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We read the history of the lives of cowboys, ranchers, and Western settlers in the many poems and poets' biographies that come our way.  Those real life stories of a vanishing way of life—historical treasures—should be gathered, shared and preserved.

That's the inspiration for The Western Memories Project, another kind of "gathering," to celebrate and document Western life. You can get involved by sharing your own memories, by urging others to share theirs, or by interviewing those with a story to tell.  Email us.

(Weekly, pictures and brief stories are shared in the separate
Picture the West feature.)

Jane Morton encourages others to preserve their family ranch histories. She writes, "... it is so important for people to write down what they know about the history of their ranches.  If they put it off it might be too late.  It could be a project for family Christmas presents.  What better than a ranch history?"


This is page 5.

Linda Kirkpatrick
Kirkpatrick Family and Angora Goats, 1918—2003 

Sam Jackson
Sheepherder Tents

Paul Kern
A Little Perspective on Losing Target

Janice Lee Weiss Truitt
Christmas at the Community Hall

Photos from Nocona, Texas

Bette Wolf Duncan
Red River Valley Early Pioneers
Goin' for Broke

Memories of Alvin Wolf


See Page 1 for a list of all Western Memories stories



More about The Western Memories Project

What inspired the project
How you can get involved

        ancloudswagon.jpg (24930 bytes)     

Elsewhere at CowboyPoetry.com, our weekly feature, Picture the West, features photos, old and new, of the ranching, cowboy, rural, and working life of the West of today and yesterday. 

See the Photo of the Week here.



(The following was posted as part of Picture the West in October 2008, and is repeated here as apart of American ranch history.)

Kirkpatrick Family and Angora Goats


Angora goat and kid 

The Angora goat came to Texas in the early 1900s and my grandfather, L. B. Kirkpatrick, bought into the idea that the climate and terrain in the Hill Country of Texas would be a suitable place to raise this type of animal. The Angora goat is known for the fine fiber that it produces. At one time there were more Angora goats in Real County than anywhere else. That statement cannot be made today and it saddens me greatly. There is no market for the hair and most of the ranchers have sold their pure stock of Angoras or crossed them with a meat-type goat.

Uncle Vernon & Aunt Audrey Kirkpatrick about 1918

My grandfather bought some of the first goats brought into Texas and they were a part of our ranching stock for almost 100 years. At one point we ran about 2000+ head of commercial Angora goats.

We rounded up and sheared the goats in the spring and fall. Most of the goats that we ran were muttons because they grew bigger and were heartier than the does. We always did have a few does, usually about 150 to 200 head that we kept for producing and replacement. I always enjoyed the kids. It seemed like every spring we always had a few that we had to bottle for one reason or the other.

Uncle Vernon with two young Angora goats

Uncle Vernon with Angoras ready for show, these goats would probably shear about 15 to 20 pounds of mohair. Photo probably taken in the spring of 1929.

Kids and Kids
Jane Greer and Linda Kirkpatrick in her yellow boots!


Linda’s daughter Amanda with her Registered Doe and Buck 

Linda riding her pet goat

Linda’s son Douglas riding his pet goat 

Amanda riding her pet goat  

Linda’s grandfather, L. B. Kirkpatrick playing with a pen full of baby goats

Douglas and his Border Collie, Fritzie playing with a baby goat 

Linda with her Champion Registered doe in 1966 

Douglas with his Reserve Champion Registered doe 

Amanda with her Champion Registered Doe…this doe was never beaten in 6 years 

Amanda and her best goat 

Cover of
The Ranch Magazine, August, 1980 

Just a few years ago I realized that keeping the goats around just made no sense at all. Little by little I sold them to 4-H kids and eventually they were all gone. I still miss them but like I said there is no market and the cost of getting them sheared twice a year is just out of sight. Then it got to the point that shearers did not want to come to shear and I had to haul them which meant loading them and making the 20 mile drive to the shearer’s house.

But just for grins there is still a sack of mohair in the barn and I may just keep it forever. 

© 2008, Linda Kirkpatrick


  Utah's Sam Jackson started herding sheep as a young boy. Sam has written, "My father, Alvin Jackson, was a 5th generation sheep rancher, or 'woolgrower' (a term more commonly used in the industry). The outfit was strictly a 'range' operation with the sheep not seeing the inside of a building during their entire life other that 20 minutes a year during shearing." Sam restores sheep wagons today, and he contributed some interesting vintage photos to a Picture the West feature here.

He shares the following story and poem:

Sheepherder Tents

I’d dare say there aren’t many left who have spent time in the mountains living in a tent and being supplied by packhorse during the course of making a living. Although I hesitate referring to this as “Roughing it” (for each generation has their own definition of the term) it may come pretty close, but for whatever it's worth, here are some recollections of time spent in my "canvas digs" while herding sheep for my Dad during WW II.    

Still referred to as a “Sheepherder Tent,”  this rectangular canvas structure was 6 ft. wide by 12 ft. long, with 3 ft. walls and 6 ft high at the crown. The floor was dirt and two angular flaps that tied in front served as a doorway. It had few qualities dedicated to comfort, when the weather was hot—the tent was hot with the opposite qualities during a cold snap. However in its defense, it kept the sun off my pretty face and was an excellent wind break. 

The sides were usually pinned to the ground with wooden pegs then banked with dirt to keep out water and such local neighborhood pests as lizards, chipmunks, scorpions and rattle snakes (however, these same little rascals could come and go as they pleased via the aforementioned "front doors"). The tent was made from heavyweight canvas and waterproof, that is, unless something (like a hat or shoulder) would happen to touch the inside—then get out a pan to catch the drip.  

