by Dorothy M. Edge pg 149 Big Hill Country 1977
Frank White, a cultured Englishman, was born in Birmingham, England, in 1844, one of thirteen children. He immigrated to Canada in 1860, with his mother and father, Sir William White, and all of his brothers and sisters, with the exception of the two eldest brothers, who by that time were grown up and established in business. They came by sailing ship and it took over three months to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Liverpool to Montreal. For several years Frank worked for the Grand Truck Railroad at different places in Quebec. He married Christina Ross from Cornwall, Ontario, and they had two sons, Frank and William, and one daughter, Jessie. Christina passed away when the children were very young and they were brought up by their aunt, Miss Marion Ross, at Cornwall. Frank Jr. became a renowned organist. He lived in New Rochelle, New York. William worked for Canadian Cottons Ltd. in the Maritimes. Jessie married William Munro and they farmed at Martintown, Ontario.
In 1882 Frank was hired to be the business manager for M. H. Cochrane, president and founder of the Cochrane Ranche Company. He came West from Montreal and arrived in Calgary on September 18, 1882, and was employed at the Cochrane Ranche until the end of 1884. While living in the area of Big Hill, Frank kept a diary that contained a valuable and precise history of the early Cochrane Ranche. The diary dates from January 1, 1881, to November 22, 1890, and is now the property of The Glenbow Foundation in Calgary. During the 1940s and early 1950s, under the auspices of Alex McTavish, monthly installments from the diary were published in the Canadian Cattleman Magazine. Alex’s wife Martha typed the serials each month for her husband. This was a tedious endeavor because the writing was very small in places and she had to use a magnifying glass. Many names are mentioned throughout the diary. It seems that almost everyone who was ever in the area of the “Big Hill Country” in the “good old days” was recorded in the diary at one time or another.
In the summer of 1884, Frank anticipated he might be relieved of his duties with the Company since the ranche had suffered heavy cattle losses two years in succession and the necessity to economize was evident.
In September of 1884, Frank visited Fort Edmonton to see Annie Anderson, whom he had met in Point Levis, Quebec, many years before. Fort Edmonton was built in 1808 by the Hudson’s Bay Company as a fur-trading post, and it was a five-day stage trip from Fort Calgary, which was established by the North West Mounted Police in 1875. When Frank arrived back in Calgary he took his light wagon and with his best team, “Banjo” and “Bones”, whose names were reminiscent of the colored minstrel shows that were popular at the time, started out for the Mount Royal Ranch and Morleyville. He stopped for dinner at Big Hill and visited with W. D. Kerfoot and reached the Mount Royal Ranch after dark. The next day he went to Morleyville and had supper at Trader David McDougall’s.
With thoughts of a sheep project on his mind, Frank looked over the countryside and called in at Boyds, Griers, Sibbalds and Rev. John McDougall’s, where he met Tom Fawcett, the Dominion Land Surveyor. Richard Hardisty, a Hudson’s Bay Company Factor, who was in Morleyville at the time, was interested to hear of Frank’s interest in the sheep business, and Frank told him he had negotiated for a range lease. The Hardistys and the McDougalls were good friends of Frank’s and they often went skating together on the Elbow River. One time when Frank had supper with the Hardistys, salmon and beaver tail were served. Beaver tail was considered a delicacy by the old Hudson’s Bay Traders and was served on festive occasions.
Frank made a trip to Montreal and on December 19, 1884, he finished his connection with the Cochrane Ranche Company to establish himself in the sheep-raising business. He spent the intervening months raising capital for his new venture, visiting relatives, and buying furniture and equipment to establish a new home in the West. His aim was to locate in the vicinity of Ghost River.
In the spring of 1885, Frank visited W. D. Kerfoot, who was manager of the British American Ranche Co., at Big Hill, and they looked over the remaining burned sheep that had been caught in a prairie fire. They rode on up into the big valley (Grand Valley) to where W.D. said he would like to homestead. They rode west past Beaupré’s old place and then W.D. returned to Big Hill and Frank went on to Morleyville.
Frank’s furniture and belongings from Montreal finally arrived at Morley by train. He moved everything in a pouring rain storm to a cabin opposite McDougall’s. He proceeded to unpack things so they could dry out. He unpacked a wild vine which he planted down in McDougall’s garden. The next afternoon he rode over the range with Albert Boyd and later caught the train to Calgary to meet with Jim Robertson, a Scotsman, who had not faltered on his desire to go into the partnership agreement regarding the sheep business. A few days later Frank and Jim headed for Ghost River. It was still very muddy from all the rain and they got stuck with their wagon eight miles from Big Hill. Frank rode to get W. D. Kerfoot to come and help out with the load. They finally got to Morley and looked over the MacDonell place and the orphanage land but could not decide to pay anything for either place. Finally they decided on a place at the end of a coulee west of Ghost River. They proceeded to make ready winter quarters and got a new cabin built before going to Montana to drive up a band of sheep. Frank was the breadmaker and thought it was a real treat when “Lupino” yeast cakes first came on the market. This way he didn’t have to keep a supply of sourdough on hand.
