Among the earliest Hungarian families to settle in the Schultz district east of Ponoka are shown here gathered for the double wedding in 1913 of Elizabeth Orom to John Mraz and Frank Orom to Kate Felt. Shown from left to right, back row, are: Mr. and Mrs. John Mraz Jr., Henry and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Orom Sr., Mike and Mr. and Mrs. Mike Felt Sr., Mr. and Mrs. Frank Orom Jr. Mrs. Orom’s sister, Jennie Felt; and then posing in the front were Annie Felt, Rosie Orom, and Mary Felt. Photo from Mecca Glen Memories

Reflections: Early Schultz settlers in the Ponoka district

This week’s Reflections looks at the Schultz family that settled in the Ponoka rea

By Mike Rainone for the News

Our earliest pioneers began moving into North America in the 1870s, travelling many thousands of miles across oceans, mountains, and rugged prairies for the exciting opportunity to settle in a rugged but lush expanse of prime land.

The Mecca Glen Memories History Book relates the vivid and colourful stories and photos of the countless challenges and successes during the first settlement in that wilderness area between Red Deer and Buffalo Lakes, including the districts of Climax, Magic, Asker, Concord, Eureka, Calumet, Ellice, Fair, and Schultz. For many decades this vibrant and low-lying stretch of land had been inhabited by First Nations Tribes as well as thousands of buffalo, wild game, and water fowl.

A gruelling trip across the Rocky Mountains

Most of the early settlers into the Schultz area came from Hungary or Russia, many of German parentage, who were forced into migration to America when an agreement was suddenly ended by Russian Military not to enlist their children into the forces. One of the earliest immigrant families to venture into the United States was that of Adam Scheuermann, who after trying to farm in Washington and Kansas watched his crops burn out for three years and he would bravely decide to find a way west into Canada.

Having no money to afford the train he had to leave his family in Endicott, Washington for the time being, and then hired a prospector who spoke of a road through the Rocky Mountains into Canada that could be travelled by horses and wagons. The determined gentleman packed his wagon with grub and one breaking plow, and along with five men and seven horses they started out on the long and treacherous journey, with hopes of reaching Alberta in three weeks. Once they got deep into the mountains they would quickly discover that there was indeed no road, but only narrow and very treacherous horse trails. This would force them to stop and make a huge raft, on which they would float with wagon and supplies along with two men to guide it down the river while the others followed with the horses along the trail and were forced to cross a number of deep and very wild rivers. As they got deeper into the mountains there was no grass for the horses so they had to tie them up to spruce trees so they could feed on the needles, while the men were also running out of grub and had to desperately search for a bear or deer to shoot, but would find none. After four days they were fortunate to come upon two traders, who kindly gave them a sack of flour and some rice to get them through the mountains and a chance to rest and feed the horses. After six gruelling weeks of travel they finally reached Wetaskiwin, which was only a very small town with one store, where they stocked up and headed about 30 miles south-east in search of homesteads. In the year 1892 each would choose their piece of land, which would likely be the humble beginnings of the Schultz School District. Other early families to follow in those early years would include: the Stedels, Wilcoxes, Hartwigs, Riskes, Donaldson’s, Meisters, Keriks, Schickerowskys, Taits, Skodes, Singers, Pulays, Dubitzes, the Schultz’s, and on and on.

Long time district resident Peggy Bottern wrote a delightful introduction to the Schultz chapter of the Mecca Glen Book, fondly stating that when realizing that many of the first wave of settlers were unable to get their tongues around the word ‘Deutch’ the area would soon become known as ‘the Dutch flats. Over the busy passing years the misunderstanding of an official spelling of all the names would become more Canadian, with Furst becoming Fuerst, Brazz turned into Mraz, and on and on. Many neat nicknames were also used to identify which August or Bill Schultz was which, and when four ladies within a few miles of each were all named ‘Ella’, upon their marriages they would become easier known as ‘Ray’s Ella’, ‘Bill’s Ella’, ‘Fred’s Ella’, and many others as the jovial ‘name game’ became somewhat of a tradition in that now rapidly growing new district.

Their very first shelters were dugouts, literally a hole in the ground covered with rails and sods, entered only by a small pole and sod structure, and the only light going inside was from a six inch shaft. As there was always a great deal of rain, snow, and cold in those days one could picture those hardy settler wives having to cope with such enclosed surroundings, as well as wet clothes strung up to dry, little light to see to do her daily tasks, and all of the children fretful of being cooped up inside. The later erection of the log house was a blessing, which included a strong and tight thatch roof made of course slough hay and bound to the rail supports by string so that it wouldn’t blow away.

Times were really a tough struggle for everyone during the depression years, and although the drought was not as severe in that area, prices still hit rock bottom with crops only bringing a few cents a bushel, cream getting $1.40 for a five gallon pail, pigs for two and a half cents a pound, and on and on. But all those hard times would eventually get a whole lot better, with horses becoming a measure of a man’s wealth, as the more you had the more you were worth, with a good team and wagon bringing in $3 a day wages, the hired man earning $30 a month, the girls earning $10. The ‘roaring twenties’ featured a friendly new competition in the district to see who could put up the biggest barn or finest house, or own the fastest car.

The great Mecca Glen History book was published in 1968, and Peggy Bottern closed out her article by saying that while many new homes have been built in the district, others have sold out and moved into Ponoka, and both husband and wife have had to work in town to make ends meet. It is certainly an era where the standard of living is higher, boys no longer go to school in overalls and work boots, the back house is practically a thing of the past, and television has brought the world into every living room. But thank goodness that through it all the grand traditions and importance of family, friends, community, and a dedicated work effort have proudly carried on through many generations and have left a cherished legacy and countless fond memories from way back then that will be shared and enjoyed long into the future.

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