PIONEER LIFE ON THE PRAIRIES OF DAKOTA TERRITORY: TRANSCRIPTION PART 2

KEY:

CS = Clarence Walter Stangohr

MS = Meta Maria Stangohr Schwader


CS: I was just going to ask you about that, just how they kept the potatoes from freezing. You certainly started out with very meager provisions and equipment and everything. And, actually had to start the farm with just...

MS: Well, he had small implements that were geared for two horses and all. We didn’t farm intensively. There wasn’t so much of a weed problem if you’d get the land worked somehow. There was little land broke up then. He worked and broke up the soil and the following year he bought another horse and with 3 horses you could run a break-in plow. To break up the virgin sod. And then, Mother would come out and toss some seed corn into the furrow and that would be covered with the next furrow and you got a corn crop on the breaking.

CS: In other words, there was no further breaking up of the sod. It was just plowed and that was all there was to it then?

MS: For that year, it would be left and then it would soften. These furrows were just solid. That's how they could build sod houses with it—they were firm and solid with all the grass roots, would hold together well. But by laying there that year then that would mallow them from the rain and the weather then it could be disked and worked down so that you could plant something.

CS: What do you mean by the sod house?

MS: We didn't live in a sod house, but many of them had, being we weren’t the earliest pioneers here. But we did have a sod house right on this place--the pioneers did. The ground, some of it is visible there yet. It would be just a very fine house—if it was built by a careful builder. These furrows—you’d take about a yard of it so you can carry it and then they lay them in carefully one on top of the other, like bricks, interlocking them. They were very good, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. But the rain would wash them, if it had a wide roof on it with wide eaves, it would have been fine. But this way then, they didn't using some planks or some sort of thing on the roof and then the rain would wear the sod. They would whitewash them inside and have a good floor—very cozy.

CS: It’s kind of a wonder that they wouldn’t be foresighted enough to make the eaves so they’d protect the walls.

MS: Well, the lumber was so precious and it’d have to be hauled for a hundred miles and the Sioux River to cross with a wagonload of whatever you were hauling.

CS: In other words, when you came to the area there were no roads whatsoever?

MS: Just little wagon trails that neighbors had made from one to the other. And then, little by little, the neighbors would make little grades over creeks and places that were very hard to cross. Just only as far as that went—over the low spots.

CS: This would be just strictly the people of the community would do this. There was no government?

MS: They would elect a chairman or something. Then they would set a certain date. Then they would all come together and there was graders, hand graders and a team. And they would through up a grade with a culvert in it—a little box culvert made out of planks to cross the creek. But, earlier, many times I remember when we lived across this, you know, the horses would wade through and pull the buggy--the wagon after.

CS: Right through water and all?

MS: Oh yes. It would come almost to the wagon box but nobody minded that. It always worked out okay. We didn’t try to cross anything just too deep, but if it was a river, I don’t know. I never saw them do that. But they did, though.

CS: Have ferries or something maybe?

MS: They would have to unload their load of grain on the one side and then somehow take stuff across piecemeal.

CS: What about no fences either, when you first came?

MS: Oh, no fences. They’d have a little yard with a stockade to keep the animals in around the barn. We would have this attached to the barn.

CS: Of course you could not keep the animals in this stockade all of the time. They would have to go out and graze. How would you keep them from wandering off with no fences and no roads?

MS: That’s where the children had work to do. We’d herd the cows and the horses were put on a picket rope, you’d have a swivel, so it would wind up and there was an iron stake and then they would be staked out, as they called it, and then when that got grazed off, that circle, you’d stake them out a little farther and change them out.

CS: Had the area been surveyed by that time?

MS: Yes. It had, because the claims that the homesteaders had filed on the various claims. Whoever came first could select the best ground.

CS: What about the county structure? Apparently that hadn’t been very well established yet, if just the individuals got together to make these little crude bridges and so forth.

MS: Well, they had everything like that though too—an election board and all this was held in the school house and they would always elect someone that was in charge.

[Editor’s Note: Lake County, South Dakota, was created in 1873, established from Brookings County and Hanson County.]

CS: Yes, I know, but as far as the county, for instance, was there a courthouse already in Howard?

MS: Oh yes. I’m not sure just what year that was built but that was there some time already.

CS: In order to get the picture a little bit more clear so that we can contrast things of today--no radios; of course, no telephones; no daily mail, the rural free delivery wasn’t in; you certainly must have been very, very isolated.

MS: Very. We would get the mail in town at the post office and it would depend on how often one could get it, sometimes not in three weeks during the busy season, I can remember, but usually maybe once a week, or more.

CS: How far was your post office? How far did you have to go?

