For winter fuel, the program was changed. Some ingenious person, who had experience in pioneering on the prairie, invented a hay burner which was shaped as a wash boiler, but much higher. On each end was a large handle that was stiff so that the burner could be turned upside down by the handles. The hay, or straw, was packed into it as tightly as possible, the boys or girls often getting into the burner and stamping down the hay or straw with their feet. The burner was turned upside down upon the stove where the wash boiler is placed. As the fuel burned it came down to the fire below. Occasionally it was necessary to pull it down with a poker when it had been packed to tight. Now and then it would give off some vigorous puffs but it certainly gave a lot of heat. The burner often being red hot for a foot above the top of the stove. Ordinarily one burner full lasted about an hour.
During the very severe weather the fuel was piled upon the floor in many homes. This was done to avoid the room being cold while the burner was being refilled. The wind often blew so hard that it was difficult to pile the fuel beside the house that it would not be blown away. Generally, people retired early while the weather was intensely cold. It gave them a better chance to keep warm. It frequently occurred that the temperature in the house was but a few degrees above zero at sunrise. The bread being frozen so solid it was necessary to put it in the oven to thaw out before it could be cut at all. Many families never spent one cent for fuel, winter or summer - it was an absolute case of necessity. Not withstanding, the health of the community was excellent.
There was an incident that took place long before the time we had arrived. It was in 1885 when I proved up on the claim. The affair was provoking as it was amusing. The land commissioner, Sparks, at Washington, objected to accepting the proof, because in my term of enlistment in the army, I considered that it extended until our discharge, which was several months after we were mustered out. He held that my Army service ended when we were mustered out. I took it to the Attorney General that was at Washington. He decided in my favor. In the final communication from Sparks, he asked me if we were making our permanent residence upon the land. I wrote right back to him and said "we established all the law required in our proof, and we are going to stay right here, and you can go to hell if you please". We got no further word from Mr. Sparks, Land Commissioner, in Washington. Sometime after this happened, we received several papers, published in the west, quoting my letter to Mr. Sparks. It evidently caused considerable amusement among those connected with the land offices.
Well, after we proved up on our homestead we borrowed several hundred dollars upon the land to help us until we could get the land to producing more. This very same thing most of the settlers were compelled to do, some borrowing as much as six hundred dollars upon a quarter section.
The fall of 1889 we organized a literary society which was to meet in the Hall's schoolhouse. This was a central location for those who were to take part in this educational and social institution. Friday night was the time selected for the meetings. They were attended far and wide, from Smith Creek to far beyond the village. Debating was the chief part of the program, though much elocutionary talent was displayed in other ways. Papers were also a very enjoyable feature of these occasions. In these literary efforts the experiences of the young lovers of the community were recited in quite ingenious fashion, causing much embarrassment to the parties concerned, and a great deal of amusement to the audience. The bachelors especially, who were trying to find a mate, received no mercy at the hands of these scribes. As there were very few of the settlers who had much stock to take care of, and much of the time the cattle and horses rustled their living upon the prairie while there was little snow, they had plenty of time to enjoy social intercourse to the fullest extent.
Though many of us were living upon the interest of our debts, we enjoyed ourselves as perhaps very few communities have done anywhere. In our midst were people who had lived in the largest cities of the world. >From the New England states, from all parts of northern Europe, and all parts of our own country east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio, and they all declared that they had never enjoyed such genuinely good social times in their lives before. Good health was no doubt the secret of much of the joy of our lives. There was no malaria, asthma or rheumatism, could not long exist in this dry, invigorating atmosphere.
While immigration was at a standstill and many, many, of the earliest settlers had left the country to either return to their native land or go on further to the westward. Those who were remaining had faith in the future of the country. The healthfulness of the country was above all the greatest inducement for making the country a permanent home. And there was strong talk and actual surveys made for a railroad to pass close by, if not to go through, our village.
In the spring of 1890 we bought the village hotel from a widow who owned it, and had operated it, since her husbands death sometime before. She had two sons and a daughter. The boys were too fond of cards and whiskey to make a success of the business. The daughter was a schoolteacher, and a fine girl, but she and her mother could not succeed while the boys were so thriftless. We hadn't any money, in fact were eleven hundred dollars in debt. But we were befriended by Ben Huddle, our popular and talented Register Of Deeds and County Attorney. He loaned us fifty dollars and endorsed our note for another fifty dollars. This was the only payment we could make upon the property. The balance, six hundred dollars, we were also indebted for, but fortunately we were able to pay only six percent interest.
