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Along 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 concerns:

    "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 dialects.

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 land ownership).

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 and integrity.

In her final chapter, Nina Farley Wishek presents a listing of "Our Soldiers Boys - World War I." There is a detailed index at the end.


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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