Pioneers on Coyote Flat
PIONEERS ON COYOTE FLAT
by Florence M. Parker
My grandparents pioneered from New York State in 1847 to Rockford, Ill. and then to Durand, Ill. About the time the Northwestern Railroad was completed from Omaha to Deadwood, then Dakota Territory, my mother, S. Grace Steves and my grandmother Julia Ann Steves went west and took up homesteads about two miles from Smithwick, Dakota Territory, close to the Nebraska line. My father, William H. Bear had come from Pennsylvania about the same time and had homesteaded not far from the folks. A romance started and in 1888 by parents were married. There were three children born to this union, Mary, David and Florence. My father died in Hot Springs, S.D. in 1891 when I was four months old. Verne's mother was born in Durand and so was mine and they went to school together. We often went from Dakota to Durand for the school months and to be with our aging grandmother. I finished my education in Durand.
Verne Parker's father came from Canada to Durand where he married Verne's mother. After a year they returned to Canada where all but the eldest child were born. Verne and I were married in Durand in 1909.
David Bear spent most of his time around Hot Springs and when about 21 Christ Ruffing met him and persuaded him to go to Wyoming to take up a homestead which was quite close to the Ruffing place. The fall of 1911 he made necessary requirements on the land and in the meantime got Verne and I interested. David went in early April 1912 to the claim; it was a long slow trip with a small team and a big wagon load. He arrived at his place about midnight of the second day. He had cut logs and laid' up a skeleton cabin when he first filed. This trip he had tarpaper and windows to make the cabin livable. The stars were bright and the air not too chilly. He unharnessed and hobbled his horses, gave them each a handful of oats (this was all he had) and turned them loose. David was too tired to hunt fuel for a campfire so he got out his bed roll and crawled in clothes and all.
He awakened next morning about 8:00 a.m. from an exhausted sleep horrified to find himself practically buried in snow and the topless cabin almost full of snow. His horses were his first concern, he crawled out and tried to see if they were near but the wind and blinding snow made visibility zero. There was nothing to do but climb back in the bed roll and pray and hope.
After the storm broke he dug out and got a bite to eat. He walked miles looking for the team and how thankful when he found both horses up against a barb wire fence. There was a heavy loss of stock and cattle and sheep carcasses lay everywhere. Good weath er followed and by May 9, when David met Verne in Lusk, most of the snow had melted.
It was this summer the men worked on the Old Woman Creek telephone line. One night they camped at Dick Pfister's, where they were given a pot of beans and the milk from a fresh cow. Their rations were about exhausted. This line connected with Lusk by going through an exchange at the Sam Thomas place near the Indian Creek country and gave us valuable service. I arrived in Lusk in early September where Verne met me.
During the winter of 1912 and 1913 David and Verne worked in the timber getting logs for Verne and me a cabin and posts to start fencing our homestead. They became very handy at killing rabbits with monkey wrenches. They had a shotgun but no money to buy shells. It was about this time my mother, S. Grace Harlow came out and took her additional homestead and we moved into our own floorless cabin. The stockmen were angry because we took our claims on Coyote Flat, where they were used to keeping their sheep in summer time. David had fenced a small patch for a little garden and had a very promising melon crop, but one day when he returned from a trip every melon was ripped to pieces. David taught these young cowboys a lesson they didn't soon forget.
Verne and I spent some time that summer in Sheridan with my sister, Mary Bellows, her husband and son. David stayed and took care of the claim. Margaret was born in Sheridan Aug. 14. When we returned to the homestead 14 months passed when Margaret and I didn't see town. The old wagon was in bad shape and the roads were just rutty trails.
David had returned to college at Mitchell, S.D. and spent summers on the claim. He met Grace Cox and in June 1916 they were married. My sister, her husband and son, my mother, Verne, Margaret and I met them in Hot Springs for the wedding.
From there I took Margaret to Illinois where Edith was born. David and Grace and Verne went back to the ranch to break land and plant and put up hay. That fall Verne came to Illinois and brought Margaret, Edith and me home. David and Grace went back to Mitchell.
