It’s often said the Cariboo was built on hard work, history and legend; and if any one person encompassed all of that, it was Minnie Scheepbouwer of Watch Lake.
Tough as nails from a long life of hard work and unimaginable challenges, Enid, as she was properly — but rarely — called, sharedmuch of it with her identical twin sister, Alice.
Alice passed away in 1999 at the age of 76 and Minnie just recently passed at the age of 86.
The two were born in the dead of winter, on December 19, 1923, to Watch Lake pioneers Stan and Sadie Eden.
They were the first set of twins ever to be born at the Ashcroft hospital and came home on a horse-drawn sleigh filled with heatedstones to keep them warm.
The twins were impossible to tell apart, even by those who were closest to them, but they also shared an uncanny inner-connection that kept each in the know of what the other was thinking or feeling.
During their childhood, Watch Lake was wilderness but the handful of resident ranchers built a small log school house, the remnants of which can still be seen on the roadside about one kilometre east of Watch Lake Lodge.
The time came when there were no longer enough children in the area to keep it open, so Minnie and Alice would ride their horses to the Sheridan Lake school each Monday morning and board through the week with a nearby family until making their way back home on Friday afternoon. Getting on her big horse was quite a task for a small girl but Minnie fixed that as she did anything that posed a problem. She taught hers to lower his head to the ground so she could climb on his neck and slide down to his back when he straightened out again.
Through the years, Minnie shared many of her memories with nieces Dimps Horn and Doreen Teichgrab.
They recall tales told of endless pranks the two sisters played, including switching name tags and swapping desks at school to drivetheir teacher crazy.
Minnie loved to tell a story and the infectious laugh that went along with most of the tales would catch on and have everyone clutching their belly just to catch a breath.
The most difficult times for the twins were when they were apart.
As a teen, Alice went to work at the 74 Mile roadhouse for Mrs. Cunningham, several miles away, and Minnie missed her badly. Her mom told her to ride out and pay a visit and, at the same time, Alice sensed her sister was on that way and asked her boss for the day off.
“That was in the days when there were no phones and not even good smoke signals,” chuckled Doreen.
The sisters did almost everything together and that included getting married in a double ceremony on June 16, 1943.
Minnie dated 70 Mile cowboy John Scheepbouwer and Alice was the girlfriend of Lone Butte’s Shorty Horn. Trouble was, the two men could rarely tell the sisters apart and the girls took constant delight in their confusion.
It followed them to the altar, where John, who could never figure out who was who, told Shorty to marry the one he liked and he would take the other.
With their wedding gifts of 10 cows from John’s parents and a team of horses from Minnie’s, the couple built a new life on a piece of land at Grant’s Mountain, in the Bonaparte area. The property had been preempted earlier by members of the Scheepbouwer family.
An existing cabin was added on and they built a beautiful barn and various outbuildings.
“When they were done, it was like a Hollywood set in the middle of the bush,” said Dimps. “It was Minnie’s paradise and she wished later that she’d never left it.”
John ran a guiding business and they both made extra money trapping and feeding cows for other people.
Minnie quickly became skilled at shooting and skinning squirrels but her first foray with a moose sparked a tale that would be told over and over again.
Hunting with another lady one day, she obediently heeded John’s warning of never to approach a shot moose until it was down. Minnie’s first few shots probably would have sufficed if the animal hadn’t fallen against a nearby tree, which served to prop it up. It took 28 bullets and a lot of damage to finally break the moose loose and make it collapse.
Life was good and harsh at the same time on isolated Grant’s Mountain. One winter, John became ill and Minnie knew she had to get him out of there. With the responsibility of animals to feed, she couldn’t leave, so she loaded him onto his horse and sent him on hisway alone.
“She knew if he fell off or died, the horse would come back home and she would know something happened,” explained Dimps. “It was the best part of a day’s ride and it was the only way.”
Another time when John was very sick, Minnie strapped him to a travois she’d fashioned out of poles and proceeded to drag him back to civilization behind her horse. As often happened, Alice, who lived at Watch Lake, sensed something was wrong and rode on horseback toward her sister’s place, meeting them halfway.
When they were done with Grant’s Mountain, Minnie and John built a new home on Watch Lake Lodge property owned by Alice and Shorty. The sisters were once again within shouting distance of one another.
They were happy times when almost everything they did was done together.
Minnie’s most enjoyable times were spent on horseback with her sister, chasing cows on the range and riding the many old bush trailsthey’d come to know as children.
She wasn’t afraid to ride through anything and Dimps recalls seeing her aunt dive down many steep, rocky side-hills with hardly a second thought.
Unplanned, the pair often dressed the same and, as they grew older, the sisters continued to take absolute delight in fooling people about their identity. If someone mixed them up, they’d just play along.
Some of the guests who stayed at Watch Lake Lodge eventually learned to tell them apart after catching on that Minnie wore an engagement ring and Alice didn’t. When Minnie realized the ring was cutting into some prospective fun, she took it off and never wore it again.
While Alice’s own children often couldn’t tell whether they were talking to their mom or their aunt, Minnie got caught up in mistaken identity once herself.
The pair were shopping in a department store when Minnie was fooled into thinking her own reflection in a full-length mirror was Alice and proceeded to have a conversation with herself.
Between 1968 and 1977, Minnie worked at the Canim Lake plywood plant in town where she constantly influenced other ladies on her shift to join in on her much-loved pranks. Following that, she took up the rural mail route from 70 Mile through Green Lake and around through the Pressy Lake area. In winter, when the roads were bad, she’d pack her vehicle with firewood and an axe just in case she found herself stucksomewhere.
Holding up the mail because of weather conditions was never a consideration for the strong-spirited, gritty and determined lady that she was.
When John passed away in 1981, the sisterly bond became stronger than ever. The two loved to gamble and made regular trips to Reno to try their luck. Competing on horseback in gymkhana’s was something they enjoyed until they were 70 years old and, when they rode, it was fulltilt with hooves pounding and a thick cloud of dust behind them.
When Alice passed away in 1999, a little bit of Minnie went with her, said Dimps.
Her own health began to slide but not as much as would be expected from a woman who had smoked cigarettes heavily all her life.
“She had a tremendous will to live and her doctor said, over and over again, that her heart was so strong. It was probably because she’d lived her entire life outdoors and worked very hard,” said Dimps. “She was a character to the end and remembered everyone she had ever met. The last years were tough and hard for her to live, but she always remained interested in what people were doing and what was going on at the ranch.
Minnie passed away on May 13, 2009, just six weeks after her brother-in-law, Shorty Horn.
Her ashes were laid to rest near her sister’s and the rest of the family’s at the historic Clinton Pioneer Cemetery.