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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Early rodeo chronicles from Pincher Creek's ranching heritage

North West Mounted Police camp c late 1800s
photos from the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village digital archives

Farley Wuth - Pincher Creek’s history is steeped in the chronicles of the ranching industry. Horse ranching dated back to the 1878 establishment of the N.W.M.P.’s Ranch on the south side of the Creek, and cattle ranching, originating in a combination of family and corporate enterprises, followed just a few short years later.


Rodeos, where local and out-of-town ranchers competed in a variety of friendly, western competitions, were highlights of the annual summer ranching season. Originally these outdoor events were held informally among neighboring ranchers themselves and were designed purely for their entertainment and local, friendly competitive rivalry. During the pioneer era, community rodeos usually were held in conjunction with sports days celebrated annually on Victoria or Dominion Day. These sporting events promoted horse races and polo playing in addition to rodeos themselves.





TWO EARLY RODEO GROUNDS AND RACE TRACKS

One of the earliest illustrations of these multi-faceted western sporting events dated back to the summer of 1891. Active during the 1890s and the pre-World War One era, Pincher Creek’s oldest agricultural grounds included a rectangular dirt racetrack flanked by a grass covered pasture where spectators gathered to watch the fast-paced racehorses. The grounds were located on the ranch of ex-N.W.M.P. Officer and soon to be Member of Parliament John Herron. His spread was situated just east of our fledgling settlement and just north of the Force’s Horse Ranch, also known as the Stewart Ranch. Access to the horse tracks and rodeo grounds was provided via the Macleod Trail that connected our community with Fort Macleod to the northeast. The trail crossed the Pincher Creek via Goforth Crossing, so named in honour of an early doctor, Frank Goforth, who settled there with his wife Mary A, son Joseph and daughters Esther F. and Mary L. Herron worked closely with local ranchers and the earliest efforts of the Pincher Creek Agricultural Society, which began to host regular events in the early 1900s, to ensure the success of the grounds.


These race tracks and rodeo grounds continued to host Pincher Creek events till the First World War era. During the 1920s and 1930s, when the Pincher Creek Agricultural Society came into full force, new rodeo grounds were re-located to a more central location, now the grounds of the Matthew Halton High School. Indeed this is how the older, and since torn down, Valley Fair wing of the school was named. Chuck wagon races were held on the half mile track on the valley floor. Corrals and loading chutes were located on the west end of the grounds while audiences watched the activities from the hillside to the south. This grassy slope served as an excellent natural set of bleachers and afforded the crowds excellent views of the activities.

THE WESTERN EVENTS OF 1891

Highlighting the 1891 program was a half-mile dash open only to Alberta-bred horses. A combined purse of ninety dollars was split on a sixty and twenty-five dollar basis between the first and second place winners. Local stage coach driver Max Brouillette, who rode a horse named Screwdriver, placed first in a very competitive race. Forty-two year old American born farmer Joseph Devine, who immigrated to Canada in 1883 and settled in the Pincher Creek area, raced a horse named Baldy and placed a respectable second He was followed in third place by H. Cameron and his horse Trade Dollar. Brouillette’s extensive, hands-on experience as a stage-coach driver obviously had paid off with this race. His pre-railway transportation services were in high demand before the 1897-98 construction of the Crowsnest CPR Line.

Also hosted in 1891 was a three-quarter mile run in which the horses and jockeys were asked to place best in two out of three races. Local businessman Thomas Herron Scott with his horse “Longfellow” placed first with Tom Cyr, riding “Buck”, came in second. Third place Tom Wilson and “J.C.” were remembered for their highly respectable showing. The purse for the first place winner amounted to the impressive total of fifty dollars.

A Polo Pony Race had the grand sweepstake of two-hundred and fifty dollars. Doctor Mead, like Goforth an early medical doctor within the settlement, took first place with his pony “Fun”. Second place was tied up by local rancher Louis Garnett who rode a pony named “Dani”. W. K. Humfrey and “Pink’um” claimed the third pot. One of the other participants in the Polo Pony Race was Lionel Brooke and his horse “Kid”. Brook was a colourful Remittance Man, who operated a ranch in the Beauvais Lake area, was well known for his art work featuring local landscapes. While two of these canvases are part of the artifact collections of the Pincher Creek and District Historical Society, others were commissioned as murals completed on the walls of local ranch houses.

RODEO EVENTS A GENERATION LATER

A generation later, in 1910, horse races and rodeos continued to be popularly attended agricultural events in the Pincher Creek area. As part of the Dominion Day Celebrations, being hosted at the newly established coal mining settlement of Beaver Mines, the local Sports Committee organized a very competitive local rodeo. Two competitors were singled out for providing prime rodeo entertainment. Alex Dixon, a member of the Bearspaw Nakoda (Stoney) First Nation, won high public accolades for riding a grey horse which “was the best in the field” by a long shot. Local rancher Alex Gladstone received loud cheers for his adept ability to remain atop a lively bucking horse.

To the northeast, the Summerview District’s Dominion Day celebrations also featured well-received rodeo events. A bucking contest was won by C. Mills whose winnings accumulated to ten dollars. The Ladies’ Pony Race was won by Miss Smith whose earnings were donated by the United Farmers of Alberta.

The largest local rodeo and horse racing event of 1910 was hosted in Pincher Creek itself, co-hosted by the community in conjunction with the local Agricultural Society. The two-day mid week ranch event was held on the 27th and 28th of July. James J. Scott and John Goodreau were appointed starters for the rodeo events, and local druggist E. J. Mitchell of Pincher Creek and rancher Hugh McMillan of Cowley served as the judges. George D. Plunkett, who from 1907 to 1940 served as the Town’s Secretary-Treasurer, was the event’s timekeeper. Some of the events included an eight-mile horse race, one-mile dash, ladies race and saddle horse races.

There was also bronc riding and calf roping. Rodeo participants included an array of Pincher Creek area ranchers: Thomas Morden whose parents constituted the first non-N.W.M.P. family to settle in this area, Wallace T. Eddy (1862 – 1956) who hailed from the Fir Grove District, local harness maker and Waterton Lakes National Park Warden Robert Cooper (who also served on Pincher Creek’s first Town Council), James Alford, George B. Bolster (an avid Polo player better known by his friends as Barney) and Jim Franklin. Jonas Smith, a Metis family member from the Beauvais Lake District, thrilled the crowds with his adept horsemanship. He was rivaled by George Knight whose Twin Butte ranching endeavours and subsequent work as a Warden at Waterton Lakes was well respected by his peers. Hector Marcellus, whose ancestors were early farmers in the Fishburn District to the east, was a popular rodeo participant. Alex Gladstone, whose ranching family came from Mountain Mill, was also on hand for the events. Kainai First Nation rodeo champion Tom Three Persons participated in several of the events but appears to have been largely ignored by the regional, non-local press. Large enthusiastic crowds witnessed firsthand the many thrilling events.

The only rodeo participant injured in the 1910 competition was William Hamilton who had his leg broken when thrown from his horse. Hamilton, a resident of Beaver Mines, was associated with the coal mines which reached their production height just prior to the First World War.

Rodeo events and horse racing indeed have had long traditions within the Pincher Creek area. They truly reflect our local ranching heritage.


Steam plowing on W.R. Dobbie's farm near Pincher Creek

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