The next spring oil activities came to life, people from far and near came and validated oil claims. A company had leased in Cow Gulch and great trucks of machinery went between our house and barn. One man freighted equipment with 10 teams and he stayed at our place a few times and paid us five cents a head for pasturing his horses.
We bought his sheep wagon so as to have a place to stay. Along about that time oil well #28 came in near Lance Creek and then oil business really boomed.
David and Grace came back from Mitchell and brought Miss Della Tracy. She had been David's math and Greek teacher in college.
She homesteaded, her mother joined her later. We bought David's homestead. Mother and David made a deal where David got our fathers ranch in South Dakota. Mother proved up on her homestead and divided it between Mary Bellows and me. We bought David's cattle and hogs, however, he kept the mineral rights and we jointly leased to a company mostly comprised of Lusk business men.
We moved back to David's cabin close to a good well he had drilled. Verne and his hired man got busy building a barn, shed and corrals. This had to be done before calving time in the spring.
December was fast passing and we hadn't heard from the oil company to which we had leased. The contract stipulated that the drilling equipment had to be on the lease by Jan. 1. The last day of December came, I had prepared a big pork roast dinner for company that were prevented from coming by a storm. Verne and the girls went to bed early. The storm howled around the cabin, obliterating all other sounds. I had a strange foreboding when all at once a horrible bang came on the door and when I opened it there stood a small man and in the near background were headlights from three big trucks almost hidden by the blowing snow. The man cursed, "Damn you let us in or, we will back up and shove this old cabin over." By that time Verne had jump ed from the bed landing in front of the open door, mad and why not. The other men came to the door apologizing and pled to get in out of the storm. Verne let the six men inside, he stirred up the fire in the little kitchen stove and I warmed up the big dinner which the men ate like starved wolves. The little man apologized time and time again, he had recently come from the East and knew nothing of that kind of life. They had left Lusk Friday morning with heavily loaded trucks taking only a few sandwiches, coffee and a can to heat it. They had expected to get to the well location Saturday but became lost and the storm came. We sent them to our homestead cabin a half mile away to sleep. As soon as the weather broke and they had repaired the frozen radiators they returned to Lusk.
By midsummer 1920 the men had moved our two room log house down to our new home.
There had been a lot of rain and the crops were growing fast. The morning of July 31 we got my mother and all the family went in our car to look at the beautiful fields of grain and corn. We had not been out long when mother noticed a terrible black cloud rolling toward us. We were terrified and headed for home. Verne went for his prize saddle horse that was out on a picket and the rest of us went to the root cellar. The rain and hail came in torrents and soon it was flooding down the hatchway step. I grabbed Edith, Mother grabbed Margaret, Verne came down and said we must get out of there before all were drowned. The storm had ceased but we were knee deep in water to the house. There wasn't a window glass left unshattered and mud was running down the wall where a hole had been beaten by the hail. The cows came in from the pasture that afternoon for there was no grass. The fields and garden were wiped out. That night Della Grace was born; how fortunate we were that Mother had been a midwife for a doctor at Hot Springs. The telephone lines were torn down and the dams were bank full, making it impossible to get in or out.
After Miss Tracy proved up on her homestead she and her mother moved to my mother's comfortable cabin. There Mrs. Tracy took ill and died. I prepared the body for burial and the neighbors came and helped Verne make a pine box and Miss Tracy and Verne took the body to Lusk and then on to Indiana for burial.
Our first school was when Margaret was eight; up until then there weren't enough children to warrant a school. Miss Tracy was the first teacher on Coyote flat.
The family grew up, Margaret married Rex Beach, they had one child, Phyllis, Della married Ben H. Siekert, they had Bernie and Bonnie. Edith married Don Hoffman and they had one daughter Kim.
In 1943 Miss Tracy, Mary Bellows and we sold our land to Albert De Gering and we moved away.