"Pioneer Stories." Ashley Tribune, n.d.
It was April 3, 1886. We drove from the Alt-Danzig train
Station to Schiffskohs. There Pastor Pretzkau preached a farewell
sermon for us travelers. There were many tears and I will not ever
forget it. Then it meant to go on board and travel westward to Bremen
in Germany. The next day we got on board the ship Dortina. All went
well until the third day when a storm broke. We were all on the
deck of the ship. The sailors shouted, "Come, you Russians
and help us!" We helped with pulling the ropes and things went
better than we thought although baggage flew from one corner to
another. We had been to sea for 13 days when the captain came to
say that we were approaching land. We rejoiced at getting solid
ground under our feet again. On the 18th day we left the ship.
Then it meant going westward again by railroad until we arrived
at our destination where our friends were awaiting us.
In Tyndal, South Dakota there was much rejoicing over the reunion
and many tears of joy were shed. All had friends who wanted to take
Now it meant buying things, namely oxen, wagons and other necessities.
Then the decision was made for all of us to drive to North Dakota.
I built a canopy over my wagon and we were off to the north. But
consider, my friends how I felt about driving 300 miles with oxen
in a strange land. But we were on our way traveling from Tyndal
to Delmont, farther and farther northward. When evening came, the
oxen were unhitched and
allowed to go free on the meadow land. A fire was started and food
was cooked. Sleeping was a big problem. The mosquitoes were very
bad. I remember my brother wanting to hide from them but the "beasts"
got under the fur garment cover he put over his head. The found
him there, too.
One day we met a man on the road and I asked if he could tell me
whether I was on the right road and how many more miles we needed
to go. He was very friendly; laid his whip on the ground and said,
"You stay on this road and you'll come to the next town."
Slowly we went on and on. At last we were in Ipswich. The trip had
lasted about 10 days.
We found a land site and built a stove out of mud and stones. Dear
friend, you ask, "You built first a stove and then the house?"
Yes, dear reader, one must first have something to
eat before he can work. We built a house of sod smeared with mud.
The stove was heated with brush. Snow blew in often. When another
house was built we made a big mistake. The door should have opened
inward but we had it outward. When a snow storm came we had the
problem of getting the door open. The house was dark until we removed
the snow. Finally the house was completed.
Now came stone digging and turning the sod over on about 3 acres.
We harvested 5 bushel. You can see, dear friend, how we fared. In
the area of Wishek (now) we picked bones and hauled them all the
way to Ellendale with the ox team. There we sold them and used the
money to buy food products such as flour, lard, coffee, etc. I remember
well the time when my uncle Wilhelm Koth and I drove home from Ellendale
where we had sold bones. We drove past a farm where we saw many
nice chickens. My uncle needed a rooster so he called out: "Heinrich,
this man has nice chickens. I need a rooster." But we could
not understand the man, nor could he understand us. So I came close
by, stretched out my arms, clapped my hands and crowed like a rooster.
What has been written here so far happened in 1886 and 87. Later
we moved to the Zeeland area where I am now. Once more we had to
build. First a barn. Why? I needed shelter for the oxen and the
cow. I, too, lived in the barn until the house was finished. The
barn was made out of sod. Next the house was built, also out of
sod smeared with mud on the outside and whitewashed with lime on
the inside. The roof, covered with sod, was not water tight. When
house and barn were completed, stone digging began following by
breaking up the land.
No I am coming to the prairie fires and our experience one day.
I said to my wife, "Let’s go and burn a "fire
break." That meant a pre-burned space to keep fire away from
our place. It was said and done first around the haystack. Unexpectedly
the fire would spread very fast. To the drivers of five oxcarts
coming by, I shouted, "Och Sto Bochi wirith." - German
interpretation: "Who believes in God, come and help!"
We put out the fire but suffered burns on the face and hands. Once
a prairie fire went by our farm closely, it did no harm except blacken
the prairie. When everything was burned off, a fresh start was made.
Once again bones were picked and taken to the market. These are
some of my life experiences. But there were also snow storms that
I lived through.
One day I was driving home from Eureka. I had gone about five miles
when a big snowstorm overtook me and I hurried homeward. The storm
increased more and more until at last I did not know where I was.
