20 - DAKOTA SETTLERS
My health was just splendid when I departed from Dakota, but before long I was back in Illinois, my old trouble was back upon me, and I was in absolute misery the whole of winter. At this time we had an Income of only ten dollars from my pension from the government for war disability. Mother and Lottie, our youngest child, had made most of their living during that previous summer by the little jersey cow and the fine large garden raised upon the towns lots. Mother always remembered the great service of that little cow during our hard times, and there were few wives and mothers who could have succeeded in doing so well with the resources she had. Under the circumstances the country of our long experience had no inducement to offer us that we should regret to leave it as soon as the springtime arrived - other than the many close friendships we should have to be parted in by distance.
When April of 1884 arrived we were ready to start for our home up on the prairie of land of sunshine. I was still very weak, but fortunately there was a young man of the town who was subject to attacks of ill health and wanted to go to the new country, so we made for room for him in the car. We had a carload of possessions which was composed of three horses, two cows, considerable grain for horse feed, and the household furniture and goods. We were to be followed by mother and Lottie after we had the habitation somewhat prepared for them, which was Spencer's shanty until we got the house on our claim under cover.
We rejoiced upon arriving Dakota in the usual glorious spring weather. The air was filled with the songs of birds everywhere. The warm bright sunshine just drove new life and strength right into one's bones. Though I caught a cold and had a quite a nasty little spell of asthma, sometime after arriving there. There were many new habitations to be seen all over since the year previous. Word had gone to the very shores of the Atlantic, yes, even across the seas of this promising land. So there were people from nearly all walks of life and from many countries, came to get free land and engage in their businesses, in the towns, which were promising fortunes for workers and business in the professions and trades.
We found our friend Spencer had survived the winter spent in the claim shanty - in excellent spirits and health. While the weather had been rather windy and rough at times, the winter was most exhilarating and healthy, he said. Our housekeeping commenced immediately in Spencer's shanty. It was a rather difficult matter to adjust ourselves to the very limited room, but by removing the beds from the room in the morning after dressing, and keeping them out of the way all day, we managed to eat in the way that we could endure until our house was floored and covered. It was sixteen by twenty four feet on the ground, and a story and a half high.
We engaged two settlers of the neighborhood who claimed to be carpenters to do most of the building, and were to pay them two and one half dollars per day with dinner furnished to them. We could have had carpenters from Kimball do the work for one dollar per day with their board furnished to them, but this we were not situated to do. We found that our carpenter work was to cost us more than we could stand. So Will Cook, our son-in-law from Minnesota, and Adolph Kimber, a neighbor, finished the work for us much more economically because they were willing to do a good square's day work. But neither one was a carpenter although having had considerable building work to do. The house cost us nearly five hundred dollars. We were all very happy when it was ready for occupancy, which was when the roof was on and the floor laid.
We had fifteen acres of breaking to put into crops, and we also planted five acres on Nellie Bell's claim, nearby. This was all planted and sewn to corn and wheat. It was really joyful to behold the growth of vegetation again this spring.
One could never forget the pleasure of those spring mornings when the meadowlarks were singing everywhere - and many singing different songs. On a calm morning, their song could plainly be heard a half mile in the distance, and the myriad's of little prairie sparrows darting hither-and-tither, tripping all the while, and the cackle and the boom of the prairie chicken, made a very lively atmosphere. There was a noise quite like that of a pump that could be heard at a considerable distance, and many were puzzled in knowing what it could be. It was a bittern - one of the ugliest birds in the country. It was always at home near a body of water or a marshy place. The plover added much to the life of the scene by its whistle-like notes especially while it was lighting. It held its wings above its body, and at the same time, announced its presence by a long shrill whistle-like note lasting until it had closed its wings by its side, after which it busied itself in looking for worms and insects. It seemed to bad, but there were a good many of these sweet innocent birds shot and ate by the settlers as they made delicious pies.
It was a real pleasure to see how the cows and horses thrived on the grass. It made an abundance of very rich milk. Those who had experience in stock raising realized the great value to the country for that part of farming. For horses and cows were high in price so there was very few of the settlers who could engage in stock raising to the extent that they desired. The old Illinois and Iowa farmers, generally, were able to do this the best on account of taking their stock with them.
