Homesteading – An American Dream

A short history of European immigrants in Eastern Montana, during the homesteading years.


In the years before the Civil War, the Western Prairies were great barriers between the Mississippi and the Pacific area. There was the Oregon Trail that led through Wyoming to the Pacific Northwest and to Utah. In the South the route led through the desert to California.

The high plains were what were called the long grass prairie and the short grass prairie. There were few flowing rivers and creeks and infrequent reliable areas of standing water. Many of these sloughs were formed by the glaciers that reached the Missouri River.

A number of things had to happen before the land could be settled. The list below is not complete but covers the major items.

  • The horse
  • Transportation: “The Railroad”
  • Roads: Farm to Market
  • Communication: “The Telegraph”
  • Water: “The Windmill”
  • The steel plowshare
  • The drill to plant the seed
  • The reaper to cut the crop
  • The barbwire fence to protect the growing crops
  • The farmers: “immigrants from Germany, Russia, and Scandinavia”
  • Land available: “Kill the buffalo so the Indians could be assigned to reservations”
  • A plentiful supply of people tough enough and hungry for independent living

I will try to keep these in chronological order to give this narrative continuity. There were many other inventions and developments that improved the lives and productivity of the farmer but they were part of the coming decades. The building of all-weather roads was evolutionary. The development of the modern machinery was both evolutionary and revolutionary.



  1. The Nyquists as Homesteaders
    • Background of the Nyquists
    • Family Members
    • Richard Nyquist Family
  2. The Bakers as Homesteaders
    • Background of the Bakers
    • The Baker Homestead
    • Anna Koehn Baker
  3. Homesteading
    • Women on the farm
    • Equipment and season
    • Background of Homesteading
    • Homesteading Prerequisites
      • Homestead Laws
      • The Horse
      • The Railroad
      • Roads, Farm to Market
      • Rural Free Delivery
      • Communication
      • Water
      • Steel Plow
      • The Reaper
      • The Drill
      • Barbed Wire
      • Immigrants (farmers)
  4. Schools and Education
    • School Days
  5. A Most Dangerous Occupation
  6. High Plains Weather
  7. Commentary on the Homesteader
  8. Related Articles



Background of the Nyquists

The migration of the Scandinavians began about 1850. They were from a colder climate so they tended to migrate to the northern United States. Families were usually larger than 2 children and usually there were at least 2 sons. Land in Scandinavia had been divided up too many times for there to be decent-sized farms. Prior to the mid-1800’s, the custom was to use the parent’s first name for the last name of the sons and daughters.

All personal records were kept by the National church prior to the 1850’s. The government would have to go to the local church to obtain records of any citizen. The custom of using the first name of the parent for the last name of the children added to confusion. Four sons and one daughter of the Persson family came to the United States after 180. They chose, or had chosen for them the name Nyquist. They came from the parish of Nye in Varmland, Sweden. Quist means “branch” in Swedish so this is the Ny branch.

Four Nyquist brothers came to Lamson and Cokato in Minnesota in the 1880’s. Their parents retired and came to the village of Lamson about 1898.

The farms were small and the families were large. The 4 brothers had about 40 children among them so the opening of new territory in Montana seemed ideal. The Great Northern Railway was constructing a branch line from Bainville at the Dakota border to extend 100 miles along the Canadian border and the government was opening up the area for homesteading.

Jonas Nyquist (J.P.) had lost his wife and all but one child to tuberculosis related causes and settled on a half-section N.E. of Froid. John, his brother, brought his wife to a homestead a mile north of J.P. Victor, John’s second son, settled a mile east of J.P. Fritz, John’s youngest son, came a bit later and settled about a mile west of John’s homestead.

Two of John’s sons, Peter and Algot, settled a hundred miles west at Glasgow Montana. Richard, the 4th son of John came west in 1913 and bought J.P’s homestead in 1915. J.P. went back to Minnesota to join his daughter Ellen, his only living child.

Two of the 4 brothers, Ole and Peter, stayed in Minnesota but three of Ole’s sons, John Samuel, Rudolph, and David came to Montana. John Samuel homesteaded and started a family about 9 miles N.E. of Froid. He later sold his homestead and moved to Scobey to join his brothers. He later was a state legislator and lawyer. Rudy became a large-scale farmer near Scobey and David became a prosecuting attorney and later a district judge.

Peter and Algot were partners for some years and located north f Glasgow. Peter became a large-scale rancher. The ranch suffered from droughts in the late 20th century and has been dissolved. Algot met Lillian Baker when she was teaching near Glasgow. They were married in 1918 and moved to Froid in 1919 when he bought the John Nyquist homestead.

It was probably about that time that John’s son, Richard, met Lillian’s sister Lydia (Billie). He married her in 1920 in Wolf Point. They lived on the Froid homestead until his death in 1959.

The farms prospered during the 20’s. Algot bought a Sears Roebuck precut house and built it in 1925. Richard built a large barn in 1923 and a modern house with rural electricity, plumbing and central heating in 1926. He bought parts of two other homesteads in 1929, increasing his holding to 560 acres.

Victor, Algot, and Richard somehow managed to hold on to their farms during the 30’s by diversifying, growing and selling beef, milking cows and selling the cream and growing much of their own food. The Federal government helped some. A purchase program was set up and Federal buyers bought stock for butchering. Dad sold 4 steers for an average of 35.00 each. The Roosevelt Administration set up several programs such as the PWA and the WPA. The WPA offered part time work, bout 20 hours per week at 50 cents per hour. Many farmers felt that this program was the only thing that kept them in shoes and clothes. It also helped pay bills. Algot joined it for some time. Dad was too proud and never did join the WPA work force.

They all stuck with horses until late in the 30’s. Many neighbors converted to tractor farming between 1924 and 1936. Richard bought his first tractor in 1937 and Algot bought his in 1936. Victor died in the 1930’s and his son, Lawrence took over. He switched to tractors about 1936.

The drought lasted from 1931 to 1939. In 1937 there was less than 8 inches of moisture. We never harvested a bushel of wheat.

Country school stayed open until sometime in the 1940’s. I walked to school, rode a horse, went by skis, rode my bicycle and even had a 2-wheel enclosed cart pulled by one horse. I hardly missed a day even when temperatures were –20 Fahrenheit.

I had a sweetie when in the second grade. She moved to town in 1930 when her father lost the farm. He was the first of many casualties. Grade school was about 2 ½ miles from home. High school was 6 miles. I rode a horse, rode a bicycle, or went with students who drove to school. I stayed in town during the week in January and February when the roads were closed. The grade school was closed for one year (1931-2) because of a lack of funds.

Our grade school finally closed about 1945 when they finally established good enough roads to have reliable bus service although many families continued to furnish their own transportation. My brother, Tom, started to go to town school when he was about 1 and drove a Model A throughout 8th through 12th grades. He sometimes had to leave the car a half mile from home. Dad used to watch to be sure the car would start in some very bitter weather.

Algot’s land is still farmed by a renter. Jim, Algot’s second son, owns and leases the land. Victor’s younger son, now in his eighties, leases the land to a large operator. Kenneth is in a retirement home in western Montana. I sold my interest in the Richard Nyquist land to my brother Tom. He leases it to a cousin who inherited my brother Bob’s ranch near Bainville.

Of all the farmers within 3 miles of our home, only about 3 of 20 still have people living on the land. Most homesteaders, who still own their land, lease their land out, have the land in land bank or live in town.

The all-around farm is gone. We cannot sell cream as we did. There is no market available for chickens, turkeys or eggs, and ranching is restricted to land that is not considered suitable for wheat farming.

Froid had 410 residents in 1940 with 120 in high school. There were 200 residents in 2010 and no more than about 20-30 in high school. One class had a single student. There were 3 gas stations, hardware, 3 bars, and 3 grocers at one time. Now there is one bar, one gas station, and one grocer. The grocery store is owned and subsidized by the village.


Family Members

The story of the Nyquists really starts in the 1800’s in Sweden. Pere Piersen was born in 1818 in Ny Parish, Varmland, Sweden. moved with Marit and two children to Bjorbystem in 1848, to USA, 29 Jun, 1883. They left from Knistiania. Of their 8 children, the following, moved to the United States:

  1. Maria Per dotter b 1845, stayed in Sweden
  2. Peter Nyquist (Per Persson Nyquist) b Sweden im 1846
    • Peter August Nyquist b. Sweden
    • Maria Wilhelmina Nyquist b. Sweden
    • Hanna Natalia Nyquist b. Sweden
    • John Samuel Nyquist b. Sweden (H) Homestead
    • Julia Olivia Nyquist b. Sweden
    • David Nathanial Nyquist b. Sweden (H) Mt
    • Edia Adlia Nyquist b. Sweden
    • Signe Claudia Nyquist b. Sweden
    • Linnea Ingegurg Nyquist b. USA
    • Rudolph Ephriam Nyquist b. USA (H) MT
    • (2 died in Sweden)
  3. Joh Persson Nyquist b. Sweden, 1850 Emig , emigrated in rated 1882
    • Homestead, 1909, Homestead, MT
    • later sold to Algot Nyquist, 1922
    • Joh Peter Fabian Persson Nyquist b. Sweden
    • Homestead in Saskatchewan, 1904, ret to USA
    • Homestead In Glasgow, MT 1912
    • Alida Maria Nyquist. b. USA Married Lundeen
    • Victor Emanuel Nyquist, b. USA (H) Froid, 1909
    • Algot Wilhelm Nyquist, b. USA (H) Glasgow 1912
    • wife Lillian, (H) Nashua 1918
    • Richard Theodore Nyquist, b. USA
    • patent rights from Uncle J. P.
    • Fritz Nyquist, b. USA (H) Homestead 1912
  4. Kjristin Persdotter, b. Sweden, to USA in 1882
    • Mary Bergquist, b. Sweden
    • Per Viktor Nissen (Bergquist) b. Sweden to Canada
    • Anna Bergquist b. Sweden
    • Signe Josephine Bergquist, b. Sweden
    • Valentin Bergquist, b. Sweden
    • August Bergquist, b. Canada
    • Gottfried Bergquist, b. Canada
    • Naomi Bergquist, b. Canada
    • Richard Bergquist, b. Canada
    • Clarence Bergquist, b. Canada
  5. Lars Persson Nyquist, b. 1856, stayed in Sweden
  6. Olof (Ole) Persson Nyquist, b. 1861, Sweden Emig 1882
    • Marie Hannah Nyquist
    • Emma Nyquist
    • Albert Emanuel Nyquist
    • Hulda Josephine Nyquist
    • Edith Adian Nyquist
    • Wm Theodore Nyquist
  7. Jonas Persson Nyquist (J.P.) b. 1865 emig 1883
    • Of wife & 7 children, all but one died between
    • 1888 & 1906. He sold his store & homesteaded near Froid
    • in 1912. He sold patent on the homestead to to Richard T Nyquist in
    • 1915 & returned to Cokato Mn.

I have listed these to give you an idea of the impact of Swedish immigration on Homesteading and population in Mn, ND and MT.

I have not counted the third, fourth, and fifth generationsbut it is a great number. Of the second, and third; 2 homesteaded in Valley County, 3 homesteaded in Sheridan County, 3 homesteaded in Daniels County, and 3 in Roosevelt County. Of all these homesteads, only 4 are still owned by Nyquists; the Richard T Nyquist, The Algot Nyquist, the Victor Nyquist and the Peter Nyquist homesteads; 3 in Roosevelt & 1 in Valley County.

