride at a gallop, reaching out as they passed, grab the goose's head and try to pull it off. The first attempts were not successful but after several rounds most of the grease was rubbed off and someone fmally pulled the head off, the goose being the prize. All kinds of horse and foot races were played as well as other events such as catching a greased pig, tug of war etc. Finally as the afternoon wore on a young man, newly arrived from England, decided a rugby game should be held. He had the only football that I had ever seen in the Elk Point area. The men got busy and cut some poles and dug them into the ground at the distance he directed and when the field was laid out he chose sides. Ally Springsteal was put in one goal and Tom Poulin in the other. The rules were explained and the game was on. It was utter confusion. No one seemed to know whose side they were on, including the Englishman, who did a lot of tackling his own team mates. When he got the ball everyone wanted to take it away from photos It is a wonder the fellow wasn't killed the way everyone from both sides piled on top of photos If someone else happened to get the ball then both sides turned and piled on top of that unfortunate. No one made a goal as there was no way that ball could be moved anywhere. No one could argue that even though the game was not too professional it most certainly was the most entertaining event of the day. Around seven o'clock people started heading for the dance platform and some of us boys headed for the booth, a lean-to tacked on the front of Jack Valentine and Jim Screeton's store. They had, among other things, a ten gallon jug ofcherry cider, five cents a glass. We three brothers, the Jepsons, Bartholemews, Ed Caskey and Lloyd Lampert were all hanging around debating whether or not we should part with five cents for a glass of cider. We could hear Jack Valentine in the back singing like mad. Both he and Jim Screeton had been treated to a lot of "moose-milk" that day and Jim had gone to bed leaving Jack to try and look after both the store and the booth by himself. Mr. Valentine was the Jep son boys' uncle so Hans jumped behind the counter and started filling glasses with cider. Ed Caskey was at the front of the counter so he started drinking almost as fast as Hans could draw. Soon we could hear Mr. Valentines' singing coming closer so we all got out of there as fast as we could, Hans moving so fast he didn't even shut the faucet off. We were just around the corner of the booth when the singing stopped and Mr. Valentine muttered, "T don't mind you boys drinkin' me cider . . . BUT ... I wish to KRIS you would shut the *** tap off when you finish." Giggling, we all headed for the dance. A large platform with tongue and groove flooring had been built to dance on. One corner of the platform had a grain binder canvas shelter for the musicians. George Rice, who had a homestead two miles east of Long Lake, played the violin, a Mr. McDonald from Landonville played the bull fiddle, and Al Trombo a twelve string guitar. Al Trombo homesteaded on the west side of the highway on the south side of the present Elk Point bridge. A big crowd was at the dance and along about midnight a flash storm came up, thunder and lightning, and rain just pouring down. A square dance was going on and they never stopped dancing. The storm orily lasted about twenty minutes but the dance lasted until after sun up. We boys thought we were lucky to catch a ride part way home with a couple of fellows who were pretty 'stewed' on free moose-milk. They were driving a team of wild mustangs that weighed about nine hundred pounds each and drove them at a high and wild gallop. It wouldn't have been too bad if they had stuck to the road, which wasn't that good, but they drove everywhere. With free range, fences were scarce, so they drove over willow bu~hes, second growth poplar, rocks, anything, - and we hung on ior dear life, nearly tipping over many times and all wishing we had stuck to walking. We arrived home about nine o'clock a.m. a very tired bunch of boys. We had promised Father we would pick roots off the breaking that afternoon but he took one look at us and sent us to bed. We all slept through until supper tirne.
1915 was a good winter with not much snow. My brother Carl joined the Canadian Army, Eric Arnott was the Canadian Recruiting Officer. Carl came back to Elk Point for a brief time after the war and then returned to the States where he still lives.
Until mid June of 1916 the weather was very dry and cool. Then it started to rain. Because the spring had been so dry it didn't do much damage at first, but the first part of July it settled down to rain day and night for three weeks. It was a hard time for everyone. People with cattle had to let them run on the range and with the rain pelting down you just couldn't hear the cow bells very far. We took turns hunting the cows and were soaking wet all day. Finally the rain stopped and when it cleared off we had a quarter of an inch of ice. Most of the wheat in the district was in bloom so that finished the wheat crops. My brother Bill and I were sent to Hopkins ferry to pick up some needed supplies, again walking both ways. When we arrived at Hopkins the river was extremely high, running over the bank in many places. We could see a barn comingdown the river, the door on the side facing us was open and inside were three Jersey cows tied up. I think Carl Otto was ferryman at that time, so he and a fellow by the name of Jim Hitchcock, Ernest Schmidt and another man we did not know said they would take the ferry out and try to time it so the barn would catch the ferry broadside; then they would turn the ferry enough to bring the barn back to the north side of the river. Well, they almost did catch the barn mid ferry only they were very lucky that they didn't. They were about ten feet too far out and when that barn hit more than half the ferry went under water. The barn just glanced off the ferry and kept right side up and continued down the river, the cows staring straight ahead. It is a wonder that the deadman that the cable was anchored to didn't pull out. Millions of feet of lumber and logs were lost by Fraser Lumber Co. of Edmonton that summer. It was also the worst year I can remember for mosquitoes. We were doing some sod breaking with the oxen and we just couldn't handle them. They would just go wild and hit for the bush - plough and all. We finally came up with a solution. We put a neck yoke on the oxen, took a long dry spruce pole which we fastened to the back of the plough and on up through the ring on the neck yoke and out about two feet in front. We put a big pail on the end of the pole and in it we built a smudge and kept it going. That was the only way we got any sod broke up.
