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Robert Heslep

I left Oklahoma from a little town called Boley; came to Edmonton in March 1912. I was looking out for a home - matter of fact, I was here about a year. The spring, summer, and fall passed and it tightened down for winter; and when they told me what winter was like I decided I'd better get back down home. I thought Edmonton was a pretty wide open place, which it was, and I liked it very much - but I was still shaky about the weather. So on the 22nd of December 1912, I packed my bags and said goodbye to the people here that I met. They asked me if I was going to come back and I said I didn't think so.
Anyway I knew the Carothers from back in Texas, Hezekiah Carothers, and I met him in the city. He had been out on the homestead and he came in to work - to make himself a grubstake to go back to on the homestead with. He said, "Come on and go out home with me and but ourselves a claim," that's a homestead, so I suggested that in the meantime I'd be able to meet my aunt, Mrs. Sam Carothers. We drove out with an ox team; that was quite an experience. My grandfather told his sons and grandsons, including myself, how he drove oxen when he was settling in Western Texas. They called themselves "wagoner's" - they call them "freighters" now. Here's an opportunity - now I can experience some of my grandfather's stories, that's what I thought. We left here Monday afternoon, arrived at his homestead the following Saturday at noon.
The trail we followed was a freight trail from Edmonton through Athabasca, to Lac La Biche, up to Fort McMurray. They had stopping places in those days; they're called motels now. We went along through north Edmonton - the old Fort Saskatchewan trail then you get away out there on the trail to Gibbons, then east to Fort Saskatchewan. When we left north Edmonton it started to rain. So between the flies, the mud, the rain, and the mosquitoes, it was quite a trip.
Our first stop was Sturgeon River. We drove in there about one o'clock Monday night. Mulligan operated this place. Everybody was asleep. They had a buck house for the travellers. Hez tied his oxen team beside the stable, climbed up in the loft and pushed down some hay. We took our grub boxes and blankets and went into the bunk house. There were no other stoppers in there at that time, but just us. We found a stove there, a pile of wood, and there was no bedding. We laid our blankets there and fell asleep. Next morning, before we got up, the old gentleman came around, opened the door and came in to see was there anything we needed and to check us out and so forth. We told him we had everything; we thought we had everything we needed. When we were making up the party to leave we thought we should buy some grub for our lunch bucket. I asked Hez what we needed. We bought, I think it was, a three pound tin of strawberry jam, two loaves of bread, and we had four quarts of gin.
We left pretty early - after we made some breakfast, of course. We took a round of gin too; that would help us, we thought. It rained all the time. We went on to the next stopping place. They called it the half-way stopping place; it was out near Clyde. I was beginning to get hungry, then I began to want more that gin and jam. We met other travellers coming from Athabasca Landing, so it was called those days, coming to Edmonton for more supplies. We had a good meal. The old lady there - she had her family - she cooked a good meal and I had a good feed; it cost me thirty-five cents. So from there we went to the next stop; I think it was Colinton. It was the fourth of July. On the trail we discovered there were some Americans settled around Colinton and they were celebrating the fourth of July. We pulled in there about 12 o'clock, tied up our bulls to a tree and went down there. They were dancing and fiddling. They had a brush arbor; there were boards down on the ground for the dance floor and lanterns hanging around for light. They were dancing and fiddling. We had a chance to join them and we did, until morning.
We pulled into Stocks. There were some colored folks out there; there was an old bachelor named Mills, so we pulled in at his place; we were home again for an hour or two. Saturday we fooled around there, cooked, and got together pretty good meals. The about noon we went on in to old Carothers' place. We went out one day; they were trying to help me locate a homestead claim. We went down in the bush following a trail, a surveyed trail like. We walked over a quarter here, a quarter there, a quarter here, a quarter there. A peg was right in the centre, with the numbers of each quarter marked on the rod in the ground. I didn't make too much choice. Right across the section line was another vacant quarter so I thought I would, by proxy, file this quarter for my father. I came on down to the land office then. I had the numbers of each quarter and paid ten dollars each for two homesteads - that was the fee. I put the claims in my pocket; thought I would never use them but to satisfy my auntie and uncle. Of course they wanted to be sure I would use the claims, and I did.
I came on back and got a job in Athabasca. There was only one restaurant in Athabasca at that time; so got a job working in the kitchen - washing dishes and preparing vegetables and things like that. At night I would go back to the tent and sleep, then go to work the next morning. I worked there one month, then caught an empty freighter coming to Edmonton. I looked for a job here in the city; meanwhile I did a few small jobs. Through all that time they gave me the name of Lean Texas Slim - that's what they called me.
We started out at fifteen cents an hour. He told me I was getting a raise of two and one half cents, then I would get seventeen and one half cents an hour. So anyway, we went on from there. I left Swift's near Christmas time; the poultry season was pooped out, I guess. It was wintertime; everything was sealed up. If you didn't have an inside job, or had saved up some money, you were in trouble. There was no work - nothing moving through the winter, nothing - only inside work. If you were a shoeshine boy in a barber shop, or working in a restaurant you were on gravy. Matter of fact, I never worked for anybody until I came here. I was at home until I was twenty-one years old. I think I was in Edmonton for my twenty-first birthday. Well, I lay around a while and played pool down on Kinestina Avenue, 96th Street, then I went home the next day after Christmas.
I was the first one in that area they had known who had ever been to Canada and returned. Naturally, when I got back to Boley they would gather around me. If they heard somebody say something about Canada the crowd would get larger. They blocked traffic there for a while. This man came back from Canada and they wanted to hear more about it; they had read about it. I was the first one to return. I was the goat then, or I don't know what you'd call it, I couldn't go anyplace without a crowd following me.
Dad was getting rather serious - he had listened to me - so one day he asked me, "Lucky," he called me "Lucky," "what do you think about going back up there?"
"No, I wouldn't go back unless you and mother go back." That struck him pretty hard, you know, I could tell it. He was doing fairly well, you know. He wanted me out of there for more than one reason, but he wasn't wanting to come himself because, as I said, he was doing quite well. Towards March he made up his mind. He didn't want to come, but he wanted me away because the racial stuff was getting pretty bad there, close around the neighbourhood. Then everybody went prepared, armed, and so was I; everybody else was doing it so I did it also. He knew that it was coming up to probably trouble. He wanted me out. Finally he made up his mind.

Excerpted from Window of Our Memories.Reprinted with the kind permission of Velma Carter.

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