Euphemia (Riddick) Dixon’s painting hangs prominently on the second floor of the museum beside that of her husband, William Dixon. She and William and their three children arrived at Indian Head in 1882, part of the rush to take up farmland as the CPR was being pushed through this area. She was a strong pioneer woman who was an inspiration to all who knew her – having gone through trials, tribulations and triumphs that we can only marvel at.
Euphemia Riddick was born in Scotland in 1832 and came to London, Ontario as a young woman. There she met a young farmer, William Dixon, another Scot, and they were married in 1860. By 1871, they were living near London with a family of four, a daughter and three sons. Their family continued to grow, with six more children born to them. Then tragedy struck them as a wave of Black Diphtheria claimed the lives of six of their ten children, leaving them only with Margaret, Alexander (Ike), Annie and Fred.
Leaving their Ontario farm behind, Euphemia and Wiliam and their three youngest children followed their recently married eldest daughter, Margaret and her husband, James Conn, to Winnipeg and overwintered there in the winter of 1881-1882. In the spring of 1882, they proceeded further west, going by train as far as the end of the line just west of Brandon and completing the trip by Red River cart. Margaret and James followed the next year.
At first, they stayed in the new settlement that was to become the town of Indian Head. At that time, it consisted of few buildings – Robert Crawford’s store being in a tent. Euphemia ran a boarding house in the town, until they and their son, Ike, separately filed for homesteads north of Indian Head in 1883. Once this was done, the Dixons settled in the Wide Awake District.
Euphemia made sure that their newly constructed log house became the centre of the community, the latch string always being on the outside of the door. Her home became the district’s Methodist church and they used a large log granary as the first school in the area. Their home was always a welcome haven for neighbours, passing clergy and other visitors. Euphemia was the district’s midwife – perhaps the reason she was called “Mother Dixon”.
Murray Brooks, son of Edwin and Nellie Brooks, told of the birth of his younger sister Mary, who “chose to arrive on the scene during a terrific blizzard … well under forty below.” When his father set off with the horse and cutter to get the doctor, “… it got so bad he couldn’t face it. He turned off to get ‘Mother Dixon’, the grand old lady who had already been with Mother when three previous children had been born … he made the two miles safely and, having packed Mrs. Dixon into the sleigh, started back for home. He was now facing the blizzard and it was too much for him, but he felt he must somehow press on. After going only a short distance, he realized they were lost. The storm was terrific and howling about them like a pack of wolves. He foresaw the prospect of spending a night out there in the snow and perhaps being frozen to death. His hands became too numb to hold the reins and the horses were plunging this way and that. Finally, he gave up, buried himself in the robes with Mrs. Dixon and left the horses to their own desires. Meanwhile, Mother … after what seemed like hours, heard sleigh bells and looked out to see the cutter pull into the yard, but with no one in sight. Robbie hustled into his wraps, rushed out and snatched off the robes to find Mrs. Dixon and Father huddled together underneath, very numb, but having suffered no serious harm. Soon after … a baby girl was born.” Mrs. Dixon later boasted that she had “never lost a baby or a mother.”
In 1903, the Dixons built a new house in town and moved there and Euphemia was deeply involved in all activities relating to the Methodist Church. She was also dedicated to the work of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which she had joined while still a 10-year-old girl in Scotland and was known throughout Saskatchewan.
In her later years, she was lovingly called “Grandma Dixon”. Grandma Dixon died September 7, 1918 and was buried in the Indian Head Cemetery. The large painting in the Indian Head Museum is an important reminder of her life and helps us to reflect on the lives of the early settlers that came to the Indian Head district in the early 1880s.
This article is one in a series of articles written by the Indian Head Museum Society to commemorate Canada 150.