Shortly after the Red Men gave up the vast prairie plains and the steep banks, and lush flat lands along the Red Deer River as their normal habitat, white settlers soon began to arrive. In the 1900s the country along the Red Deer River between Hanna and the town of Brooks, saw many ranchers come in. Real old-timers will recall the names of Billy Campbell, Walter Peake, Leslie Douglas, Chas. Douglas, Hodgson, Russell Brown, Bill Caldwell, Herschel Wright, Chas Bray, Field Bros. (of Fieldholm Post Office and Ferry); John Smith, the Eides of the P.K. Ranch, Foresters and Charlie Parks. Some of the descendants of the early settlers are still living, and there descendants too, continue to make the Red Deer country their home, and stoutly continue the ranching business.
Long before there was a Hanna, these people came into the river country, with Brooks and Bassano being their main trading towns. In 1909 the country opened up to homesteaders, and in that year heavy rains occurred, so that in mid-July creeks were flooding their banks, and a literal plague of mosquitoes struck the area. Many of the homesteaders lost horses, who broke away that summer as they were tormented almost to death by the mosquitoes. The mosquito plague that year has been termed the worst in the known history of the area.
In 1910, during the month of May, the peak of the homesteaders influx was reached, with 2700 being registered in the Calgary Land Titles Office for settlement in the south country. They came by wagon, horse and ox team, on saddle horse and even on foot, all seeking out their land. But there homesteading days were not easy ones. In 1909 one of the worst prairie fires in history raged across the land, destroying homesteaders' shacks, destroying livestock, and in several instances causing loss of human life. The severest blow came in the form of destruction of the lush grazing land with hundreds of square miles blackened.
As the settlers persevered and continued to take out a living from the virgin soil, communities began to spring up, schools were established and the social life of the area took on a brighter note. Agriculture Societies were formed, and all old-timers will well remember the annual Pandora Fair. In 1915 and 1916 the country was favored with a good crop, and grain was hauled to Bassano and Brooks and even as far north as Richdale.
The south country fully opened up in 1920 when the C.N.R. built the proposed line from Hanna to Medicine Hat, which ultimately ended at Steveville, where economic conditions did not warrant its continuing on to the original point. A mute reminder of the project is the set of huge concrete piers in the Red Deer River at Steveville, on which a railway trestle was to have been built.
With the coming of the railway such communities as Sunnynook, Pollockville, Cessford, Wardlow, Carolside and Steveville sprang up, with railway through these points drawing much of the settlers' trade.
Unknown to them at the time, the worst enemy of the settlers was to become drouth, and in the years to follow the south country was dealt damaging blow. So much in fact, that hundreds of settlers were forced to move out, and huge tracts of once thickly settled land, became open to only those who were stern enough to remain. It is said that the reason some of the settlers stayed was simply because they didn't have enough money to move out! That might be so, however, from time to time climatic conditions changed and many of the ranchers who remained did obtain a measure of financial reward for the efforts. Drouth still is the south country's biggest drawback. However, as far as its people are concerned, all will agree they are among the "Good Lord's Finest".
Text courtesy of The Hanna Herald
Kinsmen Club, 1947