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John Felchle Tells of Voyage from Russia to America, and of Early Experiences in the United States

Goodrich Men was not impressed on Account April Cold
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 it.

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 Americans.

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 through nevertheless.

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 Sheridan

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 cars.

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.

Diversification Pays

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.

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