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A HISTORY OF ANTELOPE FLAT

This history of Antelope Flat was written by John W. Spencer.

My brother, Albert, and I have thought it a good thing to write a history of the original homesteaders of the area in the hills east of Bear Lake known as the Antelope Flats. Our father George B. Spencer Jr. being one of those who homesteaded in that area and both of us having had many experiences and memories of life there.

In. 1862 Congress passed the Homestead Act authorizing the sale of public lands, in parcels of 160 acres each, to settlers. The homesteaders or settlers were required by the law to file claim on a piece of land and given the legal description according to section and township. They were required to build a house or cabin on the land, to put up fences, to clear the land (or at least part of it) for farming, and to live there during the growing season for five years. Then if they had met all requirements and made all improvements necessary, they were given a United States patent or deed to the land.

The area in the east hills was opened up for homesteading in the early 1900's. It was first called Antelope Flats because of the many wild antelope there. Later, in the early 1930's, during dry years and crop failures, it was nicknamed Poverty Flat. This was the time when many of the original homesteaders gave up dry farming because of crop failures. The price of wheat fell to 35 cents a bushel. Some farmers had to borrow money to keep going and had mortgaged their farms and were unable to pay off the mortgages and lost their farms. This happened during the early 1930's during the years of the depression. Those years were hard for many people.

Later in the same decade farmers, other than the original homesteaders, were able to buy up the farms at a very low price, and because of wetter years, better crops, and better prices for grain, did very well and the area was nicknamed Prosperity Flat. As a result, much more new land was plowed up and farmed than the early homesteaders had farmed.

The early farmers depended on horses to do the work of clearing the land of sagebrush, hauling rocks, and pulling the plows and other machinery. One of the methods of clearing the sagebrush was to drag a length of railroad rail across the brush one way and then the opposite way to break off the brush or pull it up by the roots, then pile it up by hand and burn it. The size of the sage brush was an indication of the richness of the soil --- the bigger the brush, the better the soil. Some brush was taller than a tall man and four or five inches in diameter near the ground, so clearing the land required a lot of hard work. Families usually worked together to pile brush and haul rocks.

Anyone working in the brush, or even walking through it, always had wood ticks get on their clothes. The ticks would crawl to the bare skin where they could bite and begin to suck blood. Every night before going to bed, you had to search your clothes and body for ticks, and when you found one, you would put it on the hot stove or drop it in the kerosene lamp.

As I begin to list the names of the original homesteaders, I do so partly by memory and partly by looking at records in the Assessors Office at the Bear Lake County Courthouse. I also realize that there could be errors, especially in memory. My father, George B. Spencer Jr. homesteaded in 1910 and some of the others began before that. The list of homesteaders includes: J.R. Pugmire, George Price, Ross Richards, Wilford W. Richards, Frederick L. (Laud) Ringel, Annie M. Ringel, Walter Rich, Hugh Rich, Milando Rich, Standley H. Rich, Joseph Collings, Lee Kelsey, Elmer Parker, Ernest Payne, Raoul A. Palmer, Journal A. Palmer, Nephi W. Payne, Moroni Jacobson, Roy Jacobson, J. Hubert Jacobson, James Pugmire, Hannah Nelson, Nels John Nelson, John K. Nelson, Harkness C. (Doc) Curless, Joseph S. Curless, George H. Curless, Dan Curless, George Milford Murphy, Roy Bird, Oliver Wilcox, Ed Larocco, Seymour Lindsay, Andrew J. Michaelson, George Henry Sparks, Edward Bird, Maud Lindsay, Jesse S. Lindsay, John R. Ream, Lee E. Ream, Edwin Austin, Lorenzo Booth, John A. Sparks, Alfred William Sparks, Stanley D. Hill, Stephen Lee Nelson, Levi Aland, John Aland, Hyrum Esterholdt, Harry Rising, Les Langford, Albert Humburg, Mitchell Ream, Wesley Ream, Ola Transtrum, Whitney Transtrum, Chester Transtrum, Stanley Howell, Eugene Roberts, George P. Stock, LeRoy Hill, Blanche Quayle, Hugh B. McQuery, Charles Beyler, Jesse Lewis, Earl Innes, Charles Innes, Lorenzo Hemmert, Robert Hemmert, Ezra Howell, George S. Spencer, Andrew Nelson, Rob Wolf, Ed Wolf, and Wallace Wallentine. These were all in townships 15 and 16 south in Idaho. There were some in Utah, Albert Smith, Fred Smith, Hyrum Nebeker, Deke Young, Leo Mattson, and Chauncey Mattson, and possibly others I no not know about.

