Prepared at the request of Mrs. William Landiss by her uncle, Albert W. Andrews, Kismet, Kansas, 1928
In the spring of 1879, brother Charles and myself decided to investigate a colony that was settling an unorganized county of Dakota Territory. We traveled by railroad from Faribault, Rice County, Minn. to Watertown [S.D.], which was the terminus of the Milwaukee line and 75 miles east of our destination on the James River, or Jim River as it was more popularly called. This River is said to be the longest unnavigable river in the world. The river valley is mainly rich and level prairie and is 30 miles wide. The eastern boundary of the valley is lined with rolling hills [GKM Note: left by the glaciers] called coteaus.
We rode from Watertown by private conveyance; the next morning, after staying over – night in a tent on the riverside, we started out to look for a good location for our claims. We found all the desirable claims on the river already taken for miles, so we each staked out a half section [320 acres], lying side by side, a mile and a half [east] from the River. The claims were pre – emption and tree claims, leaving us a homestead right to use later. [GKM note: you could have extra land if it was planted in trees.] Soon after getting back to Faribault, brother Charles chartered a railroad car and loaded it for the west; I went with it to Watertown. There I stored in a warehouse all the goods I could not load on three wagons. I brought out one wagon, and I hired two wagons for the trip.
The three teams started out late, and we [hired drivers] camped for the night three miles out near a large lake called Kampeska. We ate supper, picketed some of the horses, and turned one team loose. Then we spread the tent flat on the ground and crawled under it to keep off the buffalo gnats [also called black flies]. We did not sleep much, because the horses were wild with the gnats. (Gallinippers and hummingbirds we used to call them afterwards). The horses that were picketed would race in a circle the length of the rope and lay down and roll. The loose horses kept up a run almost all night, sometimes coming so close to us that we would raise up under the tent to make them sheer off. In the morning, the horses were black with mud in which they had rolled to free themselves from the gnats.
The trail across the prairie led straight for the river 60 or more miles away, and there were only two houses along the way. One was called the Halfway house where we could stay and use the stable for the teams. We had to make home the next night or camp out. From the intersec – tion of the trail and the river, it was 15 miles north to our place.
Brother Charles soon followed us, and we got to work fixing up a camp for the summer. We had three horses, wagon, breaking plow, harrow, stirring plow, carpenter tools, and other necessary things. After getting somewhat settled, other trips had to be made to Watertown for our goods as fast as we could fix a place for them. About the first things I had to do was to break enough ground to put in a small crop of wheat the next spring and to plow a fire break around the house site on Charles’ land. Then we had to have a stable for horses and cows. For this, we used sod and built it 100 feet long; the main part was large enough for five horses and two cows. We used one end for machinery, and we dug a cellar under it so we could keep turnips and rutabagas for the cattle. We covered the roof with coarse hay. This made it very comfortable; it lasted at least 12 years, and perhaps longer.
We fared pretty well because prairie chickens, plover, and jack rabbits were plentiful. We had a double barrelled shotgun, and had no difficulty in getting this sort of game. There were antelope almost always in sight, and some deer [both white – tail and mule deer] along the river, but we had no rifle and got no venison.
We were crowded in the tent, as there were Charles, myself, and Mr. Beaumont (a son of an old acquaintance) who had come out to get a dugout on an adjoining claim ready for his folks. We had a bed wide enough for three persons, and everything that needed protection was crowded in the tent. The country was subject to sudden and violent storms. One night a gale with rain, thunder, and lightning nearly carried away the tent. We had to get out of bed and hang on to the guy stakes. After that, as soon as we could get some lumber, we put a shed roof in front of the tent, and guyed it down with log chains. We then cooked and ate under the shed, so we had more room in the tent.
There were no Indians living in our area, but the Sioux Indians used to roam and hunt buffalo and antelope over these prairies because animal skulls and bones were scattered all about. Also, there was an old trail between us and the river, and Indians traveled over it occasionally from the Missouri reservations to the Sisseton reservation, about 70 miles to the northeast. Some Sioux came by during the summer, and five or six of them, seeing our tent, came over and hung around awhile, but, as they did not get a chance to steal anything, they left. [GKM note: in accordance with Indian custom they should have been offered food.]
