Moving to North Dakota


My father who moved from Ohio in 1880 to Illinois lived there on a rented farm until the year 1885. When he heard that there were great opportunities in Dakotah Territory where one could file on a homestead and in a few years own a place of his own.

This looked good to my father as he was getting tired of renting, so he decided to make the change.

Accordingly in October of 1885 he came to Glen Ullin in an emigrant rail car with a team of horses, a cow, some farm machinery and some household goods.

My older brother Hadley accompanied him in the car. Also, two young men who wanted to come out to the Land of Opportunity. As it was against the rules of the railways to allow anyone except the person in charge of the car to ride on it, the two young men rigged up a place in one end of the car so that they could keep hidden there whenever the car came to a stop in case someone would come along and find them. All went as planned until the train stopped in Glen Ullin and they thought they would take a chance and stretch themselves a little, when who would show up but one of the brakemen. The brakeman told them he would let them continue and not report them if they would pay him a certain sum of money, which they did, not knowing that they were already at their destination.

My mother and I came about two weeks later, leaving my oldest brother Walter in Illinois to go to school that winter.

When my mother and I arrived we were met at the station by my aunt and some of my cousins. As there was not enough room in the buggy for all of us my cousins and I walked out to their farm about three miles from town. I remember that on the way out there I saw some of the big clay buttes that are quite abundant in this locality. I remarked, "They sure have big straw stacks out here."

As our house was not yet ready we stayed at my uncle's place for about a week before moving into our new house on the homestead. This house was dug out of a scoria hill and was part sod on each side and it had a board front, which was covered with tarpaper. Half of the floor was boards and the rest was dirt. Not ever having had any experience in building a sod house my, father made the mistake of placing the roof on posts instead of directly on the sod wall. Consequently, in a short time the sod settled away from the roof and left a space of several inches for the snow and wind to come in. We stuffed this opening with old rags and other things to keep out the weather as much as possible, but still we had a hard time keeping warm that first winter. The only stove we had was a cook stove and we had green lignite coal. Lignite coal is a very good fuel if one knows how to use it, but not being used to burning it, together with it being green, we had a very hard time, and we ate a great many meals off the top of the stove that first winter.

One thing that made it especially hard for father and mother that first winter was the shocking news contained in two telegrams which they received at the same time, one stating that Walter was sick and the other that he had died. We had no previous knowledge that he was ill.

Those first years in Dakota Territory were perhaps the hardest Father and Mother ever experienced, but for me I did not realize just what they had to contend with at that time as I was only eight years old. My biggest worry was to find some way to amuse myself. If the weather was warm enough I would slide downhill in a scoop shovel, but as the weather got colder and I was not able to play outdoors, I rigged up a relay of empty spools along the studding and upper floor joists, connecting the spools with string for belts and then connecting the whole conglomeration up to the sewing machine wheel which I used as the power unit with myself pumping the treadle of the machine. This outfit made considerable noise and I was told many times to stop making so much noise.

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"Visiting"

The two young men who came out with us settled on the Heart River south of us and the season being so far advanced, they only had time to put up a small one room building, which they used as a barn, chicken house and dwelling. The only partition of any kind was poles between the horses and the part they lived in. On one of their trips to town they stopped at our place asked me to go back home with them. Receiving my parents permission I went home with them for a few days and imagine my surprise when we got there to find everything so crowded.

We all slept in one bed and their table was alongside the poles by the horse stall, and that was the place reserved by the chickens for a roosting place. This arrangement of the poultry made it necessary to turn them all around at mealtime so that they all had their heads over the table. I was there only a day or two but will never forget the experience, although I enjoyed my visit very much.

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"School and Herding"

When spring came my father got some cattle and sheep to herd for the summer and it was part of my business to look out for this stock; that is, when I was not in school. We did not have a regular schoolhouse, but attended school at a Miss Williams' place, about one and a half miles from our place. We had school from May until September and when I was in school my brother herded the cattle and sheep. This schoolhouse was about twelve by twenty feet and we had a school in one end of the house and Miss Williams lived in the other end. We had two long benches in the schoolroom and thirteen scholars to occupy them.

My second year that I attended this school Miss Williams asked my mother to go with her to the Heart River to a rancher's place she knew about and pick juneberries. As she had no team and wagon, my brother Hadley took our team and wagon and together with Miss Williams, her nephew, and two nieces, my mother and myself, we started the trip. Later in the evening there came up a big rain storm and as it got dark before we found the place we intended to go to, we had to unhitch and picket out the horses. Just about the time it began to rain all of us youngsters crawled into the bottom of the wagon box and covered up with quilts but Miss Williams and my mother were afraid that we might be attacked by Indians so they sat up all night in the rain. I always thought it would have to be a very blood thirsty Indian who would be out that night looking for trouble. However just as soon as daylight began to show, we all crawled out to move around and get warmed as although it was summer we were pretty well chilled and soaked by the rain. We had only been up a few minutes when we heard a rooster crow and my brother and I walked over about one hundred feet and came to a high cut bank. Just under us was the ranch we had been looking for the evening before. I guess we had been in more danger of driving over this cut bank than from Indians.

