Social Aspects of Prairie Pioneering
The Reminiscences of a Pioneer Pastor's Wife
By Mrs. R. O. Brandt (Volume VII: Page 1)
On September 16, 1883, I was married to Realf Ottesen Brandt at Lincoln Church, near Ridgeway, Iowa. The ceremony was performed by Dr. Laurentius Larsen, then president of Luther College. I remember well the impression it made upon me when, in addressing the bride, Dr. Larsen said I must not expect to be first with my husband; that his sacred calling as a pastor was first and highest, and I must be satisfied with second place.
Before our marriage my husband-to-be had received and accepted a call to "Wood Lake and neighboring congregations" in the territory of Dakota.
The charge consisted of five preaching-places or congregations: Wood Lake, Leganger, Highland, St. Johannes, and Spring Grove. Besides these congregations, which constituted the charge proper, my husband had at one time a total of no less than sixteen preaching-places; he never had less than ten.
At the time of our marriage the West was regarded as a rather primitive country. The first railroads entered the territory in 1872, but railroad building was slow before 1880.
The young theological candidate had made a flying trip to the West in August to see whether he could find a house to which he might bring his bride. He had on that occasion preached in Even Norman's house, on Monday, August 13, 1883. At this meeting it was decided to pay the pastor's rent of the Reverend L. Sherven's house on his farm south-west of what is now Toronto, this house being available for the pastor and his bride.
After the service Mrs. Lou Norman and her sister, Emily Rose, now Mrs. O. P. Dahle, had taken my husband in a lumber wagon to Leganger congregation, where he preached that same afternoon. As they drove up in the wagon, the slender candidate sitting between the two ladies on the high spring seat, someone remarked, "Is that our minister? Why the first puff of wind will blow him away!"
R. O. Brandt and his brother, O. E. Brandt, were ordained on September 2, 1883, in the Washington Prairie Church by the Reverend V. Koren. The days following our marriage were busy days indeed. We procured a freight car in which to pack and move our belongings. I owned a piano and an organ, earned by teaching school and giving music lessons.
Besides outfitting me generously and comfortably as a bride, my mother -- then widowed for thirteen years -- gave me a sewing machine and a hard coal heater. As there was ample space in the freight car she also sent with us many things which had more or less outgrown their usefulness at home, but which to us were as good as new. She thought they "might come in handy" out on the prairies, and they certainly did.
The hard coal heater proved to be a real luxury and a great comfort to us out on the bare and wind-swept prairies where many people still burned hay and sometimes even straw and "buffalo chips."
To be sure, we had to have coal hauled from twelve to eighteen miles. But how delightful, and what a cheerful welcome, when arriving home from a long, cold drive across the prairies, to find a warm room and see the firelight shining through the mica windows of this heater! More than once did I read my letters from home by the light of this fire, too eager for news from my dear ones to stop to slip off wraps or light a lamp.
Besides being kind and generous, my dear mother was also very practical. Among the useful things she sent with us was a complete set of good new tools. They proved handy both to us and to our neighbors.
My husband took with him his father's old sleigh or cutter, which subsequently fell apart and collapsed like the "one-hoss shay" as we were crossing a deep and snowy ravine one winter day on our way to Estelline, eighteen miles distant. We found a kind farmer who loaded the broken cutter on his team and wagon, and hauled us into Estelline for repairs.
My husband also took with him an old table known in his family as "Schmidt's Bord."
It was square, had a pedestal base, and could be folded over to make the top half as
large. This table was the only article that came to grief during our moving; when our goods were hauled twelve miles or more from Estelline, the jolting loosened it so that it fell off, very much to our regret. My husband repaired it, and I still have it. During the early years in Dakota it was sometimes used as an altar at services. Later it served as our living room table, both in South Dakota and during the twenty-seven years we spent in McFarland, Wisconsin.
Our wedding trip was the railroad journey from Ridgeway, Iowa, to Brookings, South Dakota. Here we secured a driver and a livery team to take us to Leganger congregation, about twenty miles distant. The driver knew the way for the first twelve miles; after that he was utterly unfamiliar with the country. We drove on mile after mile. Darkness overtook us, and the pleasant, bracing air of the afternoon gave way to the cool, chilly air of evening. We finally came to a dark spot on the prairie that proved to be the home of Mons Steensland, one of my husband's future parishioners, who lived on the outskirts of the congregation. It was too late to proceed farther, so these kind people made us all welcome in their one livable room -- man and wife, several children, my husband and myself, and the driver. This was my first night in South Dakota.
The Reverend L. Sherven had served these congregations for over two years and had built himself a house on his homestead near the present site of Toronto. It was in this house we lived from September, 1883, until the middle of November the next year. Every alternate section was unoccupied railroad land, and as some of the early settlers secured as much as three quarter sections, one's nearest neighbor was some distance away.
When we came to Dakota there were no churches in my husband's parish and no railroads nearer than Brookings, Canby, Watertown, Gary, and Estelline, all from twelve to thirty miles distant. There was no parsonage and no
resident pastor. In 1881 a cemetery was secured for Leganger congregation, which was dedicated on June 7. The land had been given to the congregation by Pastor Sherven.
My husband preached his first sermon in the Emerson schoolhouse on September 30, 1883. In the latter part of September we had moved into Pastor Sherven's house. It was painted a dingy yellow. The ground floor had a living room, a small bedroom with a closet, and a very cold lean-to kitchen and pantry with the inevitable "shanty" addition over the back door, as nearly all houses in the West had. Such a "shanty" was a very valuable adjunct to the South Dakota prairie home. It served to keep wind and snow from blowing directly into the house proper when someone was going in or out, and it provided a place for keeping all manner of useful and indispensable things not wanted in the house. There was quite a good room upstairs corresponding to the living room below, with a small room adjoining. There was also a small cellar, and near by was a barn.
In the kitchen we found many holes in the plaster. I studied up on plastering and secured some sand, lime, and "hair" from a farmer at whose home we called one day. On one of my husband's frequent absences I prepared a surprise for him by having all the holes plastered when he returned. We also papered the living room to make it more fresh and cozy. It was a somewhat difficult task, for the paper was of a cheap grade that did not permit much handling. We thought we did quite a creditable job, however; the only mishap occurred when my husband, descending the stepladder, put one foot in the paste pail!
Our little kitchen was really so cold that winter that I often put on overshoes and tied a scarf over my head before preparing breakfast -- even when I was going to bake pancakes. I had brought with me from home a number of jars of canned fruit and preserves. To my dismay I discovered one day that these were freezing. Several of the jars had
burst and the precious contents were a total loss. We straightway carried all the jars up from the cellar and put them in the closet opening on the little bedroom. We also kept our potatoes and other vegetables in this closet that winter.
There was an open well or cistern in the yard from which we could draw up water with a rope and pail. We used this water for mopping and cleaning. My husband warned me that it must not be used for household purposes until the well was cleaned out and put in better shape. In the meantime we obtained water for household use elsewhere.
I had strict injunctions not to try to haul up any water from this cistern while my husband was away. One day in his absence I was making the house spick-and-span against his return and needed more water. I thought I was able to manipulate the rope and pail well enough to get up some water, and went out to try it. I got up a pail full of water, and with it a very strange-looking object. It was an animal of some kind, very plump and fat, but quite foreign to me. I thought I had made a great discovery, and carefully put it away to show my husband on his return. Instead of being impressed by my "discovery," he was much chagrined that he had failed, after all, to keep from me the knowledge that the cistern was full of dead gophers!
There was a smallpox scare in our vicinity that fall. My husband buried a man who had died of smallpox. With people living in crowded quarters with their families of growing children, far from town and doctors, and having only limited means, the possibility of an epidemic was a serious menace. My husband had a talk with the doctor at Estelline and brought back a supply of vaccine points. Many people, old and young, came to the parsonage for free vaccination. One man doubted that a minister could do a job like that in a satisfactory way; he thought it would not "work." However, he also was a candidate for vaccination, and the vaccination "worked," even though performed by a minister.
After we were settled one of the first things my husband had to do was to buy a team and buggy in order to meet his appointments. He had heard of a team of ponies south of Brookings that was for sale, and determined to go and see them. He thought he might be gone two or three days; at any rate, he was not coming back until he could bring a team and buggy with him.
I did not mind so much being alone the first three days, although even on the third day I began to look and watch anxiously for his return. But he was gone for a whole week, the longest and loneliest week I ever experienced. Had I known that he would be absent a month I doubt if it would have been so hard; it was the continual looking and watching and waiting that was beginning to break down my morale. My eyes fairly ached with watching the prairies to the south and west. My imagination began to play me tricks at night. Once I awoke suddenly, thinking I heard buggy wheels crunching over the "breaking" near the house. I arose hurriedly and ran out, feeling sure he had come at last, only to find darkness and utter silence in the great outdoors. Another time I awoke thinking that I heard someone speaking outside or at the door, only to find again that it was a false alarm. One day I asked Jul Emerson, a boy who was plowing in a near-by field, to come in and have dinner with me, that I might have someone to talk with.