The Nyquists migration to Montana began in 1909 with John, his wife, and son Victor, who settled about 8 miles N.E. of Froid. John’s brother, J.P., homesteaded just south of John. John’s oldest son, Peter, who had homesteaded in Canada, came to Glasgow in 1912. He was joined by his brother Algot. Each had his own homestead but they pooled resources to buy tractors for breaking sod for other homesteaders and a threshing rig for custom threshing.

Dad (Richard) and Fritz came out in 1913 ad stayed with Grandpa John

Three sons of Peter, John’s brother, came west about 1915. John Samuel settled just east of John’s homestead. His brothers, Rudy and David, settled between Scobey and Opheim . J.P. moved east and Richard took over his homestead. Fritz found a spot several miles west of John’s homestead. He was drafted in 1917 and died in France in 1918.

Algot married the schoolteacher and, in 1919 bought the John Nyquist homestead. Fritz was killed in 1918 in France and his homestead was sold. Sam (John Samuel) moved to Scobey to pursue the legal profession, becoming a state senator in the process.

Victor married in 1916 and his youngest son, now retired, still owns the homestead. The Algot Nyquist homestead is owned by his son Jim, and is leased to a local farmer. The Richard Nyquist land is owned by his son, Tom, and is leased as hay land.

Cousin Jim has rebuilt the original homestead shack and occasionally uses it for camp out when visiting Montana. Most of the buildings on the homestead are in disrepair or gone.

Homestead shacks were 12 by 16, one room with washstand, cook stove, cabinet for dishes, another cabinet for clothes and a built-in bed frame in one corner. It would be high enough to store things underneath and shelving above the bedstead for storage. Mattresses were usually big canvas bags stuffed with hay, straw, or corn stalks to give some softness. These would be renewed each fall..

Most of the homesteaders lived by themselves at first. Many dug a hole on a hilltop and built up sides with sod. The roof would be rounded and covered with additional sod. These home were called “soddies”. They were about 12 by 14 and had a door and one window in them. The floor was hard packed earth, watered down a little at times to keep the dust down. Mother told of living in a Soddy one winter. They had no wood or coal to burn so they burned straw twists, slightly dampened so they didn’t burn too fast. Grandma would dampen the floor at times. Mom told of hearing a clatter when a cow actually walked across the roof one winter night.

Many of Dad’s neighbors were bachelors. One of them lived across the road in a Soddy. He moved on and the land eventually was sold to Dad by a neighbor. He and others actually dug a curb well eighty feet to water. It was curbed with oak planks and was still usable forty years later. A great rock pile was next to the dugout from stone gathered from adjoining fields. There were 3 rock piles on our original homestead.

Algot’s homestead, north of ours, was actually proved up by Grandpa Nyquist who lived there from 1910 to 1919. He built a retirement home in Froid and lived there for a short time. He then returned to Cokato, Minnesota to the ancestral home. His wife passed away after he returned to Minnesota.

Grandpa’s original homesteader shack had been augmented by two additional buildings so the three were end to end. The first was the kitchen, the second was the living room and the third was the bedroom. Each one had its own stove, kitchen stove, and 2 baseburners.

Note: A baseburner was a freestanding heater that was placed on a fireproof matt. The bottom section was an ash pit separated from the main burner by grates that held up the coal but allowed the ashes to drop down. The heat and smoke went through a large enclosed heater area to the stove pipe. The baseburner was usually moved out of the living area during the summer. Summers could be very hot so most homesteaders had a two or 3 burner kerosene stove for summer use. The homesteader house had a porch on the north side and cooking and eating would often be done out there.

Although Grandpa had not built a new house, he had built both a side barn and a large barn, something like Dad’s neighbor, Dave Gunderson. It had a two-stage hip roof. A high wind destroyed it and Algot made do with the side barn. It had a little half door at each stall so he could feed the animals from the outside. Our side barn had stalls and half doors but it was never used after 1923 for that because of the main barn built that year.

See section on “High Plains Weather”

In 1925, Algot bought a Sears Roebuck house. It was a precut house. All you had to do was to put in a basement, fasten all the boards together, siding, roofing, lathe and plastering. Algot put a cistern in a corner of the basement and put a driveway in so he could park a car in the basement in cold weather. The septic system was West of the house. It would often fill up so he had a suction pump put in so he could pump out the liquid when it needed it.

Roads were 2 tracks in earlier years, nothing more than prairie trails. The Post Office demanded better roads for the rural routes so the road past Dad’s place and the road past Algot’s place were graded by 1925. Much of the shopping was done in the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues. They were also the source of paper for the out-door plumbing. Many of the farmers lived as much as 20 miles from the nearest town. This meant that trips to town were done only when necessary.

By 1915, the first Model T Fords were in the country.

I’m not sure when Dad got his but I would be willing to bet that Mother had something to do with it. Grandpa Nyquist drove his Model T once and ran it into a building. After that he would either get a ride or ride the wagon.

Wagons were of several types. One, called a grain tank, would take over 100 bushels of grain but required 4 horses for the hills. It also had a wheel brake because 2 horses could not hold it back on down grades. A standard wagon would take about 80 bushels of grain. Wheat weighed 60 pounds per bushel, rye, 52; barley, 46; and oats, 32 and we figured a team should not have more than 2 ton load besides the wagon itself. There was also a spring wagon or light wagon for lighter cargoes. The light wagon was used to go to town in bad weather and to haul hay.

An enterprising blacksmith began converting wagonwheels to use rubber tires. The wagons rolled much easier and without all those bumps. It also lowered the profile, making wagons much easier to load. It was about the same time that a local tire man also began converting tractors from steel wheels with lugs to pneumatic tires. This conversion made tractors much more comfortable to ride and actually improved their pulling power. New tractors now came out with a road gear that increased their top speed on the road from 4 miles an hour to 15 or more. One tractor had a top road speed of over 40 miles an hour.. In 1940 we bought our first rubber-tired tractor. It would go over 10 miles an hour in 4th gear.


Richard Nyquist Family

Our farm had 320 acres; about 250 of that was broken land, the rest in grass. It took about 8 horses to do the farm work. A two-bottom plow took six and you could plow about 5 acres a day. We plowed the fields every second or third year. We had a disc tiller that needed eight. Its eight-foot span would cover about 17 acres a day. Another piece of equipment was a duck foot tiller with a 10-foot span.. It used a number of wide teeth that cut about 3 inches into the ground and its four sections would till about 20 acres a day. It would sometimes plug up and Dad would have to stop to clean it, especially if we had thistles the prior year. It took 8 horses. After tilling the soil, we planted the seed. The grain drill was about 8 feet wide and required 3 horses. We bought a new drill that was 12 foot span and we could do about 25 acres in a day.

A worker with a standard-size farm tractor could do 2 to 3 times as much per hour as a man with horses. Later model tractors changed the picture entirely. The farmer with tractor equipment had more leisure time. He didnn’t need to put up feed or spend money in the off-season taking care of his horses or pastures. The farmer now could put virtually all his land into crops.

Some years we had a lot of thistles. They were big and round and would blow into the fences if they brook loose. They had sharp pointed seeds and would grow to 15 to 30 inches in diameter. We would pull a harrow across the field in the spring that would bunch the thistles so we would burn them. Once in a while a patch wouldn’t bunch and the fire would get away if we weren’t careful. When that happened, the fire could get into the fence and cedar posts would burn, requiring fence work.

Sometime before 1900, a process was perfected to can vegetables and fruit. When I went out to the rock pile where Dad had dumped his garbage, I found hundreds of large tomatoes, vegetable, and peach cans, as well as dozens of empty Possum cans. Possum could be added to hot water so you didn’t have to wait for the coffee to boil.

Dad told of getting the flu one winter and was so sick he could hardly do the chores. A number of neighbors died of the flu that year. He also got Whooping cough and said he coughed so hard his stomach ached for a week. Baching it (living alone) was a dangerous thing in the wintertime.

Our neighbor to the northeast, Pete Johnson, was a bachelor. He never had more than 4 horses in his half section. His pasture was surrounded on four sides by his fields. He had two shacks end to end. They were partially built into the ground. On the North and West sides of the yard he had planted bushes and trees that kept the severe winter winds from the house. In 1928, he bought a 4 plow McCormick Dearing tractor and equipment. He also bought land about 15 miles out on the reservation. Each spring and fall you would see him pulling his equipment and a Model T Ford behind the tractor, heading for the reservation for spring planting or summer work.

Dad passed away in 1959. Mother had her son Bob farm the land and then was able too put the farm into the land bank. The government paid her to have the farm lie fallow. She lived on the farm for a few years and then had the house moved into town. On the same day, Algot had his house moved into town too and all the cattle and pigs were sold. Not long afterwards, Algot retired and leased his land to neighbor farmers.

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Background of Bakers

Grandma (Anna Koenig) married Jacob Koehn in 1897 and they moved from western Wisconsin to eastern North Dakota where his brother lived. He tried a number of jobs including teaching school. He proved to be improvident so she divorced him about 1905.

Anna was 24 with three children under 7 years old without a husband or skills so she decided to become a country nurse. She farmed out the children and went to Battle Creek, Mi, where she stayed with members of the Koenig family, cousins on her Mother’s side while she went to Battle Creek San (Kellog Sanitarium) to learn the art of nursing. The children were in 3 separate homes for about 2 years while she completed her training.

About 2 years after she returned to North Dakota, she married John Bakkar (Baker) who was a prosperous farmer near Loma.

About 1909, her son, Louie had an accident, falling in ice water, and became quite sick with some blood disease. It was decided to rent out the farm and move out the Portland Oregon where Grandma had a brother, Louie and search for a cure for Louie’s ailment.

John Baker was a survivor. When he was five years old, his family fled from a German settlement in Russia. The Germans were originally brought into Russia by Catherine the Great to teach the peasants the elements of farming. The experiment was a failure because the Germans never learned Russian and kept to themselves. They even refused to serve in the Russian Army except under duress so the Russians under Czar Nicolas decided to harass the Germans until they left the country. John’s family was among those who fled in the 1880’s. They hid by day and traveled by night, sometimes digging in the ground for things to eat. They reached North Dakota about 1885. When John was nine years old, his mother died and he was farmed out to another farmer as a worker. He ran away and did not return for 2 years.

He said later that he always told people he was on his way home after visiting relatives. He never did go to school. He taught himself to read and write. His spelling was phonetic so reading one of his letters was an adventure. He was already a successful farmer when Anna met him and he seemed to offer her security for the first time in over 10 years.

About a year after they moved to Portland, Louie fell, cutting himself seriously, nearly bleeding to death. Strangely, that accident cured him and they decided to return to North Dakota.

They got as far as Chinook, Mt. when Mother, (Billie) contracted Scarlet Fever and they had to get off the train and find a place to stay. Mother developed a damaged heart and they stayed there for almost 2 years. Grandpa was a handy man and had no trouble finding work at a farm implement salesman and repairman. .