On the right side, as you enter, was the “Sheepherder Stove” perched on a large rock. This small, light weight unit could cook yer breakfast and keep things toasty as long as you fed it kindlin—but carefully! as too many sticks of oak or sage brush, all at once, would quickly turn the 20-gauge tin cherry red as there was no (effective) damper system to calm things down.

On the left side of the entry way stood a cupboard and two grub boxes. The former was usually a wooden crate standing on end, and the latter were covered boxes custom made to fit in the outfits pack saddle panniers. The rear half of the tent was used for a bed that sat on a framework of gamble oak poles topped off with a mattress of freshly cut pine boughs to enhance your sleeping pleasure. Several heavy “herd quilts” covered this “mattress.” They in turn were covered with a canvas tarp that served as a bedspread and tablecloth. A small water can sets just outside the door and to complete the interior decor, a canvas water bag or a metal canteen would hang from the tents front upright.

For mid-day recreation you might tease a rattlesnake into climbing a gamble oak bush or try (again) to capture the chipmunks pilfering oats out of the horses grain sacks.  I had a radio (with a dry cell battery larger than the radio) that would last about thirty days—if only played an hour a day, which wasn't much of a problem as there was no reception when the sun was up. In the morning while breakfast cooked, I'd listen to T Texas Tyler sing "Remember Me," "Roly Poly," "Rye Whiskey," and other "groan-up" music. Evening entertainment was either reading "Cowboy" stories by lantern light or listening to the 50,000 thousand watt, clear channel station coming out of Clint Texas: "C-l-i-n-t---Clint Texas" where they were forever advertising automobile paint that would not "Chip—Crack—or Peel!!" Figured, one day to buy some, for if things held steady and I had calculated correctly, by the time I was sixteen and could drive legally, my "six bits a day" would add up to about what it would take to buy a car—that would probably need a paint job.

I suppose the most difficult part of those "roughin' it" days, mentally, might have been the lonesome, and physically, putting up with the mud, wet and cold, while tryin' to warm up or dry out during those occasional two-or-three day Spring drizzles—but heck that sounds snivelly and there I was, a  whopping 12 years old, an' makin' six bits a day, so I'll end it here and see if I can set this story to rhyme—

My Canvas Home

          When as a lad, I camped alone,

while tending to my wooly flock.

Now more than sixty years have flown,

would if I could, turn back the clock?


From time to time my mind replays

             fond scenes of how those days were spent

engaging in the humble ways

            that come from living in a tent.


In many ways, those times were good,

self-confidence, experience gained,  

though doubting that today I could,

for progress has me luxury trained.


Could I, one hour before the dawn,

arise as coyotes greet the day

            to light a fire then stumble on

                   to find a steed that’s grazed away?


It mattered not how sweet the grass

                               how tall, nor tender, near the camp—

you’d swear that buckskin horse's ass

                               would trek a mile to make me tramp.    


                   Some sights and sounds come drifting in

                               so sharp and real it seems that I

                   can taste and smell and hear the din

                               from eggs and bacon as they fry                                               


                   Scoop out the breakfast from the pan

                                 hot coffee perkin’ in its pot

                   the dogs er smellin’ hotcakes, an,

                               are hopin’ that you’ve cooked a lot.


                   The pine bough bunk serves triple role

                                as table, bed and easy chair.

                   and hangin’ from the center pole

                                your digs are lit by lanterns glare.


                   Designer cupboards proudly stand

                               displaying manufactures pride—                                    

“Pure Sun Kissed prunes, the healthy brand!”

                               exclaim “These shelves are bona fide!”  


                   Beside the Spam, boxed flakes of wheat

                               their corners gnawed some, here and there

                   Danged chipmunks likely had a treat—

                               no more that right that we should share.


                   A stove sits perched across the aisle

                               its coat of rusty weathered tin

                   ain’t seen no polish for a while

                               top’s bent and sides are wearin’ thin


                   Still sittin’ on the same old stone

                               that keeps its belly off the ground

                   we move, but it stays here alone                                   

                               until next season rolls around.


                   ‘Bout once a week I’d keep an eye

                               a peerin’ down the home ranch trail

                   expectin' Dad would soon come by

                               a fetchin' fresh supplies and mail.


                   It's lonesome?  but I ain't afraid,

                               jist "shepherd up," get over it !

                   Six bits a day, I'm gettin’ paid—

                               while we're at war—I'll do my bit!         

    © 2008, Sajac
    This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Sam's "Toast to the Sheepherder" is included on a CD from the Western Folklife Center, Songs and Stories from Sheepherding. Sam comments that the CD "documents the history of a nearly forgotten industry that had much more to do with the successful settling of the West than most folks realize."

Sam conceived and produces the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, inspired by his belief in "excellence through competition." The National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo takes place next in Montrose, Colorado, September 16-18, 2010. Read more about it here.

Read more about Sam—one of the early Lariat Laureates at CowboyPoetry.comand more of his poetry in our feature here.



(The following by Paul Kern was posted as part of Picture the West in February, 2009, and is repeated here as apart of American ranch history.)


A Little Perspective on Losing Target

Utah rancher, poet, and writer Paul Kern recently lost father, and soon after, his prized saddle horse (read a poem here) and has written several eloquent entries at his web site, www.PaulKern.com. We asked Paul to share one of those stories, and this one is from his family's history. His web site includes many additional worthwhile pieces.

