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Crane Valley

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William Albert Steward was a pioneer and resident of the Crane Valley Postal Area from 1916 to 1965. Duncan Steward, ancestor, was born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1631. In 1651 he fought with the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the battle of Dunbar. After the defeat of this army, he was sent to America to Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1654. Duncan was indentured to a farmer who was sympathetic to the English cause for a period of 5 years as a servant. While there he met his future wife, also an indentured servant and there they started their life and family. Afterward he and his descendants farmed, did other jobs and finally moved to Maine.

One of his descendants born in Monson, Maine was Horatio Steward who is also William’s father. Horatio was hired by one of the neighbors to fight for him in the Civil War. Horatio joined the Civil War and, after being mustered out , passed through Illinois where he met his wife Sarah Saffer. They travelled to the Avondale District in Iowa and raised a family of 9 children, one of them being William who was born on the 22 of August 1878.

William attended the Avondale School until Grade 5. He also attended the Avondale Methodist Church and as a boy, one of his jobs was to pump the bellows to run the pipe organ. There he was introduced early to the Methodist Religion. William took part in the farming operation and learned how to check row corn in the spring, to cultivate the corn in the summer and to pick the corn by hand in the fall. Sugar cane and oats were also grown. The corn was fed to the hogs.

His mother was a good cook, seamstress and also an avid reader. This led to her helping all of the family with their education. William spent the first 29 years of his life in Iowa.

William and Margaret Steward Wedding

William and Margaret Steward Wedding

One of the other boys was Seth Wyman Steward. These two became inseparable after William saved Seth’s life by lancing his toe and sucking out the venom of a rattlesnake bite . The boys farmed around Fontenelle and Bridgewater, Iowa. In Bridgewater, they kept a store which was quite successful. However, a real estate agent helped them sell the store and sent them to Osage, Saskatchewan to handle a farm that he had there. While in the store, Seth had married and had three daughters and so Seth and William and Seth’s wife and three daughters came to Osage on March 17, 1907. The deal with the real estate agent was they could operate the farm and have the proceeds in exchange for looking after prospective buyers sent by H.C. Wells. They were to make sure that the buyers did not go to town and talk to the local people until Mr. Wells came and sold them the land.

It had been one of the worst winters on record and so they had great difficulty in getting their equipment out to the farm. Also because of the late spring, their Red Fife wheat which matured late had frozen. H.C. Wells brought prospective buyers up to the boy’s farm and sold many acres of crop on the very nice looking Red Fife Wheat which was frozen but had nothing in it. The boy’s could not stand this deception and moved to Tuxford and rented a farm near their sister who was living there.

While working on the threshing outfit of James Franks, William met Margaret Alicia Franks. James Franks and his brothers had arrived near Tuxford in 1882. He had chosen, as his homestead, section 16, Township 19, Range 27, west of the Second Meridian. In 1883 James Franks returned to Peterborough , Ontario and picked up his wife and infant daughter Margaret and brought them to his homestead near Tuxford.

1883 and 1884 were very dry years and the crops were a failure. In 1885 the Riel Rebellion was in progress and with his team of horses, he hauled supplies from the end of the railroad at Moose Jaw up to the site of the Riel Rebellion. While he was away doing this hauling, Sara his wife had to look after the baby and do the chores around the farm. Bands of Indians would come through and Sara found that if she gave them a cup of tea and a little tobacco, they wouldn’t steal anything and if she needed anything they would help her with it.

After these bad years, things began to prosper and good crops enabled them to consider building a stone barn. He hauled stones from Buffalo Pond lake, about 18 miles away, and had a stone mason fashion the bottom of the barn. On top he built a large loft to hold the feed for the cattle and horses during the winter months. Soon after they built a brick house . This was a two story building with and added section to house his family. From 1883 to 1912, he and Sara had raised a family of three girls and four boys. During this time he added to his land base and purchased a threshing outfit which William was working on when he met Margaret Alicia.

