“I got an Aberdeen Angus bull calf from Slim Gooding to breed up my herd. I didn’t have any money to pay for it at the time, but he never pushed me until I was able.”
Again and again they told me, “You should get the story of Slim Gooding. He did more to promote the raising of good stock and helped more people get started than anyone else in the early days. He was pretty careful who he sold to. You felt pretty proud when you got one of his cattle.”
Getting the story became a challenge, for Slim wasn’t one for publicity. “What was his real first name”, we would ask. “I don’t think I ever knew”, was the answer, until we found some of his relatives. His name was Fenton. Although we heard stories a-plenty about him, about his neighborliness, his scrupulous honesty and integrity. How he walked to Hudson’s Hope in the deep snow, carrying a heavy load in bitter cold to pay a debt on time. We heard of his wonderful garden, kept scrupulously weed-free. Someone remarked on his planting quick germinating radish seeds in his slower starting seed rows, so that he could start cultivating as soon as possible. We were told of his generosity, for he grew far more garden stuff on his fertile river flat than he would ever need, and shared with his neighbors as well as supplying packtrains and survey parties.
Because Slim was famous for his favorite delicacy — hominy — we must assume that he was ripening corn on the flats –probably a Peace-produced hybrid. Hominy was a staple food from earliest pioneer times in the mid-west United States. Ripe corn kernels were rubbed off the cobs, whole, and soaked for a time in a weak lye solution made by leaching water through wood ashes. The lye bleached the yellow shell of the kernel, and acted on the starch of the seed which swelled up to double its size, or more. Then the kernels must be washed, over and over, until the lye was completely gone. For winter use, the kernels were thoroughly dried until they rattled.
If not used immediately after the washing process, the dried kernels were soaked overnight in cold water, then boiled or simmered for hours on the back of wood stove. When done, a firm, white, rather gelatinous-looking kernel had no raw starch in the centre. If drained, and packed in a loaf pan to cool, it could be sliced and fried to eat with butter and syrup. Otherwise it was eaten hot with milk, like porridge. Outdoor men said, “it stuck to your ribs.” A small-girl dishwasher also knew that it stuck to the pot! It tasted like flour paste. Not everyone shared his enthusiasm for it. However, Slim’s corn and other vegetables and fruit establish him as a founder of the now-thriving market garden industry along the Peace River. Also, as well as harvesting the prairie patches of native grass, he was said to be the first to grow the cultivated grasses on a large scale, not only for himself but to supply other ranchers along the river.
Gooding was, to say the least, versatile. He had many interests but his chief love was the fine Black Aberdeen Angus cattle, and the beautiful big Percheron horses that he brought into the country. As well, he raised Morgan horses for saddle and driving stock. Although some of the old ranchers say that their backs were too short for the hilly ranges along the river, there was plenty of use for the gentle, willing and intelligent horses.
Besides his special stock, Slim also bred a large number of broncos for packtrains and for the rodeos and stampedes that were (and still are) annual affairs. His most active and rambunctious steer calves regularly turned up for the same events.
For that matter, so did Slim. Although he was a competent enough cowboy to have ridden creditably in the early Calgary Stampedes, he undertook year after year that most dangerous of all positions, the “clown” in the bucking horse ring, upon whose nerve and skill the safety of bronco-busters depend after each ride. For years he took on the job at the Dawson Creek event, after driving his broncos and steers from the river. On those occasions his own flat, English-style saddle was a curiosity, and gave some people the impression that he was an Englishman. For regular roping and breaking purposes, he conformed to Western custom and necessity by having a brass “horn” built into one of his favorite flat saddles.
They say that Slim generally rode a mule – -a rather eccentric combination of a gentleman’s saddle and a plebian mount. Slim was a trifle eccentric and so was one, at least, of his mule-breeding stock — the jack burro he bought from somebody around East Pine, probably the Wartenbes who are known to have had some.
Ray Fell remembers vividly his feelings on this first encounter with this animal. He and another young fellow, “Slim” Jorgenson had accompanied Slim Gooding home from Fort St. John, and not being acquainted with a mule’s vocal repertoire, were considerably shaken up when the long-eared jackass saluted his homecoming master with a raucous “fanfare” and a galloping approach. It was “Ozzie” Bentley, who most vividly remembers his earliest acquaintance with the rambunctious animal.
“That jack was one of only two animals I saw in all my years of ranching that wouldn’t or couldn’t swim. I was just a kid at the time. I’d driven some cattle for my dad over to Al Lamont’s place at Murphy’s Corners. Milo Durney came along driving some packhorses beyond East Pine and he offered me a couple of dollars to help him. On the way back, along came Al, trying to take a jack burro over to Slim Gooding. There was no bridge there and for a day and a half he’d been trying to get that burro to swim. So he hired me to come along behind and smarten him up. Al’s mare would swim, but the burro just walked into the water on the end of a thirty-foot lead rope — and kept on walking. He went under, head and all. That was no place to fool around untying the rope from the pommel, so we just kept on going. Pretty soon up comes the burro on his side, apparently drowned. Only part of his side was above water. We got him out on the gravel shore. Along comes a settler for a pail of water.
“What shall I do with him?” says Al.
“Haul him over to the manure pile. When I load up the stone boat I’ll haul him over there on the flat.” Al took off, hauling the burro over the cobblestones on the end of the rope. Al’s old mare got tired and stopped. The old man looks at the burro — and he’s blinking his eyes.
“Hey! He likes that,” says the settler. “Give him some more.” So we did. About the third time the mare stopped, the burro belched a little wind and a little water, and then got up on his feet and shook the water off his coat. I guess pulling him over the rocks was like artificial respiration, or maybe he’d just been holding his breath. After a couple of hour’s rest, Al took off with him. And that’s the animal that fathered all of Slim’s mules.
Mules were sought after for packing because they were more surefooted, not subject to sickness, and very clever at sensing a dangerous condition on the trail, and refusing to cross it.
Visitors to Gooding’s place were also put to flight from time to time by Slim’s rambunctious billy — for he also raised goats. We have not been able to find out whether he kept them for their milk or for sale to settlers. Both milk and kid or nanny goat flesh is palatable if the animal is stall fed on proper feed. Besides, a goat will give milk for two years without the nanny being bred, and the milk has saved many an infant who was allergic to cow’s milk.
As well as goats, Slim raised sheep for wool and meat. Some old-timers state that having goats running with the sheep helped keep coyotes and perhaps other predators away from the flock.
As a very young man, Ray Fell and another young fellow, Slim Jorgenson, visited Slim’s layout, having joined him in Fort St. John. It turned cold. There were several inches of snow on the ground and Slim was on foot. Young as they were, they were hard put to it to keep up with the older man’s long legs and steady gait. They crossed the Peace in Slim’s dugout canoe, and slogged on through the snow, to arrive about suppertime. They successfully outmaneuvered the rambunctious billy goat and jackass, and waited in the house for their host to appear. Slim had no wife — so they waited and waited, and waited some more. About eleven he appeared, having gone straight from the gate to take care of his animals. Slim was astounded that they had not yet eaten. After all the makings were all there. Ray didn’t say whether Slim made a meal for them or only for himself. The older man, a perfectionist in all his occupations, was probably thinking to himself — “Trifling people!”, which was his name for the idle or inept.
In time Slim succumbed to modern methods, but kept his “Black beauties” on pasture. For farm use, he bought a tractor. It brought tragedy one day, for when moving up the old trail from Bear Flats to his ranch when the road was icy, the machine went over the bank. Frank Gooding was found pinned underneath.