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
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
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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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
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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