They were able to return to North Dakota about 2 years later. After they got back to North Dakota, Grandma and Grandpa made a trip to Saskatchewan to look for land. What they found was covered with trees and brush and would have taken years to clear so they came to Montana where they found a piece of land about 20 miles North of Oswego, a small town 12 miles West of Wolf Point. Back they went to North Dakota to pack all their goods, horses and cows, and such in a freight car. Louie, now about 13, was picked to ride in the “immigrant car”


The Baker Homestead

Now I must digress for a moment. The land was on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, land set-aside for the Assiniboine and Sioux Indians. The railroads, through their lobbying, had managed to get the government release much of the reservation for homesteading since it was close enough to the railroad’s main line to be of benefit to the railroad. This land was open to homesteading and both Grandpa and Grandma filed on adjoining sites. Abe Baker, Grandpa’s brother (Abe Baker, also filed. Abe Baker was one of many who gained titles without fully fulfilling the residency requirements.

Louie told of the trip on the freight car and that the local station operators would not let him water the stock until he demonstrated quite emphatically that the stock had to be watered. He was on the car two days with no relief. When he got to Oswego, the local station agent was quite reluctant to let him off the car because the freight hadn’t been paid yet.

Grandpa and Grandma, Lillian, Lydia, and little Levern came west in a big car that Grandpa had bought shortly before, a big touring car. They didn’t get there til the next day.

The countryside North of Oswego had several large herds of wild horses. Some years later they were rounded up and over a thousand were shipped west to become food for domestic animals.

Grandpa and Louie got a big wagon, loaded it with lumber and headed North to the homestead. Because there were no roads and few landmarks, it took some time after they got there to find it. A lumber wagon will travel about two miles an hour so it took a full day to get to the property. On the way back they decided to mark the trail so they planted a pole at each strategic spot so the next trip would be easier.

The next trip was no better because the wild horses decided the poles were great for scratching itches. All the poles were down. He said each trip was difficult but gradually they developed a trail. The family stayed with people in Oswego until they had shelter.

The land South of Bakers was quite undulating and mostly grassland. North of the house was a large area of mostly flat land. Mennonites, people of German descent, settled this area. Most of them spoke German in their homes . They even had their own schools.

Grandpa built the house without any printed plan. It was a copy of the house in Portland that Louie Rose had built and lived in. The house was about 30 foot square and had 4 or 5 bedrooms upstairs. They were able to move in that summer. Grandma and the girls lived in Oswego for some time until they were ale to move in.

The school district was based in Fraser, a town about 35 miles from the farm and there was no school the first year. A small shack was moved on to the property and that made up the school building. School was held for only a few months that year.

Among the neighbors was Abe Baker, John’s brother. Abe was a man of small stature who was trained as a shoemaker. Somehow, he qualified as a homesteader although his trade was in Wolf Point, about 35 miles SE of the homestead and ultimately the county seat of Roosevelt County. Abe and his family finally settled in town and the homeste3ad was sold to Grandma.

Two other neighbors were single young men who homesteaded next to each other. They were later drafted and served in France. After returning from the war, they returned to their homesteads. In 1919, they both contracted Spanish flue and died of pneumonia.

The school was moved off the Baker homestead a few years later to a location South of them along the West Fork of Wolf Creek. It was again moved to a site about 2 miles north to the center of a new school 4district.

The Bakers had electric lights from a farm system by the 30-s. They also had a water storage tank in the attic. The well was deep with a windmill, well-house and a large pit to keep milk cool in summer.

They celebrated their 25th Anniversary in the mid 1930;s. The party had several hundred people and lasted until late in the evening. They built a stage in the yard and moved a piano on to the platform for all sorts of music. I remember they bought 500 paper plates and used over 400 of them. The kids played all sorts of games. I remember tearing my sweater when I ran full-tilt into a barbed wire fence. It bounced me back and I landed flat on my back. The yard between the barn and house was all tiny smooth pebbled from the Ice Age and many of us were bare-footed. Parents encouraged us to go bare-footed because shoes cost money and there wasn’t much of it in the 1930’s.


Anna Koenig Koehn Baker

The nearest town was Oswego, about 23 miles south over rolling land. To take their crops to market (usually wheat or barley or oats) would take about 12 hours for a single load of 80 to 130 bushels. A good crop would yield over 2,000 bushels and it could be as much as 4,000 bushels. The sons, Louie or Levern would get the job of loading and hauling the grain to town. Each trip would take up to 2 days. The first trucks were 4-cylinder International or Ford and would take less than 125 bushels at a time. It would take almost half a day just for one trip to town. The roads were poorly graded and the trucks had a top speed of less than 40 miles an hour.

The soil had a lot of gravel in it so they did not need to surface the road except to grade it and putting in a high grade where the road crossed the creek. The rural free delivery service was haphazard with the nearest post-office at Lustre, a tiny village with a small store combined with hotel and post office.

All the homesteads had deep wells because the water table was up to 200 feet down. They also had to put in barbed wire fences because of areas of open range.

Note: Open range laws allowed the sheep men and cattle men to graze their stock on the open range. This made it necessary for all farmers to fence their cropland. It also meant that roads always had the hazard of stock on the road.

Sheep men controlled the local county before the homesteaders came in and there was considerable difficulty until the mid 30;s when the last sheep left the country. I remember seeing the sheep wagons. The herder would live in this wagon with his dogs. Don’t know where the home base of the sheep rancher was.

Many farmers went broke because of a 7-year drought in the 1930’s. Some lost their farms to the banks and others sold their farms to others so the average farm in 1940 was made of more than one homestead.

The Bakers were among the farmers who had cattle, pigs, geese turkeys and chickens. They had a permanent hired-girl who was part of the household. Two grown sons reduced the need for hiring men except during harvest. The Bakers did better than most. They even had a large barn with a hayloft over the stalls.

The Bakers had 5 children, Lillian Lydia and Louie from her first husband and Levern and Lloyd from the second. Lillian and Lydia married Nyquists (their story is in the section on Nyquists.) Louie worked on the farm until he married the schoolteacher and moved away. Grandma couldn’t understand why they would move away “because she would have taken care of them.”

Levern finished high school at the age of 21 and ended up as a jeweler in Glasgow. Lloyd was born in 1923, sort of an afterthought, and ended up with the ranch. He died in 2003 of a condition caused by medication. His son and grandson now run the farm.

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Women on the Farm

Homesteading was only partially successful without the women. It was only after I had gone back in my memory to the early Twenties that I remembered the true meaning of a partnership and its importance in the homesteading community. Virtually every successful homesteader was a married man and nearly all of them had families. Let us consider what the woman did.

She served her apprenticeship as a child, beginning to participate as a child, gathering eggs, sweeping the floor, doing many of the errands she could, Soon she learned to milk the cows, tend the smaller children, work in the garden and cook.

In her teens, she was a journeyman, helping at church affairs and often hiring out to other families as a hired girl. Occasionally she would meet her future husband in this way.

Farm communities offered little in the way of vegetables and fruits. Everything was either in cans or you went without. The family used the buggy to go to town until the Model T came in so going to town was a planned affair. Basically the following were the jobs for the wife. There were variations according to size of family, ability of the wife and the nature of the partnership.

She cooked, cleaned, did the laundry, kept a garden, canned foods in season, did outside chores, kept a garden, was a dressmaker, nursed the hurts, raised children, and kept her husband warm at night, and acted as a family lawyer or referee in family squabbles.

My folks were married in November so Mother had all winter to figure out what her duties would be. The house had 3 rooms and a closet. The bedroom was about 10 by 20 feet. Between the bedroom and living room was a stairwell to the attic which was used for storage. It also had a 3 quarter bed for a hired man in the summer. The living room was about 13 by 20. It had a hide-a-bed leatherette couch, a dining table with 6 chairs an easy chair that would act as a good napping chair, and a big heater that stood next to the wall of the stairwell.

The kitchen was about 12 by 20, or maybe a little larger. I was only 4 and a half when we moved into the new house. The kitchen had a cook stove, a metal cooking area, a large screened pie and storage cupboard and a kitchen table with chairs. A trap door in the floor led down to a cellar that was at least partially dug after the house was built.

The screened porch was about 6 by 12 feet and had a 3-burner kerosene stove on it for summer cooking. There were no fans in the house and summers were hot.

Our cook stove was a Monarch. It was about 7 feet long. The main stove had 6 lids, 2 over the fire box and 4 on the rest. Under the fire box was the ash pit which had a metal receptacle about 67 by 8 by 24 inches. It pulled out and Dad would empty it in the morning before he made the fire. On the end of the stove was a water reservoir that would hold up to 10 gallons of water. This water was always luke warm when the stove was in use. Dad would often add snow to it so mother would have soft water available.

Most women did their laundry on Mondays. I don’t know what was so magic about Monday. Our well had hard water (high in minerals) so it was not too good for laundry so Dad would load barrels on the wagon and go to the neighbor. Pete Johnson had a curb-type well that was fairly shallow and had very sweet soft water It didn’t need so much soap for laundry and was good for cooking. He had to pump the water by hand into a pail and fill the barrel that way. It usually took over a dozen pails of water to fill the barrels. Then, when he got home, he had to fill the wash boiler with water and put it on the kitchen stove. The boiler held about 10 gallons. There were 2 wash tubs, one for wash water and one for rinse. Soap came in bars so you had to melt the soap on the stove before putting it in the wash tub. The wash included sheets and pillow cases. They had to be scrubbed by hand. The ringer was fastened to the side of the tub with 2 wing nuts and you turned a crank with one had while feeding the clothes through the ringer with the other. . You ran the clothes back through the ringer after rinsing them, making certain you didn’t drop anything back into the wash water. The clothes line was in the back yard and it was used the year round. In the winter time Dad had the job of hanging the clothes out to dry.

Wash and wear cloth did not exist so many things needed to be ironed. The iron was a Top with handle and there were 3 iron shoes. They were heated on the stove and Mother would use them one at time as one cooled she would put it back on the stove to reheat as she used another. She would sprinkle water on items that were too dry and then roll them up until she was ready to iron them.

Gardening took quite a bit of time in the summer. We boys had the job of keeping weeds out of the garden. The garden took up about an acre. Dad marked lines about 4 feet apart. He used a sleigh and horses to mark it. We then put in seeds along the marks. We bought carrot, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, and turnip seeds. We saved seed from sweet corn, squash, pumpkin, bean, and pea plants. Dad would use the sulky plow to make furrows for the potatoes. We then would drop pieces of potato with the eyes in the furrow and cover them. Late in the summer was canning time. We canned bean pickles, sweet pickles, watermelon pickles, dill pickles and teet pickles. Fruit was shipped in from the West and we canned peach, pear, and plum fruit. Mother also canned beef and liver sausage.

Autumn was pig slaughter time. We had a big crock that was used to cure ham and bacon. It was then smoked. Hams and bacon cus were cured in a brine with saltpeter before tking out to the smoke house for curing.

Mother made some clothing and all her curtains.. We had a treadle (foot powered) Singer sewing machine. I think that was also kept in the corner of the kitchen.

Our floors were all of pine in the old house and there were no linoleum so cleaning the floors was quite a job. I remember the old mop. It had a clamp that held the mop cloth in place. Outdoor clothes were hung on the back side of the kitchen door. There was a sort of rug that Dad had to step on to remove his outdoor boots. Mother got the job of mending his overalls. She had a home-made chest that she kept cloth pieces in for mending. We heated with coal. It was lignite, a soft coal that had a low heating value and was hard to get started. The coal storage was in a la+rge lean-to outside the house. Dad had to go out there to break up chunks of coal and fill the coal scuttles. For the kitchen stove and the base burner heater in the living room.