Seth Steward had decided that he wanted a certain homestead . William and Seth spent 72 hours with their hands on the door of the Land Titles Office waiting to be the first ones in so that they could get the land he desired. They were successful.

In 1912 Seth Stewards family and William moved to the homestead , building the buildings and doing the required breaking on Seth’s homestead, William was looking for a farm of his own and cancelled the homestead of William Krites. The land was the NE half of 24,9,27, west of the 2nd Meridian. To cancel the homestead, William had to pay for all of the improvements, including the breaking , the house, barn and implements that the William Krites had made on the his homestead.

William bought an outfit of horses and with one of these horses made the trip to Tuxford to court Margaret Alicia Franks . In 1913, William returned to Iowa to visit his relations and he and one of his brothers were taken to Florida. While there, they saw the beautiful fruit on the trees and purchased 10 acres of land each, however, because of the real estate agent Wells bad reputation, they investigated and found that the oranges were tied on to the trees, therefore, they never paid the taxes on the land that they purchased. They did keep the title to the land but never investigated it’s history. Later in 1973, William’s son, Raymond found that the land was 7 miles from Disney World and also was one of the best orange groves in Florida.

After a successful year in 1914, Margaret and William were married at the Frank’s homestead. William brought Margaret and a cow, which was a gift from her father, to the homestead. The house was a 12x 14 shack with a cook stove, a bed and some cupboards. The first night in this house, the neighbours staged a “shivaree” which was a custom carried over from Iowa., in which the neighbours made all the noise that they could and woke them from their sleep then expected a party. The only trouble with this was Margaret had not been warned and was almost frightened to death as she did not know what was going on .

Water for the cows and horse was supplied by sloughs, but there was no water for the house unless it was hauled from a farm about 2 miles away. By chance William found that he was a “water witch” and so with the use of a willow was able to discover water under the ground about 500 feet from the barn and an ample supply of water was found there. Water witching was thought to be either a gift or a fake. After he found water for himself and his neighbours, he thought it was a gift and so did they. He would take the “slingshot” type of a willow or maple tree crotch and by holding the two branches in his hand , he would walk over the ground and when he came to a spot where there was water , the branches would turn down so strongly that it would take The bark off of the tree right in his hands. With this evidence, it was hard not to believe that he had a gift in finding water.

In 1914, they built a new house. It was 12 x 24 with a 12x 24 lean to on the south side. The 2 story house had three small bedrooms upstairs, two large rooms in the main part downstairs with summer kitchen in the lean to. It was heated by a heater in one of the downstairs rooms. A Quebec heater which was part cook stove was in the other room. In the summer kitchen there was a large kitchen range. The upstairs was heated by pipes running through the rooms to the chimney via registers in the floor. The full sized basement under the house was very valuable for storing the produce from the garden and the canned vegetable and meats.

The long distance to services was one of the drawbacks to the homestead. Readlyn was the closest town with services such as stores and an elevator to handle the grain. It was also the closest rail outlet at 18 miles away and so was a full day’s trip to go to Readlyn to haul grain, pick up groceries or to meet the train. After having completed the house and having a successful and happy year on the farm in 1915, Margaret became pregnant. The closest doctor was 25 miles away in Verwood. Because of the distance from the doctor, Margaret went to her folk’s place near Tuxford to have her baby. James Raymond Steward was born there on October the 31, 1916. For some reason , Margaret and William always called James Raymond by his second name, Raymond and so from hereon he will be known as Raymond .

The barn was a low peaked roof building 24×40, and large enough to hold two, six horse outfits and a feed bin . The feed for the horses had to be stacked outside and carried in the winter time. The cow barn was a flat roofed shed with straw on top and it housed the cow that Margaret’s father have given them and the other cattle, pigs and chickens which had been acquired.

The distance from the doctor became a problem with all homesteaders, especially during the flu epidemic of 1918. Before and during the epidemic, William was healthy enough to make trips to get medicine and sometimes the doctor for the people of the district . Later his brother Seth Steward who lived six miles away was taken down with smallpox and it was necessary for William to drive over there and help him do his chores during the smallpox epidemic. He did not get smallpox but had to be vaccinated as did Margaret and Raymond.