About three miles southwest of us was an old Indian encampment called Dirt Lodges on a high bluff by the river. When the Indians set up their tepees in the fall, they banked them with dirt, and when they left in the spring they pulled up the poles, and left a circle of dirt. In the center of this camp was a circle of stones, and in the center of this was a large stone with a long pipe wrapped with rags beside it. This was a council stone. There also were two or three holes, called caches, where they kept their provisions. On the prairie, there were two platforms with dead Indians wrapped in blankets, and west of our place, in a tree, I saw another one.
We were very busy getting things ready for winter because brother Charles had to go back to Minnesota in order to move the family out in the spring of 1880. Trips had to be made to Watertown for our goods and lumber for a house. These round trips took five days. We not only had to get the house up, but hay had to be put up for the winter. We wanted to put up all the hay we could so as to sell it to settlers in the spring – – almost everyone who had taken up a claim went back home for the winter and would have to buy hay when they returned. We found some good Blue Stem grass near the river, about four miles away, put up about thirty tons, and plowed a fire break around it. Nearer home, we found some good grass also. We must have put up forty or fifty tons altogether. I remember we would load two racks to haul home and stack it at the stable.
After getting the lumber hauled in, we built the house on Charles’ pre – emption. It was a one – story building, 16 by 20 feet, with a lean – to the length of the rear. We sodded it up to the eaves all around. There was no ceiling til1 the next year.
Late in the fall, I made another trip to Watertown, and brought back Mrs. Beaumont and the young children of the family. While I was gone, a prairie fire swept down from the north – west, but the fire breaks around our buildings saved them. The second day, on the way home, we could see heavy smoke long before we got to the river, and as the wind was blowing strong towards home, we were pretty anxious. After we got to the river and turned north, it wasn’t long until we came to where the fire was burning on both sides and across the road, but the wind had gone down. It was long after dark when we reached the house, but no – one was there. Charles and the Beaumont boy had gone down to the river to see if our hay was all right, and they got there just in time to see the last of our thirty tons burn up. We felt pretty blue, but we had enough left at home for our own use, and others lost all the hay they had. Also, by this time, all the grass was dead from frost. The prairie was black with soot and ashes, and when the wind came up, it was like a blizzard except that the flakes were black instead of white. When we ate dinner we had to eat soot or go without, but the sandwiches were not any blacker than our faces.
We did find some dead Blue Joint in the bend of the river not far away and cut it one day for a man who lived up the river some miles. We went up to their place afterward, and cut and raked hay a day for them, staying all night. They had a small dugout and there was just about room enough for a table, a stove, something to sit on, and a couple of bunks, one over the other. The family consisted of Tom Garner, his wife Nellie, and her mother. The mother was out looking for cattle when we got there. At supper, Nellie got anxious and climbed up on the dirt roof to listen. When she started down she stumbled and rolled off the roof. Pretty soon the old lady came in, and without paying any attention to us poured out her wrath on Tom and Nellie for not coming out to help her when one critter went one way, and another critter went another. Tom and Nellie didn’t seem to mind it. The next thing was getting to bed. I don’t remember just how we did it, but we survived. Charles and I were accorded the guest chamber, which proved to be the upper bunk, and Nellie and the old lady took the lower. As to Tom, he must have crawled under the lower bunk or gone out and slept in the hay. Our accommodations were minimal because our feet stuck out over one end of the bunk, and our heads were jammed against the sod wall. We came home alive and well, knowing more than we did before.