We had a light plant and 32-volt battery electric system by 1924. The purchase of a Maytag washing machine was cause for celebration. It had a power ringer. They kept it on the back porch and moved it into the kitchen on laundry day. The old wash tubs were still used part of the time. The casters on the Maytag had locks so the washing machine would stay still. The washing machine had a big cage inside and the clothes were put in the cage and the cage swished back and forth. The nicest thing was the power ringer. I don’t remember if the ring had a safety release or not. Grandma told of several serious injuries in the days before the safety release. One woman got her hair caught in the ringer and lost her scalp. Another woman got her hand caught in the ringer and it took it right up to the shoulder.


Equipment and Seasons

Equipment and the seasons of the year are inseperable. I have decided to describe each piece of equipment in the time frame of its use. A cross file of equipment is at the end of the article. The seasons are as follows: Spring and planting season, Haying and growing season, Harvesting, Storage and Marketing, Winter and waiting. Bear in mind that all descriptions are covering the time period from 1910 to 1950.


Preparation of the fields meant that we first had to clear the fields of bulky weeds of the prior year. This meant the use of a harrow to loosen and bunch up weeds.


The harrow came in 5 x 5 sections. It was a flat steel frame with a series of crossbars, each of which had 6-8 inch spike teeth. A lever on each section adjusted the angle of the spikes. The spikes lay flat as the operator went out to the field. We had long extensions that allowed us to fasten as many as six sections together for a 33 foot span. We usually used four. The operator would walk behind the harrow as he harrowed the field. A 2-wheel riding cart was sometimes fastened to the harrow but required care in use because the operator could be thrown off. A neighbor died of internal injuries after such a fall.. The harrow would bunch up the weeds so they could be burned.

The next step would be to prepare the soil for planting. For that the farmer would use one of the following: disc, one-way disc, tiller (sometimes called a duck-foot), or plow.


The disc had 2 shafts, each about 4 or 5 foot long. Each shaft had 12-inch diameter slightly beveled discs spaced about 9 inches apart. They were monted on a fram that made it possible to adjust the angle of the discs to either roll freely or dig into the ground of at an angle. A frame above the shaft made it possible to add rocks for weight to get a deeper tilling. Usually the operator would use a tandem hookup with one disc behind a second. A seat and framework would allow thee operator to ride. A double dixc required 6-8 horses to pull.

One-way (One-way disc):

The one way was a disc on a very long framework. The individual discs were larger and the machine was wheeled so that the discs could be raised above the ground for transporting. The one-way was only used with tractors.

Tiller (duck-foot):

The duck-foot had 4 sections, independently raised. The sections were mounted on a framework that had 4 wheels with two large ones in the middle. The operator sat in the middle. The sections had about a dozen hook-shaped arms, each of which had a narrow or wide shoe for cultivating the soil. The levers allowed for depth of tilling or raising for transporting. The equipment required 8 horses or a 3-4 bottom tractor to pull.


The horse-drawn plow was one of the following, walking plow, sulky (one-bottom riding plow), gang (2 bottom riding plow), or triple (3 bottom riding plow). They required 3, 6, or 8 horses respectively. The walking plow would have a 10 or 12 inch bottom and be pulled by one or two horses. They were only used for small jobs or cramped quarters.

Regular plows came with 14 or 16 inches bottoms. The basic parts were the moldboard that turned the earth over, the show that was 8inch by about 16 or 18. The shoes were detachable. Shoes cut into the earth and wore down quite rapidly. They were taken to a blacksmith shop where additional steel replaced material worn off. A colter was added to each moldboard frame when the plow was used for breaking. The colter was a steel disc on a caster-type swivel that cut the soil to make it easier to plow. A packer was often pulled behind the gang or triple plow to smooth down the soil and break up larger clods in preparation for seeding.

Seeding was done with a row planter (corn planter), or a drill.

Corn planter:

The farmers used a two-row planter. It had two wheels and required two horses. There were two seed containers and a tube leading to a shoe or discs that parted the soil for the seeding. It would drop a seed at specified spacing, according to the requirements of the farmer. There were two marking arms, one of which was lowered and would leave a trail in the soil for the operator to follow as he planted the next two rows. .


The lister was only used during times when the fields were in danger of Drifting because of exceptionally dry and windy weather. The lister was furnished by the county and planted 3 rows at a time in areas of possible drifting. The lister planted the corn in trenches with small earth dams every 10-15 feet to stop water from running down the trenches.


Grains are the descendants of wild grasses, evolved over ten thousand years. They are tolerant of being planted close together. Early methods of planting were by scattering the seed over soil and raking in to cover it. Much was lost to birds and rodents that would devour any exposed seeds. Broadcasting was extremely inefficient and resulted in a waste of seed and a scanty crop, often with weeds in all areas where seeding was thin.

The drill is described as a long seed hopper above tubes that lead to the ground. Seed is metered by a long shaft and gears set to drop seed at a set rate. Narrow shovels separate the soil at a set depth for the seed with chains to cover the seed and pack the soil. The hopper would hold enough seed for a number of acres. A wheel at each end of the drill allowed for transport between fields and also powered the metering shaft. An adjustable gearing system allowed the operator to set the rate of seeding. Early drills were short and could be pulled by one or two horses. Common length was 12 feet and required 4 horses to pull. Later drills were designed to be pulled in tandem with tillers or plows and pulled by tractors.

The Principle of drilling was to plant seed properly spaced at the right depth and to save time.


The process of preparing the soil and planting the seed was called “Spring Work” After spring work, the farmer had about 2 months to do other jobs while waiting for the crop to grow and mature. These jobs included breaking more soil, haying, cultivating fallow fields to be planted in the autumn or in the following spring.

Cultivating fallow fields was called “Summer Fallow”. The Northern Plains had very limited rain-fall and it often required two years of rain for one good crop. The fallow land was often cultivated to turn growing weeds and dead pants from the prior year into the soil to enrich it. Equipment used were the same as prepared the soil for seeding. An advantage of summer fallow was that it required very little preparation before seeding the following year.

The modern one-crop farms no longer have the need for haying except as an additional commodity for sale. Earlier farmers had both cattle and horses they needed forage in winter. A surplus of hay would be carried past the first year or could be an additional money crop. The following pieces of equipment were variously used in Haying: mower, rake, cradle, scythe, pitch fork, side-delivery rake, swather, hay-baler, hay rack, slings, and hay barn.


The horse-drawn mower required 2 horses and had a 5 or 6-foot cutting bar powered by the wheels which were steel with small lugs for traction. Power was through a shaft and a long pitman or arm. The bar could be lifted to clear obstacles with a foot pedal. A long lever was used to take it out of gear and another to lift it to a vertical position. A stabilizing rod would better secure the bar when on the road. A horse-drawn mower could cut about 122 acres a day. The hay would usually be allowed to lay for a short time to dry (cure) before being raked. Later cutting bars were attached to tractors which used power takeoff to operate the bars. A tractor operator could cut about 2 or more acres per hour. Self-propelled machines had about a 12-foot cutting bar and a canvas belt that conveyed the cut grass to one end of the machine and left in in rows. The problem was that it would not cut the grass as closely as the other mowers. The grass would then be raked into piles or long windrows after it had dried enough. Wet grass would heat and was known to start fires. It also tended to mold.

The grass was raked into piles when it was dried and hauled by hay-rack to stacks or to a barn for storage.


The hay-rake was about 10-12 feet and was drawn by 2 horses. It had long curved teeth spaced about 6 inches apart. It had a foot trip that allowed the teeth to lift and leave a pile up to two (2) feet high. It was a very light load for the horses and they would often break into a trot between dumps.

Hay would be gathered by operators with pitchforks and hauled to stacks for storage or into hay-barns. Some hay-barns were ground level and hay was simply forked of the rack into the barn. Haylofts were above the animal stalls and hay was lifted in slings up to a height and pulled into the barn on overhead tracks. Power for the slings was by two-horse team and a very long 1-inch hay rope.

Side-delivery hay-rake:

The side-delivery hay-rake was used to rake hay into long windrows for pickup by a hay baler. Baling hay simplified storage in stacks or under open-sided sheds. Farmers did not favor this method in earlier years. (A windrow is a long row of hay or cut grain, laid out preparatory to being picked up by a baler or other pick-up device such as a combine.)

Hay baler:

The original hay balers made bales about 12 x 15 x 48 inches. They were tied by 2 swires. The baler had a special device that tied and cut he wire. They were powere with power tale-off. The tractor would slow slightly as each bale was kicked out. They weighed from 50 to 80 pounds each and helped the farmer build up muscle. Bales were ideal for storage in open sheds.

Later balers made round bles that weighed up to 1,500 pounds. They required tractors with front- end loaders to handle them. Later balers also wrapped bales in plastic for storage outdoors. Many balers had their own power. But required a tractor to pull them.


The hay rack was built on a 10 x 14 foot platform base. The base was designed to be pun on an ordinary wagon frame. The sides and end were of open work boards with 2 x 4 uprights. One side was much higher than the other. The low side the side the operator pitched the hay or bundles on. 2 or 3 slings would be laid in as the wagon was loaded if the hay was to be raised into a hay loft. The hay rack was used for hauling hay in the summer and hauling bundles for threshing in the harvest season.. It had a small feed box on the back. Horses would be tied to the back during the lunch hour with feed in the feed box. A water jug would be in the box during work time.

Cradle and Scythe:

The cradle is a long handled framework with a series of long tines, usually of wood. It was swung and dipped to pick up cut hay to be put in a pile for hauling away. The cradle is still used in mountain areas of Europe. The scythe is a 2-foot slightly curved blade on a long curved handle. The handle has 2 adjustable hand grips. It is used to cut grass for hay in areas not accessible with a regular mower. Both require a special rhythm as they are used. A person can work them for some time if he uses his body properly and lets the scythe or cradle to do most of the work. My Dad used the scythe in cramped areas. He also spent time to be certain the blade was very sharp.


Harvest entailed a lot of effort and some risk. Weather could include high winds or hail damage so it was important to harvest as early as possible. The process required cutting, curing and drying, threshing or stacking, storing and finally taking to market.

Prior to the use of combine-threshers, the grain was cut and stored on the field. The equipment used for cutting the grain was as follows: Binder, corn binder, header, push- binder, and windrower.


The binder had a cutting bar, a platform with canvas, a binder head that tied grain into bundles as it was brought up to the head by canvas belts that collected grain as it was cut and brought it up to the head. The bundles were collected in a basket as they were tied. The operator would pull a lever to dump the bundles at a previously chosen spot. The binder had a rotating section that pushed the grain toward the cutting bar as the grain was cut. It required 4 horses to pull an eight-foot swath of grain. The bundles were dumped in rows and then put in shocks with the grain-bearing heads at the top. They would be in the shocks at least 2 weeks before threshing time.

Push binder and Header:

Push binder and header were of similar design. The horses and operator were behind the cutting heads. The operator straddled a rudder and he steered it by m moving his body back and forth in a manner similar to the rudder o a boat. It required two teams of 3 horse, one on each side of the tubular iron pole that extended back from the platform. The push binder had a head and tied bundles in the same manner as a binder. The header had a long elevator that grain into a wagon pulled by a separate team. The grain would then be put in a stack until time to be threshed.


The windrower cut the grain and dropped in in a long windrow the length of the field. Late summer rains would encourage weed growth before the grain was harvested. It needed to be cut to allow the weeds to dry so the combine or thresher could properly thresh it. Windrowing also guaranteed that the grain could be saved in the case of a severe summer storm. Severe storms included high winds and hail and could destroy an entire crop. Windrowing would minimize loss from such a storm.

