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John Walker  (1840-1928)

by Katie Lacey

Around 1911 or 1912, John Walker came to [Kruger] mountain. Born in Iowa, John had spent some time driving freight team for General Custer, and had then tried wheat farming in the Palouse. The dry years sent him north looking for more fertile land. He had a fine team of young mares, Black Kate and Gray Kate, of which he was very proud, and a Great Dane dog. His cabin he built around a big tree stump, which he used as a table until it rotted away. The cabin had a dirt floor, a sod roof, openings for windows, which served to let out the smoke since he seldom kept the lids on his stove, but in which he put cardboard when the weather was bad. John was a scant five feet tall and weighed no more than 120 pounds. The full-grown dog weighed around 135 or 140 pounds. When the meal was cooked and on the table, the dog would not let John near the table, and John did not eat until the dog was through. Sometimes there would be nothing left, and John would have to cook a second meal, or if the dog was really hungry, a third meal, before he got something to eat. It was no use attempting to bar the dog out, because he would jump in through the windows. There were two bunks built against one wall of the cabin. John always had to take the top one since the dog would beat him to the lower one. These conditions John stood for about three years, and he was getting more afraid of the dog all the time. Finally he talked someone into shooting him. John then got a milk cow. He only took a lard pail of milk from the cow two or three times a week, and let the calf have the rest. He did not believe in drinking fresh milk, and he always had several pails of milk hanging from the ridge-pole in his cabin. It was from the stalest one, well clabbered with a heavy coat of blue mold, that he would eat.

 

The winter of 1927-28 was fairly cold. John, nearing ninety, was getting pretty feeble, but he was still independent. In February, 1928, riders looking for horses reported that he was not around, and no fresh tracks had appeared around his cabin or woodpile since the last snowfall. When we investigated, we found that the cat and the chickens, which he always kept in his cabin in the winter, were frozen. Constable MacDonald at Oliver was notified and the next morning he and Ed Lacey set out to look for John. There was quite a lot of snow and big drifts and after kicking over several anthills they finally found him. He had evidently gone out to look at his horses, and struggling through the drifts had been too much for his heart. He had died just the way he would have wanted, out in the clean snow and on the range he loved. Because of the depth of the snow, a car could not be brought any closer than Richter Pass. On the way there, the men passed several bands of horses. Gray Kate was in one. As they passed by, with John's body loaded on the saddle, frozen stiff and covered with the old, yellow Kansas slicker he had worn for years, Gray Kate whinnied. When she got no answer, she came out of the bunch and stood on a hill, watching them as far as she could see. In the next bunch was Black Kate, who did the same thing. Then Sally, his gray saddlehorse, spied him and came running down the road. She circled the little procession, calling to John and trying to understand why he did not answer or bring her a tid-bit. Coming closer, she muzzled the still form, whinnying softly all the time. She followed the procession for two or three miles. The last they saw of her she was still watching.