Faulk County, South Dakota
The Miller Family - Contributed by Harold Way (hway(at)everestkc.net)
This is a transcript of an interview conducted by Audrey (Miller) Way, mother of the contributor. These interviews were conducted with several of the Miller relatives in November 1988.
The Townsend Family - Contributed by Harold Way (hway(at)everestkc.net)
This is from an interview conducted by Audrey (Miller) Way, mother of the contributor.
Water on the Homestead - Contributed by Harold Way (hway(at)everestkc.net)
Miller family history, written by Audrey (Miller) Way
The Samuel McClelland Family - Contributed by Harold Way (hway(at)everestkc.net)
The family of Emma McClelland Miller
SAMUEL McCLELLAND FAMILY
By Alice McClelland
Contributed by Harold Way
SOURCE: History of Saline County Missouri. Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing Co., 1967. Pp 307-308
Samuel McClelland was born in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, in 1818 of Scotch-Irish parents. In 1840 he went to Holmes county, Ohio, to farm land that his father had purchased from the government. In 1843 he married Nancy Moorhead, a distant cousin, also of Westmoreland county.
During the Civil War he was an active worker in the Republican party and was a member of the Underground Railroad in Ohio. Often his children would come down to breakfast and find their mother feding Negroes in the kitchen. The Negroes slept in a tenant house during the day and at night were taken in tightly curtained carriages to the next station.
Mr. McClelland grew tired of farming around stumps in Ohio and decided to move to Missouri, where others from his area were settling. He moved to Saline county in 1867 and bought a farm in the Salt Springs community. He brought his household goods, farm tools and livestock to Miami by boat.
There was a Catholic school building on the farm he bought. The family lived in it until 1875, when it was torn down and the good walnut lumber of which it was built was used to build a comfortable 6-room house which is still in a good state of preservation and is being used at this time, (1964). After arriving at the new home, he set out a grove of walnut trees and a [page 308] row of soft maples. A number of those trees are still standing.
There were three good fresh water springs on his land. He made several ponds on about ten acres and arranged a system whereby his springs fed all the ponds, which were stocked with German carp. The ponds were quite a novelty and were a great attraction to the public.
When the fish were large enough the ponds would be systematically drained and the carp offered for sale. The boys of the community were invited to go into the drained ponds and catch the other kinds of fish by hand for their own use. They can testify to a number of catfish stings received while participating in this sport. The fish-raising venture did not prove to be a money making business and after a few years it was given up.
Mr. McClellland raised good saddle horses. He was one of the first men to build barbed wire fence in the community and as a consequence his fellow church members threatened to put him out of the church.
He was a man of original wit, liked to read and was an active member of the Methodist church. He was interested in politics and in 1884 was a candidate on the Republican ticket for state representative, but was not elected. He died in 1886 and his wife died in 1876. Both are buried in the Salt Springs cemetery. Their children were Mary, James, William, Emma, and Craig, all born in Holmes county, Ohio.
Mary (1884-1925) was graduated by Baldwin College at Berea, O., majoring in foreign languages. She taught her first school in the Salt Springs community, also taught at Malta Bend and in a ladies’ seminary at Glasgow. She married Jesse P. Fulkerson in 1876. More details of this family are found in the biography of the Fulkerson family in the History of the Salt Springs community.
James (1846-1928) attended Baldwin College at Berea and served in the Ohio Militia. After coming to Missouri, he married Florence Houston and they were the parents of seven children, six of them born in Saline county. In 1889 he moved to Fullerton, Nebr., hoping to find relief from malaria. In 1901 he returned to Missouri and until moving to Olathe, Kans., in 1909 he farmed at Warsaw. He and his wife are buried in the Olathe cemetery and two of his daughters, Belle and Alice, live at Olathe. Other children in the family were Samuel Houston, James Dexter, Nancy Ellen, Elizabeth and Esther.
Houston (1877-1952) farmed and died at Wilmar, Ark., leaving no chilcren.
Dexter ( 1878-1941) did irrigation farming and developed oil fields in the vicinity of Carlsbad, N. M.