The following narrative is taken from my great-aunt Ida Kern Schaub's personal history. Her lines have given me some perspective on the loss of my prized saddle horse Target. Our vet once said that there are not enough numbers to count the ways a horse can hurt himself. I would add there are not enough words to describe the shock and disbelief at losing a horse in his prime. Aunt Ida's writing has helped me through this past couple of weeks. In the photo above, my grandfather Alfred Kern is driving the span of  horses mentioned below that was struck by lightning. The work being  performed is in a wheat field. Notice that the horses are pushing, not pulling the header that my grandfather is driving.

From Ida Schaubs' Personal History:

It was before my high school days or so that our family experienced what could have been a great tragedy. As I was on my way home from school one evening, I met Lucille Ballif and she said, "Ida, do you know what happened to your brother? He got struck by lightning." I started to cry and ran the two miles home as fast as I could.

Upon my arrival home I found Alf in bed. Mother and Father, of course, were very much upset. It was in the spring of the year. Alf had been taken out of high school to go out to the dry farm to do the spring work, which consisted of plowing the land and preparing it for the planting of spring grain. All work on farms in those days was done with horses. Tractors hadn't been thought of. Alf was plowing with three head of horses this particular day,  when a squall of wind and hail came up. Alf stopped the plowing, took his overcoat and sheltered himself beneath the horses. They were so gentle and knew their master so well. As the storm cleared, Alf got up and looked skyward to see if the clouds had passed, and that is the last he remembered until hours later, according to his watch. His first feeling was that he was in bed just awakening from his sleep. Then he realized that he was numb and couldn't move or swallow. Gradually his senses came back and he realized where he was and that all three horses were dead and that his head was just an inch or two away from the plow shears, and that he felt sick and sore. He managed to get up and hobble over to a neighbor, Jack Bosworth, who then brought him home. They found that the lightning had struck the top of his head and just as a streak of lightning there was a burned streak down the side of Alf's face, singeing his hair, eyebrows and lashes, passing down his left shoulder on to his left arm and glanced off at the elbow. Had the lightning gone down his chest, it would have been instant death, or had his head hit the sharp plow shears, it would also have proven fatal. We were all so very thankful to our Father in Heaven for sparing his life at this time.

The foregoing experience seemed to trigger a year of unusual happenings and accidents with the horses and animals that Father owned. It was thrashing time and Dad brought home from the thrasher a very beautiful mare we called Pearl. She had pneumonia. We called the vet. He prescribed treatment every two hours of mustard plasters and medicine forced down her throat with a long syringe, so Mother and I did the doctoring because Father had to go back to the dry farm. Every two hours Mother and I went to work night and day, trying to save Pearl, but she died after a week or so. Then there was old Jock, a long-legged clumsy critter who was tied to a plow for the night, on a side hill by the barnyard. Who tied Jock to this place no one seemed to confess. Anyway, morning found him dead. As he slept he slid down hill and the rope around his neck choked him to death. That summer we had a lovely little colt about six months old. He contracted distemper and Mother and I tried to nurse him back to health, but he died.

Old Chub, our old faithful horse whom we all loved and who had given the farm so much service, got so lame with what they called "ring bones"" (which I now realize must have been arthritis, because my fingers today remind me of Old Chub's feet), that he could hardly walk anymore, so Father had to shoot him. We all felt so sad about Chub. Coally, a black buggy horse, who used to take us flying in the buggy, really was a has-been racehorse when Dad bought him. He really was a high-spirited and high-strung piece of  horseflesh, but a fine buggy horse. Going to Church we'd pass all of our neighbors on the road. Well, that winter, Coally was performing in the barnyard, slipped on the ice, broke his leg, and he had to be shot. We all missed our fast buggy rides.

Father had a fine span of horses that he had replaced for the three the lightning had killed. Alf was working with them at home in Preston, preparing the ground where we planted our vegetable garden. As the horses crossed an irrigation ditch, the harrow they were pulling flipped up out of control. One of the sharp teeth of the harrow struck one horse in one of his hind legs, penetrating deep into the knee joint. Father and the family doctored him for weeks, but they finally had to shoot him. This was a terrible blow to Dad, but I recall hearing him say to Mother one day as they were in the kitchen, "Well Mother, as long as the trouble stays in the barnyard, I won't complain." I really didn't get the full impact of his statement at that time, but I have thought about it many times since.

These foregoing instances practically wiped out all of Father's horses. He didn't have enough to run the farm work with. His good neighbors and friends came to his rescue and gathered up a collection so Dad could purchase some fine new horses.

© 2009, Paul Kern

Janice Lee Weiss Truitt


Janice Lee Weiss Truitt writes:

I am Janice Lee Weiss Truitt, daughter of William Dale and Betty Lou Sauter Weiss...my dad was the son of Grover C. and Pearl Lillian Smith Weiss, who were married in 1912, at the age of 19, and emigrated from Nocona, Texas to Wyoming, around 1916/17...I was born in Douglas, Wyoming, in a POW camp hospital because an "official" hospital still hadn't been built...that wouldn't come until 1950 when my "baby" brother, G.W. weiss was born.

My new home was a 6000 acre cattle/dry farming/sheep ranch located about 50 miles northeast of Douglas, at Bill, Wyoming...Our house was a building that had been moved to its current location by my grandfather...he "improved" it to include 3 bedrooms, a wood cook stove, and outdoor plumbing...shortly after I came along, a bottled gas cook stove and refrigerator appeared; I was 3 or 4 years old before the 'indoor' plumbing was installed...you can believe, I still remember the trips to the little "shack out back" in the middle of winter with the wind howling and the snow blowing.