Our neighbor, Mr. Amund Emerson, had four strapping boys, Theodore, Lawrence, Peter, and Jul. It seems that some of the teachers available in small country districts had secured "permits" to teach, although they lacked teacher's certificates. Mr. Emerson was very eager to have me teach school in his district that winter. I replied that as a married woman I had a home and husband to care for and could not very well be gone for several hours each day; that I had
not taught for some time, and felt "rusty"; that my certificate from Iowa would not be valid in South Dakota; that the county superintendent lived 'way off in one corner of the county, making it very inconvenient for me to see him. In fact, I raised all the objections and made all the excuses I possibly could. Nevertheless he insisted that I must do this for the sake of his boys and the other children in the district. He was willing to move the seats from the schoolhouse to the room upstairs in the parsonage so that I could teach right there and not leave my home.
One day as we were driving and making calls on the outskirts of a neighboring congregation, we discovered that one of the ponies had a loose shoe. My husband drove to the nearest town, Goodwin, eighteen miles away, to have the shoe fixed. He remarked, "Here is where superintendent Westcott lives; so now if you want to be examined, here is your chance." We called on Mr. Westcott and were most cordially received by him and his wife, and were invited to remain overnight. I took my examination and received a first-grade certificate. Having acquired this, I no longer had any valid excuse to offer Mr. Emerson, and I consented to teach during the winter months. The schoolroom was the room upstairs in the parsonage, the seats having been moved over from the little schoolhouse as Mr. Emerson had suggested.
One day my husband performed a marriage ceremony at the parsonage, and I permitted my pupils to come down and see the ceremony. I think I served as witness. It was a very cold day, and there was much snow on the ground. The bridal couple arrived on a homemade sledge drawn by one horse. The bride sat on the sledge wrapped in shawls and blankets, while the bridegroom stood at the back driving.
We had stormy weather during our first Christmas. Highland congregation was to have its Christmas service on the
second day of Christmas, but there was a violent snowstorm with the thermometer at forty below. The service was finally held on the sixth of January, 1884.
In February the roads north and south were so blocked with snow that the pastor was obliged to make long detours in order to reach his destination. There was another heavy snowstorm on March 2, when there should have been services at the Kjenstad schoolhouse. This time the pastor was marooned at the home of Thorvald Hanson, where he had gone the day before to read with the confirmation class at Highland. The storm was so fierce that he could neither get to the schoolhouse to preach nor come back home.
Mrs. Lou Norman, of Brandt, South Dakota, relates the following concerning the blizzard of October 14, 1880:
"The storm lasted three days. The first night our bed was covered with enough snow to fill a washtub. Our house was not plastered and the windows were not tight, as the house was unfinished. Next morning Lou Norman went out to get a sack of hay so we could cook coffee. Later he went out to see about two little pigs that were nearly freezing to death and brought them in. In the evening the little pigs were hunting for something for bedding and got under the bed and began to pull and tear at the mattress and bed-clothes, to loosen it and make a bed for themselves. I had found one of our hens with a broken leg which I set and "spliced." My little boy lay on a couch with a big Newfoundland dog over his feet. In the morning the hen with the broken leg hopped up on the couch where the boy and the dog were, and laid an egg.
We had not dug our potatoes nor threshed our grain. This winter there was one storm after another, so people could not
get anywhere, nor get to threshing. My brother, Ed Rose, and my father walked to Goodwin, eighteen miles, with a little hand sled in order to bring home some flour from a mill there. The flour was divided among the neighbors and relatives. Two such trips were made. However, after that we all had to grind wheat in our coffee mills for flour to make bread. Many did this. The snow was so deep that people could not get around with teams. People had to use skis. When the snow melted after this awful Snow-Winter, it thawed underneath first, (probably because the ground was not much frozen). We had no team out all winter, but got in hay by bundles dragged over the snow by oxen."
These families were neighbors and parishioners of the Reverend R. O. Brandt.
In preaching to his various congregations my husband observed and made good use of all the church festivals during the year: first, second, and third day of Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, first, second, and third day of Easter, Pentecost, Ascension Day, "Bededag," Thanksgiving Day, and so forth. Services were held in sod houses and in schoolhouses when they were available.
In the spring of 1884 my mother came out to visit us. One day there was a knock at the door. My mother opened it; imagine her surprise when there appeared before our astonished eyes a big, burly, six-foot Negro, as black as black could be! So utterly unexpected was this apparition that for a few moments we were quite speechless. He proved to be the cook of a camping outfit a mile or so across the prairies, and he was out looking for supplies. His party was surveying for the new railroad that was to be built across the country from Pipestone north to Watertown.
It was probably to pass through two of my husband's congregations, Leganger and Highland. We were much interested and excited over the news. After this, strange callers were more or less frequent.
Our "shanty" was long and narrow and contained a number
of empty nail kegs and boxes. One day, when I was quite alone, I opened the door to this shed and saw before me six silent men, sitting there on the kegs and boxes. They said not a word. I was much startled and my heart skipped a beat or two, but I put on a bold face and asked, "Who are you, and what do you want?" They were foreigners, but they managed to tell me that they were workmen on the new railroad and wanted to buy supplies. I gave them what I had, only too glad to see them go.
There was no pretense of yard or lawn around our dwelling, no fences nor enclosures, only some plowed furrows to protect the house from prairie fires. The public road passed close to the house, immediately outside the bedroom window. By summer and fall teams and wagons passed by occasionally both day and night. It was not pleasant to be utterly alone, perhaps for several days and nights at a stretch. I was not nervous, nor afraid of the dark or of being alone, but I was afraid of tramps. It was impossible for my husband, in his widespread parish, to come home every night; it would have taken too much time and too much driving. As it was, he had to do so much driving in the West that he gave himself the name of "Buggy-prest" (Buggy-pastor).
He often worked out and studied his sermons while driving over the long and lonely stretches of prairie road, his little ponies going along at the same gentle jog trot for hours at a time.
During these times I used to sit alone in the evenings without a light. If some strangers had knocked at the door I would not have dared to let them in, and I was afraid that if they saw a light they would immediately conclude that some lone, frightened woman was within and probably force an entrance. On the other hand, if the house was quite dark, they might think it was unoccupied and simply pass on. My reasoning may not have been very sound, but at
any rate I often sat alone in the dark. To pass the time I would hum and sing to myself hymns and other songs that I knew by heart.
In the spring of 1884 the whole parish decided to build a parsonage about six or seven miles north of us, on land donated by the Highland congregation. Besides paying their share of the cost of the parsonage Highland congregation promised to haul all material from Gary -- fifteen miles distant -- build the foundation and cellar, and in the course of time break up as much of the land as the pastor might wish. The house was to be built at a cost of $700, but it amounted to a little more.
The new parsonage was to be our home for the next sixteen years, until we moved to McFarland, Wisconsin, in 1900. Here our four children were born, two daughters and two sons.
There was a living room fourteen by sixteen with a bay window to the south, a bedroom eight by twelve, and a kitchen twelve by twelve. There was a hall and a stairway, the latter without a railing; also the inevitable shanty at the back, where we kept our coal and many other things. The second story was unfinished, as was the case with most houses built during pioneer days. A shed was bought for twelve dollars from workmen on the new railroad and it was used to build a stable and buggy shed twelve by thirty-two with a straw roof.
It was pretty cold when we moved, but I succeeded in taking all my house plants and "slips" safely to the new home. It was so cold, however, that one night they froze, to my great regret. Many of the plants and slips were from home, and I had cherished them. They were gradually replaced and others collected, so that in the course of time our bay window was a bower of plants and flowers.
Houses on the prairies in those days were always "banked up" in the fall. Boards were set up a couple of feet or so from the foundation, and this space was filled with straw and manure to reach well up over the foundation. This was done to keep cellars from freezing and to make the house warmer with less draft over the floors. Outside cellarways were similarly filled with straw or hay, and the doors covered with tar paper or building paper. House doors were often treated likewise and nailed up for the winter, only one door being used for entry and exit.
We ourselves had done this in the Sherven house, but not in our new parsonage, since the front door opened into a hallway and the back door into the shanty. Storm doors and windows were a necessity if one hoped to keep out the penetrating winds and drafts to any degree. Thus people were as "hermetically sealed in" during the winter months as they could very well be. I made sand bags of strong ticking or denim about four inches wide and as long as the door was wide. These were loosely filled with fine sand and proved a great help in keeping drafts from coming in under doors and through windows. They were especially useful during the years the children were small and playing about on the floor.
Towns sprang up along the new railroad, which ran about a mile east of the parsonage. The station nearest us was named Brandt in honor of my husband, as was also the township in which we lived. The house was situated on a low hill, so the road sloped downward toward the railroad station.
There were few really old people in my husband's parish at that time. Most of the settlers were young and strong or in their best years with growing families of children There was neither undue wealth nor dire poverty. People were much on the same level financially. Pleasures and distractions were few. Money was scarce. If one was compelled to borrow from banks the rate of interest was
exorbitant, as much as twenty-four and fifty per cent being paid. One man, in order to save his home, had to borrow money and pay interest for several months at the rate of sixty per cent a year. For several years the wheat crop yielded only seven to ten bushels an acre. There was no sale for milk or cream. Butter sold at from eight to sixteen cents a pound, eggs at from six to fifteen cents a dozen.
