Interview with Timothy Geiger (TG)
Conducted by Bob Dambach (BD)
July, 2000, Leader, Saskatchewan
Transcription by Josh Watson
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
BD: Can you tell me where we’re at, and how this area was settled?
TG: You want to know who was living along in here?
BD: That was good; that was amazing for me.
TG: Like, right down here this next farm we’re approaching some Bunagoskies lived here and I remember when we were kids ah, we used to come with the cars on pilgrimage day and we would all get out of our car for this last half a mile and we would walk and I think it was usually the fathers that drove the, our fathers that drove the cars up and we used to have to walk this half a mile and they used to meet us a hundred yards or two hundred yards out, it was quite interesting .
BD: They made you walk just because?
TG: Just because it was fun.
BD: Too much energy?
TG: The fathers they got to drive. There’s the Bunagoskies farm here, most of these people who lived right in this area were Kutschurgan people. The Bunagoskies here could have been out of Rumania, out of the Bessarabia region. The next farm was Hurley. The Hurley farm they were definitely out of Kutschurgan, and the next farm was Selingers, and I know they were Kutschurgan. Also some of the other families that would have lived in this area were Beko they were from Kandle um Dukscher or Tukscher who were also from the Kutschurgan, some of the other names I can’t remember.
BD: Could they have been related somewhat?
TG: I would think they where, maybe distantly related yes some of them. Some of them might have been brothers-in-law or you know the like. I think probably they were related maybe I’m not real sure how closely or whatever, they would have been related.
BD: Do you know if somebody settled here and then some area came up, some land came up next door, a cousin or something would have moved in?
TG: Right ya, that’s how a lot of this area would have been settled yes.
BD: Would you know there initial reaction to the area here, did they settle for it or was it a prime choice for them to…
TG: I think a lot of this land would have been, a lot of the last land that was available, this block right here I don’t know how many hundreds of square miles it would have been, it was one of the last areas opened up. It was opened up probably around 1909. I think that was some of the earlier settlers that came in, and Before that it was, it was mainly ranching area and it was like a free range kind of situation with some of the big ranchers from down in the United States coming up here, and they ran cattle on thousands and thousands of acres, and they were probably up here in the 1890’s at that point already, and then this area with it being opened up last, it was some of the poorer land right in this area when you go out a little north of here it was, the land was quite a bit better, it was heavier land and a lot of it had been settled when the German-Russian people around here, that had been settled already by the English speaking people. The farm we have right here is the Schmidt farm they were definitely from the Kutschurgan area. They’ll be, the guy that lived here will be at our place for dinner this evening, interesting guy.
BD: All these characters are interesting, aren’t they?
TG: It’s funny, it’s interesting their name is Schmidt and his, this person here, his son is a blacksmith, and his father was a blacksmith so there living up to their name.
BD: Do you take your stuff to him to get fixed then?
TG: Ya, he does a lot of our repair work; he’s quite a talented individual. This farm up front here you might get some good footage up here. It’s a Selinger farm, Selinger and they were Kutschurgan people, and I think the original house is still there, I believe it is, maybe not. It’s not there any longer.
BD: Empty now huh.
TG: Ya, it was the same cottage style house with the veranda and…
BD: Were these people farmers?
TG: Yup they were all farmers yup.
BD: When they came to this area, lets see cattle wasn’t in their?
TG: I would say they all had cattle, but not any substantial numbers. Ya now, some of the people who lived closer to the sand hills, they had larger numbers, but a lot of these people they ran their cattle in the community pastures, their were a number of rancher associations, and government owned land and they had there cattle in there.
BD: They did things similarly to how they would have in Ukraine?
TG: Absolutely ya,
BD: Could you say that?
TG: Ya they did, the way they farmed here, and the way they ran their animals it was very similar to the way they had done it in the Ukraine. A lot of communal pastures and situations like that. Good enough?
BD: um hum, yes
TG: These are shelterbelts. The farm I grew up is over there, where all those trees are. They were all from, those people, their name was Tumbach, that’s why I was asking Bob Dambach last night whether, I was just wondering if there had been a name change? In his family? Ya cause they were Tumbach, they came from, was it Dickenson, or around that area or Williston. The land changes drastically, like were we lived over there it was good land, this is crappy.
TG: That’s really sandy land, really, really poor land, you have to really, really farm it well, like it’ll blow away on you. When you have grass hoppers you have problems and…
BD: So a lot of these people came from North Dakota first or directly?
