How fantastic is this first photo? I know I’ve seen it in other publications, and probably read the story behind it, but I’d forgotten until my uncle told it again at Christmas. Margy Buckley – the only person left standing during the 1918 flu pandemic. There she is out feeding cows and looking more stylish than I will look at any point today.
As far as I know my cousin still has Sophia’s sidesaddle and it’s in working condition. I remember she used to use it to ride in the Stampede Parade when we were younger.
“Well, it was tough going. Dick and John carried on mixed farming. They used to make butter and bring it into Calgary twice a year to trade for goods. No money in those days. You had to leave at daylight to make the trip in one day. There wasn’t money to pay for feed, so they took what they needed for the four-horse team, and of course, no money either to pay for a night’s lodging.
“They used to trade with I.G. Baker, probably the first storekeeper in Calgary. They did that right up to 1895.
“They had a great big barrel churn; it used to hold fifty pounds of butter and you had to have a man on beach end to turn it. There was no cream separator in those days. Them milk was left to set for 36 hours and the cream was then skinned off.
“They used to pack the butter into big wooden tubs and when they took it to the store, a man used to poke a broom handle right down to the bottom of the tub and then smell the butter on the stick. That was the way he graded it.
“They had about fifty hens and were able to trade the eggs, too.
“Dick had got married by then to Miss Sophia Wills of Springbank, and the women had lots of work. No fancy gadgets to help them with the washing and cooking and sewing. The women helped cut firewood sometimes, and the men also cut down trees to make A-fences and X-fences. We used to work in the bush all winter.”
Dick and John went out of mixed farming in 1898 and into beef cattle. Herefords. It was difficult to get a good sire so they raised their own and tried to improve their stock by culling. It was a good thing when the Calgary bull sale started, Sam remarked, because a rancher could get good animals then.
Asked how Jumping Pound got its name, he said it was one of the places where the Indians stampeded the buffalo. The animals, terrified and crazed by the Indians rushed to the cliffs and plunged over, breaking necks and legs as they crashed to the bottom. There was a good price for buffalo hides so the Indians were intent on collecting.
It wasn’t all work and no play. Men and women used to hunt coyotes and great was the competition to see who had the best saddle horse. They’d forgather with their hounds and off they would go across the country; no fences to bother with in those years. Percy, who is Dick’s eldest son and a substantial cattle rancher in the Jumping Pound district says, “I remember my dad mentioning Mr. Kerfoot and Captain Gardiner, father of Clem and Teddy Gardiner, as some of the enthusiasts. My mother used to take part also and was considered a good horsewoman. My dad said that very few women could sit on a bucking horse in a sidesaddle, but she had preformed the feat on several occasions. I still have her sidesaddle which is in excellent condition. There were also the kit-foxes to chase, a nearly extinct species of animal now. The men too, went out hunting lynx, for these great wild cats were a constant menace to the cattle. Sam Copithorne killed 21 lynx in the spring of 1907.
That was the year John and Dick made a trip back to Ireland, and Sam went over in 1911. He stayed three months, but Sam just didn’t care for Ireland; he said, “You couldn’t give it to me.”
I found this interview with Sam Copithorne and thought it could be fun to share. At the end of the stories, I’ll post the information to source it, but this is written by Dora Dibney – I have no idea who she was. I always wondered (but not badly enough to ever ask lol) who Grandpa was named after – and it looks like it was after one of his uncles. Enjoy!
A Brief Story of the Copithorne Family
“Now look,” Sam Copithorne remarked, “there’s no use writing a story about me. I’m not a pioneer becuase I didn’t come out to this country until 1904. It’s my two brothers you ought to write about, if you HAVE to write about the family.”
“Where was I born? Oh, in Clonakilty, that’s in County Cork, Ireland. My father had a dairy farm, dual purpose Short horns and we milked about 25 cows. Guess we had about 120 acres.
“Besides John and Richard, I had four older brothers: James and William and Robert and Edward. We had one sister: she was the eldest. John came out here in 1883 and Richard came out four years later in 1887.
“James went to Central Africa as a missionary and before that he was in the civil service. but he was in Africa, oh less than a couple of years when he got fever and died.
“John was the first to make a move though. He just decided to come to Canada so my father got him a lot of letters of introduction to people in Montreal, but he never used a single letter.
“He didn’t like Montreal so he bought a ticket through to Winnipeg. Well he looked for work and somehow or other he met a man who wanted someone to drive eight mules. John had never had a thing to do with mules, but he waits sure he could drive them so he got a job and $10 a month. That was doing farm work.
“It wasn’t long after that that a man came to the farm and he bought the mules. He couldn’t drive them so John got the job of taking them to Brandon.
