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the Alexander William Gunn and Eva McLaughlin Gunn



The following information on Alexander William Gunn and Eva McLaughlin Gunn is from an autobiographical account written by their oldest daughter, Margaret Alice Gunn Rhyason (1885-1964), as she was reminiscing in 1958 about her life. (Any reference to Native Americans as "Indians" is not meant to be derogatory, but is a quote from Margaret Rhyason as she recounted how things were in the late 1800's on the plains.)  This is rather lengthy, but well worth reading since it gives an actual account of how life was on the plains of South Dakota in the late 1800's.

Alex William and Eva Gunn are the ancestors of hundreds of persons -- nearly all living today in Alberta and British Columbia.

Prior to the time covered by this autobiography, the family had lived in Scotland, S.D. at the present location of 6th and Main.

by Margaret Gunn Rhyason


The first I remember was when we lived on the homestead about 45 miles east of Rapid City.  There was a deep gully and the buildings were dug partly into the hillside.  It made a good root cellar for the butter, milk and what-have-you, as the end of the kitchen was boarded off to form this cellar.

When spring house cleaning came around the new decoration was newspapers pasted on he walls with flour and water paste.  I remember how disgusted we all would be when mother was so careless as to paste the newspaper upside down, and when we wanted to read a certain article it really was a problem.

However, I was far too young to do any reading but learned my letters from asking what each one was, and most of all I was pleased with myself when I could read the big letters on the oven door of the big old cook stove.  They were: G-A-R-L-A-N-D Stoves and R-A-N-G-E-S.   I was then six years old.

...The sugar cane (we raised) looked like corn stalks and when put through a press the lovely juice would come out.  Folks boiled it down and then had the most wonderful syrup I ever tasted.

When I was five years old, my brother Hugh was a cute little fat rolly polly baby with rosy cheeks and red hair.  At this time I used to watch big black beetles which would attack piles of horse manure -- each one would roll a ball of this to about the size of a good big marble, then with their hind legs they would roll these balls to their winter quarters.

I thought these (Tumble Bugs, as they were called) were the smartest creatures in the whole wide world.  So, one day I took my baby brother, Hugh, to the top of the hill and holding him with my feet, I rolled him gently down the hillside.  By the time I reached the bottom my mom arrived on the scene.  (No punishment--I was just a tomboy.)

After my father's parents moved out west, my Uncle George (Gunn) stayed with us a lot.  I remember the tricks he used to play on me.  I always wished I could grow up real fast and give him a good beating, but he grew into a great big fellow who was a real Bronco Buster.  He rode at the World's Fair in Chicago on a bucking bronco.

My dad always played the violin for all the dances around, so I was always happy to get my best clothes on and go with them.  One way they used to polish their shoes was to turn on of the black lids of the old cook stove over, wet a rag and rub on the underside of the lid where the soot had collected, then rub it on the shoes.  When dry it polished up really nice.

But one time after I was all dressed for the party I knew I didn't dare start to use soot because I might get some on my clothes--so I had a bright idea,...I cut a nice fat piece of pork and rubbed both my shoes.  Of course I had the shoes on my feet and worst of all, we had a little black puppy who smelled the ft on my shoes and started to lick them.  I ran from place to place but he kept licking.  At last I got on a chair.

About this time Uncle Alf McLaughlin married Lettie Raymond.  How I loved to go stay with them, but after a couple of days I always wanted to go home and see Hughie.


My dad had a very bad back.  He was in bed most of the time now; it was his spine.  I can remember my mother rubbing his back with Kimbal's Spavin Cure.  that was the rub meant for use on horses, but it was the only relief he got from his pain.

The other men, John McNichol and Uncle angus (McLaughlin) were away working.  Seems they were freighting supplies from Pierre, the capital, to Rapid City, S.D.  All one day we could hear a noise like coyotes howling.  It was a strange noise.  My dad managed to crawl onto a building and tried to see down the ravine, but saw nothing.

We were put to bed (there were three of us now -- Margaret, Hugh and Jennie).  About 8:00 p.m. John McNichol came waling in.  He was so white my mother exclaimed, "John, whatever is the trouble?  You look sick."

He managed to say "You are getting out of here quick.  All the settlers but you have been in the city for four days.  As you folks are the farthest east, no one was brave enough to come to tell you that the Indians are on the war path.  Everyone expected you to all be killed by now.  But I took a chance after dark to creep down the ravine to help you if it wasn't too late."

