Conducted by Bob Danbach (BD)
22 August 2002, Hebron, North Dakota
Transcription by Josh Watson
Proofread and edited by Peter Eberle
Prairie Public Collection
BD: Tell me your name and where you live.
PD: My name is Pauline (Neher) Diede; I live in Hebron, North Dakota, USA.
BD: Have you always lived in Hebron?
PD: No, I lived out on the farm, Custer Lookout, Diede farm, for 12 years, and I have been born and raised out north in Mercer county by the homestead place.
BD: How far is that from here?
PD: About 18 miles.
BD: Now you grew up on that homestead, didn’t you?
PD: Yes, I was born in a one room sod house, delivered by a mid wife, and I weighed only 3 pounds, but somehow I made it. And as a toddler I remember roaming the hills with a dog, and in those days we called the dog, “der hund”. We spoke the English language only at schools, in our homes we were brought up by speaking the German language.
BD: Was that difficult for you to have to switch between German and English?
PD: Yes, it’s been difficult, but I’ve accepted it. It is a mixture, sometimes it embarrasses me, but on the whole we are a combination of many nationalities.
BD: When you were a young child going to school, was it hard to switch at that time?
PD: Yes, it certainly was. We had some instructors that were very strict, and if you spoke a German word you were punished. The culture was so much different than what it is today.
BD: And how about at home, if you spoke English at home, was that difficult?
PD: My father liked it; he wanted to learn the English language. However, he also was very much dedicated to the German.
BD: Did your father speak Russian as well?
PD: Yes he did. He served in the Russo-Japanese war, and many times at our neighbor social gatherings, he would speak the Russian language.
BD: You were talking about your dad, and you were just about
to tell me he had served in the Russo- Japanese war.
PD: Yes, 1904, 1905.
BD: Now from a very early age I bet you wanted to be a writer,
why don’t you tell me about your feelings about writing
and how you got started?
PD: As I attended country school, one room school house, 42 pupils, one teacher. Mrs. (SamonsA31) pointed me out one time when I was in the 6th grade, and she presented a pencil box with two pencils with erasers in it. She admonished me to write the Prairie Hill and the Country School stories. Since then I’ve had an urge all my life to carry a pencil and to take notes, has been my hobby. Notes of merit, and thereby my writing ability was evidenced in our town newspaper.
BD: When did you start writing for the town newspaper?
PD: It was after we had lived in Hebron for a few years, they needed somebody to gather local news and write feature stories. They also welcomed my “Prairie Acre” column writings, which I’ve done for almost 25 years, and of course that gradually led into writing my books, one after another.
BD: Could you tell us the name of your books?
PD: Well the first one was a pantomime play for our Saint John’s church gatherings. It was called Remember When, and I focused on heritage characters, it was a great book. And the next book was Homesteading on the Knife River Prairie. There I received encouragement from several professors, especially from the Dickinson University professors. Well I said it how it was all through the book, and I’ll tell you, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry. I said it just how it was, it’s one of my favorite books. The second book is The Prairie was Homeome. I focused mainly on roaming the prairie hills and the fun we had at the Knife River, bathing there, not knowing how to swim, and yet we dared into taking our weekly baths at the river. It was country life, it was country fun. We herded cattle, there was very little fencing, and on gumbo places we took stones, scavenged stones, they were our toys, and we formed buildings from it. Oh that wholesome prairie land fun! It’s listed in that second book. The third book was The Prairie Echoes, and there encountered my “Prairie Acre” column in the Hebron Herald. I more or less focused on other peoples’ stories.
BD: Ok Pauline, why don’t you go ahead and first read how Hebron got its name, the thing you have there Hebron.
PD: Hebron, North Dakota, USA. There are Hebrons in other states as well. A pioneer minister, Reverend (Coch A81), who proposed the name Hebron at the birth of a town in an 1885 meeting, as he stood by the rear platform of a train, he sized up the valley. It reminded him of the biblical veil of Hebron in Palestine, and he wished that this place would become a similarity, thus Hebron got its name in 1885. Now at its past millennium time Hebron is often called a holy town, because of its seven denominational churches. Hebron as well is the brick making city. Its agricultural benefits makes it a town of significant productivity. Hebron was and is a wonderful place to raise a family.
BD: Now we are going to ask you to read what you told us before about your life story.
PD: A brief summary of my life. I, Pauline Neher, graduated from the Mercer County Country school in the 8th grade. Two years at Hebron High, transferring to Dickenson Normal school. Then in 1930 graduated with a high school and secretarial certificate. The Dirty Thirties. The marriage to Jake Diede, the farming times for 12 years at Custer Lookout Diede farm, the blessings of 3 children, Darleen, Audrey, Rodney. Jake Diede employed at the Dickinson Livestock Company. We moved to Hebron, North Dakota in 1945, raising and educating our three children; college degrees, marriages; they who now are grandparents. The Hebron Herald newspaper affiliation, for a half a century, gathering local news, and writing feature stories. And the weakly column, “The Prairie Echoes” for 25 years. So as well, I wrote seven books relating to the changes from homesteading to the millennium times. I consider it a rewardful and abundant way of life, and I say a heartfelt (danken shonA117) to the Lord above that has given me such a fulfilling life, thank you.
BD: When I was listening to that, from our talk before, before you started writing for the Hebron paper you must have been taking notes about stories from your dad, and from your uncle. Were you doing that?
PD: Yes I was. In fact, taking notes has been a timely hobby of mine. I write merit notes all over. Sometimes gets to be a mess, but there is a lot of material of noteworthiness in it. My father told me stories about the time he served in the Russo-Japanese war, and the kind of food—it was a disgrace. They had barrels of sour kraut with living worms in them. He said he was so glad to get out of it, and get the invitation to come over to America, and so likewise they made arrangements with Fred Martins family, that is my mother’s sister. And they came with 5 children, and my mother with one child and pregnant as well. They lived the first year in 1908 in a box car in Ashley, North Dakota. Twelve people in one room. While as they Homesteaded land, the Martins moved on their part and the Mayer moved on their part. It was wild, no fencing, and (A143).
