There are so many heart-warming stories buried deep within our local history that I thought it was time to dig some up again to share with you. Let us never forget our ancestors, who all came from somewhere to settle this land. As difficult as life was in those early days, people always had a smile and managed to offer a helping hand to their neighbours.
One of those people was Dewey Lee Blaney, who has the distinct honour of being the first African American man to come to the Cochrane area. He was born in Roanoke County, Virginia, in 1897. When he was nine years old his family decided to move to Salem, Virginia. In those days young African American boys were often trained to be house boys by prominent families, so the Barnett family in Salem hired Dewey as their house boy and for extra help in their feed store.
When the Barnett family homesteaded in the Bottrel area in 1915, they brought Dewey along and he stayed with them for four years. When Dewey introduced himself, he would always say “My name is Dewey ‘Abraham Lincoln’ Blaney.” This was because his grandfather was a slave and Dewey was eternally grateful to President Lincoln for freeing the slaves in the United States.
After working for the Barnett family, Dewey worked as a hired hand for the Morgans and various farmers in the Dogpound and Bottrel area. In 1927 he drove a truck for the Hogarths and was in charge of looking after their horses on the Banff-Jasper highway construction site. After that job he worked for John Boothby for a number of years. Pearl Parker also verified that Dewey worked at their ranch located northeast of Cochrane as well. Pearl stated “Dewey was a real hard worker, was very friendly and always had a big smile. He worked for most people around here and everyone liked him.”
Dewey had a good reputation and was highly respected. He loved children and spent a substantial amount of his pay spoiling them. He assumed the role of being the town policeman on Halloween night to watch over them. This gave him a lot of pleasure. In his younger days he enjoyed boxing. However, dancing and playing cards (especially crib) were his hobbies.
When Dewey retired he lived in a small house west of town near the old race track. To keep in shape he would walk to town almost every day. Another thing Dewey would do, which may seem strange to some, is to dig all the graves in the Cochrane Cemetery when someone died – just another job that needed to be done. He was certainly missed when he passed away in 1970. Dewey Lee Blaney is buried in the Cochrane Cemetery.
By Lloyd Dolen
Way back in South Virginia
Where the cotton blooms and grow
There grew a little black boy
With teeth as white as snow.
His parents were in slavery
Back in those early days,
Till Lincoln changed the system
And the slaves all moved away.
This boy became a house boy
Like colored boys had been,
And they landed in Alberta
Way back in about Thirteen.
They headed north from Cochrane
Where a homestead they found,
And folks learned to know
This black boy,
He was the only one around.
They learned to know and like him
He was happy as a lark,
His heart was white,
His blood was red.
But his skin was a little dark.
He grew up with the country,
And folk were soon to know
He was ready with a helping hand
From the Dog Pound to the Bow.
He made his home in Cochrane
And folks were proud to say,
“Good morning to you Dewey,
It is a lovely day.”
And his eyes would kind of sparkle,
His teeth would flash like snow
When he would talk to little children
And wonda how they grow.
But the clock ticks slowly onward
And Dewey’s gone away.
But here he is a legend
And we’re all proud to say
“A Black Man Smiles.”
(Courtesy of Big Hill Country)