TG: Uh, I would hate to say what percentage. I wouldn’t be sure of the percentage of settlers in this area, the German Russian settlers, what percentage came from North or South Dakota, a lot of them came directly from the Black Sea area, Bessarabia, but percentage wise I don’t think I would be able to give you a number on that, I wouldn’t know. Something interesting up here, their marking up gas wells…
BD: Natural gas?
TG: Ya, their just doing surveying here now from the looks of it, surveying sites.
BD: So the reward on the land came eventually with gas?
TG: Yes, not the original, but the original people weren’t here anymore, the people who really had to pay the price. Like this area is doing much better now with gas development, but the original settlers that came in here they didn’t reap any of the benefits it was very, very difficult farming in this area. In ah 1915, this whole area had a tremendous, tremendous crop it was just a fantastic crop and after that, in the twenties and thirties there wasn’t a whole lot here, because there was very thin top soil and things like that.
BD: So the exodus from this area would have taken place in…
TG: In the thirties, the big exodus.
BD: So they didn’t last long here?
TG: No, and right then and there the farm size got a lot bigger after the thirties.
BD: And where do you think they moved?
TG: A lot of the people that left here moved up into the northern Saskatchewan area, central Alberta.
BD: Staying in agriculture?
TG: I would say a lot of them stayed in agriculture ya.
BD: Any specific stories from your grandfather, or great-grandfather that are your favorites or come to mind from settling in here?
TG: One interesting story was that in 1951 the, my grandmothers brother, he was living in town, but he had come out to the farm with his son in March, and he went out to, and a blizzard blew in, and it was on the 15th of march, and a blizzard, a really severe blizzard blew in and he was going from the house to the barn and he missed the barn, and he got lost in the blizzard, and he perished. They didn’t found him for a couple of days. He got into a corner where a cross fence was, and he just walked back and forth for most of the night until he just died from exposure, he was in his late sixties I believe. Just died.
BD: Tough life out here wasn’t it?
TG: It’s difficult ya. Farm up here was a Schmaltz their isn’t a lot there any more. From here east it’s all, it’s definitely all ranch land some of this was broken up at one time.
TG: Family isn’t around here any more, Gundermann they were, I’m not sure where they were from, but a Gundermann family lived up here. I know he was married to my great-grandfathers sister I believe on the Kambite side out of Kandel.
BD: Can you tell me what kind of program they had when they settled here, like the Homestead Act?
TG: Ok the Homestead program that was initiated here, was a three year requirement, and it was a ten dollar fee that was payable, and you had to brake, I think it was thirty acres each year. I can’t remember the exact number of acres, but every year you had to break a certain number of acres to qualify, and you had to remain living on the land, I believe it was for six months of the year, for those first three years, to be eligible for the residency requirements. You had to make improvements, like buildings and such and if you check the Homestead records, they had to indicate whether they built a barn or dug a well or built a house or those kinds of things.
BD: So the building materials were there for building a house?
TG: The very first settlers, they were using sod, and some of the first settlers close to the sand hills here, you could see some of the structures were saplings, small poles probably two three inches covered with mud, slathered with mud, but you don’t see any of those structures any more. They’ve all fallen apart or been dismantled or whatever over the years. After 1915 you saw houses like this that were built. After the 1915 crop that was quite common. A family by the name of Real lived there. Over here on the left was a family by the name of Schmaltz they settled in the Dakotas then they came up here, they were one of the earlier ones that came up here.
BD: Schmaltz, what did you say?
TG: Schmaltz ya, they were from the Kutschurgan I believe.
BD: How did you come to know so much about these people, and you know more than they did?
TG: Um, well it’s true. I’ve taken an interest, when I was going to University in the early seventies, I happen to stay with an old German Russian family who originally had settled probably three miles from where we lived, and she told me all kinds of stories about my great-grandfather, about my great-uncles and she was there in 1919 when my great-grandfather died, she was in the same room as when he died, and she described in detail all these things, and she instilled in me pretty strong interests, and she was able to tell you a lot of stories that you generally would not find in the history books. Some of them were quite racy and most of them were very, very interesting, and it got me started. She was very, very interesting, she’s still alive and she’s ninety-six. She came from Muenchen in the Beresan region, and she came over here, I believe she was nine years old.
BD: Where are we at now?