On one of my trips to Watertown, I had a late start back and could not make the Halfway House until after dark. As I came to the top of a long hill, and started down, I saw what appeared to be a campfire in the middle of the road. I had no brakes on the wagon and had to let the team trot down the hill. I heard some screaming, and saw a couple of figures in the firelight grabbing skillets off the fire and running, but I couldn’t stop the team, and I did not dare to turn off the road in the dark. I ran right over the fire and went on. I found out afterwards that the folks were Nellie, her mother, and a man named Baker. They had been to Watertown with two ox teams, and were on the way back. Not thinking that anyone might still be on the road, they built their fire in the middle of the road for fear of setting fire to the prairie.
Before Charles went back to Minn. we tried to get water in a well dug forty feet deep near the house, but no water. I started another well near the stable and went down about ten feet before Charles left. The hole later filled up with snow, and was left that way as there were no stock loose. I do not remember anything else that happened until Charles went back to Minne – sota for the winter. It was planned that I should stay there and look after things, and then come to Watertown in the spring of 1980 to meet him and another railroad car of goods, horses etc. I have a vivid recollection of that winter of four months batching. There were only three families that I knew of in the whole county: a man and his wife at what was called the Colony House and post office three miles south, the Beaumont family between us and the river, and a family one mile north of us by the name of Beetum.
I was well provisioned, and had plenty for the stock, but there was no water nearer than the river, a mile and a half away. The first thing I did was to make the house as tight and as comfortable as I could, for none of us knew what the winter would be like. The eaves were open to the weather so I stuffed the openings with hay, and daubed mud, which was made with clay from the cellar floor, over the hay. Then I daubed every crack in the walls. However, I neglected to plug up the keyhole, and afterward discovered that a blizzard would use it to come in and say hello. I built a bunk in one corner, and, as I had blankets, a buffalo robe, and a buffalo coat, I was comfortable whatever the weather. For furniture there was a cook stove, a home – made chair, a carpenter’s bench, and a water barrel. The weather was quite mild until about December. I hauled home a good pile of ash logs that had drifted down the river during high water. These logs lasted all winter and part of the next summer for fuel.
There were plenty of prairie chickens and I could get them until snow came. I don’t remember whether I got any jackrabbits, though there were plenty of them. I remember shooting a prairie chicken across the river one day after some ice had begun to form along the banks. I tried to get the dog to fetch it, but it was so cold, he wouldn’t go in. I stripped and swam over and got my bird, but that four rods of ice water was the coldest bath I ever had. I would like to have gotten an antelope, but a shotgun was useless for them. I once crawled a long way trying to get within shot of some that were lying down near the river, but there was not good cover; they saw me and left. I banged away anyhow, just so I could say so. On one of my trips to Water – town, I saw an elk pacing along the edge of the coteau less than a quarter of a mile away – – a fine animal with great branching horns.
I do not know just when the first storm arrived, but it was on time and left when it got ready. The stable was about fifteen rods back of the house. I wore the buffalo coat to feed the team and milk the cow; halfway between the house and stable I couldn’t see either one, but I knew that I wouldn’t get lost. The buffalo coat would get coated with frozen milk blown out of the pail by the wind. Needless to say, I kept indoors all that I could while the storm lasted, but I had to take care of the stock and cut wood. I froze my left ear solid while cutting wood and thawed it out with snow, but it was tender for a long time. I quit hauling water from the river, and melted snow for the stock and house. [GKM note: The small river probably froze to the bottom soon afterwards]. Before the storm, I got about a bushel of fish from a man who had caught a lot in a trap. I put them in a box on the north side of the house, and kept them frozen. When I wanted a fish, I just cut off the head, tail, and fins with a hatchet, knocked the inside clean, dropped it in a pan, and put the pan in the oven with a little milk and butter. A meal like this would keep a king from starving.
I had no table, so I would sit by the stove with my feet in the oven and eat. I got my bread from Beaumonts, but I could make some pretty good shortcake, and I had coffee. I visited a little, and once in a while would walk down to the Colony House for mail, which got out once in a while from Watertown. It was three miles down there, and I would time my trips so as to be pretty sure to find letters.
