|St. Aloysius Catholic Church, near Hague
and Strasburg, Emmons County, North Dakota, June 17, 1917
St. Aloysius Catholic Church
History of Creek Settlement, St. Aloysius Church,
Located Near Hague and Strasburg, Emmons County,
By Father Richard Steinemann
Before talking about St. Aloysius Church, a little
background may prove very interesting. The slogan, "Times Change",
makes an impression when attention is called to the changes in our
own locality. Going back 50 years and more, we leave the conveniences
of electricity, cars, tractors and machinery of all kinds, and end
up with the bare necessities of pioneer life. It was like that right
here in Emmons county, not too many years ago.
Back in 1886, the Anton Senger family was the first to move into
this new locality. This family--as did others who followed--came
from Russia. About 100 years before their folks had left Germany
at the invitation of Czar Alexander I of Russia. He promised these
German people about 100 acres of Crown land in the Ukraine, religious
freedom, tax exemption for 10 years and freedom from conscription.
To be welcome they had to be good, hardworking people. They were.
Soon their holdings spread and the farms became too small to produce
a good living. News of the newly - opened Dakota territory was a
godsend. (It had not yet become a state).
This part of Dakota territory had been surveyed about 1884 and
shortly afterwards the migration began. There were three ways in
which the pioneers could acquire large tracts of land--that is,
large compared to the few hectares they had worked in Russia. A
quarter section (160 acres) could be preempted by working it for
six months, then proving it and paying $200; a quarter section could
be homesteaded by building thereon and staying there for five years;
and finally, a third quarter section, a forest claim, could be made
by planting 10 acres of trees. This latter law was usually disregarded
and unfortunately, today there are still very few trees. Deeds were
registered in Hoskins, later Ashley, and then forwarded to Bismarck.
Arriving by train at Ipswich, in what is now South Dakota, and
the end of the railroad at that time, the immigrants purchased supplies
and started on a wagon trail for the northwest. They moved along,
with their supplies of oxen, cart, plow, sugar, coffee and flour
(horses and cows were too expensive), making new, and sometimes
renewing old acquaintances but always on the lookout for a suitable
piece of ground they could claim as their own. They were warned
of the scarcity of rain and water, so they were naturally drawn
first to the south forks of Beaver Creek. This meant a 50-mile trip
for supplies. It was shortened into a one-day trip later when Eureka
came into existence.
Everything was prairie with heavy, luxuriant grass, especially
along the creek. This clear stream had plenty of good, pure water,
abundant grass, large beautiful trees--truly a beautiful stream
and a fine place for a home. Today this has changed a little--and
it is a shame. The dust storms of the 30's filled in many of the
deeper holes and the stream has been so polluted with manure that
it is unfit even for swimming. In the early days a claim along the
creek was most important and desirable, because of its good water
and because good shallow wells could easily be found near it. Other
farmers, not so fortunate, often came for miles to get barrels of
water. There were plenty of fish and from the creek came the hops
from which the early settlers made the yeast for their all-important
bread. Its importance is reflected, today, in that the district
is popularly known and referred to, simply, as "The Creek."
Home, in those days, was a small building--a sod house--made of
a mixture of mud and straw. This mixture was worked into bricks
about six inches square and about 12 inches long. The walls were
quite thick, making the house cool in summer and easier to heat
in winter--providing they did not crack. It was frequently necessary
to repair damage done by rains. A large oven, fired with hay, straw
or manure, served the dual purpose of heating and baking. The dirt
floor was packed hard and well swept. A simple wall was often put
up to make the sod house into a two-room structure.
The food was simple. There were no canned goods and early crop
failures added to the difficulty of securing food. Bread and milk
were the most important, although "Ruebel Suppe", made
of rubbed bits of dough and milk, was on the table every day. No
cabbage then--so no borsch; no chicken--so no eggs; no hogs--so
no pork. Cattle and oxen were too necessary and important to slaughter.
The only meat, if any, was from rabbits and from the ducks on the
Going to town was more a task than a pleasure. It was a long hard
ride and many and dangerous were the experiences of those who made
it--especially if they were caught in a storm or blizzard. There
was no radio with its five-day forecast in those days. The trip
was one that would be taken, possibly, every three months, except
in the fall when enough provisions would be hauled to last through
the long winter months--they hoped! Despite these hardships the
people were in good health. This was good, for the nearest physician,
Dr. Gertes, lived in Eureka, and that was a long way off. There
were few adult deaths in the early days, but infant mortality was
Already in 1893, Syrians and Jews came around with their huckster
wagons. These were loaded with merchandise and food, and were a
great help to the people, for time and the trouble of a trip to
town. The prices were high and a common practice was to offer only
half of what was asked for any article.