That seems like a lot of homesteaders, but it also covers a large area. Each township contains 36 sections, each section contains 640 acres. The two townships cover an area from Pegram to the Utah line north to south, and from the east side of Bear Lake to Wyoming west to east. Some of the
homesteaders probably did not lay claim to more than the original 160 acres and probably sold their claims to others. Others increased their holdings to 320 acres or as much as 640 acres. Each township had two sections, No. 6 and No. 36, designated as school sections, and the State of Idaho leased these to individuals to help the school fund.

I know of two farmers who went to using tractors instead of horses before they lost their farms. J.R. Pugmire had a small crawler tractor and Ross Richards rigged up two steel cleated wheels on the rear of a Model T Ford which he used to plow with.

The best method of dry farming was to raise a crop every other year so as to have more moisture to grow the crop. The farmers would divide their land with approximately half in crop and the other half summer fallowed (plowed) and rested for a year. Some planted wheat in the fall, and others planted wheat or barley in the spring. Some years crops were good and some years bad, depending on the rains and frosts.

Harvesting was done with a machine called a header, pulled by four or six horses. The header, which was twelve feet wide, cut the ripe grain and elevated it into header boxes on a wagon pulled by a team of horses. One man drove the horses on the header and ' raised and lowered the platform to cut the grain, and to try to avoid picking up rocks. Another man, boy, woman, or girl drove the team on the header box wagon, and one man spread the grain around as it came out of the elevator and walked around on it to pack it down. The load of headings, as they were called, was hauled to a stack yard, often by a wooden granary, and pitched off with pitchforks onto a stack to await the threshing machine. One farmer, J.R. Pugmire, had nets in his header boxes and a derrick so the whole load could be lifted off and onto the stack much quicker and easier than with a pitchfork. A harvesting crew usually consisted of enough workers to man two or three header boxes, so as to keep the header cutting while others were unloading. Each farmer did not have all the equipment for harvesting so those who did usually did custom cutting and exchanged work. My father owned a header and also a threshing machine, and did custom work for other nearby farmers. The threshing machine was powered by a steam engine. A long wide leather belt ran between the pulley on the engine to the pulley on the thresher and turned all the wheels and shakers and sieves on the thresher necessary to separate the grain from the straw. All bearings, shafts, and cog wheels, both on the header and the thresher, had to be oiled and greased regularly to keep them from wearing out and having to be replaced.

After the grain was all cut and stacked, a threshing machine made the rounds of each farm to thresh the grain. Usually several men pitched the grain into the thresher. The threshed grain was either run directly into a wooden granary or into a wagon box to be hauled to a granary and shoveled by hand into it. Sometimes it was bagged into burlap sacks from the machine. The grain was usually hauled in wagon boxes to Pegram after the threshing, or at some time later when the price was better, and loaded onto railroad boxcars.

There was no electricity on any of the farms. Kerosene lamps and lanterns provided the light. The farmers mostly raised wheat and some barley. The threshing machines blew the straw into piles, and it was fed to horses in the winter.

Some of the farmers did not have any springs or water on their farm. So they had to haul water in wooden barrels or a metal tank on a wagon for all of their needs, even to water their animals. Joseph Collings had a good spring on his farm, and several of the farmers hauled water from Joe's spring at the head of Bear Hollow.

