Column: Ranching life almost a hundred years ago

As garden planting is gearing up, my thoughts go back to over 40 years ago when we took up residence on an old homestead.

As garden planting is gearing up, my thoughts go back to over 40 years ago when we took up residence on an old homestead which had not been inhabited for about 50 years.

The old cabin near the lake needed at least a new roof. Unfortunately, when the remains of the roof came off it was clear that many logs would need to be replaced.

The first priority though was to get a garden in, if we were to eat our own food for the winter.

Breaking 50-year-old sod with a three horsepower garden tiller was bull work.

Who cared about the hard work. We were young and living our dream life after a stint working in the city — long enough to pay off student loans and have a small nest egg for maybe a down payment on more land.

We had 10 acres of hay, and there remained a persistent rhubarb plant and some black and red current bushes that withstood the grazing by whatever range cattle could get in there. No fences, no house, no road.

One has to admire the work of those who came before us. There had been a barn with metal roofing, all hauled in by raft, which had long since been borrowed for elsewhere.

Little remained of what had been built up to support the original homesteader.

We heard he had kept pigs and the remains of the pen could be seen.

Enough hay could be put up to keep a milk cow or two and horse or two.

The hay field would have been cleared of willows, alder, aspen and cottonwood and small brush.

Then a horse drawn plow would have turned the ground and after a log of working disking and harrowing.

Seed would have been spread by hand or maybe with a cyclone seeder. Fifty years later the hayfield still had a huge crop of Timothy, Red Clover, Brome and a smattering of Alfalfa.

They used to say that by hand, aided by oxen or horses, a homestead could clear forest and put into production one acre a year. You have to respect land that required so much sweat and tears to get it into production.

Once we broke the sod, we put in a big garden and built two greenhouses 25 by 10 feet for tomatoes and peppers.

There were so many tomatoes inside that rugged frame made of two-inch aspen trees and six millimetre poly that Susan had to can many of them over the campfire.

What an opportunity it was to build a home of dreams on the foundation of those who went before us: settlers and aboriginal people.

Fish in the lake, berries in the woods and moose in the fall reminded us of the bounty harvested by the first inhabitants and settlers alike.

Unfortunately, the Small Pox epidemic of the winter of 1862-3 saw almost all of the Lakes People (at Beaver Lake) wiped out. Those who survived joined their kin near Williams Lake.

Traditional Use research can tell us more about what life was like for the people of prehistoric times.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.

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