The inexperience of the greenhorn farmers was really very amusing. That is to say their performances were so. Some were mechanics, others, business or professional men who perhaps had not made a satisfying success of their chosen work in the eastern country. Others saw opportunities for raising of a family much to be preferred to the chances of towns and cities for such a task.
Our two nearest neighbors had been tradesmen and businessmen in Waterloo, Iowa. One family, further on, had come from Aurora Illinois. The husband and father being a railway coach builder. Near them was a man and his wife from Washington, Iowa. He had been a bridge builder and he also studied law some. Down in the valley, a little further, was an Iowa farmer. Beside him were two brothers of England - one a preacher, the other a railroad machinist. They had come directly from Philadelphia. Beyond them were a man and wife, Iowa farmers, from near Des Moines. Beside them were a man and wife from near Toronto Canada, and he had been a blacksmith. Beyond them, at the south end of the creek valley, was a family from near Des Moines, Iowa - farmers by training. To the west of them was a bachelor, an Irishman, from Belfast, but directly from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Beside him is a family from Illinois - they were farmers. Beside them are located two son-in-law, one a farmer, the other an expert penman and business college man. Up the valley a little further, a tree claim, taken up by a Scotsman, but directly from Cedar Rapids, Iowa - he was a carpenter by trade.
Many of claims in the valley are corporate, or tree claims. So residence by the claim owners was not necessary. Consequently there were not many shanty's to be seen there. On the east side of the valley, further up, was the famous Minnesota Colony. They posed as being quite aristocratic. One of the leaders was physician. It developed they were claim owners for speculation.
There were many settlers who could not speak the English language at all. They were chiefly German's and Norwegian's and were destined to be among the most thrifty and successful residents of the country. They usually settled in groups, or colonies. Though everything of the country was entirely different to what they had been accustomed to in Europe, they seemed to be supremely happy. They, as we all did, noticed more than anything else, the absence of fruit. We all had been accustomed to plenty of that in the more eastern country. In Europe, vegetables and fruit was a very large part of the peasants diet. But nearly all of us at once prepared to furnish ourselves in the future by planting vines, and bushes, and trees in carefully selected places and expecting time and cultivation to do the rest for us.
The crops grew in almost perfect conditions, and after the wheat and the corn were well started, we commenced breaking the prairie again. On such land as we had there, this work was very pleasant work. It was a stiff pull for the horses, but I kept the plow in good condition by having an anvil and a hammer and file convenient to sharpen the share at the end of every round, which was a half mile long.
I can never forget the real pleasure it was to me to see the birds flitting in behind me in the furrow to pick up the worms and bugs which were turned over with the fresh new soil. It was joyous to hear the squawking of the blackbirds and the twitter and the whistle of the Plovers, and the ever present happy song of the stout little lark. Also the shrill and rapid sounds of the squirrels call as he scampered over the prairie and through the new fields. The whole scene was full of life, and yet full of quiet peacefulness, impossible to adequately describe.
At our home we were in the midst of company most of the time. Beside our son-in-law, and daughter of Minnesota, there was Adolph of the same place who came out to take up land, and for miles around settlers came to visit us who had ever heard of "Uncle Mike". Mother was a good cook and a hospitable entertainer. Well, it was mighty nice to see people out on that great wide prairie, but our visitors kept us busy most of the time. And quite frequently our neighbors of the reservation, a few miles to the westward, visited us. But mothers early experience with the red men of Blackhawk's tribe, when they drove her fathers family away from their home and lands near Fort Dearborn, she had not forgotten. So she always looked upon them with considerable displeasure and suspicion. So when they walked around the house stopping to look into windows and doors, and even to walk in at the open door to beg for something to eat for the sick papoose, she was somewhat righteously indignant.
