story by Gail Woerner Liz was born to Chesley Russell and Irene Faulkner Russell on June 10, 1926 in Clay County, Texas just south of […]
Back When they Bucked with the Schott Family
Written by: Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns< Back to Articles
Imagine trying to escape oppression in Russia during the late 1880’s! After long miserable months on slow, overcrowded vessels your feet touch solid ground only to be herded through Ellis Island, where you discover the only word you can speak that anyone understands is “Oberdauer”. . . something someone in the Old Country told you to remember from a land promoter’s letter. You’d have no way to know speaking that name would get you shuttled to a place named Fredonia, in an Indian reservation along the rocky unforgiving North /South Dakota borderlands. Neither would you know that if you’d said “Schwartzkopff” you’d have been trundled off to Nebraska’s Sandhills country!
Difficult to imagine – yet that’s the history of Harlan Schott’s paternal ancestors. When the Northbound rails disappeared into the prairie grass the Schott family continued their great adventure by loading wagons with provisions and whatever meager belongings survived the voyage. The ferry at Kennell got them across the Missouri River, but they could not ascend the wet gumbo bluffs along the river bottom. For three days and nights the rain continued, swamping the chilled family who waited, huddled together beneath their wagons.
At last they reached Fredonia, where they persevered. Eventually, another generation sprang up. By the time Harlan was big enough to ride, his father owned several hundred horses and was becoming a master horse trader. Only broke horses commanded premium prices, so Harlan had ample opportunity to study for a Ph. D – even go on for his Master’s – in “wild broncmanship.”
It started with riding or driving three and a half miles to school and home again each day. The Maple Leaf School provided a barn for student’s horses. For the cold winter days the elder Schott built what he called a “Whippet” for the girls. Made from the wheels and axle of a Whippet automobile, the cart sported shaves so a single horse could draw it. The girls may even have enjoyed the luxury of a lap robe when weather turned really bitter.
As for the boys, “One of us would ride a gentle horse, one a bronc, and Dad would ride alongside for a quarter mile or so to get us started,” Harlan recalls. He remembers a pretty Palomino mare that took the snaffle in her teeth and flat ran off with his brother . . . but he eventually got her under control without anybody getting hurt, except they overshot the schoolhouse by a mile and a half and were tardy by the time they got back.
He also vividly remembers the blizzard that trapped him (at eight years old) and his horse overnight at an abandoned house about a mile from the school. “The teacher was reluctant to let us go because we could see the storm coming. By the time I made it across the wooden bridge on Oak Creek the storm was a lot worse. I saw the turn to that house, so I headed for it. The doors and windows were gone, but my horse and I found a corner mostly out of the wind. I stood up by his side all night long, moving around and stamping my feet and pounding my hands. He kind’a kept me warm. Dad had told us to never lie down or sit still in a case like that or you might go to sleep and freeze to death. Finally daylight came, and we were still alive. Pretty soon here came old Dash, our English Shepherd. I was sure glad to see him! Then he left, and pretty soon here came Dad, through the storm to get us.”
Along with riding and farming with their many horses, the Schott’s roped off them, to get the branding done and doctor whatever had to be doctored. Harlan admired and wanted to emulate his brothers-in-law Marvin Dietrich and Johnnie Keller, who rodeoed when they came back from the war.
Full story available in our August 15, 2015 issue!