BD: Where was the homesteading land that they moved on?
PD: It was in southwest Mercer county North Dakota, close to the Knife River.
BD: What type of land was it?
PD: Hilly, very hilly, and of course there were plains, plateaus, that could be plowed up and put into fields.
BD: They came fairly late; did they get any of the good land around here?
PD: Not quite, no, the farmer’s valley had better land. That was more of a range land that our parents homesteaded on, cattle raising and such.
BD: Now your dad, from what I was reading, was really not a farmer over in Russia, was he?
PD: No, he was a Baptist minister’s son. Well he didn’t tell me much about his childhood, except that he favored very much his mother’s intelligence. And she encouraged him to keep up in his education, and thereby my father was really better educated than the average. And as they traveled and journeyed across the ocean over to America, he seemed as though he had to do all the dictating and informing, and thereby he learned a word or two of English here and there. But during my lifetime with my dad I have great respect for him.
BD: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your mom in Russia, she had a different background in Russia didn’t she?
PD: Yes, she came from Gross-Liebental, a colony that was most magnificent in that Russian domain. In those days it was the culture for the oldest to get an education, and the following children had hardly none. So thereby my mother could hardly write her name. But her sister Sofia Martin was the oldest, and she interpreted all the letters and was proud to be the center of attention when the neighbors got together and letters came from over seas. She was the only one that could read them.
BD: You didn’t mention neither your mother nor your fathers names, what were they?
PD: My father’s name was Ludwig Neher, my mothers name was Christina Steinert, and they were Germans from Russia.
BD: And they came from fairly well to do, or well off families when they were living in Russia, weren’t they?
PD: My mother was, but not my dad. No, he had to depend on mother’s resources. They even had to sell her golden earrings in order to make it. In order to buy the bare necessities when they came over here.
BD: Now they came over with her sister, didn’t they.
PD: Yes, there were twelve in the group, 2 families. Fred and Sofia Martin with their 5 children, and Ludwig and Christina Neher with their one child, and of course Tillie was born out in the hills, in a country shack.
BD: Now how did the young men, how did they meet their wives over in Russia.
PD: They were (A198 Kouplad). There wasn’t much of the getting to know each other. Eight children in our family, I was the 3rd one, and I was delivered by a (A208 fraueger) three pounds.
BD: Did they think you were going to live?
PD: No The mid-wife said, “Das Kind Sterbt”, that child will die. She fed me (kindersprieA215), you know what that is? A little flower, a little milk, and a little water, and you boil that to a kind of sauce. That’s what they fed me. I imagine that milk from those high (fluferA218) grass. Fields, (A216 they were in) fields.
BD: When you grew up as a child were you still a little bit on the slight side, did you have to do all the work that the…
PD: No. That’s probably the success that I’ve had. I had more of less a normal childhood. They couldn’t use me because I was so little. My older sisters had to carry water from the dam, had to work to all ends. And they died sooner too. But I had a great companionship with wild animals, the birds. And to this day, I love the birds that come to the bird feeder, a variety of them. And the stones we gathered, I still have that knack, you can see them all over. It reveals what massive creation there was over the globe, centuries and centuries ago.
BD: We just about started about how your mom and dad met, and how they got started over in Russia. And you used the phrase (Koopla A238), is that the phrase you used.
PD: (Kobla A239), yes we had a kind of a German from Russia dialect that was a little different, not quite as elite as the real German. And that was ordinarily the culture in those days that they matched their sons and daughters together, the rule (hirotdeeA244), you know, And that was the case with my father, he knew my mother only a couple weeks, and then they were married.
BD: Did they come over here soon after that?
PD: They were over there for over a year, married, and my older sister was born over there, and my 2nd sister Tillie, mother was pregnant on the way over and she was born out on a cowboy shack. And I will never forget uncle Fred Martin telling me that story before he passed on. He lived to be 95, my father died when he was 64. Told me many a story, and he said that when we came to Medina, North Dakota, I went out of the train, and went to an empty shack and leaned against it and prayed to God above, please give us a home like this shack so my children can sleep in it. You know miracle had it, when they came out to the homestead, there was a cowboy’s shack, a one room, and he said we lived in that for a couple years. We added on a (A264 sodbood), but it had to do, and I will never forget that blessing. Uncle Fred told me that, he told me many a story, which I composed in my book.
BD: Did you get most of your stories from your dad and your uncle?
PD: From my uncle more so, my father died too soon, and of course the experiences personally that I had.
BD: Now many older German Russians have told me that it was very difficult to get their parents or their relatives to talk about Russia in their early years. How were you able to do that?
PD: Ohhh! We were often told to get out of the living room so that we don’t hear, so that…(laughter) They didn’t want to let us know about all the details of hardships. But some how we relived them, and so it was evident that we were pioneer children. We know how it was, and personally, all for the changes that took place since I grew up out there, and in the position I’m living in today, everything is so technological, scientific, handy. What would our parents say if they would open their eyes and come up from their graves and see the circumstances now? They couldn’t believe it. But it seemed we had a happy time during those years. We made everything into a fun episode. The neighbor kids came over and we played “pump pump pull away”, in the schoolyard we had many games, outdoor games that I recall now are obsolete. Once in a great while dad would allow us, one or the other, to go along into town when he took a trainload of grain to have it ground into flour at the Hebron mill. It was a long way, those dirt roads, meandering around the hills. But I recall so well that urban store; how I craved for all the good things that were out in barrels, and I remember my first time that I picked up an apricot without permission, and I got caught, and ever since that time I remembered “don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you.” (Laughter) Well, I was hungry for it.
