Thunder Butte

August 13, 2008

Denizens of Thunder Butte - Part II

Richard Foster was a well known person about Thunder Butte. My parents leased his ranch on Thunder Butte Creek for many years. Dickey, as the locals referred to him, lived with his parents on upper Thunder Butte Creek. I believe their ranch was in Perkins County.

When Dickey was young, he attended the South Dakota School of Mines, a respected college in the Black Hills. I believe he obtained an engineering degree there. Dickey was very fond of the Sioux Indians, almost to the point of obsession. It is said that he lived with them on the Moreau River for a time. He spoke Sioux fluently and was frequently mimicked by local people, especially the grunting sounds he made while talking. This was a local Lakota trait, and it was thought the language was made up largely of grunts. Actually, I believe this grunting was a colloquial thing, much as the expression one hears everywhere today, "O.K." One gets the impression when talking to someone that the person needs your permission for everything said----"O.K.?" Well, I believe the grunts which interspersed the Lakota language were much the same kind of expression.

Dick Foster was interested in anything Lakota. Since he owned the ranch we lived on, he frequently stopped by, mainly because he liked to hunt arrowheads and other relics on the wind swept flats on this land. It was common for me to see him out hunting arrowheads. So, I would join him and he would explain what I found and show me faults and interesting points in the artifacts we found.

Another denizen, Tommy Escott, who herded sheep in the area, discovered my interest in Indian artifacts. So, he proceeded to teach me how to make the arrowheads. Well, I am not proud of the fact, but it is part of 'denizen' history, so I'll tell you anyway. When I was about ten years old, having learned the art of arrowhead manufacture from Tommy Escott, I sewed about a hundred of my handiwork arrowheads onto a bright cloth for display purposes. The next time I saw Dick Foster out hunting arrowheads, I pulled out this roll of artifacts. On seeing it, he proceeded to buy it from me for quite a lot of money. I never told anyone, so it remained a secret.

There are many Fosters in the area today – I see their names in the local papers, but I don't think any of them are related to Dick. I asked him at one time and he told me the Fosters around Meadow were no relations of his.

Dick Foster was "old" from the time I first knew of him, and he became a stodgy, hard drinking old rancher in the years when I grew up around there. This man was good natured, almost to a fault. People used to take advantage of his good nature, and I speak from experience. One time when I was in high school, I saw Dick driving down the street in Lemmon in a brand new Ford pick-up truck. It was the prettiest thing I ever saw. Later that night, I saw the truck parked in front of a local card room, the back room of a beer parlor. So, I went in and asked Dick to lend me his truck; I just wanted to try it out. I guess he had a good poker hand because he pulled out the keys and handed them to me.

Fast forward to Hettinger, North Dakota, where I picked up a girl friend and drove her around town. We parked on the side of a hill, sat there and talked, and being on the side of a hill, the truck slowly, very slowly, laid over on its side. Holy Cow! Jumping out of the truck, I tentatively lifted on it and, much to my surprise, it lifted back on to all four wheels. That pretty much ended my visit with 'whats-her-name'. I rushed back to Lemmon, parked the truck, and gave the keys back to Dick. I told him what had happened, and he exploded. I thought he was having a heart attack, but he wasn't – that came quite a few years later.

The last time I saw R. L. Foster, 'Dickey', was about in the 1940's. I was visiting my brother Neal in Faith, and we saw Dick sitting in his Ford pick-up with a couple of people who probably herded sheep for him. Dick said, "Humph, uh! Howdy,” and the other two said pretty much the same, and that was pretty much all that Dick ever said.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Wednesday, August 13, 2008 | (0) comments |

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 | (3) comments |