“That was the time of the rebellion I, so John volunteered for the army and he was sent to live with the Indians and watch their movements. Well, he lived with them for a long time; he took part in their powwows and he got so he could talk Cree with the best of them.
“He lived with them so long that they nearly forgot he wasn’t an Indian. They used to call him Wapoorshwian which means Rabbit-Skin-Robe. I remember him telling us about the way they used to eat. They’d put all their meat into one big pot and they’d sit around and fish it out when it was cooked. Sometimes they’d fish out a piece of dog meat and then they’d remember and say “white man no eat dog” so they’d find a piece of rabbit meat for him.
By now Sheila had graduated very successfully from Grade 12 and had her application accepted in the university to become a teacher but suddenly decided she would try the nursing profession instead. That Christmas, Percy and Marshall were both very sick in bed with the flu and Sheila was on night duty in the General Hospital. However, she wanted to come home for Christmas Day and we both wanted to see Margi for the few minutes they would allow us. It was a cold, snowy day and poor Sheila looked so grey from being on duty all night but we had to sit in the cold empty basement of the Red Cross Hospital for hours before they let us see Margi for a few fleeting moments. That was one of my worst Christmases.
While Sheila was still in Mount Royal, one weekend she brought a girlfriend home with her and they wanted to go to the Friday night dance in Cochrane. Percy and I were in such distress over Margi, we just didn’t feel like going dancing so we asked Slim if he would mind taking the kids in and looking after them. Marshall went too just for the fun though he didn’t like dancing. When they got there, Slim took his nice suede jacked off and Marshall’s coat and they locked them in the car before going into the hall. Slim was an excellent cop. I’d swear he could tell you how many fillings a motorist had in his teeth a mile away. That night he spotted a car driving around Cochrane without its lights on so he followed it on foot until he got all the particulars such as make, etc. By then it was time to go back to the hall and take the kids out for supper. But when he got back they were sitting in the car waiting for him. He wanted to know how they got into the car when he had locked it but they said it was open, he just thought he had locked it. Then people all around him began to complain of the same thing, purses and coats were missing. Marshall’s and Slim’s fine suede jackets were gone. Even our own family didn’t know he was a cop but Percy and I sure laughed and teased him about that. However, he went into the police in Cochrane next morning and told them who he was and gave them a good description of the car. Both garages in Cochrane had been robbed. They were able to catch the car in Banff, a stolen one from Saskatchewan and they caught the thieves.
Slim was a big fine looking man 6 feet 6 inches tall. Marshall was at the aggressive age. Sometimes he would come to the table defiantly, with his hair uncombed or his hands not too clean. I would ask him to spruce up a bit and he’d say “Oh, I’m all right.” Slim would just get up quietly and tuck Marshall under his arm and hold him under the laundry tap in the back kitchen. It didn’t have to happen very often. We had an equally as big and tall Swiss man working there then. One cold rainy morning Harry was late coming for breakfast. Finally he burst in the door just steaming with anger. He couldn’t find the milk cows and was out in the rain all that time looking for them. He lit on Slim and said “You sitting there all nice and dry! You should be out helping me!” He was quite right and Slim said so and would have gone, but Percy took Harry in the other room and told him all about Slim. From then on, Harry just idolized Slim and Percy knew where to find those cows. There’s a little pocket in the hill below the house where they often hid and strangers couldn’t find them.
Chapter 4 – The 50s
In 1950 we were a bit short of feed or were afraid we would be, so Percy arranged with Mr. F.E.M. Robinson of the Alberta Ranch in Pincher Creek to pasture our steers there for the summer. That was an interesting place, one of the first ranches in Alberta I think, and the rolling hills had wonderful grass for the cattle. It was a successful venture but perhaps unnecessary as it rained enough to give us grass at home. But we were becoming a bit cramped. In 1951 we heard that Mr. Chas Matthews was wanting to sell his ranch in Grand Valley. Percy and I talked it over carefully. Should we sit still and lead a placid life or work like mad for a few more years. I don’t believe you can sit still, you either go ahead or slip back. We went immediately over to see the place. We bought it the next day.
Trailing cattle back and forth across the Bow River and by Cochrane to Grand Valley was no easy feat. It always seemed to be done when there was snow on the ground and it was a long, cold ride. I used to time it so that I’d catch up to them just before they reached the river and I’d give them hot coffee and fresh hot doughnuts. Then I would race home and pop in the oven and individual chicken pie full of good vegetables for each rider, a dessert, and more hot coffee. I would meet them for the noon lunch just north of the railroad track where there was a good spot to hold the cattle. Sometimes the smell of the hot steel railroad track would panic the spooky cattle and they would have to scatter hay over the rails to get them cross. The bridge across the Bow was another bad place, it didn’t take much to spook them.