BD: What sort of treats would you have gotten on the farm when you were growing up, what would have been a treat?
PD: We had a lot of choke cherries that we picked, they were a treat. And kuchen, Saturday was kuchen baking time. And our Christmas gifts, ohhh how I remember that first package, which had a peppermint stick in it, and one orange. We called them (BomerorangeA326)…(laughter) yes.
BD: First couple years though I think when the families were on the prairie, they really didn’t have much to celebrate with at Christmas time did they?
PD: No and yet we had worship services. It was very important that we remembered the birthday of the Christ child. We put up a (A331 Bullberry) tree, as a Christmas tree. And we made paper strands, and I will never forget that first star we put on top, when dad told us a story about the Easter star. We were rather poor, and the Neher children didn’t quite get as much as the Martin children. And what I remember is that glittering paper when my cousin Martha got a gift. I didn’t care what was in that package, but I certainly wanted that glittering paper, and to this day I am saving it.
BD: Neighbors must have been very important to the survival of the families in the early years.
PD: Yes, very much, and there was a lot of disagreement too. Cattle got out into a neighbor’s field and demolished it. That was hard, and then of course friction ensued, but they always made up. It wasn’t holding a grudge. I remember so well, my sister Tille and I were herding cattle, and we had one leader cow that ventured into anything and everything, and she led the other cows into Brockheart’s field in no time they had it demolished and that was their main field for their bread. That was hard feelings, but they didn’t hold a grudge. It didn’t take long, my mother was due for a baby to be born, my younger sister. And mother Brockheart had to come over and help deliver it. So the hard feelings were overcome that way. They did have to help each other.
BD: Are there any particular families that really helped your family get started the first couple of years?
PD: Yes, Matt Crowley, and the Jack Crowley’s. Furthermore Matt Crowley was the good man, he was an Irish-English rancher, and had my father not gotten a calf and a horse from there we would have had nothing, and that calf became a cow, and we lived off of that milk. So many times my father dealt with Matt, and I can’t help but say Matt was the angel’s sacrifice. He even gave us some food. When he butchered he saw to it that we had some meat. Today, Matt Crowley is listed in the Hall of Fame and he not only has a secular fame in my estimation, he also has a sacred part that I will never forget. The Jack Crowley family, Jack was more so the robust, tough cowboy kind. And he married a minister’s daughter, Ruby Rude. She couldn’t have been more of a blessing to the community. Ruby Crowley, she had a portable organ, and we would meet in a school house on a Sunday afternoon for Sunday school. She would have charge of it. And then I will never forget, I was about 6-7 years old, and she sang the song, played and sang the song “Is My Name Written There”, and little Pauline made way down the crowded isle to the portable organ, and I put my hand on her playing hand, and I said is my name written there. (Laughter) “Yes dear, your name is written there, God loves all little children,” I’ll never forget. She was the spiritual nurturer of our whole community, Ruby Rude Crowley.
BD: What were some of the other things the neighbor ladies would do helping your mom, or your mom would do the helping for the neighbor ladies? Would they help each other in times of sickness and times of birth?
PD: Yes, definitely, I recall, my dad was very, very sick during the flu time, 1918, and the neighbors came over and did the chores. And my dad was crying and calling for help, he was in such pain, and I will never forget how Rudy Crowley knelt at his bed, and gave him a timely prayer. He got well. Then we also had that sacred emblem of (brauchenA445), have you heard of that?
BD: Why don’t you tell me about that, tell me about (brauchenA447)?
PD: You know doctors were very scarce in those days, and to get a doctor was almost impossible. So we depended on mid-wives, on their life experience, how to doctor the sick. And I remember how Mrs. (Buchheart, BrauchedA456) me one time. I had abdominal pain, and we were over at their place, and she put me to bed, and I can still see, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, dear Lord heal this child. And she made a gesture with her hands. It was a sacred way of (BrauchenA464) that she got the soothing from above. Very common in those days.
BD: Were they efficient, did their remedies work?
PD: I think so, I know I got well. (Laughter)
BD: Also, with your dad and your uncle, living next door to each other, they came over with each other, how well did they get along with each other?
PD: Pretty good in the beginning, but toward the end of life
not so good. They were kind of jealous of each other. My pa
because Uncle Fred had a way of having more income, and Uncle
Fred was jealous of my dad because he was more educated. (Laughter)
But it wasn’t severe, we still got together, we used to
sing hymns, and it was one or the other of the men that had
to lead, it was usually my dad that started the hymns. And they
would talk about biblical scripture, very ably. That was a common
laymen’s worship way.
(End side A)
BD: How about the two sisters, how do your mother and her sister get along?
PD: They loved each other. They were brought up in a very cleanliness atmosphere, and I could see that sometimes when they come to each other’s homes, they would look to see if that was in order or if that was clean. The German Russian women were very neat and very clean about everything.
BD: That must have been very difficult with sod houses in the early years?
PD: Yes, they’d scrub their houses on Saturday evening if it was the 5th or 6th time each week. They were a cleanly type of people, and so were their cooking ways as well.
BD: How do you keep the floor of a sod house clean?
PD: Well at that time it was farmstead times, that was some years later, it was during my teenage times that we moved 2 miles north, we bought the Bitterman place, and there was wooden shelters.
BD: For about how long did they live in the sod shelters then?
PD: About 1909 until 1920.
BD: Over ten years.
PD: And from there on we purchased the Bitterman place, and that was the accumulation of more land. And you know what, the girls went and got married, so did my brother, and my pa lost all the land, you know, during the thirties. Couldn’t pay the taxes.
BD: So he was back to squire one?
PD: Yes, square one.
BD: Now what happened after that ordeal?