Corn binder:

The corn binder was designed to cut and bind row crops such as corn and cane. It came in one-row and 2-row versions. The corn was cut by a short cutting bar and was pulled up to the binder head with chain drive that pulled the corn up. Sometimes the corn would bunch up or plug and the operator would attempt to clear it without stopping. A number of accidents occurred. Shorter corn could be cut and bound with a grain binder by limiting the cut to two rows. It was also much safer.


Threshing time was quite special. Several local farmers owned or shared ownership of threshing machines (separators). Threshing time in Montana began about the 3rd week in August and extended until all local crops had been threshed. They had capacity according to the size of the threshing cylinders. The smaller units required about 8 hay rack operators and the larger ones would require 10 or 12. Local farmers would volunteer to help the local farmer to haul grain from the rig. It usually required 2 or 3 grain wagons.

The total crew would be between 11 and 16 men. The big operators had a cook wagon that went with the crew and 2 women would operate it. The wagon sides would open up and the men would sit at benches. The farm wife and friends would do the cooking with smaller rigs.

One year the crops were quite sparse and the wheat was stacked in specially spaced piles (stacks). The threshing was done by moving the threshing machine fromstack to stack.

Windrowed grain was threshed by combines with special pickup heads.


All threshers and combine operators had grain elevators. They were powered by small gasoline engines and elevated grain into openings high on the walls of grain bins. The elevator had a wide hopper with a screw drive that carried the grain to the elevator. The elevator might be chain drive with cups to carry the grain up or a screw to do the same thing. Elevators had from 16 to 30 foot long pies. The elevator was mounted on 4 wheels for transport.

Another type of elevator used a blower powered by a 4-cylinder engine. It was capable of elevating 50 bushels a minute. It had the advantage of being able to fill all parts of a grain bin without having a man in the bin.

Combines came in all sizes and shapes. The earliest picture of a combine showed one being pulled by at least twenty-four (24) horses in the hilly country of eastern Washington. The first ones I ever saw were 16-foot cut with heavy steel wheels and a 2-wheel dolly in front. They were pulled by 4-bottom capacity tractors. They were so heavy that it required 2 tractors to pull them up some hills.

Our first combine was a 6-foot unit that we pulled behind a tractor. It was powered by power take-off from the tractor. It was especially designed o harvest beans. Our second one was a 9-footer with its own power. The front was held up by the tractor itself. Its cutting height could be regulated from the tractor or from an operator on the combine itself.

Most combines of the day had 12 or 16-foot cutting bars with threshing capacity to match. They required a medium-size tractor to pull them. The advent of rubber tires reduced the rolling weight considerably. Rubber tires came out in the 30’s for tractors and wagons. The first rubber-tired combines were probab ly in the late 40’s.

Self-propelled combines:

These came out after World War II. They ushered in the custom combine operation. Owners of one or more of these monsters would start in June in the southern plains and do custom combining all the way to the Peace River valley in Saskatchewan in October. Each of these monsters could cut 8 or more acres per hour and might operate from 8 to 24 hours a day. They deserve a separate article that does not concern the homesteader.


The process of marketing grain was laborious. A farmer could probably haul 200 bushels per day by wagon. He needed a place to store the grain because there was no way he could market directly from the threshing machine.

We had several 2-thousand bushel grain bins made of wood. They were on skids and could be moved to a field and left there until emptied. We also had a granary with several bins. A half-section farm would probably have half its land in wheat. Crops averaged less than 20 bushels an acre but could be as high as 35.bushels per acre. We had 250 to 350 acres in grain so we needed 8,000 bushels gross storage capacity.

The Federal government had a grain loan program for a number of years. Under this program we were paid to store grain and were also able to borrow money on stored grain. At one time we had at least 2-years of wheat crop in storage. That amounted to ov er 8,000 gross capacity. Capacity involves both the bulk of the grain and additional space.

Many farmers bought metal granaries that were rodent-proof, a requirement in later years. Each of these free-standing bins would hold 1,000 bushels or more. These metal granaries were rodent-proof and couldbe padlocked. Theft from storage granaries was not unknown.


Late autumn and early spring were good times to haul grain to market. We hauled our wheat to market until after World War II by wagon. The grain tank took 4 horses to pull and could take 150 bushels. We had to load the wagon by hand. It takes 3 scoops per bushel so we would be lucky to do more than 2 loads a day. A crop of 4-5 thousand bushels would take quite a few trips to town.

The late fall and winter were oppupied with hauling fodder from the fields to stacks for feeding in the winter. Other jobs were hauling coal for heating. That would take a number of trips from the collier a few miles from the farm. Other things were winter chores. Taking care of the livestock was a job in itself.

We loaded the wagons by hand so it was three scoops of when from thebin to the wagon per bushel.. Since a bin was at least 10 foot square, there was a lot of shoveling through s limited opening on to the wagon and you had to throw the wheat at 10 to 15 feet. It would take up to half an hour to load a wagon. Wheat weighed about 60 pounds per bushel.


Background of Homesteading

The United States in 1800 was bisected by the Appalachian Mountains. The East was fairly well settled and the rich lands west of the mountains were accessible through a few passes or far around to the north or south. This meant that it was easier to move west than it was to market your product. / The most common way was to build rafts of logs and float your produce down the rivers to New Orleans and sell it, including the logs in the raft.

New Orleans was located on land owned at various times by Spain and France. Although the governor of the area usually allowed ownership of port facilities, one Spanish governor actually barred the Americans for a period of time, causing serious hardship. Development o the West was controlled by other countries.

By 1800, President Jefferson realized the need for an American-controlled port and also realized the seriousness of control of the Port by France or Britain would give that country control of the development of the Mississippi River and its traffic and future development of the West..

Jefferson sent envoys in 1802 to Paris to negotiate for ownership of New Orleans. Napoleon was preparing for another war with England and feared he could not protect France’s overseas possessions and also needed additional funds. His offer to sell all of Louisiana territory was quickly accepted by Jefferson even though there was some question whether he had the authority or not.

The treaty and sale were completed in February 1804. And the Louisiana Purchase included an area of 880,000 sq miles, an area greater than the United States before the purchase. It included parts of Illinois and Wisconsin as well as the area North of the Arkansas River and extending from the Mississippi to the crest of the Rocky Mountains and extending North into present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In the years before the Civil War, the Western Prairies were great barriers between the Mississippi and the Pacific area. There was the Oregon Trail that led through Wyoming to the Pacific Northwest and to Utah. In the South the route led through the desert to California.

The area between the Mississippi and the base of the Rockies was known as the Great Plains. It rises from a little above sea level to over 5,000 feet near Denver and over 4,000 feet in Wyoming. It extends north from Oklahoma and Arkansas to central Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The eastern area is known as the tall-grass prairie. The land is deep and fertile with rainfall of between 30 and 35 inches. Forest never developed because the prairie was subject to frequent wildfires, some caused by lightning and others were set by the Indians to facilitate hunting. Grass roots are very deep and are not harmed by prairie fires. Tree and bush seeds and growth were killed. Any forestland only developed along rivers and brooks.

Note: Missouri and Kansas in the tall-grass prairie country were bones of contention as North and South sympathizers vied with each other as to whether these two states would be slaveholding are free states. This was vital to control of congress.

The western area of the Great Plains was known as the short-grass prairie. Soil was much poorer and rainfall was between 11 and 15 inches per year.


Homesteading Prerequisites

A number of things had to happen before the land could be settled. The list below is not complete but covers the major items. References are in italics. (WWW) indicates the World Wide Web is the source of reference.

  • Homestead Laws
  • (WWW) Homestead Act – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • The horse
  • Transportation “The Railroad”
  • Communication “The Telegraph”
  • Water “The Windmill”
  • (WWW) Water Pumping Windmill History in America
  • The steel plowshare
  • (WWW) John Deere Biography – Facts, Birthday, Life Story – Birthday
  • The drill to plant the seed
  • (WWW) Seed Drill – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • The reaper to cut the crop
  • (WWW) File. McCormick Reaper, 1845.jpg – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • (WWW) Reaper History – Invention of the Reaper
  • (WWW) History of the Grain Binder
  • The barbwire fence to protect the growing crops
  • (WWW) Barbwire – Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
  • The Threshing of the Grain
  • (WWW) Threshing Machine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • (WWW) Combine Harvester – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • The farmers “immigrants from Germany, Russia, and Scandinavia”
  • Land available “Kill the buffalo so the Indians could be controlled”
  • (WWW) Tall grass prairie – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • (WWW) Western Short grasslands – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • (WWW) Short grass prairie – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • (WWW) High Plains (United States) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • (WWW) United States territorial acquisitions – eNorte.con Reference
  • (WWW) Section (United States land Surveying) – Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia
  • (WWW) United States – Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia
  • (WWW) Louisiana Purchase – Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia
  • A plentiful supply of people tough enough and hungry for Independent living

I will try to keep these in chronological order to give this narrative continuity. There were many other inventions and developments that improved the lives and productivity of the farmer but they were part of the coming decades. The building of all-weather roads was evolutionary. The development of the modern machinery was both evolutionary and revolutionary.


The idea of homesteading began with papers given to veterans of the Revolutionary War. These took the place of money owed for service in the army. The Congress had little money and issued these to take the place of back pay. They could be redeemed with land beyond the mountains.

Southern planters and northern immigrants had different ideas. The result was a deadlock in congress over the years and no law was passed until 1862 after the Southern Democrats had resigned from congress. The new law would allow each applicant to use 160 acres and, after five years of occupancy he or she could apply for a deed. The law was renewed and expanded.

By 1909, the government came to realize that all land was not equal in value and some areas would need to be larger. In the short-grass prairie, much land was too poor for 160 acres to be enough so the size was expanded to 320 acres. Land, too poor to farm, could be homesteaded as grazing land and a homestead could be 640 acres.

Rural homesteading is no longer available and Federal land is now set-aside for other purposes.


The horse is a versatile animal. It comes in all sizes for transportation, pets, and draft. . It can work all day with a little rest. It can even be eaten if necessary. The problem is that the horse needs to be fed or pastured even when it is not being used.

The horse was first introduced to the New World by the Spanish Conquistadors for their officers and their cannon. Some of these horses went to the wild and ultimately changed the life of the Plains Indians. Before the horse they were at the mercy of the elements. Now they could follow the herds of Bison; hunt and fight from horseback and eventually be known as the world’s best light cavalry.

The horse was adopted by the pioneers to cross the plains and as the major work animal of the West. Many used mature steers, known as oxen, as work animals because they took less feed and were more placid.

The first possible replacement was the steam-powered tractor, first used in the mines in Wales to power pumps and lifts in extracting iron, coal and metals. From the steam engine it was a logical step to powering boats and vehicles. In England, steam buses were actually used but given upon because there was no road system that adequately handled them.

Both in Europe and the United States, canal systems were developed because it took very little power to move barges along them. On larger bodies of water, sail was gradually supplanted by steam driven boats. They also proved practical on rivers.

A few years later, the idea of using steam to power cars on rails became popular. A major factor in the defeat of the Confederacy was the well-developed rail system in the North. Grant utilized rails to move troops from one area to another with great effect.


The Union Pacific and Southern Pacific linked up in 1869 to form a trans-continental railroad, for the first time making it possible to move people and goods in weeks instead of months from one coast to the other. This opened up new markets along the railroad and the Western cattlemen and sheepmen were able to sell in the East for the first time.

