Ben Greder Biography
By the fall of 1907 Dad had done quite well as a farmer. Never having farmed before, and compared to other farmers around us it is remarkable how well he did.
He never was troubled with hayfever anymore, and the work on the farm was much nicer than his old occupation of working as a smolder in a hot factory. He thought all of us were as pleased with farm work as he was, and it was his ambition to leave each of us with 160 acres of land. He thought that the easiest way to accomplish this ambition was to homestead part of it. Perkins County was opened that fall for homesteading, and as Josie was old enough to file for a homestead, she, dad and my cousin Fred all went out there and filed a claim.
Josie's homestead was about 2 miles from ours, and Fred's was on a quarter adjoining ours. The requirements of homesteaders to prove up on a clim was that they should build a house and a well, and show that they were actually living there for a period of 14 months.
After filing Dad came back to Armour and made arrangements for the coming year. He hired a couple to run the farm in Armour, and then he took Mother, Ray and me out to the homestead. Josie and Willie stayed on the farm. Josie didn't come out until the following spring, and Willie stayed on with the renter until the next fall when Dad sold the farm and most of the machinery and stock at auction.
The first thing we did when we arrived on the claim was to build a house. Dad hired a man with a team of horses and a plow to cut sod and build a sod house. A small sod shelter was also built for a cow the only live stock we had that first winter. This sod house was a 10x14 shack with two windows and a dirt floor.
Fred also built at the same time, but Josie's shack wasn't built until the next spring when she came out. After our shack was built Dad went back to Armour, and Mother, Ray and I stayed there alone that first winter. Before leaving us though he had to see that we were stocked up on enough groceries to see us through as we had no transportation and our closest railroad town was Hettinger, N.D. a distance of 47 miles. There was a small grocery store at Daviston, 8 miles from our claim, and their stock also had to be hauled from Hettinger so naturally they didn't carry much and what they did was expensive. Then too it meant walking 8 miles (16 round trip), and carrying any amount would have been quite a chore. I did, however; make the trip once a week to get the mail. There were a few of the homesteaders who had horses and a wagon, so usually I could get a ride with one of them. It still meant walking a good mny miles to even get the ride.
While Dad saw that we were well stocked up on groceries and feed for the cow no provision was made for fuel. Each morning before winter really set in, mother and I each took two gunny sacks and roamed the prairie a mile in every direction from our shack and loaded them with cow chips. It is surprising how well they burned and the heat they made. We had a little two hole laundry stove with a stove pipe oven and this furnished our hear for cooking as well as heat for our place. While still living at Armour mother had put up meat by frying it first and then covering it with hot lard in a large earthern crocks, and this with home cured bacon and ham was our meet supply. Eggs she had put up in large crocks and covered with what was called water glass. They weren't probably as good as strictly fresh egs, but at least were edible, and especially all right to be used in baking. All our bread was home made and baked in that little stove pipe oven.
Dad thought that Fred and I could dig a well, little realizing that this would become a problem. We picked out what looked like likely spots, and with pick and shovel we dug three different places to a depth of about 25 feet with no results. We used a windlass to haul the dirt to the suface, and we took turns digging and using the windlass. These holes were 4 foot in diameter, and the ground so hard that every inch of it had to be picked first before we could shovel into the bucket to be hauled up to the suface.
In order to get water for drinking and cooking, and for the cow I would lead her to our nearest neighbor who had a well (a distance of 1 2/ miles) to water her, and fill up two one gallon jugs for our drinking and cooking water. believe me not a drop was wasted. Water for washing we got by catching rain water, and later when the ground was covered by snow, it was melted for washing water. When the weather got so bad that I could no longer go to the well all of our water for our use as well as for the cow was obtained by snow being melted. We had a terriffic amount of snow fall that winter, and at one time it got down to 48 degrees below zero.
My schooling that winter was practically nil. A young lady that had a homestead a mile and a half from our place said that she was a school teacher, and I tried going to her place for schooling, but the weather was so bad that I didn't get there enough to learn very much.
Going back to our arrival at Hettinger,N.D. which was our nearest railroad town, and as I said before 47 miles from our claim, left us only one way to get to our place and that was by horses. Dad hired a man with a team and a wagon to haul our groceries, kerosene and furniture and rode with him, and mother, Ray and I went by state coach. The stage coach was the same type you now see in the old western movies drawn by four horses, two abreast. Our stage coach driver was a one armed man, and I marveled at how he could handle four horses and roll a cigarette with one good hand and a stub of an arm.
It is surprising to me how fast that first winter passed. Being cooped up in a 10x14 shack with no TV or radio would seem like the time would have dragged on, but it didn't. I walked for miles in every direction and borrowed books from other homesteaders, and had a scroll saw that I used to cut out all sorts of things. At Christmas I was given a wood burning outfit, and with this also made a lot of plaques, etc. When the weather permitted I would look for arrow heads, petrified wood, buffalo horns, and odd rocks so I felt like a real pioneer and enjoyed every minute of it. Light we got from one little kerosene lamp, and as kerosene was hard to get due to our distance from town , we were as frugal with our lamp as electric light on a meter.