PD: Well, he moved Beulah, and there he went into carpentry work, and made a living.
BD: Now your mother when she moved from the sod house to this wooden framed house must have been ecstatic. Was she excited, or happy?
PD: Yes, I recall the first telephone we got in the house, and it was through Matt Crowley that progressed into telephone lines out in that community. And the telephone came up and the first talk that my dad did to Mr. Crowley, and he was talking and my mother got so excited that she nearly fainted. And witnessing my dad talking into the phone, and carrying on correspondence.
BD: So your dad’s English must have improved quite a bit by then?
PD: It improved, yes, he was interested. He talked like me, yes.
BD: How about your mom?
PD: No, she never developed a word of English. She was the type, rather sensitive, and it wasn’t good for her that we moved out to the wilderness. She was very afraid of the wild animals, she feared it, but one thing I do remember about my mother was she was a very good cook. She could make something out of nothing, and it was tasty. They baked the best everlasting yeast bread in those times. And if you had nothing more than everlasting bread and (KewarmmilicB44) “cow warm milk” after we milked 15 to 20 cows, that was the supper.
BD: What is everlasting bread?
PD: It’s a yeast that’s ever going. That you don’t have to buy the cakes of yeast. It has the spark in it, foam that keeps on going from one week to another. And that was the type of bread, that was delicious.
BD: Did your mom get much of her supplies from town in Hebron or were most of her things raised on the farm.
PD: Surprise, very few. Just what was necessary. I remember they had one bed that I can show you out there, and we children slept on the sod house floor. It was the mere essentials, and so it was with grocery buying too. You bought salt, sugar, flour. You did everything at home. You survived like animals.
BD: We were talking earlier about your mom being a bit on the frail side, or at least sensitive side, but there was a trait that she brought with her that your dad didn’t know, and that something about farming wasn’t it?
PD: Absolutely, yes dad was brought up more on educational policies, and she had the down-to-earth practice on field work, and she taught him many a thing that he didn’t know. But it was strange education wise. My dad was completely above. He wrote articles for the (Stadtes und zeigerB68) many a time. And he was superintendent of our country church worship in the big brown school house. He was kind of a leader in theology. In those days, ministers were scarce, but my mother taught us how to pray. She would make us kneel down in the evening, and teach us the simple prayers (Oppa, Leibe, Fater, OmenB75). Those were the childhood prayers. And then as we grew older we had different ones.
BD: If someone was asked you your religion when you were growing up as a child, what would you say? What religion did you belong to?
PD: You mean what denomination? It was protestant. My mother was from a Lutheran background, and my father was from a Baptist. And we aimed toward the German Congregational church where we were many years until finally after we moved to town, we went over to the St. John reformed church.
BD: Is that the historic one?
BD: When you were praying on the prairie in the early years, that would have been a combination of the different faiths?
PD: Yes, I can remember talking in prayer to the rainbow. How beautiful it is, and all I knew is that their was a wonderful God and he gave us the rainbow, and he gave us beautiful flowers, Crocus and everything. I talked much of my prayers, to this day.
BD: So there is a connection between nature and God and life here on the prairie isn’t there?
PD: Yes, very much very much. (Alle Bulke B92), the chief of police in one of the early times of Hebron, lived in this house, and in his spare time he would drive to Medora, and pick up seedling trees of all kinds. The biggest tree in town is right out here. He planted it, he planted all those ornament bushes. He had a great love for it, and he would often say, “God tells me to do that. Hebron needs the trees.”
BD: I would imagine their weren’t very many trees when you first got here.
PD: No, this was bare, look at those Pauper trees, Cottonwood trees, it was most of (Alli BulkieB103) training, that he did other men. But I have fond remembrance of (Alli BulkieB103), I think he made this place not only a secular history, but he made it a sacred place through the trees, and I through my books.
BD: When your dad and your uncle and your mom and the families left Russia, why did they leave Russia?
PD: It became evident. The nomads entered the colonies. Little by little, and they saw no future. And after dad had finished his German Russian Japanese war stand, he didn’t want to live in Russia any more; he wanted out. Whether it was over back to Germany or to some other country.
BD: He was that moved by the war experience?
PD: Yes, he was very moved. I had a picture of him in one of my books, you saw that. And then the nomads kept entering the Russian colonies, and the German people realized they had no future, so they ventured out, many of them to South America, many of them to Canada, and most of them to the United States.
BD: Now when they came from 1900, were there relatives already over here?
PD: Yes, the Martins had relatives in Richardton and they corresponded together. Urged them to come over, and then finally came to a conclusion, they decided to come over, not realizing at all what was before them. A wilderness, wild animals, nothing there, no fencing, no civilization. But one after another, especially the Germans from Russia, settled in a kind of a community and began to break up one little field after another, and the first grain field that my father had was spread by hand, not by drill. And Matt Crowley furnished that.
BD: I think that your dad was very attached to his father, who was still in Russia, he must have been homesick at times, wasn’t he?
PD: He was very homesick. I can remember one certain stone out there where he would go, and it was facing east, he’d call on his mother. She was a Baptist minister’s daughter, Juliana Zimmer, and she of course instructed him more on the religious side of life. He was very homesick, but their wasn’t…the conditions were such that they didn’t want to go back.
BD: Was he able to correspond with his mom at all?
PD: Yes, a few letters, but not too many. She died. There’s very cruel policing over there. My mother’s sister and her husband stayed over there, and they tied the husband to a tree and shot him to death, and moved her up to Siberia—conditions were terrible. So eventually our parents thanked the good Lord that he led them over here, to America, and oh so glad am I, that we are citizens of USA.
BD: There must have been some doubts for a moment in the early years, both your mom and your dad and your uncle about coming over here?