The third year we were on the homestead, I went to school in Glen Ullin. This schoolhouse was larger than the one I had attended in the country and there were about thirty pupils. The schoolhouse was raised from the ground a couple of feet and was open all around the bottom. A family who lived near the schoolhouse had several chickens that liked to go under the school to get out of the sun on hot summer days. On e of the bright pupils got the idea that he would have some fun with them. As most of us went barefoot at that time, he conceived the idea of trying a string to his toe and putting a bent pin on the other end of the string, then putting the part of the string that had the pin on it through a knot hole in the floor with a grain of corn on the pin. Everything worked out fine to begin with as it was not too long before there was a loud squawk from under the building. Then when everything got quiet again he would give the string a little jerk and there would be another squawk. This kept up for some time when the teacher sent one of the scholars out to see what was the matter. About this time our bright boy started to take the string off his toe, but was not quick enough, as the teacher caught him before he got it loose.

The fourth year I went to school on our homestead as there had been a schoolhouse built on our place. It made it handy for me, but several children came a distance of four miles and our teacher came about six miles to school. She drove a pony and a two-wheeled cart. As she was sometimes late getting there we had lots of time some days to play before she got there. One morning when we got to school we found that some cattle had upset one of the two small buildings in back of the schoolhouse. We boys thought it would be a good idea to set it up again before the teacher got there. So we started putting it up, but the teacher was late again and we decided to have a little fun out of the deal. We put one of the smaller boys inside, then turned the building over so the door was down and he could not get out. But he did not like this arrangement very well, so he commenced to kick and finally knocked a board off the side. We then let him out and set the building up where it belonged, but when the teacher got there she did not seem to appreciate our endeavors and blamed the whole thing on me as I was the oldest one there. Of course, I did my share but really I was no more to blame than some of the others. However she told me that I should go home and get a hammer and fix it up just as good as ever. She made the mistake of sending another boy of about my own age with me for punishment. We started off and went behind a hill nearby, then started to pick juneberries and eat. We were still there at recess time and would show up over the top of the hill so that the other children could see us having a good time. After recess we went on home and got the hammer and returned. We then started to hammer as hard as we could. It was not long before the teacher came out and stopped us and told us to come in to study our lessons until noon, then finish our job. I perhaps should feel that this was not a very good way to treat the teacher, but as I did not feel to blame for all the abuse I got, I was perhaps a little too resentful. There were not very many pupils that did get along with her anyway. On another occasion that comes back to my memory occurred just after a heavy rain. The men of the community had started to dig a well by the side of the schoolhouse and had it about four feet deep at the time of this rain. The ground around there was of a gumbo type and the rainwater had washed into the well until it was full. We had been throwing cinder rocks into this muddy water and watching them come up again and float. We thought it was a very strange thing to see rocks float and we were having quite a lot of fun out of it when the teacher opened a window by the well and called out to one of the boys who had an extra large rock up over his head ready to drop it in the muddy water, "Nick, drop the rock." He did, with the result that the muddy water splashed all over the teacher's face.

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"Antelope Creek Ranch"

I did not go to school the next year as my father and a man by the name of Battis went into the sheep business on shares. We moved down to Antelope Creek about thirty miles south of town and six miles from the nearest neighbor at that time.

We started down to this place about the last of July and took three days on the road. The second day we reached the Heart River and had a lot of trouble in getting the sheep to cross, but after dragging several of them across, the rest started and went over without any ado. We stayed all night that second night at a rancher's place who lived where we made the crossing, and did not have to watch the sheep as we had a corral to put them in. The third day we arrived at our destination where the men had already made a corral, but we had no place to live in. (This place was three miles from our ranch.) We all started in making a small dugout for myself and Mont Battis, a boy who was three years older than I. This dugout was a very small place, but we did not have anything to worry about as we could get in it and have room for a stove and a bed, which was all we needed. Mont and I took turns herding the sheep that summer and as I was only thirteen years old at the time, I remember that I got pretty lonely sometimes that summer when I would be alone for a week at a time doing my own cooking and herding the sheep. That fall was a very nice fall (1890) and we did not take the sheep to the home ranch until the 2nd of December after which Mont and I herded together all during the winter, only missing six days when we did not herd. A big prairie fire that fall had burned off most of the grass around the ranch and we had to drive sheep one and a half miles each morning and evening to grass. We always had a sled with us and if one of the sheep would play out, we would put it on the sled and haul it. This made a lot of hard work but it had to be done. One thing that the sled came in handy for besides hauling played-out sheep was that when we got to the feeding grounds one of us would take the sled and go to the creek about half a mile away and haul wood for a fire. In this manner we could both keep warm one hauling wood and the other burning it.

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