This mid-1940s photo was taken on the Frank and Cora Cissell family homestead in the Dakota district. Shown are Lodema and Pete Allison

This mid-1940s photo was taken on the Frank and Cora Cissell family homestead in the Dakota district. Shown are Lodema and Pete Allison

Reflections of Ponoka: Cissell family among first settlers in Dakota country

In the hot summer of 1900, a group of immigrants from South Dakota arrived in the Village of Ponoka on the CPR train

In the hot summer of 1900, a group of immigrants from South Dakota arrived in the Village of Ponoka on the CPR train and then ventured out into the rugged and fertile rolling hills to the west in search of a homeland where they could begin a new life with their families. They were so impressed with what they saw that these determined settlers returned to the local Land Titles Office and began making plans to transport their loved ones, their world belongings, and a few head of livestock back to the prairies to challenge a bountiful livelihood full of hardships, adventure, and opportunity.

Planting the first seeds in the area that would later be called the Dakota District, these hardy men left their women and children in Ponoka to live in small log shacks and rooming houses, while they built the sturdy log homes, barns, and fences that would be their new family homesteads. With the assistance of a few men the ladies and their children crossed the flooded Battle River together, with Hattie Wing becoming the first white woman to cross the raging river at Ferrybank.

The arrival of the Cissells

Frank and Cora Cissell were among that first group of 15 women and 25 children who made the gruelling trip from the Dakotas back to Ponoka on the settler train. Upon their arrival in the fall of 1900 with their two children Florence and George, they would live in a house in the village built by Eb Olmstead and Corlis Wing. In the spring of 1901, they moved out to their homestead at the N.W. 22.

From the beginning, Frank and Cora won a special place throughout the district, where they never hesitated to help others in a time of need. It was always hard to get a doctor in those early days, so Cora became a skilled mid-wife, delivering over 200 babies, as well as also tending to the sick and assisting Eb Olmstead with the funerals. Frank also established a blacksmith shop and did work for many people, and the keen camaraderie and teamwork of the growing district was always evident, as when others were called from their fields to do special work, their neighbours would drive their outfits and fill in for them. The congenial Cissell was also very skilled at carpentry, building and plastering many houses in Dakota, and then in 1912, he bought a threshing machine and threshed grain from Ponoka to Springdale, quite often not finishing the run until Christmas Day. The happy couple had four more children born in Alberta, including Ray, Lodema, Emma, and Merle, the last three who remained in the district to farm and raise their families.

There was also a lighter side to the active lives of Frank and Cora Cissell and family, who would host the very first Christmas party in the Dakota district, with Frank removing all the petitions in their palatial log home for the celebration, to which absolutely everyone was invited, and were asked only to bring something for the dinner. District pioneer Will Hoar recalled that it was a wonderful occasion for the children, as Frank made doll beds, and the women made the dolls, the clothes, and the bedding to the delight of the girls. Frank also enjoyed playing on the very skilled Dakota baseball team with Jack Lee, Corlis Wing, Ed Chapell, Clint Bailey, Elmer Skinner, Waldo Herrick, Ned Cough, and George Winslow Jr. Games were played at Joe Stewart’s big log barn, which had a large hay loft where all the dances were held.

Frank and Cora left the homestead in 1932 and moved to their other farm on the S.E. 33, where they lived until their passing, Frank in 1936 and Cora in 1940. The congenial couple would never be forgotten for their hard work, devotion, and kindness to all.

The family of Merl and Hilda Cissell

Merl Cissell was the youngest son of Frank and Cora Cissell, and while living with his folks on the S.E. of 33 he bought the Wing homestead. Merl married Hilda Mass of the Usona district in 1941, and they moved to a new set of buildings which he built in 1949. Together they raised four children, including Judy, Elaine (Mrs. Richard Groom), Frank (who married Patricia Palecheck), and Connie.

The family was very active in many community projects such as 4-H, Home and School, F.U.A., and sports such as curling, baseball, hockey and basketball. Merl was an avid big game hunter, president of the Fertile Valley Mutual Telephone Company and Dakota Cemetery Association, and was always willing to help out others when called upon. Hilda was very well known for her splendid alto voice, and always took an active part in countless choruses, trios, and duets over the years, as well as being a longstanding member of the Dakota United Church and the United Church Women. Several generations of the Cissell family have carried on the proud farming tradition.