Our parsonage was simply furnished, with a rag carpet on the floor and cheesecloth curtains at the windows. We never had a bought rug nor a bought carpet during the seventeen years we lived in the West. When the rag carpet wore out we replaced it with straw matting. We had a hanging lamp with crystal pendants and a large overstuffed rocker of red plush, both gifts from South Dakota friends. There was also a large braided rug, made and given to me by my mother. I still have it.
A well had been dug near the new parsonage, but the water was so hard that cattle did not like to drink it, and I could not use it for cooking coffee nor for boiling potatoes. I used it once -- and only once -- for washing clothes. A dark, gummy substance like shoemaker's wax collected in spots inside the hems of sheets, pillowcases, and other articles and inside the shirt bosoms of my husband's best white shirts. Spots that did not appear earlier showed up under a hot flatiron. I was in despair. I ripped the larger hems and scraped off the substance with a knife, but I could not begin to rip the white bosom shirts and make them over. Even my energetic spirit quailed before this task. I put the clothes aside until I could get rain water, then put them to boil in strong suds to which several tablespoons of kerosene had been added. This helped dissolve the gummy substance and improved the clothes greatly, but some of the garments were still so bad that they had to be discarded.
We hauled water for cooking and drinking from a good well about a mile away. In the early spring, when the snow
and ice melted, we collected fine snow water from pools and depressions here and there over the prairie. This meant having a barrel and tubs of water standing in our kitchen. In winter we melted snow for washing. Later, when an addition was made to the parsonage, a cistern was built with a brick filter, so that we could use cistern water for cooking and drinking as well as for washing.
The tubs of water standing in the kitchen were an unfailing source of attraction to our small daughter Dikka, who was then a little toddler. She dearly loved to throw things into the water, especially her little boy doll "Jack" (a gift from her aunt Thrine). Jack had red trimming on his clothes, and when he got wet this color would "run" so he looked quite gory! Jack was often seen perched on the nickel-plated ornament on top of our hard coal heater, having been put there to dry.
Once I found my brown leather handbag in one of the tubs of water. Another time, on pouring water from my teakettle, I noticed that the water looked brownish and queer. Upon investigation I found little Dikka's baby shoes in the teakettle! She was quick as a flash in everything she did, and got ahead of her mother more than once.
Most of the people lived in simple sod houses. It was wonderful how neat and cozy sod houses could be made. When floors were scrubbed, walls freshly whitewashed, and the broad window sills filled with blooming geraniums, such homes were by no means unattractive in the pioneer country. Of course the coziness and attractiveness depended pretty much on the people living in the home. I must admit, however, that such houses had their drawbacks. They were apt to become damp and in time would settle so that the roof and walls would become lopsided. They were not very roomy for growing families. Nevertheless, some of the finest and most genuine people I have ever met lived in just such little sod houses in pioneer times.
In April, 1885, Grandfather Brandt came out to South Dakota to make his home with us.
A room was built upstairs toward the front of the house as a study and spare room combined, which he occupied. He joined the congregation and was of great assistance to my husband in his work. He taught Christian school, helped with the confirmation classes, visited the sick and aged, and also preached occasionally. Highland congregation was entitled to fourteen services during the year. As a result of Grandfather Brandt's assistance, Highland had twenty-one services as early as 1885. His help enabled my husband to do more for the Lutheran families who lived, without pastor or services, too far away from organized Lutheran congregations to be able to attend their services.
The Kvincleforernng or Ladies' Aid of Highland congregation was organized on June 3, 1885, at the home of Mrs. Lars O. Berger. Although I was not present at this meeting -- my little daughter being less than three weeks old -- I was elected president and served until 1900. We met in the various homes and each member paid ten cents each time, whether present or not. We had strict rules about serving; refreshments had to be simple and not burdensome to anyone. Our membership soon increased, and a sum was laid aside each year toward the future church. The money was usually lent to people in the congregation at ten per cent. This was not a high rate then, as compared with what the banks demanded. People in need of money were glad
to get it at that rate, and borrower and lender were equally benefited and satisfied with the arrangement.
The young girls were not idle either. A Pigeforening, or Young Ladies' Aid, was organized, and so much interest was shown that mothers asked if their daughters might join, even those down to six years of age! I said, "All right; if they can hold a needle, send them along." I still seem to see these girls before me as they met at the parsonage one day wondering what was about to happen. They were given pieces of unbleached muslin on which simple designs had been drawn with lead pencil, and a needle with common black thread. They were to learn outline work to start with. When they had learned to make even, smooth stitches and to turn the curves neatly they were promoted to stamped linen pieces and colored embroidery silks. The older girls started center-pieces. Later in the year, when all this work was finished, we had a grand wash day around the kitchen table at the parsonage.
This work was all sold at a bazaar and sale held upstairs in the parsonage, most of the mothers buying their own daughters' handiwork. It was at this sale that the Ladies' Aid gave their first festive supper at the parsonage and served a hundred and twenty persons in the twelve by twelve parsonage kitchen, where the food was cooked also. This was on December 8, 1886. There were friends present from more distant congregations, and some of them remained all night. In fact we were twenty people in the parsonage that night. Among the "handy things" I had brought from my home were a number of empty straw ticks. The men took these to the haystack and filled them. One was put on the floor in front of the bed in the eight by twelve bedroom, so those who used the bed had to retire first. Several were placed on the living room floor. In the study upstairs were
placed a bed and a cotbed. I was pretty well supplied with bedding, and the guests brought in their robes and blankets.
As the new parsonage was the largest house in the vicinity, it served during the first years as a community center for the activities of the congregation. The living room was frequently used for choir practice and singing school. The confirmation class usually met in the kitchen. By securing another heating stove and firing diligently, we were able to warm the larger unfinished room upstairs so that it could be used for various larger gatherings and festivals, such as the Christmas tree festival, the Ladies' Aid bazaar and sale, young people's programs, singing school, congregational meetings, and so forth. It kept me busy moving my things back and forth upstairs to clear away space at such times; I was often puzzled as to where I had put various things, and sometimes I would have quite a hunt to locate them.
During our first year in the new home some kind friend gave us a little pig. We had no pen for it nor any place to keep it. Since it was summer time, I made a little harness for the pig, to which I fastened a rope so that it could be tethered. In this way it could roam around for a certain distance at its own sweet will. Our little tethered pig caused much amusement among our neighbors and friends, and we laughed as heartily as anyone. In fact, the pig throve so well that when he was unharnessed later in the summer, I found on him quite a depression caused by the harness and had some qualms of conscience for fear he had been too tightly corseted for his own good!
Our cow was also tethered a great part of the time that summer, and at times we had her blanketed with burlap to protect her from mosquitoes. The mosquitoes were so bad that a smudge fire was often necessary at milking time.
The first congregational Christmas tree festival at Highland was held upstairs in the parsonage. The young people
met at the parsonage to prepare for the event, stringing popcorn and cranberries and cutting out gaily colored "baskets" and "scarfs" of tissue paper. No evergreen tree was available, but a box elder tree was chosen. All the limbs and branches were bound with strips of old sheets raveled to resemble frost, the ends hanging down here and there to represent icicles. When it had been dressed and decorated it really looked very pretty, especially after the candles were lit. We used not the small colored candles, but the larger utility candles cut in two.
A goodly crowd turned out for the event, and every child received some gift provided by the parents, besides the candy, baskets, and scarfs. It was a delightful occasion for old and young in spite of the fact that one little boy backed up too close to the tree and had the back of his hair singed. After the program was over and the gifts had been distributed, when people had relaxed and were having a cozy, social time together, my husband became aware that a storm was brewing. He called attention to the weather, saying that we did not want to be inhospitable -- they were welcome to remain all night and he would promise to keep them warm, although we could not offer them beds -- but what about the horses?
Instantly all was hurry and confusion. The men put on their coats and caps and ran out to hitch up their teams, while the women wrapped up the children and themselves. One little girl had received a doll, which she fondly hugged with utmost care and anxiety.
There was much snow on the ground. The snow was falling and whirling from above and drifting and whirling from below, quickly filling and obliterating all tracks. It was already hard to keep to the road. As the sleigh containing the little girl with the doll crossed the ravine and creek west of the parsonage the sleigh tipped over, and out in the snow
they all tumbled! As they went over the little girl cried in anguish, "Aa dokka mi, dokka mi!"
"Dokka" was rescued; fortunately the family had only two miles to go and reached home safely.
Another young couple were not so fortunate. They got off the track, lost their way, and drove around the prairies most of the night before they finally got home. Had the blizzard continued and had it grown bitterly cold, as often happened, they would probably never have reached home at all.
