Tricounty News

Pioneer life in Stearns County (part 1 of 2)

Text is from the Tri-County Messenger for 1937. The newspaper was loaned to the Kimball Area Historical Society by Ruth Brower.

Reprinted from the Tri-County News March 6, 2003.

We find that the majority of pioneers around the St. Cloud area were natives of Europe. Many of them left as young men and women to find their fortune and happiness in this new America. Those of Germany and Sweden left in many cases to escape military training that was compulsory in those countries.

The trip across the ocean seems to be an incident in their lives that is not easily forgotten, especially as the trip required from two weeks to three months, depending on the weather and the type of ship the passengers happened to have. One pioneer states, “My mother and father were on the sea two months. At one time the ship was becalmed for seven days and they almost gave up reaching America.”

The sea voyage was merely a beginning. After landing on the eastern coast there remained the overland migration to their destination. There were no trails, and modes of transportation were quite different than the present day. Many of them took lake boats to Chicago and then purchased an ox team and cart to reach Minnesota. Others walked the entire distance on foot, while many remained until the days of the railroad and arrived in Minneapolis and St. Paul by the iron horse. From this point, they used ox carts, stagecoach and Mississippi riverboats to get to Stearns County.

Arriving in St. Cloud proper during the 1850s, the pioneer was greeted by a few scattered buildings and a wide stretch of prairie. From this early settlement, some of them branched out into the country and started farming, while others established business firms or were employed in town.

The early farm was quite an interesting institution. The pioneer farmer had much to contend with. There was land to clear, cabins to erect, implements to construct and Indians to watch out for. The only draft animals were oxen and with these, a wooden plow, a grub hoe and axe, a farmer had to break his new land. The following excerpts from interviews taken describe the early cabins and farms.

“Our first cabin was of logs and had no floors or windows. We lived there three years, and in the winter we would awake and find frost on our blankets and on the floor. In the summer there were no screens, but we didn’t seem to mind the flies or mosquitoes.”

Another related, “Our cabin had no floor, and for a night’s repose we slept on wild grass and used fence posts to divide the bed. I was born in the same cabin and my mother had only a pallet of straw supported by fence rails. The day I was born, there was a great number of Indians around our cabin. My father would not let them in until he felt that my mother was able to see them without receiving a shock. When they did come in, they frightened her and I guess that accounts for my present fear of Indians. They returned from time to time as I grew older, and one time they were at the cabin at noon. We had only bread, made of cracked wheat, and milk to drink for our lunch period. The Indians left immediately and came back about an hour later with two deer over their shoulders. I guess they thought we were starving, but they didn’t know how hardy our early pioneers were.”

The early farms were built by persistence and hard labor. There were no implements to speak of. Oxen were used for heavy work with wooden plows. For harvesting there was a hand scythe, or as properly called a cradle scythe. Much of the threshing was done by hand, and feed for the livestock was scarce. In many cases the farmers had to raise rutabagas which they cooked and fed to their pigs.

Wildlife was abundant and sometimes caused the farmers a great deal of trouble as well as a loss. The following statements revealed this fact. “My father was in St. Joseph helping construct some cabins and we boys were home alone. The first night we heard the dogs barking and they continued to bark and howl all night. We were too frightened to go out and investigate, but in the morning, we found all our hogs dead. The hogs were kept in a log barn with a roof made of basswood bark. A bear had climbed onto the roof and broken through; once inside he killed all the hogs. After killing the hogs, he dug a hole under the wall of the barn. The hole was too small for the bear to get through with a pig, so he must have crawled back through the roof and dragged his prey from the hole on the outside. We had no pork that winter, which was an exceptionally hard one, and we lived only on cornbread and coffee made of toasted peas. The next winter was almost as bad, as we existed on bread made of middlings and pork for meat.”

Food always seemed to be very scare. When the first farms were settled, almost every pioneer makes a statement to that effect. What few products a farmer could dispose of were of little value, and a great percentage of the time they received the value of such a product only in trading it for other goods as cash was very scarce.

The marketing done by the pioneer women is something not easily forgotten. They invariably walked to town, sometimes a distance of seven miles, carrying eggs and butter to trade for other food stuff or material for clothing. They almost never received cash, and the following excerpt gives us an idea of prices received.

“Many times I have walked from the farm to St. Joseph with five or six dozen eggs and several pounds of butter, only to receive another basket of groceries to carry home, a distance of seven miles. My husband had so much work with his crops, and the inadequate implements kept him so busy, he couldn’t take me to town with the oxen and so, to get the groceries, I had to walk. I received three to five cents a dozen for the eggs, and five to seven cents for the butter, and that wasn’t in cash.”

In spite of all the hardships, the early settlers found ways to play. Continued March 20.

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Where to go in 2014. Don’t forget to attend our first excellent event at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 25, at Kimball’s Historic City Hall. Renowned author and historian Bill Morgan is coming with “A Family’s Military Legacy.” Includes his grandfathers to the present granddaughters. It will be an evening well spent with a truly favorite speaker. And after that, don’t forget the popular Kimball Community Expo Saturday,
April 5, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the Kimball Area High School, wouth side parking/entrance. Both these events are free, with prizes, samples or refreshments.

Been to the attic recently? Next time you can, please keep us in mind for some of the area history or family history. We treasure funeral obituary cards, for instance. Our historical society would love to hear from you if you might have something for us to treasure. Please keep us in mind.

It’s so easy to forget things we mean to remember. So if you’ve forgotten to renew your membership with this historical society, we hope you’ll renew yours soon. Your membership support is so appreciated and necessary to continue all of the areas of the history here that is our legacy.

Find us at the Kimball Area Historical Society, Box 55, Kimball MN 55353, phone (320)
398-5250, or 5743, or email:
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