Schafer Stories: as told by John Hild – Former TRMF Maintenance Director and current owner and rancher of the land that was once the Maltese Cross Ranch.
Interviewed June 26, 2017
“I was 14 years old when Harold first came into Medora; that would have been back in the early ‘70s. My mom actually worked for Harold, she was the Head Housekeeping at the Badlands Motel and we grew up as ranch kids out in the ranching industry.
At that time Harold was getting Medora built up and rebuilt to what it is, you know, before today- regenerating it.
We used to have dirt streets and he got all that paved through Northern Improvement friends of his—came out and got it paved and all that taken care of.
And one of the things that was unique about when Harold had the town paved, as you know, he was in the industry of Glass Wax, Snowy Bleach, Mr. Bubble, Sheila Shine. Well all of his product was in pink cans. So when they finished paving and they chipsealed the streets in Medora he had them all chipsealed with a rock out of South Dakota that was pink. So the whole town’s streets were pink at one point in time, back in the 70s.
One of the main stories I remember of Harold–well part of this is how I got involved in town. He had a pony ring, and we would ride the ponies for them to make sure the kids could ride them. Harold would come by and if we would be riding the ponies, he would give us five/ten bucks for doing it. We really weren’t hired by him. We did it for something to do while mom was working at the motel.
As I got older, I started mowing lawns and sweeping streets for Harold. He would walk by and he’d say hi to us and he’s always give us some money to go get either an ice cream cone or a pop or whatever, and that was kind of a payment for us helping him out.
One of the things that Harold always had, especially as the town grew, was he had a lot of dignitaries come out. Like TRMF has Legislator Day, back then he would invite the legislators out as friends.
Now we had a zoo at that time and we had several animals in the zoo, several small animals, but his big thing was taking these representatives and their families–and often his own family– and taking them to feed the elk and feed the buffalo. That was a big thing for Harold, to show people that he owned 15 head of buffalo, he had 50-60 head of elk at the time that we were there.
Well as I got older and I started working in the maintenance department for Harold, it would be like 7 o’clock in the morning and Harold would call up,
“John, Denis! I’ve got some friends here, we’re gonna go feed. Meet me in front of my house with the pickup at 8 o’clock.”
Now we always fed every morning anyway, but he would load up these people in the back of the pickup and we would drive up to the back of the Amphitheatre hill. We’d feed the elk, and the elk were tame enough—a lot of the cows anyway—were tame enough that you could hand feed them, and he just loved doing that and showing these kids this.
And we were always terrified because we never knew when these wild animals could strike, you know? Or do something out of the ordinary. It was always just uhh—you were on pins and needles every time hoping nothing would happen.
Then we’d go feed the buffalo. Now these buffalo were fed everyday as well as the elk, but they were also fed cake and they were fed hay. Now cake is a small pellet the size of your finger in length and about ¾ in diameter, and we would get it in various sizes, sometimes 4-inch pieces, sometimes 6-inch pieces.
Well, we had 15 or 16 buffalo and one big bull.
And this was the most terrifying thing that Harold would ever do: he would take a piece of cake, stick it in his mouth, reach over the pickup, and let that big bull lick it out of his mouth.
And I mean you’re talking 2,000-2,500lb animal. All it would take would just be one swipe of his head and he would have been knocked out of the pickup.
We tried and tried and tried to get him to quit doing that, but people just went nuts when he did it—we would go nuts, you know, like, “Here we go again.” But that’s the kind of person Harold was. Daring, to some degree, but mostly he liked to entertain.
And that’s just some of the stuff he did.
He really liked to make friends. He would go into–well at that time it was the Badlands Saloon–but he would go in and introduce himself to everyone and say “Set ’em all up!” because that’s the kind of guy he was. He loved to give stuff away, and he was a good businessman as well.”