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Hand Hills

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Among the first people to settle in the Hand Hills was George Black who came from the Klondyke in 1906 to settle on the ranch. He built his first house in 1907 and added a lean in 1909.

The Parr school, one of the first in the Hand Hills was named after Mrs. Black's nephew. James Parr Sleath.

Jack Miller, and his brother Mel were settled at the south end of Hand Hills Lake in 1905. For several years after settling there, Jack continued to play hockey in Edmonton and worked on the ranch in the summer.

Emil and Herman Joburg came in 1906 with about 80 head of cattle. In the hard winter of 1909, they lost about half the cattle. After that they put up plenty of feed in the fall and no longer depended on the chinook winds to keep the prairie grass bare in winter.

Les Flett was an early horse rancher arriving with his wife in 1905. Flett and his sons soon became prominent horse racing enthusiasts and by 1917 were well established in the profession. One horse, Smoky Perkins, purchased from Pete La Grande for $75, never lost a five eighths mile race. Elmer Flett lost only one Roman race in many years of competition. The Elmer School was named after Elmer Flett, the first child born in the Hand Hills. The Fletts and the Cosgroves went on to become dominant participants in chuckwagon racing and became household names at the Calgary Stampede.

Some other early ranchers were: Dart, DeBois, Pile, Kinninmonth, Gardiner, Lindsay, Montgomery and Benedict.

A big fire started south west of Black's lease in August 1909 by lightning. Tom Owens, a young boy told of helping his brother Bill to get three horses together including one from Rev. Cruikshanks which were used for ploughing fire guard. Twenty five cowboys of the Jack Ogilvie ranch at Fish Lake arrived to help put out the fire which was travelling southeastward at a brisk rate. At midnight, when it was presumed the fire was out the fighters all repaired to the Owens home where they devoured all the food in the house. The fire burned under the fireguard and the weary cowboys returned to fight the fire the following day until it was conquered.

By 1909 and 1910 almost all land in the Hand Hills was occupied, and by 1916 most of the schools were built. Dances in the Elmer School, causing friction between the local school board and the cowboys wishing to have fun on Friday nights, led to the people in the community deciding to build a club house. It became the Hand Hills Lake Club and the first secretaries were: Jack Morse, Mel Miller, Bob Congdon and Rex Horner in that order, and the first presidents were: Coughlin, Flett, J.J. Miller and McFadden.

Flett and Miller sold shares at $10 each and by the spring of 1919 work was well underway. Shorty Thompson and Shorty Murray did the plowing and the grading of the track. Robert McDonald supervised the building of the club by volunteer labor. Some of the helpers were: Lorne McDonald, Jack Edwards, Jack Morse, Jack Bell, Bill Millard, Jack and Mel Miller, Bill Collar, Anton Anderson, and Harry Shoults.

Corrals were put up and the first Stampede got underway on July 19, 1919 with J.J. Miller as manager. Two previous stampeded had been held at Miller's ranch with the proceeds going to the Red Cross.

The early settlers in the Hand Hills played hockey every winter on the lake. Two houses 10 x 14 were built on skids and hauled on the lake for dressing rooms. During the summer, they served as dressing rooms for swimmers.

The Lone Butte district had many football and baseball enthusiasts who gathered every Sunday to practice and play against neighboring communities.

One of the first cars in the district was bought by Harry Shoults from Les Flett the day before the 1919 stampede. The idling screw on the carburetor wasn't adjusted properly, and the runaway car took out five gates on the way to the Stampede.

Dr. Lawson settled five miles west of the lake and looked after the medical needs of the early settlers. Lawsonburg school was named in his honor.

Text courtesy of The Hanna Herald

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