PD: I imagine there was, but you know, what I can remember is roaming out the hills, and coming home when there were only dumplings on the table and there was only one left for me. (Laughter) Yes, I can’t recall that there was much agonizing. It just seemed that our people accepted, and so did we, during the thirties. I remember so well, when Jake and I were married in 1932, during the coming thirty days, clouds of grasshoppers that came down in a throng, in a flock of menace, and ate everything green. I covered up my rhubarb plant with a couple layers of coverings and put an oil cloth on top. Do you know that they gathered and spread over that oil cloth and ate it as their dessert—the oil cloth, but they couldn’t get through to the rhubarb. That was the only luxury we had was rhubarb, rhubarb sauce and dumplings and strudels, and whatever was made out of dough, everlasting yeast dough. And of course gardens, and very much gardens, especially the Martins. They were hard, and you know there are two of my cousins that are still living, and they’re way in their 90’s, due to the very earth kind of food they had.
BD: Why don’t you tell me the date that your family came over from Russia to North Dakota.
(end tape 1)
PD: They came over In 1908, and settled in a box car, twelve people, in Ashley, North Dakota.
BD: What time of year would that have been?
PD: Fall! That was a big mistake they made.
BD: So they spent the winter in a boxcar?
PD: Yes, and the children went around begging for food.
BD: Now when were you born?
PD: October 10th 1911 in a one room sod house with a dirt floor. I was the third of eight children. Three more were born there and then the other two at the farmstead place. They’re all gone except my younger sister and I, and she’s ten years younger.
BD: Do you get to see her?
PD: Yes, we telephone each other every Saturday evening at a certain time. She’s celebrating her 80th birthday the 18th of August.
BD: Where does she live?
PD: In Mandan.
BD: So close enough.
BD: It seemed like just when the families were making progress then the depression came along.
PD: Yes, the roaring 20s were great, and at our chapter meeting last night, Al Fiest was showing a lot of the marriages during the 1920s, they were great, but in during the 1930s, it was a different story, there was no money, and nothing to go on honeymoon trips. We moved in with the in-laws and called it an extended family; that wasn’t such a happy experience all the time. But we made it, and we were on good terms when the parents passed on.
BD: It must have been very stressful, you know I just wonder about these fellows that were out here earlier, 1908, 1910, and they were out on the prairies here, and they had to worry about literally finding enough food to feed their families.
PD: Absolutely, you know we lived almost like animals. They took lessons watching them, how they catch rabbits, skinned them on an open fire. See that was another thing that was a must, matches, that had to be. We lived on rabbits, on prairie hill produce.
BD: What’s prairie hill produce?
PD: The tops of buffalo grass, the heads, and then of course we started chickens. That was a vital income, the eggs as well as the young cocks with their chicks.
BD: Must have been hard to find material for the structures that had to be built?
PD: Ohh, I wonder today how they ever did it, and the sod houses even to get windows into it was a struggle. I remember that sod house life very well, and I have fond memories. As a child I remember sitting on my dad’s lap with a kerosene lamp behind him, and he taught me how to make a rabbit’s head, you know out here I have a rabbit head that was found on a stone pile, which I can show you.
BD: You also were telling Michael a little bit earlier about how you had to go gather cow chips or buffalo chips?
PD: Yes, how I remember the first coal mines, how they had to scrape off many feet of soil before they got down to the coal. And in the meantime, the wives depended on cow chips in the yard out in the prairie; we gathered them; that was fun. Sure a couple pails of cow chips beside an old fashioned stove, and the mothers saved on them as much as they could, prolonged their heat as much as they could, but I also remember the hardships we had when we first mined that coal with horse and scraper and with a pick.
BD: Had your father ever seen coal before like that?
PD: I doubt it, I don’t think they had it in Russia, but it was a great blessing when the coal mines were opened, and a lot of people made their living then off of that.
BD: Were you able to sell some of the coal for cash as well?
PD: No, I can see no business part.
BD: So you heated the house and the stove.
PD: Yes, we had a living room, even when I was married out on the farm we had a regular heater. That house back there, it was built on the old fashioned way, stone and grime.
BD: We’ll see some of this when we go out to the homestead?
PD: No, my farm is out down south, the marriage farm. The birth and growing up farm is out north, I can’t promise what there’ll be.
BD: We’ll see when we get there.
PD: But there is a wonderful little cemetery close by that we’ll drop in.
BD: I was just wondering if you could just talk a little bit about two different things, first what do you think the place of a homesteading women was in the German Russian culture, where was her standing, and what type of life did she lead?
PD: She wasn’t considered to the stand of a man, no, she was low in stature. It wasn’t necessary for a woman to be educated, that was the feeling of the time. There were many unhappy situations where her rights were so minimum, especially if the man was of the dominant way of life. I can recall my parents were quite happy together, until later and later in life when mother got quite sick, she was transferred, first of all to an outlet by Jamestown, and then to the nursing home in Arthur, North Dakota, the first nursing home, and that is where she died.
BD: How old was she when she died?
PD: She was 93.
BD: So she lived longer than your dad?
PD: She lived much longer, my dad died when he was 64.
BD: How about the role of a child in the early years, how do you think the families or at least the dads looked at the children?
PD: Well it varied, in some homes the father was very strict and only used words when it was admonishment, you do this and you do that. There wasn’t that much communication between the father and the children as there is now.
BD: What were the expectations, what was a child supposed to do at home?
PD: They were supposed to honor the elders and listen to them.
BD: And was there a feeling that we need to have a lot of children so we can have a lot of workers?
PD: That’s it. Very much, and average was between eight and seventeen children in those days. The old ones took care of the younger ones. Most of them turned out to be great citizens.
BD: They were really looked at as workers weren’t they?
