Let’s Go Homesteading at Gilpin, Alberta

Photograph by Wendy Harty 2020, called The Old Homestead

Friday, May 8, 1903

36 years married today.

Sunday May 10, 1903

Charlie and Nettie Estella had their heads together. What were those two scheming, I, Mary Elizabeth Smith Gibbs wondered. As their mother, I knew them well. Charles Hiram was 29, working with his brothers, James Alexander and Lendley, and Nettie’s husband, William in the sawmills at Kalispell, Flathead Lake County, Montana. Our family had immigrated west after the Thumb Fires at Huron, Michigan. The family was gathering on this lovely May day. Nettie’s husband, the Reverend William Franklin Hughes had preached the Sunday service in the Brethren church at Kalispell. Mary Elizabeth welcomed the entire family that was gathering to hear Charlie’s announcement. Mary Elizabeth already knew that Charles was going to marry Pearl Young in July. But that wasn’t the biggest news he wanted to share!

July 10, 1904

Mary Elizabeth quietly crawled out of the tent. She stretched out kinks in her 54 year old body. Inside she could hear Hiram 59, snore and daughter Rachel 16, mutter in a dream. As the sun rose over her new home she saw a yellow breasted songbird light on saskatoon bushes. She had tasted the sweet purple fruits last night. The bird opened its’s beak and trilled, “Laziness will kill you, laziness will kill you!” Mary Elizabeth would learn her bird was a meadowlark. It was not laziness that would kill her.

July 30, 1904

Mary Elizabeth walked to the post office at Gilpin, Alberta. She’d finished a long letter to Nellie Mary, her oldest daughter married to Abram Applegate. The address was Sac City, Iowa. Of her and Hiram Gibbs eight live children, Nellie was the only one of the family that hadn’t made the decision to come west to Montana or to take up homesteading atGilpin. This had been Charles Gibbs big surprise! For $10, he was taking his young bride, Pearl, only 17 and moving away to homestead in Alberta. If he could cultivate 40 acres and build a home in three years, 160 acres of land would be his. His excitement was felt by all as he read the advertisement. Nettie and the Reverend Richard Hughes with new born daughter, Viola Chrystal and 4 year old Grace, would go to. Letters home from Charles and Nettie were read and passed from family members back and forth. James Abraham 31, young wife of 20 had died and Lendley 21, the single bachelors were now in agreement. Soon all of her married children had caught the homesteading hopes of owning their own land. George Arthur had the hardest time convincing Lydia Ruth May Wise. At 17 she’d married, the Gibb;s 4th child, George and born three children in the next three years. Olive Ruth, Howard Arthur and Mary Manervia. Marion Anna and husband David Harvey Young with children Orlen William McKinley and Ines were going. The last letter from Charles said he’d be a father in the fall. This was the final tug on Mary Elizabeth’s heartstrings. Soon Hiram had convinced Mary Elizabeth they weren’t too old to start over. Rachel at age 16 would be a great help to her mother.

A year later, Mary Elizabeth stepped off the train at Edmonton, North West Territories. Hiram was gone 11 days. He made the trek with 11 other new settlers. He found the square stake, that had the quarter and the section stamped on the top. It took some searching to find in the waving grass and brush filled hillsides. Once he found the township stake, each section was marked by a slightly smaller stake. He picked his quarter section. Hiram hurried back to Mary Elizabeth and Rachel and applied for Section 12, Township 49, Range 12 West of the 4th Meridian. The piece of paper he proudly presented to her was dated July 4, 1904. They had dreams to make it a home in the next three years. The boys all took adjoining homesteads. Marion Anna and David Young arrived at their homestead on September 17, 1904 and dug into a hillside. Their home was called a dugout. It was economical, required very little lumber as they used sod to build the front exposure. It provided them excellent protection from the coming cold, but was dark and damp. It was temporary until they built their 26 x 20 log cabin, costing $300. David had plowed 3 acres ready to planted in the spring.

September 30, 1904

Mary Elizabeth had refused to live in the dirt. Most of the new settlers, with no trees on the prairie had built sod houses. The Gibbs spent $300 and Hiram erected a log home 36 feet x 34 feet. Mary Elizabeth was glad to say farewell to the tent and have a roof over her head. It was just a shack, papered with tar paper and magazines. When the winds blew the paper crackled sounding like a thunder storm and she added more chinking. The home made bunks nailed up against the wall, but she was happy to swing her feet out every morning to great the dawn. Hiram had built her a sturdy shelf and the water-pail sat on a table that served as kitchen work space. A dusty trail was soon trodden back and forth from the creek until the well was dug. Hiram had bought 7 horses and 1 cow. Into the side of a dirt bank Hiram dug and built a sod barn for the livestock 36 x 40 feet for another $200; the seven horses were wintered in a sod stable 18 x 40 feet. The hens had their own sod hut. Sometimes the ghosts of those fleeing the Huron fires haunted her sleep or she came up empty handed reaching for an apple from the Montana orchard. Mary Elizabeth would come to love this treeless, windswept landscape. She’d carried Hiram water when he struggled with the team breaking only two acres of land that fall; it was too late to plant any crop. “Next year”, she’d said.