While we lived in the West my husband used three different teams. Two of them were pony teams. They were light enough so that snowdrifts would often support them and so agile that they could scramble out of snow and drifts more easily than a heavier team. But the long and strenuous trips made a better team necessary, so my husband bought a team of horses said to be fairly fast. Nancy was well behaved, but Billy proved to be a runaway horse. It was somewhat of a problem at first to get him hitched up. Finally my husband hit upon a plan that worked pretty well: he drew the buggy tongue up against the stable wall; then with the reins in his hand, all the while talking soothingly to Billy, he would hitch in three tugs while I stood on the other side stretching my arms out gingerly to reach the fourth tug and hitch that in! Then he would gather in the reins while talking gently to Billy, step into the buggy, and off they would go. Billy was later sold and a fine horse secured in his stead. It was a pleasure to drive this pair. They remained a good and spirited team as long as my husband owned them.
My husband tried never to miss an appointment if it was possible to make it, and he always tried to be on time.
People learned this and governed themselves accordingly. I learned to be ready on time when we were going anywhere and to have meals ready on the dot. It was good training for me and has been of great value to me throughout my life. I have said that Grandfather Brandt occasionally assisted in preaching. We heard it said that one man admonished his family in this wise, "Now be sure to get ready on time. Young Brandt is going to preach today, and you know he doesn't wait for anybody!"
It was hard enough for my husband to rise early on a cold winter morning, feed and care for his ponies, do the other chores, and then start out on a drive of ten, fifteen, or twenty-five miles to be gone several days. When he came home, perhaps tired and chilled from a long trip, there was no one to take the team and care for it. He had to do that himself.
Winds were very penetrating on the prairies. The temperature could and did go down to twenty-five, thirty, and forty degrees below zero or even lower. My husband tried various devices for keeping warm. He used felt boots with long, heavy storm socks inside over his wool hose, and high overshoes over the felt boots. He wore a paper-lined jacket under his coat and a big fur coat over his cloth overcoat, securely tied on with a wool scarf many feet long, so that it could be wound round and around his fur coat collar, chest, and waist. Added to this were big fur mittens with high gauntlets, a fur cap, robe, and horse blankets. And it was none too much on his long trips on bitterly cold days. A pastor could not choose his day nor his weather, but had to go when and where his duty called him. He would sometimes have to jump out of his sleigh or buggy and run along beside his team for some distance to restore circulation and warm up. At one time he wore extra underwear of tough, pliable paper, the same as the lining of his jacket. Paper worked well with the jacket, but not so satisfactorily in
the underwear, which, after some wear, would split across the knees. This underwear could be bought ready-made; the paper could also be procured by the yard for dressmaking purposes. I remember that when the huge "leg-o'-mutton" sleeves were in vogue I made myself a dress with sleeves lined with this paper fabric so that they stood out like balloons on each shoulder.
Once my husband came home in triumph with a reindeer sleeping bag. This was a decided help in keeping warm on long trips. When he was ready to go he would step into the sleigh, slip his feet into the bag, and draw it up to his waist.
A rather amusing incident once occurred in connection with this sleeping bag. As a diversion I accompanied my husband one winter evening to the rural post office a few miles away to call on people there. It was pretty cold, and he advised me to put on his smaller fur coat and to use the sleeping bag. I dressed in this fashion, feeling like a trussed turkey as I sat in the sleigh, so bundled up that I could scarcely move hand or foot.
As we drove up to the post office-farmhouse in the dark, we struck a drift that tipped the sleigh; I fell out and landed with a thump on the low porch in front of the house. T was utterly unable to rise or help myself, being enveloped in the sleeping bag. I could only lie still and wait for assistance. My husband had all he could do to manage his team, which had taken fright. In the meantime the people in the house had heard the thump, and someone opened the door to see what was up, to find this dark object on the porch. An amazed voice asked, "What in the world is this?" I answered meekly, "It is only the pastor's wife come to make a call." By this time my husband had quieted his team and came to my assistance, and amid much laughter I was rescued.
My husband was a very busy man. He was much interested in music and conducted singing school with instruction in three- and four-part singing. He organized and instructed church choirs. He also organized and directed three bands in his parish, at Brandt, Wood Lake, and Deer Creek. That at Brandt consisted of twelve members, all young men of the congregation. They practiced for a time in Andrew Helgeson's store, the first store at Brandt, which was also the post office. It was said of one young man that when his mother could no longer stand the noise of his practice indoors, she sent him out to the shed or stable to initiate himself into the art of playing sweet music. But here the "tooting" made the cattle uneasy and restless, and started them bellowing. The boys persevered, and soon the band was able to play easy selections nicely and assisted in programs at mission festivals, Kvindeforernng, and young people's festive gatherings; it became very successful and popular. Our festivals often closed with the band playing "Now Thank We All Our God." It was pleasant to get together and enjoy ourselves in such a manner that we could appropriately end the gathering in this way.
Sometimes there would be joint festivals of the choirs and the bands, held usually July Fourth or in fall. This gave the young people new interests and diversions from the monotony of work and farm life on the prairies. It also established a very intimate relationship between the young people and their pastor, and they came more under his influence. Both pastor and young people have cherished many pleasant memories of these times. I also was a member of the choir during all the years we lived in the West.
The young people were improving in four-part singing. We used Jensen's Sangbog for Børn og Ungdom, learning many gems from that book, such as "Bækken gaar i Engen," "Nu Vaaren er kommen," "Deilig er den Himmel blaa," "Aftensolen smiler," "Norden er et Søskendlag," "Andreas Hofer," "Millom Bakkar og Berg," and so forth. We also began to use John Dahle's Sangbog for Kirkekor and learned
many beautiful anthems from those splendid collections, such as "Mm Sjæl, min Sjæl, lov Herren," "Kom Aand over Aander," "Herren er min Hyrde," Dahle's own most loved composition, and many others.
A circulating library was established, with headquarters at the parsonage. Among the books secured I remember Valdemar Seier, Haakon Hankonson, Luthers Liv, some of Jonas Lie's sea stories, and others.
My husband arranged hymns and Norwegian folk songs for bands, Norse and American medleys, and so forth. At first he would write them out laboriously by hand; later he used a mimeograph. At one time he issued a parish paper, which he printed on this mimeograph. It was called Sendebudet and was probably one of the first parish papers issued by a Lutheran pastor in this country.
As the band and choirs improved and increased their repertoire, it was decided to have a picnic celebration at Brandt on July 4, with a musical and literary program and speeches. The Kvimleforening agreed to serve dinner for pay and thereby increase the amount in their treasury. The young people took a prominent part in the preparations for the event. One of the warehouses was cleared out and used as a festival hall for the program. My husband sometimes preached in this warehouse, as it served as a hall on occasion. Our piano was taken down -- through the living room window -- and set up in the warehouse. A canvas was stretched between two buildings as a protection from the sun, and a platform or floor was built underneath on the ground. Here long tables were set for dinner.
The band was now able to play "America," "Ja vi elsker," some Norse and American medleys, several spirited marches, and other airs. Among the numbers on the program were flute and cornet solos with piano accompaniment, patriotic and other songs by a mixed choir, and of course speeches to commemorate the national holiday. People were present
from the different congregations of the parish, some twenty-five or thirty miles away, and the celebration was a great success in every way.
But in the midst of these festivities a parishioner approached the pastor and told him that a group of young fellows from a neighboring village had brought in a keg of beer and were handing it out to young boys and others. My husband tried to get them to leave, but was only met with insolence. As my husband was handling the keg as if to determine its contents, the spokesman and leader, an acquaintance from a neighboring village, said, "Look out, Mr. Brandt; that is my property. If you do anything to that you'll have to pay for it." "What do you want for it?" said the pastor. The spokesman, treating the whole matter as a joke, named a price. Instantly my husband put his hand in his pocket, drew out the amount mentioned, and put it in the spokesman's hand. The young man was so taken aback and surprised that he stood there gaping. "Now," said the pastor, "this belongs to me." And straightway he pulled out the spigot and poured the contents out on the ground. The young fellows left in chagrin, and there was no more trouble from them.
But the day had not yet ended for the pastor. After the crowd had disappeared and darkness had fallen, some of our men came to my husband and told him that there was a couple, evidently man and wife, who had been driving across country and were camping north of the village. They were quarreling violently; the man was beating his wife, who was moaning pitifully, and it was feared a tragedy might ensue. Our men were afraid to go very near them for they feared the man might be armed.
My husband armed himself with his small revolver, the men took clubs and a gun, and with a lantern, they started out to investigate. The woman was lying bruised and moaning. They finally put a little fright into the man by
threatening to go to Clear Lake for a constable and have him jailed. When the man was somewhat subdued, the woman took her husband's part, berating our men in her turn. Finally they were persuaded to pack up and depart, on the threat of being reported at the county seat the next morning and arrested if found in the vicinity.
A real blizzard is a fearful thing. It may start in an incredibly short time -- perhaps fifteen minutes -- and continue two or even three days before diminishing. If there is already much snow on the ground, and a heavy snowfall from above driven by a hard wind, there will be such a swirling of snow from both above and below that instantly the air will be thick with it. All landmarks disappear; it is as if one were in an impenetrable fog. One loses all sense of direction and is whipped and whirled and buffeted and made breathless. If it grows very cold, as it often does, the snow and wind sting and prick one's face. A coating of ice will perhaps form around the mouth, nostrils, and eyes. People have been lost between their house and stable and frozen to death within a few feet of their own door. The wind could gain great force over the vast plains and prairies in the early days when there were no "tree claims" large enough to serve as windbreaks.