Nancy (1880-1905) is buried at Warsaw, Mo.,
Esther (1883-1960) did secretarial work and for a time was secretary for Vice President Curtis.
Elizabeth married W. S. Davis of Warsaw, Mo., who died in 1933. She lives at Stayton, Ore., and her children are John Dexter, Joseph Houston, Mrs. Florence Lewisohn and Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Peters.
Belle remained at home and managed family business affairs.
Alice taught school and served three terms as the county superintendent of schools at Olathe, Kansas, and later taught in a teachers’ college in North Dakota.
William McClelland (1848-1917) a son of Samuel, never married. He farmed in the Salt Springs community for a long time. He moved to Oklahoma, where he continued to farm. He was a philanthropist and was credited with helping many a young man over rough places in getting an education or a start in business.
Emma McClelland (1851-1915) a daughter of Samuel, married Alexander Miller and they farmed for a time in the Salt Springs community, later moving to Cresbard, S. D., where he farmed and raised Percheron horses which were shown at fairs in the United States and abroad. Their children were John Lambert, Samuel Harold, Sarah Frances and Edna, all deceased, and Hugh of Simi, Calif., and James, who farms near Cresbard.
Craig McClelland (1861-1913) was a mining engineer and explorer. He operated extensively in Mexico and is buried at Durango, Mexico.
Water on the Homestead
By Audrey Emma (Miller) Way
It was a June afternoon in 1973 and there we were, pumping water for the garden that was fast drying out in the South Dakota sunshine. It was a time consuming task and gave rise to some reflections on the constant need for water in day-to-day living and some of the problems faced by the early settlers who homesteaded this land. My grandmother Miller depended on this very pond for her household water supply --- that was some ninety years ago.
Alex and Emma Miller had come from the good farming country of Missouri in 1882 with their three children, Bert, Hal and baby Sadie. They took up residence in Northville where they established a livery business. Tom Miller, a brother, was a partner in this venture.
In the process of taking land seekers around the country the men decided to haul some lumber out to the Scatterwood Lake area in order to hold the land over the winter until they could get out there the next spring to build their claim shanties. However, by spring they had spotted land in DeVoe Township that looked more promising and the shanties were situated on adjoining quarter-sections there.
It was a warm June afternoon in 1889 when that young mother, who had come to Dakota in search of a dry climate to improve her health, sat down to pen the following as her three children napped:
June 7, 1883 D.T.
We moved out on to our preemption about the first of May. Alex tried in February to get a well but the water he found is just a little milder than the Salt Springs in Missouri. When you draw it up you can smell it for rods. The stock drink it, but the supply is short. So we have to haul our water from the creek. One creek (not running water) is about one and one-half miles away. Another creek that has nice running, soft water is about three and one-half miles and we have that for the house use. Alex sent for, and paid for a well auger. Part of it came and part did not, so the water business gives us lots of work and worry.
We are not too far from Northville and the country round about is settled up and all the way from here to the Missouri River people are squatting on the land. This is pretty country, high and dry, no mud here to trouble us. I guess it will make a good country for raising horses and wheat. But I will tell you that more than one time I have been tempted to say good-bye. However I don’t want to go south and I am afraid to go into the mountains, and am afraid the coast climate would be too dank, and to go back in the tracks of those terrible cyclones – no never, so I guess I better grin and bear it, and stay where we have a mild cyclone most of the time. We get kind of used to the wind here.
You wouldn’t believe how thick the mosquitoes are, we will have to get screens to keep them out. We had plenty of rain the second week in May and yesterday we had quite a good shower, and it is warm today.
your sister Em Miller and family
It wasn’t long until the Miller family acquired land nearer the creek, with the soft, running water. On this homestead they built the family home which was to house members of the family up to the time when there are five generations represented on their family tree. This was the site for the set of farm buildings needed for horse raising and grain farming. The battle for water was not won by the move, but watering the stock was simplified by the proximity of the creek. The horses wee watered there summer and winter. The Miller boys and the hired hands kept them trained to go directly from the barns where they were housed to the creek and back regardless of the weather. In summer they battled the mosquitoes, and in winter the ice had to be chopped to an open watering space for one hundred or more horses.