October 16, 1904

Charles came galloping into our yard this day, whooping and a hollering! Freda Myrle Gibbs, a girl was born. He was 30, Pearl 18. It was a hard birth, there would be no more. Soon Mary Elizabeth, would croon to this her latest grandchild, “Rabbit hot and rabbit cold, rabbit young and rabbit old, rabbit tender and rabbit tough, Thank-you sir, but I’ve had enough. Hiram took the hint and took his gun and went out hunting bringing home fresh deer meat. Nellie Mary wrote faithfully from Iowa, mostly about the children: ages 14 to 3. Cora Almeda, Devere Richard, Charles Arthur, Harrison McKinley and baby Beryl Bliss, the grandchildren she had never met. Abram, her husband, was a well driller and wanted to know how deep they had to dig to find water? Mary Elizabeth welcomed her neighbor ladies into her house. Fargon Martin was a widow lady living with her son, also just arrived in 1904. They were from Norway and with her came Laddie, 25 a Dutch Lutheran, born in Ontario the same place as Mary Elizabeth was from. Next came over a couple named Teman and Mary Bisstah, Methodists from the USA. The next was an Irish bachelor lad, Robert Massey, a Roman Catholic asking if Mary Elizabeth would cut his hair. He was encouraged to stay for supper and gladly ate a slice of her fine fresh bread, with berry jam.

October 1905

Hiram broke another 14 acres but only one produced crop. The cow had given them a fine calf, so there cowherd was now two. The Northwest Territories had become 3 provinces. Should it retain the name of the district, Alberta? or called Buffalo. Alberta it was and Alberta became part of the North West Territories in 1870 part of Canada and became on September 1, 1905 with Saskatchewan, became its 8th and 9th provinces. Our oldest son James Abraham went back to Montana and married Lanette (LaNettie) Young, his brother Charlies wife Pearl, sister., on March 29, 1905. Lendley our youngest son married a neighborhood girl, Jessie Rice.

February 13. 1906

James Abraham brought LaNettie to meet us. Today, February 13, 1906 he filed on his own homestead NW 30-49-11 W4 at Gilpin (now listed as Innisfee) James is 36, Nettie 21. He broke 8 acres of this virgin prairieland this year. The railroad came through last year and I watched them drive some spikes in. The village of Yelger is growing and has its own post office, feed mill, lumberyard and a blacksmith. We join daughter Nettie and Rev Hughes most Sundays when he preaches the Brethren sermons.

Hiram and I welcomed another granddaughter July 8, 1906. Lendley and Jessie Gibbs presented us with Mary Luella Irene named after me, her grandmother. This little one got the nickname of Tella. Each of our boys are proving up their quarters living next to us. Our baby Rachel, now 18 married Ed Dove and are farming nearby.

November 15, 1906

My heart is so sad for our family. Our 5th child, Marion Anna died today, and granddaughter Ines. David and Marion both had worked so hard proving up their homestead. David harvested 5 acres of crop after breaking another 8 acres. They had a nice little cow herd of 9 in the fenced pasture. Orlen is only ten, his Young relatives have offered to take him in, over at Innisfee.

My Hiram is tired tonight. He is 64 and tires easily. The winds have been blowing tirelessly since November last. It has filled up all the nooks and grannies with fine frozen granules of snow. Besides deep it is now slippery. While the drifts hold Hiram up, he has to dig out the barn door morning after morning to enter to reach the milk cows. Huge amounts of snow buried everything and along with it came bone chilling cold and those strong, incessant winds. It was blizzard after blizzard I wrote to Nellie and sent her newspaper clippings where it was called the “Winter of Blue Snow” or “Killing Winter”.

George Arthur and Lydia May Ruth are fighting. She wants to go back to Montana to where her mother and brothers live. It has been hard on everyone’s marriages living in the tight quarters of our little shacks, listening to the winds moan and howl. Finally had a letter from my George Arthur. On the train ride back to Kalispell they saw piles of dead cattle rotting in the spring sun after the brutal winter of 1906-07. They had drifted in front of the winds, until a fence corner stopped them. There, they had been smothered in the deep snow drifts.


Another busy spring, James Abraham worked under another 25 acres of sod and was able to seed all 33 of his acres. He used 2 oxen and is raising colts. They gamble about in the field I can see from my house. Reverend William and Nettie Hughes waited until Vivian was born, before heading out to Iowa to live beside her sister Nellie Applegate. Lendley and Jessie had a boy on October 3rd named Charles Lendley Arthur Gibbs. He died two days later on 5th of October. I can go into Yelger and shop at the hardware store and implement dealer and mail my letters, but there isn’t much cash. Hiram cleared another 18 acres and cropped 14 last year. We have 9 cows in the fenced pasture, 4 hogs are fattening in the pen and 2 work horses, which Hiram still isn’t fond of. What a happy day was celebrated! July 16, 1907, Hiram had claimed for patent and sworn,
that the homestead requirements of the “Dominion Land Act” have been completed. All the buildings and acres prepared and harvested were duly noted on the form. The homestead of 160 acres is ours! Rachel and Ed Dove have a Christmas baby LaDella Dove before the year ends.