The doctor who had served them came from Spring Valley, a distance of 22 miles. This lack of doctor care was probably the reason that Margaret lost her second child in 1920.

In 1915, Marigold school #3438 had been built 1-1/2 miles west of the Steward homestead. Until this time most social contact had been with the Seth Steward’s and with the Jim Kennys. Mrs. Kenny, who was Margaret’s sister, lived about three miles away. Of course William and Margaret had other neighbours. Across the road and ½ mile east was the Charlie Wrights’ who had one daughter, Gertrude. She was the only marriageable girl in the district. Herman Stretsle, a bachelor, lived about a half mile north of the Wright’s and on the other side of the road. Herman had “eyes” for Gertrude, but she did not like him. These two “homesteaders” came to the district in about 1910.

Straight down the road to the east was Jack Leifso, who homesteaded in 1911 and remained a bachelor until about 1920, when he married Mrs. Eede. She had a boy named Roy and a girl named Mable. South of Jack Leifso’s place was Ernie Brown’s farm. He was the first to settle in the district in 1907 and lived for some time in a sod shack. He had gone back to Broadview from whence he came, and married Margaret. By the time she came to the district she had a 2 year old boy named Charlie.

Old Steward Farmstead

Old Steward Farmstead

Another ½ mile east and two miles south was the Snaiths’ farm, where William obtained his water and freshly baked bread until he became married. Their closest neighbour was Gordon Ross who was about a 1/4 mile west and across the road. Gordon started homesteading in 1910 and his purpose was to “prove up” the homestead and then sell it.

Adjoining William’s land on the south was Archie Leslie and his wife to the east, and Bill Sheneman, with two girls and two boys, to the west. One mile west of Marigold school lived Amon Ballerude, who had two boys. One mile on the other side of the road was Harry Dugald and his wife and one boy also called Harry. These are few of the William Steward’s closest neighbours and there is a map of this Township, 9 of 27dated 1914. There were 70 households in that Township at that time. Margaret and William visited all of these neighbours at some time and after the school was opened, they all came to the school for their social events.

After the building of the school there was much social contact with the rest of the community with the various activities that were held in the school yard and building. Among them was the annual picnic , school concert and in the summertime the services of a student minister. After the student minister came to the district the Ladies Aid was formed, and Margaret visited with all of the neighbours and this was to be Margaret’s favourite activity.

Before the student Minister arrived, there had been a “saddle back Minister” who would come to the various places and hold services in farm houses . The Dugald family who were very devout Christians, lived about three miles from the Steward farm and was one of his favourite places to stop. The Dugald family would often turn their horses or cows out in the winter to allow the people who came to the Church service to put their horses in the barn. this was a disadvantage for the Dugald’s and on some bitterly cold days, they had to pay the price of cows with frozen teats causing the great trouble at milking time.

When Marigold was built, the Presbyterian Church Superintendent of Missions, Doctor Strang, organized a Board and sent out student s for the summer. These students conducted a service every Sunday and during the week visited the people of the district and on Friday afternoon, conducted a Sunday school with the children at the school. All of the students were young men and were very interesting. One, Allan Reoch, had been to China and had some interesting stories to tell. In the season when the student wasn’t there , Dr. Strang would conduct the service, serve Communion and Baptise children. This form of religion continued until Marigold School was moved to Crane Valley in 1927.

William had begun to expand his land base and had purchased a quarter section of land from Gordon Ross, his closest neighbour, and land from Mr. Pelkie. He also bought a half section of land for pasture two miles away and a quarter of land from Mr. Jim Kenny who had found his debts rather heavy and sold this land to support the rest of his land.