TG: This is the Rosenthal cemetery; this is kind of interesting here. This land here was some of the poorest land that was ever settled, but this might be interesting, you might want to get this in here, but this land right here was very, very easy to break, initially to start farming, because of the sandy type soil the heavier clay soils that were north of here were very, very difficult to start farming with, and these were really, really easy here. That’s why a lot of people liked to start here and when the dry years hit, then the day of reckoning hit, and there was a lot of alkaline soils here, a lot saline sloughs, and another thing the water table here was really, really shallow, like you go down ten feet and you’ll hit water. There right up front here is an artesian well, it’s been flowing ever since the first people settled in here, and it’s a very, very excellent source of water.
TG: That was very, very important like when they came to this godforsaken country there wasn’t much here. One of my great uncles homesteaded right over there. A lot of those people they homesteaded here, and they were here for thirty years then they bought land further out, and they still farmed this and they had a lot of ranch land here. This is good grass land here. Ya know there’s really excellent grass here.
BD: Describe the typical…
TG: The design?
BD: Can you?
TG: It’s a very plain design. One thing you’ll see on the gable, this is that artesian well, the gables on there had sculptured shingles. It’s difficult to describe.
BD: When we get up there maybe we could…
BD: Ok, go ahead and explain what were standing by here.
TG: What you’re seeing here, this is an artesian well. The first settlers that came in here, this was a very, very reliable source of water, it ran year round. Something they could depend on. A lot of the water in the area here was saline, saline solution, and this here was very, very good water. It could have come from hundreds of miles away. There was a vein here very close to the surface, and probably this was hit when they were drilling for water, and then it just flowed automatically.
BD: The water it flows twenty-four hours a day seven days a week for how many days a year?
TG: Three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Cattle do a lot better with this, live stock does a lot better with this kind of water too, it’s fresh, it’s always continuously fresh. Notice a very, very reliable source of water. Excellent source, fresh water, cattle do really well.
BD: Can you say again, about settling here, lets get another take on that one, and how important water was.
TG: To the original settlers, water was probably
one of the most important features of there existence in this
area, because it was a very precious commodity. There weren’t
many really accessible sources of fresh water readily available.
It was very, very difficult and in this area here when they drilled
wells, when they came initially, the water table is only ten feet
down, and they were able to access that fairly easily, that’s
why this area was settled first, probably for that reason alone.
BD: So this is a naturally flowing?
TG: Naturally flowing well, yup.
BD: You said your grandfather?
TG: My great-uncle homesteaded just south of here, and they came probably about 1910, I can’t remember the exact year. It was 1910 and they were the 2 brothers and their families came, and they settled for two years I believed, then the rest of the family came, all the other brothers and the parents came, and some of the sisters came with their families, so there was quite a large gathering. So they were the initial ones that came here. Just to scout out the area.
BD: This initial chunk right here too?
TG: This was their initial, yes.
BD: So they would have tapped into this too?
TG: They, ya all the farms here, they all had artesian wells. I don’t know how big a vein this is, but the farm up there, there’s another one. Like were my great-uncle homesteaded. Wasn’t a fight. They had a…. of a fight here.
BD: what are you talking about?
TG: For water because, when this chunk here, when
this chunk of land, I can’t, I was wrong, my great-uncle
didn’t own this chunk, but he owned the next one. And then
this land come up for sale about four five years ago, and the
one girl that got it from her father, she sold it, but she didn’t
tell her brother about it, that she was selling it. He was struck
in awe. And the neighbor bought it, and like it’s such a
reliable source of water that it’s very valuable. And he
owns the stuff across the road here, but then he’s tapped
into this so it feeds, he had to get permission from the municipality,
and he’s brought a hose across here, he waters his cows
over here too.
TG: There used to be a church right up front here. He used to go to church here.
BD: What was the church called?
TG: Rosenthal, the reason this church was called Rosenthal I believe it was a lot of the area people here, the Boschs specifically I know they were from the Rosenthal area, in the Crimea and I believe that’s how the church got its name here.
BD: Ya I was commenting yesterday ya know, I mean about the terrain, maybe I don’t know maybe some areas were sandy like this, I don’t remember.
TG: I didn’t see any sandy areas, no.
BD: But it’s just interesting how the lay out of the land. Ok we got another, and this is what?
TG: Rosenthal. The rectory was right there, and I think it’s important that they see that people are here. We just, I sent our guys out here last fall to cut down all the Kerganas and stuff, and it should have been cut here, I’m surprised it hasn’t been, but the guy who takes care of this, he must be busy with haying or something.
BD: Now which cemetery is this here?
BD: Which group settled here?
TG: There was mainly a lot of people from the Crimean area, probably from that Rosenthal area. There’s some from the Beresan region, I would suspect, well my grandparents, my great-grandparents are buried here.
BD: Let’s go find them.