They were always ready to fur trade upon seeing something good to eat or flashy to wear. But good eatables were readily in demand by them. So we traded for moccasins, blankets, shawls, beads and other items. They had many trinkets worked with beads which were very attractive especially to Lottie, who was a lass as others of eight years. She would not very ready to be friendly with these strange appearing people, but yet they were full of interest to her. She did not say about them what she said of the Negroes, whom she had saw on the steamboat, while we were riding up the Mississippi to Minnesota - "you men are nice men, but you don't wash clean".
I soon greatly improved in health and that was the greatest happiness that could come to me. We were all feeling happy, and encouraged, until early in July. One morning, about daylight, we were awakened by the coming of a storm, we knew it to be an unusual kind. There was a continual roar, not that of thunder or the cyclone, it was hail. It was soon upon us after we were awakened, and what a racket. We surely thought it would break the roof in. The storm came from the west, and as it happened, there were no windows in that side of the house or they would of blown all smashed to pieces. The crops were ruined, the wheat chopped to pieces and the corn destroyed beyond all possible use, except for fodder. We had the prettiest little of field of corn I ever saw, and all those saw it thought the same. We got a few messes of roasting ears from the shoots which came up later, the rest of it made some fodder. The hail storm covered but a small area, we had a field of oats a half of mile to the south that was not perceptively damaged, and a mile and half to the southeast, there was no hail at all.
Our little income from the farm, which was anticipated in the wheat crop was destroyed in a few minutes. Though there were many eating off our slender income, we had no apprehension of starving the coming winter. The ten dollar a month pension was a great deal to us at such a time.
Kimball had a substantial set of businessmen and they were ready to give credit to us to tide us until the time came when we might harvest the next seasons crop. Some of them started in business there with considerable capital to go on. They were of course eager to have this settler succeed for upon them they were to depend for their success. Of course we all realized that their profits were large enough to warrant them in accommodating of the settlers in their need of credit.
Our grocery bill always was so large that mother said we had better move to town to start a hotel and be able to give all these friends, and would-be acquaintances, better accommodations and perhaps get something to pay for all this hard work and expense. It is very nice to be popular, but this is almost more than we can stand. Mother, as my good, kind wife was generally addressed, was always very kind and obliging, even to entire strangers. But when she found that people were imposing on her good will, she was sensible in being righteously indignant over their imposition. It frequently occurred that people would come to see us from miles distance who had merely heard of us or had met us, goodness knows where, and were very anxious to become better aquatinted.
And we did get well acquainted, for they would stay as long as a couple more days before they felt well enough acquainted to leave us. We did surely enjoy always having our friends visit us and were glad to become acquainted with new settlers, but some of them did exhaust our patience by their prolonged visits. And even then, in the early days of the country development, a "weary-Willie" occasionally wandered across the Prairie. Usually they were in-route from Fort Pierre, about ninety miles to the northwest, beside the Missouri River. They were always hungry enough to eat bread and butter with a relish.
There was a road that passed the country, about four and one half miles to the south, that led from the eastern part of the territory to Fort Pierre, and the roads were cut so deep into the sod that the road was easily traceable thirty or more years after it had been used. Now it is completely covered with a thick growth of grass, but the deeply worn tracks are still there.
The Indians were the aristocrats - coming out for hunting and fishing and trading upon the white man's domain when they desired a change from the Reservation. And the manner of taking life easy and happy of those bucks would surely be a valuable lesson to some of our nerve-worn-out, civilized, white men. Though it would not appeal to our present day suffragettes at all. Why? - because the woman did all the work and the male did all the bossing. But for a state of relaxation and splendid poise, those male Indians, while visiting among the white residents, excelled the product of the best of the schools.
We had the pleasure of religious exorcises held occasionally, here and there, in a claim habitation, by an English preacher-missionary and his brother, who was not a preacher but had a great gift of gab. They lived beside a little lake about five miles south of us. The preacher and his wife constituted his family. The layman's brother was in the other extreme in the matter of family affairs. He had had twenty one children in their family, but some of them died and now lay in their little graves in beautiful old England. They came from the mining region of Yorkshire. The preacher having been a miner until he was nearly killed in a mine accident, when he got religion and later became a preacher. The accident left him with a cripple leg of which he had never recovered.