I remember that along towards spring the Beetum provisions ran low, and there was nothing to be had nearer than Watertown. Mr. Beetum went there with his team for food. This was risky – – a 150 mile trip and a blizzard likely at any time, but there was no other choice. Sure enough, a storm caught him, and he had to stay at the Halfway House until it was over. I got worried about his family and went up to see how they were getting along. I found Mrs. Beetum crying, and there was hardly a thing to eat in the house. I went back home and made up a pack of food, but before I got back there, I saw a black speck moving across the snow in the distance. I was sure it was Mr. Beetum’s team cutting across the prairie so I went on to the house and told them he was coming. I stayed until he arrived, and it was a glad reunion.
Sometime in March (1880), I got word from Charles that he was coming out with a rail – road car, and for me to meet him at Watertown. I went, although it was risky on account of storms. There was still snow in patches, but the weather remained fair. We loaded two wagons and started back, camping one night at an empty sod house that had a partition, making two rooms. We crowded the horses into one room and ourselves in the other. There was a puddle of water by the road, where we got water for ourselves and for the teams. We built a fire with some wood we had brought along, had supper, then spread our bed in the other room.
After a little while, Charle’s family came out on the train to Watertown, and we got them to the claim all right. The children were Helen, Rose, Herbert, and Kate. Margaret was born some years later. The house was partitioned into two rooms, and there was a loft that could be used. My sister Carrie came with the family, and afterwards kept house for me when we got a shanty built on my pre – emption across the road.
That was a busy summer, and, among other things, we planted our first crop of wheat (about twelve acres). A good many new settlers came out that year, so we had more neighbors. We still had to make trips to Watertown for our goods in order to get them out of storage as fast as possible. I think we made some eleven trips to Huron and Watertown before we could really settle down. I remember one time when Charles and I went in with two teams, and the family was left alone for five days. They were badly scared by an English chap who was passing and told a harrowing story about Indians. They were afraid to stir out of the house until we got back.
Later, we got up a surprise party to visit a family by the name of Hedges, who came to Dakota from Chicago and took up a homestead on the river several miles north of us. We took a bobsled with the wagon bed filled with hay, hitched four horses to the sled, and loaded everyone that would fit in. We had a good time, singing and enjoying the ride. We certainly surprised the Hedges, but they made us welcome in true western style. We played games and played their piano, and the cooks got us a fine dinner, to which our keen appetites did justice. Then there were more games before and after supper. The ladies and children got the beds that night, and the men were accommodated on the floor. We had a good breakfast, and then were off for home. The Hedges sod house had a lot of small wooden tubes sticking through the walls. I found out afterwards that they were rifle holes for slaughtering bold savages, if any were impudent enough to approach and would stand still long enough to be hit.
The winter of 1880 – 81, until late January or early February, was quite mild for that section of the country. There had been no severe cold or bad storms; there was some snow, but not enough to make bad going. I was then living in my own shanty, and sister Carrie was keeping house for me. At this point, however, we had a storm that lasted for three days and nights. It was quite still and not cold. The snow came down in big flakes, and piled up four feet deep on the level. When the storm was over there was nothing above the surface, except a few tassels of Blue Joint grass. From horizon to horizon there was a great white blanket. We had to shovel out the back door of Charles’ house so as to get down to the stable which was literally buried.
We had no water for the stock, so we got the horses, hitched them to the sled, and tried to go to the river. However, we only made a few rods, and gave up trying to get through with the sled. Then we got on the horses and wallowed down to the Beaumonts. He had a yoke of oxen and had made something of a path. We followed his cattle down to the river, and managed to get our horses watered, but we did not try that again. For the rest of the winter, we melted snow for stock and house use. We each had a barrel in the house, and each of us would melt a barrel of water. We soon decided that it was no worse trouble than tending fires. At that time we had nothing to burn but loose hay because the wood pile had disappeared during the summer, and we couldn’t get buffalo chips because of the snow. It soon turned cold, and the wind came up and drifted the snow. A stranger could have walked over the stable and never dreamed that there was a large building under his feet.
