Valley Voices: Ludtkes were true pioneers

The Ludtkes survived the 1926 fire by taking shelter under wet blankets in Battle (or Fight) Creek

In this historic photo from the early days in the Upper Clearwater are the Ludtke brothers (l-r) Lawrence

Editor’s Note: The following history of the Ludtke family appeared in the Nov. 20, 1974 issue of the Times. It was part two of a two-part series but, unfortunately, the issue containing the first part is now missing.

The Ludtke family came to the Clearwater River Valley in 1923 from North Dakota. Gus Ludtke and the two oldest boys took two months to make the 2,000 mile trip by horse and wagon. Bertha Ludtke travelled by train with the younger children.

In 1926 lightning started a fire near Spahats Creek. A strong wind blew it north into Upper Clearwater. Many homes and buildings were destroyed. The Ludtkes survived by taking shelter under wet blankets in Battle (or Fight) Creek.

Fred Ludtke’s property is now Clearwater Springs Ranch. Lawrence Ludtke’s property is owned by Mike Mueller. Charlie Ludtke’s property was subdivided. Part is now owned by Jim and Colleen Vadheim of Tacoma and the rest by Mike Mueller.

All the original Ludtkes and their spouses have  passed away. Four descendants live in Clearwater and the rest are scattered throughout B.C.

by Lawrence Ludtke as told to Susan Neal

The morning after the fire, we tried to walk around but the ground was covered in hot ashes so we had to stay by the creek.

Lewis Rupel was our saviour again. His place had not burned and he packed extra boots, blankets and grub. We camped out until the two feet of ashes had cooled. Then we all went to Lewis’ place.

Not one human life was lost in that fire.

The country was entirely changed after the fire. From then on there was very little snow. Chinooks would blow through the valley and we’d often have bare ground in February. The land was perfect for ranching — acres of cleared land made rich by the ashes. The caribou stopped coming but the deer got thicker. Moose slowly started coming into the area. The first year we heard of a moose being shot was 1928. It was easy to live in the burnt-off country.

Work was being done on the road. It was fit for wagons and Model Ts as far as Rupel’s place. For the next four years it progressed three miles per year.

Frank Shook came into the valley, then the Archibalds and the Persons. Helsets came in 1939. The first school house was established at Shook’s residence. During the “hungry 30s” there were many families taking up homesteads. That was fine with us. We had been lonely before, but then we could even form a ball team. In the late 30s the neighbours got together to build the Upper Clearwater Hall.

Mother died in the late 20s having never seen the second house completed. Our younger brother Robert died after the fire, in approximately 1928.

Alice married John Ray in the early 30s. Charlie took over the old homestead and Fred started his three miles up the valley. In 1935. I filed for my own homestead adjacent to the family homestead. The Lawrence's cabinrequirement for a 160 acre homestead was that within five years there be five acres cleared and a cabin and woodshed built. I had $10 with which to build my house.

We all started trapping. I trapped one year with John Ray. The next year I went into partnership with Dave Anderson at Murtle Lake and eventually bought his line. Fur was a good price and we lived well during the depression. We sunk our money into our homesteads. I bought a small cayuse team, a plow, rake and mower.

Charlie and I worked together for a few years. In the fall before trapping began, I started hunting parties, first as an assistant to Dave Anderson and later on my own. As the price of fur began to drop, I quit trapping and spent more time ranching and guiding.

In approximately 1938, Wells Gray Park was established. The head forester called upon Dave Anderson and me to guide Wells Gray, who was the Minister of Lands, through the area to Mahood Lake. There were Dave and I as the two packers, two forestry patrol men, a doctor and nurse, and Mr. Wells Gray.

We started where the road ended (Hemp Creek Valley). At night Dave and I would set up their screen windowed tent, made up the three cots, spray and open the tent flaps. Later we’d all sit around the fire and sip a special “brew” prepared by the doctor.

At the Horseshoe (near Ray Farm) we had to swim the whole pack string across the Clearwater River and take the people and gear across by boat.

We had to cut our way through an old donkey trail to Mahood Lake. Wells Gray was then taken from the east end of Mahood by launch to the west end of Canim Lake to a waiting auto. When he arrived in Victoria, he declared the area a park.

Our father had immigrated from Germany but we had all become naturalized in 1930.

When World War II broke out there was a law passed regarding German immigrants and we were named enemy aliens. We had to report every month and our rifles were taken from us. We had to live and trap in that wild country for one year without any guns!

Several months later we were called in for an examination for the army — enemy aliens in the Canadian Army!

The law was changed and our guns were returned. It was decided that we could benefit our country more by remaining on our ranches and raising meat.

Charlie, Fred and myself all married in 1943, within one month of each other. We all established big cattle ranches.

In later years, Charlie took over hauling mail. Fred continued trapping and shipped live animals to the states.

I guided hunters for many years (the moose population reached a peak in 1953 and has been dropping since). In 1965 I sold the ranch and guiding outfit to Ken McKay and moved to Clearwater. I’ve been working at the planer mill ever since.

Fred sold his ranch to Bob Lobb. Charlie turned his over to his son Bob. Both Fred and Charlie now live in Clearwater. Bob and Nancy are farming on the old family homestead – the third generation of Ludtkes in Upper Clearwater.

Inset photo: Lawrence Ludtke built this cabin for $10 in order to pre-empt or homestead 160 acres in the Clearwater Valley.