The brother and family had conducted an inn. He was one of the most optimistic, easy-going, persons who ever walked over Dakota's prairies. Like all true Englishmen, they loved their gun and their dogs. The lakes during the first two years, had attracted so much game that these brothers enjoyed life in their castles, on the lake shore, as perhaps few men ever have done on the prairies of the west.
The preachers castle was a framed structure, very small, about twelve by fourteen feet, and just high enough he could stand upright and not brush his hat off. He was a tall and strongly built man. The brother's castle was situated upon the very bank of the lake, and close beside the road that passed around the western shore of the lake, leading on to Kimball, twelve miles distance. This habitation was similar to others to be found here, and there, on that day all over the west. It was a dugout - cool in summer and warmish in winter. The floor was the earth, as the creator made it. He said the lizards frequently visited them in there, but they were very harmless creatures, though very cold and disagreeable to step on while barefooted, which happened occasionally.
Mother often, laughingly, spoke of one thing that impressed her of which this jolly Englishman spoke in telling of how to bring up children in obedience and rectitude, it was - "the best way to make children mind is to spank their little afternoons until they do". As this was a part of his lecture and meetings, it created considerable amusement. Of course we all considered that he ought to be of good authority, having had a record-breaking lot to paddle into his ideals. But nearer acquaintance with the family did indicate a very successful inculcation of his high ideals into the minds of this thirty young Englishmen. There was only one girl in the whole family, and perhaps it was better that were no more daughters.
The preacher had given some lectures in a city of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, early in 1883. And it was said, made a very good impression upon his audiences. Of course he advertised the country as he proceeded with his account of his missionary experiences on the border of civilization. Later he and his brother sold a claim each to Cedar Rapids parties who became pioneers of the country. Their claims were very good, very choice ones, and so of course they had to ask prices in accordance with the value of the land.
There was no school for Lottie to attend the first year of our family residence there. The county was organized this year and officers elected. We hadn't much to harvest that season, the few acres of oats and potatoes and the few bushels of nubbins constituted our crop. Our daughter and son-in-law stayed with us that winter. But long before winter came, our young man friend, who came with us from Warren, has an epileptic fit, so he returned to his home. He was a music teacher, poor boy - he was deserving of much pity.
After the new crop of hay was harvested we realized an economy of fuel. Some of the early settlers, that is, those who had preceded my wife and family a year, had discovered a means of converting the dry hay into fuel. The hay selected for the purpose was long slew grass. It was twisted with the hands and placed under the arm to hold the twistings time a twist was given. To make a good hard twist of the proper size required considerable experience. To see some trying this performance was amusing in the extreme. Like building a load of hay, it was a performance that mother could never learn to do at all. And one seeing her to try to do so could not do anything for laughing. She got very much out of patience in trying, but was always good natured in her attempts.
The winter was very cold - one with a few blizzards, but not of the severest type occasionally experienced on the western prairies. The atmosphere was most bracing and invigorating. In the morning, the smoke would rise in a round column, high into the air, and as the sun shown down dazzling over the vast wide prairie, one could not at first believe that the thermometer was then registering perhaps thirty below zero. But the creek ice was popping by the frost and could plainly be heard a mile distance. And soon ones nose and fingers began to pinch , while the body would be warm as toast. Healthy? - why I did not know how it felt to be sick out here in this glorious fresh air. Yes, we had lost most of our crop by the cruel hail storm, but I had gained something more to me than all the crops in the United States. Oh what a joy there was now in living. I could go to bed and sleep sound the whole night through. It was like a horrible nightmare to remember the awful nights of suffocation I suffered in Illinois.
We had a splendid water in the well, about twenty feet deep, close beside the house. Some of the settlers were unfortunate in being so located that they could not get good wells. Either alkali or insufficient water after the season had become dry, toward fall. In some cases water had to be hauled as far as three miles, but anywhere along the creek, within a half of mile or so of the stream, plenty of water could be had by digging from fourteen to thirty feet, and it was very good. In the winter the task of hauling water was a most unpleasant one.