It was a quiet and peaceful life. There were no outlaws and the
people were always kind and friendly. They were real neighbors--helping
each other in their work and making their common burdens easier
to bear. They were a source of pleasure and companionship, helping
and doing their part to give the West the reputation of having a
very friendly and hospitable people.
Farming was different then. It was slow, hard work breaking oxen
to yoke and still worse to break ground with a 14-inch breaker plow.
Oxen were preferred for this work for they were steadier and more
powerful than horses. Farming was hard on legs, back and arms. Seed
was broadcast by hand and then covered with a drag. To put out 50
acres of grain was a lot of work for one farmer. It was cut with
a mower with a boxlike attachment to catch the grain and drop it
in small piles, thus making it easier to stack. The old ways of
threshing by driving horses `round and round' over the straw and
flailing, which was beating the grain out with wooden sticks, were
a far cry from the combines now in use. The first horsepower threshing
machine was purchased in 1894. Around this time the header also
appeared. The large steam engine threshing outfits arrived about
10 years later.
Oxen and horses were brought in, by the carload, to Menno, S.D.,
and were then shipped to Ipswich for sale to the neighboring families.
Breaking in oxen to the yoke was a very difficult job for the farmer,
and the work they had to do was tiring for man and beast. A not
unusual but still interesting fact concerns the family walking miles
to church, even through mud, because the horses and oxen were too
tired from the previous week's work. (The third Commandment--no
work for horses??).
An education was difficult to receive. The classroom was a room
in one of the farmhouses where the gathered children were taught
English, reading, writing and also arithmetic. In theory that was
good but school seldom lasted more than one month out of the year.
The first schools were built in 1897 but many time these remained
vacant for years at a time. Few teachers were available. "German
schools" began shortly afterwards and they did a lot for the
children. They usually lasted around three months and along with
German and arithmetic, the children were taught about God and their
relation to Him--something that some think is so terrible.
In the 80's, mail was delivered to Ipswich. Charles Pfeiffer had
a store there and he would sort and bundle the mail and then give
it to farmers headed in the direction of "the Creek."
Eventually, the mail was delivered. In the 90's, it was brought
from Williamsport, then county seat of Emmons county, to Edward
Braddock--Dakem post office down to Jacob Fischer's house. This
happened about three times a week. At these two places the farmers
gathered to receive and hear the latest news from their homeland.
Just before World War I, mail was carried R.F.D. from Hague with
many boxes lined up in front of the church, the end of the route.
In May 1947, this was made into a daily route.
This, in brief, is the background of the story of the 50-year existence
of St. Aloysius church. From the very beginning, as is still true
today, almost all the families were Roman Catholics. The families
of Anton Senger, Karl Fischer, Joseph Heisler, Ferdinand Kraft,
John Goldade and Adam Gefre were among the earliest in this section.
Within the space of only a few years, they were followed by many
more and in a short time the claims along the creek were staked.
There was no priest among these German-speaking Catholics, but word
spread quickly even in the early times. It was not long, June, 1887
when Father Bernard Strassmaier, O.S.B., came from Ft. Yates with
his two Indian companions and guides and said Mass for the people.
This missionary had a vast territory and with the limited transportation
of a horse and two-wheeled cart, he could come only about four or
five times a year.
Father Strassmaier would mail a letter to one of the families,
usually Anton Senger, about a month ahead, mentioning the date he
would be there. He always came a day before; so that all preparations
would be completed. A small table was used as an altar. The house
was jammed with people who had gathered--coming by foot, by horse
and by oxcart. They came from miles around. After Mass in the morning
came the marriages and baptisms. In the afternoon Vespers would
be sung by all the people. John Streifel, Barbara Schumacher, Katherina
Erick and Margarita Fischer led the choir. It was a friendly and
sociable group, and a day of religious and social uplifting. Mass
was also said in the homes of John Weber, Adam Gefre and Joseph
Father Joachim Widmer, O.S.B., of Strasburg and Father Stephan
of St. John's Church, succeeded Father Bernard in his work but facilities
were not satisfactory. The people needed and wanted a church. But
where was it to be built? Three locations were discussed in the
meetings that were held. The present site was chosen because it
was most centrally located. This was in preference to places 1-1/2
miles north and another 1-1/4 miles to the southeast.