By this time the whole country was joined together by well built roads and the cattle rustlers thought they had it made. We were just losing too many as were the other Alberta ranchers. There seemed to be a syndicate of rustlers taking them across the border to the USA. In 1952, the Alberta government decided to place mounted policemen in Cochrane on a few of the ranches, secretly, to work as seemingly regular ranch hands. We were chosen to have one of these men and we nicknamed him “Slim”. Things really began to happen. A lot of comical things, and our share of tragedy.
The day after Slim arrived, Clarence moved his cows and calves to summer pasture. That means he drove them by here – strung out for a mile or more or dust and noise. The hullabaloo upsets the adjacent livestock considerably. That night a black and white milk cow of Kumlin’s went missing. Naturally you would expect it to get tangled up in all the excitement of Clarence’s cows and would be easy to pick out of a herd of Herefords. But Kumlins rode and roe and never found her and Percy kidded them about being so dumb and he went out, and rode and rode and couldn’t find her. Finally Len Kumlin went in and reported it to the police. Poor Slim had to hand in a report every week and did he ever take a ribbing for letting a cow be stolen from right under his nose the day after he arrived here. To end this little yarn, that cow came in with Clarence’s herd in the fall, and she had twins with her, we had many a laugh over that.
These stories are a big part of why I have my giant velociraptor aka guardian dog. I don’t remember bears or cougars being an issue in the area when I was younger, but as the city has grown and more people are in the mountains we sure have a lot of them around now. The story of Uncle George killing the grizzly is pretty legendary around here.
There were four legged predators destroying cattle too. About 1947 a large grizzly began killing our cattle and once they become killers there’s just no stopping them. This one was very cunning and hard to find. One time Percy found four carcasses in one spot that he had killed. We figured he would kill one and the others smelling fresh blood would come bellering in to chase him. It really scares you to see how powerful they are. With one swat of his paw he would bash in the head of a full-grown cow. With another swat he would rip off the ribs from the backbone. Nobody really wanted to tangle with that fellow but the men did try very hard to find him for the two or more years he was active. They posted a reward of $500 to anyone who could catch him. In the spring of 1947 we had two experienced hunters come from Crossfield and Percy gave them an old horse to take out on the range and shoot it and leave it for bait. But the bear was too smart for them. One day Percy’s brother George rode upon a fresh kill, the carcass of a yearling. George was used to the ways of the wild and he very carefully concealed a huge bear trap in a sort of natural windfall of logs. He succeeded in trapping him and shooting the monster dead first shot. It was a seven foot, 700 pound male grizzly.
Talking about bears, Percy nearly shot Clarence once thinking he was a bear. I had a girl working for me who had lived all her life on the prairies. She hated trees and got the creeps when she had to walk under one. Of course, the boys delighted in spinning tall terrifying yarns to her and this evening she had walked down to visit the girl at Jack Copithorne’s. It was almost dark when she hurried home and Clarence and another boy put fur robes over themselves and hid under some brush about halfway down the hill and jumped out behind her. Percy and I were sitting quietly in the kitchen when she hit the back door. If she had been more fragile she would have come right through the door. We were very concerned when we saw her white face and when she finally was able to speak we had our doubts about it being a bear, but we hadn’t been told about the trick. Percy grabbed his shotgun and went out and shot it off in the air anyway, just to satisfy everyone. I guess those two boys never scrambled up the hill so fast in all their life, expecting maybe another shot.
We have occasionally had a black bear turn killer and molest cattle and once or twice a cow came in off the range with a big patch taken out of her side that looked suspiciously like a cougar’s work.
I don’t remember Grandpa’s legendary sneezes, but Mom used to tell stories about how epic they were. It has become a family competition with me and the kids to see who can best carry on that tradition and I’m pretty sure some of our sneezes shake the very foundation of the house.
Percy always sneezes terribly loud, you can almost hear him a mile away. He often came to the end of his patience trying to teach the junior rake boy how and where to drive his rake. One day when the boy was in the wrong place away across the field, Percy called him into the stack and gave him a good lecture and sent him off to where he was supposed to be. He just got there when Percy sneezed. The poor kid came galloping back to the stack thinking he had been called in for another lecture. The men often laughed over that, tired and all as they were when they got in at night, they had many laughs over the supper table.
In the evenings, Percy repaired all the breakdowns and the mower men sharpened their knives either evenings or before breakfast. Our crew hauled the XC hay valley too. That wild prairie grass was very nutritious, we were always able to winter our cattle on it without any supplements. We could even winter our calves on it without feeding them any grain.