Though the winter was very cold and windy a considerable part of the time, we all preferred it to the damp and warmer climate of Illinois. We were really surprised by the way the stock throve on the prairie hay without grain. It thoroughly convinced us of the value of that part of the country for stock raising. There was plenty of good water convenient and an abundance of grass - good for hay in the creek valley. The grass on the hills adjacent to valley was especially adapted to grazing on account of the abundance of buffalo grass, which made excellent feed both summer and winter, when the snow was not too deep. But usually much of the snow blew off of the hills and drifted deep in the ravines, so it can be readily understood that we were favorably located for all farming of that latitude.
But the trouble with most of the new settlers was that they did not have the money necessary to get a paying start in the stock raising part of farming. Both cows and mares were quite high in price. Our nearest neighbors to the north came to the country well equipped to take advantage of the situation by having considerable money, and they commenced farming operations with a good start of well breed stock.
Though I was now 64 years of age, I was very optimistic of our future. I had regained my health and felt better than in twenty years, in fact, I felt just as able to work as at any time in my life.
The most unpleasant experience of the winter was the long trips to town, which was twenty miles away. To make the return trip in one day in the wintertime was a long and weary journey.
We had Lottie with us that winter as there was no school for her to attend, so we had more time together in ease, while I was able to work, than at any time in my whole life since I was able to work.
Quite frequently a neighbor dropped in to visit a little while and very often the visit was of so much interest and pleasure to us all that the visit extended into the night and even into the next day - if he happened to be an interesting bachelor, one who could play a good hand at cards, or one who was interested in the experiences of the Civil War.
When springtime came again, as was announced by the clucking of the wild geese as they come up from the south in flocks of dozens and hundreds of flocks during the day, it put new life and action into us again. For a whole wintertime of comparative idleness will make the best of them to get to be a little lazy, though being in the best of health. We expected that the spring would be later than in Illinois, but much to our surprise, the fields were ready for tilling earlier than we had been accustomed to. We entered upon our seasons work with high hopes. The whole atmosphere of the place breathing joyful anticipation into ones soul, and we had the assurance of real progress coming to us soon. Mr. Gann was preparing to send a man out to establish a newspaper in Gann Valley. This was news that cheered the whole community. Such an institution would bring new life and stir. It would be a company to us all.
John Kyle was a bright and capable fellow. Yes, but poor fellow, had he come to the prairies before he had been ruined by the glass, the Buffalo County Sentinel would have aspired into greatness some of those youths - the sons of the prairie. Even as it gave new life and interest to the community, though the development was but in its very infancy. Up to this time politics of the County had not disturbed anyone's serenity, but that of course changed with the advent of the newspaper.
This year another institution was established in the community - a school about two miles from our habitation. It was in a claim shanty of one of the belles of the county, Fannie Mitchell. And she was the teacher too. She was a bright, clean cut, little woman. She was accomplishing much at one time. Educating the young - one of the greatest of all works, holding down a claim, helping in the development of a great territory, and establishing herself in the estimation of the admiring bachelors of the neighborhood.
It might seem very uninviting to the teacher of the modern city school to contemplate such a situation, but one with love as the dominating force of her life, the situation was full of charm to her. These five or six children in the frail little shanty that creaked as the wind swept over it and the rain pattered upon the roof and sides so near to that little group that it seemed a little extra gust of wind would leave them sitting upon their rough wooden benches, out with the meadowlarks which sang so sweetly though they were soaked by the chilling rain. They were closer to her than it was possible in the crowded busy school of the city, surrounded by almost every conceivable distraction. Then when the sun was shining, and the whole heavens were filled with the myriad's of birds, each kind pouring out their soul to the world, and the prairie fragrant with the countless flowers and grasses, probably near yon eastern horizon where the morning mist clouds being wafted away by the glorious western breeze. Oh if those poor little dwarf bodies of the great crowded cities and the wearied minds of many of the struggling teachers, get the grand relief of such a situation more often, how different their lives would be. But we all cannot be out in God's open fields while we are in this great struggle of life.