The noise we had been hearing all day was a war dance just down the ravine, so near we could hear them.   John got the team hitched to a light wagon -- they made us a bed in the back.   Just when they got us three kids tucked in I woke up and said "where are we going?"

"Sh-sh-keep still."  So I went to sleep.  Rapid City was 45 miles from our farm.   When about half way there we stopped at an old lady's house which was partly dug in a hillside.  There was a dirt floor and I thought to myself "This is the old woman in the song." -- When went like this: "Lady, oh Lady!  My toes are sore, dancing on your sandy floor."

We then went on after we were all dressed in our day clothes.  We had been in our night clothes so far.

I will never forget the street lights as we entered Rapid City.  They were lamp posts with coal oil lamps which had to be filled and lit each night.  They were like stars in heaven to me.  I had never seen a town that I could remember.

The town was so crowded with all the women and children from the settlements.  No  rooms -- only in barns and sheds, and of course a lot of sickness.  That was the first year of the flu or La Grippe as it was called in those days.  When I had it I really went wild at night.  Where the lamp made a circle on the ceiling, when turned low, I could see Indians coming through the circle.  It took two or three people to keep me from running away.

The Indians never killed anyone on that raid as the cowboys lit into them good and strong...The men of the settlement could go back to their farms but the women and children were kept in town.

My father, not being well enough to go back to the farm, got a job a Town Herdsman.  Each morning he would get on his horse and go to each place that had a cow, and drive her toward the open prairie.  He would have quite a herd by the time he go them all.

He drove them across Rapid City to tableland.  There is now one of the largest air fields on the land were the cows were herded.

We stayed in Rapid City for two years.  I started to school there, -- I was 8 years old -- 1893.   I remember making tables, chairs and beds out of green peas and toothpicks.  I was so scared of ever having to wear the Dunce cap, that some boy had to wear every day...The school was near Hangman's Hill..Whey this is called Hangman's Hill is because three horse thieves were lynched and hanged on a tree there.

We first lived in Rapid City, in a converted barn, belonging to my mother's sister and her husband -- who was Doctor L.L. Davis (the same family as the Dr. Davis Pain Killer medicine).

[Charles Thomas Gunn was born while the family was living in the barn of Dr. David -- May 11, 1892 -- after the Indian scare.]

There were four large rooms, 2 up and 2 down, in this barn.  Later we moved to a little three room house.  All I can remember of that house is that I no longer believed in Santa.   So, Uncle George, who was living with us again played Santa to Hugh and Jennie.

They were put to bed early on a couch in the living room.  When we saw their eyes closed we crept up and put candy and gum and a present each, in their stockings which were hung on the wall, back of their bed.

As soon as we left the room up jumped Hugh and Jennie to get their presents, which consisted of a brown tin horse about 6 inches long and 4 inches high with clack mane and tail painted on it (Hugh's present).

Jennie got a china doll head to put on a body from the year before.  George and I were so disgusted with them.  They were only pretending to be asleep.

Soon we moved out of town to be near the grazing ground for the cows of the town herd.  I walked to school about a mile and had to cross Rapid Creek -- but there was a bridge.

Young Doc Davis had twin girls born to his first wife.  They were May and Ella.

May had a cat which had four kittens.  Uncle Doc was a very severe father.  One day he made May -- she was 8 -- put the kittens in a gunny sack -- take them down to Rapid Creek, and told her to put some rocks into the sack and throw them into the creek.

She was bawling so hard she could hardly see.  So when she got the rocks in the sack, she shut here eyes, threw the sack, -- ran home screaming, -- and when she got to the kitchen door, there sat all the cats.  They jumped out when she was hunting rocks and ran home.

May was so hysterical Aunt Alice had to call the doctor home from his office to quiet her.  I suppose they gave her quinine, as there were no aspirin or tranquilizers in those days.   I don't remember what became of the cats.

There were no trains into Rapid City at this time, but there was a train came up to Buffalo Gap from the south.  I never saw one, only the stage coaches and freighting oxen, covered wagons and cowboys.

After two years of living at Rapid City we loaded up our goods and moved back to the homestead where we were living when the Indian scare took place.