Abraham and LaNettie cropped 53 acres and there is an elevator to deliver to at Yelger, whose name was changed to Ryley. It is now a nice little village with 2 churches and 30 businesses. They are a very happy couple having proved up their homestead after 3 years. Abram loves his little ranch and raising 10 colts. Rachel and Ed have a boy and name him after her brother Lendley born in the spring May 10, 1909. He was a sickly baby and died that November 27th.


Loren Dove was born March 31, 1910 as Rachel and Ed tried again to have a family. This young baby died on November 21, 1910. Lendley and Jessie have a daughter and named her after his brother George Arthur’s wife, Lydia May Ruth born May 16, 1910 and registered her birth at Viking, Alberta. Geneivieve L Hughes was born May 26, 1910 in Oklahoma where Nettie and the Reverend had moved to. It was about this time we received a letter from said wife, Ruth, that she was divorcing our son stating that he had left her, not providing the necessities of life and because of idleness, profligacy and dissipation. Ruth asked for custody of the three minor children Olive, Arthur Howard and Mary Minerva, 11, 10 and 9 on October 28, 1910.


George Arthur was served the divorce notice uncontested on January 11, 1911 at Stanwood, Washington, because he had been gone a year. Lydia Ruth was granted her divorce and custody on March 8, 1911 in the County of Flathead, Montana. It was not a good year for marriages. Charlie left Pearl and 7 year old Freda with us and went looking for work in Montana, which he found in the mines at Columbus, Stillwater, Montana near Yellowstone Park. They also would later divorce. James Abraham and LaNettie are giving up their homestead. It is stamped on their homestead application, “This land is subject to indebtness to the Crown, see Sec 18 0f Chap 29 of 60-61. James and Lendley followed Charlie down to Columbus, Montana. The boys wanted their families to come so once again, Hiram and I would follow and helped bring the family together. I said good bye to good neighbors Fargon and Laddie and wished them well. The census taker stopped in. He wasn’t very accurate writing down Heram and Mary Gibbo of Brethren religion, living with us was Pearl and Raddie (should be Freda) aged 7 our granddaughter. She hadn’t been to school and could not read or write. There wasn’t much to pack for the seven years we homesteaded at Gilpin, Alberta.


People were coming into the area and we were leaving. We all couldn’t get tickets on the A.R and I. Co Railroad that would take us through Sweetgrass, Montana. I took Pearl and Freda. Hiram escorted Jessie, Luella and Maimie aged 4 and 2. James came back and helped LaNettie pack up. Hiram decided he wasn’t going back. On the 6th day of May he signed and Swore before Lorin T. Jones Clerk of the court.

Declaration of Intention State of Montana County of Yellowstone:

I, Hiram Gibbs, aged 64 years, occupation farmer, do declare on oath that my personal description is: color, white, complexion, ruddy, height 5 feet 10 inches, weight 150 pounds, color of hair grey, eyes blue, other distinctive marks: first and third fingers on left hand bent and stiff. I was born in Farnharm, Quebec, Canada on the 10th of May, 1846. I now reside in Broadview, Montana. I emigrated to the United States of America from Coutts, Alberta, Canada on the A.R and I. Co. Railroad; my last foreign residence was Viking, Alberta Canada. It is my a bona fide intention to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty and particularly to George V King of Great Britain and Ireland, of whom I am now a subject. I arrived at the port of Sweetgrass on the 30th day of April, 1912; I am not an anarchist; I am not a polygamist nor a believer in the practice of polygamy; and it is my intention in good faith to become a citizen of the Untied States of America and to permanently reside therein; SO HELP ME GOD. signed Hiram Gibbs.

1913, Columbus, Montana

Our oldest Nellie Mary Gibbs and husband Abraham Applegate joined us at Columbus bringing the grandchildren I hadn’t known: Cora, Devere, Charles Arthur, Harrison McKinley and Beryl Bliss. Her husband found work drilling water wells in the area, successfully. The oldest and the youngest daughters were getting acquainted again when Rachel divorced Ed Dove and came to Montana with LaDella. Nellie and Rachel were a great comfort to me, when Hiram died on June 9, 1913 at the age of 67. James and Nettie, Charlie and Pearl, Lendley and Jessie gathered around to say goodbye to their father. I write to tell Nettie Estella the news. She is expecting a baby, # 5.

Date of death June 9, 1913 cause valve trouble of heart

We finally located George Arthur and he came to the Stillwater County area and lived with me. What will I do without my Hiram, I am widowed at age 63 after being married 46 years.

This story is my version of Mary Elizabeth Smith born in St. Mary’s, Perth County, Ontario Canada, on July 7, 1850. She is my second great grandmother who married Hiram Garner Gibbs, born at Farnham, Quebec born May 10, 1846. “If” Mary Elizabeth would have had a diary I am taking liberties to write the details found on census, court and birth and death records. I like to think she approves and tells me 1850- not done yet! To be continued!

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