“Smoke from the Branding Fire: Hank Pallister’s Tales”
(for sale at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village gift shop)
By Hank Pallister with Joyce Pallister
©2007 Joyce PallisterRanchers are known for telling it like it is: Colourful tales of substance and fact
Much has been written of late about the history of ranching in Alberta, but little has been written by the people who were actually closest to this brief yet exciting time of the province’s formation. “Smoke from the Branding Fire” by the late Hank Pallister is the exception. Hank grew up on the Lineham Ranch near Turner Valley which his father cowman Guy Pallister managed for Pat Burns.
Range men that Guy Pallister worked with over the years would drop by the ranch for a meal and a visit. Young Hank enjoyed listening to these cowmen tell the tales of early ranching life and the characters who lived it. He loved ranch work and even after he decided to take a ‘steady’ job with the Alberta Government Brand Office Hank still rode horses, roped cows and attended brandings as often as he could. As a Brand Inspector Hank was able to travel the country side he felt such a part of and on occasion would meet up with the ranchers and characters whose stories he often heard as a child. Hank began to write down these stories and substantiate them with dates and places he would research in the Brand Office files. After 42 years working for the Provincial Brand Office Hank moved on to what he enjoyed almost as much as ranching – writing poetry and stories about early ranching life. “Smoke from the Branding Fire” is a compilation of these articles, stories and poems.
The book opens with a history of the brand registration in what was then the Northwest Territories -- the “71” brand on the left hip which was registered in January, 1880. Pallister recounts numerous other brands registered since then and their respective changes in ownership as they pertain to the changing face of ranching in Alberta today. The glory days of cowboys and trail drives were relatively short lived in Canada. After the terrible winter of 1906/07, combined with the influx of settlers the freedom experienced by many ranchers was over by the beginning of World War I. The devastating effects of the depression years combined with the arrival of motor vehicles resulted in a completely different way of managing cattle herds.
In the early days of the cattle industry ranches were business ventures with the investors often remaining in the comfort of their central Canadian, American and British homes. It was often the names of the investors on the brand titles not the names of the cowmen providing the sweat equity. Both the investors and the cowmen had their fare share of characters, and it is the antidotal stories about these characters that provided Pallister some of his more colourful writing material.
Ranchers are known for telling it like it is, and in ‘Smoke from the Branding Fire’ Pallister stays true to form by telling it like it was told to him: polite, precise and without pretension. With subtle cowboy humour he writes about how Slippery Bill got his name, how Fort Whoop Up was really captured, and shares the recipe for what he refers to as the best super model Christmas pudding ever! The history of the Guy Weadick inspired Range Men’s dinner of 1929 is enlightening, as is the accompanying archival information provided in the latter part of the book. The formality and good manners exhibited in the old cowpoke’s written responses to their dinner invitation is quaint and somewhat antiquated yet it serves as a reminder that one is never too old nor too young to learn good manners.Hank Pallister is both respectful and sincere in his recounting of the facts as he was told and verified with archival research. Pallister was also a fair man. He readily acknowledges the contribution and sacrifices that women have made to the agriculture industry, which were often assumed and never properly recognized. It was if he knew that his life’s work of articles, poems, and some other tales that never did make to print would be compiled and published posthumously by his wife Joyce. Joyce Pallister’s love for her late husband and his vocation is summed up in the poem A Cowboy’s Heart which she was inspired to write shortly after her husband’s passing. This is more than a history book. Smoke from the Branding Fire: Hank Pallister’s Tales is an historic anthology that attempts to capture a way of life that existed for such a short period of time and yet left us with such a huge legacy that few can truly appreciate.
Review by Laurie Hodges Humble 19 July, 2007