Historical Details

Ball, Wallace Family History

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 11/03/2020


by Margaret Ball Rippee

I have been asked to share experiences from my early years when my father and mother were beginning their life together in Wyoming. Some of these dates may not be correct, but I have no way of checking them.

My father, Wallace W. Ball, was born Oct. 18, 1886 somewhere in Iowa. My Grand­mother Ball told me how they came from Iowa to Nebraska, traveling in a covered wagon as a part of a wagon train. When they ar­rived at Chadron, Nebr., a railroad town, my grandparents decided to settle there.

My Grandfather Ball worked on the C&NW Rail­way from the time he arrived in Chadron un­til he died.   My Dad began working on the railroad as soon as he was old enough to work.

My mother, Effie A. Sharp, was born in Fountainell, Iowa Jan. 27, 1884.    Her parents also traveled by wagon train, finally settling in a community they named Ohiowa, because the settlers were from both Ohio and Iowa.  My Grandfather Sharp began his pioneer life as a farmer, then built a hotel which he managed.  My mother was a teacher in Chadron, boarding with her future in-laws when she met my Dad. After a short courtship, they were married on Thanks­ giving Day in 1907.   Almost a year later, on Nov. 10, 1908, I was born into the family, the only child of my parents.

My folks built a home in Chadron and Dad continued to work on the railroad. He was not happy with railroad work and used every opportunity to talk to the ranchers and cowboys while they were loading their cattle onto his train.  He dreamed of being a rancher on his own land. In 1913, Dad learned of the Homestead Act and saw the answer  to his dream.  After long discussion, Mother and Dad decided to file under the Homestead Act. Their claim was allowed Dec. 26, 1913. This was an enormous personal sacrifice by my parents  because it  meant that Mother and I would have to live on the homestead for the required number of months each year while Dad would have to keep his  job on the railroad, so we could have an income.

Their approved claim was 320 acres.   On our property Dad built a two-room house with a shed across the back, and added a small barn, dug a well, fenced in the land, and broke 40 acres of sod, to comply with the government requirements to keep the land.

In the spring, my mother and I moved into the house on the homestead property. Our transportation was limited to an old horse and buggy.    Neighbors were far, far apart, and I know my mother was very concerned about living alone except for one small daughter. She was a very brave woman.

My first memories of the homestead are of the railroad and the highway which both cut through our homestead. At that time, the highway consisted of two trails.  Our house was located not far from the railroad tracks and the highway, which gave us many happy moments, as well as many anxious ones.

The happy moments came when Dad's train passed by every day.  His run took him from Chadron to Casper and return.  On the downgrade going to Casper, Dad would always throw off candy, fruit, papers and magazines.  We would watch for his train and run out to pick up the goodies.  But the return trips were the best.  The train was always loaded and traveling very slow­ly on the uphill grade.  Dad would be in the engine and when the train reached the cut where we were waiting, he would  hop off. Then we would talk to him very quickly until the caboose brought up the end of the train and he would have to hop back on. We really enjoyed those precious moments.

Dad's friends on the other trains going through our homestead would always whistle and throw off goodies.

About once a month we would hitch up the old horse, climb into the buggy and ride to Lost Springs. We stabled the horse in Joe Adlains stable, boarded Dad's train and went to the end of his run, and return­ed the next day.  I always looked forward to those trips. I remember one such trip when there was a rock slide across the tracks, and the engineer didn't see it in time to stop the train.  The engine cleared the slide but all the cars except the caboose were derailed. The bumping and jerk­ing threw us all over the floor.    We were terribly frightened by the noise, but, fortunately, no one was hurt. I remember seeing my Dad walk back and set flares to prevent another train from running into us.

Then, we boarded the engine and rode all the way to Casper to get some help. I shall never forget what a big thrill it was for me to ride in the engine.

I also recall that having the house near the railroad and road caused us many anxious moments.  We were plagued almost everyday with strangers passing up and down the highway or jumping off the train. Many of these people were mean tramps who were hungry, and thirsty. We never fed these strangers, but Mother never refused to give them water. She hated to deny anyone food, but we could not risk allowing them in the house. Dad knew the danger we faced with tramps and he would never throw a tramp off the train until he was well past our house.

Most of the other trainmen weren't so thoughtful and we had tramps coming to our door almost very day   Because my father was not at home, Mother never slept at night.   She was always alert to defend our home and I had an important part to play in her plan. During the day, Mother slept while I played in the front and watched the road for tramps. When I saw anyone coming up the road I would run and wake Mother. She never went to the door with her gun in her hand, but it was always ready, just be­hind the door, on the sewing machine.  When strangers asked for food, Mother would politely tell them she didn't have any but they were welcome to drink water from the well.            You could see them looking around to see if there was a man around the house. When they were convinced we were alone, they would attempt to break in.   When that
hap­pened Mother would say, "Margaret, go play with your doll." That was  the signal for me to hand her the six-shooter.  My Mother was a very good shot.  I've seen her prove it to tramps by shooting the head off a passing gopher or shoot a hole in a man's hat. One night, Mother woke me and said "Be quiet, someone is turning the door knob." She shouted a warning to the intruder, but the door continued to rattle.  Mother fired through the door and we heard a loud snort, more kicking, and finally the sound of hoofs running away.   Mother had placed a single shot up the back of our only horse. Luckily, he was only scarred.