I remember a certain terrible blizzard on January 12, 1888. Our neighbor, Mr. Volland, was driving his cattle to a little creek west of his house to water them at about two o'clock in the afternoon. Before he reached the creek they were met by a heavy wave or wall of snow and wind that enveloped them completely and was so fierce that the cattle turned tail and ran with the wind. He did his utmost to get them back to the stable, but they seemed crazed and could think of but one thing -- to go with the wind and that
as fast as they could. Mr. Volland wandered about for hours trying to round them up. He lost his bearings, but finally stumbled up to his neighbor's house.
He was so dazed that he did not at first seem to know where he was, nor even to recognize the people, but they made him stay for some food and coffee and rest awhile. He insisted on starting out again in the storm to get home to his wife and family, and to find out if his cattle were there. In the spring his cattle were found under the heavy drifts, some of them not far from the parsonage. All Mr. Volland's cattle were lost in this blizzard.
That same day Grandfather Brandt, having taken his after-dinner nap, walked down to the Brandt station, about a mile away, for the mail. Needing the fresh air and exercise, I had gone out to help my husband water the stock. When we had finished and started up the incline toward the house we were suddenly met by this same wall of snow and wind. It almost carried us off our feet. It seems to me that I could not have reached the house alone. We both struggled against the wind and storm, my husband fairly dragging and pulling me along until we finally reached the house. The air was already a blinding whirl. Then the question arose: When did Grandfather leave the house? I felt fairly certain that he must have reached the station, but as I had not looked at the clock, I could not say just when he had left. Or could it be possible that he had secured the mail and started back before the storm broke?
We grew more and more uneasy as the afternoon waned; finally my husband said he would have to go down to the station and see whether Grandfather was there. He would never forgive himself if anything happened to his father and he had not gone. I could but agree with him, hard as it was to see him venture out into that storm. My husband told me I must not worry, that he would take his compass and go with the wind and so strike the railroad somewhere,
and would walk up and down the track until he found Helgesen's store.
It was a long night. I busied myself as much as possible. About midnight I had a nervous chill and began to tremble all over. But I took myself to task and told myself, "We must do what is right, and leave the rest to the Lord." I also prayed fervently for the safety of my dear ones.
Next morning the blizzard had moderated somewhat, although it was still storming considerably and was bitterly cold. About eight o'clock I heard a sound at the front door, and there stood my husband. He scared me almost more by coming back on that bitterly cold morning than when he left. He had found Grandfather at the store with the wheat buyer and another man, none of them being able to get to their homes. They made out a supper from canned goods and crackers, and while the others tried to sleep on counters and in chairs, my husband fed the fire to keep the room comfortable.
One of these men had a bundle of laths, and by sticking one in the snow at intervals they had hoped to reach Hetager's house, not far distant. But when the laths gave out two of the men refused to go further, so they all turned back. Grandfather did not get home until the afternoon of the next day, when the cold had moderated somewhat and the wind had gone down. We heard of one man in the vicinity who had been caught in the storm and had dug himself into a haystack for the night.
Many were the casualties throughout the state as a result of this storm. Some teachers remained in schoolhouses with their pupils all night without food until rescued. Some were caught in the storm on the way home and perished. A friend of mine from girlhood days who was teaching about fifty miles to the south dismissed her school that the children might get home and started off with the little girl from the home where she was boarding. They were both found the
next day lying in the snow frozen to death. The teacher had taken off her coat and wrapped it around the little girl, who was lying in her arms.
Our nearest neighbors either were childless, or had children beyond school age. There was a schoolhouse two miles west known as the Larson school, built after we moved to the new parsonage at Highland. Another school two and a half miles east was known as the Kjenstad school. My husband often held services in these two schoolhouses before the church was built at Highland near the parsonage.
It was too far and too dangerous to send our little children to either of these two schoolhouses alone. But they had to have some secular instruction and a foundation for their future educational development. I therefore began to teach them at home. All four of our children got their start in this way. The mere learning to read was a fairly simple matter, but they needed also the usual secular instruction given in the public schools. This was more difficult for the busy mother. We procured a blackboard that could be hung on the wall, chalk, slates, pencils, and all the paraphernalia belonging to the schoolroom that we could afford to buy. It was a busy life. The older children studied Norwegian and German with Grandfather Brandt three afternoons a week. In the course of time a schoolhouse was built at Brandt, where our children could go to school. Our eldest daughter was then thirteen. Our youngest daughter, Emma Louise, was so unaccustomed to the noise during the noon recess that the first day she entered this school as a pupil, she became so frightened that she went to the back seat where she sat holding her hands to her ears.
Our eldest daughter, as she grew in years and knowledge, began to cherish literary aspirations. She organized a staff of "editors " and started a little paper called The Brandt Bugle. It consisted of three pages typed on her father's typewriter in vertical columns to make it look more like a
real newspaper. I still have the first copy of this little paper. All the children were on the editorial staff as "editor-in-chief," "editor," "assistant editor," and "deputy editor." At least three of them had noms de plume. The paper was a great success, and the "news was proudly read to papa and mamma at the first opportunity, amid the elated group of editors.
Our children learned hymn verses long before they could read and loved to sing them. Religious lessons for Christian instruction were regularly supervised. The big picture Bible was a fascinating and precious book to them, with mother telling the stories on Sunday afternoons. Morning and evening hymns were sung with the children at family devotion.
All this did not do itself. It required patience and loving, painstaking care on the part of mother, with some appreciation and encouragement on the part of father, who had so little time to devote to his children.
Our children lived in a little world of their own. Having no companions nor playmates near, they played with one another and were thrown upon their own resources. We tried to give them good reading matter suitable to their years. The Youth's Companion and Børneblad were welcome visitors; also Our Friend. We took these magazines for years and had the copies bound; they are still a source of enjoyment to our grandchildren. In their play, if they found a dead bird, kitten, or gopher, there would always be a funeral. They would then sing something from a favorite volume of Chatterbox that went like this:
When Richard comes, the Lionhearted,
To shed a tear for the departed!
As time passed people's circumstances improved; houses were larger and better furnished. Not a few homes could boast of organs. At Toronto and Clear Lake there were pianos in a number of homes. Parents wished their children to learn to use these instruments. Some of the young girls
of Highland and Wood Lake congregations came to me for lessons, sometimes helping me with housework to pay for the charge of fifty cents an hour. I had a few pupils in Toronto, among them Lyman and Gabriel Fries and their sister Bessie.
One day a lady from Clear Lake called on me, asking me to take her daughter as a pupil. She proposed that if I would come to Clear Lake one day each week, parents would take turns entertaining me for meals and overnight. Train service was now fairly convenient. With the consent and encouragement of my husband, who thought the change of scene and occupation might be an agreeable variation for me, it was finally arranged that I take two days out of the week, one day at Toronto and one at Clear Lake, passing through Brandt without stopping in going from one place to the other. We secured competent help at home; the classes were organized; and I was busy all day at both places. Student recitals were given at Toronto, Clear Lake, and at our parsonage at Brandt.
I still have a program of one of the recitals given at Toronto. Among the musical numbers I find Mendelssohn's "Volkslied" and "Consolation," "Reminisenser fra Sæterbesøget" by Ole Bull, "Crimson Lake Caprice" by Sherwood, the duets "Barcarolle" by Von Weber and "Evening Chimes" by Jean Paul, and several marches and simple selections. One thing I can remember buying with the money earned in this way was an oak wardrobe costing
While Brandt was still a flag station I remember the visit in January, 1889, of the Reverend Claus Magelssen and two of his children, the Reverend Hans Magelssen and Miss Magda Magelssen.
On the day that we expected them
there was a violent blizzard. We felt certain that they would not venture out in such a storm, even to take a train. Nevertheless, as train time drew near, we listened intently to hear whether the train stopped; we could see nothing. But no, the train rushed by without stopping, so we were sure they had not ventured out.
By next morning the storm had lessened considerably, and we could see the station. As my husband stood by the window, idly watching the train approach from the north, he saw to his surprise that it stopped; several passengers alighted and stood on the platform. He hurried to hitch the ponies to the sleigh and in an incredibly short time was on his way to the station. The Magelssens had come. On the preceding day the storm had been so fierce that the conductor would not let them off, but carried them on to Clear Lake, where they stayed overnight at a hotel and took the morning train back to Brandt.
We made them heartily welcome and enjoyed their visit very much. They were old-time friends of Grandfather Brandt and my husband, and therefore my friends as well. What makes this visit memorable and vivid in my mind after all these years is not only the pleasant companionship enjoyed but also the fact that the four old friends -- the two fathers and their two sons -- formed a splendid quartet, singing one fine old song after another.
