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Keyser shares recollections of life on the ranch

Dale Keyser, 2006

Longtime rancher Dale Keyser was born on February 1, 1919, on his family's ranch in northwestern Haakon County. Keyser says his birth is recorded as February 12, because that was the day his father hitched up the team to go to Philip for supplies. When his father got to the courthouse in Philip, the birth was recorded as the current date.

Keyser is the youngest of six children born to Clarence and Effie Keyser. He went to the Roosevelt School for nine years and had six weeks of high school. He left school to help at home. "I've had on-the-job-training ever since," he says.

"In 1933, we droughted out pretty bad," Kesyer says. He and his brother trailed 50 head of horses to Mankato, Minnesota, where their uncle lived. He was 14 at the time. The trip took 16 days. "People were going to charge us," Keyser says of putting up the horses overnight. "We never paid a penny and usually the lady of the house would send us a lunch." He says he wore the same clothes the whole trip. "I didn't feel that dirty," he laughs.

Kesyer's father died in 1934, when Dale was 15. He took over the ranch his parents had homesteaded on back in 1906, though the papers weren't filed until 1907.

In 1937, Keyser met his wife, Mary Wolf, who was clerking at the Hilland store. They married in 1938 and raised four children on the ranch: Marlene, Gary, Kirby, and Pam. All four attended the same school as their father, Roosevelt, but Keyser says by then it had been moved two miles.

Keyser remembers when Pam was born in 1952, Mary went to the Quinn hospital. He said it was February when he took her in, and there was a tremendous amount of snow. He wasn't able to get back to Quinn right away. The baby was a week old when he found out she'd been born. He said at that time, cows were worth about $300. He had ordered a new car, which cost $2,400. The doctor bill for the baby was $64.00.

"It was usual to work horses until about '46, just after the war was over," Keyser recalls. He bought his first new tractor in 1949: a John Deere B with a comfort cover and lights. He bought his first car used in 1935 for $350. His first new car he bought in 1938 for $800.

The family had a big garden and raised chickens and ate their own beef. Keyser says even in the midst of the Depression they never went hungry.

Keyser grew up in the time when horses were transportation, lights came from kerosene lamps, and communication was visiting in person. Keyser is the only surviving charter member of Golden West Telephone Cooperative. Telephone service came to his ranch about 1956. They got electricity in 1955 and their first black and white television in 1957.

Entertainment in Keyser's youth was a dance at the Grindstone or Cottonwood Hall, or a picture show in Quinn. He said he and Mary would go to Quinn to the pictures, which cost 15 cents. Often they wouldn't know what the movie would be until they got there, but he remembers once it starred Abbot and Costello. Sometimes there would be a dance afterward.

Keyser says the biggest change he has seen in ranching over the years is the equipment. "As a kid, the biggest mower we had was five foot," Keyser remembers. "You were in the same place at noon as when you started." He says now, mowers are as big as 20 feet, tractors pull the equipment instead of horses, and hay is rolled up in big round bales instead of stacked.

Coping with drought is different now, too. Keyser said in the '30s there was no way to move hay where it was needed, although he does think the water situation then wasn't as bad as now as far as dry dams.

A big part of Keyser's ranching life has been going to livestock auctions. "I'm a regular alcoholic about going to the sale," he says. "That's part of my life. I've always been interested in buying and selling cattle." He and the late Dick Kjerstad used to attend sales together. He has gone to many sales at Philip, Ft. Pierre, Highmore, Faith, Belle Fourche, and years ago to Wall when the town had a sale barn.

Another change Keyser has seen is the loss of population in the country. He said as a kid, his closest neighbor was three-quarters of a mile away. Now it's two miles. He said the mailman used to go 20 miles north of his place, and now his ranch is the end of the route.

Keyser lives in Wall now, but he goes out to the ranch often and still does some chores. At 87, he is still in good health. He's had heart surgery and two new knees. "They say I've lasted so long 'cause I never used my head much," Keyser laughs.

Next year, his ranch will officially be 100 years old, in time for the centennial celebrations in both Wall and Philip, the communities where he has spent his long and active life.