This land had to be broken with a one furrow breaking plow and the rest of it he hired broken with a Rumly tractor and an eight furrow plow. This outfit was owned by Ernie Brown, his neighbour to the east. Owning this much land necessitated that he have two outfits and a hired man. One outfit pulled the disc for preparing the soil and the other pulled a seed drill . For threshing, he hired one of the large outfits in the district which was run by steam or by large gas engine that run a 40″ separator that required 18 to 10 stook teams and a couple of grain teams . The grain was stored in granaries because he was so far away from elevators that he could not haul it directly there.

The large number of men meant that Margaret had to have a hired girl during the threshing season. Also , Margaret boarded the teacher that taught at Marigold school. Boarding the threshers along with the family members was a large undertaking. The threshing was done in quite short order unless there was a rain . If it was a rainy season , it was necessary to board the men and their horses for a long period of time. This became hard work and quite expensive.

The vegetables that were used were grown in the garden. The corn, peas and beans were canned and used during the year . The carrots and potatoes were stored in the basement and in the fall beef was butchered and cut up for use during the winter and much of it was canned. Also the pigs were killed and the sides of pork were fried down for lard and the hams, hocks and other parts were cured for use during the year. Anything that was bought had to come from Readlyn, like 100 pounds of flour, sugar, and bulk supplies of canned goods and dried fruit.

One of the first links to the outside world was the Readlyn rural telephone Company which was started in 1917. This Company supplied rural lines and long distance which allowed the people of the district to talk to other people almost anywhere. General rings on the telephone line assured help during emergencies such as prairie fires and sickness. Also it supplied a form of entertainment and Margaret enjoyed nothing better than “rubber necking” on the line to find out what was going on in the district. To find out what was going on in the outside world, before the telephone, it was necessary to drive by horse and buggy to Readlyn and take the train from there.

1923 was quite an eventful year, Margaret’s brother Nels came as hired man, He and William had fenced the ½ section that William had bought for pasture. He also joined with neighbours to build a radio which was just coming into being. William paid for the materials and Nels was instrumental in building the first radio for himself and for the neighbours. Also William bought his first Model T Ford car and he had a tendency to holler “Whoa” and pull on the steering wheel rather than stepping on the brake which got him into several difficulties. The car made it possible to go to Readlyn or even Moose Jaw for groceries in a much shorter time.

Hauling grain in the winter was still difficult but it was helped somewhat by the building of a railway 14 miles north of Crane Valley at Galilee. Now it was possible to haul a load of grain every day and return to load up for the next day rather than the loading next morning.

Another event of 1923 was Raymond starting school at Marigold School # 3438. The one room school had a student population of about 30 children , covering grades one to eight with one teacher . The school had a “pot Bellied “ stove for heating with a fire shield around it. Outside was a barn to hold the horses which the children used to come to school. The desks had two children sitting together in each seat. Two coat rooms were at the back. One for boys and one for girls and in the middle was a wash room where the drinking and washing water was kept. School lunches were brought from home each day. The teachers were young men or women who were just out of normal School. They handled the eight grades surprisingly well. The teachers were good disciplinarians and as a result Raymond did well in school until going to the Crane Valley School which was opened in 1927.

William had built a garage to house the car and he found that it was a useful place to hang a quarter of beef during the winter time. Also he found that he could put the radio battery in the car and charge it. These two things almost lead to his death . One day well cutting the meat, he had the car running to charge the battery. The carbon monoxide made him unconscious . Raymond who was about ten years old saw his father on the floor, and was able to pull him outside where he was revived.

Signs of change began in 1924 when railway surveying crews began working close to the Steward homestead. In 1926 buildings were built north east of the Steward land for the proposed town site of Crane Valley named after the local post office. Crane valley began to thrive with three elevators , a large railway station, community hall and several houses, two stores , doctor’s office, barber shop, two implement dealers, two repair garages , a church , a lawyer’s office, two lumber yards, a liquor store and a two room school.