We used kerosene lamps, a car battery radio, gas iron, and wind-up phonograph until my dad bought a 32 volt wind charger with storage batteries...we used that for a few years, then he bought our first gas-powered "light plant" and wired the house for electricity...in 1959, we got PPL electricity, and our first black and white tv that had two whole channels, and a cabinet stereo...the telephone out there was not put in until the 1970's/1980's.

For the first 8 years of school, my brother and I rode the "bus" (a vehicle owned by our "bus" driver) 10 miles one way to a typical country school over dirt roads that were either as dry as a bone, so wet you couldn't stand on them, or through snow drifts higher than the vehicle on either side of the road...picture this...either a car, station wagon, or, a jeep in really bad weather was our 'bus' with about 6 kids piled in. After 8th grade, I went to high school in Douglas while i lived with my grandma, Pearl.

After high school I attended Chadron State College for 2 1/2 years, married, had two sons, joined the U.S. Army in 1978, got stationed in Germany, met and married another soldier, and had one daughter, who had our only grandchild in 2004...currently "settled" in Fort Worth, Texas, which is always open to discussion...and the adventure continues....

Christmas at the Community Hall


Back in the 1950s, when my brother and i were just kids, we lived on a sheep ranch that was 10 miles away, over a sometimes-graded dirt road, from, what passed as the "center of civilized life" in our little community of bill, Wyoming.

This haven of civilization consisted of a little country store that had pop, candy and snack foods, all costing less that a dollar. It also had a pigeon-hole post office that had no zip code next to the store was the store owner's home. Next to that was the two room school house, behind the school house was the 'teacherage' where the school teacher lived during the week. On the weekends, depending on the weather and road conditions, most of our teachers beat a hasty retreat 35 miles south to their cozy homes in Douglas, Wyoming.

Past the school was a medium-sized building we called our "community hall." which was not only the gathering place of all the residents of our community (not a few of whom had to drive 40 or 50 miles from town and surrounding ranches), it housed such goings-on as a weekly circuit rider church, vacation bible school, and all county, state, and national elections. But, in the eyes of a child, its most important function was the annual Halloween and Christmas parties every year before Christmas vacation began, we would put on a big Christmas program with all the trimmings, including a huge decorated Christmas tree, and red and green crepe paper chains made by the little kids dangling everywhere.

If you were in the 1st to 5th grade, you were not allowed to participate in any of the decorating of the hall, couldn't have a part in the pla', and only do little poetry pieces and solo songs, or readings for the benefit of the audience you will never know how all we kids longed to be in the 6th through 8th grades so we could go up to the hal', unsupervised by the teacher, start the fires in the wood stoves, and work on decorating....yes, we still lived in the primitive days of wood heating stoves and had no electricity in our school building. The community hall had what we all called a "light plant" from the time I went to school in 1953 so we could do nighttime parties. The school finally got electric lights in 1959/1960, and no indoor plumbing until1964/5.

Anyway...the weather was usually snowy, and the roads usually miserable at Christmas time...I remember going home after school on the day of the Christmas party,having to actually eat supper, try to remember either our solo songs, poems, or, if we were old enough, the lines to the play. What excitement...take a bath, get dressed in our very best that our parents had somehow made appear without our ever seeing it before the celebration.

I remember one Christmas in particular...my grandmother had sent me a red velvet dress that she made from Nocona, Texas, where she was living to take care of her mother. It was a beautiful burgundy red, and I remember my mother hung it up over the bathtub and steamed it over hot hot water because it couldn't be ironed. After supper, and what seemed like endless waiting, my dad would go out into the cold, starry night to start the truck to warm it up, then the 4 of us would pile in and make the 10-mile trip to the community hall over roads that would have broken a lesser man. When I was a kid we didn't really pay much attention to the mud and snow...when you HAD to go somewhere, you just put chains on our not 4-wheel-drive truck and went.

I will never forget how exciting it was to walk in the door of the hall...warmth from wood stoves and at least a hundred people who had come from town and other ranches, the Christmas tree all lit and shining, lights casting a golden glow over the wonderland that the hall was transformed into. Then came the program, which always started off with the little kids doing their pieces, then, the play that we had worked so hard on to make perfect. Then everyone of the community would take part in Christmas carol singing...I remember we worked hard for weeks before the party to learn the words and music, and how very beautiful it sounded.

Then came our Santa to pass out gifts from under the tree: each child there received a small, brightly wrapped present from a secret pal along with a red or green net bag containing a red or green, really sticky popcorn ball, an orange, mixed nuts (the nuts were always exotic ones that we never saw in everyday life) and hard striped sticky candy. After all this excitement, refreshments of hot cocoa, coffee and all kinds of home-made goodies were served to all. Then, after refreshing, the adults would gather around the stoves and socialize, catching up on gossip and news...most didn't see each other but a few times a year. All the kids, finally turned loose from all formality, would run around inside and outside in the snow and cold, just enjoying our own company and our magic time. Finally, late in the evening, the magic of another community Christmas was over. Everyone would pile back into cold cars and trucks and drive off into the sold starry night, headed for home, our own Christmas tree and presents, and, best of all, two whole weeks of CHRISTMAS VACATION!!!