On June 27, 1885, Frank and his party left the cabin at Ghost River, bound for Montana. The summer was spent on the trail. They spent ten days at Fort Benton then went north along the Teton River. They finally purchased a band of sheep from Mr. Graden. They followed the trail homeward along the base of the foothills where water was available. They used two wagons tandem hooked pulled by a four-horse team. This only required the use of one man. They travelled about nine miles a day with 2100 head of sheep. By September 26th, the band was being herded west of Big Hill, up along Beaupré Creek, and on to Ghost River. They arrived at their established home on September 27, 1885.
On October 20, 1885, Frank and Annie Ander- son were married in Edmonton. Annie was born at Point Levis, Quebec, on August 4, 1853, and was one of the passengers on the first passenger train to arrive in Calgary in 1883. During the second Riel Rebellion she filled cartridges for the soldiers and proved to be a real frontiersman. Annie and Frank had one son, Harold, who was born at Mitford, North West Territories, on December 17, 1888. The Whites were active supporters of All Saints Anglican Church, Mitford, which Frank helped to build.
Rev. John McDougall was prepared to protest any encroachment of sheep on what he claimed as orphanage property. The planned orphanage was to be an institution to care for orphaned Indian (sic) children. On April 1886, Rev. John McDougall made inquiries about logs that had been put near the upper orphanage field by Jim Robertson. Frank explained that they were for a lambing corral. After two and a half hour discussion, McDougall said he would not allow Frank to use the orphanage land longer than six weeks, and that a protest to this effect was already on file. Frank was not in the position to move right then but said since the matter was in the hands of the Federal Government he would abide by their decision. McDougall said he would not abide by their decision unless it gave him and the settlers what they felt they were entitled to. McDougall claimed that he had been promised what land he wanted for the orphanage, to the extent of 2000 acres, by Sir John A. Macdonald six years previous and that the promise had been renewed four years ago and again was being reviewed. In the fall of 1884, Frank had bought $300 worth of wire to fence the area and was expecting to get a grant from the Government by 1885 which would enable him to erect buildings of stone or at least with stone foundations.
It was strange that in a country with such vast unoccupied townships that two men should dispute over a few acres of land. Was it a resentment toward newcomers, or could it be the ancient feud between sheepmen and cattlemen?
When the Special Train from Montreal to Vancouver, with Sir John A. Macdonald and party aboard, arrived in Calgary on July 21, 1886, negotiations took place with Frank White et al. The Government settled the dispute in favor of Rev. John McDougall. Frank was to move out of the Morleyville district and in compensation was given land south of the Bow River. No time was wasted in moving the sheep, as final arrangements had been completed on that date and by July 24, 1886, the first stage of the move took place. They herded the sheep toward Big Hill and crossed the railroad bridge at Mitford, two and a half miles west of Big Hill. Frank laid boards between the rails to create a platform on which to drive the sheep across. This move was to the distinct advantage of Frank because he had more range and better grazing land, so July 1886, marked the beginning of his “Merino Ranch.” By 1890 he was running about 5000 head of sheep.
Around 1901 Frank sold the Merino Ranch to C. W. Fisher, and the Whites moved to Fernie, British Columbia, where Frank was the land commissioner for the Crow’s Nest Coal Company. He passed away in his eightieth year in January 1924. Annie passed away in March 1941, at the age of 88.
Harold started to work as a mining engineer for the Coal Company in 1909. He served three and a half years in the First World War. He worked for brief periods for the British Columbia Government during which time he designed the first bridge at Skookumchuk. He also worked for the East Kootenai Power Company at Bull River. On August 9, 1928, he married Marion McAllister who was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, on February 9, 1891. Harold passed away after a heart attack on July 30, 1949. Marion still makes her home in Fernie.
EXCERPTS FROM FRANK WHITE'S DIARY - as published by Alex McTavish
June 21st, 1885. New Cabin. Robertson and I rode over range going up Greer Coulee, up Warnock Coulee to site of proposed summer corral, thence through timber to creek running down from Sibbald’s homestead. Started at 9 a.m., back at 2. After dinner, Mr. and Mrs. McD. rode down to cabin looking for stray mare. Evening, figuring on Robertson proposition. Wrote Murdock ordering harness.
The harness was mostly hand-made by the local harness maker.