In 1927, William built a new barn which was 54 by 36 with a 16 foot leanto , a large loft with a hay cart to transport the hay . It had stalls for 16 horses, a box stall, a grain bin , stantions for ten cattle and a calf pen. It was built of fir lumber by a very good contractor named Bob Craig who made it strong enough to last into the next century where it still stands. The heavy load of cooking for the construction crew and the harvest crew caused a blood clot in Margaret’s leg. On the advice of the local doctor, the family went to Rochester , Minnesota where Dr. Dripps of the Mayo Clinic soon cured Margaret’s leg. The family then went on to Iowa to visit relations. Upon returning home Raymond appeared for the first time in a play held at the Crane Valley Community Hall in a Christmas Concert.

1928 produced the best crop, ever seen, on the Steward place. That same year a Chattaqua was held at the community hall, which was a week-long entertainment extravaganza. Many dances and travelling shows were held and 1928 was the beginning of the badminton club. In 1929, William built a new house of fir lumber which was 26 by 26, with a sun porch on the north side, a kitchen lean to on the south side with full basement which. The house had three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The main floor had a bedroom, dining room, living room and kitchen. The house was wired with expectation of electricity. A large furnace was in the basement with a coal bin large enough to hold a full year’s supply. It was one of the most modern houses of the time and of the district.

Also in 1929, William bought a 6 cylinder Dodge sedan with a square box type body and room for six passengers. A fair crop was harvested in 1929 and in November there was a crash of prices in everything including the stock market and everything the farmers had to sell. William had stored a railcar load of wheat , thinking that it may sell for $2 per bushel. After the crash he received only 25 cents per bushel.

From 1930 to 1935 there was very little rain and so the crops were very poor. A little wheat did grow as well as many Russian thistles which turned out to be a God send as the thistles were used for feed for livestock. William cut the green thistles and wheat for feed. Some years the grasshoppers were so thick that they dimmed the sun and cut off the heads of the wheat. There was usually some garden. Income was made from shipping cream taken from the cows and selling the calves who did very well on the Russian Thistle hay. Margaret also made some money by boarding the teacher. The 1930’s were not as bad as they sound as community life was very good. Everyone would help each other and it really was a time with little work to do and much time for enjoying people.

1934-35 was a year of much snow. To go to school, Raymond would climb the snow drift by the telephone line and when getting to the top of the snow drift, he could step over the telephone line.

Margaret was boarding a student that year and so she would also go through this process. 1935 was quite a damp year due to the snow. The fog formed which made it the right conditions to form rust in the grain. William had experience with rust in the twenties, so in spite of the advice of the Ag. Rep’s, he cut his crop as fast as he could and in so doing he had a good crop of fairly good wheat. Any grain that was cut later was a very poor grade.

Raymond passed grade twelve that year and went to Moose Jaw for the winter. A student stayed at the farm for his board and room . 1936 was back to the bad years again with no rain and 1937 was the worst that there was in the past ten years. What little crop there was, was eaten by army worms which ate everything in their path. There was no Russian thistles or garden that year and therefore no work, so Raymond and William took a trip to Yellowstone Park. They had fixed the car with sleeping accommodation and for little money they spent two weeks in Yellowstone Park while Margaret and her mother looked after the farm. 1938 was another rust year with the rust hitting early in the season. The grain had not matured and very little wheat was harvested. 1940 was even a better year than 1928 had been.

The War was in progress and many things were rationed. Raymond was exempted from the war as William was now over 60 years old and Raymond was needed to operate the farm. The grass was good so the cows did very well. The garden was also good that year. Margaret had been boarding the school teachers during the1930’s and in 1940, Bessie McGrath came. 1940 was the last year we were to thresh.

Back in 1927 William had bought a 15-30 International tractor. From that time on most of the discing, plowing and cultivating was done with the tractor. In 1928 he bought his own 22 inch Sawyer- Massey threshing machine. From that time on he could do his own and from then on, the threshing was done with his own outfit. It was smaller than most but because he had the machine on his own farm, he could do it when he wished. He had his own wagons and horses but hired men from as far away as Ontario, to run the stook wagons .

