A Long Walk to Edgeley
Nitschke, Lillian. "A Long Walk to Edgeley." Prairies 7, no. 7: June/July 1984, 20-22.
What must one do to be physically active and alert for nearly
a century? This question has often been pondered, but has never
gotten a fixed answer. Gottlieb C. Nitschke offers a partial solution.
A pioneer in rural Ashley, Nitschke always refers to his 90-plus
years as “still being young.” He’ll celebrate
his 98th birthday on July 28, claiming that “early to bed/early
to rise/ and plenty of good exercise” helps one stay healthy.
A no-nonsense attitude is also important. Since God put him on
earth for a purpose, he believes in doing something essential as
long as he can. At 97, he enjoys plowing, disking, cultivating,
and cleaning fields of rocks. The most enjoyable seems to be swathing
the golden grain with a self-propelled swather. What a change from
the scythe he used as a lad!
Nitschke was born in 1886 to Christoph and Katherine (Gebhardt)
Nitschke in Beresina, South Russia. They came to America by boat,
leaving Odessa on April 9, 1894. His passport, issued by the Keizerlich
General-Konsulot of Odessa, carried the words: “Gut zur Reise
nach Deutschland fur den Infindlon.” In English, that is translated
to “Good for traveling to Germany.”
After arriving in the United States, they boarded a train to Ellensdale.
A man named M. Schlabsz met them there, and the Nitschke family
rode as far as the John Maier farm—some 30 miles from Ellendale—by
horse and buggy, their only way of transportation.
The Maier family hosted them until they had built a sod house and
barn on a farm that had earlier been claimed by G. Skaley. Naturally,
their few buildings were crude. With few tools, a sod house was
put up in a relatively short time. The dwellings were built using
many hours of the then inexpensive labor.
The following winter, they took up another 160 acres to help accommodate
their children—Gottlieb , 5; Gottfried, 3; and John, 1. Their
other children, Adolph and Ottilia (later, she was married to Christ
Wolf and then to Jacob Schock) were both born in the U.S.
The struggling family’s one cow and horse did not provide
too well. The horse was a means of travel and was also used with
a one-bottom plow to break up the sod in planting crops. The cow
provided for a large portion of the daily diet.
At age 16, Gottlieb started walking, seeking employment, preferably
farm work. Having heard jobs were available in Edgeley, North Dakota,
that was the direction he chose. Walking during the day and sleeping
on grain sacks in elevators during the night, he continued his journey
the next day.
Arriving in Edgeley, he found a job during the harvest season for
$1 a day. He received only 50 cents a day for daily routine farm
In October, when fall farm work was completed, he walked back to
his parents’ farm 13 miles northeast of Ashley.
The following year he planned to find employment in the Edgeley
Since he was more experienced, he thought, “Why don’t
I sleep in a train car this time?!”
To his surprise, the car moved before he woke up and by the time
the train stopped he was already in LaMoure—about 40 miles
But a kind-hearted gentleman by the name of Kanausky offered Gottlieb
employment for the harvest season. Later on, Gottlieb’s parents
expanded their farm operation, and so he didn’t have to experience
any more train adventures in order to find work—he worked
Nitschke was confirmed at Peace Lutheran Church, east of Ashley.
Later, he married Katherine Heyd on April 17, 1908 at the farm home
of the bride’s parents.
Like that of his parents, the couple’s first house and barn
were made of sod, which was later covered with wood siding.
In their 60 years of marriage, they were blessed with 11 children:
Arthur C., Rose (Mrs. Phillip Eszlinger), Bertha (Mrs. Gottlieb
Eszlinger), August, Rudolph, Richard, Roland, Ferdinand, all living
in the Ashley vicinity, and Elsie (Mrs. Werner Hoffman) who lives
near Leola, South Dakota. Two children died in infancy.
Nitschke’s present home was built in 1950. For the first
time in their lives, Gottlieb and Katherine enjoyed the convenience
of running water and plumbing. Several barns, granaries, and a machine
shed were also built throughout the years.
The Nitschke’s farm operation was diversified into grain
farming and milking dairy cows (once as many as 50—all milked
by hand). They also raised hogs, sheep, chickens, and ducks.
The main source of fuel for many years was home-processed manure.
This was a nine-month operation.
The procedure included saving the manure from cows and sheep, putting
it into a lot, tramping it to make it solid and then cutting it
with a spade.
Next it was dried, shocked, and dried some more, and finally set
in a narrow long stock which was the fuel pile for the winter months.
They even used manure called mischt—to heat ranges for cooking,
baking, and canning in the summer.
One of the highlights of Katherine and Gottlieb’s lives was
being chosen king and queen of Ashley’s diamond jubilee in
1963. Townspeople selected them as the most typical pioneers of
the area. Katherine died on January 16, 1968. But Gottlieb and their
son, Ferdinand, have continued living on the farm where Gottlieb
homesteaded. Ferdinand performs all of the household duties, plus
caring for cattle and chickens.
They both share the field work and other farm chores.
Gottlieb was among the first to settle in the southcentral part
of North Dakota. At that time, German was the common language of
the area, and Gottlieb’s knowledge today of English is mainly
Rural living is most enjoyable for this venerable pioneer, and
he would never exchange it for all the smog-filled cities in the