We first dug a path to the stable door, but it would drift full quickly. Then, Charles or I would crawl through the scuttle hole where we threw out the manure, and the other would pass in the hay and water. Finally, we dug out the door again, and laid some boards over the trench so the snow would not drift into it. When we had to do the chores we would uncover the trench and then cover it up again. We did not get the horses out of the stable for several weeks. It was about three weeks after the storm before we heard from the outside world. When the crust on the snow finally got strong enough, a mail carrier would make the trip on skis once in awhile from way up the river.
The worst of our troubles became the question of food because provisions were running low, and all trails were blocked clear back into Minnesota. There were no railroads in operation within 115 miles, and the small stores of groceries and flour at a few places near us were soon gone. Other people were in the same fix as ourselves. It was not very long until we were out of flour, so Charles and I made a trip six miles up the river to a place where a man was said to have some for sale. We had our feet wrapped in sacks to keep them warm and to keep from breaking through the crust, but every once in awhile, one foot would go through, and in a few steps more, down would go the other. We had a small sled with us, and we bought two sacks of flour at two dollars per sack. We left one sack and took the other back on the sled. After that sack of flour was gone, we went to get the other sack, but it was gone. The self – appointed sympathizer with peoples woes had sold the flour, which he had promised to keep for us, to another party. He told us that he could not bear to turn anyone away while he had flour on hand. Some folks have rather a twisted sense of justice. I suppose he might have thought that if we could travel twelve miles on foot over three feet of snow on less than half rations, we could stand starvation better than others. However, there was nothing to do but take our money and go home. If my memory is correct, we were both madder, sadder, and wiser men by the time we reached home. [GKM note: Their frustration is understandable, but other people were probably in worse shape. During the summer of 1880, according to the C. W. Andrews newspaper interview, the brothers had planted 40 – 50 acres of corn and 12 acres of wheat, oats, potatoes, and other vegetables].
We had come down to grinding wheat in a coffee mill because we had nothing but butter and milk (we had two cows), salt, a little lard, and some sorghum. On second thought, I don’t believe that we had much butter because we soon ran out of anything to grease the griddle for our coarse wheat pancakes. Helen said she had heard that a slice of turnip would grease the griddle, but her test was a failure. Then she broke down and cried. There was only one coffee mill for our two families, so we took turns using it. The three families around us were living about as we were, and they had only one mill, which did duty for all. We had nothing but hay for fuel, and I remember how I would sit in front of the stove, feeding in loose hay while sister Carrie did the cooking, such as it was. We lived this way for several weeks. [GKM note: The whole – grain corn, wheat, and oats could have been cooked for porridge, parched like popcorn for munching, or sprouted and then eaten raw or cooked; did they know these things?]
We had seen large droves of antelope all fall and a good many until the big storm; then they slowly starved because they could not dig down to grass. We learned that two or three families living six miles east of us in a valley called Dry Run were able to shoot an antelope once in awhile. There was a drove of eighteen there, but the people said that the antelope were so poor they were hardly fit to eat. We seldom saw an antelope after that winter. [GKM note: in 1975 – 86, antelope were only in the western part of the State].
Late in the spring, we heard that a family living eight miles southwest across the river had brought in a good stock of flour, pork, etc. in the previous fall. I decided to go down there and see if we could get some supplies. I made snowshoes of light basswood, with which I could get over the snow in fine shape, and set out one morning. I got there when they were eating dinner: real pancakes, syrup, pork, and even apple sauce. I did full justice to the viands, and then remembered the folks at home. They could spare no flour, but I got sixty pounds of pork. I went home with half of it and made another trip for the rest; Mr. Beetum went with me. We had dinner and started back, but Beetum could not keep up with me on my snowshoes. I had a little sled made of three barrel staves, so I took his load, but even then he kept breaking through the crust. He was completely worn out by the time we got home.
