EARLY RANCHING CHRONICLES FROM SOUTH OF PINCHER CREEK
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Over a century ago, way back on Saturday, August 21st, 1909 an unnamed reporter for the Echo ventured into the ranching country south of Pincher Creek and penned an article entitled “A Bright Outlook”. It quite rightly gave a glowing report on the latest stock and crop conditions. Without a byline, who that reporter may have been is lost to time but it could have been written by the paper’s founding publisher and Editor Elias T. Saunders. He served in those capacities from the paper’s August 15th, 1900 establishment till it was sold to H E. Derritt in October 1916. Whatever the origins, a fascinating glimpse of ranching conditions in the pre-mechanized era is provided in this chronicle.
A very pleasant twenty-eight mile trip as far as the Hatfield Ranch was afforded the Echo through the auspices of Alfred W. Robbins of the Alberta Livery Stables. A brother of Fred H. Robbins, the family had extensive experience in the livery stable business with an earlier outlet being located on the north side of Pincher Creek’s dusty Main Street. A second livery was out at Pincher City, two miles to the north. Alfred’s latest venture was housed in a frame building near the south end of Bridge Avenue, between the creek itself and the old Waldorf Hotel just up the street. Quite impressed with the livery’s services, the Echo reported that the “magnificent team of horses . . . returned as fresh as daisies after their somewhat protracted trip.”
Saunders’ Echo was equally impressed with the countryside, reporting “throughout the trip everything was found in a progressive stage from an agricultural point of view, and the country never looked better or more advanced than it does at the present time.” Several sightings of ducks were sighted on the way down and back.
ATTRIBUTES OF THE HATFIELD RANCH
Their first stop was at a point furthest south, the Hatfield Ranch adjacent the Waterton River. Noted by the Echo for its impressive 6,000 acre size, Hatfield’s holdings comprised of 7,720 acres of prime cattle country by the time of his death years later. The 1909 reporter pointed out more than two thousand cattle had just been sold and shipped “to the old country.” Given Herbert M. Hatfield’s 1855 birth origins, this would have meant England. Ties were strong with one’s origins and within the British Empire. Hatfield’s 1945 obituary, also from the Echo, noted that this pioneer rancher first came to this southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies in 1886. Three years later, he established this ranch and his 56 year ownership of the property was “believed to be a record in point of continuous ownership in the west.”
For seventeen years starting in 1909 the Hatfield Ranch raised high quality horses “which were sold as remounts to the Mounted Police.” Some of the cowboys who rode for Hatfield were Phil Lucas, Micky Reardon and Hughie Lancaster. Billy Huddlestun served as the first foreman for the Hatfield Ranch. He was succeeded by Ben MacDonnell and Jack Hardy served in that capacity for over a decade starting in 1932. Like his ranching colleague to the northwest F. W. Godsal, Hatfield was active in the Western Stock Growers’ Association.
WINDHAM RANCH’S DISTINCTIVE HOUSE
On the return trip to Pincher Creek in 1909, the Echo stopped at the Windham Ranch located where the Yarrow Creek flows into the Waterton River. During the pioneer era, even as recent as this journalistic field trip, the river flowing out of the Dominion Forest Reserve was locally as the Kootenai, influenced by the travels of the First Nation just to the west of the continental divide.
The Windham Ranch encompassed two and a half sections. The paper commended ranch owner Reginald Windham for his genuine western hospitality given their visit. The Windham ranch house was an impressive one-and-a-half storey structure that backed onto the creek. An open verandah adorned the front while an attached porch, perhaps housing a kitchen, had been added to the rear of the original structure. Two dormer bedroom windows added to the roof profile. Just downstream were the barn and corrals.
The ranch featured a large herd of cattle when the Echo arrived. Local historian Fred Huddlestun (he was Billy Huddlestun’s son) recalled that the Windhams also raised thorough-bred crossed and Hockney horses. The English born Windhams purchased this property in 1900 from retired North West Mounted Police official James Bruneau – he was one of the Mounties who helped establish the 1878 Pincher Creek Horse Ranch and subsequently set up his Yarrow Creek property. The Windhams remained here until they returned to England in 1916 in the midst of the First World War. Taking over the spread was Robert Wright, Reginald Windham’s brother-in-law. He actively ranched for a quarter of a century, even vaccinating calves just a few days before his April 1941 passing at the age of 75 years.