That winter 1916 - 1917 was bitterly cold, at one point going for six weeks without getting any warmer than 55 below zero. The snow was piled up sixteen to twenty inches on top of a fence post eight inches in diameter, and not a breath of wind to blow the snow off. I remember my brother George returning one evening around nine o'clock from Weibes Flour Mill in Vermilion. Our horses had icicles (a foot or more long, all coated with blood) hanging from their nostrils. Pulling a load in such cold weather makes a sleigh run twice as hard. That night it was 72 below. It was the coldest winter that I ever remember but also I have never seen such beautiful northern lights, at times hearing them swish as clear as a bell.
In the spring of 1917 my sister Anna Eckmann, her husband and children returned to Minnesota where she died in 1926. Brother George left to join the American Army. Like Carl, he also returned after the war for awhile but in the 1920's returned for good to the States where he died in 1975.
In 1917 we had nearly seventy-five head of cattle and horses and with the poor soil on our homestead we just couldn't grow enough feed for the animals so Father rented the Jim Hunter homestead two miles west of Elk Point on the south side of the road. On the Hunter place you could cut prairie wool hay almost anywhere, which we did. We managed to cut and stack quite a lot for the winter. That year crops were only fair. We had a nice fall with no snow for Christmas and travelled with buggies and wagons. After the new year we had just enough snow to use sleighs.
In 1918 we were very short of moisture for spring seeding and went one hundred days without rain. Crops were very poor. That fall our house and out buildings on our homestead burned down. We only managed to save one granary with a few hundred bushels of oats. We used the granary to stay in while we were farming our place. On October 8th, it started to snow. We had nearly eighty head of cattle and knew we did not have enough feed to winter them. Sam Thompson, a cattle buyer from Vermilion came to our place to look over our herd. He offered Father one hundred dollars a head for the whole herd. My Father did not know what to do so he went to see the bank manager for advice. He was concerned about the welfare of his family as he knew by that time that he did not have much longer to live; he was dying of cancer. The bank manager advised him to hang on to the cattle, offering to loan us money to buy feed ifnecessary. So we kept the cattle.
The winter of 1919 was very bad with people sick and many dying with the Spanish Flu. In March I had been in bed for three weeks with the flu but had to get up and go to Pete Keitges for feed. I was to dig out a load of wheat straw out of an old stack a dozen years old. I was in a very weakened condition but there was no one else to go. My nose bled a lot and at times I thought I just couldn't get that load of straw on. To make matters worse, the snow was six feet on the level and you had to have a specially built straw rack to keep from tipping over. I don't know how I stood that trip or some of the other ones I made to save those cattle. I hauled hay from Onion Lake, Sask. shipped from Ontario at one hundred dollars a ton. We also hauled from Vermilion. We didn't lose any cattle or horses but those steers that Thompson would have paid us a hundred dollars a head went for twenty4wo dollars each two years after his offer. In late April my Father died. I was working for Cliff Sewall who lived west of Elk Point. He had moved to the area from Milk River, Alberta, in 1918 with nearly two hundred head ofcattle. Most of his family were sick with the flu, his wife already a victim of it. He was desperate for feed and it was getting so you couldn't find any old straw stacks to dig out. We started raiding the homesteaders thatched rye straw roofs. We would go to the lumber yard and load up 2 x 4's, boards and shingles and exchange them for the farmer's straw roof. The bad part about feeding that old dry straw to the animals was that they were so hungry they choked to death grabbing such big mouthfuls. To try and salvage some of the loss we took the hides off the dead animals but found we couldn't skin them as fast as they were dying so we just ripped the hide with a knife down the inside of the legs and from the tail and stomach to the head. We then skinned the hide from the legs and tied a strong rope to this. We chained the animal to a tree or strong post, hitched a horse up to the rope and started the horse up, pulling the whole hide off. We got so we could do this very quickly. Hides were, for some reason, forty cents a pound.
What a winter, with the flu and the terrible feed shortage! It seemed that all the early pioneers who had worked so hard building up a good herd of cattle etc. lost nearly every-thing. Certainly they lost all those cold, wet years of hard work and many lost loved ones. Many owed thousands to the banks and in the end were worse than broke. The banks lost mifflons of dollars. They loaned to almost anyone and often they were outright swindled. Deals were arranged on non-existent property, a mortgage taken out and split by the two parties involved and then they simply disappeared.
I remember the hard ships of those early years vividly and the harshness of life sometimes, but I also remember just as clearly the good times. Pretty simple in today's terms maybe, the dances in farm houses, barns, wherever; the card games, sleighrides, stampedes and sportsdays; the friendships formed for life; the closeness of the family and the neighbours who WERE neighbours. And where else could I have found my good wife of fifty years plus? (Strange that although we both were born and spent the early years of our lives just a little over fifty miles apart in the United States we had to move to Elk Point to meet.) It was a good move.
N.B. Brothers Edward and Erwin also returned to the United States in the mid-twenties