In order to raise cash; they proposed a number of plans, bonds, stock issues, and grants of land. The Credit Mobilier issued stock including stock and stock options to the Members of Congress. Some refused it but Congress did pass the revised homestead laws. Land was granted to the “Land Grant Railroads” with every other section (square mile) to the railroad and the one in between open to homesteading. The railroad would them sell or lease its land to the public, obtaining more money for building. The more branch lines built, the more land to the railroad and more future customers. I am told that that some land is still under control by railroads.


The railroads set up railroad stops and town sites about 10-15 miles apart. The idea was to make it easy for settlers to move produce to the railroad. The countryside was divided into townships with 36 square miles in each township. Divisions between the miles were easements 4 rods (66 feet) wide. These easements were public property and were intended to be used for roads. Roads were the responsibility of the County Road Commission. Graded roads were built as funds became available. As a result, bridges and culverts were installed over creeks and other drainage areas long before roads were graded. Most farmers depended on wagons long before they could afford a Model-T.

The first incentive for better roads came from the U.S. Postal Service. The Rural Free Delivery Service needed all-weather roads, whatever that meant. The mail route was always a loop from the nearest town with a post office. These roads were the first to be graded and later graveled. Farm to Market roads were finally elevated and graveled by the 40’s. Many farmers were paid in the “WPA program of the depression and road work was one of the jobs they had. Paved roads did not come in until about 1950.


It was in Indiana about 1897, that the first Rural Free Delivery was installed. Within a few years it became a common service. This meant that routes had o be installed and farm roads improved to develop reliable service. Mail service revolutionized farming because of better roads, the ability to order papers and magazines on a regular basis. The Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs literally revolutionized marketing. People who rarely came to town, now could order from the catalog and the merchandise would be delivered in 5 to 7 days. A location on our road was called “the corner of the 4 mailboxes” Many farmers has to go a mile or more to the mailbox.


The telegraph was essential because of the nature of markets and of happenings in the East. Further, the railroad needed the telegraph to schedule trains. The early railroad system was extremely cumbersome and each train had to carry dispatch orders for the next train the other way.

The Plains Indians proved to be an almost insurmountable obstacle to settling. For the most part, the White man’s government never treated them properly so they resisted as best they could. So long as the Bison (buffalo) roamed the plains, the Indians never wanted for supplies. Farther the Bison refused to recognize telegraph poles, trains or any other obstacle as permanent. The Bison were virtually gone by 1880. Th end of the buffalo meant the end of independence for the Indians.


Water was vital to the settlement of the West. The railroad required a lot of water to operate. It was said that an eight-foot canal four feet deep from coast to coast would not supply the water for steam locomotives in a single year. The railroads had to have reliable sources of water every 50-100 miles of track. They therefore had to have reservoirs, rivers, lakes or wells at frequent intervals.

The homesteaders had the same problem. They required at least a barrel of water a day for household and livestock on each farm. The windmill was essential for this. Every farm had a stock tank that held up to two weeks’ water for the animals. Water for the house could be pumped by hand if wind failed. Curb wells were dug from 10 to 100 feet deep. We had a well in Montana that had oak curbing down to about ninety feet. The well was about 2 feet across. The oak curbing dated back to about 1915 and lasted until 1955. Curb wells were dug by hand. I’m not certain but I believe well drillers were in the country by 1910.


Prairie grasses have dense and deep root systems and the soil is mostly clay. The iron and wood plows brought from the East proved inadequate for breaking sod. John Deere, a blacksmith from Vermont, recognized the problem and designed a steel plow in 1838. It proved such a success that he was manufacturing 20,000 a year by 1850. His company branched out into other farm implements and is now the largest farm implement manufacturer in the world.

John Deere, a Vermont blacksmith, moved to Illinois. There he worked on plows that were being used in breaking the soil in Illinois. Farmers kept bringing their plows back for repair because the iron plows needed constant repair. He hit on the idea of using sheet steel for the plow share (bottom). In 1838 he sold his first steel bottom plow. It is now history. The John Deere Company is the largest farm implement company in the world.


In 1832, McCormick, invented the first reaper. This was a platform on wheels, with a sickle powered by the wheel. Pulled by a team of horses, a man could cut 2 or 3 acres per hour as compared to a whole family, cutting little more than an acre a day. Now grain could be cut and more quickly be stacked and saved from storms. Later development of the reaper became the binder that also tied the grain in bundles and dumped the bundles in piles where they could be put in shocks to cure.


In early years, planting was done by scattering the grain by hand and covering it lightly with a hand rake. An acre could be broadcast in this way in a day. The loss of grain to crows and other birds was considerable, about half. The drill was developed and now an acre could be planted in an hour with no loss to birds.


Predators such as deer, wild horses, and domestic cattle could destroy a whole field in a day so the barbwire fence was an essential part of the homestead. Ranchers, who owned little land and ranged their cattle and sheep over much of the West, fought the development with legislation and sometimes with physical force. A few early settlers made a living by furnishing produce to the ranchers. They used pole fences that were accepted because they didn’t cover much countryside. A shortage of wood was typical of the prairie. What wood available was usually brought in by rail? Some trees were along the rivers but they were cottonwood trees that are not suitable for building.


In Europe, the population kept growing. Farmers would subdivide land or pass it on to the oldest son. This meant that there were many landless people and people with too little land. In Scandinavia, there were a number of poor years as well as overpopulation. Promoters from the railroads, called land agents, went to these countries and told of the wonderful opportunities out West. Swedish came to Minnesota and later on to Montana. Norwegians and Danes came to the Dakotas and on West.

In Russia, the government in Czar Peter’s time had encouraged German farmers to immigrate to Russia to start colonies and teach the natives the proper methods of farming. The Germans proved to be clannish and didn’t mix with the locals. Eventually, their colonies became prosperous little islands in a poor country so, in the mid 1800’s, the Government started a pogrom (planned persecution), including some burning and a few killings. The Germans, many of them Mennonites, fled, with few possessions, since they were not allowed to take much, to Germany, then the Netherlands and finally to the States. Many settled in Nebraska, Iowa, and North Dakota.

The railroads soon found that the 160-acre homestead plots were not adequate for prairie farming and pressured the Congress to change that to a half section (320 acres) and to a full section for land that was not suitable for tilling.

It was said that, in 1918, at Chinook Montana, You could stand on a hill and sea lights in all direction. By 1970, there were only a few. My brother bought a ranch of about 3000 acres. On that ranch we found the remains of seven different homestead sites.

The Great Northern Railway extended a branch line North toward the Canadian border from Bainville, Mt. a few miles west of North Dakota. The railroad would set up a station about every 12 miles along the railway. From Bainville there were McCabe, Froid, Homestead, Medicine Lake, Reserve, Antelope and finally Plentywood. They reached Plentywood about 1910. In the next few years they extended the branch line a hundred miles West along the Border. Major towns were Flaxville, Scobey, and finally Antelope at the end of the line. I remember seeing a train between Scobey & Antelope traveling about 25 miles an hour. The track had been laid only a bit above the land and the roadbed undulated so the locomotive looked as if it were a boat on swells in the lake.

Most of the little towns on the branch line still have a few houses although most of the grain elevators (prairie skyscrapers) are gone because the railroads managed to pass a rule of no less than 40 cars of grain will be handled from one spot at one time. This would mean loading a full train in less than 48 hours.

On the main line, every other town has disappeared and where there were 12 or 13 town sidings, there are now 5, Snowdon, where a branch line crosses the Missouri, Bainville, Culbertson, Brockton, Poplar, and Wolf Point.

Froid was incorporated as a town in 1910. J. W. Schnitzler came from the East and somehow managed to start a bank. He and the town grew together. In 1928, the third fire in the town wiped out all but two businesses on the North side of the main street, a little creamery agency and the bank that was built of concrete and brick. There was a hat shop, a grocery and the hardware store, operated by Jack Wulf. Luckily for the town, it was the last major fire. In 1940, we had 3 bars, 3 groceries, hardware, two implement companies and a hotel. By 1950 we also had the Hippe store that sold stoves, cabinets, refrigerators, etc. There were also 3 gas stations and a car dealer. And 2 lunch rooms.

Today, the population is down from a high of 425 to about 300; the school is down from 300 to fewer than 100. There is one repair shop, 1 gas station, 1 bar, hardware, 1 store and no implement shop. The bank is still there. The discovery of petroleum and the development of an oil field may well change the town. All houses have been rented or bought and the town is expanding.

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The homesteaders were nearly all immigrants from Europe or 2nd & 3rd descendent from the immigrants. From Wisconsin on west to Montana, the homesteaders would try to find locations near their own ethnic backgrounds. Thus we had enclaves of German, Polish, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian in clusters. Frequently the organizers were church pastors who were the organizers. Dane Valley was a settlement of Danish whose homesteads were grouped south of Froid.

Most of the men learned enough English to get along in the community but the women tended to stay with their own ethnic group and frequently learned very little English. As a result the children heard no English until they entered the school system.

Each township was made of 36 square miles. Two of these were known as the school sections. The land in the school section was sold to homesteaders to obtain funds to build a school. Town schools were under the supervision of the State Superintendent of Schools. The country schools were under the rules of the County Superintendent of Schools.

Town schools usually had more funds and required all teachers to have a 4-year (life) teaching certificate. They also had tenure if they were hired for a third year. A teacher in the country schools could teach for one year after going to Normal School for one year, but had to continue her education either in summer school or the next year. A Teacher with 2-year Normal School could teach up to 3 year before continuing her education. My Dad said that he never heard English spoken until his first day in school.

The area was open for homesteading in 1909 and our town was chartered in 1910. Grandpa and his brother came in 1909 and 1910 but the school had its first year in 1916. Dad’s cousin John Samuel Nyquist was the first teacher.

Our school was the Hammond School, named after the nearest neighbor. They had nine children. The other family on the school section, the Kromers, had five. The school taught, or offered to teach, eight grades but there were never more than five at one time.

The most we had in school at one time were twenty-two. Homesteaders were of all ages and many were bachelors. Of 36 possible homesteads in our school district, the most with families at one time was about 8 families. One underprivileged family had 3 boys in school one year. The 11-year old was in the first grade and the 14-year old and 18-year old were in the fourth grade. Little Charlie, the 18-year old became a ward of the community for most of his life. Many local families took care of him for most of his life. He was only about 5-foot tall, always good-natured and worked at whatever he was able to do.

Our school house had a cloak room and the main room which was at least 20 foot square. At the back were shelves and cabinets for school books and supplies. At the front of the room was the teacher’s desk and a small pump organ. A wire had been installed that held curtains that could be pulled if we had a program for an audience. There was a stairwell to the cellar where a furnace and coal bin were. We had six special occasions, Halloween, The day before Thanksgiving, the day before Christmas, Valentine Day, Easter Friday, the School Fair, and the School picnic, held the week-end after the end of the school year.

There was no electricity or water. A Hammond boy would bring a pail of water for our cooler and a cup has handy. There were 2 outdoor privies. We told time by a large pendulum clock that the teacher would keep wound. On a quiet day the ticking of the clock was quite audible.

In the autumn, we spent quite a bit of time planning 2 programs. One would be at Halloween or Thanksgiving. The other would be on the Friday before Christmas. All the parents would be at the programs o we practiced songs and a play. If it was Halloween, there would be goblins and ghosts and maybe a fortune teller. Thanksgiving would have a pay about the Pilgrims or some other event. Christmas would have a tree and a small box of goodies for each child. One year we even had the tree catch on fire. A quick-thinking farmer had the fire out in seconds. One year we even had a basket sale with all the ladies and girls having baskets and the males bidding for the baskets.