© 2009, Janice Weiss Truitt

The following was included in a January, 2011 Picture the West

Janice Lee Weiss Truitt (also known by her Choctaw name, Anumpuli Shali ("Long talker") shares vintage family photos from Nocona, Texas. She writes:

This photo is of my Choctaw great grandmother, her three daughters, and her husband, the man from Mississippi...the Lorenzo Dow Smith family of Nocona, Texas, taken around 1894. My grandmother, Pearl, is the baby on her lap.

My grandfather, Grover Cleveland Weiss, was born in Oklahoma in 1893. His family of 10 or 11 (8 or 9) children moved to Nocona, Texas some time in the late 1890s. He is the serious- looking kid at the far right in the back row of this school photograph:

He and my grandmother (who was also born in 1893 in Nocona) were married in 1912 when they were both 19.

Around 1916 they moved to Wyoming, where my grandfather got a job as a fireman with the Union Pacific Railroad and my grandmother somehow wangled a job with J. C. Penney, who opened his first 'Golden Rule' store in Kemmerer,  Wyoming, on the UP line.

Some time after that, they moved to Douglas, where he worked as a carpenter, while acquiring enough land from homesteaders who went "bust" to build up a 6000 acre ranch at Bill, Wyoming.  In 1923, their only child, William Dale Weiss, was born in Douglas.

  Bette Wolf Duncan shares the following story, poem, and photos about her pioneering North Dakota ancestors:

Red River Valley Early Pioneers

By the 1860s, the fur trade in the Red River Valley began to decline. In 1862, the Homestead Act was passed by the U.S. Congress, giving title to 160 acres of unoccupied public land to each homesteader on payment of a nominal fee and required five years of residence. But it was not until a survey was completed that the public land in the Red River Valley was actually available for homesteading. The Red River of the North runs through one of the most fertile valleys in the United States; and as it flows north to Canada it forms the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota. Near the river’s head waters on the bank of the Bois de Sioux is Wahpeton, North Dakota, the second white settlement in North Dakota. (Pembina, a fur trading post near the Canadian border, was the first.)

Morgan T. Rich was the first settler in this area. My great-grandfather, Mathias (Matt) Lorenc (Lawrence) (1844 - 1910), immigrated to the United States in 1866, with his parents and his cousin Alva (Albert) Chezik. They were from a small village in the vicinity of what is now Prague, Czechoslovakia. In 1871, great-grandfather Matt and his cousin, Albert, joined Rich in Wahpeton. Both occupied and asserted claims under “squatter’s rights.”

Within the year, they were joined by Matt’s sister and brother-in-law, Mr. And Mrs. Lorene (Lawrence) Formaneck and other relatives of the Cheziks. Of the 16 earliest settlers including M.T, Rich, eight of them are relatives from Bohemia. Currently in Wahpeton, there is a monument that commemorates the role played in the founding of the town by pioneer Catholics: Mathias Lawrence, Albert, Joseph & Frank Chezik, and Joseph & Frank Formanek. There is a second monument that commemorates the first Mass conducted in the Albert Chezik “dug-out.”

These Bohemian immigrants were of peasant stock belonging to a class of small farmers that were still suffering from vestiges of serfdom. Joseph II (1780 - 1790) abolished serfdom; but in response to pressures from the nobility, his successor restored many feudal obligations. Serfdom was not completely abolished in Bohemia until 1848. My great grandfather and his relatives were born serfs; and they remained de facto serfs for many years after the abolition of serfdom. A full account of the conditions in Bohemia that led to their exodus and the details of their settlement in Dakota Territory appears in Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Vol. IV, O.G. Libby, Editor (1913). This collection includes photos of these relatives, including the following, among others:

Top: Mr.and Mrs. Albert Chezik Bottom: Mr. nd Mrs. Mathew Lorenc (Lawrence)


Additional accounts of these early Bohemian settlers, and all of them relatives, is to be found in Early History of North Dakota by Colonel Clement A. Lounsberry, (1919). The author was founder of The Bismark Tribune. See also, Memories of Josephine Jurgen and Biography of Joseph Chezik by L.J. Connolly, Wahpeton N.D. (1937).

My grandfather Frank Lawrence was the first baby boy born in Wahpeton. Below is a wedding photo of him and my maternal grandmother, Mary Holecek, along with attending relatives, Charles Frank Chezik and Elizabeth Holecek.

At page 72 of the State Historical Society account appears the following statements:

"They [the Bohemians] are hard workers, and have little faith in schemes to save work. They give the same amount of energy to the virgin soil of North Dakota as they did to the crowded, and much-used soil of old Bohemia."

"The Bohemians are naturally fond of music. Hardly a home is without its musical instruments, and there are always one or more performers in each family. The violin is the favorite instrument. . . . " Following is a copy of a treasured family photo.

Photo pictures left to right: nephew, son and son-in-law of Frances Lorenc Chezik,
Theodore and John Chezik and Walt Zajie.

Wahpeton was the opening wedge for settlement on the west side of the Red River; and it was the southern gateway to the Red River Valley. It was through this area that many homesteaders passed on their way west. As the frontier pushed westward to the high plains, many new emigrants found themselves getting off a train into a sea of grass and little else.

Early Homesteaders burrowed into hillsides before wooden cabins were built. They found a durable building material beneath their feet. Buffalo grass was short and tough with a dense tangle of roots; it held its shape when cut. Living in sod houses, however, presented many obstacles. The soddy leaked continuously. Women reportedly held umbrellas over their stoves while cooking. Tarps were hung on the ceiling to catch particles of dirt that fell. Living creatures shared the sod dwellers' space as well. Snakes, mice, and bugs were everyday inhabitants of the sod house..