The most common animals of the area were jack rabbits, coyotes, ground squirrels, badgers, deer, elk, bobcats, cottontail rabbits, and once in awhile, a cougar. There were also pack rats, field mice, horned toads, small lizards, and rattlesnakes. The farmers not only had to contend with weather problems, but ground squirrels and rabbits did a lot of damage to crops. They had to scatter poisoned oats to control the ground squirrels.

Birds of the area were mourning doves, hawks, sage hens or grouse, magpies, bluebirds, robins, little gray birds similar to sparrows, and quail.

The land was mostly rolling hills with some steeper hills and hollows, some too rocky and steep to farm, but suitable for grazing. Some homesteaders claimed the land for grazing only, and later were able to file on more than the original 160 acres some as much as 640 acres. There were a few patches of aspen, pine, and cedar trees, but they were few and far between.

Some of the names given to different areas were Pine Cap, Taylor Meadows, Indian Creek, Wolf Knoll, Cow Hollow, Horse Hollow, Dairy Hollow, Bear Hollow, Currant Hollow, Road Hollow, Sweetwater, Pine Springs, Chokecherry Hollow, and Red Rock Hollow. In Utah: North Eden, South Eden, Black Mountain, North Lake, South Lake, Mecham Hollow, and Rabbit Creek.

In later years others bought larger tracts of land comprised of several of the original farms. Some of those later buyers were: Rodney Ream, Westons from Laketown, Perce and Vern Peterson (who later sold to Frank Gardner, who later sold to DeMar Romrell), Hansen and Haycock, DeVirl Kunz, and Roundys. Jesse and Stephen Earley bought Leo and Chauncey Mattson's land. Louis Tiechert from Cokeville bought a large amount of grazing land.

I have already mentioned the school sections, and in 1948 the State of Idaho decided to sell the two sections in township 16 south. James Pugmire and Ralph Booth bought one of them and LaVoy and Grant Esterholdt bought the other one.

The people who purchased the land after the original homesteaders had lost it had tractors to do the work and combines to harvest the grain, and trucks to haul it to market in Montpelier.

My father was able to homestead an additional 160 acres and later took over homesteading rights from George S. Spencer, the original owner, on 315 acres of grazing land next to my father's property. Part of this 315 acres was in Currant Hollow where there were a lot of aspen trees and several small springs. It was a favorite place for deer, elk, and other animals to hide and find shade in warm weather. Some of the early settlers cut aspen trees in currant hollow for fence posts, and some of those posts lasted for 50 years or more.

Cedar trees made the best posts, and they were quite plentiful in south Eden with a few in other places. The native grasses of the area usually started growing quite early in the spring, and the wild animals, as well as the domestic animals horses, cattle, and sheep did very well on the grasses. Most winters horses could winter out in the hills and come through in fairly good condition.

During the times of the year when we were not using horses for farm work, we turned them out on the open range to the east. Then when we needed them it was my job to ride out and find them and drive them into the corral. Some of them strayed to other parts of the hills and were harder to find. My father lost a lot of horses that had access to straw stacks during the winter. They would scatter the straw around on the snow and then lie down on the straw-covered snow. The warmth of their bodies would melt the snow under them, and when they tried to get up, their backs would be in a hole, and they could not get up.

In later years some of the major oil companies became interested in oil and natural gas exploration and did a lot of seismography in the area. Standard Oil drilled a well a little west of Road Hollow on land belonging to Louis Tiechert and went down over 8,000 feet. They claimed they found nothing and plugged the hole and abandoned it. However, Louis told me that they bought a right-of-way from the drill site to the El Paso natural gas pipeline that goes through the area towards the Bear River and Pegram. El Paso had previously run a natural gas pipeline from southern Colorado to the Pacific Northwest, and it goes across the flats.