TG: Ok, there are some (knives – unintelligible ??) in here that are kinda unique with pictures on them, like the old ones the end ones down there, there kinda nice. My great-grandparents are buried just right here. They were in Canada, my great-grandmother was in Canada for five years and then she died in 1917, and my great-grandfather died in 1919, so they were only here for five and seven years before they passed away so they didn’t really see a lot of the country.
BD: Where they at?
TG: Right down here. They weren’t Geck but they were pretty close. They were probably were related to you, because in the Russian language there is no “G” or no ”H” I mean. So a lot of people, we had relatives that were called Gutenhaeffer with an “F”, and they were called Gutengeffer over there, so there was no h in the Russian language. That’s why the “G”s and the “H”s, there interchangeable, that there’s from my dad’s sister up there, she died right when she came here too. You want to get a picture of this one, kinda unique one over here, kinda interesting one? What these marks are here, there’s a guy here, he had a guy in here, and they did the witching, and there gonna be putting crosses in all these spots, and if you look you see, all along in there, and there’s a bunch outside too.
BD: What do you mean witching?
TG: They use these two rods…
BD: you mean like water Witching?
TG: Ya, well it’s basically the same, but they just walk with these two rods, and when they cross theirs a grave. I was gonna get this guy here to do some filming.
TG: Claimed a lot of these people, I don’t know if that was one of them, but in 1918 there was a lot of deaths here. This is very similar, this one here to those Feist ones in the states were they have those seven in a row.
TG: …buried in there the name is Degenhardt. A good friend of mine he’s from Medicine Hat he’s a fire fighter, and these are his grand-parents. He comes out here all the time. So it’s kinda a, it’s kinda a neat structure, but all the original ones were like this, they were just like this, just the style, and I don’t know how to describe it…
BD: Just the…
TG: A square cottage style roof on it. This one had a wind charger on the top, you can see. I think it was a wind charger, they didn’t have television here, but ah.
BD: I looked at that little bit of stone back there on that building.
TG: Where on the corners?
BD: Well what’s that back, is that a barn in the back maybe, or what was that?
TG: I would suspect that could have been the original house too.
BD: Is that? That is a rock.
TG: No no, that looks like second cut slabs. Wood slabs, like not first cut with the mark on it, all these houses I suspect were built after 1915, cause that’s the year they had that huge crop. They all had the same style, just square probably, I don’t know how long they would be, maybe twenty, twenty by twenty, cottage style roof, dormer windows up stairs, and a veranda. 1915…
BD: That year’s crop was that good for them then?
TG: It was that good, it was the first big crop they had, and they kinda hit the jack-pot that year prices must have been good that year. I believe prices were probably good because of the war, first world war, and they all had a good crop that year, that was just, there was stories where, I remember the older guys talking were they would get to the end of the field with a drill and they’d turn around in the prairie with the drill, without pre-working or anything, and there was a crop growing, the crop would grow, you just drilled her straight through like a direct seeding situation, and the crop grew in there even, that’s what kind of year it was, really good, just phenomenal.
BD: This was just after being here a few years?
TG: Three years, three four years ya.
BD: So they thought you were on to something.
TG: That’s right they thought they had her made here.
BD: Then what happened?
TG: Nature dealt them another blow, in the twenties and thirties.
TG: I don’t know we were hunting or something I remember, and going by here, and ah, seeing a grave stone lying here, and I think what had happened was the family had replaced the original grave stones, the really ornate ones with angles on them, and they had put up a concrete one. And now the next generation of people has picked that grave stone up, and has put it, and laid it on top of the concrete one in the actual cemetery it’s lying in there I saw it. So it’s kinda interesting. The house up front is exactly the style again as this, and the house my great-grandfather built where we drove by last night, you wouldn’t it was too dark to see, but it was exactly the same style, but square with a Dormer window.
BD: Do you know anything about these iron crosses like why, why did they go through so much design? Could you try to explain why somebody…
TG: I really don’t know, I think the materials were accessible, the craft was there, it was known, and the people were available.
BD: So this guy that you said was a black smith, would he had done a lot of these crosses?
TG: Not that person, but a different one, Mr. Wingenbach His name was Stanislaus Wingenbach, they lived in Prelate and I believe he did a lot of these. I’m not sure if he did the majority of them. People that have done a lot of research into his work can just look at these crosses and point out which ones he did; I don’t know his style or anything.
BD: Was it a full time job then, making crosses all day long?
TG: I’m sure it would have been; because this was a huge area, there were thousands of people here that required wrought iron crosses.