Things like doors and windows were very expensive items. Often the doorways were covered by a blanket until wood could be bought or obtained to build a door. The windows were framed with wood. Actual glass was rare as it had to be shipped from the Eastern cities. People covered their windows with blankets or used greased oiled paper for the covering. In 1872 (ten year after the passage of The Homestead Act and 2 years after Matt Lawrence and his relatives settled in Wahpeton), Montgomery Ward marketed windows and frames for $1.25, and the railroads carried these and other supplies to the Great Plains frontier. (A Railroad was built in the Wahpeton area around 1874). Eventually these homesteaders progressed from their primitive dug-out, hillside soddies to more hospitable cabins, wooden houses or more complex and comfortable sod homes. They did so as soon as they could afford it. They learned and were innovative. The early pioneers paved the way for the influx of homesteaders that followed them.

First Year on the Prairie

Though blizzards whipped the soddy,
still it rang with vibrant sound.
There was music every Sunday
on its floor of frozen ground.
It was Sunday! It was Sunday;
and our solemn mood turned mellow,
when Matt and Al played violins,
and Lawrence played the cello.

Though the Arctic wind was blasting;
and their misery was profound,
folks gathered every Sunday
and the soddy would resound
with fiddles and with singing—
voices ringing with good cheer—
but intertwining always
with the undertones of fear.

There was fear about the winter.
Their soddies were austere;
their food supplies were meager;
and their suffering was severe.
Their first year on the prairie...
and they’d learned! They would survive!
They’d make it through this winter
and come out of it alive!

They’d learned! And come next winter
they’d chink their soddy tight.
They’d plank the floor; more staples store;
prepare for winter right!
Till then, they’d sing on Sunday,
every Sunday after Mass,
until they’d sing and dance again
upon the green, green grass.

Matt and Al played violins
and Lawrence played the cello;
and the rest would join in singing
till the solemn mood turned mellow,
There was music every Sunday
on the frozen soddy floor;
and the music told their shivering hearts
that Spring would come once more.

© 2010, Bette Wolf  Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Read more about Bette Wolf Duncan and her poetry here.


[Bette Wolf Duncan photo by Kent B. Broyhill from the 2009 National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo]

  Bette Wolf Duncan sent her story and poem after being inspired by Bob Coronato's painting, "The Horse Wrangler Gather’d The Morning Mounts: 'One That Had’n Lived The Life ... Couldn’t Paint a Picture ...To Please The Eye, of One That Had!'" for the 2009 Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur.

Reproduction prohibited without express written permission
"The Horse Wrangler Gather’d The Morning Mounts:
'One That Had’n Lived The Life ... Couldn’t Paint a Picture ...To Please The Eye, of One That Had!'"

© 2008, Bob Coronato, courtesy The Greenwich Workshop, Inc. www.greenwichworkshop.com


My late husband’s grandfather, Caleb Duncan, and his brother George came to Montana from New Brunswick, Canada in the 1870s. They were among the very first ranchers and settlers in southeast Montana.They first ranched in the Judith Basin area in the vicinity of what is now Lewistown. My poem “Shaney Ridge” gives an account of how they built up a large spread in this area and then lost it. One spring Caleb returned to New Brunswick to get married. When he returned, he found a note from George telling him that he lost the brothers' holdings during a card game. George said that he was leaving; and that if he made enough to pay back what he had gambled away, he would return. Caleb never heard from George again. He started over; this time in what is now Carbon County, Montana. The home base of his ranch was between Roberts and Red Lodge. He obtained a long term lease on range land about 50 miles distant, on the Crow Indian reservation. Up until this ranch was sold in the 1960s, the family drove cattle to and from this range every year. (My late husband figured that he was on at least 20 of these cattle drives.)

Caleb and Anna Duncan
For relevant poems, see my "Shaney Ridge" and "Empty Cradle Sad"

Pete Duncan (Robert Leonard "Pete" Duncan
Pete is the brother of  my late husband Lloyd William "Bill" Duncan. This picture was taken on the family ranch. Pete was Bill's older brother. After Pete and Bill's father died, Pete took over the ranch. It was sold some ten or so years later.

The background in  Bob Coronato's painting, "The Horse Wrangler Gather’d The Morning Mounts...." is almost identical to the backgrounds that appear in the paintings of Charles M. Russell. Russell was a nighthawk who worked in the area from the Judith Basin to the Pryor Mountains in southeastern Mt. This was about the same time that Caleb and George were ranching there; and Caleb knew Russell. It is not surprising, that the background in Coronato’s painting should have looked so familiar to me. My husband and I were born and raised in southeast Montana. It was not much of a stretch of the imagination to look at that painting and see Caleb Duncan mounted on his horse during the era of the “open range.”

During this period of time, cattle were driven to market or the railroad in late summer. The Union Pacific Railroad was not completed until about 1870. It cut across the Wyoming Territory. During the days of the Open Range and up until the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed in about 1885 as far as the Bozeman  Pass, the railroad stop at Casper on the Union Pacific line would have been the closest market/railroad connection to the Montana Judith Basin area. Casper is about 400 miles from the Judith Basin. It has been estimated that cattle drives traveled at a rate of about ten miles a day. In Charles M. Russell by John Taliaferro;1996; Little, Brown & Co, (Canada), it was estimated that it took Charlie Russell, traveling with a wagon and a four horse team, three weeks to go from Helena to the Judith Basin ( a distance of about 195 miles).