This spring quite a number of the settlers were prepared to plant considerable fields. The plow worked most satisfactorily. The wheat fields soon green after the steady rains of the middle of April. The settler was already calculating upon the income of his fields. Many were planing comfortable houses and convenient barns to be built from the returns of their crops. And why shouldn't they? - the first year seasons produced so abundantly, generally, of all that had been planted. But just while everything was most promising, the weather became very hot and the wind blew incessantly from the southwest - as hot as the blast from a furnace. In the early morning the breeze was delightful and one wondered that such a breeze could turn into a hot blast before the noon day arrived, but such was only too true.
As the sun rose higher in the heavens, the wind increased in force until, together with the increasing heat, it took the strength from man and horse. While the wheat and corn leaves curled up until it seemed impossible that they could ever uncurl again. About mid afternoon thunder peaks appeared about us, while the thunder rolled in the distance, and the sun was hidden by a widespread cloud, and the wind began to die down. Than we said "well, it's surely going to rain after this terrific wind for so long", and we felt that our crops were to be saved by a good rain from the far reaching black cloud. But the rain went around us this time. A light shower fell following several sharp cracks of thunder. The breeze turned to the west, the night was delightful.
The following morning, early, was cool and refreshing. The breeze grew stronger as the day advanced again. As the sun went down so did the breeze. The fields were greener today for the western breeze was not so dry as the day before, when it blew off the sand hills of Kansas and Nebraska. Today it had blown from the Rocky Mountains, a few hundred miles to the west of us. The following morning a gentle breeze stirred from the south again and the sun shone very brightly. We felt then that the prairie and the fields would be scorched again that day. When would the wind stop blowing? When would the rain come to save the field, so fair to look upon?
And so it went on for several days. The dust blew in clouds from the fields. The cattle gathered together wherever there was water. Strange as it may seem, they huddled together panting, and without a desire to eat, while the sun burned down upon us, and the wind blew strong enough almost to take a person off their feet. Before the sun went down the wheat fields were colored in spots. The leaves were at last reddened by the hot blast, and the heads were showing in many places. The extreme heat was maturing it long before it should be, in order to get its proper development. In those burn spots it was not tall enough to be caught and bound by the binder at harvest time.
Rain finally came, which partially saved the wheat, and kept the corn from dying. It is of course owing to its stage of growth, in a cultivated ground, was not damaged as much as a small grain. After the rain it grew surprisingly well until the recurring hot winds immediately preceding harvest time. Up to that time, many fields appeared as promising as the great fields of the corn state. But a few days of the hot winds from the southwest put it in the same condition as the wheat was at the end of June.
Harvesting was indeed discouraging. The binder cannot be adjusted so as to gather the wheat in even bundles. Some were bound near the head and others near the butt. In picking up the bundle, to put into a shock, it had to be carried as carefully as a baby in order to get it to the shock without it being strung out over the field. And the heat and drought from the harvest time caused what little grain there was to shell from the husk with very little friction or jar. While it was really surprising at thrashing time to find the wheat yield as well as it did - from eight to fourteen bushels to the acre. At that time the thrashing was all done by the horsepower machine. It did a good deal of groaning and whistling, but finally got the neighborhood thrashed out.
We had a good time in getting together. We had plenty of good spring chicken, potatoes, sweet corn, coffee, and etcetera. And our appetites exceeded those of the threshers of the eastern country, as did those of other occupations, or no occupation. A keen appetite seemed to be inevitable in ones existence here. We all, or nearly all, produced sufficient potatoes for home consumption. And there was never any coaxing necessary to induce a potato eater to eat generously, and with unstinted words of praise for Dakota spuds. There are none better in quality anywhere.
Most of the thrashing was done under great difficulties, not on account of the rain, oh no! - it was the wind, the wind, the wind. Sometimes the machine would be on a setting so long that when the wind stopped blowing for a rest, about all that could be seen of the thresher would be the tail end of the machine. Even the bundles of grain from the stack would be scattered about by the exasperating wind. As the German settlers said to the newcomer who asked him about the country - "well the wind just blow from the southeast one day like hell, and then the next day turn to the northwest, and then blow worst than hell itself". Usually at evening time the winds subsided, then all was lovely.
