Since my retirement I have likely put together over 700 Reflections and Remember When articles for this Ponoka News feature page, but each and every week I always really look forward to doing the research and the friendly interviews as well as finding the great old pictures that highlight more than an exciting century of the colourful history and milestones of our community and surrounding districts. This week we will salute two more of those countless wily pioneers and their families who made amazing contributions to our early growth, success and steady progress.
John (Benjamin Franklin) Craig
In 1908 the rugged area west of Ponoka about half way to Rimbey would take a great stride into the future with the opening of the Buckhorn Post Office, to which the district’s mail would arrive by stage every Tuesday and Friday. There was no doubt by the new pioneers in the district that the name ‘Buckhorn’ had been derived from the many trophy horns that Postmaster Abe Davidson and his son had displayed on the entrance to the farmyard and the Post Office.
A colourful gentleman by the name of Benjamin (John) Franklin Craig, who lived in Bluff Centre with his wife, three sons and five daughters, would become the first Mail Carrier, as well as a great character, who would never be forgotten. Craig hauled the mail in his covered wagon (sleigh in the winter) pulled by two horses going as far as Lavesta, and then turned around and proceeded back to Ponoka via Springdale, Buckhorn, Bismarck and Bluff Centre. The Franklin Stage also delivered passengers and freight, and legend has it that Craig would only miss two trips over the near decade that he faithfully offered that service, and this was because one of his horses drowned and he nearly lost his life when his wagon tipped over while crossing the Blindman River.
Mr. Craig was so punctual on his route over the years that the district folks would set their clocks by the time he passed by. He would leave Ponoka at 7:00 a.m., and if you wanted to ship some freight or ride with him you had better be on time or you would be left behind. Considering the distance that Craig travelled and the year-round state of the roads, weather, and the other obstacles that he faced every day, he would become an honoured and respected pioneer for his dedicated efforts over the years, and passed away at Bluff Centre in 1919.
Jacob and Barbara Beck
Jacob and Barbara Beck and their nine children arrived in Ponoka in 1899 with all their earthly belongings, lived in a boxcar and a bachelor’s home for a while before completing their first log home and sod roof buildings, and then settled on their new homestead four miles north of Ponoka. The first year was extremely hard for the German immigrants, as many of their horses died from swamp fever, but Jacob would carry on and break the land with a yoke of oxen.
The Becks, soon a family of 10 children, had very little income, but they persevered with hard work, and eventually built up a herd of 12 milk cows, which they faithfully milked out in the open during rain or shine and lots of mosquitoes. The milk was cooled in big crocks and set in cold water in a tank, and then the cream was skimmed off by hand, churned into butter and sold to the stores in exchange for groceries and supplies. Jacob was always very handy with a butcher knife, so he butchered his large pen of 50 pigs at home and then cured the meat. Over the years the hams and shoulders were sold to hotels as far away as Revelstoke and Nelson, B.C., while the miles of regular and liver sausage that they made was sold in Ponoka and what was kept was fried and put into big crocks and the pork hocks were pickled in salt.
The family always had a very large garden and loved to pick milk pails and wash tubs full of the wild berries that were found throughout the district along with the ample wildlife and fish in the Battle River. Jacob also became known far and wide as the ‘Cabbage King’ as he and his wife Barbara and their ambitious family would annually set out over 1,500 cabbage plants, some which grew to between 20 and 40 pounds. Throughout the growing season the cabbages were loaded into the wagon and delivered to Ponoka every Saturday morning, along with their young dressed chickens, and then whatever cabbages were not sold by the fall were placed in 60 gallon kraut barrels and sold to the local hotels and butcher shops. Barbara Beck, who always loved her flowers and magnificent gardens, was also an amazing cook, and looked forward to treating folks from Ponoka and districts, who always came for dinner and stayed to visit. The Becks also made sure to find time for games of basketball and baseball, skating on the river and picnics and parties with good neighbours and friends. Jacob and Barbara moved to Ponoka in the spring of 1917 when Chris and Oda took over the farm and carried on the long-standing family tradition while his parents enjoyed visiting with their extended families until their passing in 1929 and 1930.