Dad had owned about 20 head of cattle.  Most of our household goods were stolen but not by the Indians.  Settlers raided the homes that were left vacant, -- took stock, furniture, clothes -- and everything.  then tried to put the blame on the Indians.

1894 -- NOW I AM 9 1/2 YEARS OLD

There was one Indian family who stopped near our house once or twice a year.  The Squaw would take me with her to dig Breadroot out of the ground.  She had a crowbar and would lift the Breadroot out of the ground, peal the bark off with her teeth and give it to me to eat.   I thought it was great fun.

Then in the evening my folks would go calling on the camp.  There the Indians would have two crotched sticks about 4 feet high stuck upright in the ground, and a pole across from one to the other, with Breadroot tied by the tails (roots) hanging down toward the fire to roast them.

They would give us nice hot one which were better than hot-dogs.  Breadroots are something like a parsnip or banana, with this cord running right through them and extending about 4 inches, which makes them easy to tie together, like a shoe string.

The bark or covering is something like the bark on a willow, when pealed off is satiny, smooth and white inside, -- (outside dark).  They are crisp and sweet like coconuts.

While living on the ranch, Uncle George was with us again.  He took the tongue out of a buggy, put ropes on each axle near the front wheel.  Some of us kids would put our hands and feet in a wheel,press with our heads and away we would go down a steep hill with George guiding the buggy by the ropes.  It was sure fun flying up-side down and we were sure dizzy by the time we reached the bottom.

Another stunt was to go down a steep hill in a barrel.  We'd be mixed up when the barrel stopped.

No school all these days as it was miles away.  So all we had to do was have fun.  We played school sometimes, and I was always the teacher.  One time I had Hugh saying his A.B.C.'s  When it came to the W, he would say "double Mag" -- that was me -- Maggie.  then he would say -- "double me."  At last I was so disgusted I hit him over the head with  my new slate, -- and of course I broke it all to pieces. That was a tragedy as a slate was not so easy to get.

My dad still played the violin at house parties, where the folks danced in the kitchen or living room after moving the furniture outside.

At this time my folks moved to the Cheyenne River, -- took over a Post Office and country store while the owner Jim DeWitte, went exploring the Cuban country.  At this place school was only a mile away, but there was school for only four winter months as the families usually went away for the summer on sheep ranches.

Once my father snot a coyote -- the Indians wanted it.  So my dad said he wanted the hide so they skinned it, divided up the coyote, and started eating it raw.

Once I saw a little Indian boy about two years old chewing on the leg of a Porcupine.  He would scratch in the sand with the claws and then, chew on the top where the skin was taken off.

They always realized the white women were afraid of them.  They would come into the  house and just sit.  When they saw some food, they would grunt and point at it, and of course it was always given to them.  Once they saw a custard pie my mother had baked, and in those days, pie crust was made of thick cream instead of lard, so the pie crust was quite tough.

They brought back the crust thinking it was the plate, I guess, or else wanted more custard in it.   They didn't speak any English.

When they came to your house they looked in every cupboard and even in the oven to see if there was anything they wanted.

There was an Indian school at Pierre, so the younger generation got a little education.

Mr. DeWitte came back from Cuba and we moved back to the Divide, as it was called, but not to our ranch, but on the west side of Uncle Alf McLaughlin close to school.

Then the baby -- Irene -- arrived. [Jan. 10, 1896] I had to cook -- make bread, all with my dad's help.   Mother was in bed about 10 feet from the kitchen.  It was a two room shack, so she could supervise the work.

I used to go on horseback to get the mail, about 4 miles away.


Next we moved back to the DeWitte ranch, but the store had been moved near the school house, and a big sheep shed was built where the store had been.

Our dad had acquired a number of sheep, and with caring for other men's sheep he was really busy.   Now is when I started herding sheep.  We had a cart and horse to pick up the new born lambs.  also a saddle horse.  My sister Jennie wasn't so big then but she was terrified of range cattle [Texas Longhorns], -- wouldn't get out of the cart even to ear her lunch.  (Anyone on foot sure got it from the range cattle.)

There were hundreds of cattle on the range.  We knew who each brand belonged to.  Once a year there was the Round-Up. All the men who could get away from home, hired out for the Round-Up.  They would be gone for weeks.

