Thistles and Lace a Photographic Journey Part I: The Nills
Fuel Consisted of Whatever we Could Find: Straw, Weeds, Buffalo
Chips Even Thistles!
Weber, Martha Nill. "Thistles and Lace a Photographic Journey Part I: The Nills." Prairies 7, no. 5: April 1984, 10-22.
Document (PDF 310KB)
There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.
While sorting through some of my old photo albums, I thought it
might be interesting to share some of these pictures to let people
see how we lived, the style of clothes we used to wear, the homes
we lived in, and some of the joys and sorrows we shared.
We had a good life. There were problems and hardships at times,
but then there was much happiness too. We praise God for His many
My parents, John and Ottilie Nil], left Russia on April 24, 1888
and came to America on June 7, 1888.
When they arrived at the Coldwater area in North Dakota, they were
in the wide open spaces.
Hardships were many. They had to live under a wagon box until they
could break land and build a sod house. They had a stove built of
mud. An iron plate was placed on top and on that they did their
cooking. For fuel, they used straw, dry weeds, thistles, and buffalo
People usually stayed together in groups. My father and some other
men would walk 35 or 45 miles to Eureka or Ellendale. They would
leave on one day and then return a couple of days later. A staple
frequently bought was flour, and they would lug it home on their
When my father could afford it, he bought an ox, broke more land,
and made a road. Then when certain supplies could wait no longer
he would take the ox with a small wagon and drive to town to do
the family's meager shopping.
Everyone in the family worked together. We had a few milk cows.
Later on, we were very happy when a prairie store was started about
six miles from where we lived. It was owned by the Lipperts. There
we took our butter and eggs, and exchanged them for groceries that
Our parents did not have to buy clothes for quite some time. They
wore the clothes brought from Russia. The clothing was made of strong
material. It seemed to last forever.
Our mother washed clothes by hand. It was not until later years
that she had a scrub board. When we went to school, she sewed our
clothes by hand and they were handed down from one child to another.
We drove to church with the horses and buggy. It was about two
and one fourth miles away. We hardly ever missed church. It was
a Lutheran church and services were in the German language. We always
had daily devotions and prayer in our home.
When my sisters and I were about nine, neighbors hired us to babysit
and do some housework. We hardly ever got to go to town. Our father
would measure our feet with string and brought us shoes home to
wear. We had to wear them even though sometimes they did not fit
When we got sick, my parents treated us with their own remedies.
Then, when Ashley was built, things got much easier. No longer
was it so far to go to town for supplies.
During the Depression, we had very poor crops. There were many
dust storms, too. My husband and I would often travel as many as
eight miles to cut thistles to feed our horses and cattle.
We had such bad roads in the winter that we could only go to town
in our horses and sled.
Our first car was a Model T Ford. It sure was nice to ride in such
a fancy car, especially after having had to walk and drive the horses
and sled or wagon for so long. But we could only use the car during
the late spring, summer and early fall. The roads were simply too
bad during the winter. We would have gotten stuck in the snow if
we had used the car during the winter.
JOHN AND OTTILIE NILL John Friedrich Nill was born on January 2,
1863 to Georg and Rosina (Matz) Nill. He had two brothers, Jacob
and Gottlieb, and three sisters, Elisabeth, Eva, and Rosina. His
grandfather was Michael Nill. John was born in Beresina, South Russia.
He was baptized January 6, 1863 at Beresina, and was confirmed April
13, 1878 in the Lutheran faith in Kloestitz, Russia. He was married
to Ottilie Kempf on January 20, 1886 in Kloestitz.
Ottilie Kempf Nill was born on February 8, 1865 in Beresina. Her
parents were Matheus and Katharina (Schlauch) Kempf She had two
brothers, Jacob and Michael Schlauch. Her three sisters were Dorothy,
Fredericka, and Katharina. Ottilie was baptized February 10, 1865
at Beresina, and was confirmed April 3, 1880 in a Lutheran church
John and Ottilie Nill came to America on the ship, Kaiser Wilhelm