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Dear reader, please indulge me this week as I pay tribute to one of Wyoming’s most remarkable pioneers who recently passed away. Although a Carbon County native and life-long Saratoga area rancher, Ken Olson’s life mirrors all those special Cowboy State pioneers from border to border.

During a memorial Dec. 2, 2017, in the Saratoga Presbyterian Church, friends and family heaped praise upon the local cowboy during the service and in the printed program.

The following article was written by Dick Perue in June of 2014 when Ken was awarded the prestigious Carbon County Pioneer award.

Information was compiled from personal interviews and material provided by friends and relatives of Ken.

Saratoga area native and life-long rancher Ken Olson has been selected as this year’s (2014) Grand Encampment Cowboy Gathering Outfit Carbon County Pioneer.

Ken was born Dec. 2, 1932 on the 4 Bar ranch, now owned by the Kerbs family west of Saratoga, and lived there with his parents Swan and Margaret Olson and younger sister Elva for several years.

The young man attended school in Saratoga, where he sang in the choir and graduated as valedictorian from Platte Valley High School in 1950.

As a youngster, he attended Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church and is now a member of that congregation. Ken attends Bible study and worship service at that church and has been both an elder and deacon, serves on various committees, sings in the choir, plays his fiddle and provides treats for fellowship following worship. 

Ken joined the Army in 1953 and served as a fire control mechanic in Korea during that conflict. Corporal Olson was honorably discharged in 1955 and returned to the family ranch.

During the 1940s, the Olsons operated the Cedar Creek Ranch east of town. In the fall of 1950, they purchased the Pick Ranch and moved their family there. It was home to Ken until 2006 when he sold the property to the TA outfit and purchased a home in Saratoga.

He married a Rawlins girl, Mary Eley, in 1960, and the couple had two children, Pam, now Bartlett, of Saratoga and Dan, who died in 2006. Mary suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years, and Ken faithfully took care of her until her death in 2000. Many folks remember Ken taking Mary to church and around town or visiting her in the nursing home.

Ken and Mary were active in many community activities including the Eastern Star, of which they were Worthy Matron and Patron. He is a 60-year member and past Patron of the local Masonic Lodge, active member of Farm Bureau, belongs to the American Legion Post, served on the Saratoga Museum board of directors, is a reliable ranch historian who is willing to share his vast knowledge of the area as a tour guide for valley historical treks, a well-traveled individual and a tireless cowboy as well as talented story teller and jokester.

In his own way, Ken also helps many other folks and organizations with his time and anonymous donations.

The local rancher learned to bake and cook from his grandmother, mother and wife, a skill which came in handy when he had to cook for Mary and the kids.

Friends love it when he serves his homemade Swedish coffee cakes to various functions. He enjoys making biscuits for his breakfast each day and at various times provides a big pot of ham and black-eyed peas for dinner guests.

Ranching has been almost his whole life. He can remember driving a tractor at an early age and haying with a team of horses. As a youngster, he helped his dad with horses, cattle, dairy cows, chickens, turkeys, sheep and haying, which, he says, came in handy when he was operating his own ranch.

An article in the Saratoga Presbyterian Church newsletter notes, “Ken Olson is a tall man, but he is soft-spoken, gentle and a little shy. He has worked hard all his life. He now lives alone, cooks for himself and continues to be independent. Despite some bodily aches and pains, he never wants to complain and is thankful for his many blessings. He also does not want to brag about himself. He is a caring, devout Christian who everyone looks up to for inspiration and wisdom. Thanks, Ken, for all you do for others.”

With World War I raging in Europe and the USA entering the fighting during the winter of 1917, Americans were asked to conserve food. Most Wyoming newspapers joined the effort, including “The Buffalo Bulletin,” which ran the following story, under the headline “Stop Hoarding Food” in its Dec. 6, 1917 issue:

Immediately after the war started in England, there arose a hysterical panic when people began hoarding of food of all description and hiding it for fear the government would confiscate it later. The result was an alarming rise in prices. After a time, when sanity was restored, the government worked out a rigid system of food control, took the profiteers by the scruff of the neck, regulated prices and generally employed methods so effective that living in England became cheaper months after the war than in the beginning.