In another incident one morning, four tramps surrounded our house.  It seemed like we had one at every window. We were really frightened.  Fortunately, a passing cowboy came down the road and moved those tramps out in a hurry.

I remember very vividly the last night we were required to live on the homestead. At sundown we were visited by two men with a team and wagon. They asked for food and water.  Mother refused to give them food, but offered them water from the well.  They became very angry and demanded to speak to the man of the house.  Mother told them he would be home soon. They watered their horses and camped on the road, just down from our house where they could see if a man appeared.  Mother was certain that as soon as it became dark they would return.So at the first sign of darkness we crept out in the shadow of the house and hill to the rye field. We knew we were safe when we reached the rye field. We walked a long way to another homestead owned by a man named French, and told him what happened.  Mr. French sent his son to get help from Pete Kechter, Mr. Amend and Bill Snyder. These men rode to our house and arrived in time to find that the tramps had broken in our home and loaded everything they could carry on their wagon. Our neighbors made the tramps unload all our belongings and sent them traveling fast.

The next day we fulfilled the requirements for our land under the Homestead Act. In those days they said, "we proved up on our claim."

After we "proved up on our claim" we moved back to our home in Chadron.  But Dad just couldn't be satisfied.          The more he talked to the ranchers and cowboys the more anxious he was to return.  In 1918, my folks made their biggest decision and sold our house in Chadron. Dad bought 10 head of horses, a wagon and some machinery.   My Grandfather Ball drove these few possessions to the homestead.  The household furnishings along with 10 head of cattle were shipped to Lost Springs. It was a big decision be­cause Dad had no experience with cattle or farming.  He had to learn the hard way, but he never gave up.  I remember very well the day they unloaded the box car.  All of mother's most cherished belongings had been placed in the last load.  Everything was going smoothly up to the last load.  A train came whistling by, scared the team, and away they went, spilling all Mother's cherished possessions over the street.

Most were beyond use.  Poor Mother.  She was not happy about returning to the homestead with all the past experiences strong in her mind, but all she said was "Thank God, no one was hurt."

The folks rented Mr. Bill Snyder's farm which joined our homestead. This house is still standing today but it doesn't look the same since it was remodeled.

When we were homesteading, our biggest problem was the tramps. World War I took care of the surplus manpower situation so we didn't have as many tramps to worry about. Besides, Dad was always there to protect us. One of our biggest problems was schooling for the children. There were several homesteaders living around us with children. The old homestead place was a good place to hold school so Dad helped make it into a one room school house. I believe that we started with 10 children.

Signo McGrew taught the first year.   Her folks homesteaded south of us. The next year Hanna Wright from Penna. was our teacher. Mother began teaching then.  The last year mother taught there were only two children in our school. Work was opening up in the cities so people were selling their land and returning to their old home. The country once again was getting that deserted look.        

in 1920 Dad bought what was known as the Brooks place. The house was small so we moved the homestead house and added it to the Brooks house.  It was far from pretty or modern, but we were very happy there.

Cowboys would trail large herds of long-horned cattle coming from Texas going to Nebraska. Because the cattle were mean, the cowboys would ride ahead and warn everyone to stay inside until the herd had passed.

Clothes on the line had to be taken down be­ cause they would frighten the cattle. Some­ times a cow could not keep up with the herd. They would give it to Dad who would feed it and have another head to add to his little herd.

Those were fun days for me.  Since we didn't have any boys in the family Dad taught me to ride, drive four horses and work with him everywhere he went. I learned to cut timber, dig coal and work in the fields and meadows.

One snowy April morning with a blizzard on the way, Dad noticed a family stranded by our lane gate.   Dad was always a good fellow so he rode down to offer his help. The con­necting rod had burned out in their old Model T Ford.    The children were cold and hungry so Dad got his team and pulled the car to the house.  After feeding the family Dad took the man to Lost Springs for re­pairs. On the return trip the man somehow got the idea that Dad was trying to kidnap him. They had several fights in the wagon before they reached home.  Dad felt sure that when the man saw his family he would forget the kidnapping idea.  As Dad was un­hitching the team, the man walked over to the car, got his gun, and had it pointed directly at Dad.  His wife realized what her husband was doing for she quickly twisted his wrist and got the gun. I have never been so frightened.  Dad had all he could take of this man so he pulled the car back to the road and refused to let the man re­turn. The four children and the wife remained with us until the car was fixed.  We were all relieved when they left.

Another experience I remember well was the trip to the top of Laramie mountain.

