PIONEER LIFE ON THE PRAIRIES OF DAKOTA TERRITORY: TRANSCRIPTION PART 1

KEY:

CS = Clarence Walter Stangohr

MS = Meta Maria Stangohr Schwader


CS: This cassette was made on Tuesday, the 15th of July, 1980, from a master tape made 16 years earlier of an interview with Mrs. James Schwader at the kitchen table of her little farm home northeast of Howard in South Dakota. She shared this modest home with her husband, James Schwader, affectionately called “Jim.” He was proud of the trees which he had planted on this farm place to which he and his wife had moved after their retirement from farming. He used to reflect, “After I’m gone, people will say ‘Jim Schwader planted those trees.’” These trees grew to become a joy to his wife, Meta. She wrote in a letter: “I walk among them, talk to them, and stroke their lovely fronds.”

Compared with today, Meta Stangohr had little formal education yet her command of both the English and German languages was truly unique. Coming from a family of 13 children, she had six sisters and six brothers.

The interview you are about to hear was conducted by Mrs. Schwader’s nephew, Clarence Stangohr. The date was the 20th of July, 1964. The tape opens appropriately with the singing of a few verses of a German hymn, "Grosser Gott wir Loben Dich" (Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.) Since this hymn was a favorite among the German Lutheran pioneers, it is a hymn which Meta Stangohr must have sung many times as a child, a youth, and as a young woman before English replaced German in the liturgy of the Lutheran Church in the United States. No doubt she sang it often as a child in that little white framed one-room school house on the prairie converted on Sundays into a church, a necessity of those pioneer days of which Meta, affectionately called "Met" [Editor’s Note: pronounced like “mate”], speaks in this interview.

At the end of the interview, you will hear the hymn which was among Meta Schwader’s favorites, So Nimm Denn Meine Hande (Lord, Take My Hand and Lead Me.) More will be said of this at the end of the interview itself, including the fact that it was sung at her funeral.

The singing you now hear is also unique in as much as it was recorded at a devotion conducted by Pastor Stangohr exclusively for some of his fellow pastors in his little ethnic church, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the state in which Mr. Schwader’s forebearers sojourned briefly after having immigrated from Germany. And now: “Grosser Gott wir Loben Dich.”

[Hymn singing.]

CS: Today is July the 20th, 1964, and we are in the home of Mrs. James Schwader of Howard, South Dakota, who had been a pioneer girl in the early days of the state. When were you born, Mrs. Schwader?

MS: In 1890.

CS: Let’s see, that would be only one year after South Dakota became a state, right?

MS: Yes.

CS: And where?

MS: Just about 8 miles west of Sioux Falls, on a little homestead.

CS: So that sets the beginning, then. Now, can you tell us a little bit about your father. For example, where did he come from?

MS: He came from East Prussia and after serving 3 years in the German army, he came alone. I don’t remember whether it was a sailing ship or very likely it was a sailing ship, and then, he came directly to Sioux Falls, found employment, lived there for some time, and then we came to the claim in Lake County.

CS: This was on the Homestead Act?

MS: Yes. It would be about 11 miles north of Salem.

CS: You say your father came from East Prussia; that would, of course, be Germany. How old was he when he came?

MS: 21.

CS: And he had already served his term in the German army?

MS: Yes, they would be drafted into the army at 18 and he was in a horse regiment.

CS: Was that cavalry or was it draft to pull equipment?

MS: It was cavalry. The Lancers, actually.

[Editor’s Note: Wilhelm Stangohr served 3 years in the German Army, receiving his honorable discharge in 1882.]

CS: Yes, I can remember having seen him in uniform -- a very handsome and flashy uniform. What about your mother then? Where did she come from?

MS: This was near Hamburg in what is now the East Zone. She was 19. Her family, consisting of herself, her parents, 5 sisters and one brother, came in a steamship shoveling coal, in 1886.

CS: And when did you say your father came?

MS: In ’82.

CS: In his case it was seven years before South Dakota became a state and 3 in the case of your mother. Wasn’t there something that happened to your mother’s ship?

MS: There was a great storm. Her mother became so seasick that they thought she would die. Then smallpox broke out on the ship and then they were detained at Ellis Island.

CS: And then was it in that storm that something that happened to the rudder and they had to stop in Dublin or Belfast, wherever it was?

MS: Yes, in Ireland, somewhere, and then they had this repair made and then they started out again. Then, they were detained for several weeks at Ellis Island and one of the younger girls who had contracted this smallpox, a very severe form, had to stay there and was sent out here later. But they were detained there until quarantine time was over and then they came to Sioux Falls.

