I Wish I'd Been There: Pioneers on the Prairies
By Harry Stauffer
Let's go traveling down memory lane to the early 1900s. I
would like to relive the stories told by my four grandparents
as they came from various parts of the United States as pioneers
to the great Northwest of Alberta.
Back then there were wide-open stretches with no roads or
fences, only prairie trails. The land was inhabited by many native
people. What peace and stillness prevailed in the countryside,
except for the occasional shrill whistle of a passing train on
its way across this vast expanse.
Our grandparents felt secure as they unloaded their possessions
beside the ramp along the railway track. They had no fear of
anything being taken, although their belongings remained there
for over a week before they could be transferred to their homesteads.
When they did return to get their things, there was not a single
What a welcome the few established pioneers extended to travelers
like my grandparents! The pioneers had a welcome mat waiting
for all those weary travelers, who arrived by foot, oxen team,
or horse-drawn wagons. The welcome was appreciated, even if it
meant sleeping under the kitchen table for the night because
of lack of space.
Imagine this: a clear, cold evening traveling as a family
to spend time with relatives or neighbors, being pulled by a
team of horses with sleigh bells tinkling, the reflection of
the full moon looking like diamonds racing across the top of
snow while all are snuggled in buffalo robes with a hot stone
or brick to keep their feet warm, and sleigh runners crunching
as they glide over the snow. They can see the breath coming from
the horses' nostrils. My grandparents had not a care or worry
until they heard the howl of a coyote which sent shivers up their
spines. Then they snuggled a little further under the comfort
of those warm robes.
When the family arrived, the grandchildren enjoyed a cup of
cocoa or coffee with some of Grandma's yummy cookies. After an
evening of fun and games, Grandpa gave praise and honour for
God's protective care, freedom of worship, and the bounties of
They had no fear of returning to a home with unlocked doors.
There was no vandalized property. A weary traveler felt at home
even if the owner was gone. That is the way it was in those days
- no fear, but instead complete trust of all fellow men.
Harry Stauffer continues to live on the Stauffer family
farm in Alberta with his wife of fifty-six years, Gladys Reist
Stauffer. An 80-year-old retired farmer and dairyman, he is a
member of Salem Mennonite Church in Tofield and serves as the
Northwest Mennonite Conference historian.