By Linda C Butler
Slim Roach lived on an island in front of the town of Herb Lake in an earthen dugout. It was said that he was as dirty when he came out of his hole as when he went in, as he never bathed, and his skin was cracked and rough.
Slim never wore socks, but instead, he stuffed his rubber boots or moccasins with straw. In the winter he never wore mitts, but his hands never froze. In the summer he tended a large garden and stored his produce for the winter in his dugout.
In the afternoon, for entertainment, he crossed by canoe from his island to the mainland, and sat on the bench in front of the general store with the other men and talked.
The above information was mainly from Dulcie Taylor a number of years ago, but I spoke to Gus Olson March 2014 and he provided this information:
Slim’s actual name was Alfred Rowat. This surprised me because I’d also come across references to his brother, Micky Roach. Gus said that he’d met Mickey and their legal name was “Rowat”.
The island in front of the town where Slim lived was known as “Town Island”, although it was later changed to “Lucky Island”, after Mike Lucky.
Gus remembers Slim Roach’s strength. He was a powerful man. Slim used to haul firewood with his team of horses and he supplied wood to many of the residents of Herb Lake. Gus said that one time Slim was sitting on the sleigh with the horses with a heavy load and the horses were having trouble getting up a hill. Slim got off and walked, expecting that the horses would be able to move without his weight, but they still could not budge. At that point Slim, who was like a horse himself, grabbed the reins and started pulling to help the horses.
Slim had a good garden on the island where he lived and grew mainly potatoes. (Gus thought that George Bartlett later took over that garden.) Slim had a tame fox that he fed. Gus said that he was never in the dugout where Slim lived but it was like an underground cellar and was deep enough that it was below the frost line. It was large enough that Slim could stand up and there was a stove with a pipe going outside. In the summer, Slim travelled in his canoe.
Gus also said that Texas Joe was another man who worked for himself hauling firewood to the Herb Lake residents.
Jim Corman commented that he heard stories of Slim sleeping on his bags of potatoes. I assume that in the fall Slim filled his dugout with potatoes from his garden, and if there was no room for him, he slept on top of the bags of potatoes until he either ate or sold enough potatoes to create some space.
The Snow Lake Centennial booklet, written by Mrs Mardis says this: “Slim Roach was one Herb Lake old-timer who grew a good garden. He had a root cellar to keep his potatoes in, but couldn’t see the necessity for a house, so, he just spread his bedroll on top of the potatoes and there he slept.”
Walter Johnson, the well-known prospector, was also reported to have stuffed his moccasins with straw when he was first at Herb Lake, because he could not afford to buy socks.
I know from my dad’s stories (Charlie Vance) that it was not unusual for men to sleep outside, even in the winter months. When Dad was young and driving horses, he had a down-filled sleeping bag and even in minus temperatures he slept outside on top of bales of hay, which insulated him from the cold ground. I assume that Slim was used to cold and in good weather likely slept outdoors. Gus said that there was a stove pipe from the dugout but any heat in the dugout would have been minimal, and probably only enough to keep the potatoes from freezing.
I mention that Slim kept his potatoes in bags, rather than loose in the dugout. I assume this because gunny sacks held oats for the horses and were reused for storing vegetables.
Note: In the early days of the Prairies, it was not unusual for people to live in earthen dugouts, however, it was unusual at Herb Lake, where there were trees that could be cut for a log cabin.
If you have any information on Slim Roach (Rowat) please comment.