The name of the Post Office in the store we had was Creston, and there is still a Post Office by the name of Creston only it is moved to a different spot, as a lovely highway now goes through there, and then on through the Badlands.

The Badlands had only a trail for horse back riders then.  At the time we lived at Creston, my dad carried the a settlement beyond the Badlands.


My sister Lulu was born on the Jim DeWitte place.  She is two years younger than Irene.  I well remember being let go home with some Dutch kids to stay all night.  That was such a wonderful thing to do -- go home from school with your friends.

I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought, as we slept three in a bed.  A big fat feather-tick under us, -- also a fat feather-tick on top of us.  No sheets, -- only feathers.

When I arrived home after school next day, I was greeted with -- "You have a new Baby Sister."

I was disgusted.  Why another one.  But I loved her very much after a little while.   She had golden curls and Peaches and Cream complexion.


Then the Alberta Fever was all one could hear as the settlers were tired of no rain, no gardens, no crops.

So we left Cheyenne [River] and drove to Pierre, the capital of South Dakota.  My dad traded two quarters of land [320 acres] for 20 head of horses, valued at $10 per head.

He took them east to Pierre and after about six months we went on east to Scotland -- the town where I was born 14 years before.

While in Pierre, I loved the school -- a nice big building, and I am sure, the few months at that school were worth all the other days of school put together.

My dad took a trip to see Alberta and reported to the farmers left at the Cheyenne River.  They loaded up their families, drove their livestock, and spent one whole summer driving to Alberta.  They settled east of Wetaskiwin; some at Meeting Creek.  There were about eight families.

My grandmother lived at Scotland, S.D. so we stayed in that town over the winter.

I had my 15th birthday while living there.  My dad had a horse step on his foot; it happened on my birthday -- March 16th.

Mother said for me to build a fire in the heater so Dad could get out of bed that day.  I took dry corn cobs which burn very fast.  After a few minutes the upstairs room was full of smoke.  The wall was on fire around the stove pipe...Help came and only smoke and water damage.  The firemen chapped holes in the walls and roof to get the fire.   What a horrible smell for weeks.  We stayed at Uncles' home until our house was repaired.

My folks bought a nice Piano-Organ while we lived in Scotland and we took it to Alberta with us.

We started for Alberta the next June.  Drove for two weeks with two covered wagons, a buggy and horses, to ship from Bismark, N.D.

Here we got on an immigrant train for Alberta.  There were two coaches on this freight train.   We and many others rode in the coaches, which consisted of slat board seats, which pulled out and made into a bed.

Each family had their own food and bedding.  what a smell in the coaches.  Lots of foreigners snoring away.  It was my first train ride that I could remember, so it was great.

We arrived in Wetaskiwin the 22nd of June 1900.

Uncle Alf met us and took us to b big log house on the top of a hill looking over the Battle River.   It sure was some house.  The floor sloped down hill so badly, that when we scrubbed, the water ran down -- either on the clean part -- or if we started on the uphill part the water ran down in the dirt.

My sister Jessie was born Sept. 16 of that year (1900).  The ground was white with snow that morning.  The Carpenter kids came over and we had a snow ball fight, -- girls against boys.

We all had fun going to a log school...Our teacher was 18 years old so we did just about as we pleased.  One day was cold so she said we could march around the room and sing.   We were all Yankies but the teacher, so we said we wouldn't march unless we could sing "Marching Through Georgia."  So we did that.

More settlers came in from he States and one family from Oklahoma had many sons -- and the one I liked the best was the eldest, Arthur Rhyason.

My family moved to Wetaskiwin where my dad bought the Livery Stable.  I  joined the Salvation Army and as I had learned to play our organ at home, I played for their hymns.

In 1906 Art Rhyason got his homestead and we were married April 8, 1907 in the Salvation Army Citadel.   He had been living in a small log cabin but when I came as a bride, I was surprised with a two story house.  We used the log cabin for our chickens.

As our family grew to four boys and two girls our home also grew.  In fact, a brand new one of five bedrooms and very large rooms downstairs.  Even had a furnace and a kitchen sink.

The homestead was our home until 1945 -- 38 years.  Then with our family grown up, we retired in Haney, B.C.

The retiring years were wonderful. -- Enjoyed every hour of those Golden Years, until September 1958 when all good things come to an end.

I was left alone.

--- Maggie Gunn Rhyason



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