In Bob Coronato’s moving painting, the horses are not unduly disturbed by the presence of the wrangler; they seem quite comfortable  in his presence. The look and demeanor of the wrangler is that of a caring and kind herdsman who has affection for his herd. What was the wrangler thinkin? “Goin’ For Broke” is the story that "The Horse Wrangler Gather’d The Morning Mounts...."   painted for me.

Goin' for Broke
(Judith Basin, Montana-1880)

That hoof beat staccato!
I cotton the beat.
Let me hear the work sounds
of your range drummin' feet.
Wake up, my four footed,
star chasin' friends.
It's time for my pamperin'
you ponies to end.
The stars have all gone.
It's a sun's peek past dawn.
We're weeks from the railroad;
and late movin' on.

Come alive, you wind racers.
The summer's grown old.
The winds from Alberta
are blowin' in cold.
The winged flocks of wild geese
are passin' us by.
Get fixed for high ridin'.
Get ready to fly.
...No lead-footed bangtails
in this wrangler's herd.
Don Pegasus wings
and fly like a bird.

The waddies are waitin'
with  bank-notes of beef.
We've trouble enough
so don't give us more grief.
We're six weeks from Casper...
a long way t' go;
and the winds from Alberta
are whisperin' of snow.
We should a left sooner,
of that there's no doubt;
but late summer cloudbursts
left trails flooded out.

This ranchin's a gamble.
Some years things go fine....
and some years they don't-
which is most of the time.
The cowboys are waitin'.
There's cattle t' drive.
Get a move on you Cayuse!
The dawn's come alive.
You won't get no coddlin'
from this worried Poke.  
We're six weeks from Casper
and goin' for broke!!!

© 2009, Bette Wolf  Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


[Bette Wolf Duncan photo by Kent B. Broyhill from the 2009 National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo]

Read more about Bette Wolf Duncan and her poetry here.

  (The following was posted as part of Picture the West in June, 2009, and is repeated here as apart of American ranch history.)

Poet and writer Bette Wolf Duncan shares her "Memories of Alvin Wolf."

Memories of Alvin Wolf

Before he died, my father Alvin D. Wolf, taped a record of his life from early childhood on. This record was transcribed; and it now appears in a lovely hard cover book, The Descendants of Gottlieb Wolf (1833- 1880) et al. This book was compiled by my sister Dolores McMullen; and published by her as a gift to family members in 2006. The book was the culmination of 35 years of her genealogical research. The following data was taken from this book. The photos were found in family scrapbooks compiled by Dolores.

My grandfather, Hermann Wolf (1866 - 1949) immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old. He lived with relatives in Wisconsin for awhile and worked in logging camps and lumber woods. Later, he moved to Minnesota, where he farmed and raised work horses that he eventually sold to the railroad. Hermann personally delivered the horses to Montana via rail. In 1909, he filed for a homestead on land located in Osborne, Montana. It wasn’t much of a town, just a store and a post office. (Osborne no longer exists; it is a part of the Huntley Project.) While located there, my grandfather farmed, but the major part of his income was probably derived from freighting logs from the Bull Mountains for the railroad. In his tape, my father said this:

"Dad always had good horses. In Minnesota during the summertime, he would farm and then take horses to Montana. At that time, the railroad company would haul the horses free of charge. They used the horses to help build the railroads. The ones Dad helped build were the Milwaukee around Osborne and the line that goes from Laurel to Great Falls, MT. Logs were hauled from the Bull Mountains to build timber bridges.

When they were freighting, they would first start out across the country at night. When they stopped they’d feed the horses. Indians were till roaming around the country then. Although we never had any problems with them, at night we’d worry about losing our horses. There was a lot of deer around; and hunters were sent out to get meat for the men."


Above is a picture of my grandfather Hermann, and his oldest child and my uncle, Berthold Wolf (1897 - 1918). They are pictured with some of their stock, a four horse team. Bert appears to be about 12 in this photo; so the photo was probably taken around 1909. 

Below is a picture of Uncle Bert and my grandfather, pitching hay to cattle from a wagon. Bert appears to be around 16 or 17; so the photo was probably taken around 1913.


Below is a picture of my grandmother, Emma Gerlach Wolf (1875 - 1960), and my father, Alvin D. Wolf (1909 -1991). Dad was the second baby boy born in Huntley Project. The photo shows them feeding chickens in front of the log chicken house. The family home and barn were made from timber hauled in from the Bull Mountains. The barn was built first. While the house was being built, the family lived in the barn. (The house was still standing until about five years ago, when it burned down.)

About my grandmother, Dad said this:

"Mother had a big job. She raised a big family and she worked hard. The women of today don’t know what work is. Everything in those days had to come out of the garden. You raised your own food and that was the women’s job. All the clothes you had were washed on the washboard. You had to carry your own water from the well and carry your own wood in for the stoves. You didn’t turn the faucet on to get hot water. When they washed clothes, they put a boiler on to heat the water. They then took care of the garden. It was a tremendous job, and I don’t know how they ever got their work done.

We never were out of clean clothes. We always had better home-cooked food than you get at home today. Milking cows usually turned out to be the women’s job twice a day. They had kerosene lamps and one had to see that they were filled all the time. The chimneys had to be kept clean as they would smoke up and get black. How did she ever get her work done?.

