Grandma Sherwood, the Blizzard and the Indians.
By Larry Sherwood
My paternal grandmother, Matilda Hunter Sherwood, “Tillie Will” to the eastern members of the Sherwood family, related the following story to me a number of times. You might be interested in it as it illustrates some of the hardships and fears of a young bride who was born and brought up in Ontario’s Manitoulin Island. Her parents, Thomas David and Phoebe Lane Hunter first came to Granum, Alberta and later farmed about a half mile south and a bit east of where Grandpa William, “Will” had taken up a homestead in 1904 along side of one granted to my maternal great uncle Archibald Campbell. That’s another story but it is important to this one because these two lads facing an early winter and no shelter had dug into a bit of a hill side and spent their first winter in this hole-in-the ground. In the following years both Grandpa and Uncle Archie built shacks on their adjoining properties.
Grandma and Grandpa were married in July, 1910 so it was sometime after that a bad blizzard struck the homestead. The shack was very drafty and the temperature inside was not much warmer than the freezing cold outside so they moved into the hole-in–the-ground. Sometime later they heard thumping above them and Grandpa decided to go outside to investigate. He apparently tied a rope to himself and Grandma paid out the line. Grandpa stumbled over something and found a human form in the snow and dragged it into the shelter. It turned out to be an Indian brave who spoke no English but somehow communicated that there were others outside so out Grandpa went to see if he could find them. Grandma said she was very scared but figured she could tug hard on the rope and Grandpa would come to her rescue
Grandma may have told me how many more he found and brought in but I don’t recall the exact number. Needless to say there were quite a few people in a small space. Grandma said she was scared stiff but set about to feed them and find places for all to sleep. Since Grandpa and Grandma had been using the hole-in-the-ground as a root cellar and cold room they had food. The blizzard raged for at least two or three days and nights before it broke and the “guests” could round up their horses and the others they had been droving and ride off into the prairie.
Including the last time I was told this story before her death at 90 Grandma complained that “those Indians never said ‘Thank-you’”. And no matter how many times I tried to explain that she had told me they spoke no English and very little else amongst themselves, it was understandable that they didn’t say ‘thank-you’ Grandma kept insisting that the least they could do was say ‘thank you’.
Grandpa and Grandma had a dog that would bark loud and long if anybody came to the homestead. He was famous for this trait amongst the old timers in the district. So what, you say. Keep reading dear friend.
Just before the frost went out of the ground after the incident above, Grandpa went out to the small barn he had built. Hanging from one of the rafters was a fully dressed freshly killed deer. The dog had not barked! None of the neighbours had seen or heard anything! So how did it get there. Grandma said that Grandpa figured it was the Indians who had been there in the blizzard. Needless to say they enjoyed the fresh venison and they shared with their neighbours and relatives. The following fall after the first hard frost Grandpa found another deer in the barn. Again the dog didn’t bark, and they and their neighbours had seen or heard nothing. Grandpa apparently told Grandma that this was the way the Indians were thanking them. For many years after, every fall after the first hard frost and every spring before the frost came out of the ground, Grandpa would find a dressed deer or elk hung in the barn. And the dog didn’t bark and the neighbours didn’t see or hear anything and Grandpa kept telling Grandma that this was the Indian’s way of saying thank-you.
And to her dying day when she told this story, she would always end it with “Yes but, they should have said, Thank-you”.
March 28, 2013.