Could the best of us measure up to Olive Reamer? I don’t think soOlive Reamer, 5-foot 2-and 112 pounds, was an attractive widow 26 years of age. Her children, Olive, Vala and Louis were 5-, 4- and 1-year-old, respectively, when Olive learned of the drowning death of her trapper husband. She had received the bad news in a telegram from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
Olive Reamer, 5-foot 2-and 112 pounds, was an attractive widow 26 years of age. Her children, Olive, Vala and Louis were 5-, 4- and 1-year-old, respectively, when Olive learned of the drowning death of her trapper husband. She had received the bad news in a telegram from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
When Olive learned of her husband’s death, it rocked her. She desperately wanted to sit down and cry, but she refused to display weakness in front of the children. She had too big a task in front of her, and she decided on the spot that she would hold her family together.
The Reamers lived in a small log cabin on a 160-acre British Columbia homestead. Neighbors were scarce. They had a dog but no livestock. Other than garden space, none of the land was cleared. She didn’t have the money for a box of groceries, and they were 27 seven miles from the nearest town. The year was 1928. To survive she would have to bring them through the coming “Great Depression.”
What Olive did have was determination, mental and physical toughness, the skills she learned as the wife and daughter of a trapper, some basic tools, a .22 rifle, and a .30-30 Model 94 Winchester with a few rounds of ammunition. Olive also had pride. She could have taken government relief money, about twelve dollars a month for the four of them, but handouts were not a part of Olive’s survival equation.
Fortunately for Olive, there were potatoes in the ground. She traded the promise of potatoes to the local Indians for a dugout canoe hewn from a large cottonwood. Olive wasn’t the only resourceful person on the land. Between the garden, grouse, rabbits and moose meat from the neighbors, Olive and her children survived their first winter without a husband and father.
The garden veggies hadn’t ripened yet when the Reamer’s food supply gave out in July 1929. Though Olive feared the game warden, she hoped she might be treated like the miners who could take a moose for personal use when needed. She decided that an out-of-season moose hunt would be their salvation, and she possessed the canning skills and hardware necessary to put up the meat without waste.
Olive loaded the kids, the .30-30, the .22, and some gear into the canoe and headed up the Stuart River. They soon came on a cow and calf moose feeding in the water, but Olive would neither shoot nor orphan the calf. For some long minutes it appeared that the cow might charge, but the cow eventually led the calf to deeper water and disappeared on the opposite bank. The Reamer family moved on.
A half-mile later, Olive landed the canoe, loaded Louie and her gear “piggy back” style, and led the girls up a game trail with rifle in hand. Like any kids, they began to complain that they were hungry. Over the next hour, Olive took some artificial flies and a hand line, caught some trout, and fixed a shore lunch for the family. You can bet that these kids didn’t whine about not liking fish.
The afternoon hunt was fruitless other than a grouse Olive killed with a .22 when they returned to the canoe. As Olive paddled away from the bank, she saw up river in the distant shadows what looked like the back of a moose feeding in the water. After stealthily moving the canoe forward, she told the kids to put their heads down and cover their ears. When the yearling bull raised his head, she gave him a dose of .30-30 lead in the shoulder. He stumbled to the shore, where she finished him with a shot to the head.
Years later, Olive stated that dressing and loading that moose into her canoe, especially in the time she had, was one of the most difficult things she ever had to do. Before paddling home, Olive made a fire and boiled some grouse and moose for supper. The broth went into a bottle for baby Louie.
The stories “She Had to Have a Moose” and “The Wolves Were the Worst” appear in the book Danger by Ben East. It is an Outdoor Life publication. The stories relate many of Olive Reamer’s experiences that are as interesting as what I’ve told you today.
Of all her encounters, what impressed me the most about Olive Reamer was the 88-mile round trip walk she made in mid-winter for groceries and supplies. On her return trip, Olive (remember her size) carried three pairs of rubbers, eight pounds of oatmeal, three pounds of rice, five pounds of beans, five pounds of sugar, and a three-pound pail of strawberry jam in her backpack. She did this with wolves on her heels part of the way.
Olive raised and educated her children (the baby died), purchased cattle and horses, cleared her land and happily married in later life.
Are men or women like Olive Reamer gone today? I doubt that anyone could accomplish what Olive did other than perhaps the people who inhabit some of Russia’s remote Siberian villages.
Could absolute necessity force us into a situation where we could be an Olive Reamer if we had to? We might have the willingness, but do we have the skills? I remember my mom and dad canning fruits, vegetables and meat in the kitchen, but I don’t know how to do it. Many people my age remember the canning days.
Another problem. We are not as physically fit as Olive Reamer. Olive, at 112 pounds, carried a 30-pound backpack 44 miles through a British Columbia winter. She wore minimal clothing. I weigh 275 pounds. A backpack proportionate to Olive’s would weigh 75 pounds. I hate to think about even lifting it!
Let’s hope and pray we are never tested as Olive Reamer was. For many native South Dakotans of pioneer stock, their great grandmothers were Olive Reamers. If you would enjoy more Olive Reamer, let me know.
*See you next week.