It was ten degrees below zero on the 14th of April with two feet of snow. It did not seem as though it was ever going to be spring. One day Charles took a couple of pancakes and nailed them to the wall, where they dried as hard as boards. When anyone came to the house, he would describe them as specimens of the boot heels that we lived on.
One railroad, the Chicago and Northwestern, had built their track from Minnesota to a point fifty miles south of us the summer before, and they were trying to open the line to Huron on the river. Even though there was a large force of men working, the snow kept drifting back over the track. The ground then thawed before the snow melted, ice froze on the rails, and pickaxes had to be used to chip it off. It was about the first of May before the first railroad car of flour reached Huron, where it was quickly broken into and carried off by the settlers. The people of Watertown, though not so short of provisions, were cut off from all transportation because the road was blocked for forty miles east of there. They ran out of fuel and tore down a long trestle bridge that had been abandoned by the railroad for the time being. They burned it up during the winter, but the railroad made them no trouble about it. Soon, the warm winds melted the snow.
The James River is not only the longest unnavigable river in the world, it is also the crookedest; there are innumerable bends, and the river bed is almost level with the prairie. It is just a big ditch with a very slow current. When the snow melts and fills the stream, it lifts the ice and breaks it up. However, the many bends trap the ice, so the water overflows, covering all the adjacent land. It was impossible to cross the river anywhere during a spring overflow because there were no bridges.
As soon as the ground was dry enough, we put in 12 acres of wheat before going off to Huron for provisions. [GKM note: the newspaper interview says that they put in a total 34 acres of wheat this year.] We were gone three days with our two teams. I remember our first camp coming baok. When it got dark, we turned toward a shanty that we saw in the distance. It was boarded up, although we could see that someone had been living there. We couldn’t wait, and the owner ought to have been at home. After caring for our teams, we pried off the boards, crawled in a window, and fixed up our bed on the floor. During the night, the door was unlocked, and the owner of the place came in. He was surprised to find his place jumped, but like a good western sport, he made no fuss; he just crawled into bed with us. That was pioneer style in those days.
That spring of 1881, I do not remember just how much breaking we did, but some had to be done on my pre – emption, and we had to improve the ten acres on each tree claim. We raised rutabagas, and, I think, some sod corn and potatoes, but we had to fight a new kind of bug on the potatoes, a long slim gray bug that we called Quaker bugs. That spring a family from Michigan came out and settled on a claim southeast of us, making us near neighbors.
One night during the summer of 1881, a storm nearly capsized my shanty. There were four in my house at the time, sister Carrie, Charles’ daughter Helen, myself, and a hired man, Jim. Carrie and Helen had a bed downstairs, and we two men slept in the loft. There was a shutter in each end of the loft for ventilation. Suddenly a wind came from the west, and the house began to shake violently. The door was on the windward side, and I knew that if it blew in we were gone. I told Jim to lie down on the floor and hang on to the shutter. Without stopping to dress, I got downstairs in a hurry. There was nothing to hold the door except the lock, and the door was already bulging in at the top. I pushed on it with all my might. With every gust the shanty would sway over and then move back a little, but every gust would send it over a little more. The wind tore the tarred paper off, and when it got lighter, I could see the rain coming down in sheets through the cracks. I don’t know how long the wind lasted, but it seemed a long time to me.
Finally the wind eased, and I tried get out and put a brace at the back of the house. How – ever, the building was leaning so much that I couldn’t get the door open more than a few inches. There was a half – sash window made to slide on a girth, but I couldn’t slide it, so I forced it open, and crawled out. I braced each corner of the house with a couple of two by sixes that were lying on the ground, crawled back in the house, sat down in a ohair, and began to get scared. It was a narrow escape. The next morning, the wind was blowing hard from the opposite direction, and I would get on the braces once in awhile and pry and push; this way I finally got the shanty straightened up. Charles said he looked out during the storm, and so far as he could see, things looked all right. Anyway, he could not have helped us at the time. I remember that Charles had a water barrel blown away that night. It went six miles over the prairie and lodged in Dry Run. A man found it there, and it became his by right of possession. We got to work right away and sodded up my house, making it safe, and we had no further trouble along that line. The house did catch fire around the stovepipe one day, but it was extinguished without much damage.