Dad and Josie came out in the spring and we naturally were happy to see them. He brought enough machinery and horses so that we could now start farming. That first year we plowed about 60 acres of virgin sod for crops and garden, and had a good harvest. We fenced in our 160 acres, and Dad and I drove 24 miles to get the Moreau River where we cut trees for fence posts. We also built a sod house house for Josie and tried to dig a well for her, but never did hit water.
In the fall dad again returned to Armour, and had an auction sale of all of the stock and machinery that we didn't need on the homestead, sold the farm and came back with Willie. Upon his return Dad rented a farm about 15 miles away for the hay. There was a shack on this place and a well that hadn't been used for sometime. Because of the distance the three of us stayed there until we had the hay put up. About the time we got through with the hay Willie got very ill. Dad took him to a young doctor who dignozed his illness as typhoid fever. He apparently jumped to this conclusion because of the water we were drinking. We took him home and he steadily got worse and found another doctor who pronounced his case as appendicitis, but said it was too late for surgery as his appendix had burst. The fact was that he just didn't know enough to operate and Willie passed away.
Mother's parents and my oldest brother (Charlie) were buried in Rock Island and they wanted Willie buried there. The closest undertaker was at Hettinger, N.D. so it was necessary to take him there for embalming, buy a casket, and shipment by rail to Rock Island. A neighbor of ours who was a carpenter buile a wodden box to put Willie in for the trip to Hettinger, and I can't recall who it was that owned a car, and drove Mom and dad and Willie up there, with Mom and Dad in the back seat, with the make-shift casket across their laps.
With Willie's passing it was no longer necessary for Dad to obtain 160 acres for four, but only three. After Josie proved up on her claim, Dad bought 160 acres next to ours, and that realized his ambition to have each of us three children to own 160 acres.
That winter we hauled lumber from Hettinger and built a nice house. barn, chicken coop and hogpen. Dad hired John Wood who also had a homestead to help us with the building, and John stayed on as a hired hand, later moving to Minnesota with us, and in the fall of 1912 he married Josie.
Up until 1909 there was no church or priest, but in the spring of that year a newly ordained priest (Father C.C. Virnig) was assigned to Meadow, and so missionary work for the entire area. He built a church there, and called on all of the catholics in our neighborhood, and with the help of Dad and a banker in strool built a church there. Stroll was about 8 miles from our farm, and the distance between Strool and Meadow was about 35 miles. We had mass every other Sunday. One Sunday Father said mass in Meadow and the next Sunday in Strool. When there was a fifth Sunday in the month he said mass in a sod house about 25 miles south of Meadow.
All this traveling was done by Father with a team of hourse and a top buggy. I hadn't made my first communion as yet, and Father asked Mom and Dad if they would let me come to Meadow with him to help him with the horses and chickens he had and to help with the housework, and he in turn would instruct me in the religion so I could make my first communion. I enjoyed the time I spent with him, and we were more like brothers than a priest and a boy. I curried and fed the horses, carried water from the town well, helped with the cooking, and housework, and always looked forward to our trips to the missions. To me driving a nice team of light horses and a top buggy was probably as big a thrill as a boy with his first car.
About once a month a tribe of Sioux Indians from the Standing Rock Reservation came to Meadow to do some shopping and horse trading. They pitched their tepee's in a vacant area next to the church, and I would spend as much time as I could among them, watching them trade horses, making bead necklaces, etc. The women looked and acted more like gypsies than Indians, and when they went to the stores the clerks would watch them as they would steal everything they could get away with.
In the fall of 1908 a new town sprung up which was called New Daviston, and the old town of Daviston from then on was known as Old Daviston. New Daviston was to be a real city. They had a general store, blacksmith shop, bank, restaurant, saloon, church and school. New Daviston was 3 miles from our place and that is where I went to school that first winter. I either walked it, or went on home made ski's when there was enough snow on the ground. The only person I know that owned a car was a preacher who lived about 1/2 mile from town, and he drove to town every morning. I used to time it so I could get a ride with him that 1/2 mile. Looking back now, I think that he waited for me, as half the time his car couldn't get up a small hill, and I would have to get out and push.
The drought of 1909 and 1910 ended all of Dad's dreams of making a success of farming in Perkins County. We didn't have a flake of snow, nor a drop of rain up until the time we left there in Augut of 1910. The wheat we had sown in the fall didn't even sprout. With conditions like this it was impossible to try and farm, and we moved to a rental farm in Minnesota. A neighbor of ours who had come from Minn. to homestead told dad what a good farm country it was around Ortonville, and that is how we happened to locate there. That peroid we spent on the homestead must have drained Dad of all of his resources, as the moving of all of the stock, machinery and household goods from Armour out to the claim and then back again to Minn, and no income, made for all outgo and no income.
The above story was written by Ben Greder who lived as a child in Perkins County. His father was Reinhart Greder. The typed pages was sent to former Perkins County coordinator from Steve A. who is a grandson of Ben. Pictures came with this, but have been lost.
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