It was quite freely predicted that we could never succeed in the business by being so deeply in debt. The operator of the general store was the purchaser of the notes for the six hundred dollars due on the hotel, and he declared that he would have the property within a year. Mother had had a good deal of experience in her whole lifetime in the keeping of boarders, and also in the hotel work, for her step father and mother operated an hotel in Illinois while she was a young girl. All the experience she profited by. She was an excellent cook and most economical in household affairs. There was also a feed barn in connection with the hotel - this was to be my chief care.
We succeeded right from the start. We gained new patronage and retained it. We were imposed upon by some unscrupulous ones in becoming indebted to us, with no intention of ever paying us. One of these was the stage driver, to Chamberlain, who defrauded us of over a hundred dollars. We had a little trouble also with two or three of those who were of unwholesome habits. But we absolutely refused to continence any in wrong doing, so we got along nicely in that regard.
Lottie had an advantage in attending school conveniently in the village, while on the farm she had to ride horseback, or to be driven two miles to school much of the time. And the teacher procured for the school here was possessed of more ability than the most of those we had had. The first winter of our life in the village was a beautiful winter until the eighth of February, when one of the worst blizzards in the history of the county raged for about thirty six hours. Prior to this time the social affairs were almost one continual round of pleasure for those within a distance of several miles.
But to go back a little..... The season of 1890 was almost a total failure in the production of crops throughout that part of South Dakota. Many men during the summer went east to get work in the house harvest fields, where they had rain enough to mature the wheat fields. In this way some got a few dollars to help keep soul and body together for awhile. The hardships of the settlers gained the attention of charitable people in the eastern states with the result that carloads of clothes and provisions were sent to the suffering people who had striven so heroically to live in this land of uncertainty of production. These donations of provisions did not always reach those who were most in need of them, as is always the case. There were a lot of dishonesty in the disposition of these provisions of charity.
In the spring of 1891, saw many of the oldest settlers leaving the county. The time had arrived when they could not survive and stay in the land. Many of those who left returned to Illinois and Iowa. It was a very depressing time for those who remained. One of near neighbors, and quite prominent in the social life of the place, returned to Glenwood Iowa. Another popular family returned to Algona Iowa, where a farm awaited them, which was given to them by the father of the mother of the family.
The following fall the ones who went to Glenwood returned in their prairie schooner. They preferred even the precarious living afforded by the land of hot winds and blizzards, to the dependence upon day labor in town. The income from the man and his team being but fifty five dollars per month. There was nothing left after barely living. The work was quite hard for both man and team. they arrived back in Buffalo County just in time for the wife, who was a schoolteacher, to secure a school in the adjoining county to teach for the winter term. This school was about four miles distant from their home. I believe the salary paid was thirty dollars per month, but they were very thankful to get that much income. They have never shown any inclination since then to again leave the country. The family who went to Kossuth county, near Algona, was still there the last we heard of them. We heard that the mother died a few years ago.
1892 was a productive season because we had more rain than usual. The wheat crop was good, but the corn crop was very poor, owing to the excessively wet weather during planting time. By this time people fully realized that there was nothing to be made in raising grain to sell one year with another. So all were striving to get into stock raising more extensively. But even in this work the profits were meager. The best cows in the herd were worth only about eighteen dollars each. Two year old steers were bought for two cents per pound and three year old steers, for thirty dollars; had to be very good ones. Horses were still a fair price, a good team being worth about two hundred dollars. The biggest stock farmers in the vicinity were the Cleveland brothers, who lived a mile east of the village. They had model farms for that country. But even with all their fine cattle, they were not prospering, their hired help was costing them too much.
We were doing better than the farmers - much better. We all were kept busy but the work was agreeable, and especially so, since we could see that we were really prospering. Lottie taught school for awhile, but she didn't find the work congenial. She had plenty to do at home which was more satisfactory to all of us. Mother worked very hard, but she really enjoyed so much in doing that kind of work that she was ever so much happier than when she was on the farm, where there was too much time for her to think of what might be accomplished under better conditions.
The season of 1893 brought hot winds and drought again, and prices were ruinously low, but in some way people seemed to live. Many of the young men went to the eastern counties of the state, and into Iowa, to work on the farms, to help the folks at home. Those boys got from eighteen to twenty dollars per month, and their board, for eight months. A hundred dollars in that day, that went a long way. And many of them saved that much in clothes themselves by their seasons work. There were many fathers, who were tradesmen, left when the sons or daughters were able to take care of the farm to work at their trade in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota cities. One stone mason, who lived on Smith Creek, did this for years and enabled them to stay in the country until their cattle herd was sufficient to make them a good living.