There are reasons for believing that our own people have been both foolish and selfish in the fear of higher prices and that many of them, by hoarding food, have been doing the very thing that would bring about disaster. The government is very active just now in uncovering stores of food hoarded by profiteers, but for consumers to buy larger quantities of food than they need under normal conditions is to invite disaster in the same line.

A serious shortage in which there would be much suffering and deprivation can easily result from the policy of a comparatively small number of people in buying a six mouth’s supply of food for their future consumption. The nearer we get to living normal lives, the more effective will be our warfare on Germany.

During these war times, it is the duty of every American to conserve the wheat and sugar supplies. In fact, it is your duty to conserve all products and necessaries of life, but your attention is particularly called to the above mentioned articles of food.

There has been received at the public library a series of bulletins which deal directly with the uses of substitutes for wheat and sugar. In these bulletins may be found many and varied recipes for using corn, rye, graham, etc., and every cereal that is being urged on the people to use in place of wheat. There also may be found the recipes for the use of syrups and honey in place of sugar. Everyone is urged to save sugar. The new supply will not be received from the West Indies until sometime in January, and in the interim, all housewives are urged and invited to get in touch with the information that may be found in the library relating to the uses of the various substitutes for wheat and sugar.

Local merchants joined the effort with such advertisements as:

By planning meals so that you can observe the wheat-less and meatless days. Get down your cook book, hunt up the receipt for corn bread or graham bread and save flour. Use more canned goods, dried goods, fruits and vegetables.

Another merchant advertised:

Log Cabin Ready Spread is a delicious maple flavored frosting for cakes. You may save your sugar by using Log Cabin Ready Spread. We have fresh honey in the comb, and our supply of fresh fruit is of the best quality.

In observance of Thanksgiving, we offer the following loose interpretation of an old Indian prayer of thanks:

We thank the Great Spirit that we are here to praise Him.

We thank Him that He has created men and women and ordered that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.

We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its bounty to live on.

We thank God for the water that comes out of the sky and earth and runs over our lands.

We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.

We thank Him for the vines and trees that give us fruits, shade and shelter.

We thank God for the light of the sun which works for our good.

We thank Him for all the products that sustain healthy bodies.

We give thanks for our harvests and to all those who help pluck.

We thank God for the darkness that gives us rest.

We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs, the stars.

We thank God for His goodness in making us healthy, content, happy and prosperous.

We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit’s music and pray they will be privileged to continue in His faith.

We thank God that we have the privilege to gather with family and friends for gracious, peaceful and pleasant occasions.

We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard through the pages of the Bible, the words of our preachers and the prayers of all people.

Most of all we ask God to give each and every one a most bountiful, healthy and happy Thanksgiving.

With World War I fought overseas, local folks were called upon to support the troops in various ways, including knitting warm clothing for soldiers thru various American Red Cross Chapter programs across Wyoming.

“The Lusk Herald and The Van Tassell Pioneer” reports on the front page of its Nov. 29, 1917 edition:

Lusk Red Cross Notes

Four names were added to the membership roll this week, the Misses Mabel Whiteside, Lida Bonsell and Bessie Reed and Mrs. James Bonsell.

The Four Leaf Clover Club has turned into the Red Cross treasury, through Mrs. Grace Mashek, $30, the proceeds of a box social.

A letter recently received from division headquarters emphatically urges the chapters to knit till at least Jan. 1, and stress is laid on the need for sweaters. Even inexperienced knitters are asked to make sweaters and wristlets. Each man leaving for foreign service will be provided with a helmet, and the American Red Cross proposes to purchase most of these, so “only those women who actually express a desire to do so should knit on helmets.”

Sixteen appeared at the sewing meeting Tuesday afternoon, though some stayed only long enough to turn in finished articles and get work to take home.

In order that the various women’s organizations have representation on the executive board of the Niobrara County Chapter, A.R.C., the following were elected as members of the executive committee: Mrs. Fowler, representing Rebekahs; Mrs. Daley, Eastern Stars; Mrs. Dale, Civic Improvement club; Mrs. Wiltse, Ladies’ Aid; and Mrs. Arnold, Guild.