One year we expected to entertain the pastors' conference at our home for a few days. There were probably half a dozen in all, including our own two pastors, but to us it was quite an event. They were all to stay at the parsonage. Those present were Grandfather Nils Brandt, R. O. Brandt, M. Borge, Hans Magelssen, J. A. Blilie, and Bernt Askevold.
When the day arrived we had a stiff wind, increasing in force. By train time it was blowing so hard that my husband hesitated to use his buggy, fearing it might be tipped over by the wind. He concluded to venture out with the top down and take home the oldest and heaviest pastor, while the others walked the mile to the parsonage. So he did. The walkers traveled as fast as he could drive against the wind. After the guests had arrived, and as I stood by the window looking north toward our neighbor's house, I suddenly saw his straw stable roof peel off and go sailing into the air in a twisted trail like smoke over a train of cars. We watched it a few moments, when my husband said, "I wonder how it will go with my straw roof." He looked out in the other direction just in time to see our straw stable roof rise into the air and plump down about where he had left his buggy. He and the pastors ran out to find the buggy covered with an avalanche of straw. Luckily the top was still down, so the buggy was not damaged.
But when I came to make dinner, I had an experience. I found every milk crock in the cellar covered with dust, bits of straw, and little splinters. Where was the cream for my dessert? Echo answered, "Where?" The playful Dakota breezes had played havoc with my cream. No, the cellar windows were not open. Neither were the upstairs windows open on another occasion during a hailstorm, when I found on a bed a number of hailstones that had been forced under the shingles.
Skies would sometimes look very ominous and threatening in the summer time when a storm was brewing. On several occasions we were all ready to go to the cellar when my husband gave the word. Once we did go. That was when my eldest was a babe in arms. I had a young girl with me at the time who got so tired and sleepy that she finally went to sleep in the potato bin. On another occasion I stood out in our yard and watched a tornado. It was like a huge,
upright, twisted snake or black rope, swaying back and forth, seeming fairly to writhe. It was a terrifying spectacle. We heard later that there had been a cloudburst in that direction that made a big hole in the ground.
Hailstorms were a thing to be dreaded, for they could ruin the crops in the space of a few minutes. Once my husband was caught in a hard hailstorm with his ponies, with no chance to turn in anywhere. The hailstones, which were fairly large, came down with such force that the ponies became frantic. I think there were some bars or a fence near by to which he turned their heads; then he got out and held them by the bits until the storm passed. Fortunately he wore a large and heavy coat and cap, which helped to protect him.
I was once caught in a sand storm with my husband and small children while on a long drive to Deer Creek for an over-Sunday visit. It was a rather hard and unpleasant experience. I had some veils and other things along which I put over the children's faces to protect their eyes.
With the frequent high winds and every alternate section unoccupied railroad land, prairie fires could have quite a sweep and could gain force as they went along. To protect home and property people provided firebreaks by plowing or breaking up several furrows around their homes. As a further precaution they might leave a considerable space beyond these furrows and plow several more furrows, burning off the grass between. This was considered an adequate firebreak.
When he was going away for several days my husband was always anxious to leave me with an adequate firebreak. One Saturday, after reading with the confirmation class at the parsonage, he thought he would burn off some of the grass around the house and stable and have the boys of the class help him. He was to leave the next morning to be
gone for several days. There seemed to be very little wind, and it looked safe to try it. But a fire often seems to create its own wind and draft as it makes headway. No sooner was it started than a strong breeze was created. In spite of all their efforts it jumped the furrows and the road beyond, and swept on towards the railroad a mile to the east. My husband and the boys worked vainly to head it off. We were very anxious about the home and property of our neighbor, Mr. Hetager, who lived between us and the railroad. Fortunately he was not harmed. Had the fire crossed the track many homes would have been threatened, for there was nothing to stop it within many miles.
At another time, when I was alone at home, a fire crept up the incline from the west and threatened to destroy a young tree claim across the road from the parsonage. When I noticed it the fire had advanced to a point within a few feet of the tree claim, which was full of tall, dry weeds. I immediately ran out to see what I could do to save the trees. Slipping off my petticoat, I set to work to beat out the flames. A passer-by stopped to help me, and between us we saved the trees.
A big prairie fire at night was a grand sight -- especially when one did not need to fear damage to life and property. I have stood on my porch at night and counted no less than fifteen different fires along the horizon. A big slough fire could be very impressive, sometimes appearing like a solid wall of flame rods wide and about ten feet high. This slough grass was the coarse tall grass used for fuel when people were obliged to burn hay. A handful of it would be tightly twisted like a rope, then doubled over to twist itself up like a skein of yarn, making a "stick" of proper stove length.
In the course of time an addition to the parsonage was built, consisting of a dining room with a large plate glass
window looking toward the village of Brandt, a small bedroom, and a kitchen and pantry.
The old kitchen became the children's bedroom. The upper part of the new addition, as well as the older part, remained unfinished as long as we lived there. In summer I stretched a wire across this unfinished room to partition off sleeping rooms for the family to make it easier for me to keep the rooms downstairs in order.
One night a heavy rainstorm occurred. My husband looked after things downstairs, while I rushed upstairs with mop and pail to wipe up the water I knew must be streaming in over the window sills. I had just reached the middle of the room when there came a terrific thunderclap with a bolt of lightning that seemed fairly to split my eardrums and a ball of fire that flashed along the wires, darting here and there before it disappeared. I fell forward on the floor, clutching at a near-by bed. My daughter Dikka jumped out of bed to assist me and struck her forehead against one of the wires; it was still so hot that it burned a blister across her forehead. Walther had hung his new blouse over the wire; it was burned in two, the pieces falling to the floor. The room was thick with blue sulfur smoke. There was a hole in the floor near the chimney where the lightning had gone down. Its passage could be traced through the dining room and into the kitchen, where it disappeared. For a long time we investigated the floors upstairs, thinking there must be a fire somewhere between the floors. But at last we concluded that there was no fire, and were full of thanks to the Lord for His protection. There we were, father, mother, and our four precious children, alive and safe and the parsonage still standing.
My husband usually did the shopping and bought the
supplies. He would leave home to be gone several days at a time, probably driving through some town before returning. I had ready a list of things needed, which he would take with him. I myself seldom went to town. We bought many of our supplies in bulk: prunes by the box, flour for the year, and so forth. There was no opportunity for frequent running to stores to buy things as we needed them.
As a rule there were no dainties or unnecessary luxuries. Peas, corn, and tomatoes were the staple canned goods, the tomatoes being almost a luxury. I once sent for three pounds of sago, writing the word "sago" on my list. There must have been an extra twirl to the last letter, for my husband read it as "sage," and dutifully brought home three pounds of sage! I was plentifully supplied with sage during the remaining years we lived in South Dakota, and also in McFarland. I believe I still have some of it!
We varied the prunes with dried apples and apricots, and occasionally dried raspberries. But prunes were the stand-by in the line of dried fruit. I never bought a loaf of baker S bread nor a baker's cookie during the years I lived in South Dakota, but did all my baking at home. Neither did I ever send a bosom shirt or collars and cuffs to the laundry, but laundered all Grandfather's and my husband's shirts, collars, and cuffs myself. In fact there was no such thing as a laundry or a bakery anywhere near us, so it never occurred to me to miss them. When it became necessary I lined horse blankets, vests, coats, and overcoats -- even the side curtains on my husband's buggy.
I once had a strange experience while washing clothes in our little kitchen. My "Quick Meal" gasoline stove had been going for several hours, as I had a large wash. My four little children were playing about on the living room floor. I had never heard of such a thing as carbon monoxide gas. Suddenly I felt a little faint, and things seemed to grow dark before me. I looked through the open door into
the living room, and saw all four of the children lying on the floor motionless! Things were growing darker before me, but I managed to make my way to the outer door. The fresh air revived me enough so that I managed to carry the baby to bed and then help the others.
Was the report about fleas in South Dakota a myth, or was it really true? Yes, to a certain extent it was only too true. I lost many hours of refreshing sleep in South Dakota on account of these little pests. Every home in South Dakota was not necessarily infested with fleas -- far from it. Homes there could be as neat and clean as homes in any other place. But when one remembers that we had all sorts of gatherings at the parsonage -- the community "singing school" especially, which brought people from so many different homes, it is not strange that there should have been an aftermath of fleas. I have groaned about fleas and I have wept about fleas. I have washed my floors with hot water and cold, and in water strong with lye, both downstairs and attic floors, in my efforts to clear them out of the house. I sent S.O.S. calls to my mother to find if she knew any remedy. I once heard that an excellent method was to place a piece of fresh meat in the middle of the floor to attract them. I tried this in the parsonage attic, but never a flea did I catch. I think the thumb and first finger of the right hand make the best instrument for catching fleas.
One summer day when our family was driving home from a distance, darkness overtook us and we lost our way. Arriving at a strange house, we were given permission to remain until morning. The occupants very considerately left the house to us, for they slept in the granary. We soon found out why they preferred the granary. There were swarms, colonies, battalions of fleas! My husband and I got not a wink of sleep. At the first glimmer of dawn we determined to depart. Leaving some money on the table, we hitched up our team and left. When we got home I [38a]
permitted no one to enter the house without first disrobing in the shanty and throwing his clothes out through the door to be shaken and brushed later. They all agreed without a murmur.
