HENRY and MARY BECKER and the BUFFALO RANCH
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Assisted by Phyllis Becker Hanson,
Granddaughter of the Beckers
One of the most intriguing and mysterious ranching histories of southwestern Alberta is that of the Buffalo Ranch once owned by husband and wife Henry H. and Mary Esther Steele Becker whose business partner included Mrs. Bella Rich. Although little remains of the ranch today, the massive spread of 3200 acres just east of the South Fork and southwest of Pincher City had its glory days immediately before and after the First World War. The massive ranch house of log construction and entrepreneurial American owners caught the interest of many of the locals.
The Beckers and Richs originated from Buffalo, New York. Henry Becker was born in Geneva, located just outside the Empire State’s capital city in May 10th, 1866. His wife Mary was little more than three years his senior with her birth dating to April 2nd, 1863. They had one son Philip who lived with them on the Buffalo Ranch. The family was German in ancestry. Mrs. Rich resided on the ranch also with her son Jerome. Philip and Jerome attended Western Canada College together.
The Beckers immigrated to Canada in 1909 when they moved onto the ranch. Their glory years here, however, were tragically cut short with the early demise of Henry who passed away the afternoon of Tuesday, May 2nd, 1916. The previous January he had suffered a bad case of La Grippe from which he never fully recovered. Eventually it turned into pneumonia. His funeral was held locally but his remains were taken by train back home for burial.
The Beckers had impressive agricultural plans for the Buffalo Ranch following their 1909 arrival. They planted some two-hundred acres of oats, the sowing being only completed on June 11th due to the lateness of the spring that year. The crop averaged fifty bushels to the acre which Mr. Becker told the press was not too bad given the poor weather conditions witnessed that spring. The harvest estimates for the following year were pegged at almost twice that amount. Seven hundred and fifty acres were planted in wheat in 1910. Open range totaled 1700 acres, most of which was used for thoroughbred horses. An increasing herd of cattle grazed there as of the mid-1910s.
A spectacular two-storey ranch house reflected the hopes and aspirations for the Buffalo Ranch. Located near the old Crowsnest Trail used by travelers in the pre-railway era, the dwelling sat nearly five-hundred feet back from the South Fork where it was out of danger from spring floods and afforded its occupants a commanding view of the distant mountains. The main floor was noted for its wide openings overlooking a parlour and formal dining room where entertaining was hosted. Western Canadian taxidermy work was exhibited there including an eagle with a wingspan of six to seven feet suspended below the skylight. Original artwork of Charlie Russell and Frederick Remington adorned the walls. Upstairs, there were two sets of private suites occupied by the Beckers and Richs. Each contained two bedrooms, sewing room, large clothes press and bathroom equipped with porcelain lavatories and claw footed bathtubs. Furnishings throughout the house were handcrafted from mahogany and rosewood, the latter being antiques handed down from Mrs. Rich’s grandmother.
Yet ever eager to take advantage of modern times, Henry Becker commissioned the Lazier Gas Engine Company of Buffalo furnish the powerhouse, located nearby, with a switchboard to operate the house’s up-to-date electric system. There were a gasoline engine and Westinghouse generator with a fifty light capacity. Also on hand were a National storage battery sixty cells and a Kewanee water system with a capacity of 535 gallons. A unique combination of heritage items and modern technology was to be found at the Buffalo Ranch.
The house too met with an unfortunate demise. The ranch was operated by various parties in the eight years following Henry Becker’s death. In 1923, many of the furnishings and farm implements were auctioned off. Then, early in the morning of Wednesday, May 7th, 1924, the grand ranch house went up in flames and could not be salvaged. The outbuildings including the electric light plant were unharmed in the blaze. The Buffalo Ranch truly had come to a sad demise.