Construction of the new church began in 1897, on land donated for
that purpose by Anton A. Fischer. The lumber came from Eureka. The
land on which the church was built was deeded to Bishop Shanley
on September 23, 1898. A small church, about 20x30 feet with a very
beautiful interior, was built under the direction of John Schweitzer.
It had no tower, the bell hanging from two poles directly in front
of the church. Priests from the neighboring town of Strasburg came
over regularly, once a month, for Mass and instructions. One afternoon
in the fall of 1906, after Father Justus, O.S.B., had been over
for Mass in the morning, smoke arose in the clear blue sky. The
church burned to the ground. Plans were immediately begun to build
a larger church measuring 30x60 feet. In the meantime Mass was said
in the home of the neighbor, Joseph Gefre. Father Justus O.S.B.,
is the oldest pastor alive at this writing.
The new church, also dedicated to St. Aloysius, was blessed by Most
Reverend Vincent Wehrle, O.S.B., in 1907. The organ was donated
by Kasimir Mastel and John Eberle. The following year the people
were promised a resident pastor and for that reason work on the
rectory began immediately. Father Hermann Decker, the first priest,
stayed but two years. Up until his coming, Benedictine priests had
been in charge of the parish. Father Karl Hierlmeier stayed until
1915 when Father Matthew Minnixhofer took his place. Father Raphael
Schaefer came in 1923 for a stay of two years. The church was already
becoming too small and under Father Aloysius Fiorioli, a 25-ft addition
was built at the rear of the church. Father Fiorioli, the last diocesan
priest was here until 1930, and is still living.
Since 1930, priests of the Society of the Precious Blood have been
in charge of the parish, and of Sacred Heart church, Rosenthal.
The latter was added as a mission church. Father Henry Friedal,
C.PP.S., remained here for almost eight years, and during this time
the tower began to pull away from the church. The tower was razed
and another built alongside the structure. Father Paul Denzel, C.PP.S.,
left in 1939 when Father Charles Meyer, C.PP.S., took over.
In 1941 the entire interior of the church was covered with Nuwood,
improving its appearance and also acting as an insulation from the
cold and heat. A blower was installed in the furnace making the
church warm for the first time, and creating a saving in the fuel
bill. A shelter belt of trees was planted, showing the farmers that
trees could and would grow in North Dakota. Father Joseph Maichler,
C.PP.S., was here until followed by Father Richard Steinemann, C.PP.S.,
in 1946. In observance of the Golden Jubilee, and in thanksgiving
to god, stained glass windows were put into the church this year.
The records of the church go back to 1899 to the first of 1,143
baptisms, which was Wendelin W. Horner. The first adult burial was
that of Nickolas Heisler on December 19, 1898. The first wedding--a
triple ceremony--occurred on November 6, 1899. In that ceremony
John, Peter and Philipina Horner were married to Barbara Boehm,
Helen Kelsch and George Bosch, respectively. There are 149 recorded
burials and 185 marriages.
In the past few years the people have progressed. One of the first
real pushes to obtain REA power for Emmons county came from the
people of St. Aloysius. Another example of their ideas of progress
was the time they asked the priest to stop preaching in German so
that their children might better learn the English language.
Golden Jubilee June 21, 1949
On June 21, 1949, the members of St. Aloysius Church celebrated
the Golden Jubilee with a Solemn High Mass. The Reverend Ministri
were the following: Very Reverend Ignatius Wagner, C.PP.S., Superior
of the Western Division of the Society of the Precious Blood was
celebrant; Reverend Thomas Jundt, O.S.B., pastor of Sts. Peter and
Paul Church, Strasburg was deacon; Reverend Francis Lauinger, pastor
of St. Michael Church of rural Linton was subdeacon; Reverend Joseph
Biegler, C.PP.S., pastor of St. Anthony's Church, Linton, was Master
of Ceremonies. Reverend Joseph Niebler, Dean of the Hague Deanery,
preached the sermon. Thus all the priests--Benedictines, Diocesan
and Precious Blood--who have served the people of St. Aloysius were
represented at the altar. There were thirteen priests present for
the celebration. The church was far too small to seat all who came,
from miles around, to attend the Mass.