CS: This, then, would be your aunt, the one who was a little girl and was retained at Ellis Island.

MS: Yes, she was 11 years old and she made the trip later alone.

[Editor’s note: if Meta’s information re. her aunt’s age is correct, this would mean that the individual who came later would have been Doris “Dora” Wilhelmine, Nell Voelsch’s mother.]

CS: That must have been quite a hardship for her because they didn’t know any English, did they?

MS: No, but she was in the care of someone. There was so many that would speak her language, which was German. Then she came through very fine.

CS: There was something that you wanted to say with regard to your father’s having come over. Now, did he come over alone? ? What were the circumstances of his going to the harbor and things like that?

MS: He had had dreams of coming to this country like most young men do—not too much opportunity in the old country. He just went all by himself.

CS: And how old was he at that time?

MS: He was 21.

CS: Your father, what kind of a background did he have there in Germany? Were they landowners?

MS: He worked as a blacksmith mostly. He was blacksmith's apprentice and learned that trade. But he didn’t follow it, and later he could do it quite well and his father was a tailor, a master tailor, and so was one of his brothers.

CS: Then, what about your Mother’s folks? What were they in Germany before they came over?

MS: They were landowners and they farmed 16 acres, which was considered a fairly nice little farm. They had two cows, usually two hogs and then the girls would work out for others.

CS: At that time in Germany, this was considered to be quite well off to have, to own any farm at all.

MS: Yes, much better than... Because others would be workers only, without owning any homes.

[Editor’s Note: The Völsch family lived in what is now Karenz, Ludwigslust, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.]

CS: Now, let’s see, so then that brings your father’s family and your mother’s family over here, or your father anyway. And then what happened after they got over here? How did your father and mother meet, for example, over here, in the Dakota Territory?

MS: Well, at first, he had worked in the stone quarry and on the Queen Bee Mill dam in Sioux Falls and various jobs. The city was new then. The streets were all just dug up, unpaved. Indians were camping along the Sioux River. Then, later, he worked on a farm west of Sioux Falls and that is near Wall Lake. Mother's people had settled on a claim just south of Wall Lake. Her name was Volsch, the family name, which was well-known around Wall Lake.

CS: It was still pretty rough country, then, when they came?

MS: Oh, it was new. If they wanted to plant anything they first have to break up some sod until they gradually would have a farm. It was just prairie. No fences, no roads. But, there was progress because they worked hard and could get along with little. Almost no cash. They would live off the land. Usually had a cow or two. Grandpa had a little money, you know, with which to start.

CS: How did your parents ...? How did they meet and get acquainted?

MS: It was at some sort of a get-together and a lady introduced them. I don’t know too much about the rest of it, but they met.

CS: Did they immediately then come to north of Salem or did they live around the west of Sioux Falls for a while?

MS: They lived there for about 5 years west of Sioux Falls on a farm. Then they came to this place.

CS: Well, let’s see. How old would you have been then when they came from west of Sioux Falls to the homestead?

[Editor’s note: W. Stangohr’s homestead in Lake County was in Clarno Township (Township 105N-054W, Section 30), the NW quarter.

MS: I was 2 years old. My older sister was a year and a half and then we had a new baby brother who came a week or so after we had settled in the claim shanty.

CS: You mean your older sister was a year and a half older than you?

MS: Yes.

CS: Of course, you didn’t remember anything of that move?

MS: No, not really. I have imagined that I did. I imagined and I always have thought that I did see them put my high chair on the wagon.

CS: Just how did they make this trip, since there were no roads, no anything?

MS: This was in March and it had been very beautiful weather, spring work had started. Then, on the very day that they left there, it turned very, very cold, a northwest wind, just dreadfully cold. Froze up everything. Dad had his team and a small wagon, and a crate of chickens on it, and the colt following. And, he drove across country. Their other articles and the cow, and a load of potatoes was put in a freight car and shipped to Salem. Mother and us kids rode in the caboose.

CS: Oh, I see. At least there was a train then as far as Salem?

MS: Oh yes.

CS: Well, we have to remember you speak of the weather turning suddenly cold. There was no weather forecasting or anything. You were completely at the mercy of the elements.

MS: Completely at the mercy... And this cow was put into a stockade they had there and very near froze to death that night. He wasn’t brought out to the farm that night. Neighbors came to help. One neighbor, he had taken this load of potatoes in, loaded them on his wagon and being many miles from home too, he took them along to where he lived and there they froze, so they were without potatoes that summer.