Emma Miller accompanied the children across the pasture in good weather to this very spot, where we are using a tractor to pump water that will be hauled in steel barrels in a pick-up truck as our solution to the problem of insufficient water for our garden. Here those children bathed in the fresh, clear water as their mother sat on a rock near the water’s edge making sure that they scrubbed behind their ears before they came splashing out of the creek. In later years the boys regularly raced down to the deep pond west of the barn for a swim after they had come in from field work. This was a quick refresher after the work horses were taken care of and before the evening meal. A surface well was curbed up on the edge of this flowing creek where water could be drawn for use in the house and it was hauled to the buildings in wooden barrels on a stone boat. This was just a couple of posts for runners with boards nailed across to form a flat bed. The stone boat would slide across the grassy prairie behind the horse that was hitched to it.
The next improvement in the water supply came with the convenience of a wind-powered pump to fill the wooden trough from a surface well dug near the new barn. Since the well was near the barn, water was eventually piped inside for easier watering of the stock confined to the box stalls and was a great help in bad weather.
It was not until the early 1900’s that the artesian well became a possibility. Alex Miller and his oldest son, Bert, put their talents together and gathered scrap iron and adapted parts with a few items purchased to build a well-drilling rig, one of the first in Faulk County. They made a deal with a neighboring farmer who owned a steam engine, that they would drill a well for him if he would furnish the power for their well rig.
They drilled four wells with that amateur outfit. They made some mistakes on the first effort and that well was a failure. The second one was drilled on the home place and it is still flowing more than seventy years later as is the third well. That one was drilled on Bert’s property to the north. The fourth and last well drilled was a successful one for the owner of the steam engine. These wells had to be 1,000 or more feet in depth to strike the flow of artesian water that came to the surface without pumping. Now the water could be pumped into the house. The pioneer homemaker could hardly believe her good fortune. The nearest thing to running water prior to this time was from a cistern under the house. Stored rain water could be hand pumped up for use.
The well drilling equipment was sold to Norbeck and Nicholson Well Drilling of Redfield. The oldest Miller son went to work for this concern and had a short career as their machinist. That was a booming business, drilling deep wells, but there was little in the way of equipment available. The gears had to be machined to suit the well driller’s needs as they could not be ordered over the counter as we would order parts today.
There have been many changes over the years but some things never change. Water from any source has been supremely important to people in the mid-west. Water is essential to life itself and the lack of it has been the downfall of many a farming venture. It has been the determining factor in many situations in this area. Which points out the importance of water has been felt through the ages. Native inhabitants practiced the traditional use of rain dances and modern man is developing a tradition of weather modification with sophisticated apparatuses. It is not surprising that the first white settlers here were conscious of the sources of water available --- rain, streams or man-made wells.
Cloud-watching is still a way of life in Dakota, even though pure running water from the faucet is taken for granted by today’s farm family.
Addenda: Gilbert Townsend passed away on August 13, 1972 in Redfield (Spink County) South Dakota. The interview, conducted by Audrey Way and Shirley Holt took place barely a year before his death. Keitha (may have been spelled Ketha) was Gilbert's second wife. He and Keitha were married on January 1, 1940. His first wife was Caroline J. Johnson. They were married on June 8, 1910.
Gilbert Townsend Interview
[In 1972 Audrey Emma (Miller) Way and Shirley (Bisbee) Holt interviewed Gilbert Townsend at his rural home in Devoe Township, South Dakota. The interview was recorded on tape. This is a re-write of that interview for publication in the Faulk County Record.]