Mom always had quite a few people to cook for, not only for her family, because we usually had hired men around. Breakfast was usually at six or six-thirty. Meals were regular and on time and you didn’t fool around. Twelve o’clock or noon was dinner-time and you were there! Between six and six-thirty was supper and again, you were there or you didn’t get any! This was everyday. . . . "

The following picture (probably taken about 1914) shows Uncle Bert and my father when he was about five years old. They are pictured on family saddle horses. Bert was my grandfather’s right-hand man from the time he was a young boy. (His death while in the Army during WWI in 1918, about four year after this picture was probably taken, was a heartbreaking loss.)

About horses, my father said this:

"In Osborne where I was born, I used to ride horses all the time. I guess I was born in the saddle. I remember the first time I ever got thrown off a horse. Dad set me on a colt and then clapped his hands. The colt bucked me off. I couldn’t have been more than four at the most. The reason I remember this so well is that I landed on a manure pile but I didn’t get hurt. That little colt was killed by the railroad. She got in front of a train.

. . . When you’re seven or eight years old, you could drive a team of horses and go out and mow hay in those days. I would go out on my saddle horse and bring the milk cows home. The cows were in the hills for grass. Of course, the horse did more than I did and knew what she was doing more than I did."

Below are two pictures of Aunt Agnes Wolf Burnstead (1878 - 1997). The first shows Agnes on the horse to the left. (I don’t know who the other rider is.) When Uncle Bert died in 1918, Agnes took his place and did everything on the place but irrigating. She was a very hard working, intelligent women, typical of the many women of the West who took over farms and ranches when their husbands were absent. The second picture shows Agnes in a playful mood on her horse.



The following picture shows the Wolf family in their old Model T Ford. It was taken in front of their Osborne home. Seated on the running board are Grandpa and Agnes. My father, Al, is peering over their shoulder, and Grandma is standing toward the front of the car. The picture was probably taken around 1915.


Grandpa filed his Final Proof of Homestead Entry in 1914; ad in 1915, he sold the Osborne homestead. In 1916 he purchased about 650 acres of land in Stillwater Country, MT from the Northern Pacific Railroad. This land was located west of Park City near a railroad stop, then known as "Rapids". In his taped account, my father said this:

" Dad sold the place in Huntley (Osborne) and bought a place outside of Park City. . . He had one of the nicest farms in the whole country. It was about half way between Park City and Columbus. The land was located on both sides of the railroad. The grazing land was on the north side of the road and the farm land was on both sides. . . . The Stub was a train that ran from Billings to Butte. When it went by, we’d wave. That was the only thing we had to look at, and you could set your clock by it. He would stop and pick up our milk and cream and take it to the Livingston or Billings creamery. The money from the cows, chickens and butter was your grocery money. Whenever flour was needed, we’d take a load of wheat to town in Park City and trade it for flour and bran for the calves. . . .

The trains were your only means of transportation for any distance. They didn’t have roads like we do today. There was nothing but dirt roads and you didn’t even have a gravel road. You would go into town once a week unless you broke down. In the winter, it would be even longer. One didn’t have radios, telephones, or daily newspapers. You could be in war for several weeks and you wouldn’t know it unless someone told you. The only means of communication was from mouth to mouth or the Columbus newspaper that came out once a week. When you were in town, you would listen to all the news and tell everyone. Once in awhile we’d get the newspaper from the Stub."

In the two pictures below you can see the old farmhouse that Grandpa built. I was born in this house in 1930. In the first photo, Grandpa and Grandma are standing by the porch. In the second photo, Agnes is standing by the side of the house with her horse. The house is still standing, but the new owners have built a larger house that is more to their liking; and our dear old house is decaying with neglect.


The following picture shows the barn that Grandpa built. It is still in excellent condition. When Grandpa had it, the family brand was painted on the front below the roof. On the bottom side of the photo, you can see the edge of the Big Ditch, used for irrigation. The Yellowstone River was close by to the south.


Dad is pictured in the two photos below. In the first one, he is standing by the porch with his dog and his Remington rifle. In the second, he is standing in front of his horse. His gun can be seen sticking out of a leather case attached to his saddle. In the background is a deserted boarded up barn with a sagging roof, location unknown. There are many like it that dot the Montana prairies. These two photos were probably taken around 1921 and 1924. Concerning horses, Dad made an interesting comment:

"We had horses that were just as good fisherman as we were. We would fish right off the horse. They knew every hole in the river. They’d go right up to the spot to fish and as soon as that fish was on the line, they’d back right up to the shore. That was an easy way to fish. You didn’t have to walk much."



The final picture below shows Uncle Bert shortly before he died in the service in 1918. It shows him holding a goose in one hand and his rifle in the other. It is significant that the few pictures of Dad and Uncle Bert I have show them with rifles. Guns have always played a dominant role in Montana.


The West we enjoy today was built with the sweat and sacrifice of men and women like my relatives. Montana cattle were ( and maybe still are) highly prized by mid-western farmers and feedlots because they would survive while other livestock would languish or die. In the same way, the people of the West were unique; more independent, self reliant, and imbued with a rock-hard inner strength. They were survivors that sacrificed blood and sweat to overcome severe hardships. In the words of a poem I wrote ("The Men From Way Out West"):

It wasn’t their genetics
or some fabled cowboy deed.
Their rock-hard ranch existence
had spawned a different breed.


[Bette Wolf Duncan photo by Kent B. Broyhill from the 2009 National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo]


Read more about Bette Wolf Duncan and her poetry here.







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