We were much more fortunate than one of our neighbors, a good Methodist elder, who was living a mile and a half from us and was sick in bed at the time. His son and the son of a neighbor were sleeping in the loft when a corner of the roof began to lift. They hurried down, got an overcoat on the sick man, and managed to get him and his wife down a scuttle hole into the cellar. They were just shutting the trapdoor when the house began to go. The walls and roof tore loose from the floor, which dropped back down on the foundation and made a shelter from the storm. All the furniture was blown out, and the lumber of the house was broken up so badly that only a little could be reused. A flour barrel, about a third full was picked up and then set down, right side up, without having spilled a bit, and it was not wet enough to be hurt. As soon as lum – ber could be hauled out from Watertown, we and the other neighbors built a new house for them.
We tried again to get a well that summer. We went down 48 feet before giving up. Then Charles got a man to drill; he went down 110 feet, and we gave that up. Then we drilled 50 feet in a depression, and got a small amount of water, but it was no good to us. About two years later I dug 20 feet on Charle’s tree claim near the stable and got enough water during wet weather, but it failed during dry. Then I dug another about two rods away; at about the same depth, we found about the same amount of water, but it was green with sulphur. The stock would drink it, but we could not use it for the house. We had to haul water all the years we stayed on the claims. [GKM note: The newspaper interview apparently was wrong on the success of a shallow well. This area is covered by glacial till (clay) that generally yields only small amounts of water at either a shallow depth or just above top of bedrock. Sulfur can be removed by aeration, such as by pouring the water back and forth from one container to another, but their water may also have been high in dissolved minerals].
During the summer of 1882, Charles started a business in Ashton; this consisted of an agency for farm machinery, a small line of hardware, and a tin shop. The family remained on the farm until a suitable house could be prepared in town. Charles went back and forth in a buggy. At this time, the County of Spink had been organized, and Charles was elected Treasurer. We had a good crop of wheat that summer, the yield being from 25 to 29 bushels to the acre. We only took two loads to town. All of the rest that we could spare was sold for seed right from the threshing machine. We made $1200 that year, and it was the best crop raised on the place all the time we were there.
The same year we had our big Indian scare. A man by the name of Kneisel was Sheriff, and he had made a land claim in an unorganized county to the west of us. He had hired two brothers to work the land, and they were living in the house. The brothers, who were very afraid of Indians, talked about possible attacks so much that Kneisel and his cowboys decided to play a joke on them. After dark, they rode out a short distance and then rushed the house, yelling and shooting. The brothers ran out of the house and jumped a little creek where one of them stumbled and fell. The other vanished in the darkness. The jokers tried to overtake him, but they couldn’t find him. He got all the way to Redfield, a distance of thirty miles, in his fright.
The next morning, hunters were out some distance from Redfield when they saw someone running toward them, hatless and bleeding from the mouth. The runner told of an Indian attack and said that his brother had been killed along with Kneisel and the others. The hunters gave the alarm as soon as they reached town, and word was sent to the fort at Sissiton. A troop of soldiers started out, but they got the true account before they proceeded very far and turned back. Mean – while, the alarm had spread.
The day the alarm was given, I was mowing down on the river, a mile and a half from home, and Charles was in town. I had two boys working for me, one 16 yrs old and the other
12 yrs. I noticed some unusual travel on the road to Ashton, and wondered what was up, espec – ially as I saw one wagon full of people with a cow being led. Soon, the oldest boy came down and, much excited, told a harrowing story about an attack of Indians on the Kneisel place and about all being killed, except for one boy who got away in the dark, made his way to Redfield, and gave the alarm. I tried to quiet him by telling him that there might have been some trouble, but I knew Indians well enough to know that if a few of them got off the reservation and were making trouble for settlers, they would soon be caught and punished. I didn’t think there would be any trouble out our way, but we went home because I thought that the family might want to go to town.
