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Wm. Percy Kneeshaw: Prominent Farmer And Cattleman


Rick Clow


Kneeshaw is a well known name in the Red River Valley,not only because Judge Wm. James Kneeshaw was a lawyer and Judge in Pembinacounty for forty-three years but because his son Percy was a progressivefarmer and cattleman in the Red River Valley. He helped build it into theprosperous farming area it is today.

Wm. Percy Kneeshaw was born August 22, 1885, to Mr. andMrs. Wm. James Kneeshaw in Pembina, North Dakota. Although his father wasa lawyer and judge, he had a lot of land and livestock. They had a lot ofhorses on the farm and Percy, as he was called, learned to love them. Oneday when Percy was only fifteen years old, the kids told him there weresome new horses in town. A couple of old men brought a bunch of horses upfrom Texas to sell. While Percy was looking them over his eye caught a goodlooking little bronco. He was the smallest horse there. He asked the manhow much he wanted for him. The man said he was twelve years old but heshould be worth $25.00. Percy said, "I'll buy him." Percy didn'thave a cent on him. He went up to his father's law office and told him hehad bought a horse for $25.00; his father handed him the money.

Percy went across the street and bought a saddle and bridle,went down and paid for his horse and took him home. The man said it wassaddle broke but because it was a bronco he wasn't sure about riding it.His older brother Jim said he would ride him. With everybody watching him,he jumped on. The horse took off like lightning with Jim staying on untilit stopped. Jim flew up in the air and off. He walked back to the house.Percy said "I've got to ride him," so he got on that very night.He was plenty peppy but Percy stayed on. From then on that was his ridinghorse. Percy called his horse Strawberry because it was roan colored.

In 1906, when Percy was only 20 years old, he decided tostrike out for himself. He had read all about the open grazing land in Alberta,Canada that could be homesteaded. Two older men decided they'd go with him.They were his Uncle Myur Kneeshaw and an old friend, Jack Little. He drovehis forty head of cattle and 6 horses and three hound dogs to Emerson, Manitoba.He loaded them on the C.P.R. train. This was the only train that went westfrom Winnipeg at that time. It went north from Emerson to Winnipeg, westto Calgary and unloaded his animals. He and his buddies herded his cattleeast until they came to a place they liked best. It had two springs of wateron it. He set up his homestead there. It was at Delbourne, Alberta. It isabout 45 miles east of Innisfail.

At first they just slept in a tent but he bought a loghouse from the man who had built it near his land because he was movingaway. It was a well built log cabin. Some of the logs that were built intothe walls were twenty-two inches in diameter.

These logs were from the spruce trees that grew by theRed Deer River which was only six miles away. The roof was made from logsalso, with a layer of sod on top, which made it very waterproof. It hadthree glass windows in it. The cabin was thirty-three feet long by seventeenfeet wide. In 1907, he moved this cabin, log by log and rebuilt it on hisown property.

Percy made a couple of trips back home to visit his folksand court his girl friend, Myrtle Gilroy. He married Myrtle on February17, 1908 and took her back with him to his homestead in Delbourne, Alberta.They took the train to Winnipeg and were going to go right on to Delbournebut a blizzard hit Manitoba, so they spent a three day honeymoon in Winnipeg.

A daughter, Catherine,. was born to them at Delbourne in1910. Their son William, better known as Buster, was born in 1915 at Delbourne.

Percy had a hundred head of cattle in 1910 when the droughthit that area. He had to sell them all except the milk cows as there wasn'tenough feed for them. He bought sheep as they could live off dry land thatthe cattle couldn't. He raised sheep until 1915; then he sold them and boughtcattle again as the pasture was again green enough for them.

In 1918, when the drought hit again, Percy had 852 headof cattle. He decided this time he would drive them north where there wasgood pasture for them. It was open to anybody that wanted to put their cattleout on the open range there. He rented a house in one of the small towns.He had to stay two and one half years before he had good pasture on hishomestead again. He didn't have much trouble watching his cattle on theopen range.

He didn't even check them at night. He only had to checkto see they didn't leave the range country. There were no fences and onlythe railroad tracks to the west to keep them from roaming. All his cattlewere branded with his -J. K brand. At the end of the two and a half yearswhen they were shipped to market, none of the cattle he took up there weremissing. One had strayed and a man brought her back when he saw the -J.K brand. One had to be shot though because she had a broken leg. So he hadthe 852 head besides the calves that were born there.

Back at the homestead, he decided to go into cattle raisingwith two other ranchers, Billy Smith. and La Rice Smith. They made goodand shipped three times one year even though they only got $12.45 a hundredpounds which was the top price then and one shipment alone brought them$42,000.00. It was divided three ways.

In 1926, even though Percy didn't want to, he sold allhis cattle and moved back to Pembina because his father needed him. Risingtaxes on his land was taking a lot of his salary because he was gettingso little return from his renters. He thought that by turning his land overto his son they could both profit by it. The only thing Percy shipped backto Pembina were some horses. He loaded them at Innisfail. When they arrived,he put them in his pasture but one black mare got away and he couldn't findher. Seven years later he got a letter from a man saying he had found ablack mare with his -J. K brand. This mare was found only a few miles fromInnisfail. She had traveled over a thousand miles.

When Percy took over his father's land, he realized hewould have to raise sheep to make money. He rented more land west of Jolietteto take care of his increasing flock. Later on he bought this land for $360.25.

In 1927, Percy decided to plow up some of the land thatwas covered with quack grass, and grow crops on it. He bought a John Deere;Tractorfor $800.00, a Rock Island Wheaton plow for $275.00 and a Mullins Drillfor $120.00. He plowed up the 50 acres of quack grass that summer when itwas in full bloom. The next spring he seeded it with flax. He got twentybushels of flax to the acre that year. At $4.00 a bushel he made a goodprofit. That fall he plowed up to 120 acres. Percy was able to keep hisland during the depression years and even bought more land. When he retiredhe had thirteen quarters which he turned over to his son Buster. After retirement,Percy still took an active interest. in the farm up until 1970, but by thenhe was eighty-five years old.

Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Percy Kneeshaw will celebrate their sixty-fourthwedding anniversary next month. They are both healthy and spry for theirage and their memory clear.

The Kneeshaw name will be known in. the Red River Valleyfor a long time to come because Percy's son and grandsons are followingin their fathers and grand-fathers footsteps in being some of the best farmersand cattlemen in the Red River valley.


Kneeshaw, Wm. Percy, Pembina, North Dakota (Interview -January11, 1972)



Kneeshaw, Wm. Percy, Pembina, North Dakota (Interview -January11, 1972)