We all made valentines for giving to others for valentine day. Easter Friday was just another day, depending on the teacher.

The School Fair was on a Saturday in April. Truckloads of children came from all the country schools in the area. We had foot races, penmanship contests, speeches and songs. Outdoor contests included footraces, baseball throw, softball games and a picnic.

We had art, music, and handicraft classes between 3:30 and 4:00 and the teacher would often read from some children’s classic in the morning before school. School was from 9:00 to 4:00 with 2 15-minute recesses and one hour at noon. In nice weather, we would play softball and other games.

The school picnic was held the Sunday after the end of school. It was held at the Lake and everybody would bring one or two dishes to pass. There was always at least one gallon of ice cream, usually more, deviled eggs, and other treats. We always played a game of softball with parents entering into the fun.

The teacher always boarded at one of the farm homes. Three different farmers had the teacher at one time or another. One teacher was married with a young child. Her husband moved a shack into the school yard and she stayed there. The teacher had quite a job, needing to get to school early enough to get the furnace going and having someone sweep the floor each day. We had sweeping compound and that would keep the dust down.



I’ve checked with many others and my school experiences would not seem unusual. All country school pupils worked very hard to get an education. The weather played no favorites. I think the teachers were unsung heroes and heroines. .

Only six of twenty-two students lived less than a mile from school. I was the farthest at over two and a half miles by road. It was about two miles across the fields. I walked it except in the coldest weather when Dad would take me in the covered sleigh. That winter I missed at least one week when I had the flu. Dad brought in a folding cot so I lay in that downstairs. Afterwards I had cotton in my ears for quite a while. The teacher used to change the cotton as it was needed. The only special event I remembered was when little Ruth Strand ate a pink crayon and then upchucked it afterwards. I remember she was a freckle-faced carrot-top. Mrs. Eddy was our teacher that year.

Dad bought me a pony in 1929, little Florie. He had to put an extra strap on the saddle so I could climb up. Dad’s brother, Victor, had a little barn he had moved to the school so his kids could use a buggy. I kept Florie there. Cold weather was quite a trial because temperatures went below zero. I was dressed in wool underwear, long sleeved shirt and overalls. I had a sheepskin overcoat, aviator cap and a long scarf All you could see of me were my eyeglasses.

I had a sweetie that spring and used to walk her home and then ride my horse on home. That summer her father lost the farm and they moved to town.

We had a new teacher, Anne Riggs who was a beginner. That spring someone had sprinkled sweeping compound without her permission. I was pressured into admitting I had done it although I didn’t know who really did it. My punishment was to learn a poem out of a story book and I had to stay in during recess to learn it. Since I hadn’t done the deed, I read everything in the book but never did learn the poem. That was my first lesson in passive resistance.

My third grade began with a real martinet, Mrs. Olsen. She ran the school like a military academy. My poor cousin was only five and a dedicated left-hander. She made him do everything right-handed. She would rap his fingers with a ruler and made him stand in the corner. He had a weak bladder so she had more than one mess to clean up.

In January, she gave us one-day notice, picked up her check and left. We got a new teacher, whose name I don’t remember. She was quite mil and the 4 older boys in school were like a gang. 3 were 7th graders and Johnny Olsen, the16-year old was the ring leader. They made life miserable for up. One time I a 3rd grade boy took a swing at Johnny. The other boys laughed at him and He didn’t hit me back. The teacher did introduce handicrafts which we oiled on and some did a pretty good job.

The Vic Nyquist family had a buggy that they rode to school every day. It got pretty ramshackle and one day his had a plough wheel instead of the buggy wheel.

School was not held in 1931-2. There was just not enough money to pay for a teacher. Dad brought a couple of desks home but we did not do any studying. It was a bitter cold winter and we did not go to town for two months. Dad would go to town on Saturday to ship cream to a creamery in Minot or Fargo and he used to buy the Sunday paper (The Chicago Herald and Examiner) and we read everything except some of the ads. How we enjoyed the ”Katzenjamer Kids”. Each day, Bob, who was just 5 and I did enjoy the popsicle. Christmas was petty lean. We each got a small toy and a bag of mixed goodies.

A neighbor, Mrs. Christopherson, taught in our school the next two years. She had a small son so her husband moved a shack into the school yard where she lived during the week.. He was the only kindergarten child the school ever had.

The winter of 1935-6, was the coldest I ever saw. Getting to school without freezing was not easy. Only a few of the students lived less than a mile from school so the cloak room had lots of coats, scarves and overshoes. You would often hear a bang, bang as kids would bang their feet on the desks to relieve the itching of chill blains, caused by frostbite from feet getting too cold.

The school was heated by a furnace in the basement that had a single register above the furnace and in the middle of the room. The grating on the register got so hot that you could smell the rubber sole of your shoe if you stood on the register too long.

The first cold spell was in October when the temperature went below zero. I didn’t realize how cold it was and went to school without a cap. I got frostbite on both ears and it was over a year before the swelling of my ears was gone. I remember in ate years of seeing a number of my college schoolmates with swollen ears. In some cases a part of the ear was actually missing.. Mother was gone for six weeks at the time. I’m certain she would have made certain I wore a cap.

One week it reached 35 below zero on Friday and got down to -54 on Sunday morning. Dad made a 2-wheel closed cart, pulled by one horse. It would hold 3 children and had a box on the back for feed for the horse. This little bus would be used for several years – as long as there was more than one of our family going to school.

I would take one or more other fellow students part way home in cold weather. Two were girls who lived about 2 miles from school. I could take them more than half way. Their nicknames were Toady (about 12) and Pudgy, a year or two younger.

One evening on the way home, Toady confided to me that she had been violated by her Dad’s brother, who lived with them. I learned later that her mother later divorced him on grounds that he had also made improper advances to his two daughters. I never did tell my parents of this.

Town was six miles from the farm so it was about six miles to high school. Dad bought a saddle pony for me to ride to school and found a shed in town where I could keep the pony. I received 4.50 travel allowances from the State of Montana per month. I got rides from other students and paid them 3.00 or 4.00 per month for gas.

Snow drifts accumulated and closed the roads to regular traffic every winter between January 1 and the first of March. As a freshman, I stayed at a private home during the week. Dad would pick me up in the sleigh on Friday night and take me back to town early Monday morning.

I stayed in the local hotel with 2 other high school boys as a sophomore. I played the clarinet that year. Our dog would howl every time I practiced on it at home. My parents did not complain when I did not continue with the clarinet.

I stayed with the renters of a house in town that Dad and his brother Algot owned. They never had enough money to pay much rent so they kept me without charging. As a senior I had a roommate, Carter Nyquist who was a double cousin, the son of Lillian and Algot.

Dad bought a Ford Model A sedan for my brothers so they drove into town to school. The road would be blocked on the hill about half a mile from the house so Bob, and later Tom, would have to park the car about half a mile from the house during the snow season. Dad told later of watching from the house with binoculars to see that Bob or Tom was successful in starting the car in sub-zero weather. The Ford never failed.

High School was held on the second floor of a wooden building in town. It had an assembly room and 5 class rooms on the second floor. Grade school was held on the lower floor, which had 4 classrooms and a larger band room.

There was no running water in town. Most houses had cisterns and they almost all had outdoor privies. During the thirties, the WPA built upscale privies with cement floors and a vent pipe to release excess aroma. The school had two privies—one for girls and the other for boys. They were 5-holers.

A gymnasium was built in my freshman year but we had to play basketball in the movie theater until the next year (1937). We never did have water or showers while I was in school. Two attempts by the town to drill a well for town water were failures and the only water they got was used to make an ice rink across from the school.

The grade school had 4 teachers, one for each two grades and the high school had 4 teachers plus the superintendent. School had seve45-minute sessions. You had 5 minutes to get between classes. The sessions were called periods. Most students would take 4 subjects a year. The State required every student to take certain subjects if they were to graduate. These included 4 years of English, two years of Science, and 2 years of Math.

There were 37 students in my freshman class of 1936-7. Twenty-four graduated. Two of us went on to college. The next year had at least 4 go on. The ratio went up quite rapidly after that. One or two may have gone on to business school.

At least one country school closed in the thirties and the students were bused to town. I don’t know what financial arrangements were made. Most of the country schools were closed by 1950 and there was regular school bus service. The country school districts were gradually consolidated as part of the town school district. Combined State, Federal, and County road programs converted a number of roads to all-weather gravel and asphalt-paved roads. They more-or-less followed the route of the Postal Rural Free Delivery routes.

Most of the farms around Froid have been sold to larger farm operators. There is probably less than a fourth as many farm units as in 1940. Many of these people now live in town or take up temporary residence during the summer crop season. The Froid schools have been modernized and there are only a fraction of the student attendance of that before World War II. The graduating class of 1940 had 24 students. The graduating class of 1949 had 7.

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Farming was a hazardous profession. Here are a few of the things that happened.

Dad (Richard Nyquist) lost parts of 2 fingers, one when he lifted the lawn mower to clear a plug; the other one when he tried to reinstall a belt on his combine without turning off the machine. One day, when I was mowing in the field, our dog jumped in front of the mower and lost 3 legs. My brother, Bob almost lost his ring finger when his wedding ring caught on a bolt as he was jumping off the back of a truck.

Brother Bob had a buddy who lost his son when he got caught in a corn chopper. It got plugged and his arm got caught in the mechanism. It caused a belt to heat and start a fire. He died of burns and other injuries.

Many pieces of equipment used power from the tractor by means of a power takeoff shaft. The shaft rotated just below the tractor driver’s feet. It had a shield that protected the operator from the rotating shaft. Farmers would get careless and take off the shield. My Uncle Peter had men in the Froid area in 1937 when Glasgow had almost no rain. The operator of the tractor was cutting fodder when his pants got caught in the power takeoff. He was lucky. It pulled the pants right off his body and he only got a few aches and a chill.

A neighbor was not so lucky. He was a bachelor and he lost a leg to the power takeoff. He had to chase the tractor on one leg to get back on to ride for help. He actually survived.

Tractor accidents were all too common. Familiarity breeds carelessness.

One farmer was riding a Fordson tractor with rubber tires. He came up on to a grade and the tractor flipped over backwards, crushing him.

Another was starting a John Deere. It was started by cranking the flywheel. No one knows what happened but the tractor with steel lugs ran over him, killing him.

My uncle Lloyd fell under the tractor and was run over. Fortunately it had rubber tires and he was not seriously injured.

Combines and threshing machines had many exposed pulleys and belts waiting for unwary operators. Many a farmer or operator was minus fingers or hands because they didn’t take time to shut off the machine before trying to replace a belt or clear a plug.

One of my close calls was as a teen-ager. I was in a box stall with a colt when the colt lashed out with both hoofs. One hoof hit the plank on each side of my head.

A neighbor had two. The first occurred in the house. A 5-year old daughter had a lighted candle that she stuck into a can of fuel oil. The resulting fire killed her and her mother. Several years later he was on a riding cart behind a drag. The cart flipped over. He died of internal injuries.

Some farmers had corn binders. The binder cutter would straddle a row of corn and a chain device would bring the corn up besides the operator to a binder device that would gather the corn and tie it into a bundle. On at least one occasion a farmer lost part of an arm when he would attempt to clear a plug without stopping the binder.

