A Long Line of Experience
For a man in his mid-thirties, Pete Jenkins can draw from a lot of experience. Pete’s people have been raising and marketing cattle in Western Canada since the days of Sam Steele and Jerry Potts.
Pete’s great-grandfather Dr. Henry H. Jenkins hailed from Prince Edward Island, and joined the North West Mounted Police in 1885. During the North West Rebellion he was posted at the Metis community near Sitting Bull’s old haunt at Wood Mountain. He was Sergeant of the Guard during Louis Riel’s trial and hanging in Regina, then returned to Wood Mountain Post as the veterinarian. In 1888 Henry was transferred to Ft. Macleod and upon his discharge in 1890 he established the Jenkins Ranche 28 miles south of Pincher Creek on land that borders Waterton Lakes National Park. Pete’s grandfather Stephen reared his four children there. Two of his sons, Tom and Bob remained on the ranch and ran a highly successful purebred Hereford operation, selling bulls internationally.
On the maternal side, Pete’s great-grandfather David White emigrated from Ireland in 1884, joined the NWMP in 1885 and was posted to Regina during the Rebellion. He was a mounted guard when Riel met his fate. The following year he was transferred to Maple Creek. In 1890 when David’s five-year hitch was up he commenced ranching on the north slope of the Cypress Hills. That ranch is now home to fourth and fifth generation family; Pete’s grandmother, Alberta (better known as Rufus) was born there. She married Harry Dimmock and they owned a cow outfit south of Tompkins. Pete’s mother Frances grew up there. She became a school marm and taught in Pincher Creek where she met and married Tom Jenkins.
Tom and Frances raised their family on the Jenkins Ranche and Pete, the youngest of three children, wanted nothing more than to be a cowboy and rancher. While still a teenager he went to Nevada cowboyin’ for a long-time bull customer. To this day, when Pete picks up a lariat you can see the Nevada buckaroo influence.
In the late 1990s with several family members claiming an interest in the ranch the Jenkins clan realized that they couldn’t carry on the way it was. Everyone agreed that the land had to be protected from a modern day invasion (wind farms and recreational use or development) so in 2001 the place was sold to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Bob and his daughter Jen leased it back and they continue to raise purebreds on the old place. Tom, Frances and Pete went shopping. Tom recalled his Grandpa Henry’s diary stating there was good ranch country around Wood Mountain. As fate would have it, there was a place for sale south of Glentworth, or 13 miles west of the old Post, they bought it.
Shortly after they moved to the new place Pete took in the festivities at the annual Wood Mountain Stampede. That’s where he met a rancher’s daughter named Jill Mastad; she lived just nine miles west of his new home. Like Pete, Jill is a fourth generation cowhand and she’d just graduated as a Certified Vet Tech. She had a summer job at Wood Mountain Post Provincial Historic Park. By fall, Pete could have driven to the Post blindfolded. The new ranch has two houses; that came in real handy when they tied the knot in 2002. Pete continued to work with his parents while Jill worked part time at vet clinics in Assiniboia and Rockglen?—?she still does. Their sons, Tyson and Cuyler, were born in 2005 and ’07.
Pete had some cows of his own and his parents brought their cattle with them; together they ran the whole herd commercially. Over the years their herd became blacker but they still buy bulls from Bob and Jen to keep a white face on them.
Pete and Jill do their cow work with horses and after Tyson arrived he went along too, riding on a rolled-up saddle blanket behind the saddle horn in front of either Mom or Dad. When Cuyler joined the crew he got the saddle blanket and Pete or Jill led a horse for Tyson. Nowadays the boys enjoy riding, whether it’s cow work or just chasing each other around?—?and sometimes it’s both.
Pete tries to schedule cow work so his family can help but there’s times when it’s just Pete and a posse of Border Collies. For his morning ride during calving season he’s always got three dogs with him and they listen and work well. Pete’s DNA would reveal several old-time cowboy traits?—?he wouldn’t be caught dead without a jackknife and he knows all of the knots, you often see him with a piece of soft rope practicing tying a special knot or showing an easier one to his kids. Viewing a tractor, a swather, a baler and a truck equipped with a bale deck all parked in the yard one thinks ‘modern-day ranch’ but when you see Pete, Jill and the boys working pairs out of a herd in a fence corner the word ‘traditional’ comes to mind. They break most of their own horses and get the odd mare bred, but they also purchase colts.
When Pete and Jill have a concern they do something about it. Last winter he related, “I can’t see it happening here due to the terrain, but when I look around I think quads are winning the race against horses and that worries me. Jill and I talked about it and we formed a Riding Club last summer. It’s for all the kids in the district and we just help them along and show them that horses are fun.” A moment later he added, “This winter we’ve had a lot of kids ask when we’re starting up again.”
The ranch is located in rugged country and is about 50 per cent native grass, the rest is hay land or tame grazing. Springs and creeks abound in those hills, treed coulees provide shelter and there’s certainly no shortage of wildlife. Ironically, the old NWMP trail stretching from Fort Walsh to Wood Mountain Post crosses their ranch for a mile and a half. Did Pete’s great-grandfather Henry ride that trail? Probably. How about his great-grandfather David? Possibly. Pete often wonders if they knew one another.
Last year Pete and Jill took the plunge and bought out his folks. Knowing that their families have survived every catastrophe served up to the cattle business over the years and that things like mange, dipping vats, the Dirty Thirties, two World Wars and BSE were just bumps in the road, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be ranching until their sons take over. Won’t they have some experience to tap into…