PD: Yes, they were the working machine, and so was I after I was married. I worked so hard, milked eight or ten cows, raised turkeys, chickens, hogs, Jake was out hauling cattle. I did it all alone, sometimes I wonder why. Our oldest daughter was six years older than the two younger ones, but they didn’t get the attention they should have. Audrey was a baby, a toddler, Rob came along as a baby, I hauled them with a little wagon over to the barn shed while I was milking eight or ten cows. But it was healthy. (Laughter)
BD: Very different today isn’t it?
PD: Yes, but it depends on what attitude you take.
BD: But there were fun times too weren’t there?
PD: Yes, we had fun times, when the Martin children and the neighborhood children got together, what pranks we didn’t play on each other. There was so much laughter. I have pictures where one of the Martin boys climbed up on a post and sat up there and gleed and laughed because he did something the others couldn’t do. We had fun, baseball games Sunday afternoons—that is after we were older.
BD: When you were growing up, you mentioned once going into town and you mentioned that was a treat, did the families get to town very much?
PD: No, if one farmer went he often had to bring the essentials home for the next farmer, and it was a long trip with wagon, grain on it, and those high seats, and then my dad couldn’t take more than one or two of us along, and inevitably it happened that I got on the seat because the other girls were used to working at home, and I couldn’t work so I would crawl on the seat on go along. I did have advantages over the others. I had more of a serene, nature’s way of life.
BD: You said it was a long way, about 12 miles or about there, how long would it take to cover those 12 miles?
PD: We got up at four o’clock in the morning, and then
hitched three horses to the wagon. The load was filled the night
before, hoping and praying there wouldn’t be a rain fall.
And we started at four o’clock and probably got to town
at eleven, hungry as all out and so were the horses.
BD: We were talking about bringing things to town, was the family able to sell some of the grain to town to raise money?
PD: Yes, we did, some of it, but most of it went to flour—milling, sacks and sacks of flower, that was the main course.
BD: And where would this be milled?
PD: We had a mill here in town, it’s down now.
BD: And your dad would have to bring these sacks of grain?
PD: Well filled with grain and then sacks on top. And of course it was exchanged for flour. They sold flour at the same time right there.
BD: And would he have like IOU’s that he would have to pay up then at that time?
PD: No, there was no such thing. Everything was mostly done on trust. If they needed lumber or something for repair work or building something and couldn’t pay for it, they shook hands at the lumber company, “I trust you will pay after you have the crop in.”
BD: So that crop was not only important for the farmer, but for the whole community?
PD: Yes, and like that the fields of grain increased in number and in volume, and finally new homes, lumber homes were built, and we went into more of a prosperity. Children grew up and it was a great thing if you graduated from the eighth grade and you went on to higher education.
BD: Would there have been a high school in town then?
PD: Yes, there was a high school, I went two years. The first freshman year I had a hard time with some of these town smartalic’s. And Adam Bower, he called me a hay needle, and it was hard, I was too sensitive, it was hard to accept, finally I started out laughing about it. I called myself a hay needle, that’s wonderful. You know my lifetime hobby, motto centers around that, “so let my life be bountiful, and laugh.” And I have to admit my father taught us that. When my sister and I call each other, I say “hello” and we start out laughing. That Neher laugh we call it, and there was many times it was a laugh and the tears through it, you know time was very prevalent with all kinds of trials that came up—unexpected hail storms, deaths, sickness, and in those days…
BD: How well do you think the German Russians were treated in the community, do you think they were looked down upon?
PD: No, they were downed, absolutely. I felt it, that was my greatest inferiority complex that I’ve suffered for many, many years. If I have to say anything bad, it’s a complex that, “you dumb Roossian”. And finally the children grew up and stood out as staunch citizens. And we found some of our best teachers and best business people that come from our stock.
BD: But it was tough in the earlier years, wasn’t it?
PD: It was tough…to sensitive people, until you overcame that sensitivity, and you started to laugh or else talked back and gave them a word or two.
BD: We were talking a little bit earlier about your garden, why don’t tell us a little bit about your love of gardening and different plants you have in your garden.
PD: Yes, we learned that at home. We had a (buschstandA261), you know an outer garden, and water melons, pumpkins, potatoes, all kinds of outer vegetables, and we used to have parties then when it was harvesting time. Wagon loads of watermelons, and that was very much part of our eating, our feast, butter bread and watermelon, that was a meal.
BD: And did you have a root cellar when you were growing up?
PD: Yes, some people had root cellars, and that is where they preserved their gardens of vegetables, very much so. We didn’t have it, but we had an ice house, we made ice blocks in the winter time and stored them and then made ice cream in the winter time. You know that self turning ice cream freezers, had a party, called up the neighbors, “come on over, we got ice cream,” and that was a treat, it brought neighbors together.
BD: You mentioned the phone before, when did you get the telephone, about what year?
PD: It was during the farmstead times, I was already, I think in the 7th or 8th grade, is when we first had the telephones.
BD: Did you have any motorized vehicles or anything like that?
PD: Our first car, and then there was a rough tractor. I doubt…I think it belonged to uncle Martin, because no one could afford them, and they were quite a bit borrowed and used pretty hard. But most of it was hitching horses to the cows, three in the back, two in the front, and to this day I’m wondering that not more accidents happened as they tamed those horses, put harnesses on them, and taught them to pull a wagon or buggy and heed to the call of man, and allow harness to be put on them, and didn’t kick when you hitched them to a plow. But of course there were accidents, and there were deaths too.
BD: Would they have had access to some steam threshers to take care of the crops, or was everything done by hand?
PD: Steam thresher machines? Yes, I have a picture of a Jacob Diede, who died during that time, it was a tractor, an old fashioned big wheel tractor, and it had that long belt, you see, to the thrasher machine, you often see them on hill tops, don’t you, and then one way or another, he got caught in the belt and was pulled up into that apparatus. Of course bruised so badly that he died shortly after that, a Jacob Diede, and that was when my mother-in-law was pregnant, and of course there had to be another Jacob, you see this first Jacob was a brother to Henry Diede, a long line of names that occurred in the family line for generations.
