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the George John Gunn and Vesta Cora Curtis Gunn




    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.

When Idella (or Peg as she preferred to be called) was little, she had a favorite "dolly". This doll was typical of the time and had a cloth body and china head with a painted-on face. Her brothers, being "brothers", loved to pick on Peg and would hide her doll in some pretty inconvenient places. She recalled the worst place being the top of the ranch house. It seems the boys forgot about the doll and a heavy rain washed the poor dolly's face off in a storm.

One of Peg's jobs was to watch over her little brother, Junior [George John, Jr.].  She had to tend to him and the sheep at the same time which could prove a little difficult.  She recalled that on one occasion she heard him shout, "RAISINS!!", and turned around to catch him putting sheep excrement into his mouth.  That was one story she never let him forget!

Mom recalled that when she was attending the one-room schoolhouse it was announced that her sister, Esther (Buddee) was going to be her new teacher.  She thought at the time that it would be grand having an "in" with the teacher.  It turned out that Esther was a little harder on her than the others and so Mom was in trouble on a regular basis.

When 'Peg' was a little older and the boys were driving they used her for far more important things. On one dark night they had her lay across the hood of their car and hold a light source (I'm not sure if it was a lantern or a flashlight) so they could see where they were driving in the dark.

Mom passed away Jan. 12, 1997, twenty-nine years and one day after my daddy died.

    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:

"I know Papa had several strings of very good bucking and roping horses...and that one string was 'pirated off' into Canada -- and Papa never heard from or about them after that -- although he was still the owner."

"In that string was a horse Papa named Corkscrew -- he bucked and twisted in circles and threw every rider!  I was fond of Corkscrew, for he was gentle enough to pet in the corral.   I was tempted to try to ride him, but Papa had warned me not to, so I didn't.   I always loved to ride and did a lot of it as Papa summered cattle for people and it was Les's and my job to keep the herd on the flat lands."

I can barely remember that when we lived in the Badlands, in order to get hay for cattle feed, the men would take mowing machines apart -- haul them up to the top of a flat butte; then take the horses up one by one.  After the hay was cut they would send it down, from atop the butte, on wires strung closely together."

"Our summers were busy with ranching, rodeos and lots of dances.  when we were younger and people had square dances Papa always played the violin, Les the drums and I the piano.

"Later, when the big orchestras came through and we were older, it wasn't unusual to drive close to a hundred miles to dance to a big band such as Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Paul Whitman, Guy Lombardo, Sammy Kaye, Lawrence Welk, etc.  These big bands took tours during the summer months and most towns -- Rapid City, Deadwood and others had outdoor pavilions...gasoline was cheap and time was plentiful."

"Junior (George John Junior) with his large ranch and his interest in riding and roping with his son Terry -- and daughter Denise who likes to ride also -- carry on the tradition.   My children have done very little riding (only when we visit Juniors') and I try to get as much riding in as possible.  City is so confining in lots of ways."

   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.



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