|John Felchle Tells of Voyage from Russia to America,
and of Early Experiences in the United States
Goodrich Men was not impressed on Account
Meets Old Friends in South Dakota, Who Later Settle in Sheridan
John Felchle Sr., pioneer farmer of near Goodrich, has written
a series of articles for the Gazette telling of his voyage from
Russia to America, of early experiences here, and his life history
up to the present time.
These articles will no doubt prove interesting to Gazette readers
since they are typical of the life experiences of many of the pioneers
of this country, who formerly resided in Russia and Germany.
The first of the series of Mr. Felchle’s articles, follows:
As young ambitious people we left the old home and all that that
word implies, getting on a train at Wesjoin-Kutt on March 1, 1894,
and having Eureka, South Dakota as our goal.
While on board ship, a terrific storm rocked the boat to such an
extent that we all believed we would meet death in the cold waves
without seeing America. Everybody was seasick; however, I was at
least able to stay on my feet and help wait on some of the sick.
On the ninth day we landed in New York, and thanked God that we
were again enjoying the pleasure of having solid ground under our
feet once more.
To our sorrow we learned that two of the families of our party
had not yet arrived. Karl Moser and Peter Heiszler had left Bremen
four days ahead of us but nothing definite was known in New York
regarding the steamer on which they crossed the ocean. One report
was to the effect that the steamer had suffered irreparable damage
and was drifting around at the mercy of the elements. Later we found
out that the storm had driven the boat out of its course to the
south where it had finally ran onto a sandbank and stuck there.
When the food supply was virtually exhausted and the passengers
were facing death from starvation and hopes of being rescued were
at lowest ebb, a ship was sighted, but it appeared that the stranded
ones were not being seen. Three shots had to be fired by the stranded
vessel before the sighted steamer noticed them and the course it
had to take to come to their rescue. When the life saving boat drew
close the joy of the unfortunates knew no bounds. The distance they
had drifted away from the regular course may be imagined when it
is considered that their entire trip to New York took 32 days.
Of course we had continued on our course from New York by railroad
and arrived whole and hearty in Eureka, South Dakota on April 4,
1894, as strangers in a strange town among strangers, as we thought-but
to our great surprise I met there our old friend and comrade Henry
Stein, (who now lives near Lincoln Valley) who invited us to his
house at once and of course we accepted. Our joy was somewhat dampened
when we found that Henry’s wife was sick in bed; but, undaunted,
Henry got busy right away, at the kitchen stove and brewed for us
a cup of American coffee, which was really delicious and great change
from what we had during the long trip.
Pretty soon Wilhelm Moser appeared, who wanted to greet his brother
Karl, and we were obliged to convey to him the sad news mentioned
above. Wilheim then took us along to his farm about 20 miles southwest
of Eureka. However, unlike today, we did not travel in a closed
automobile, but in a wagon, and it was bitter cold. The farmers
had been at work seeding but the ground was again solidly frozen.
Well, well, it thought that sure is a wonderful beginning in America-the
seed in the ground, the ground frozen hard and in April at that.
The next morning a friend of mine, an acquaintance from Russia,
came over from the vicinity of Bowdle, South Dakota and he took
me along to his American born neighbor, who hired me to work for
him for eight months at $18.00 per month. This man, Frank Wendling,
was sowing wheat and when my friend talked to him in the English
language, of which I did not understand a word, I just stood there
with eyes and mouth open realizing that I had run up against something
really strange. I wondered if they really understood each other;
but I was soon to learn that they did and that the conversation
had not been in vain. Our friend “Knecht” certainly
had accomplished something while I stood there not knowing what
it was all about, for he turned to me and said: “Well, John,
the deal is made.”
My new boss then stepped from the grain drill and I was expected
to go ahead with the job of seeding wheat. Yes, that was easier
said than done. As a greenhorn, just arrived from Russia I hadn’t
the slightest idea about American farm machinery and it was sure
lucky for me that the horses had more horse sense than I had.
Well, at that time this country had a Democratic administration
and everything was cheap. After six months I had acquired an old
wagon for $12.00, a yoke of oxen for $57.00, a cow for $23.00 and
two little pigs, and so I packed up and we started with our prairie
schooner, which was really no schooner at all, having no top on
Leaving our friends at Eureka on October 8, 1894, we arrived in
Fessenden, North Dakota ten days later. We met only good hospitable
people along the entire route, although all were strangers and all
Felchle Bought Sheridan Farm at $4 an Acre
Spent First Winter in North Dakota in Sod House, with 22 Others
Loaded Grain, $.50 Day
Goodrich Pioneer Tells of Hardships During Early Settlement of Wells
David Erfle, my brother-in-law lives 14 miles south of Fessenden,
and there, in a sod house, we took up our winter quarters. John
J. Ahl and family were there too; and so, altogether, there were
23 persons crowded into the one great “mansion.” When
going to bed we had to put our clothes under our pillow or we might
have had a hard time finding them in the morning.
