Cowboy, uncle, husband, storyteller. Born on March 1, 1929, in Richmound, Sask.; died on Sept. 1, 2016, in Medicine Hat, Alta., of cancer, aged 87.
Paul was born at home to Katharina and Andreas Mehrer, German immigrants from the south of Russia who, in 1911, staked a homesteading claim in southwestern Saskatchewan. He was their 13th and youngest child and would stay on the homestead most of his life.
Paul began working as a cowboy and farmer long before his formal education came to an end at age 14 (the local school only went to Grade 9). He worked alongside his father and older brothers until 1949, when his parents retired to Medicine Hat and he and his brother Andrew sharecropped the land. Ten years later, after their parents died, the two brothers bought out other siblings and took over the homestead.
The brothers built a successful business over the years, acquiring more land and cattle. Paul's love of the land, and his horses, made up for the hard work, weather extremes and the loneliness. The farm, near the Alberta border, was 100 kilometres from Medicine Hat and there weren't a lot of trips to town. Clothes were ordered from the Eaton's catalogue and Andrew did the ordering with efficiency. Despite being taller and heavier than Paul, he ordered the same clothes for his younger brother as for himself, in the same size. Paul didn't seem to mind; he just tightened his belt and made it work – an apt metaphor for his life.
In 1988, Andrew was severely injured in a truck accident, after which Paul farmed alone. He leased some of the land to a neighbour and began spending his winters in Medicine Hat. By 2000, at 71, he had joined his brother at a retirement lodge in the city, returning to the farm for several summers. Life in the lodge was a great delight for Paul – he loved the food, and the fact that they would leave off the gravy if he asked.
In May, 2004, at the age of 75 (and much to the surprise of his six older siblings), Paul married Bertha Eliasson, also a lodge resident. They were together until she died in January, 2013. Paul loved having a wife and would introduce her with such pride. He also welcomed her children and grandchildren to his extended family, which included 25 nieces and nephews.
By far, Paul's greatest legacy is the stories he told. Every Sunday evening, for years, he called my mother, Meta Davis (his only remaining sibling), and talked for an hour, recounting stories from the past. He remembered many things their father had told him about early years on the homestead. And Paul especially liked to talk about the autumn he "worked away" on another ranch.
In one of the family history books he wrote: "Being at home a lot I never got away too often. But then one fall I did work at a ranch. We rounded up cattle out of river hills, which was new to me so I learned to ride over washouts and on narrow trails. We put cattle through the chute twice as they had to be checked for TB and got shipped to the USA. After all that work we trailed them eight miles to Burstall. It was 300 calves and 91 yearlings. I did enjoy it all and was sorry when it was over. But all things come to an end."
Jean Saunders is Paul's niece.