The Cooper Ranch "Boarding House"

The Cooper Ranch buildings on Section 26 were especially built for large-scale farming and quarters for feeding and housing of a large crew of men.  The "boarding house", as it was called, was built in 1881 for the exclusive use of Cooper's hired help.  At first it had only two parts.  There was the large two-story part, the upstairs of which served as a "bunk house" for the "month hands" and the lower floor was the large dining room.  The one-story part, on the north of the two-story building, was the kitchen, joining the dining room.  The kitchen was large with the kitchen stove sitting in the center.  It had a chimney - not just a stovepipe.  Wood was used as fuel.  The month hands kept a large pile ready at all times.  Good cupboard room was built on the sidewalls.  The Ranch bell was mounted on the north gable of the two-story part.

There were about 14 men that had work the year around.  The men's bunks were made around the outside of the upstairs room by boarding up the width of the bed to the desired height with cross boards to mark the individual beds.  They were then filled with hay or straw.  The men were given blankets, no pillows or sheets; "lice-cooties" were almost ever present among the men.  The seasonal workers were furnished blankets, and each man found his own sleeping quarters, the haymow above the mules, the machine shed, maybe in a haystack or straw stack.

The whole ground floor of the two-story boarding house was used as a dining room for the large crews of men needed in the busy season.  It had two long tables, covered with oilcloth, capable of seating up to 100 men.  Long benches were used as chairs.  Heavy hotel-type china was used and no tin dishes were used at the Cooper Ranch.  No lunches were permitted or taken to the men on the Cooper farms.  In harvest a man hauled water to the men in the fields.

Mr. Cooper had men cooks at first. About 1886 he began hiring women cooks for the growing season.  He then added two rooms, -low, one-story, to the kitchen to be their living quarters.  Two girls were hired for the regular crew, and more were employed in the busy season.  They were also given a man or boy "flunky" to peel potatoes and do heavy work for them.  Good water, almost soft, came from a well only a few feet from the kitchen.  The men did their own washing, getting soap from the cooks.

The girls had long days.  It was they who rang the large bell to wake the men.  A high-pitched hand bell was used for meals.  Bread was baked every day, in the large wood-burning stove.  The Boarding House coffee mill was fastened to the wall, where the coffee beans were ground as needed.  The cooks used opened and washed flour sacks for their dishtowels.  For hand towels, linen crash - often coarse and rough - was made into roller towels for the men's use.  About a three-yard length of linen toweling was sewed together as an endless belt and hung over the roller.  Each man turned it to find the cleanest place when his turn came to use it.

A root cellar joined the kitchen on the north and could be entered from the kitchen.  It served as a cellar or basement, as there was none under the house that was laid on the ground.  Potatoes, chiefly, were kept there.  A large cellar was dug in the hill above the house.  It had a shed type building over it.  Some of the men found this large root cellar a good place to sleep in the summer.  A utility building was near the boarding house where the men kept clothes, washed up, etc.

The staple foods at the Ranch were potatoes, pork and beans, beans and pork, all served three times a day.  As the cooks would say,

"When we ring the dinner bell
How those beans do smell!"

This food, and bread, was put on the tables in large dishes and passed around by the men.  During harvest, when the largest crews were to be fed, a small beef, or a hog, would be slaughtered two or three times a week.  But, as there was no refrigeration it had to be used at once or salted.

Besides the staples, including bread, there always was syrup, and butter on the tables.  To give variety there was also furnished dried apples and prunes, canned tomatoes and canned pumpkin.  R.C. Cooper was known as a good provider.  Flour was bought by the 100-pound sack.  The coffee, beans, dried apples and prunes were bought by the burlap bag, the tomatoes and pumpkins by the case, eggs by the 30 dozen cases, and butter in large jars or pails.  Butter often became strong in flavor or rancid in a short time.  No eggs were candled at the stores.  After cooking at the Ranch in 1900 and being forced to use eggs of very uncertain freshness, Mrs. Wisdahl never could bring herself to eat eggs again.  After seven years at the Ranch Oscar Nierenberg would eat no butter for many years.

Mrs. Jacob Watne wrote to Mrs. Porterville in 1957 that she came as newcomer from Norway to work at the Cooper Ranch in the spring of 1894.  They had 65 men in harvest and threshing.  There were six Watne brothers, and they all worked on the Cooper Ranch from time to time.  Jacob worked there as a blacksmith and also assistant foreman, with $40. a month pay, which was considered good wages at that time.  The Jacob Watnes were married in 1897.  A number of Houghtons worked for Mr. Cooper, John, a carpenter, built some of the first buildings with W.T. McCulloch and others.  Charles Houghton was a long time foreman.  From a news item we read, "W. Houghton, foreman of the Cooper farm went to St. Paul last week with a carload of cattle and hogs."

When the Cooper Ranch was at its largest in acreage a set of buildings were put up on Section five in Cooperstown Township.  The barn was 28 by 80 feet in size.  Ranch 5 had its own foreman, cooks and hired help to run its own threshing outfit.  The buildings were used only during the busy season.  Ranch 7 was located on Section 7 in Washburn Township and operated the same as Ranch 5 during the early eighties.  After R.C. Cooper had bought the land in his own name Ranch 7 became a year-around headquarters for a foreman and the men and teams necessary to farm the sections that surrounded it.  The pictures we have of two large barns were undoubtedly those on Ranch 7.   This ranch seems to have been operated later than Ranch 5 as a granary from Ranch 5 was moved to Ranch 7.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 40

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