Suddenly another driver appeared. It was Johannes Odenbach and his
wife who had been in Eureka too. I shouted to Johannes, "We
will perish in this storm!" "Stay with me; I will walk
ahead and we will find our way home." We arrived at his place
half frozen to death. I looked like a pile of snow for I had a full
beard. Odenbach’s boys who were still up took over the horses
and we went into the warm house. The next morning I started for
my home, but it was bitter cold. Sleighs were left along the way,
the horses unhitched, the drivers on foot seeking shelter somewhere.
On May 15, 1886 we came to North Dakota. I went to report here
on our beginning and our experiences. When we arrived at our land
site we only saw the sky and the prairie; not one bird, all was
wild and empty. We were two families. Our first work was breaking
sod to build a small dwelling place. We had two horses and two oxen
to plow the sod. We sowed flax, planted potatoes and corn but nothing
came up for lack of rain. We had no crop to harvest so we broke
sod the whole summer long in order to sow next year. We also built
a sod house and barn.
We searched for water with a hand borer for a long time while we
drove two miles to get water. My husband was not at home. Once when
I was at the spring a large prairie fire suddenly came. To escape
from it I drove the oxen as fast as I could walk, fearing for my
life. Luckily I had matches with me. I quickly set fire to the prairie
ahead of me and with God’s help I escaped. The flames did
not reach me but the smoke affected me badly because from it I could
We had a hard winter with much snow and storm. Father had to shovel
a lot. At the house, barn and haystack we shoveled five-foot trenches.
We had no money for coal. Our children constantly stood at the
warming stove twisting wisps of straw to feed the fire and keep
But the next year we had a crop. We had very little money - not
enough to buy flour, sugar and coffee, but we had milk and butter.
We were one of twelve families who built a sod church. The roof
and floor were made of wood. Heinrich Levin was the carpenter. Our
pastor made the windows, the pews and the altar. Oh, how happy we
were when the church was finished. Now we had a church where
we could sing and pray. The people became converted.
What is now left of the parish celebrated a Jubilee this year.
Only four of the original members are still alive. My husband Andreas
Lehr had been dead for 25 years and I am now 80 years old. But with
the help of God and hard work of the people became wealthy. Live
well until we meet again as we stand before the throne of God.
Zeeland, North Dakota
Herewith I am sending you a report about pioneer days. Since I
am often called upon to report on this subject I want to do it now
and write about what I can still remember. I was 8 years old when
I came to America with my parents in the fall of 1884. My family,
the Valentin Boshees and others from Kassel, South Russia came to
Menno, South Dakota. There, like all the others stayed with relatives
and friends through the winter. In the month of May 1885 we went
north. My father, as well as my Uncle Friedrich Klotz, each bought
a team of oxen, a cow, a wagon and bare necessities. Our possessions
were loaded into a freight car; we sat in the passenger car and
were off to the north. Our first stop was Ipswich, South Dakota
where the railroad ended at that time. There we experienced a typical
Dakota blizzard and could not go farther.
After the weather was better and the snow had melted, our belongings
were loaded into the wagon; we climbed to the top of it all, urged
the oxen into a trot and were off to North Dakota. About 40 miles
from Ipswich we made a stop at the place where several families
had arrived earlier. My father, my uncle and several others found
a hired man who had a team of horses and was experienced in surveying
land as to sections, townships, ranges, etc. Together, the men went
in search of land. They came back satisfied with what they had found.
Once more our belongings were loaded on the wagon and in a trot
the oxen took us toward our new home in North Dakota.
How long the journey was from lpswich, South Dakota to Mclntosh
County, North Dakota I don't remember. But I do remember that we
arrived at our destination on Pfingst Sonntag (Whit Sunday) and
have since learned that it was on May 17, 1885.
When we arrived at the chosen land location, we unloaded our things
and all went to work promptly. Every reader can imagine how Father
and Mother felt being so many miles from a town under an open sky
seeing nothing but miles and miles of prairie.
Soon the time came to turn over the sod and plant potatoes, Baschstan
(melon patch) and some flax. The potatoes were not laid into the
furrows like is done today, but were nudged in under the sod with
The crude shelters were all made out of squares of sod Smeared
over and filled in with mud. Usually a living room, kitchen and
barn were all in a row. Somehow cook stoves and bake ovens were
improvised. Heating stoves were made of stone and mud. Hay or brush
(Burjan) in them mornings and evenings for warmth.