Fleas were said to come from the sand and soil. Flea bites would itch for several days or longer, so one can easily realize that they were a constant source of annoyance, especially for little children, disturbing their sleep and making them restless. As the soil became more cultivated and frame houses took the place of sod houses, they disappeared.
One night, when my husband had been away for several days, I was restless and sat up late. The evening before his expected return was a rather stormy one. Although I had no reason to expect my husband until the end of the following day, something impelled me to leave a bright light in the window facing southeast, the direction from which he would be coming. I even took away all the plants from the window and raised the shade so that nothing might obstruct the light. Then I retired. Next morning, to my astonishment, my husband came home in time for breakfast. He had spent the night with a neighbor living about a mile east of the parsonage. One of his appointments having been postponed, he had planned to reach home a day sooner than he had expected to do, but darkness had overtaken him on the way. The air was thick, the ground was covered with heavy drifts of snow, and it was growing more and more stormy. The road at that time ran east of the track to Toronto, and there was a crossing near this neighbor's house. Having difficulty in finding the crossing, he tied his team to a telegraph pole, roused the neighbor, and had him stand on the crossing with a lantern so that he could guide his ponies toward it. This man, however, did not find the crossing. He supposed he had found it, so he stopped and swung the lantern. But there was no crossing at all at that spot. Yet somehow the plucky little ponies floundered through
the deep drifts, got across the gully and over the track with the sleigh without smashing it to bits. Arriving at the house, my husband caught an occasional glimmer of my light, but as he knew I was not expecting him he thought I might extinguish the light at any moment, leaving him without a guide for the rest of the way. There were no fences, no trees, no well-defined road, so it was unsafe to venture the remaining distance on such a stormy night.
In the late afternoon of a winter day came a sick call from an elderly lady who had been bedridden for some time, but had no acute disease of any kind. We realized that it would be dark by the time my husband reached his destination. There was much snow on the ground, and the roads were heavy. There was also a peculiar "stillness" and "feel" in the air and sky that seemed to presage a coming storm. I almost wept to see him go, thinking of his trip back again. Sure enough, even before he reached his destination it began to snow and blow with steadily increasing force.
They asked him to stay for supper, urging and insisting so strongly that finally, against his better judgment, he consented to stay. The ten minutes in which supper had been promised grew to an hour or more. At home I watched the weather, which grew worse and worse. I lit all the lamps in the house, raising the shades and placing a light before each window, upstairs and down.
At last my husband returned, very much exhausted. He had walked in front of the ponies the last mile or two. Plucky as our little ponies were, they could not always be trusted to keep the road. My husband was wringing wet with perspiration from his exertions. When he saw my attempt at illumination he told me that he had not seen even a glimmer of light until he was more than halfway up the slope approaching the parsonage. And then it was only like a faint halo before him through the thick air.
Little Olaf was once permitted to drive with his father to Gary, fifteen miles away. Upon their return it had grown dark by the time they reached the Coteaus, a range of bare hills where it was very easy to lose one's way after nightfall. My husband got out of the buggy to scan the road and look more carefully for the turn he should take. While he was walking by the buggy, holding the reins, the ponies took fright at something and bolted, jerking the reins out of his hands, with Olaf still in the buggy.
Running after the team, my husband came to a dark object on the prairie, which proved to be the seat and the buggy top with Olaf sitting inside. The poor little lad was whimpering and said, "Oh papa, how shall we get the ponies?" His father clasped him in his arms, saying, "Never mind about the ponies, Olaf, just so I have you safe, my boy!" They walked to the nearest house, and here my husband got a man, Sever O. Severson, to hitch up a team and wagon and take them home, where they arrived at midnight. Early the next morning my husband and a neighbor drove back to look for the ponies and what was left of the buggy. They found the ponies with reins tangled in a wire fence, but unhurt. The buggy, of course, was in need of considerable repair.
Our missionary to the Esquimos in Alaska was the Reverend T. L. Brevig, one of the seminary students who had at one time taught Christian school in my husband's parish.
We once packed several boxes of clothing to send to the
Esquimos. They were warm and whole and mended, but had outgrown their usefulness to us. There were coats and trousers, felt boots and overshoes, blankets, a ski costume Uncle Johnny had once used, the reindeer sleeping bag, dresses and overcoats, and many other articles. My husband and I, Grandfather Brandt, and Uncle Johnny contributed many useful things.
While we were packing these boxes my little daughter stood near watching the operation with great interest. At last she remarked, "Aren't there any little children in Alaska? I want to send them something too."
Children in Alaska? Why of course there were children in Alaska, but Emmy Lou was the one who thought of it!
I told the children they might contribute any toys and things they felt they could spare, and straightway we packed another box of toys, pictures, cards, books, children's clothes, and so forth, which they took the greatest delight in collecting and packing. They not only sent what they could spare but also some things that it probably cost them a little effort to give. But that was good for them, and they were none the worse for this little training in self-denial and generosity.
When we wrote Pastor Brevig we mentioned how we happened to send this box -- that it was Emmy Lou's idea. Later we received a very appreciative letter from him. No box sent caused such joy as the one for the Esquimo children.
After we moved to McFarland, one day I found awaiting me a long letter from Mrs. T. L. Brevig in Alaska. The children had just gone to bed, but I called them down again, saying that I had something interesting to read to them. When I got to a certain part of the letter their eyes grew big, and there were smothered exclamations of "Oh, oh!" Mrs. Brevig wrote that the missionary had found a little Esquimo baby girl out in the snow one day. She was an orphan; her old Esquimo uncle who had been looking after
her had got tired of her or had found he could no longer take care of her, so he had abandoned her in this way and left her to perish in the cold. The missionary took the frostbitten little creature to the mission home and cared for her. She was later baptized and given my little daughter's name!
On the second day of Pentecost, 1891, at a meeting of the Highland congregation in the Larson schoolhouse, they decided to build a church and join the Norwegian Synod.
Mr. Ole Blegstad was chosen to represent the congregation at the meeting of the Minnesota district that year. A building committee was elected and a subscription started. There was great interest and enthusiasm for the new church. Work on the building was begun in the spring of 1892. Stone for the foundation was hauled by men of the congregation, and among the members were excellent masons who understood their trade and did their work very well. As early as July 31 work had progressed far enough for the laying of the corner stone. Reverend Christian Magelssen of Highland Prairie, Minnesota, had baptized, confirmed, and married a number of people in the congregation, so we were very happy to have him conduct this service.
The first regular service in the new Highland church was held on September 4, 1892. Two children were baptized that day, Olga Else Anderson, daughter of Ole A. Rastad and his wife Johanne, and Olaf, son of Lars O. Mellom and his wife Karen. At Christmas we used the new organ that the Young Ladies' Aid had purchased at a cost of $216. Simple benches without backs were used until 1896, when the Ladies' Aid installed pews. The same fall they also contributed money for a church bell, which has ever since called old and young to the house of God and tolled the requiem for the departed who were laid to rest in the cemetery
close by. The first confirmation was held on June 4, 1893, the class numbering eleven.
The first bridal pair wedded in the new church were Lars C. Kjenstad and Helga Mathilde Hanson -- a very estimable and fine young couple. Their wedding proved that one can give a wedding party without strong drink and still have a good time. Nothing stronger than lemonade and coffee was served at this wedding. The pastor and his family were invited as valued friends and stayed as long as any other guests. The young people sang, and we all played games on the greensward. It was a delightful occasion with friendship and good feeling abounding.
In the spring or summer of 1899 the Ladies' Aid bought a beautiful altar painting for the church, a copy of Hoffman's "Christ in Gethsemane," done by the well-known artist, H. Gaustad. In the same year it was decided to add a chancel and install a heating system. While this was being done, during the fall, services were held at the Norman schoolhouse toward the west and in the schoolhouse at Brandt. On the second day of Christmas the congregation again gathered in the church for services. A communion set and altar cloth were also acquired.
On Sunday, May 20, 1900, the church was dedicated by the Reverend K. Bjørgo, president of the Minnesota district, assisted by neighboring pastors -- the Reverends Olaf Hod, J. A. Blilie, H. Magelssen, A. J. Nervig, T. J. Strand, and A. O. Aasen. A chorus of children, led by Grandfather Brandt, sang "Kirken den er et gammelt Hus," the choir sang "Hvor herlig er hist din bolig," and a men's chorus sang "Al Himlen priser." The ladies of the congregation served a free lunch to all, fifty young men and women serving as waiters. The whole gathering was served in the space of one hour.
The strenuous work of the parish was beginning to tell on the pastor. Even with the help of Grandfather Brandt and
of theological students during the summer, he had been unable to serve his widely scattered flock frequently enough. To miss an appointment, except when there was a blizzard or the roads were utterly impassable, was almost unheard of. If it were in any way possible to fill an appointment the pastor was there, and was there on time.
