A Pioneer's Adventure at The Elbow
Posted by Sharon Labels: Canada 150, Canada Day, Diamond Dot, Leslie Giauque,pioneers Saskatchewan
Today, on the 150th anniversary of the confederation of Canada, I reflected on my heritage. I knew of course, like most Canadians, many of my ascendants were not born in Canada. But where and when were they born? And when did they or their descendants come to Canada? My great grandfather on my mother's side was actually born in 1867 - in Holland. But the story that appeals to me most is this one, taken from my mother's book "Back to the Coteau Hills". I am so grateful that she took the time to document this history, the details extracted from her father and grandmother. My grandfather, her father, moved to Canada in 1897 on Canada's thirtieth anniversary. Here is that story, an excerpt from Mom's book:
Louis Napoleon Giauque descended from French Acadians who fled persecution in Acadia, not the Maritime provinces of Canada, to relocate in the southern part of the United States. But later, with his parents, he migrated back north, finally settling in the state of Michigan. He married a young Irish-Welsh girl named Rachel Jones and together they started a family. They were both small of bone and short in stature but they were hardy people from strong, courageous stock, sprung from families who knew what adversity was and who knew how to survive in spite of it. Louis, black haired and blue-eyed, was quick and high spirited; Rachel, more quiet and deliberate but with a certain look in her grey eyes that boded no good for those opposed her. She walked with a decided limp, since her right leg was an inch or so shorter than her left. On the way to a dance on her sixteenth birthday a runaway team had upset the sleigh throwing everyone onto the ice-packed snow and pinning Rachel's leg beneath the overturned sleigh.
Louis was a violinist, an accomplished ventriloquist, a natural entertainer, also, perhaps a gypsy at heart. He was never really satisfied in Michigan, so after a disastrous fire took their home and all their possessions, he decided to leave that state. In the spring of 1897 he outfitted two wagons and, with Rachel and their six children, some horses, cattle, a pig which was to farrow along the way, two geese and a few chickens, they started north and west to the Canadian border beyond which, they had heard, was good land free for the taking. Behind them lay the charred remains of their first home; before them lay their hope for a brighter dawn.
Louis drove the lead wagon loaded with tools, the pig and the chickens. He had his rifle and his shotgun in handy reach and there was seldom lack of fresh meat for the supper meal. Tied to the tailboard of his wagon was a team of horses, spares in case any of the harnessed ones became footsore or trail-weary. Rachel followed with a covered wagon. Hers was loaded with the necessities of life – bedding, a stove, a few dishes and pots and pans, the barest of food staples and clothing. Four of the six children rode with their mother or, except for the baby, took turns riding up front with their father. Nellie, the oldest of the family and Leslie, a year younger, were on horseback. Their job was to herd the loose horses and cattle along the trail. One cow was led – "Bossy", their milk cow and the only one to lead. She was supposed to serve as leader for the others, most of them not at all anxious to leave the green fields of Michigan. So Bossy plodded placidly behind Rachel's covered wagon, providing a meager supply of milk each morning and night, not really enough for the family of eight but better than none at all.
Leslie (my grandfather) was only twelve years old but already showed signs of becoming a fine horseman. His father mounted him on a little brown mare, pretty to look at but unbroken. The first day on the trail she bucked the boy off repeatedly until, finally, bruised and shaken, Leslie asked for another horse to ride. His father's answer was matter-of-fact.
"Jest keep getting' back up there. She'll geet tired of buckin' after a while."
The second day was no better except that by now Leslie was mad and each time the mare threw him he hung on a little longer and sure enough, finally, as his father had said, the little mare got "tired of buckin'" and learned instead to obey the boy's commands. By the end of the trek she was a good cowpony. Leslie Giauque had done his first bronc busting and had trained his first horse.
At last, in the green and lovely month of June, the little cavalcade reached the South Saskatchewan landing and crossed by ferry boat to the north side of the South Saskatchewan River. Man and animal alike were tired of the long trail. In a poplar bluff a little downstream from the point of the ferry, Louis and Rachel decided to rest.
However, the Frenchman did not intend to stay at the Landing. He liked the river but there was something missing there, something that told him this move from Michigan would be his last one. Thus the choice of a homestead must be a good one. Early one morning, the spring after the family's arrival at the river, Louise set out on horseback to find a place to relocate. Leaving his wife and children to look after themselves, he rode east by a little north, always following the general contour of the river but more often than not out of sight of it. His quest took him through the manymiles of hlly rolling grassland which was to be called the Coteau Hills – "coteau", a French word meaning high plateau.