Next came haymaking. My father and uncle each bought a scythe to
cut the hay like it was done in Russia. "We can mow this little
bit of hay," they said. They were ausgespielt (exhausted) before
noon of the first day saying the grass was too tough to be cut with
a scythe. So they borrowed a grass cutting machine.
The small harvest was soon over for they had sown very little because
it was so late in the season. Then came threshing time. This I want
to describe because at that time there were no threshing machines.
We did not have horses yet so the threshing had to be done with
oxen. A round threshing place about 30 feet in diameter was cleared
and swept clean. The grass was shorn down to the bare earth; the
space was water-soaked, trampled down or rolled and left to dry
to form a base. Now the grain was laid out upon the threshing place
to a depth of about two feet. Now the oxen stomped out the grain
by walking over it in the threshing circle. When it was all trampled
out, the pitch fork was the straw stacker; the wind was the fanning
mill. That was the first settler's threshing machine.
In the fall of the year, my father and several others of the settlers
drove to Ipswich to buy food supplies for the winter. Such a trip
usually took one week but this particular time it took only four
days. This was fortunate because snow began to fall on their way
home and a snow storm overtook them. The storm was so fierce that
they saw only snow and most of the time did not know where they
were. But the good old oxen knew the way home and that was their
good fortune. They reached home late in the night and the storm
lasted for an entire week. I have often heard them say that had
they not arrived at home that night all would have frozen to death
for the cold was so severe and the snow so deep that the oxen could
not have come through it. The year was 1885.
I remember another hard time. I believe it was in the fall of 1886
or 1887. My father had driven to Ellendale to buy groceries. On
the way, one of the oxen got sick causing Father to be away longer
than expected. At home we had no bread and no flour. The children
wanted food but there was none. Mother took some wheat we happened
to have at the time, roasted it like popcorn and that was our food
for three days -roasted wheat and water. We children didn't mind
because it was something new. But dear reader, can you think or
imagine how our mother felt with children in the house and no bread
or flour. On the prairie, one thing helped us survive. It was the
sale of the buffalo bones. Without them we would have had to endure
Crops at that time were small and poor. There were no opportunities
to earn money, but there were the buffalo bones that we could sell.
During one week the bones were gathered on the prairies and the
next week they were taken to town and sold. That was our "threshing"
work -picking bones into the winter. They were best found when the
prairie had been burned off.
Churches and schools were non-existent. Worship services and prayer
meetings were held in the sod houses and were better attended when
one drove with oxen or walked than they are now -with the automobile.
This concludes a brief description of the experiences in the lives
of the first settlers. One could write much more about the early
pioneer days. The present generation has no conception of what the
older generation experienced in those early years. But I must close
now or someone will say "He wanted to tell it all."
With greetings, Adolf Boschee, Zeeland, North Dakota
- LIEDER DER AUSWANDERER
SONGS OF THE EMIGRANTS 1877
Come, brothers, we want to move away
- Our visas are written
- To the Brazilian place
- Because there are no winters there.
- Our Kaiser will permit it
- That we not be robbed of our freedom;
- He has reserved a train for us
- Because we depart for our money
- And from Russia we must go
- or serve as soldiers
- And we do not want to go as "Radnik"
- Therefore we must leave Russia.
- And when we board the ship
- God will show us mercy
- And when we sail the sea
- His angel will hover before us.
- When we then arrive in that land
- We will be joyfully received;
- Fall on our knees and say
- "Thank you, God, we are already here!"
- TRIPLE HOMELAND
O, old homeland, when I think of thee
- My vision is often dimmed with tears
- And quiet wistfulness wants to steal 'into my heart
- As ever and always my spirit returns to you.
- The lovely villages charmingly situated,
- Framed by gardens filled with blossoms gay
- And the great love locked within you
- Will live forever in my memory.
- O, new homeland that has received me
- When no one in the wide world wanted me.
- The protection and shelter you have since provided
- That hold such great value for me.
- I thank you from the depths of a full heart.
- God grant that you be richly blessed!
- Through wars and chaos and from hard times
- May He mercifully preserve you henceforth.
- O, eternal home, in the storms of life
- You often beckon me with friendly hope.
- After long wanderings in the cold wilderness
- You promise me eternal rest.
- There will I at last feel safe at home;
- There will my homesick soul be quieted
- There will all the problems be solved;
- There will I plainly see all that is veiled to me here
Our appreciation is extended to Alma M. Herman for
translation of this article.