Holidays are for fun!
When it came to deciding between spending a holiday in Moose Jaw, which prairie town was beginning to put on city airs or journeying up into the Dirt Hills for a picnic with the ranchers, my district folks decided unanimously in favor of the ranchers' picnic. We had an exciting ride of 15 miles on saddle horses or in springless grain wagons over winding trails that climbed steadily upward to the rendezvous. Fading wild roses perfumed the air while patches of red and gold cactus spotted the light sandy soil of hillsides. Our destination was Paddy Doyle's ranch. This miniature spread was situated on a plateau atop the Divide. To the northeast our view took in the hills we had traversed, then a wide open plain, where vast wheat fields lay like emerald carpets amidst black patches of summer fallow, stretching away to the environs of Moose Jaw. To the south the hills lay in convolations of decreasing altitude until they gave way to a narrow alkali flat which skirted the north shore of Old Wives Lake.
Arrived at the ranch there was a rush of land-lubber visitors to the reedy shore of Doyle's Lake. They began to draw lots for first boat ride. But alas, Paddy's craft had been damaged beyond repair the previous autumn by duck shooters, and not replaced. The would-be boaters accepted this disappointment with patience and stoicism born of pioneer experiences. It was too bad, better luck some other time - if Paddy should get a good price for his beef cattle. Oldtimers were inured to hard knocks.
Picnic parties continued to come all morning. Fathers and mothers and children all in Sunday best; swains and maidens in gaudy attire as befitted a gala day; cowboys in chapps and flaming neckerchiefs. The women as ever, had accepted the task of preparing bucket lunches and washing and dressing the children before they could don their own holiday garb. Rising at four o'clock they had already done a day's work before setting out upon their journey. They greeted everyone with heroic smile; they were out to help make a good time for their men folk and children.
We who had come up from the wheat belt looked in vain for some typical cowboy events on a sports programme. But there was no bulldogging or high speed branding. Those cowboys were hankering after something different - they craved a holiday from work. Roping and riding and bronco busting were daily
routine of range life. This picnic was no stampede staged in
a city arena where experts did their stuff before the startled gaze of urban dwellers.
What those ranch boys wanted was an opportunity to swap yarns as they rolled their own pills of Duke's mixture; tales of men-killing broncs and ruthless cattle rustlers; or news of latest purchases in jeweled saddles and horse-hair lariats. What the lovers wanted was to loiter along the lake shore and murmur sweet nothings about a dream cabin nestled amongst those everlasting hills. What the children loved was exploring new territory and consuming huge quantities of confections. What the women prized most was that blessed respite between washing up dinner dishes and beginning to prepare the evening meal. This was their sacred hour for womanly confidences. They made glib promises to visit each other soon and complete unfinished discussions - half of which vows they knew they would never be able to fulfill. What everyone desired was association with kindred spirits. They were hungry for fellowship. The children's races were little more than a side issue soon completed, so eager were the oldsters to engage in conversation - as delegates at conventions prefer the odd hours of visiting to the business sessions. Immediately after supper the crowd assembled around a wagon. One of the ranchers mounted this portable rostrum and suggested three cheers for host and hostess. Paddy Doyle assured his guests that it had been a pleasure to welcome them to his ranch and told a yarn or two about his earlier days when he was a mounted policeman - like the time he delivered a prisoner at Portage gaol and the captive was able to show the policeman a back entrance to the lock-up because of his familiarity with the place. Then the chairman announced where the picnic would be held the next year.
The visitors began to pack up for home. Tired children were crying to be put to bed. It was to be assumed that on a score of ranches, calves were bawling and chickens were peeping to be fed. The picnic was over and duty was calling. Our farmer group re-embarked and launched forth upon a mad orgy of horse racing on the stony, downhill course. We halted at a bachelor's shack to round out the day with a dance for which an old time fiddler had brought along his violin, but hordes of mosquitoes billowed in through an unscreened window. Against those hungry spoil sports we lighted a smudge of green sage bush in an old pail. Between
the resulting smoke and
the attacks of undaunted insects we had an uncomfortable time, but we kept on with the dance
regardless. We were a weary, quiet and subdued group of merrymakers when we reached home and were
duly greeted by crowing roosters.
It had been a queer holiday. A fellow teacher had remarked to me, "These people have to work so hard to have a good time!" Perhaps it was the hard work that went into it which made for happiness. Your pioneer is resourceful. He does not ask to be entertained. He makes his own pleasures, as he makes his table and chair. Just free him from toil for a few hours and he will be happy. The ranchers' picnic was not exactly what one expected. It was something different - something better.
Up there on Paddy Doyle's ranch atop the Divide the people of a scattered community got together and enjoyed a day of social intercourse. They returned to their homes refreshed though tired, yet ready to face another year of the comparative isolation which life on a motorless stock ranch imposed. There would be another picnic next year to which they could look forward with keen anticipation.
During summer holidays from Newberry School Wilfed and I began the almost interminable task of digging three miles of post holes and stringing barbed wire around our half-section pasture. The soil was hard chocolate clay loam which had to be chiseled loose with steel spuds before it could be lifted out. We also broke prairie with four horse outfits on our father's land. I returned to my school for the fall term.
Next spring I engaged to teach a summer school which was only six miles from my homestead. I commuted daily, driving a pony on a light buggy. That same season I served as secretary-treasurer for a newly organized school district known as Clay Hill. It included our family lands. It made out the first tax roll and collected the taxes to build a school house.
As a special project that summer we made a collection of wild flowers. Mounted and pressed - in that order - they indicated the surprising number and varieties of flowers which flourished on the prairies. Our collection had some 80 specimens. The children sustained their interest in the project for several weeks. We exhibited the collection at Moose Jaw Fair and it won first prize, with which we bought books to start a library.