Meanwhile, though her hands were full with care of the children and animals, Rachel was restless. There was wood for their fuel, fish in the river and deer in the ravines of the river breaks. Her children healthy, happy as only children can be, romped over the river hills, swam and splashed in the clear waters of the river and, barefoot, they stepped on the prickly pear cactus and went screaming home beseeching Rachel to pull the illusive thorns. One evening, just at twilight, Leslie shot his first deer as it picked its dainty way to the river for a drink. And so the family wanted not, but Rachel was rested now from the long overland trip and she was anxious to get the last miles behind her. Too, there was the nagging fear that her husband might not return. What then, she asked herself, would she do? When, after two more weeks he did return, Rachel offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving.
Louis was happy as a cricket in the summer sunshine. "I've found the perfec' place. Right in de bend of de river, 'bout seventy or eight mile down de river from here. Dere are many fine, beeg trees for building de house, an' thick willows for shelter for the cattle, an' a beeeg hay meadow between de river and de breaks."
As he talked to his wife of this dream, his lifelong hope of one day having a ranch to share with his sons, he waved his hands in the air, spreading his fingers wide to illustrate the importance of his discovery. And as usual, when he became excited, he lapsed into his mother tongue.
"Mais dieu avec nous – de bes' of all! Dere's a spring of good clear water running out of de side of de hill. De house, she by de side of dat hill!"
That night, tired though he was, he did not sleep for a long time. What hopes he had for the future. How bright his dreams of a house beside the laughing spring. Rachel was excited too, anxious to establish a permanent abode, but something was troubling her until, long after her husband's breathing told her he was asleep, she decided what she would do. Then, turning on her feather tick, she too fell into untroubled sleep.
In the morning preparations began for the last trek across the prairie. Nellie and Leslie rounded up the horses, caught them one by one, trimmed feet, cut tangles out of manes and tails, talked to them of the trip ahead, told them of the good times to come. Rachel, on the her part, was busy loading household things into the covered wagon. Certain things, unnoticed, she put aside. But before she got too much weight in the wagon, her husband appeared, a pail of grease in his han.
"We grease de wheels now," he said. "For near a year she sit in de shade of de poplar trees but she be ver' dry now." There was lots to do before they could actually leave the small clearing which had been their home for most of the past summer and all of the winter months.
That last night they unrolled their blankets under the wagons, and after the l\st young one had gone to sleep Rachel spoke.
"I don't want to go in the wagon with those big wheels falling into gopher holes and buffalo wallows for all the miles across the prairie. Nellie can drive the covered wagon and take Vernie, Hilda and Hoy with her. Leslie can handle the livestock alone. They will go better not that hey have been once on the trail."
Rachel turned on her side and looked at the little boat resting upside down beside the wagon. Under it, she knew, were a few provisions and some blankets. Then she spoke again.
"It'll take at least five days for you to reach the place you want to go. I'll take the baby in the boat and row downstream in one day if all goes well. If it doesn't…." She shrugged her thin shoulders and looked at her husband with clear grey eyes. "I'll be there three or four days ahead of you. The baby and I will rest by the river until you get there."
Louis knew there was no changing her stubborn Irish mind. So it would be and it happened that there would be two babies to accompany her in the boat – the baby Hubert and an orphaned piglet that Rachel knew would not live unless it had the care that only a mother can give.
Morning light saw them all astir. It took a little time to make the final break and as the livestock stepped easily along in the wake of the wagons it seemed they were even glad to be on the move again. Lush grass was everywhere – the people called it "prairie wool" – and water filled slough and hollow. They would fatten on the way.
Indeed it was a pleasant time. It was June again, warm and clam. Flies and mosquitoes had not hatched yet in any noticeable numbers and, except for one sharp shower which soaked them to the skin, the sky stayed clear and blue. Forage for the horses and cattle was everywhere, knee high prairie wool. Buffalo, of course, had long since disappeared from the prairie but there were deer, both mule deer and flagtails, in the river breaks and scattered throughout the hills above. Antelope, fleet of foot, fled from the wagons to stand alert and ready on the highest hill a safe distance away. Every slough and hollow was full of waterfowl. Mallard ducks nested at the edges of the water or in the buckbrush a short distance away, while their mates, the big drakes, preened their fancy, iridescent feathers. Occasionally a pair of Canada geese flew overhead, the gander softly honking as he led his goose to last year's nesting place. And on the prairie, always a circle on a grassy knoll, the sharp-tailed grouse, the "prairie chickens" danced a tireless dance, a thump of wing falling heavy on the morning air. Perky little killdeer dashed higher and yon, calling as they ran, "Killdeer. Killdeer. Killdeer." And of course there were the meadowlarks singing, rain or shine, the selfsame tune, "Spring-is-here-again". Over and over they trilled as though they could not turn off the glad refrain. "Spring-is-here-again. Spring-is-here-again."