MS: About 7 miles, which wasn’t bad. Then, it was about in 1904 when we got rural delivery.

CS: I suppose the first rural delivery then was still by horse, by horse and buggy—the car...

MS: Oh yes, for many, many years after. And we were half a mile from the mailbox.

CS: This brings up the problem of medical situation. What did people do when they got sick?

MS: Well, they had home remedies and they just didn’t seem to fear it. We ourselves never had doctors come to our place until one time when 2-month-old Ernie had pneumonia.

CS: How many years had the family been in existence before that occurred?

MS: Oh, I don’t exactly know, but he was about the 8th one I guess.

CS: The 8th child?

MS: No, the 9th child, I believe.

CS: He was the 9th child out of 13.

MS: He was the 10th one--I know it now.

CS: So he was the 10th child and he was the first to ever have had a doctor in the family?

MS: Oh, sometimes we would call at the doctor’s office. My father had a badly injured hand and he’d had the doctor take a stitch in that.

CS: But, he went to the doctor?

MS: Yes, but we’d never had had a doctor come to the house.

CS: How close was this doctor?

MS: In Canova, 7 miles.

CS: What about childbirth—what happened there?

MS: They had a midwife like all pioneer countries did, and she was very efficient and it usually worked out very well.

CS: Many times we find out today that they just can’t get the mother to the hospital, the child is born in the cab and every thing like that. What happened in those days if there wasn’t time to summon the midwife? For one thing, you couldn’t call her on the telephone, because there were no telephones.

MS: Well, the father was a courageous man and he would handle the situation.

CS: What about the sanitation situation in those days?

MS: Well, it was very crude but...

CS: They just didn’t pay much attention to that.

MS: Well, we had our clean food and it depended on the one that was taking care of it—whether they’d done it well or not. But canning was quite unheard of. You’d make jellies...

CS: Oh, is that right, they didn’t can in those days yet?

MS: They hadn’t...this wasn't done by anyone—it hadn’t been perfected. But they did make jellies and jams, which is half sugar, and would keep without a hermetical seal.

CS: And that suggests the care of meat—no refrigerators, either, of course?

MS: That would be done in the winter and it would be salted and smoked and hung up to dry from the rafters and then one wouldn’t have fresh meat until the chickens got big enough to slaughter.

CS: And then, practically everything was farm produced. For instance, the butter and all those things. What were the staples that you absolutely had to buy in the stores in those days?

MS: Well, sugar, and it was usually bought in a 25 cent package. It was a small package and it would last a long time. We didn’t use sugar in a big way like we do now.

CS: How much would you get for 25 cents?

MS: Oh, I imagine about 4 pounds.

CS: The money, although it was much more scarce, went much further of course.

MS: Oh yes. We had children go barefooted in the summer and the shoes were not of good quality but they were also cheap and people were not stylish. The farm men would go to a meeting house with a shirt. The minister would come from quite a distance and they weren’t particular, really, about whether there was a crease in the trousers or not--usually not.

CS: You mentioned about having your church services in a school. Could you tell us a bit more about that? This country didn’t get compulsory education until after the First World War, isn’t that right?

MS: I’m not sure just when that was, but we didn’t have it, I know.

[Editor’s note: Compulsory education was enacted at the state level between 1852 (Massachusetts) and 1917 (Mississippi). South Dakota enacted compulsory education in 1883 for ages 6-16.]

CS: Just what did your schooling career consist of in those days?

MS: Well, we would go to our country school, which was a mile and a half across the prairie and we would learn like any school. The teacher usually was a girl, just out of high school, and in some cases, I doubt whether she had even been to high school, but they could teach us very well. In first grade they’d done very well for those that wanted to learn.

CS: In other words, the fundamentals were very well grasped.

MS: They taught just like they do now and they did have a period of penmanship once a week on a Friday afternoon where people still learned to write well.

CS: However, since it wasn’t compulsory, just how did this work out? After all, if there would be some of these settlers who did not want to send their children to school -- there wasn’t no law to make them. What about that? How would that work out? Or, were the early pioneers quite education-conscious?

MS: They were willing to send the children but many of ‘em were very lax about it. Whenever they needed the boy was needed at home to haul a load of hay or do this or that, they’d just keep him home. And some of the boys didn’t really care to go to school either. Education was very meager, especially for the boys. They just didn’t show much interest. Then some of them done quite well. But they taught just the regular courses: fractions, reading, writing, and arithmetic and everything like that. It was quite alright for those that wanted to learn. But the teacher was, as a rule, a local girl, and sometimes from other towns.

CS: For example, in your particular case, how long did you go?

MS: Oh, about five years.

CS: Which shows then that the fundamentals were certainly, you say, if they really wanted to get the fundamentals in those days, they could.