BD: I see that your book says often times your names have a number one or two or three even after their names, is that because they were named after relatives?
PD: Yes, that was it. And the name Henry, Jacob, Chris, Edward, Elizabeth, Kathlina, Paulina, Martha, Martha was a new name in that day, Lydia, ohh those were the common names.
BD: You were telling me the names of the different flowers in your garden, why don’t you tell me the names of the different flowers in your garden.
PD: I always enjoyed gardening, and it was great out in the farm, of course I was brought up that way. And in town here this half a lot was the garden part. Every year I planted all kinds of vegetables, canned a lot of beets, pickled Cucumbers. Toward the end of life after the children were gone, I planted only ten potato patches, bushes, and I had cucumbers, radishes, lots of onions, and that was my morning exercise. I went out to hoe the weeds, and pull radishes, onions, green vegetables, and these flowers are (seniousA349).
BD: Tell me about the flowers now, the flowers in your garden.
PD: Well I’ve come to rely on the sturdy kind, that could stand even a light frost, and the (seneousA357) especially has been my favorite for years in that place. The red, red (SineaA359). And the morning glories, they’re beautiful, they are thriving on the neighbor’s fence, but they like it themselves. Different colors, I usually get a pale blue, or heavenly blue morning glory by the seed, and start them out at the plant, and I noticed there is a few with great big blossoms, and then there is the rose color, the pink and the light blue, like lavender, they bloom profusely if you nourish them with enough water and love. The (seniasA69) will keel blooming until there is a harried frost, and out here in the front (travesA372), I still have a vine, that comes from (Alle Bulke’s A374) plantings, every time I look at it I praise it, it’s so beautiful, and that rose bush out here, part of it is the white rose, the other is the yellow Texas rose which as well (Alle Bulke A378) planted. I call this a very, very historical domain around here. There’s remembrances of pioneer dreams. It’s heart warming.
BD: One of the things the pioneers had to battle all the time was the ever changing weather, do you have any particular weather stories or especially bad winter or thunderstorms you remember?
PD: Oh God yes, snowstorms, country schools, we sometimes had to stay at the school house over night, and sleep on the floor or the desks, because there was such a lull and in those days there were no radio forecasts, man had to do the forecasting, and they didn’t quite know yet that a lull after a lull comes a storm, and the school teacher kept us there because the storm began at about one o’clock in the afternoon, and one to three we had a major snowstorm, and it was a good thing that he boarded at the school, because he shared some of his food with us, and it was a good thing he had a box of oatmeal, and some water that we could boil the oatmeal, we had no sugar on it, but we ate it the next day, until all of the children got home was a problem.
BD: Would the parents come to get the children after a storm or would the children have to go home their selves?
PD: Well, sometimes they had to go by themselves, and sometimes they drove themselves, but in a snowstorm, you didn’t dare go on the road. And there were a few roads in those times, you just had to meander and make your way. And then snowstorms, I recall one time at the farm stead, the snow bank was so high in the yard that my dad had to dig a cave to the barn so he could get over and feed the cattle. It wasn’t entirely to the barn, it was about ten or twelve feet. The bank was so high, and in order to get out, it was that way. They were fierce, and it seemed it was much, much colder in those times, then it is now.
BD: Must have lead to a real sense of isolation out there too as well?
PD: Yes, and there were accidents. There were many times when you heard the news that this man died out of exposure. You know in those days you depended on man power, man doings. Sometimes he would start walking to get his flock of cattle in and didn’t return home, and he would hide behind stones. You know there were some crazy stories too. And as far as fun is concerned, they had their barn dances, after we grew up, that was good times. The harmonicas, they made the music. And it was mostly Polka or Waltz. Even the children went to the barn dances, barn upstairs.
BD: I’d like you to give me first of all, a favorite memory you have of your mom, and then a favorite memory you have of your dad, so starting with your mom, what’s a favorite memory you have of your mom?
PD: My favorite memory of my mother is she was a very good cook, and nothing hurt her more than if she didn’t have food for her children. I loved my mother, and I can remember her earrings dangling; she was pretty. And she often taught us how to pray the simple prayers, (oppa, liebe, vater, amenA466). She took us by the hand and led us up to the chicken coop to gather the eggs. It was sad when mother couldn’t anymore, and we had to leave her. I felt bad after I knew of her dislike of this wild country, I felt bad about it, but there were other women that were in the same state.
BD: How about a memory of your dad?
PD: My dad, he was extrovert number one. He was a talker, and a walker of the community. He was liked and disliked because of his above average ways. He was smart. He had a good voice, how I remember him and Ed (crying, singing amends to itA492) on our organ at home, pa sang base and he sang tenor, beautiful hymns. He built this garage out here, he was a good carpenter. I loved my dad. I have to admit I think I was his pet.
BD: What were the names that you called your mom and dad, what would you call your mother?
PD: We called pa, daddy and mommy, until we grew up and finally it was dad and ma. Yah, but we were brought up daddy and mommy.
BD: Let me try this, there are a couple things, pick out a couple, the first thing I would like you to read is starting with Matt Crowley knew when the wheat was ready and then the little poem there, then down through the poem.
PD: Matt Crowley knew that when his wheat was ready for cutting, Neher’s would be too, for they had been planted at the same time. He owned a grass mower, but not yet a header. Matt threw his hat into the waving grain, and as it settled on top and rode there, he knew it was time to cut. He looked toward the red sunset and recited: evening red and morning grey, sends the rancher on his way, evening grey and morning red, brings some rain upon his head.