The man looked at the blue sky above and at the buttercups at his feet. He looked at his children and at all his worldly belongings spread out behind him as he sang an Indian love song. Of the family, only Leslie inherited his father's musical talents and now he joined in, his sweet boy-voice complimenting his father's deep bass.
"There once was an Indian maid, a shy little prairie maid
She sang all day a love song gay as o'er the fields
She whiled away the days.
She loved a warrior bold, this shy little maid of old
But brave and gay he rode one day
To a battle far away."
Then Nellie and the younger ones added their voices to the chorus, lusty though not exactly in tune.
"Oh the moon shines tonight on pretty Red Wing.
The breezes sighing. The night birds crying.
Far away beneath the stars her warrior's sleeping
While Red Wing's weeping her heart away."
The cattle slowed their progress. Log evenings were spent around the campfires and sometimes they were dark with smoke if, perchance, it happened that the only fuel was buffalo chips. But no matter! They were entertained or entertained themselves. Rachel and her young ones seemed far away during the day but after the blankets were spread under the wagon and his family was sound asleep, Louis' thoughts turned to his wife and littlest one of all. He would be glad to see them again. He knew very well the competence of Rachel but till he had feared for her as she rowed the boat around a bend in the river and out of his sight, just a tiny spot in a wide long ribbon of blue. What if the boat upset? There could be bears in the dense tree growth along the river. But there was nothing he could do now but push on toward the elbow in the river. He would find her there. But occasionally the soft night noises would be abruptly broken by the spine-chilling ail of a coyote and, although the man knew there was nothing to fear from them, the sound sent shivers running up and down his spine. Eventually sleep came and all too soon it was time to be up and on the move.
Evenings were a joy but in the morning Nellie had her hands full getting the family fed and things packed into the wagon again for the day ahead. Leslie helped with the horses an when it was time to move, he whooped and swung his rope to get the full-fed bovines going. Only the meadowlarks seemed happy now, and maybe only Leslie heard them sing. He listened and his heard was gladdened. Much later he was to say, "We woke to their cheerful tune and we went to sleep with it. It seemed to me they sang to us every mile of the way."
On the fifth day after leaving the Saskatchewan Landing they arrived at the designated place along the river. Rachel was waiting by the spring of clear water that ran out of the side of the hill. She had been at ease, disturbed only that her little supply of milk had run out on the third day. She had fed the piglet of her own breast milk but by now both the baby and the pig were crying from hunger.
"I should have let him drown when he tried to instead of fishing him out," Rachel was to say years later when she was in a story telling mood. Then she would tell how the little pig jumped out of the boat just after she had turned that first bend in the river. "he came up three times," she said. "The third time I managed to get hold of him and flip him into the boat. Then I tied two legs together so he couldn't do it again. Twice while I was trying to fish him out of the water I nearly upset the boat." As she talked she clamped her teeth down on her tongue in the habit she had when she was deeply moved. The stern look on her face belied the tenderness she felt for all young and helpless things.
"By damn!" thought Rachel's husband when he heard the story. "De pig, she not worth it. Good t'ing I not know what happen roun' dat bend. I not sleep at all dat night.
Thus, in the crook of the South Saskatchewan River almost opposite to where the village of Elbowlater stood, the Giauque Ranch started. For nearly a decade it prospered. The small herd of cattle grew to be a large one. The family, increased by two, grew likewise and as each day dawned, the log house echoed with its laughter.
Grandpa on a bronc (Leslie Giauque)
Grandpa (Leslie) married and he and grandma acquired a lease for what is now the Diamond Dot Ranch (now owned by my brother) exactly 100 years ago in 1917, Canada's 50th anniversary. There is a coulee on that ranch that we always called "Grandma's Coulee" because Rachel lived there for a few years. I would have liked to be on the ranch this day and visit that coulee but the trip is postponed until later this month. I have not been back for 15 years. I so look forward to riding those hills again.
Happy Canada Day everyone!