In 1986 Congress established the Conservation Reserve Program to help curtail erosion on erodable farm land and reduce the over supply of grain being produced. Farmers could seed their land to grass and alfalfa, not to be grazed or harvested, and receive a payment from the government each year for ten years. Much of the dry farm land on the flats is now in this program.

Several people found the area a good place to raise turkeys. Raymond and Elaine Webb bought the Elmer Parker farm and raised 2,100 turkeys there in 1945. Rodney Ream bought the J.R. Pugmire farm and raised 10,000 turkeys a year for several years. Dr. C.O. Moore came in possession of the Lyman Nelson and Milford Murphy farms and raised turkeys. My brother, Horsley, worked for him and also for Rodney Ream raising turkeys. The turkeys could be moved around onto new ground often where they could eat grasshoppers and other insects as well as the feed they were given.

When the land was not farmed for a number of years, the sagebrush soon grew back and was usually thicker than it had been originally.

The rock quarry at the head of Indian Creek was where the pioneers obtained the red sandstone rock to build the Paris Tabernacle in the 1880's. Other rock quarries near there and along the lake ridge south of there produced many beautifully colored sandstone flat rocks that were used in building churches, houses, fireplaces and monuments.

Before the day of the automobile, the farmers would have to go to a town with team and buggy or wagon for supplies. There was a country store in Pegram, owned by Levi Aland. He later sold it to Richard Sleight who later sold it to Stanley Hill. My father would either go to Pegram, a distance of six miles, or to Paris, a distance of 25 miles. He took his plowshares to Paris to be sharpened either by blacksmith Peter Grandy or Bob Rosen. He bought parts for the header at Shepherd Hardware in Paris or Thiel and Olsen Brothers in Montpelier. After he bought a Model T Ford, it was easier and quicker to make the trips to town.

I remember going up the road in Indian Creek with the Model T when the water in the radiator would boil, and we would stop at the little spring by the side of the road to put more water in and take more with us to put in after we got to the top of the dugway. Sometimes it was necessary to stop along the road to fix a flat tire, and we always had to have a jack and tools to get the tire off. We also carried along patching material to patch the inner tube and a tire pump to put air back into the tire.

My father would move the family out to the farm in the spring after school was out along with enough supplies to last for awhile. We would stay there until school started in the fall except for trips back and forth for special occasions or to get needed things. Our nearest neighbors were Joseph Collings and Milando Rich who had cabins down in Bear Hollow about a half mile away

I enjoyed life out there and was glad to help with the work, as well as being able to hunt and shoot jack rabbits and shoot and trap ground squirrels. It was my job to bring in the cows for milking and to take the milk and cream down to Joe's spring to put it in the cold water and to carry water up the hill for household use. I also helped to pile brush and burn it and to haul rocks and repair fences. I am probably the only descendant of any of the original homesteaders who still owns land in that area.

One more thing I need to include before this history is complete is to tell about my experiences in raising bum (orphaned) lambs. There were some sheepmen who would run a herd of sheep in the area east of our farm during the lambing season in May. Oron Quayle had sheep in the Horse Hollow area, and I used to go there on a horse and ask the herder if he had any bum lambs. These were lambs that the ewe refused to claim, or maybe one of triplets, or even one of twins if the herder felt like the ewe could not raise both. The herder would give me the lambs, and I would raise them on the bottle. Some years I would raise ten or twelve of them.

Later Stanley and Guy Hill had a herd of sheep in the area. William Brimhall also leased some of the farm land that was not being farmed and ran sheep on it during the spring. He did his herding on foot, walking through the sagebrush. I remember him telling me that he had picked as many as 70 wood ticks off from his clothes and body in one day.

George S. Spencer had a claim on land on the lake ridge and had a herd of sheep. He took sick with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and died, and his family sold his claim to Russell Satterthwaite from Garden City.

Written by:
John W. Spencer

Used by permission of
Marie Spencer Searle (daughter)
26 October 26, 2010









 

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