Christina showed Ludwig how to prepare the thrashing floor, the way she had done it in Russia, and the same way as it had been done in Biblical times. Ludwig was reluctant to listen to, let alone accept a women’s advice, but this time Christina's word ruled. He did not want to admit that she new more than he, and he let his thought’s wonder to memories of his youth, he himself had never had much training in actual farming methods in Russia. He had cared for hogs and other stock, helping his father on the counts resort and orchard and garden in Karstal. This time Christina was the one with proper skills. Carrying their two children, Ludwig and Christina walked quickly to the Martin place to borrow the team of horses and wagon to drive to the (A565 Yeggers). Without thinking, Christina loosened the navel band and other wrappings, giving the baby more air. It was the right thing to do, even though it violated old wives practices. As soon as Mrs. (Yegger) saw her, she knew from the fever and gasping that the baby’s lungs were infected. She placed a heated bag of oats in a wooden sock on the baby’s chest, replacing it with another when it cooled. She bathed the infant in cool vinegar water to cut the fever, and in a few hours, (OdeloveA580) fell asleep, having been fed an oatmeal brie or (PapsA563). Mrs. (Yegger) felt a special attachment for (OdeloveA585) for after all she had delivered her, and the infant had been named after Mrs. (Yegger’s) own daughter, (OtiliaA588). Once again Mrs. (Yegger) felt the plight of the Neher family, and gathered up a few more items for Christina to take back with her.
(end side A tape 2; some repeat on side B)
She gave them an extra bottle for the baby, first pouring in a handful of sand, adding water, and giving it a good shake so that the sand would scour the bottle clean.
Well, there was bread; Christina had done wonders, letting the dough rise again and again, after punching it down, and placing loaves in a large, well greased bread pan. All Christina needed, besides the everlasting yeast that Frau Baler had given her, was a couple of hand full of sugar, some salt, a bit of warm lard, and a good milled flour, and she turned out eight massive loaves of golden brown bread. She gave credit for the well risen bread to Sofia’s wonderful cast iron stove with its large oven. (B53 German). “You do not know how fortunate you are,” my mother would say to Aunt Sofia. By comparison, Christina felt all the more of her own family’s shortages.
BD: This is one about when you were born, would you like to read it?
Autumn was dry and fire broke out in the Elm creek neighborhood, one that took days to control. Men, women, children were summoned to help fight it. Neher hitched Bay to the stoneboat and upon it set a barrel of water, along with a number of gunny sacks. Christina dipped the gunny sack into water, and struck at the everlasting flames, doing as the neighbors did, but her back ached, and she began to be aware that her unborn child had dropped considerably since the day before, a sign that she would deliver soon. Ludwig fetched Frau (Yegger) and the two arrived in town for the good midwife to deliver the premature baby on October 10th 1911. Frau (Yegger) named the baby after her own daughter Paulina, and because she was convinced it would die, she preformed proxy-baptism. Then wrapped the three-pound child in swaddling cloths, which she had brought along. She injected into her month droplets of sweetened (ComilityB77). Frau (Yegger) daughter Pauline came to help Christina who was to remain in bed for nine days, according to the belief that nine days was the time it took for the body to recover from child birth. That because there was no privacy in the house, she was not able ever to take her clothes off. There was such poverty, I cannot describe it, it is no wonder that my mother gathered everything she could to take to help, I shall never forget. But the baby lived after all, so that Ludwig and Christina had three babies in a period of two years and seven months, then Elsie was born May 20th 1913, Louise on October 19th, 1914, and finally a boy, Edmond on December 21st, by this time a kitchen built of lumber had been added to the rectangular sod room. The Martins had two more children, Martha and Albert, babies came often, for it was considered necessary to raise a large family in order to have help with the work even though mothers craved more time between births.
BD: This one is about your dad.
PD: I see my father, Ludwig Neher the second, pacing forth and back from one corner of the kitchen to the other, telling stories about life in Russia. He loved to talk about his ancestors and why they left Germany to migrate to Russia. Often he would stop walking and gaze at the ceiling, his eyes half closed, thinking about the past, homesick, especially for his mother. Growing up I listened carefully to these stories. When a letter arrived form a relative in Russia, Aunt Sofia Martin would read it, and often when I huddled down, on the floor by the parlor door I would be sent away, for it was not nice to be that curious, but five or six decades later, I’m glad I was so curious, so that now I can write the story of my immigrant parents.
PD: Sod house children suffered, and I was no exception. At home you were disciplined if you spoke English, at school you were punished if caught talking German. During a ball game, a teacher overheard a German remark. (Gehst du spring losB118), go ahead and run. Ida Balor answered in German. Each of us had to lie face down across the teacher’s desk, the repulsive teacher opened the underwear flaps we had on, and hit each of us with a stick. Ida was first, so I had a chance to think a bit. Next was my turn. I hung my head down off the edge of the desk, and stuck a finger down my throat, inducing a good supply of vomit. There after I was sort of spared such treatment. (Laughter)
BD: You were one smart kid. I just want to go through quickly to see if there is anything else I want you to read here.
PD: I have become, especially since my light stroke, my enunciation is not as well.
BD: Oh, you’re doing terrific, you sound very good.
PD: Ludwig was now of marriageable age after he had returned from the Russo-Japanese war and approached a village marriage broker, whose business it was to keep track of suitable young women. When a girl’s breasts developed and she had become well trained in indoor and outdoor labor, she was ready to be married. It was thought a disgrace for a younger sister to be married before an older one. So some marriages were apt to be hurried. Ludwig’s marriage broker took him on a rough wagon ride from Friedental to Gross-Liebentall to call on the George Stinerds. There Christina was home, busy shoving bread out of the clay wall oven. The bread was light and smelled good. Ludwig ate some and liked what he saw of Christina. A week later the two were married, and settled with Ludwig’s parents in an already overcrowded household, but Juliana was good to the bride.
BD: Good job.