We kept the sod shack warm by burning straw, and our menu cards
did not show as many courses as they do today. Nevertheless we had
some charges: bread and coffee, and coffee and bread. Oh, yes, we
had some meat sometimes, when we managed to get a rabbit; but that
did not happen very often. Not that there was a scarcity of rabbits,
but the money to buy ammunition was often lacking. Fortunately I
had a pig which weighed about 70 pounds, but then what was that
for a “brotherly tribe” of 23 people.
Homestead in Fessenden.
I was receiving $.50 a day loading wheat into railroad cars and
you can imagine that we had to do some pinching to get through the
winter. Swell parties could not be given at such wages, but we pulled
In the spring of 1895, I filed on a homestead 11 miles southwest
of Fessenden and built a sod shack on it. The walls of the new “skyscraper”
were soon built, and then arose the question of a roof. That was
not so easily answered, as there was no money to buy lumber and
shingles. But, “where there is a will there is a way”.
I hitched my oxen to the wagon and drove 30 miles to the “Woods”
where we got some poles and brush. These were used as rafters, stringers
and supports for the sod which we laid on top of the brush; then
a coat of asphalt, the kind that is found just beneath the black
soil, and we had a roof for very little money. Yes, it took a lot
of time and labor, but when we moved into it and surveyed our domain,
which looked big to us at that time, we felt as rich as if Uncle
Sam had made us king of all North Dakota. My father had filed on
a homestead adjoining ours.
Used Neighbors Plow
Each of us had a pair of oxen and with them we broke the prairie
to sow flax, but it was rather late when we finished, although we
only broke 12 acres each. You see we had to wait until the neighbor
had finished his work in order to be able to borrow his breaking
plow. We seeded the flax just on top of the sod and left the rest
to the Lord.
We harvested 90 bushels of flax each and it was worth $.60 a bushel;
wheat brought $.35 to $.40 a bushel; flour was $1.20 a hundred pounds,
shoes $1.25 a pair. Wages were $1.00 a day making hay, $1.50 a day
in the harvest field and $3.00 for man and team for threshing. Beef
was dirt cheap, and butter could hardly be sold at all, but we did
not have much either.
Settle in Sheridan
After five years we made final proof of our homestead, received
patent deed and sold it at $10.00 an acre on the installment plan.
Then my father, my brother-in-law, John Mauch, and I bought a half
section each in what was then McLean, but now Sheridan county, from
the Northern Pacific Railway company at $4.00 an acre on the 10
year payment plan at six percent interest. The down payment of $125
was a big sum of money in those days and we had to borrow that from
a bank in Fessenden at a high rate of interest.
That was in the spring of 1899 and again we had to build everything
new out of the same materials as before, and the following fall
we packed up everything and moved to our new location. This time
the move was not much of a hardship, for our entire equipment consisted
of five horses, seven head of cattle and a couple dozen chickens.
Diversification Brought $1200 Income Yearly
Livestock Along with Small Grain Farming Needed to Make Money-Felchle
Bought 12 Quarters
Goodrich Farmer Writes Concluding Article on Early Experiences in
Our barns were built of sod, even the roof. One night the coyotes
got busy and scratched a hole through the roof and took nearly all
of our chickens. We could have cried; the women were especially
downcast, for the chickens were quite a help to them in preparing
our meals, but it was finally agreed that we could be glad that
they did not get us, for at that time these beasts often looked
in through the windows to see if we were asleep. As yet we had no
gun because we hadn’t the money to buy one, considering ourselves
lucky when we had money to buy our daily bread.
Trip to Town an Event
Going to town was some event in those days for we had to go either
to Bowdon, 30 miles, or Harvey, 40 miles distant. But during the
second year after our move to this location the Northern Pacific
railway began to extend its line westward. That was slow work because
the country was quite rough and hilly, but it finally came along.
One fall morning, I think it was in 1902, I started out real early
with a load of flax, with Bowdon as my destination. After traveling
along about seven miles straight across the prairie, I saw two men
in the distance, working on the open prairie exactly on the place
where now stands the town of Goodrich. Coming near to them I recognized
one of the men as Carol Tomey, the operator of an elevator at Harvey,
I certainly was surprised and naturally inquisitive. I wanted to
know what they were doing there, and I was told that they were putting
up a scale to weigh flax which they intended to buy. Then I wanted
to know how soon they expected to be ready to do business and they
said, “In about two hours.” Maybe I can help you and
unload my flax right here. “Sure” was the answer. Flax
bought $1.50 bushel.