Knitted articles turned in were: muffler, Mrs. Dill; wristlets, Mrs. Culler; wristlets, Mrs. Ed Barber; two pairs socks, Mrs. Thon; wristlets, Mrs. Jackson; two pairs wristlets, Mrs. Geyer; muffler, Mrs. Goddard; and wristlets, Mrs. Fowler.

More yarn has arrived from the Red Cross supply service and is in charge of Mrs. Kate Fowler, knitting instructor. Apply there for yarn and needles.

The following is a telegram from H. D. Gibson, general manager, A.R.C.:

“It is imperative that all of the sweaters, wristlets and socks that can possibly be made by the women of the country should be turned in to the supply department at the earliest possible dates. With the cold weather coming on, the demand for sweaters especially has been beyond the capacity of all our resources to supply.

“We have forwarded promptly all knitted articles received from the chapters and have in addition been compelled to buy in the market 550,000 sweaters, of which about 250,000 have been delivered. These sweaters are machine knit and the yarn used is a mixture of cotton and wool so that it does not withdraw any considerable amount of yarn from the women knitters of the Red Cross. We are buying all the yarn we are able to secure that is suitable for knitters and sending it out to the chapters as fast as we can get delivery of it. We have received from the chapters about 200,000 sweaters and approximately the same number of machine made sweaters, all of which have been delivered to the men in the camps and training stations with the exception of a few thousand which we have had to send to France.

“The requests of our organization in France for sweaters and knitted goods have had to remain unsatisfied on account of our inability to secure enough for men in our own army and navy. We call upon the women to give us their very best efforts from now until at least Jan. 1, that we may be able to furnish our own men with those comforts and have some to spare for the dire needs in France.”

With the onslaught of World War I 100 years ago, the “Rawlins Republican” ran the following article on the front page of its Nov. 8, 1917 edition:

Last Contingent:

Fourteen More Young Men Left Rawlins Last Saturday for Camp Lewis at American Lake

With the departure of 14 young men from Rawlins last Saturday morning for Camp Lewis, Carbon County has now filled its first quota of 119 men for the selected army.

The 14 men called to report in Rawlins to go as the fourth contingent all reported last Thursday. They remained in the city until Saturday morning when they departed.

Friday evening on No. 3 (U.P. train), the Hanna band again came up to Rawlins. They marched to the Ferris Hotel where several selections were played pending the preparation of the banquet, which was served by the Elks to the selected boys, their wives and relatives and the Hanna band boys. Following the banquet the band again rendered several selections at the Hotel and in the streets before going to the Elks Home where they furnished the music for the farewell dance for the boys.

Every one of the boys who formed the fourth contingent attended this dance given on Friday night by the Elks in their honor.

On Thursday and Friday evenings, many of the boys took advantage of Manager Anderson’s patriotic invitation for them to attend the picture show free of cost. The production of “The Slacker” on Friday night was especially enjoyed by the boys who attended.

The Republican does not feel competent to express to the members of the Hanna band our deep gratitude and appreciation for their patriotic action in coming to Rawlins again and helping us to entertain properly each contingent that has left this city for Camp Lewis. It is sufficient for us to say that the action of the Hanna boys in coming to Rawlins as they have done will always be remembered, not only by every resident of this city but, what is more, by every one of our boys who have departed to enter the service of their country.

In addition to the 14 boys who left last Saturday, one representative from this county, Fred Vigil, untrained from Colorado, and another young man, John S. Neal, reported at the camp several days before the other boys left this city.

The fourteen boys who left here on Saturday morning are: Morgan Johnson – Encampment, Angus England – Saratoga, Lee Wilcox – Saratoga, John C. Gunning – Rawlins, Vernon Alspaugh – Dad, John Robertson – Rawlins, Edelbert Strickland – Rawlins, Clyde V. Martin – Rawlins, Frank O. Engstrom – Rawlins, Ambrose Hicks – Hanna, Jack Tapers – Rawlins, Anton Juguvich – Hanna Kester Campbell – Hanna and John Boberg – Elk Mountain.

Author’s note   Angus England was the first Carbon County boy killed during World War I. The local American Legion Post 54 bears his name.