Jim Kenny worked as a separator man and so the harvest had changed a great deal from when he hired someone to do the threshing. In 1941, William bought a Massey Harris # 17 combine equipped with a ten foot header. The grain was threshed in the field and was deposited in a 50 bushel hopper. This was not a satisfactory way of threshing because there were green weeds in the grain. The green weeds got into the grain, causing it to heat. In 1942 he bought a ten foot power binder and used it as a swather which laid the grain in rows. The combine had a pickup which would pick up the cured grain and weeds and thresh it. This worked much better.1942 was as wet as the 30’s had been dry.

Raymond and Elisabeth Ruth (Bessie) Mc Garth, the teacher who had boarded at the Stewards, decided to get married. William gave Raymond a plot of land on the NW of 25 and here he was to build a house. During the summer a house that he had bought had to be moved to this land with great difficulty due to the wet season. The crop was doing very well as it was tall and thick and looked very good but matured slowly. The wedding was to take place on October 12 and up until that time not a bushel of grain had been threshed.

When they returned from their honeymoon a week later, Raymond began to swath and pick up some of the grain and William hauled the grain to the granaries or to the elevator. Intermittent rain continued and often combining could take place only at night after the ground had frozen so than the machinery did not sink into the ground. The elevators were taking damp wheat and if you could fill a rail car load together with a neighbour by loading directly for drying. The crop and price was good. It was long and hard harvest and the first Christmas card arrived the day that they finished combining. The oat crop had been cut with a binder and was not threshed until spring, except than many of the sheafs were hauled during the winter and fed directly to the cattle.

After 1942 , Raymond and Bessie lived in the house in the pasture and worked the farm with William. However, William was not very much in favour of driving tractors and began to have a hired man. This relegated William to chores such as handling the cattle and pigs and looking after the garden, which he did very well. Later the grandchildren began to appear . William and Margaret’s role was to baby sit and to enjoy Marilyn in 1944, Patricia in 1946 and Nancy in 1949. Also in 1946 the power line was coming to Crane Valley and was completed in 1952. From 1937 until then the Stewards had had limited electricity from a wind charger.

In 1956 it was decide that Raymond, Bessie should trade houses with William and Margaret. Later that year one more grandchild, Shirley, was added to the list. In 1953 William, Margaret, Bessie, Raymond and the girls made a trip to Iowa. Several of William’s brothers, their wives, nieces and nephews got to become acquainted again. On the way home they visited the Bad Lands and Yellowstone Park, which William and Raymond had seen when they had gone in 1937.

On this trip they had been introduced to television, so when they returned they bought an Admiral Television . This opened an entirely new life to them and they enjoyed it very much. The television provided a good excuse to visit the big house as it formed a bonding between the grand children and the grandparents. After the house changeover in 1956, William was no longer close to the barn so Raymond did most of the chores along with his hired man. William continued with his garden and enjoyed it a great deal. Also they had bought different cars in 1953 and 1956 and they enjoyed the trips to Moose Jaw to visit the Seth Stewards and their girls. One of these highlights of these visits was the celebration of Seth and Emma’s 67th wedding anniversary.

In 1959 Margaret was stricken with cancer and made many trips to Regina for chemical and radiation therapy. About the same time, William had a stroke and broke his hip after falling off of a load of bales after insisting on going to the field with Raymond. From then on he was not as active and had to walk with a cane . Margaret’s cancer became worse and in 1960 she passed away. Raymond fixed a bathroom in the big house and William came to live with the family. He enjoyed many trips to Moose Jaw and Bessie’s cooking. She also took good care of him. He lived there until May of 1965 when he passed away. Earlier, he had bought a burial plot in Rest Haven Cemetery in Moose Jaw and was buried there with Margaret. He was 87 years old and had lived the life of a true pioneer of Saskatchewan. He left behind to morn him; a son, a daughter in law, four grandchildren, one great grandson and many friend and neighbours which he had helped over the years.

Editors note of September, 2003:

Raymond( 87 years old) and Bessie( 92 years old) continue to live in their own home in Moose Jaw and are still active in the community.