From our home the mountain looked so invit­ing and not too far away.  Mr. and Mrs.Wilson went with us and they made a big box for our groceries and loaded it along with a tent, into the wagon. We also took two saddle horses so one man could ride ahead and find the way for the wagon. We were doing fine until we left Esterbrook and ran out of the trail. We became  hopelessly lost and ended up in places that were almost impossible to go with a wagon.  One night, we were awakened by noisy bears who had stampeded the horses and were trying to eat our supplies. Luckily, one horse was still hobbled and hadn't gone too far.   We stayed in camp while Dad rode off on the remaining horse to find the other animals. After two days he finally returned with the other animals. We decided to give up the mountain trip and returned home.  I don't know why, but we never tried that trip again.

I recall that money was very scarce and there wasn't any employment.  All the money that people earned came from the sale of a few cows, potatoes and  grain. The govern­ment offered a bounty on coyotes and wolves so the men would hunt these animals. Some­times they used dogs and a large number of men would go in a hunting party.  Other times the men would go alone. To collect the bounty, the hunter had to send in one ear and one paw of each animal killed. They usually skinned and stretched the hides.

Bounty hunting was quite a sport for the men of the community and really helped the pocketbook.  In about 1920 they built the highway which was a big help for the home­steaders because it allowed them to work and also rent their teams.

I remember the preparation for winter.

The winters were long and many times we couldn't make it to town. Each fall Dad would lay in a big supply of flour, sugar, coffee, dried fruits, etc.   He also put in aspirin,castor oil, epsom salts, and other things used to doctor people and animals because we had no doctors available.

Mother also did her part to get ready for winter.  She would make butter  and  put it in some kind of brine and store it in a big stone jar. She did the same thing with eggs. She dried corn, green beans, toma­toes, pumpkins, and made sauerkraut and pickles in big jars.  Dad and the neighbors dug a big cave for storage. They divided it into two rooms, one room for vegetables, the other for potatoes. In the summer we stored our milk there. Many times a neighbor would run out of groceries and money and Dad would always divide our supplies with him. We never went to bed without storing up plenty of fuel and water.  At times, these storms lasted for several days. The snow would blow so hard you could get lost just a few feet from the house. Dad fixed a line from the house to all the buildings so he could hold onto the line and know exactly where he was going. People often froze to death very near their homes.

In  those days people were always ready to help in time of need.  Men exchanged work and they all worked together very well. They had many community projects such as large potato cellars, ice houses and machinery shared by all.       We always  had lots of fun at picnics, box suppers and barn dances.  Many times we just met at some­ one's home and played games and sang songs. The women always brought cake or other goodies for refreshments.  The fourth of July meant a big celebration at the rodeo. In the fall, Keeline would have a fair. We all had a good time and it didn't take any money. Mother always said "poverty is the mother of invention".  She would make dolls from socks, pin cushions from bits of rib­bon and she never let a Christmas go by without a little gift for all. Money didn't make those things. They came from a heart full of love.

My Dad was a very resourceful man.  He built a blacksmith shop out of things he could find and by using his great imagination.  He learned to do all his own re­pair work and neighbors learned to rely on him too. Once, I remember the tires wore out on the old Ford and we had no money for new tires.  So Dad thought about it and soaked a cowhide till it became soft. Then he laced this hide around the tire and let it dry.  As it dried it shrank and became a very tight fit.  A tire with hair growing on it sure looked funny but you would be surprised at how long it lasted.

School became a problem again. I had to go across the prairie about four miles and in December and January I couldn't make it because of the snow. I was lucky to have my mother as a teacher again. In the sixth grade I went to Keeline and the  county paid my board. When I was in the seventh grade my mother and I moved to Manville so I could continue my education. As people moved off the farms and ranches, the local schools were closed. People had a choice of boarding their children to con­solidated schools in larger towns or to  deny their further education.  Mother rented a boarding house for teachers in Man­ville for two years during the school year, then moved back to the ranch with Dad. My mother passed away in May 1926 from cancer.

My Dad was very concerned about education for the children in our area. He served on the District #10 School Board. He got the idea that we should try busing the children to school.  After much controversy, the School Board agreed to try busing.  As a result of Dad's efforts, I was able to stay home with Dad and go to school, and graduated in 1927.  I can still see Dad at night standing in the door, watching for me to come home from school.

He always had supper ready.

Dad and Margaret Wright were married in 1928. She had two children, Wilbur and Margaret Dorothy. They lived on our old place for several years before they remodeled her home near Lost Springs.  Dad passed away in 1938 and Ma in 1964.  My stepbrother Wilbur and wife Ada still live in the home place.

These are a few of the memories I re­call from an earlier way of life.  I have enjoyed sharing them with you, because in doing so it has made me reflect back on many incidents in my life that are very precious to me.

Margaret Ball Rippee Black Rock, Rt. #1 Arkansas 72415

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Ball, Margaret (03/04/1885 - 06/29/1964) View Record
Obituary Ball, William (10/18/1884 - 02/01/1941) View Record