At one time my husband was obliged to be careful of his diet; for about two years he ate only beaten eggs and hard toast or Grapenuts. Since many people did not possess a Dover egg beater, he took one with him wherever he went. In spite of this restricted diet he looked and worked about the same as usual. His work was important to him and he took care of himself and denied himself many things in order to be able to do his work.
When he traveled on the train he seldom made use of a sleeper or the dining car. These were considered luxuries in that day; and luxuries he felt that he could not afford. So he made day trips whenever possible and nearly always took his lunch with him from home. He was generous to his church and to his family, but he did not pamper himself. He was ready to spend money on things worth while, if he felt he could afford it, such as books and papers for the children, good reading matter for the home, or an occasional concert, for he was very fond of good music.
Papa's coming home meant much to the family. He used a lantern with a big headlight and reflector fastened to the dashboard of his buggy or sleigh. How the children and I used to watch for this light! It could be seen for miles. We would all become quite excited. It was a message from papa that he was coming nearer and would soon be home. The house must be in order, the children's lessons learned, all hard and disagreeable work finished or put aside, the larder replenished. If the weather were fair we would sometimes go to meet him to have the joy and exhilaration of a short buggy ride.
Too much cannot be said of the hospitality of the people in the West in those early pioneer days. How willingly and gladly they cleared their homes for services, not minding the extra work and trouble it cost them! Often bedsteads would be moved out to make more room in the sod houses and other homes, when services were to be held there. They would open their homes for confirmation classes. They would entertain their pastor, perhaps at no small inconvenience to themselves, welcoming him warmly and giving him of the best they had. My husband had frequent occasion to stay overnight with people and to break bread with them. It made a close bond between pastor and congregation. They became friendly and intimate. It is with a grateful heart that I remember the generous hospitality and the many kindnesses shown my dear husband during his seventeen years of strenuous work in South Dakota. Five churches were built during my husband's pastorate in the West: Wood Lake, Leganger, Highland, St. Johannes and Deer Creek.
Like a golden thread running through our lives has been the bond between the two Brandt families. We were two sisters married to two brothers, Lettie and Emma Galby to Realf and Olaf Brandt. This friendship has continued unbroken between our children and our children's children, and no reminiscences of mine would be complete without a reference to this sympathy of ideals and interests between the families. My husband died while in active service in McFarland, Wisconsin, March 23, 1927, at the age of sixty-eight years. In his long pastorate of forty-four years he served two calls: Brandt, South Dakota, seventeen years, and McFarland, Wisconsin, twenty-seven years.
<1> These recollections were written by Mrs. Brandt in January, 1929. They were written with no thought of publication, but simply at the request of her children, who wished to preserve her account of experiences in the West. The accompanying extracts comprise something less than half of the manuscript version. Copies of the complete manuscript are in the hands of Mrs. Brandt's children. Ed.
<2> The Dakotas were not admitted to the Union until 1889. The original letter of call from these congregations was directed to the Church Council, and by them referred on a stereotyped form to the candidate. The original follows:
"Til Det æværidge "Kirkeraad for Synoden for den norsk ev. lutherske Kirke i America." Naade og Fred i Christo Jesu, vor Herre! Ifølge Beslutning fattet paa et Fllesmøde for Wood Lake og anekterede Menigheder i Deuel og Brookings Countier i Dakota, udstedes herved i den Treenige Guds Navn Fuldmagt til det æervserdige Kirkeraad for Synoden for den norsk ev. Lutherske Kirke i America" til paa nævnte Menigheders Vegne at beskikke dem en Priest og Sjælesorger. Nævnte Menigheder beder det ærvæerdige Kirkeraad om det af Godhed vile veer dem behjæpelige i nævnte Anliggende.
Af Præsten kræves at han lærer overenstemmende med Guds asbenbared Ord og den Lutherske Kirkes Bekjaendelsesskrifter og fører en Christsommelig Vandel.
Menighederne love ham i Aarlig Løn fire Hundrede og femti (450) Dollar samt en Bushel Hvede og en Saek Havre af hver Farmer og fri Bolig, ligesa Offer ved Høitiderne og Yedelse for ministerielle Forretninger efter enhvers Evn og Hjaertelag.
Saa vaere denne Sag anbefalet Guds Forsyn, han som beskikker i Menigheden ogsaa Hyrder og Lærere, i Jesu Navn, Amen.
Blom Deuel Co D. T. den 12 Marts 1883.
Tosten L. Texle C. K. Fjerestad O. L. L. Mellom
Erik Erikson Edsvaag Amund Emerson L. O. Berger
Lars L. Lenning E. E. Distad Ole K. Blegstad
Torsten J. Leren Johannes K. Kopperdal S. C. Kjenstad
Ole O. Brandsrud A. H. Johnson T. T. Hofstad
A. Christofferson P. C. Peterson
<3> The Reverend Lars O. Sherven, who served congregations at Blom and nine other places during the years 1880-83, bad taken a quarter section of land as a homestead. In 1885 he accepted a call to Story City, Iowa.
<4> Dried buffalo dung to be found in abundance on the prairies.
<5> This table belonged originally to Professor F. A. Schmidt, at one time professor at Luther College and later at the United Church Theological Seminary.
<6> Blizzards have been known to occur as early as October and as Tate as March. Old settlers in South Dakota have reason to remember the memorable blizzard of October 14, 1880, and the winter that followed, known as the "Big Snow Winter." This blizzard also found many people unprepared; in many instances stables and sheds for stock were still unbuilt or unfinished.
Ole Mellom had his oxen browsing in a big hole in a strawstack, but this did not afford adequate protection for them. The hole in the strawstack, where the oxen stood, began to fill rapidly with snow. One of the two beds in Mellom's sod house was taken down to make room for the oxen, which were brought into the house. Mellom watched the oxen all night, so they would not back up onto the cellar trap door and break through. This was the same terrible blizzard that occurred on the evening of the day Pastor Sherven brought his family to their home near the present site of Toronto, South Dakota.
<7> The Burlington Railway, now the Rock Island.
<8> I. e., the minister who is always in his buggy.
<9> Diderikke Margrethe, now the wife of the Reverend J. C. K. Preus; Olaf Johan, who died February 16, 1908, in his twenty-first year; Emma Louise, now professor of history at the College of the City of New York.
<10> The Reverend Nils Brandt, 1824-1921, one of the six pastors who founded the Norwegian Synod in 1853.
<11> At Estelline Pastor Brandt preached once a month as early as 1883. He served Deer Creek when he went to St. Johannes, which it adjoined. At Gary, fifteen miles over the Coteaus, he held services in homes, beginning in 1884. At Clear Lake, which became the county seat, he held evening services in homes and later in the courthouse. He began to serve Havana Township, a colony of Norwegians and Swedes fifteen miles from Brandt, in 1884. There was a community of Danes eleven miles northwest of Gary who had not been visited by a pastor during the seven years they had lived there until Pastor Brandt began serving them in 1888.
<12> When the church was finally built in 1892, this Ladies' Aid was able to pat seven hundred dollars into the new church
<13> Oh my dolly, my dolly!', The little girl is now Mrs. Oscar Bjørnsrud of Toronto, South Dakota.
<14> These young people were Mr. Henry Amundsen, a hardware merchant at Clear Lake, South Dakota, and his fiancee, Miss Martha Hanson. The law was later amended and finally repealed eighteen years later.
<15> A law of March 3, 1873, provided that anyone who planted and cared for a forty-acre tract of trees for ten years would, on making application, be entitled to receive a quarter section of land. The law was later amended and finally repealed eighteen years later.
<16> Now Mrs. T. F. Gullixson of St. Paul, Minnesota.
<17> The Reverend Claus Magelssen was then pastor at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and was visiting his son, Hans Magelssen, then pastor at Elkton, South Dakota. Miss Magda Magelssen was for a time a photographer in St. Paul.
<18> The Reverend M. Borge was then pastor at Brookings, South Dakota; the Reverend Hans Magelssen at Elkton; the Reverend J. A. Blilie at Flandreau; and the Reverend Bernt Askevold at Tracy, Minnesota.
<19> A plate glass window in a country parsonage out on the western prairies may seem incongruous, but it was a large window and it was thought that ordinary glass would not be strong enough to withstand wind and storm.
<20> The Reverend and Mrs. T. L. Brevig were pioneer Lutheran missionaries in Alaska, sent out by the Norwegian Synod. From 1894 to 1898 they served as government teachers for the Esquimos, and Pastor Brevig was also pastor for the Lapps who had been brought over to instruct the natives in the care of the reindeer the government had imported from Siberia in 1892. The Esquimo mission in Alaska, begun by these faithful workers, is still maintained by the church. Mrs. T. L. Brevig died in Alaska in March, 1908, beloved by the natives, young and old. She had been mother and friend to them all. See Jorgine Enestvedt, History of the Alaska Mission (Minneapolis, 1930). This is a small leaflet published by the Literature Committee of the Women's Missionary Federation, Norwegian Lutheran Church of America.
<21> There had been talk earlier of joining the Synod, but because of the schism in the church and the consequent confusion in people's minds it was then feared that this might cause agitation and trouble within the congregation.