the Trails of Yesterday: A Story of McIntosh County
By Nina Farley Wishek
Ashley Tribune, Ashley, North Dakota, First 1941, second edition 1978, 437 pages, hardcover
In 1887, young Nina Farley arrived with her family on the stone-strewn
Coteau de Missouri, central Dakota Territory, to be destined as
a young educator, astute observer of life, respected historian,
and talented poetess. Besides assembling her "classic" history with
transcribed early pioneer accounts in this 437-page book, she later
published a second work devoted to her pioneer poetry, Rose
Berries in Autumn.
Excerpted from her poem A Tribute, Nina Farley Wishek paints
with words a "disappearing prairie chronicle", in which she was
instrumental in sharing glimpses of the past with respect and caring
"Far out across our wide frontier
A ghostly pageant winds, the way
Is worn by trains of pioneers
Along the trails of yesterday."
These "legends of the past" recount: speculations in economic
panic of 1893; drought of 1890s; horrendous blizzard of 1888; sundry
dreaded prairie fires; and lingering pathos of frontier tragedies.
Nina was captivated by the vastness of Dakota geography and topography,
as it related to pioneering demographics of the rugged-demands of
coteau and prairie living.
Although a blue-blood Yankee of New England heritage, she expressed
deep respect for the customs and manners of the distinctively ethnic
Germans from Russia, "whose folk beauty was worthy to be displayed
in an art museum." Comprising 90% of McIntosh County's populace,
Nina was fascinated by the integrity of these "Glückstaler" and
"Bessarabian" Germans, who spoke antiquated survivals of mushy-mumbled
She further describes "A Russian-German Meeting of Early Days",
a rare insight of pioneer Lutheran worship in the Christian Becker
batsen-sod house, (written Sunday afternoon, March 17, 1890). On
page 229, these, "German people from South Russia...lived on bread
and chicory...their thrift and stoic fortitude, give to those immigrant
settlers their just due". On page 239, she describes "The German
Hausfrau was the champion bread maker in the country." Their festive
award was sweet "kuchen" and chicory-flavored "segora".
In Yankee awe, she entertained "doubt if we could or would have
lived the simple frugal life that was theirs." Nina mentions the
distinctive forward-leaning shuffle of these ethnic families, which
allowed great stamina for walking long distances on foot.
On page 232, Nina comments on the festive splendor of their vivid-colored
shawls, "Blachte" (Plachta) and Kanapee textiles, which symbolized
their "paradise-contentment" for family-bonding: "...hand-woven
ones [Blachte shawls and "paradies-decken"], very striking in appearance
because of the design in stripes, plaids, or squares, always in
the brightest and strongest of colors. The women carried their babies
wrapped in these [kinderplachta] also. Every mother owned one or
two, which were brought from Russia and later passed [as heirlooms]
to their daughters when they married. These shawls wore like iron
and lasted two or three generations." Page 134 features an 1886
vignette of "A Rustling Maid from Russia", Christina Schultz with
her proven-up pre-emption claim.
On pages 25-28, Nina mentions an 1886 poetry tribute, composed
at Hoskins Lake, by early settler, Mr. Seth D. McNeal, during the
second annual Fourth of July celebration held in McIntosh County.
McNeal was originally from Jonesville, Michigan.
On pages 93-113, Nina presents the Farley Family pioneer history
from early New Hampshire to Almont, Lapeer County, Michigan, to
Dakota Territory, thus contributing a powerful presentation of pioneer
life. She outlines the early days of cities and towns; Ashley (with
land office), Danzig, Lehr, Wishek, Kulm, Ventura and Zeeland. Early
McIntosh county was unique for a sizeable Jewish population with
agricultural pursuits (since most historic Europe restricted Jewish
Family biographies include early Yankee names include Basye, Beveridge
Farley, Guy, Larimer and Linn; and German names inclue Becker, Bietz,
Breitling, Boschee, Billigmeier, Geiszler, Giedt, Goehring, Haas,
Haerter, Hein, Kempf, Jenner, Krein, Lehr, Lippert, Meidingers,
Moench, Neu, Pudwill, Rempfer, Rosezler, Rau, Schulz, Strobel, Thurn,
Wahl, Walz, and Wolff. A well-written tribute to John Wishek, benefactor
to McIntosh County, completes this history with sensitive humanity
In her final chapter, Nina Farley Wishek presents a listing of
"Our Soldiers Boys - World War I." There is a detailed index at
Typical Sod House of the Early Days
Book review written by Jay Gage, Exhibits Curator, Germans
from Russia Heritage Collection, and the traveling exhibition, "The
Kempf Family: Germans from Russia Weavers on the Dakota Prairies",
NDSU Libraries, Fargo.
Along the Trails of Yesterday: A Story of McIntosh County
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