|A History of STRUM
and the TOWN OF UNITY by Roy Matson
|tells it, Esten was an impatient man. He felt that with the animal gone they could enter the
den and learn how such beasts lived. At least he would like to enter while the opportunity
existed. Sam protested but to no avail. Esten was determined and crawled into the hole
and entered the den. He had barely done so when Mr. Lion came bounding through the
brush, slipped by Sam and ran into the hole. Sam barely had time to grab the tail of the
beast, brace his feet and hang on. From the depths of the den came Esten’s cry, “What
makes it so dark in here Sam?” To which Sam had a classic reply that lived through the
decades: “If I let this tail go you’ll soon find out.”
As usual the story was typical entertainment with a typical Sam Hogue ending. As both
Sam and Esten lived to a ripe old age it would be interesting to know how they escaped
their precarious situation.
Every small town has at some time or another some resident dubbed as a “character”.
Strum has had several. It is possible in a larger community with a great number of people
they would pass unnoticed. But here where any difference from native behavior patterns is
observed and raises cause for comment -- we have a “character”.
“Curio” Pete Olstad was such a man. In the first place his early adult life was spent in
travel, part of the time as a gold miner, a great part as a circus barker and just plain travel.
He was born on the home farm about four miles east of town in the year 1868, and lived
there until about the age of twenty-five when he decided the place offered little challenge.
Montana and the west coast was of interest a few years, and when mining of gold caused
the Alaska rush, “Curio” was in the forefront.
How much mining he did was never learned. His headquarters were at Nome where he
worked some time for the later-to-be well-known boxing promoter, Tex Rickard. While
there he became acquainted with authors Jack London and Rex Beach who were about the
same age. Another man he often mentioned was Robert Service.
Rickard was a hunter in leisure hours and it seemed “Curio” had charge of the saloon
during the owner’s absence. No doubt he had charge of card games and in after hours
would occasionally demonstrated a few tricks of that trade. He undoubtedly acquired the
name “Curio” while in Alaska. He brought back his “gold” in the form of some large
dinosaur bones that became part of an exhibit he showed coast to coast in later years. ‘Tis
said that in his cups one time he admitted winning them from some luckless miner in a
Pictures of him about that time show a very striking man. Over six feet in height, straight,
long-flowing hair, a well-trimmed mustache and a goutee exemplified his physical
appearance. He also possessed a commanding voice and used good English,
complementing a fine appearance he made for many years as a circus barker. “Curio” was
a well-read, intelligent man, a world traveler who could entertain an audience.
During circus travels he became acquainted with William Cody (or Buffalo Bill, as he
came to be known), and for several years traveled with The Wild West Show as the
owner’s double. “Curio’s” appearances usually were in the parades and other instances
where the audience was at a little distance. With western clothing, the hair, mustache and
goatee he was an exact stand-in except he was a little larger in stature. He made two trips
to England as part of that troupe.
Shortly after his return from Alaska he purchased a large tent which he used to display
dinosaur bones in the off-season. He showed them at fairs, chatauquas and theatres when
not connected with circus life.
I was about fifteen and attending the Buffalo County Fair when his booming voice rose
above the forenoon din. “I will now begin my lecture,” he called, as he strode back and
forth on a ramp in front of his tent, entreating would be customers to the “gigantic,
unbelievable” show. People streamed in, intrigued