Gilbert Townsend’s father, Levi Townsend came from Michigan to settle about two miles north of the present site of the town of Cresbard in 1883. Gilbert Townsend was born in 1877 and was about six years old when the family moved from Michigan. His mother, Adeline (Granger) Townsend was of French descent. She had also lived in Michigan. Her father had been a Union soldier. Gilbert’s father was one of the Michigan Volunteers. His father’s birthplace was in New York. Gilbert’s father and mother were married in Michigan before they came to Dakota Territory. They had a homestead near Mansfield – four miles north of Northville. They lived there one year but were unable to acquire any more land. So they got a tree claim (this meant five acres of trees had to be planted and they had to be kept up for a certain number of years) and two quarters of land could be obtained by pre-emption (the right to purchase public land that is granted to one who has settled on that land).
The railroads were not established when the Townsend family came to Dakota Territory. They had to travel to Watertown to reach a rail site. After that the railroad came through and Northville became the site of the best grain market in the area. Grain was hauled from farms with teams and wagons. They hitched four horses to each wagon and were able to haul 100 bushels at a time. It was such a good market for grain that farmers from the other side of Mellette brought their grain to Northville and farmers who lived almost to the Faulkton area would haul their grain to Northville because the price was better.
Gilbert’s oldest sister was Elizabeth and she married a Thompson. They lived in the Northville area. Their daughter was Vera Thompson and she married Kenneth Roberts. They lived in Mitchell, South Dakota at one time and at Kearney, Nebraska at another time.
Next in line of Gilbert’s family was Herman. He was a Methodist preacher and his first charge was in Faulkton, South Dakota. He died in Bellingham, Washington. Gilbert went there to spend a month with him while he was sick. Herman Townsend enlisted in the military for World War I. He developed cancer while in the service. He was able to preach for only a short time after that.
Dolph Thompson was another brother of Gilbert’s. He had a daughter, Vera Hain of Northville and a son in New York and one son who died. Dolph and Gilbert had a sister, Eve, who lived in Northville. Her married name was Peterson and she is now deceased. The youngest one in the family was Jim. Jim had a son and daughter. Jim died quite young, as the result of an automobile accident.
When Gilbert Townsend’s family moved to Dakota they had a whole train car to bring all of their possessions --- household goods, horses and machinery. The car came as far as the rails went --- to Watertown. That was a long ways to drive. Gilbert remembered that they were able to go by team and wagon from Mansfield and got as far as a creek that was running out of its banks. They camped until the next day and got some help to get their outfit across the creek. The family rode in a covered wagon.
The house on their new land was called a claim shanty. It was very small and the boards were nailed on so that the boards went up and down to cover the sides. It was very poorly built. As soon as possible, the land was plowed so they could get sod to bank up the sides of the house except for the windows. Later they removed the sod and built on to the house, but it was still a very small dwelling. This dwelling was built in 1883 and was about two miles of Cresbard’s present location. There was no town of Cresbard in 1883.
This was a booming time. He raised livestock. He would board around at various neighbors. Gilbert bought and sold land and rented land as well so that he could expand his farming operations. He was a bachelor for quite some time and did not get married until he was thirty-two years old.
Gilbert taught school for seven years. He taught at the Fairview School which was about one mile north and one mile east of his homestead. He also taught at a school south and east of his homestead. He taught at the Horning School for two years and the Myron School where the Gabler family lived. He also taught at the Scatterwood School for a year. He did not plan to teach any more but injured his back in an accident and was not able to farm. It was late to get a school but Sam Strachan was the Faulk County School Superintendent and gave Gilbert the preference of two schools. He took the school located by the Jim River (also called the James River) near Redfield. Then after that he just farmed. $30.00 a month was the most that he ever got for teaching and that was in the last year of his teaching. All the years before that he was paid much less. Gilbert decided that he couldn’t farm and teach at the same time so he quit teaching.
Gilbert had, as a student, attended the Fairview School and only went as far as the seventh grade. He went to The Teacher’s Institute in Faulkton after that. The first year he earned a Third Grade Certificate by taking the examination. After that he earned the Second Grade Certificate and he taught all but the final year of his teaching on that certificate. After that he studied at home and passed the test for a First Grade Certificate. He only taught one year on that certificate.
