George John Gunn was one of the best riders and ropers in the West. In addition to performing, he rented out top quality bucking and roping horses and went on a rodeo circuit which included Madison Square Garden and at the World's Fair in Chicago.
Three of his bucking horses were sent to London, where they performed in a show for the King. This was probably in the late 1920's.
In 1945 he began working as a brand inspector for the South Dakota Stock Growers Association. He held that position until his death in 1950.
George's older son, Lester, remembered when his father and mother had a homestead on Sage Creek near the South Dakota badlands. Not long after his mom and dad were married they had to take care of old Hugh and Catherine. This required quite a bit of traveling back and forth from Sage Creek to Wasta where Hugh and Catherine lived.
When Lester was about three years of age he and his older sister, Esther, accompanied their mother in the wagon on one of her trips to Wasta to see after her in-laws. Halfway into the Cheyenne River the wagon team mired down in the quicksand. Lester recalled that it must have been a real struggle to get the team out of the muck, because as young as he was at the time, he still remembered some of it.
Being far out from town (20 to 25 miles from Wall) they had to deal with snakes on more than one occasion. Lester recalled a bread baking day when his mother had a big pan of loaves that weren't cooked yet. His mother spied a snake sticking it's head up through the floor where a knot had fallen out (Vesta was deathly afraid of snakes and according to Lester she killed a lot of them just to keep the kids from getting bit, but then she would be sick and have to go lie down). She picked up the pan of loaves and proceeded to skid it across the floor where it landed dead center over the snake hole. He said that the pan was still there that evening when his daddy got home.
George John loved to play the fiddle and would perform at neighborhood dances once in a while. Back then, people had so far to go that they would leave right after dinner and stay all night at the dance. The kids would usually be put to bed in a back room and the grown ups would dance until daylight.
Lester recalled that when the kids in the family reached school age that George and Vesta and family moved to a place up on Crooked Creek, which was about 12 miles west of Wall. That's where the family stayed until all the kids left home. Lester's younger sister, Idella Mae, was born there on March 6, 1917 and younger brother George, Jr. was born on October 11, 1922.
George John still ran his horses and cattle from the old place, so there was plenty of riding to do. Only a few green fields were fenced and the rest of the land was wide open.
Lester recalled how the cattle would scatter when there was a lack of water and feed. He and his sister, Esther, did a lot of riding with their dad and helped out taking care of the place.
The cattle from the "Flying V" ranch in the Black Hills were usually summered at the Gunn's place. Lester and his dad would go up there on horseback (about 60 miles) and help gather them and then trail them down to the Gunn range. He said that the cattle would want to go back to the Black Hills for the first month or so, and that the Gunn kids would go out every morning...and drive the cattle back east four or five miles, and the next morning do the same thing again. Finally after awhile they would give up and stay put.
The Gunn kids never missed a rodeo since their dad was a part of it. When George John was younger he did bronco-busting but after the kids came along he more or less quit. He did stay busy though -- calf roping, team roping, or as pickup man or judging. The Gunn ranch always furnished bucking horses and some good ones too.
During the Great Depression of the 30's -- the dry years, hail and grasshoppers, a lot of people left the country. The Gunns somehow managed to stay on. They didn't have much of anything, but somehow managed to eat.
George John was riding to the Badlands for stock when one of the "big rains" hit. He was miles from nowhere and visibility was down to zero. His horse couldn't see, stumbled and fell on him, and crushed his hip. When George didn't make it home that night, the neighbors immediately set out to hunt for him even though traveling was almost impossible due to the weather. They unfortunately, had no luck in locating him.
About day three the mailman made it through with a message that George John was in the hospital in Phillip. It seems that he managed to crawl to a road that ran from Wall to Scenic. There a farmer with a team and buggy found him and took him back to Wall. There was no hospital in Wall so he had to be moved to Phillip. George John was in really bad shape for over a year. His bones weren't knitting properly and had to be re-broken.
Les left home in the fall of 1935 and went to Laurel, Montana, where he and a buddy and took over a Standard Oil filling station. After a year in that, he hired out on the Northern Pacific Railroad. He spent five years on the 'extra board,' just working a little in the fall rush and at different types of construction during that time. After 1942 he held a regular run on the railroad until he retired in 1975.
Esther, had married and moved to Detroit by the time Les left in 1935.
When World War II came along, George, Jr. went overseas and the folks rented the ranch and moved into Wall; later to Rapid City where my George was brand inspector.
When George, Jr. came back from the service he fixed up the old ranch house. He got married...and they both fixed it by putting in electricity and propane. They moved into it in January and the propane exploded and it burned to the ground.
They just barely got out barefooted in their nightshirts in the middle of the night on the 15th of January. They hiked 3/4 mile to the Roy Shull place. They didn't save a thing, but were lucky to get out alive as they were in an upstairs room.
The folks had a lot of their keepsakes stored in a room that the kids weren't going to use -- pictures, etc. -- so they are gone too.
They lived in Wall for a few years and then moved to Wasta where they ranch and ran the Wasta Post Office.
Idella Mae's daughter, Nanci Stevenson, recalled some stories that her mother used to tell.
Nanci Stevenson lives outside of Asheville, N.C. and works in her husband Joel's law office.
Concerning their growing-up days in South Dakota, Esther (Buddee) Felt wrote:
Esther (Buddee) went back to college and got her degree in 1977 -- 48 years after high school graduation!
'Buddee's eldest daughter, Beverly McKay and her husband, Brian are living in Anchorage, Alaska. Her youngest daughter, Barbara Felt, is an M.D. and lives with her husband and children in Michigan.