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Monyeen Ollenberger: The Way We Remember

People of the Peace


As she reads through the yellowing newspaper cut-outs and typed pages that tell the stories of her father and half-brother's lives, Monyeen Ollenberger has a few stories of her own.

At 82 years old, Monyeen has lived her whole life in the Peace Country; first in North Rolla where, as the daughter of a rodeo pioneer, she grew up in the height of the Yeagers Rodeo.

Her father, John Yaeger was born in Black Hills, North Dakota and immigrated to the region bringing the rodeo lifestyle with him.

Two years ago Monyeen was recognized with a plaque for her family's contribution to rodeo in the region - she wasn't much of a horse person, although she rode to school everyday.

John Yaeger was a true rodeo pioneer, settling a farm in North Rolla where he advertised a job for a farm cook. Monyeen's mother Arthetta Davis responded to the advertisement in Grande Prairie.

"She got it and she had my brother," says Monyeen - her half-brother Danny Martin was born in the United States, the youngest of Arthetta and her first husband William Martin. Arthetta moved to Canada with Danny after divorcing her husband; he would eventually choose to take the Yaeger name.

Monyeen's neighbour helped her put her father and brother's stories on paper and she has many copies, one of each that she hands over and says I have to read.

John Yaeger, along with his two brothers, established a freighting company and took on a contract with the Hudson Bay Company in 1915, hauling supplies to Fort Nelson.

The Yaeger Brothers Freighting Outfit continued on with contracts until 1922 and the month-long trips on horseback were far from easy.

"He told me the story: it was 73 below when they crossed Nig Creek and he slept in Spruce bows and it was cold, 73 below," she said. "He wanted my children to all see it, so I got busy and I got somebody."

While her father was farming and freighting, Monyeen's mother also took a job in Watson Lake,
Yukon.

"She took a job for $6 a day, baking 600 pies a day," says Monyeen. A street in Watson Lake still bears Arthetta's name.

Monyeen continued school until Grade 12, while her brother took a different path - he was the wild one.

Danny Yeager was Monyeen's half brother and the two grew up on the North Rolla farm where their father competed in the rodeo and along with his brothers supplied the livestock for some of the earliest stampedes.

Many would come out to the rodeo events and Monyeen says it was lifestyle that attracted Danny.

"I only had one brother," says Monyeen, and although he died young, at the age of 32, they were very close.

"My dad taught him and he rode, my dad got a letter from the rodeo association in Rose Prairie about Danny coming up to ride," says Monyeen. "My dad said to him 'if you buck off that horse don't come crying to me'."

Monyeen says Danny was nine years old at the time and he rode the horse for 16 seconds. There was no prize money, but everyone at the event put into a collection and Danny took home $185.

"He bought himself a cowboy hat and bought you a doll," adds in Calvin Ollenberger, Monyeen's son who she now lives with.

She nods, remembering the time and says she didn't have things like dolls back then, there was nowhere to buy them. Danny was four years older than Monyeen and left home at 13 years old to follow the rodeo circuit.

"He was in Peace River in 1946 and he took the all around cowboy championship - he was only 18 at the time," says Monyeen.

Danny was one of few to ride Teepee Creek Terror, which he did in 1956 for $100 according to Monyeen's recounted story. His friends had also bet him another $350 that he would not be able to ride the untamable horse, but he did.

"My dad nearly had a fit when we were down at Teepee Creek," says Monyeen. "They hauled [Danny] away to the hospital and they wouldn't let my dad go in the ambulance."

The horse bucked Danny off eventually and rolled on him but he came out of it, he also came out of nearly a year laid up in Kamloops with tuberculosis.

Despite the illness, Danny made it back home to see their father's last rodeo ride at 65 years old.

"My brother came up from Kamloops and watched my dad riding his bucking horse," says Monyeen. "He came to George Graham's place and he looked me up and down and said that he wanted to be at the Yaeger Rodeo of East Doe River."

Although his career was brief, Danny became a legendary bush pilot in his late twenties with a number of crashes to validate his status. In 1959 he crash landed through a forest, stripping off both wings and eventually coming to rest upside against a tree - the men got away from the plane before the fuel tanks exploded.

Growing up trapping, Danny recognized the land and led the way for four days to a cabin where they borrowed a saw to build a raft, heading to the Dundedive River. They headed down the river to the Liard and on to Franceway Indian Village where they were eventually picked up.

Monyeen says she only flew with Danny the one time, out of Doe River and into Dawson Creek.

A shock came to the family when, after numerous close calls and storied crashes - Danny plunged into the Peace River in 1962, just north of Dawson Creek. His passenger escaped by kicking out a window but Danny was pinned in his seat and drowned.

"My brother attempted to amputate his own leg to free himself," says Monyeen.

Danny did a great deal of work with well-known Fort Nelson outfitter Robert Keen, who would remain a good friend of the family after Danny's death.

"Bobby Keen flew his outfit down at the funeral," Monyeen says.

On hearing of Danny's death, Monyeen says Keen called down to them and asked her when her mother would be returning home from Watson Lake.

"I said she would arrive tomorrow," says Monyeen. "He said, 'I'm going to give her some money' and he wrote her out a cheque for $3,000 to help with the funeral but then he paid for it all anyway."

Calvin says there were about 800 people at Danny's funeral, but it was before he was born.

"I took my two older kids and we went to the graveyard and Keen and those airplanes circled," says Monyeen.

There were many newspaper accounts of Danny's fatal crash, ranging from local coverage to the Edmonton Journal - mostly reporting his age to be 38 years old, which Monyeen has crossed out in her clippings and written 32 over top.

Calvin points out that Danny lived a lot in his short 32 years.

Monyeen was married young at 20 years old after meeting her husband Frank John Ollenberger in a restaurant in Dawson Creek. She says, "He came up and introduced himself."

Prodded by Calvin as to whether it was love at first sight, she says not quite, "It took a while."

Monyeen worked as a secretary at Rolla Traditional School for 25 years, and for two years as a teacher's aid at Canalta Elementary - she moved to Dawson Creek in 1990 after her husband passed away in 1989.

Monyeen retired when she was 59 years old and moved back to Rolla to be closer to family - she has five children, four daughters and a son, Calvin. They live out off of the Old Alaska Highway now but Monyeen says she still remembers and goes back to visit Rolla.

"Oh yeah, we go back there and see people," she says.

Monyeen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease but much of her family's story has been told by local historian Dorthea Calverley, as well as by herself. Some pieces might now be missing and years later, some details might have changed but at least the story has been told.