That suited me; I unhitched my horses and went to work. I asked
Mr. Tomey how he intended doing business buying Flax when he had
no elevator. He replied that he did have an elevator, “A real
big one, the whole prairie right here.” Well, we soon had
the scale installed and I was the first man to bring a load of flax
to the new town, drive onto the new scale and unload in the “great
elevator” by pulling out the endgate and letting the flax
run on the ground. I got my money too, and I remember right the
price was $1.50 a bushel.
I was happy and drove home picturing a rosy future for ourselves
and the territory based on the new events. But my wife was in a
different frame of mind when she saw a team coming across the prairie
about noon. Knowing well enough that I generally came home about
10 o’clock in the evening from such a trip, she was badly
frightened. When I came closer and she was able to recognize our
horses, surely she thought that something had gone wrong. Her first
question was: “What has happened to you?” Said I: “Calm
yourself, mother, we now have a new town and its name is “Wonderful.”
Then I explained to her the happenings of day, and our stock in
the future rose about 75 points.
Railroad Renewed Hope
Work on the railroad progressed steadily and soon the freight train
was able to come all the way to the “Wonderful” town
(the name I gave it) and which is now known as Goodrich. In the
meantime Mr. Tomey had bought a great deal of flax, but his elevator
was never filled. One day a great wind and rain storm struck his
elevator and surrounding country doing great damage to the flax,
causing Mr. Tomey to suffer a heavy loss. But when the freight train
arrived this hazard was eliminated as he could then load it in the
With the new railroad arrived new hope and courage for the farmers.
My brother-in-law, John Mauch, and myself had often planned to go
back to Wells county, but my father always restrained us with the
outlook of the future, when, as he claimed, a new town would be
built in this vicinity. His foresight was better than ours and today
we are glad that we listened to him and stayed.
In those days our post office was a little country store on John
Wittmeyer’s farm, about nine miles north of what is now Goodrich.
At that store many things that the farmers needed could be purchased,
even flour and machinery.
While that was our address we had to work real hard, the children
were small and through many years we had to have hired help. Finally
the time came when we did not have to hire strangers, and getting
more land under cultivation things in general were getting better.
We had as much as 1000 acres in crop some years, to which the Lord
gave his blessing.
With God’s help we were able to buy 12 quarter sections of
land in this vicinity at from $4.00 to $34.00 an acre. On four of
these farms we had all the necessary buildings and we found “gold”
on every quarter section; not on the surface but six inches under
it. We did not have to borrow money, and thank God, have no debts
on the land. Yet people say there is no money in farming; but I
assert that the contrary is the truth.
However, I maintain that diversification is necessary; alongside
of small grain, cattle, hogs etc. must be raised, too. Out of the
latter branch of farming we have made from $1200.00 to $1500.00
nearly every year.
It is too bad, and I am sorry to see that so many of our young
people do not take to farming nowadays, and would rather go to the
cities; but, I can say that the best and most honest living can
be made on the farm. Of course all people cannot be on the farm.
Some must of course be in the cities. I have lived in town for two
winters but could not stand it any longer, and had to go back to
the farm. However, I will soon be forced to abdicate for the children
are all grown up and naturally want to go their own way and live
their own lives as they see fit. Nevertheless when I think that
I had my home there and labored there for 30 years my heart bleeds
when I think of leaving it at all. Therefore I say anybody that
owns a farm: “Value it as you would a treasure, as a home
sweet home, where you can live in peace and quiet.”
Provides For Sons
Our family is a large one; we have raised seven sons and each one
of them has two sisters. Each of our sons received a farm, except
one who is working on a ship out of Vancouver, British Columbia.
We have weathered many a storm and often heard it thunder too.
In 1923 a tornado struck our farm damaging the buildings and demolishing
a new barn and we had to build a new barn and do a lot of repairing
on other buildings, even on the house. Fortunately, we received
enough insurance to cover about one-half the expense.
We have paid a large sum of money for taxes in this country during
those 30 years that we have lived here, and although we haven’t
any money to speak of, we’re thankful that we have our home.
Looking back over the whole period we can say “Everything
has been done well; glorious was the battle of Jehovah Zebaoth.”
In concluding I say: Hail America, Hail Columbia, God be with thee.
Civil rights you us gave, We never had to be a knave In this land
of the Free. I say to all of you: Raise high this Country’s
banner, The Red, White and Blue.
That our sons and daughters may be good, real citizens and live
to be an honor to the state, that is my hearty wish.
I am wishing rich blessings upon all of the readers of the Gazette
and for its editor and many years of health and prosperity and many
new readers. With best regards and wishes to all, I remain, your
brother-farmer John Felchle-Now of America and not of Teplitz.