The foreigners were very thrifty, generally, living very meagerly, but in that way avoiding debt and saving every penny possible for them to do. Those who went to the country with the most money were the first to be bankrupt in many instances. There were two English boys, who were pioneer settlers, about three miles south of our farm. They came to the country with several thousand dollars each. They had been college boys and brought up in refinement and rather aristocratic ways. One of them had poor health while he lived in England. He visited his native land one winter, and he sick nearly all the time he was there. So he was always loyal to Dakota for what it had done for him in the matter of health. He succeeded there, but not by farming. He was a county official for many years and later became a successful businessman. His brother was also in business for awhile, but is now farming there. Their mother visited back and forth from England quite often. She was a fine lady and added much to the social life of the neighborhood. She thoroughly enjoyed life, until she was called to her everlasting home.
The family who lived beside them were one of the most substantial and popular families of the county. Their home was the chief center of the social life of the neighborhood. The wife and the mother was an invalid, but one of the most angelic souls to be found on this earth. There was never a more hospitable home on the great prairies of the west.
During the winter of 1894 I was attacked with a very sick spell, so severe that my life was despaired of for several days. I had been to town a short time before this, along with six others, to bring out coal for ourselves, and it was on this trip that I caught a severe cold, we believe, which resulted in pneumonia. They say it was the lady doctor we had from Kimball who saved my life. I felt thoroughly convinced of that, it was a long time after this before I regained my strength.
Our troubles came to us that year rather hard. That summer while Lottie and myself were visiting in Waterloo Iowa, mother was overcome by the heat. She was seriously sick for a short time, and she never entirely recovered of the effects of it. She was always weakened by the hot weather after it. Soon after this occurred we were offered a good price for the hotel and stable and other lots besides that property. Twelve hundred dollars was the amount we sold it for.
One of the earliest pioneers of the southern part of the county, whose wife had just inherited some land in Illinois, bought the village property. We considered that we had done well, paying four hundred dollars of indebtedness upon the farm, and seven hundred dollars for the hotel property in four years. It beat farming all to pieces out there - in that day anyway. Our boarders and regular patrons objected very strenuously to our leaving the hotel. Mother had not only pleased them by her efficient service, but she had endeared herself to all of those who knew her best by her strong sympathetic and motherly nature. There were genuine regret in them parting with our noble wife and mother. She had been faithful from the first to the last day to all. She had long passed the declining period of life, but she had served as very few young women could have done. She richly deserved a rest and an opportunity to quietly enjoy herself as best she thought.
My sickness of the winter had left me in a weakened condition that demanded rest for a long time. Now that we were out of business, and that Lottie did not like teaching school, we soon decided on going to Waterloo where we considered Lottie would have a much better chance to get into congenial work, or further her education if she preferred to do so. I had two sons and a daughter there, and mother had one son who was married to my daughter. So we felt that the city would be soon quite homelike to us on that account.
After my severe sickness my pension was raised five dollars per month. It was certainly very acceptable. Though we had prospered during the past few years, the addition to our income by the increase of the pension would not permit any extravagance. I was in my seventy fifth year of age, so could not ever expect to engage in any steady occupation. As it was, we left the farm in Dakota clear of debt, the market value of which was not over five hundred dollars at this time, but absolutely impossible to sell at any price.
The season had been an absolute failure in crops, the last rain of the season to be of any good was on the last day of April. The small grain grew to be about six inches high when it headed out. The corn that was planted after that time never came up. Many fields which were plowed for corn were as black in the middle of July as when the plowing was finished. Even the prairie was almost destitute of green grass. There had always been plenty of grass at that time of summer. But this season everything was absolutely dried up.
The future indeed had a gloomy outlook. There were many who had retained their faith in the country up until now, but with this complete failure, they were ready to give up in disgust. There were many pioneers who rigged their wagons for traveling and left their land, despairing of ever realizing anything more from it. Of course most of the settlers had their land mortgaged for all it would stand for. The following June many more quarter sections were sold for taxes. The average tax on that amount of land at this time was about sixteen to twenty dollars. There were a few who had the foresight and faith in this country to invest in delinquent taxes, and those who held the land for eight or ten years reaped immense profits. There was twelve percent at the least if the land was redeemed. But we had all of the land we cared for then. We had enough to get a little home where we might be able to live our lives more leisurely.