The car and truck presented hazards too. One farmer died when a vehicle came off its jack while he was under it.

Animals also presented hazards. Herd bulls and boars could be unpredictable. We had a boar that must have weighed 600 pounds. We had a special pen for him but he would stand on his hind legs with the front on top of the fence. His tusks and teeth were fearful. . He would have attacked anyone that entered his pen with fatal results.

It was said that skunks carried rabies disease. I don’t know of anyone who ever got close enough to get bit by one. The big danger would be if a dog ever got infected.

My uncle was in a coma for a couple of days when he was thrown off a horse. He was galloping a horse down a hill. When they hit the bottom the horse lost its footing. He was found later after the horse came home without him. His youngest daughter had a similar accident when she raced a scooter down the same hill into the same coulee. The front wheel hit the rise and she was p itched off on to her head. She was found later unconscious.

Farmers will always use whatever road there is and frequently after dark. One day a farmer had a load of hay and he was ambling down the highway after dark. He had no flag or lights. An intermountain bus hit the side of the rack. It wrecked the bus and killed the farmer.

My brother tells of falling asleep while tilling with a tractor. The only thing about it was that the tractor wandered across the field. For years afterward the field had a bump where no bump ever existed before. Funny as it was, if he had fallen off, the tractor certainly would not have automatically stopped.

Various chemicals were first introduced prior to World War II. They were certain fertilizers and then primitive efforts to control infestations such as locusts and grasshoppers. The chemicals were used with a mixture of grain such as poison oats to control gophers. Gophers are rodents related to squirrels.

One year we had clouds of grasshoppers that threatened to destroy the crops of a large area in Montana. The government supplied a poison that was a mixture of poison using bran and molasses. It was applied with a spreader to spread the poison over a large area. We lost many of our turkeys and chickens when they caught and ate grasshoppers that had eaten some of the poison. In one instance a man got some in his eye. Apart from extreme discomfort, no damage was done.

The fifties and sixties are another matter. My uncle Lloyd suffered permanent damage to his lungs when spreading pesticide with a spray and disregarded wind direction. He knew personally of 3 deaths caused by this process. Overuse of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, has caused long-term damage to land and seriously polluted rivers. In some cases pollution has affected aquifers. One area in India suffers from a very high rate of several different cancers including liver, kidney and lung, from blowing dust ingestion of polluted water.

Virtually all who suffer from accidents have things in common.:

  • They are familiar with the equipment
  • They know the rules of safety.
  • They are in a hurry.
  • They are distracted or thinking of something else.
  • They are alone
  • They don’t turn off the machine.
  • They are fatigued.

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I have compared notes with others who have lived in the high prairies and their memories coincided with mine so I decided I would just tell a few stories of the weather we had as I grew up. A local town had the hottest temperature recorded on the plains, 117 degrees. Another record in Glasgow, Montana was –60 in 1938.

It was Friday evening just before dark. Brother Bob and I had just gotten a ride halfway home and we had over a mile to go. After we had walked a quarter mile, Dad met us with a covered sleigh. Bob had already developed a frostbite spot on his cheek in that quarter mile. Dad said it was –35 with about a 20-mile wind. That was the coldest February on record. Each Sunday was the coldest day of the year so far. On Sunday morning about 9:00, Dad got up and made the fires. It was a beautiful sunny day with the snow like a million diamonds. Dad remarked that it looked as if the cold spell was over. A few minutes later, I heard the outside door slam and then slam again. He called up the stairs that it was –46 degrees F. About that time the farm phones started to ring as neighbors began comparing notes over the party line. Our neighbor, Henry Hoye reported –56. We later learned that Glasgow had a record –50 F.

Our big evening was Saturday when many of the farm families went to town for the evening. The men would gather in the local pool hall and play whist and gossip. The women would do their shopping and gather in the Perlin Grocery store and gossip. Sometimes they would drop in at someone’s house for cards and coffee. The kids would play tag and all the other things kids did on Saturday night.

One evening as we started to town, we noticed a yellow cloudbank coming from the South. Dad had a hunch and we stopped and drove on the north side of a local schoolhouse. The cyclone front hit a few minutes later. We normally crossed 3 bridges across Lost Creek, a creek that ran only during rains. All three bridges were washed out. Fortunately we went back home.

One afternoon, my brother Tom went out on the front porch to watch the weather. A black cloud passed south of the house trailing a twister. As he watched it drew clouds of dirt as it came to another farm. Suddenly, pieces of the house were floating in the air like cardboard. Dad got in the car and rushed to the site about 11/2 miles away. The house was gone and a threshing machine was on its side. He found the body of a hired man lying in the yard. Ironically, the hired man had been the owner of the same farm thirty years earlier.

Our mail carrier drove a 1930 ford van. In the winter, he put airplane tires on it. The trouble was that the tracks he made gradually packed and no other car could drive on the road wherever the snow had piled up because the snow was hard enough to support the Ford but not hard enough to support any car with regular tires.

Winters were cold and with enough snow to close the roads where the snow drifted. All the farm homes had bushes and low trees planted on north and west sides to break the winds.

We had a lot of nice weather in April through June and in September and October. Nights were almost always chill in the summer. We might have one hot night each summer.

Our wettest months were June and October.

The high plains have no mountains and no forests for hundreds of miles. Winds have a clean sweep in all directions. Storm fronts can often be seen coming almost an hour before they get there.

Average rainfall is about 12 inches per year. This means that we must grow crops that require little moisture and our bumper crops are less than half that of Iowa or Minnesota.

My brother bought a ranch in 1950. The total cost was 20,000 or 7.00 an acre for 3,000 acres. We found evidence of 7 homesteads on the land. There were less than 400 acres of good farmland on the ranch.

We had 7 years of severe drought in the 1930’s. Our average whet crop was 7 bushels per acre. Our average production was 20-30 bushels per acre.

Dry electric storms are a special hazard on the prairie. Fortunately they didn’t often occur but they came with strong winds. Most prairie fires, not set by humans, occurred during a dry electric storm. It would be accompanied by high winds and danger was extreme. I saw only one in over 20 years but it required dozens of men to set back fires and control a fire before it got away. It was this storm that cost my brother a valuable hay stack. One such fire traveled over 50 miles and nearly wiped out a small town. My uncle had a grain elevator in that village. The elevator was burned to the ground.

A farmer could lose everything in such a storm if it occurred in August after the crops are matured and the grain is still in the field. Such a storm could wipe outbuildings as well as crops.

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The person who intended to claim a homestead needed several things, experience, money, a wife, and equipment. Above all, he needed neighbors or an organization.. He also needed health and a friendly neighbor.

There were always common interests. One group came from Eastern Europe. Another group was of Danish Lutherans, and so on.

First the homesteader had to locate an available piece of land. He would contact an agent for the government who would notify him if parcels were available. Then I was the custom to take the train to the nearest town and an agent would take him to locate and examine the property. He then would file on the property and return to the East to obtain equipment and stock.

The railroad would then arrange for him t have an immigrant car (freight car) Then, after loading the car with his possessions, the homesteader would settle in, in the freight car and head for his destination. On the way he would have to take care of the stock and make certain they had water and feed. This might entail a stop along the way to unload and reload the stock after watering.

Once he reached the destination city, he would have to pay the freight and unload everything and get out to the site of his property. There would be no fence, no house, no well and no water.

He would have to put up a fence to keep his stock from wandering off. He would have to dig a well, break land for his first crop, and build a shelter. There were no trees and no firewood.

The immigrants usually had contacts at their home base so they had some idea of what they might need. They would need a stove, bedding, tarp for temporary shelter, wire and fence posts, a plow and at least horses and a wagon. He needed a barrel and buckets, hand tools, and some sort of stock tank unless he was lucky enough to have a pool of water, unlikely but possible. He would need food and supplies.

Year 1: fence 40 acres, build a shack, dig a well, break up enough sod to plant his first crop, and establish relations with townspeople and neighbors.

Year 2: Get a binder and drill, build a shelter for stock, although horses are pretty tough and only need to get out of the wind an do more fencing. Trees and hedges were needed to protect the home from fierce winter winds. The homesteader needed to break more land. With six horses you could break 3 acres a day. With fewer than six, he horses will require much more rest and he will be able to break that much slower. The two toughest jobs are digging a well and fencing.

Year 3: Set up a garden. Get a wife. Build a grain bin. Get a disc or cultivator.

Year 4: Fence. Break more land.

Year 5: Complete requirements for homestead deed. Plan a homesteader house. Break more land.

The above schedule was what the homesteader needed to do. I doubt if they all ever met that schedule. Bachelors were especially stressed.

Men with capital to start with would hire the breaking of the sod done by a farmer with a tractor. There were a few big tractors such as the Emery, Hart Parr, Rumly, and Case. They could break ten acres a day. The homesteader still had to do the rest. Most wells were curb wells dug by hand and with the help of a neighbor or hired man. Deeper wells were drilled by a professional well driller and could cost over a dollar a foot. Our well cost a dollar a foot. The driller drilled 80 feet and charged for 120. No one knew the difference until years later.

Farm houses were almost always next to the road and across the road from a neighbor. Homesteaders who already had sons old enough to work (8 years old) sometimes built their farm yard in the middle of the property.

The worst hazards of the homesteader, especially a bachelor:

  • Getting sick
  • Getting injured by a farm animal
  • Breaking a leg or arm

The land was open for homesteading in 1909. The town was incorporated in 1910. By then there was train service, grocery, hardware, blacksmith shop, implement dealer, and bank. The banker was also an iterant newspaperman.

Passenger service was by a stage coach until after 1915. Sam Nyquist wrote an autobiography about his life and does not mention autos or trail service to Froid. He does tell of a buggy trip of over 60 miles each way to take his sister to visit her brother so I assume that the branch railway line from Williston to Scoby had minimal passenger service.

The first homesteaders settled in 1909 but is was 1916 before a country school was established in our district. Froid had its first high School graduation about 1920. The town had its own electric light system until about 1926 or 27.

Prairie fires were a danger until the 1970’s. Low humidity, few rains and an occasional electric storm that is not accompanied by rain has always been a hazard. Froid had a dry electric storm in 1970 with a number of prairie fires. My brother had a hay stack completely split by a lightning bolt. It burned for over a day. A neighbor came over after the storm and plowed an acre of firebreak around the burning stack.

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  • “Barbed Wire” Wikipedia, his free encyclopedia
  • “Combine Harvester” Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
  • “The Great Plains” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • “High Plains” Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
  • “History of the Grain Binder” Ion Wikipedia file-McCormick
  • “Homestead Act” Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
  • “Implements, Grain Binder” (Northern Prairie) (Internet)
  • “John Deere – Facts, Birthday, Life Story” Biography.Com (Internet)
  • “Louisiana Purchase” Wikipedia the free encyclopedia’
  • “McCormick Reaper, 1845, jpg” Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
  • “Reaper History-Invention of the Reaper” (Internet)
  • “Section” (U. S. Land Surveying) Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • “Seed Drill’ Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
  • “Shortgrass Prairie” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • “Tallgrass Prairie” Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
  • “Threshing Machines” Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
  • “United States” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • “Water Pumping Windmills, History in America” (Internet)
  • “Western Expansion” United States Territorial Acquisitions (Internet)

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One thought on “Homesteading – An American Dream

  1. Web Hosting

    But most of the books I’ve read are instructional manuals, not books that let us peek inside the lives of people who actively practice homesteading.


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