Frank Witte rode into Canada on horseback from Washington state in 1912 with the idea of travelling north to see the opportunities available for ranching in the Peach River country. He took a side trip to the Chilcotin and ended up calling it home.

Frank Witte rode into Canada on horseback from Washington state in 1912 with the idea of travelling north to see the opportunities available for ranching in the Peach River country. He took a side trip to the Chilcotin and ended up calling it home.

Frank Witte chooses the Chilcotin

Frank Witte rode into Canada on horseback in 1912.

Frank Witte rode into Canada on horseback in 1912.

A young man who just turned 22, he fell in love with the Chilcotin country of B.C. and spent the rest of his life there.

Frank was born in 1890 at Davenport, Wash. and was raised on a ranch in the Methow Valley (pronounced Met-how) where his parents George and Elsie Witte had moved with their young family in 1897 to raise beef for a mining camp.

Frank was seven years old.

Frank grew to be only five-feet, six-inches tall and slight enough as a youth to ride as a jockey, but he was square shouldered and strong, quick tempered and fearless. Bigger men backed away.

George had a butcher shop in the little town of Twisp, as well as a ranch and, by 1912, their son Frank Witte, with friend Frank Therriault, was trying his hand at the butcher business.

The newspapers that winter were boosting the great opportunities for ranching in the Peace River country of British Columbia and this caught the attention of the two restless young men.

By spring they, along with George Witte, Therriault’s brother Paul and acquaintance Sol Madures, had made up their minds to set out on the long, exciting journey to see it.

They left the Methow in May 1912 on horseback, each leading a pack horse, on an adventure that would change the course of Frank’s life.

The party crossed the line at Nighthawk, Wash. and went through customs at Keremeos, B.C. On reaching Princeton Geo Witte found a disappointing telegram from his wife awaiting him.

He turned back to the long ride home.

Madures went with him. Paul stayed to work in Princeton and the two Franks carried on.

Resting their horses in Clinton, they heard about the Chilcotin and, forgetting about the Peace River, turned in there off the wagon road.

In the end, the Therriault brothers, too, went back to the United States, but for Frank the call of Canada was permanent. He became a naturalized Canadian in 1920.

He fell in love with the belle of the Chilcotin, the beautiful Hattie Hance, daughter of Tom Hance, the first permanent white   settler in the Chilcotin, and won her heart.

They were married in October 1913 in Bellingham, Wash. and went on to spend the winter in Twisp. They returned to Canada when the grass was green in a big iron wagon, given to Frank by his father, pulled by a heavy team of mares. It took a month to make the trip.

Frank and Hattie had a family of four: three daughters — Irene, Hazel, and Veera, and one son, Duane.

Frank staked a pre-emption on dry benchland on the Chilcotin River where he built a log house, barn and outbuildings but had to work away from home too, to make a living.

He took contracts from other ranchers to cut and stack hay. A good teamster, he freighted on the Cariboo Road from Ashcroft with two high-wheeled wagons and a six-horse team, hauling freight to the far Chilcotin.

Trying to get water from the river to irrigate the dry land on their River Place proved costly and Frank decided that a swamp meadow would make a better poor man’s ranch. 

Supported by his wife, he moved his family to high wilderness country in the Whitewater, pre-empted a swamp meadow and built a cabin. 

Here he cowboyed for a bachelor neighbour to make a dollar.

The Witte family moved back to Twisp, Wash. for a while, so their eldest daughter, Irene, could attend school.

Frank ran his father’s butcher shop in the small town and financially they were doing well.

But both Frank and Hattie yearned for the wilderness of British Columbia and they soon moved back, this time in a car. 

Hattie noted that as soon as they crossed the line into Canada, Frank started to whistle.

Back in B.C., they settled permanently on a place on Big Creek and named it the Circle A Ranch after their cattle brand. 

Frank built a roomy log house and barn, cutting shakes to roof them, a garage, shop, and outbuildings, all of which are still in use today.  He tilled the soil with a walking plough and planted oats and rye, raised Shorthorn cattle and later experimented with Brahma bulls.  He took up a swamp meadow for extra hayload and built a log cabin there to use at haying time and in winter feeding the cattle.

To avoid going into debt, he worked with his team on government roads as far away from home as Canoe Creek on the east side of the Fraser River. 

He did the axe work on Gus Piltz’s big log barn and worked for Piltz on this ongoing attempts to level his big swamp.

Hattie worked tirelessly to get a country school opened in the community and the Witte kids got a good education there.

Frank cut out two miles of new road with his sharp double-bitted axe through the jackpines to make a direct route for his kids to walk to the school. 

With team and scraper he made two grades up and down the long hill and a pole bridge across the little furnishings within. The government supplied the decks.

Frank took census for the government, helping Canada count. 

He had the contract to carry the mail from Hanceville to Big Creek once a week (Big Creek still gets mail only once a week). 

In later years, with his son, Duane, he became a licensed big game guide, taking American hunters out for moose. 

When death claimed a neighbour, Frank made their coffin.

Frank enjoyed outdoor adventures and would take his wife and family on horseback trips to the “snow mountains.”

Witte’s ranch is stilled called the Circle A — it has never been sold — and is still in the Witte name.

In hospital before he died in 1962, suffering from a stroke, he told his wife that if he could live his life over he would do it all in just the same way.

He is buried at the Circle A on a hill overlooking his little ranch.

Respecting his wishes, his grave is unfenced.

“Let cattle rub my headstone round,

Let coyotes wail their kin,

Let horses paw upon the mound,

 But do not fence me in.”

 

 

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