Mother and Lottie departed for Waterloo, Iowa, in October. But I stayed in Gann Valley until after the election. I was always very much interested in politics and loyal to the candidates in my party, so I stayed to help in the fight.
22 - IOWA
When I was ready to go I started out in a one horse buggy. When I arrived at Mitchell a storm overtook me. It was very cold and blustery so I shipped the little driving mare, and the buggy, to Nora Springs, Iowa. From there I drove to Waterloo, which was just a couple days drive.
We stayed with our son and daughter until the day before Christmas, when we moved into our own home that we bought. It was nearer the railroad than we should have preferred, but it was a good home and very cheap - twelve hundred dollars, just what we had received for the hotel property. That winter we rested, as the saying goes. Lottie attended the business college.
We had real democratic times in 1894. No one quit their jobs until they died, or were fired. A man who had a steady job at fifty dollars per month was to be envied, or heartily congratulated, I should say. Yes, one who had a job in a grocery store at forty dollars a month was happy. Of course the cost of living was altogether different than it is today. Porterhouse steaks cost twelve cents per pound, pork chops; eight cents, good chickens; about twenty five cents each, the best kind of turkey for Thanksgiving; about a dollar apiece. Potatoes were twenty five cents per bushel. The best brand of flour at one dollar a sack, and sometimes only ninety cents. Hard coal was seven dollars per ton. So it may be understood that we could live in our own home, paid for on thirty dollars per month pension.
The following summer I made a few extra dollars by taking care of the baseball park. Ed Towne; mothers son, and Tom; my son, were in the house moving business when we went to Waterloo, and remained in it for several years. So I occasionally helped them. My other son, Joe, was in the furniture and undertaking business in La Porte. He and his wife had two children, Jay and Daisy. So we had relatives handy enough that we never needed to weary for company of our own flesh and blood. Tom and Ed both had fair sized families.
Waterloo was an old city, as far as "old" in this part of the country is considered, about forty years old. Of late years this growth was not very encouraging. Those who had lots of money held a very tight grip of it, fearing that in some way, someone might get hold of some of it. But one could appreciate the situation of the city upon such a valuable stream. And there were those who could see that the place had a better future.
I was very thankful that the asthma did not come back upon me after our change of climate. I stayed indoors very little. There were very few days of the entire year when I was not out quite a part of the day. I got acquainted with many people in much of the city and took a real interest in all that affected the city. So life never was monotonous to me. There was always something new to absorb my attention.
Though I deeply regretted to leave Dakota, and the happy associations of there, our new home soon found me enjoying life, though somewhat differently than out on the prairie. There were many conveniences of the city, over the country, which we thoroughly appreciated, especially that we were getting less able to rough it. After becoming acquainted some, I took quite an active interest in the political affairs of the city and the county, and though having no ambition for office for myself, I really worked hard for my favorites. In this work I became acquainted with many more active men of the city than if I had not taken a real interest in the political welfare of the community. It gave me a great deal of pleasure. Mother was ambitious to be doing something and she soon had the opportunity in taking care of roomers and boarders. We had several rooms to spare for that purpose and it added to our income very appreciably. She was always so prompt and otherwise efficient, and also kind and motherly in her household affairs and associations, that all who would act honorably felt as though being under the care of a good mother.
We had experiences with dishonorable and dishonest people, of course. One instance we shall never forget - A young man by the name of Carlson, apparently a nice young man who was a tailor, had been out of employment considerably during the time he had been with us. Finally he and a friend of his started a shop of their own in a nearby town. Before long his partner absconded with the proceeds of the business. This left him penniless, so he left his trunk with us, which contained a good overcoat, and other clothing which was worth considerable.
Some time after he had left, a couple of men came to the house and explained that Mr. Carlson had bought a life insurance policy from them, but hadn't paid for it, so now they had came to get his trunk to make good the payment. "Oh no, his trunk is in my care and I intend to keep it right here" said mother. "Well you can't do that madam, we have the law for it" the spokesman said emphatically and impatiently. "Oh yes, you have the law, but I have the trunk" mother promptly returned. They didn't argue any further. They went to their lawyer to see what could be done and we heard that he advised them to let the trunk be just where it was. This incident was characteristic of her quick decision and firmness when she thought that she was in the right.
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