Harold and Mattie Auren


Few people in Griggs County recall the days of the early settlers on the Sheyenne River as Harold who has spent all his life within two miles of the original homestead where he was born February 7, 1886.

It is difficult to portray the events in the humorous way that is unique to Harold as I listen to a tape made recently at his home.  Harold, who is 96, and his wife Mattie who is 83 still live on their farm.  Harold found humor in everyday happenings and in spite of poor health that has plagued him most of his life, he has brought laughter and inspiration to those who have known him all these years.

Kenneth Hagen

Harold relates these early day events.

The first thing a homesteader looked for after staking out his claim was water; the log house, sod house or shanty was then built close by.  In digging a well two men turned the winch that lifted dirt out of the hole which was dug by hand until they struck water.

Our cabin was built into the hillside in a coulee.  They laid logs for the walls and boards in the roof.  They took bark off the trees and used for shingles.  Then they piled dirt on top of that.  In the summertime, it was nice and green up there.

When I was thirteen years old ma got really sick.  There was a fellow who had a long legged team of buggy horses and he struck off across the prairie to Valley City to get help.  He got back and it was dark but Ma had died.  She had a busted appendix.  The neighbors came over and fixed her up for the funeral.  She is buried on the homestead; the first one of quite a few who are laying in that cemetery.

I had lots of fun with the Indians.  They would come from the south and camp in the coulee about 40 rods from our shanty on their way to Devils Lake.  There were hills on both sides and a spring for water.  They would how] at night just like coyotes.  I used to crawl over to the edge of the coulee and watch them.  One night even Ma went along.  They would dance and have a good time.  There was one Indian boy who was my friend - we were about the same age and whenever they came we would run on the prairie together.  After the Indians had left their camp grounds we would go down there and pick up lots of stuff - like sleds they had made out of stone and arrows made out of flint stone - they used them to shoot big game, like buffaloes.  You could never see any mean stuff about the Indians.  I thought they were nice.

My Dad was a blacksmith and the last time the Indians came through he worked on the wheels of their wagons.  They had no money so the Chief, who was a big lobster, turned his pockets inside out to show he didn't have anything.  Dad said "Ok".  The squaws went into the house and got milk and things from Ma.  The chief shook his head and ran to the wagon where a big squaw opened a curtain in the wagon.  I was standing by Dad when the Chief came back with a big blanket with all kinds of colors.  He threw it at my Dad and Dad threw it back.  The Chief took the blanket and threw it over my head and ran to the wagon and they were gone.

Years later, I was working at the homestead and there was this fellow with a brown jacket who came walking.  He took long, slow, steps.  I stopped and waited for him and he came over and shook hands.  Here it was the Indian boy, the one who had been my playmate years before.  I asked him where he was going and he said he didn't know.

I remember the big snowstorm; I think it was in '97.  The storm lasted for three days.  The log house got covered up and it was pitch dark in there "just like you should have been in the grave."  Dad laid blankets on the floor and he shoveled snow on the blankets until he could see daylight above the door.  Then he made steps in the snow so we could crawl out.  All you could see on the prairie was a few stovepipes sticking out.  They found one dead after the snow went in the spring.

My Dad had run out of coffee and tobacco so my Dad, a neighbor and my uncle took two teams and two shovels and started out for town.  They would shovel the teams out and when one team played out they would hook up another.  They went straight across country and by the river crossing by Lunde's.  They didn't come back that day but late the next day; they came back smoking.

We had lazy people in those days too.  There was a neighbor over east that I saw wasn't walking behind the breaking plow.  I went over there and here he had tied a rope to an iron on the plow and he had made a skid out of wood and was riding on that behind the plow! Some used cattle and horses on the same plow.  This fellow had two horses and a milk cow - on the plow.  They made drags from small trees tied together and used some top branches for the brush.

Only small patches round the shanty were farmed.  They had to keep it black around the buildings because of prairie fires.  They sowed the grain by carrying a pall of seed hung around their neck with a long rope - the pail rested on your stomach.  You broadcast the seed by hand by using two fingers and throwing the seed as you walked.  Then they went over the field with the brush drag.  Oh they had it handy! They then cut the grain with a scythe and raked it and made bundles by tying them with long straw that was twisted together.  The women did the threshing by pounding out the grain on blankets with sticks.  The women also milked cows, chopped wood and raised gardens.

I wore out three violins.  We had lots of fun playing for dances.  In the summer time I slept in the granary because it was too hot to sleep in the shanty.  Well, when they were going to thresh, they had to clean out the granary and so they had to clean me out too.  My violin got left outside behind the granary and it rained and my violin got ruined.  My uncle went back to Norway so I told him to get me a violin.  He brought back two.  I got a Hardanger; that was a nice one.

Once when we were going to bring the steam engine across the river we had two teams on it.  We got just about across when the steam engine broke through the ice.  Well, it sat there all winter and there was a fellow who worked for a neighbor who was walking along the river shooting rabbits when he went to get the cows.  After a long time, he didn't come back so they went to look for him.  Well, there he was, dead on the steam engine.  They figured he'd crawled up there and was shooting rabbits and the hammer on his rifle got caught on something and shot himself.  Well, he went out to the graveyard.

One day when Arne Hagen and me were coming home with the team we noticed there was a place where the badgers were digging so thick so we thought they must be digging for something.  Well, on Sunday we took our shovels and went down there and started digging.  We came upon an Indian grave.  There were bones laying in the hole.  We found some fingers and Arne Hagen put them in his pocket.  We found a skull too and we took that into a store in town and they had it hanging on the wall with some eyes in it for a long time.  The Indian had been buried with his clothes on and with his bow and arrow.

There were a lot of coyotes on the prairie at nights.  They would howl all night.  When I was little I used to put on my cap and run for miles and the coyotes would howl and I didn't know what they were.  It's funny they didn't eat me up.  Maybe the coyotes thought it was nothing to eat.

After we had moved away from the homestead, a neighbor, who was breaking the land there, was going to burn some lumber and stuff and set fire and it got away and burnt all the buildings on the homestead up.

Mrs. Gunhild Thompson carried me to baptism, and I was baptized by Pastor Lundeby.  He stopped at Mardell and then walked to the log houses and they had meetings in the homes.

One of the Hagen girls taught school and we had a few other teachers too.

Well, if we couldn't do it one-way we would try another.  It was fun, and I had lots of fun.  I wouldn't mind doing it over again.

Everybody was the same.  Didn't make any difference if you were Norwegian, Swede, English or what.  I never heard of anyone beating anybody; they didn't have anything to fight about.

We had good neighbors - there was Thor Hagen, Arne Thompson, Valdres Ola, Gamle Haga, C. Piatt, Newell, and Frost.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial Page 125

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