The group that I saw with the cow was Mr. Emery’s family who had stopped at our house and told the story. He added that Indians were then at the council stone. He said that while he did not believe there was any danger, he concluded that it was best to go over to Ashton. I quieted the folks at home, and we concluded that we would not leave until we knew something more definite. If there was real danger Charles would surely come home and get us.
Helen’s story is that a man on horseback rode up to the school, jumped off, opened the door, shouted “run for your lives, the Indians are on us”, remounted his horse, and raced away with his two children. They were all terrified, but the teacher kept them together until parents came for their children. Mr. Emery stopped for Helen and Rose, telling them their mother had asked him to take them with him into Ashton. Their father, Charles, brought them back home in the evening, and we then heard the true story.
The next summer, 1883, Charles, Carrie, and I took up land claims in Faulk Co., 16 miles to the west. We rented the other farms because of having to go back and forth so much to our claims. It was a dry year, and wheat only made ten bushels to the acre; the price was low too. Charles proved up on his land claim, but Carrie’s and mlne became subject to contest, so we sold our rights. I remember one day out there when little Kate got too near the horses, and was kicked in the head. Charles’ wife, thinking that an artery had been cut, held her finger on the wound until someone went to Ashton and brought out the doctor. It proved to be not serious, and caused some good natured merriment.
In 1883, I was married to Miss Helen G. Emery, but had to ask her permission first, which was the only drawback. On our wedding day, Oct. l7, and the day before, it rained. I wrapped up my best clothes and walked to the church in my overalls. The minister and Helen’s family were there, but neither Charles and his family nor Helen’s oldest brother, who lived some ten miles away, were there. However, the knot was so well tied that it has not been severed these 44 years.
It was not long after this that Charles and Mr. Emery traded farms. Mr. Emery moved his house over to Charles’ place and joined the two houses. Mr. Emery and I farmed in partnership for some years. Charles made his home in Ashton, and continued his business there before finally moving to Chattanooga, Tenn.
Ashton prospered nicely for awhile. The people were enterprising and ready to go forward with anything that would help the town. There were two churches, Methodist and Congregational, and both were well attended. There was a large public hall, which was later used for a hotel. There was a large flour mill, several stores, a bank, a good schoolhouse, a newspaper (Ashton Leader), a blacksmith shop, a drug store, and two doctors. For a time, there was a nicely uniformed band led by a drum major.
At no time while I lived in Dakota can I remember our getting a good price for wheat. I remember selling a load of wheat for as little as 44 cents per bushel after trying three elevators several miles apart. The low crop prices, the frequent drouths, the iron – clad mortgages with interest at ten percent, and the short – time loans at three percent a month caused many farmers to abandon the territory in a few years. Then long stretches of the country could be driven over without seeing a single inhabitant. [GKM note: nearly all small towns in South Dakota were still losing population in the 1980’s; young people were moving elsewhere to work].
Another big blizzard occured in January, 1888. I had for some time been intending to look over southern Louisiana with the thought of settling there if I liked the prospects. I started before the storm and knew nothing of it until after I had reached New Orleans. It was a month before I received a letter from home telling of the storm. One of our nearest Dakota neighbors, an old soldier, named Osman, was getting a load of flax straw for fuel and was caught out on the prairie. He was found frozen after the storm. One of his horses was dead and the other, though still alive, was in bad shape. Some forty miles from our place, a school teacher started out with the children, and all perished. Other teachers kept the children in the schoolhouses until the storm was over, and thus saved them. It was the worst storm known for years. Our people were all at home and so escaped, though it was difficult and dangerous to do the necessary chores.
Early in the fall of 1890, Charles moved to Chattanooga Tenn, mainly because of his wife’s poor health. About a year later, Helen and I moved down there also and had a small place about four miles from the city. We lived there five years, then went down to Fitzgerald, Ga., where we lived eleven years, and then went to live in southwestern Kansas.