A Long Walk to Edgeley

Nitschke, Lillian. "A Long Walk to Edgeley." Prairies 7, no. 7: June/July 1984, 20-22.

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What must one do to be physically active and alert for nearly a century? This question has often been pondered, but has never gotten a fixed answer. Gottlieb C. Nitschke offers a partial solution.

A pioneer in rural Ashley, Nitschke always refers to his 90-plus years as “still being young.” He’ll celebrate his 98th birthday on July 28, claiming that “early to bed/early to rise/ and plenty of good exercise” helps one stay healthy.

A no-nonsense attitude is also important. Since God put him on earth for a purpose, he believes in doing something essential as long as he can. At 97, he enjoys plowing, disking, cultivating, and cleaning fields of rocks. The most enjoyable seems to be swathing the golden grain with a self-propelled swather. What a change from the scythe he used as a lad!

Nitschke was born in 1886 to Christoph and Katherine (Gebhardt) Nitschke in Beresina, South Russia. They came to America by boat, leaving Odessa on April 9, 1894. His passport, issued by the Keizerlich General-Konsulot of Odessa, carried the words: “Gut zur Reise nach Deutschland fur den Infindlon.” In English, that is translated to “Good for traveling to Germany.”

After arriving in the United States, they boarded a train to Ellensdale. A man named M. Schlabsz met them there, and the Nitschke family rode as far as the John Maier farm—some 30 miles from Ellendale—by horse and buggy, their only way of transportation.

The Maier family hosted them until they had built a sod house and barn on a farm that had earlier been claimed by G. Skaley. Naturally, their few buildings were crude. With few tools, a sod house was put up in a relatively short time. The dwellings were built using many hours of the then inexpensive labor.

The following winter, they took up another 160 acres to help accommodate their children—Gottlieb , 5; Gottfried, 3; and John, 1. Their other children, Adolph and Ottilia (later, she was married to Christ Wolf and then to Jacob Schock) were both born in the U.S.

The struggling family’s one cow and horse did not provide too well. The horse was a means of travel and was also used with a one-bottom plow to break up the sod in planting crops. The cow provided for a large portion of the daily diet.

At age 16, Gottlieb started walking, seeking employment, preferably farm work. Having heard jobs were available in Edgeley, North Dakota, that was the direction he chose. Walking during the day and sleeping on grain sacks in elevators during the night, he continued his journey the next day.

Arriving in Edgeley, he found a job during the harvest season for $1 a day. He received only 50 cents a day for daily routine farm chores.

In October, when fall farm work was completed, he walked back to his parents’ farm 13 miles northeast of Ashley.

The following year he planned to find employment in the Edgeley area again.

Since he was more experienced, he thought, “Why don’t I sleep in a train car this time?!”

To his surprise, the car moved before he woke up and by the time the train stopped he was already in LaMoure—about 40 miles too far!

But a kind-hearted gentleman by the name of Kanausky offered Gottlieb employment for the harvest season. Later on, Gottlieb’s parents expanded their farm operation, and so he didn’t have to experience any more train adventures in order to find work—he worked at home.

Nitschke was confirmed at Peace Lutheran Church, east of Ashley. Later, he married Katherine Heyd on April 17, 1908 at the farm home of the bride’s parents.

Like that of his parents, the couple’s first house and barn were made of sod, which was later covered with wood siding.

In their 60 years of marriage, they were blessed with 11 children: Arthur C., Rose (Mrs. Phillip Eszlinger), Bertha (Mrs. Gottlieb Eszlinger), August, Rudolph, Richard, Roland, Ferdinand, all living in the Ashley vicinity, and Elsie (Mrs. Werner Hoffman) who lives near Leola, South Dakota. Two children died in infancy.

Nitschke’s present home was built in 1950. For the first time in their lives, Gottlieb and Katherine enjoyed the convenience of running water and plumbing. Several barns, granaries, and a machine shed were also built throughout the years.

The Nitschke’s farm operation was diversified into grain farming and milking dairy cows (once as many as 50—all milked by hand). They also raised hogs, sheep, chickens, and ducks.

The main source of fuel for many years was home-processed manure. This was a nine-month operation.

The procedure included saving the manure from cows and sheep, putting it into a lot, tramping it to make it solid and then cutting it with a spade.

Next it was dried, shocked, and dried some more, and finally set in a narrow long stock which was the fuel pile for the winter months.

They even used manure called mischt—to heat ranges for cooking, baking, and canning in the summer.

One of the highlights of Katherine and Gottlieb’s lives was being chosen king and queen of Ashley’s diamond jubilee in 1963. Townspeople selected them as the most typical pioneers of the area. Katherine died on January 16, 1968. But Gottlieb and their son, Ferdinand, have continued living on the farm where Gottlieb homesteaded. Ferdinand performs all of the household duties, plus caring for cattle and chickens.

They both share the field work and other farm chores.

Gottlieb was among the first to settle in the southcentral part of North Dakota. At that time, German was the common language of the area, and Gottlieb’s knowledge today of English is mainly self-taught.

Rural living is most enjoyable for this venerable pioneer, and he would never exchange it for all the smog-filled cities in the world!

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