MS: They could, but then, it mustn’t end there, when any child, whether quite young or a little older, they have to continue their education through life as they go, by reading and observing and such learning. One learns all one’s life.

CS: I wanted to bring out a few other aspects of the settlers life but now that you are on that subject when you’d carry on the importance of continuing one’s education after formally going to school, what would you say since you’ve seen several generations come and go now under all conditions, you started out under what we would now consider relatively primitive conditions and now we are in the space age and the farm home is just as ultramodern as the city home. What would you say is the only one necessary ingredient for one’s life, regardless of whether it was on the prairies of South Dakota way back before it became a state and the way things are today? What advice would you give to young people, something that’s always going to be valid?

MS: The willingness to learn and to apply themselves to their learning and not take it so lightly. In some cases the student has so many pressures on them now with the athletic program and all sorts of diversion that they are caught between too many pressures. At that time, we didn’t know those things and one could really apply oneself to the fundamentals, as such. And now there are so many things. How can a student really have his mind on that for that upcoming game that they're supposed to win that night? Not that they shouldn’t have games but having so many outside activities—which maybe that does have a bearing on a student. I’m not sure of that, but it could have, you know, because naturally, they have to think of that.

CS: That's right. It always happens that the existing generation, at least the pessimists among the existing generation, is always talking about how the young people aren’t what they should be, complaining about the teenagers, and so forth. Now, once again, you’ve gone through many of these cycles, what would be your observation on that?

MS: I think the young people are just fine and about the only difference is the difference in age, that young people now are 70 years younger than I am.

CS: And that’s about the only difference.

MS: They have so much to contend with, sometimes I wonder how they do as well as they do because they’ve got to put up with so much. The girls have to wear certain things to school—and so do the boys, they must have these things. Which didn’t bother us at all at that time. Anything that they would wear which was suitable or clean or warm enough was alright. There was no style consciousness. They had nice things for Sunday, but anything that was clean and fit to wear was good for school.

CS: In other words, even though you had many physical challenges of those days, there are many other challenges facing the modern youth.

MS: Very, and I sometimes think that they do marvelously well with all the things required of them. But it will still remain that they, with their studies, that they have to apply themselves or otherwise, they don’t ...

CS: Your father and your mother too came from Germany. They knew no English. Did either one of them “learn – learn” it? How did they adjust to the American way of life when they got here?

MS: They learned it as they went along, little by little. It certainly wasn’t easy, but then, the other pioneers didn’t do much better.

CS: What were some of the nationalities of the other pioneers around you?

MS: Mostly Swedish. We lived just on the north edge of a large Swedish settlement. But, there were many, many Germans, and then the English or whatever they were, but they spoke only English, mostly.

CS: Well, let’s see and then farther to the northwest of you were Danes, a Danish settlement?

MS: And a Welsh settlement. They of course spoke the language, and a few Irish.

CS: And then a lot of Norwegians?

MS: Very few Norwegians.

CS: At the time?

MS: At that time.

CS: The Swedes came over before the Norwegians, then.

MS: Well, the Norwegians never happened to settle here.

CS: But I mean, they were farther north, though.

MS: They were farther north—a large settlement about 20 miles north.

CS: How did your folks converse then with these—if the Swedes knew no English or German and your folks knew no English or Swedish, how could they possibly converse?

MS: Oh, it’s possible you know. You don’t need many words. There’s always the basic words and the hand gestures—you’d point at this or that, you could do very well.

CS: You can remember those conversations?

MS: Oh yes, very well. And then in the stores they would hire a clerk of every, of both nationalities so that anyone who knew German who was shopping would naturally select the German clerk and Swedes the same. And the Swedes would learn the German language very well. You could scarcely tell the difference. And, we children could almost speak the Swedish language.

CS: Since there were no roads as we understand it, if you wanted to go to town, you just headed in that general direction and I suppose everybody else did the same?

MS: The roads were straight. They were between the sections of land, you see, being it had been surveyed, and follow that path which had been made—there was a wagon track where the wheels had gone before we came.

CS: But through the prairie, all the same?

MS: Yes, but wherever possible, going to a neighbors place you’d just plan across, there were no fences, you’d just take the shortest way.

CS: And that’s why where some of the prairies still exist you run across these prairie roads. The ruts are still there.

MS: You’d feel them under your wheels if you cross them. They have those same roads out west in Wyoming. They would just angle in the direction of a ranch--just wagon tracks.

CS: You were saying about the church....

CS: [We interrupt this interview to point out that the friendly sounds which you hear in the background are those of Jim Schwader as he moved about the room. Now, please run the tape to the end, turn it over, and continue to hear the remainder of the interview.]