June 22nd, 1885. New Cabin. Eve. rode to Morley, no mail. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson and Miss Flora McDougall at D. McDougall’s. Bought yeast and oatmeal.
More bread and porridge.
June 23rd, 1885. New Cabin. Albert Boyd came up to proposed site of fall corral and walked round to nearest timber. He offers to build corral 190 by 80 ft. (5 ft. high) for $65.00. Caught in heavy rain storm, Albert lent me his saddle blanket and I walked back to cabin. Boyd thinks he can trade two decent mares for the iron
grey colt, so Jim started at once on the buckskin mare for Big Hill to bring the colt here. I baked and made a pole bedstead and finished the table. B.A.R. Co. finished shearing and began to pack their wool.
Wool was quoted at 18 1⁄2¢ per lb. in Toronto on the above date.
June 24th, 1885. New Cabin, cloudy and very warm. I finished the bedstead and dug holes for corral posts and fitted in the stable door. Jim got back from Big Hill without iron-grey horse, the horse having been turned out with a bunch that is now astray. Camp outfit sent after them. I went to Mrs. Boyd’s and got milk, wet through by rainstorm on way back.
A homesteader’s bed was made of boards and covered with a hay-filled tick. Upland hay always carried its quota of speargrass, which helped to make life realistic for the sleeper.
June 25th, 1885. New Cabin. Building hay corral. Andrew Sibbald called and said he doubted if he or Warnock would work for A. R. Boyd cannot trade horses as Ricks values his mare at $75.00. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson leave tomorrow. Dr. Girard at David’s, extracted a tooth for Miss Ruth.
June 27th, 1885. New Cabin. Clear, fine, and very warm. Straightened up poles and stuff around stable, put wagon box on end, and left key at Mrs. Boyd’s. At one p.m. started with two horse team “Billy and Dick”, and Mr. Kerfoot’s saddle horse for Big Hill on way to Montana. Supper and camped with Mr. and Mrs. Kerfoot. Horses traveled 18 miles.
On June 27th, Mr. White left his cabin on Ghost River, bound for Montana to purchase sheep to stock his new range. He spent summer on the trail, for he did not return till September 27th.
June 28th, 1885. Big Hill, clear and fine all a.m. With Mr. Kerfoot and Robertson around wool and sheep shed and stable. Mike agreed to come down to Montana with us, we to board him down and pay him $45.00 per month from the time of purchase of the sheep. We intended to start for Calgary today but decided to wait here a day, so as to give them a chance to find Mike’s horse which has got away from him.
Mike was evidently a sheepherder from the B.A. Ranch and being taken to Montana to assist in driving the sheep back to Alberta.
June 29th, 1885. Big Hill, on way to Montana. Settled up account with Kerfoot, got Billy and Dick vented and everything ready at 11 a.m. and started for Calgary with Robertson. Camped at lake and got to Calgary at 7 p.m. Bringing collie pup for Mrs. H. and one for self. Arranged for new harness. Supper at Royal, saw Ogburn and took clothes to laundry.
A good dog is essential in sheep-herding.
June 30th, 1885. Calgary, on way to Montana. Had horses, Billy and Dick, shod, first time. Bought tent, oats and cook stove and had picket pins and swivels made. Albert Boyd and Ricks came down and Mrs. and Mr. Dave McDougall. Dinner at Royal, supper at Mrs. Hardisty’s. Old Mike came down from Big Hill and we tried to persuade him to sleep with J. Robertson but he said he must have a jamboree and would surely
be on hand to start at 5 o’clock tomorrow a.m. Bought ice cream and took it down to Mrs. Hardisty’s. Slept at Royal after having a long talk with Matt Dunn. Decided to use my pass and ride on stage to save our horses as much as possible.
The Ricks mentioned above was Frank Ricks, reputed to be the top bronc rider of the early days. His ranch was southwest of Cochrane.
July 1st, 1885. Calgary. 4 a.m. with Robertson got the team and outfit ready. Mike came up and tied his cayuse and dogs to the wagon then disappeared. We ferried load across Elbow and I spent an hour seeking for Mike, then brought his cayuse back to Baines’ livery stable. Robertson started for Montana at 6 a.m. Found that Mike had been put in the guard room and broken out, had walked to head off the team. Had slipped his money, $130.00, in his pant leg and police only got what change he had out $9.00. I got his small traps from Mr. Boys. 11:30 a.m. with Hardistys to picnic on Elbow. Mr. and Mrs. McDougall and about 30 others were there. Got things ready to start in the morning and at 10:30 went down to bid goodbye to Hardistys. Party of friends there, broke up at 12. Settled with D. McD. for house logs and paid him $150.00 for Boyd.
Men like Mike, who toil in backwoods places, are prone to cut loose.