Well, we had enough wheat to supply us with flour, seed for the following season, and some to help pay for the expense of living through the summer. When corn husking time again, the corn was as dry as it could be without being parched. "Sprained wrist" was an almost unheard of condition of the huskers in that region. It was harder on the eyes than the wrist, searching for the ears where they ought to be. But before this time we had to go through haying. This would have one of the most delightful occupations we had ever experienced had it not have been for our enemy - the wind. But not withstanding, haying was a real joy. No tugging and pulling and sweating and smothering as we did in the timothy and clover fields of our early experience. Here we had no trees to break the wind, which we all been prayed to have. And one could pickup just such a fork full as one pleased to do. And the fragrance of the clean, rich, prairie grass, after it had been in the hayfield two or three days, was delight.
The prairie chicken and the jackrabbit were frequently disturbed by our activities in the field, and their attempt at escape from danger were often brought to earth by a breech loader, or an old army musket - made into a hunting gun.
As soon as the end of the haying season approached, the wild duck was on its journey to the south land, and many hunter had stopped to rest and feed upon the ponds of the creeks. Long before this most of the little lakes, which were so inviting and pretty when we arrived, were dry and the lakes bed filled with grass and weeds. During the fall season especially, this was indeed the hunters paradise. When the cranes and wild geese came, then was real excitement for the hunters. These migratory birds passed by us, and stopped with us, in many thousands.
One of the most beautiful sights at this time were the flocks of whooping cranes, as white as snow and as nearly as tall as a man. Their melancholy whoop could be heard at a distance of two miles in a calm atmosphere in this country. They were a very wary bird - very few of them were shot in our locality. The wild goose were also very wary and hard to shoot, but there were considerable number of them shot as they were migrating. The creeks were full of muskrats, but they were of almost of no value at that time. Wisconsin badgers were quite numerous but their pelts were of so little market value, that little effort was made to get them for that purpose.
After the equinoctial period was over the windy conditions improved somewhat, though far from perfect. However the fall was delightful - barring the nuisance of the strong winds. I was indeed a changed man in physical condition, feeling better than in nearly thirty years. We had not succeeded in producing the crops we anticipated, which was of course a big disappointment. But we knew that all new countries had their privations and difficulties, and the hot winds seemed to be the worst thing to contend with here.
Mother's gardening had suffered severely by the unfavorable conditions of the weather. She was extremely fond of vegetables, so the dearth of them was the cause of deep dissatisfaction to her. Also, the absence of trees troubled her. After her daughter and her husband returned to Minnesota, she became very lonesome. Somehow the nearby settlers failed to visit her in such a way as to satisfy her desire for social intercourse. She was hard of hearing, which of course no doubt, was the cause of neglect in neighborly visits. She became very melancholy - so much so that after a time she would purposely avoid company when she saw them coming. She often went out to walk over the prairie aimlessly, anywhere to get away from the oppressive loneliness of the house while Lottie was at school, and myself at work in the fields or elsewhere. Her condition became so serious that we felt it necessary to do something to give her relief.
She would listen to nothing that we could suggest but to return to Warren. So before winter came upon us again, we went back. But of course I knew that I could never expect to be well in that climate, and it was so, for before we were back in our old home long, I was in absolute misery by the asthma.
But I must go back a little - before our return to Illinois that fall, I did have a bad spell of asthma for a time, and while suffering with it, visited a physician in Kimball. After becoming acquainted with my history, and my years of suffering with asthma since the war, he immediately wrote the pension department at Washington, urging upon them to raise my pension substantially - and with the result that before long I was allowed to increase to twenty four dollars per month. This news nearly overjoyed us. Those who were never in the same circumstances could not imagine the joy it gave us, and the peace of mind to know that the wolf would be kept from the door, even though I was on my back with sickness. For there was a never a better wife to any man, to manage the household affairs economically, than mine. And always so cheerful, with the exception of when she was so discouraged, and melancholy, while in Dakota the last season.
Though I suffered much by the asthma during the last winter, we stayed in Illinois. It was much easier for me to stand the disease, knowing that as a family, we'd not be suffering for the necessities of life, or the little comfort they were richly entitled to. The following summer, our little jersey cow, and the big garden under the care of mother and Lottie, contributed to our support surprisingly.