1909 Journey by horse and buggy,
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Journey to a Homestead


Photographs and Descriptions of an Amazing Journey.

Four adults, 2 children, 2 babies, 2 wagons, a buggy and 4 horses experienced this adventure.


In 1936, Mary Brown wrote: "Pioneering Days In Verdant Valley District by Mary Brown, 1936" which appeared in the Drumheller Mail newspaper. The full account of their journey written by Mary can be found at a site created by Will Krueger.

In about 1954, at the age of 74, Violet Brown wrote down some of her memories which were eventually published in Alberta History (Summer 1985).



Mrs. J. Brown and I drove in a buggy with our two babies, Aileen, aged nine weeks, and Hugh, six weeks. Each man drove a wagon loaded with household effects and some lumber. Margaret, aged two, drove with her father, and Anna, five years old, drove with her father. We had a cow tied to one of the wagons which delayed us for hours; after walking half a mile she sat down and could not be persuaded to go another step. We left her at Airdrie for a future trip. [After you read about their experiences on this journey, you will realize they were lucky that the cow refused to go with them right at the start.]

We left Airdrie on August 31, 1909, and arrived on Sept. 4, having travelled nearly a hundred miles. . . After the excitement of getting started . . . we in the buggy were glad to stop for a cup of tea and a final gossip with a friend as we went through Airdrie, then hasten on till we sighted the top of our stove pipe on the wagon in the distance. We travelled only nine miles that evening. . . . The days were very warm and the nights, especially the early mornings, very cold. We slept in a tent and ate our meals by the roadside.

Carbon from a hill (18 kb)

This is a 2016 photograph of the town of Carbon from a hill on the west side.


If our three first days were fun, the two last ones were grief and vexation. We spent the third night at the lovely little village of Carbon. After the prairie it was restful to come on a spot nestling among the everlasting hills, just as if it had been there always.



The second night we camped on a hill, the third in a valley beside a running stream. This was one of the most beautiful spots in the West. There were hills on all sides and tall trees on the banks of the stream. After making preparations for the night, we sat enjoying the twilight and the peacefullness of the scene, our thoughts wandering backward and forward, for soon we were to cross the Red Deer River.



The prairie above Carbon, the route they probably took.   (18 kb)

The prairie above Carbon, the route they probably took as they headed east to their shack.



hill into Kneehill 
Creek valley (18 kb)

This is the view, looking west at a gentle hill which leads into Kneehill Creek valley. The slope is across the valley from here, just right of centre.
In this part of the valley, there is a high valley wall which would be hard to come down. So this is the probable route that they took.



This is the Kneehills Creek valley. (18 kb)

This is the Kneehills Creek valley, looking north-east towards the Red Deer River valley. You can see the steep walls on both sides.



The Kneehills creek.   (18 kb)

The Kneehills creek in 2016, the creek they had to cross.
[This photograph was actually taken right next to the town of Carbon.]


After breakfast, we again started on our way, and here began our difficulties; we had to cross the Knee Hill Creek five times, the first crossing was awful, as our unbroken bronks insisted on galloping downhill into it. I held the two babies and I don’t know how I kept them from catapulting into the water. I was so much frightened that I decided not to ride through any more of these crossings in that rig, so the next four times we crossed, I removed my shoes and stockings and waded through with a baby under each arm.

We forded a winding creek seven times and each time there was a steep bank to go down and up. We never knew whether the horse would come down on his feet, or we on our heads in the water. Often my sister-in-law would wade it, with her baby under one arm and mine under the other, while I put Margaret down at my feet and drove on. Sometimes Margaret and I waded too, leaving the horse and buggy for one of the men to bring across.



The Kneehills creek in the fall.   (18 kb)

The Kneehills Creek in the fall.



The end of the valley, where it enters the Red Deer River valley.   (18 kb)

The end of the Kneehills Creek valley, where it enters the Red Deer River valley.
This is the kind of country they travelled over while at the bottom of the valley.



looking west from the top of the valley on the north side.   (18 kb)

This is from the north side of the valley, looking west. The view shows where they travelled.
They entered the valley from the left of this viewpoint, then travelled up river to the Wigmore ferry which crossed the Red Deer river somewhat to the right of centre
of this photograph. After crossing the river, they came back down towards this hill. But this hill was much too rugged and steep to climb,
especially near the bottom. So the alternate route to Munson, a short cut, was another 100 yards east of this viewpoint.
There was a longer route, a wagon trail that headed north from the Wigmore ferry. But when it goes to Munson, it has to loop around the top of a coulee.
With hindsight and the help of Google maps, it appears to be the better route. But their shacks were built east of here, and a little south, so maybe the short cut was
too tempting. Or maybe they got bad advice, or used bad judgement? Also, Mary does mention at one point that "our horses were not heavy enough for the task."


We crossed the river at the Wigmore Ferry and stopped to eat and rest on the banks of the Red Deer, boiled water and bathed the babies – the first baths they had had since we left Airdrie.






