Thistles and Lace a Photographic Journey Part I: The Nills

Fuel Consisted of Whatever we Could Find: Straw, Weeds, Buffalo Chips Even Thistles!

Weber, Martha Nill. "Thistles and Lace a Photographic Journey Part I: The Nills." Prairies 7, no. 5: April 1984, 10-22.

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There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. While sorting through some of my old photo albums, I thought it might be interesting to share some of these pictures to let people see how we lived, the style of clothes we used to wear, the homes we lived in, and some of the joys and sorrows we shared.

We had a good life. There were problems and hardships at times, but then there was much happiness too. We praise God for His many blessings!

My parents, John and Ottilie Nil], left Russia on April 24, 1888 and came to America on June 7, 1888.

When they arrived at the Coldwater area in North Dakota, they were in the wide open spaces.

Hardships were many. They had to live under a wagon box until they could break land and build a sod house. They had a stove built of mud. An iron plate was placed on top and on that they did their cooking. For fuel, they used straw, dry weeds, thistles, and buffalo chips.

People usually stayed together in groups. My father and some other men would walk 35 or 45 miles to Eureka or Ellendale. They would leave on one day and then return a couple of days later. A staple frequently bought was flour, and they would lug it home on their backs.

When my father could afford it, he bought an ox, broke more land, and made a road. Then when certain supplies could wait no longer he would take the ox with a small wagon and drive to town to do the family's meager shopping.

Everyone in the family worked together. We had a few milk cows.

Later on, we were very happy when a prairie store was started about six miles from where we lived. It was owned by the Lipperts. There we took our butter and eggs, and exchanged them for groceries that we needed.

Our parents did not have to buy clothes for quite some time. They wore the clothes brought from Russia. The clothing was made of strong material. It seemed to last forever.

Our mother washed clothes by hand. It was not until later years that she had a scrub board. When we went to school, she sewed our clothes by hand and they were handed down from one child to another.

We drove to church with the horses and buggy. It was about two and one fourth miles away. We hardly ever missed church. It was a Lutheran church and services were in the German language. We always had daily devotions and prayer in our home.

When my sisters and I were about nine, neighbors hired us to babysit and do some housework. We hardly ever got to go to town. Our father would measure our feet with string and brought us shoes home to wear. We had to wear them even though sometimes they did not fit properly.

When we got sick, my parents treated us with their own remedies.

Then, when Ashley was built, things got much easier. No longer was it so far to go to town for supplies.

During the Depression, we had very poor crops. There were many dust storms, too. My husband and I would often travel as many as eight miles to cut thistles to feed our horses and cattle.

We had such bad roads in the winter that we could only go to town in our horses and sled.

Our first car was a Model T Ford. It sure was nice to ride in such a fancy car, especially after having had to walk and drive the horses and sled or wagon for so long. But we could only use the car during the late spring, summer and early fall. The roads were simply too bad during the winter. We would have gotten stuck in the snow if we had used the car during the winter.

JOHN AND OTTILIE NILL John Friedrich Nill was born on January 2, 1863 to Georg and Rosina (Matz) Nill. He had two brothers, Jacob and Gottlieb, and three sisters, Elisabeth, Eva, and Rosina. His grandfather was Michael Nill. John was born in Beresina, South Russia. He was baptized January 6, 1863 at Beresina, and was confirmed April 13, 1878 in the Lutheran faith in Kloestitz, Russia. He was married to Ottilie Kempf on January 20, 1886 in Kloestitz.

Ottilie Kempf Nill was born on February 8, 1865 in Beresina. Her parents were Matheus and Katharina (Schlauch) Kempf She had two brothers, Jacob and Michael Schlauch. Her three sisters were Dorothy, Fredericka, and Katharina. Ottilie was baptized February 10, 1865 at Beresina, and was confirmed April 3, 1880 in a Lutheran church in Kloestitz.

John and Ottilie Nill came to America on the ship, Kaiser Wilhelm the Great.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller