The Prairie Vastness

It was in early spring (April of 1883) when we arrived in North Dakota.  I was born in Ontario, Canada, and accustomed to the wooded areas.  I was transplanted within a week to the prairie vastness of Dakota Territory.

We came as far as Sanborn by rail but the branch not being completed to Cooperstown we took the stage from Sanborn to Dazey in a dreary, drizzling rain.  At Dazey we were lodged in a home of a Scandinavian family who knew only their native language, which was strangely unfamiliar to us and seemed a compound of threats and derision.  Bewildered and weary and unable to comprehend a word they said, we were almost immediately to find out how more than kind our hosts could be for it was their team, which carried our little group over the miles from Dazey to Cooperstown.  We were obliged to ford Bald Hill creek, whose swollen waters crept into the box of our wagon and over the backs of the faithful horses.

At Sanborn we had discovered that, through an oversight, our clothing and household goods were being held in Chicago until they could be re-checked.  It was six weeks before they finally arrived.  This complicated matters for the mother of the family for we had brought with us just the clothing we thought needed for the journey and were unprepared for this contingency.

Arriving at Cooperstown we found reserved for our use two claim shanties on opposite sides of a road.  One served as living rooms, the other for sleeping quarters and in the latter we wakened one morning to find ourselves blanketed in snow, which had blown in through the cracks in the wall during the night.

One morning I remember of seeing 21 four-mule breaking outfits start out together to turn over the prairie land owned by R.C. Cooper.

In the first year we were anxious to make the most of our land rights so my husband filed on a claim.  Leaving the other children with friends in town, he and my brother loaded up a small stove and other necessary household effects and with the two smaller children we set out by ox team for our claim.

Scarcely had we arrived when a band of men rode up and with hootings and much shooting dashed around our cabin shanty.  I was terrified.  My husband and brother went out to ascertain the cause of this visitation and were told the claim had previously been filed on by one of the men of the party.  All our efforts to arrive at an amicable settlement failed and their disturbances continued until, thoroughly worn out and discouraged, we packed our goods, and wended our weary way back to town.  That was the extent of our attempt to farm in Dakota.

Schools were not yet established on the prairie; work was to be had in town where our children could have the privilege of attending a good school under the instruction of those who proved to be friends and advisors for many years.

In the fall of that first year we moved from the shanties into a granary belonging to R.C. Cooper.  The granary had been painted, papered and divided by partitions into rooms but with the prospect of its being torn down we decided to build for ourselves.

Before this home was completed, the granary was being torn down and one day the children and I sat out on the grass by our new home with our furniture beside us waiting until the roof was put on so we might move in.  This was our home for 37 years.

I was never homesick after coming to Dakota, but the longing for the trees and flowers never ceased.  One day our son found a little cottonwood twig, which he brought home and planted in our back yard.  So far as I know, that was the first tree planted in Cooperstown.

Lacking too were the church spires of the settled communities; quite in evidence were the saloons, which followed with the opening of the new country.  But worship we must - so it happened one day, for lack of a better place, we held our service in a saloon, the bottles and kegs mute witnesses of the character of the place.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial Page 135

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