The banks of the river are regular mountains, with coal in abundance sticking out of the sides. The hill on one side had been graded a few weeks before; it would almost make one dizzy to look down to the place where loads had been hauled before the grading was done. It took the four horses to bring each load up and the wheels of the wagons had to be chained going down.

. . . we crossed the Red Deer River on a ferry. When half way over, the horses concluded that they could make better time than the ferry and only the prompt action of the men on board prevented them from plunging into the water. Until a short time before, all who crossed the river had had to ford it.




When I climbed through the top, I was in the bushy area on the right, it wasn't too bad.

looking north at the hill they probably climbed. (18 kb)

This is the hill they probably climbed. This photograph is looking north.
The next two photographs were taken on this hill. They show that this hill was probably the best choice to climb.
The route they took to the top was probably just to the left of the hole which is on the right side of this photo. The green
grass and short bushes near the top turned out to be on a decent slope with good footing, so was very climbable.

Then we proceeded to load up for our trip up the opposite hill. It is well that time effaces to some extent unpleasant memories for this is one of the worst of my life. Our horses were not heavy enough for the task before them and our day was spent loading and unloading our household goods, making a few rods at a time, under a broiling sun. We reached the top towards evening, too tired to proceed further.



This looks down at the start of their climb.   (18 kb)

This looks down at the start of their climb. You can see a number of plateau's,
so they were able to climb up one step at a time, as described under the previous photograph in Mary's account of their journey.



This is the hill they probably climbed, looking down from the top.   (18 kb)

This is the hill they probably climbed, looking down from the top.
The steepest part of the hill is below, in the foreground. You can understand why Mary didn't want to remember
this particular experience. As well Violet didn't even mention it in her writings.



This is the view looking north towards Munson, about a mile away from the top of the hill.  (18 kb)

This is what they saw about a mile away from the top of the hill they had climbed the day before. The view, which is looking towards Munson in the north,
shows Fox Coulee. So they probably crossed the coulee at this point, and then struggled to climb up the hill on the right.
Their shack was south-east of here, so they were probably reluctant to head too far north. The gravel road you can see going up Fox Coulee is where the
railway tracks went. Before that, there was a wagon trail which came from a ferry over the Red Deer River at Nacmine, went up this coulee to just south of Munson.


In the morning we started again, feeling certain our troubles were over, “but the best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft aglee” – we had only gone a short distance when we came to a hill known as Fox Coulee, and near to the site of Munson.

My husband took Anna off his wagon just before starting up the hill, when half way up the wagon capsized and all our belongings rolled down to the bottom of the coulee. Fortunately, Tom was able to jump clear just as the horses fell. It took all the forenoon to get our stuff gathered together and dragged from the bottom of the coulee. My dishes, which I had packed carefully, had not a cracked plate, and only our table and the violin were broken.

Near the end of the journey, one of our loads upset and stoves, bedding, trunks, etc., went tumbling over the prairie. This delayed us half a day.








This photo looks south at the hill where the previous photo was taken. (18 kb)

The previous photograph was taken from the top of the hill on the right. So this is a look at the bottom of Fox Coulee, the ground they had to pass over.
On the left is a gravel roadbed where the train used to go, and before that it used to be a wagon trail.



This is what Mary probably called turtle backs.    (18 kb)

This is what Mary probably called turtle backs. Their wagon was not built to tilt sideways with a load on it,
so these formations were probably part of the reason why their wagon fell apart.

We started again after dinner on the last lap of our journey. We had about six miles of turtle backs and could only go at a snail’s pace, about seventeen miles in all, for that afternoon our trail vehicle gave out on the last mile of road, and we finished our journey on foot.



In the distance is the north end of the Handhills. (18 kb)

In the distance is the north end of the Handhills. On their journey this is probably the view they had in the late evening. It is very similar to the land where their shack was built.
It seemed strange that their district was named Verdent Valley. But when you approach it from Munson, or from the Handhills, it seems obvious that it is a valley.



This is their shack.  The photo was taken about 1995.   (18 kb)

This is part of their original shack that was built in 1909. In the following years, they did expand. This photo was taken about 1995.


. . . . that afternoon our trail vehicle gave out on the last mile of road, and we finished our journey on foot.

We were tired, but determined to reach our new home that night if possible. We stopped at Mr. Hardy’s shack. He kindly invited us to stay, but we just borrowed some water and went on, arriving at J. Brown’s at 10:00 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 4, 1909.

When within four miles of our destination, we were overtaken by darkness and had the difficult task of finding our way over the prairie as best we could, with little to guide us. When almost there, the buggy broke down and we had to finish the journey on foot. We were most thankful to reach the end of it, to grope our way into our own shack, make ourselves a cup of tea, and lie down to rest.



This is what was left of their expanded shack in about 1995.  (18 kb)

This is what was left of their expanded shack in about 1995. The addition was probably built a few years later.



This is the inside of their shack, in about 1995.   (18 kb)

This is the inside of their shack, in about 1995.





The full account of their journey, written by Mary Brown can be found
at a wordpress location which was created by Will Krueger.





©2016 Brian M. Brown All rights reserved.
All photographs are marked with almost invisible identifiers.