Thunder Butte

August 09, 2008

Denizens of Thunder Butte

The first ranch house west of Thunder Butte [when I was a youngster] was that of the Walenta’s.

When my parents came to South Dakota they linked with the Walentas in some place like Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Or, so I was led to believe. They were quite thick with the Walentas in the early years, probably due to the good nature of Mrs. Walenta, Margaret. Her maiden name was Nolan, a big good natured Irish woman who later became my godmother.

Wes Walenta was a somewhat dour individual. I never saw him smile. I don’t recall that he ever seemed to have a happy thought.

It seems that my father and Walenta staked claims at the same time. Walenta picked the highest point on the ridge west of the Butte and my father picked the claim on the Walenta’s South. My father’s claim, where I was born, was at the bottom of a little valley. I suppose my Dad was thinking that water would be plentiful in the lower place.

The funny part of my father’s decision was the Walenta’s well. The Walentas built a large frame house, but the most outstanding thing was the well. I remember riding up on my little pony from time to time and letting him drink from the stock tank beside the well. The tank was always overflowing with good ice cold water supplied by a pump and windmill that was always turning, pumping water. My father’s place never had a decent well. We always had to haul water from about a quarter mile away from the house. No one would ever expect to find water at the top of a high ridge, but Walenta did!

I always felt welcome at the Walenta’s because of Mrs. Walenta, Margaret. She always had milk and cookies for me and stories about her family to tell my Mother.

The Walenta family consisted of Rex, the oldest, John, next, and Maxine. Rex Walenta was built like his mother, big and round. He was sent back East where he was educated to be an attorney. Rex may have become a good lawyer, but he didn’t make as good a rancher. He leased the '73' ranch on Thunder Butte Creek after his education was complete. He stocked the ranch with thousands of young turkeys. Most of the turkeys were eaten by coyotes and bobcats, some were stolen by eagles, and the rest drowned in the first rain. Young turkeys will stick their beaks in the air and drown. John became kind of sullen. He later disappeared from the area and we heard nothing more of him.

Maxine was a beautiful girl, an incredible horsewoman and kindly like her mother. She later married George Boeding, a Glad Valley farm boy. George just passed away this last year and Maxine passed on long before.

In spite of becoming a lawyer, Rex produced a nice family. His wife was my teacher in about the seventh grade. She was intelligent, probably the best teacher I ever had. She had three of her children in the little one room school. I believe their names were Dennis, the oldest, Thomas, the middle boy, and Mary Anne, the baby. The kids were all intelligent, good looking and pleasant in spite of having a lawyer for their father.

Although I was born in the sod house on the neighboring ranch to the south of the Walenta’s, I don’t remember much about it. My family, much later, lived on the Joe Shockley claim which bordered my father's claim on the south.

Next to the Shockley claim was a dugout (a cave) in a bank in which lived an old hermit called Raggy Simmons. No one ever knew much about Raggy, except to stay away from him. People said that you could smell Raggy coming when he was still across the creek. I recall one day he came up in our yard and my Mother got the shotgun and ran him off. Apparently, Raggy must have passed away at some point in his cave; he just disappeared.

(To be continued)

-John Crowley
Mike Crowley Saturday, August 09, 2008

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