Some of his teachers who taught him included Frank Bryant, Mrs. Will Bailey, Mr. Will Bailey, Homer Bailey and Deliah Bailey. Some of the Baileys lived in Faulkton and some lived on farms in the Cresbard area. Will and his wife had a farm east of the Townsends. Homer’s hobby was foot racing and he was known as a fast racer. He used to be a little crooked about his racing. He would have his brother run with him and his brother would interfere with opponents.
Gilbert remembered how scared people were when word would be passed around that the Indians were coming. They never came but it was known that there was trouble. There were problems on the Indian Reservation and the local people were looking for the Indians to come across the country. Gilbert’s father was selected Captain. The men got together and practiced marching. Gilbert and his brother Dolph were playing near a cornfield one day when Gilbert looked up and mistook the rows of corn for rows of marching Indians. It caused a little excitement until the mistake was reveraled.
The first church services that Gilbert remembered was held in the Fairview School house. A preacher came from Faulkton to organize the church. Gilbert’s mother had been brought up a Catholic. His father did not join a church until much later. Their folks sent the children to the church’s Sunday school. Gilbert joined the Methodist church. Later he went to the Congregational church which was north west of Cresbard. It was eventually moved to the town of Cresbard. Gilbert also attended church services at the Devoe church for some time.
Gilbert’s wife, Keitha had been a school teacher in the first, wood-framed school house in Cresbard. She was the first teacher in that school. This was long before the brick school house was built at the north end of Main Street. She was the school principal. There were three teachers and they taught the 8 grades and some high school subjects. She did not teach any more after the brick school house was built.
Christmas recollections by Gilbert were interesting. They had their Christmas entertainment at home. The presents were hidden until Christmas Eve or sometime they would get their presents on Christmas morning. Gilbert remembers the Christmas that he got a mouth organ. The things they received were pretty simple but they were appreciated. The first real evergreen Christmas tree that Gilbert could remember was at the church. The early Christmas programs at the church did not include a Christmas tree.
The Fourth of July was celebrated at home when Gilbert was young. They had fire crackers and roman candles. The first public celebration that he remembered was in Redfield on the Fourth of July. Everyone thought that the fireworks were wonderful. His father was a veteran and he and his wife would attend special services in Faulkton on the Fourth of July and also on Veteran’s Day. Sometimes Gilbert would have to stay at home. One time he recalled that his mother baked his favorite, a lemon pie. He ate the whole pie while they were at the celebration and it almost made him sick.
Scatterwood Lake was a favorite place to go on summer holidays. There was boating and good fishing. In the earlier days the Townsend family would go to the Alex Miller Grove for the Old Settler’s Picnic. Every family would take their meals and have picnic dinners. There were ball games and some dignitary would be there to give a speech. Later such events were held at Scatterwood Lake where there was a pavilion.
Gilbert Townsend recalled that he had his own threshing rig in the early days. He furnished three teams of horses for his rig. He hired men to drive the teams. The grain was bound and shocked. So they threshed the grain out of the shocks that were hauled to the threshing machine. He also had a cook car along with his outfit so that the men could eat at the job site. Claude Wyman was the first woman to cook for his threshing crew. Gilbert’s wife did some of the cooking. He threshed for Blodgets, Bisbees and other farmers in the area. There were six teams to haul bundles. There was a Separator Man and Gilbert ran the gas engine, a two-cylinder Hart-Parr. He did not use a steam engine for his threshing machine so there was no steam to blow a whistle when the crew became impatient for another load of bundles, or if they needed water to be fetched for the engine or for drinking.
The noise of the engine made Gilbert a bit deaf. He later got a big, one-cylinder engine and later had an even bigger International engine. He threshed the grain out of the stack during the years that the grain was short on account of dry weather. The farmers stacked the grain so that the threshing machine could be pulled up between two stacks. Men on each side of the thresher tossed bundles from the stacks into the machine.
When the grain was too short to bind the grain would be pitched into stacks. Then the threshing would be done out of the stacks of grain that were positioned so that four men would pitch the loose grain into the threshing machine. One many would stand on a platform and push the straw into the thresher where the grain would be separated from the straw. Gilbert firs had a J. I. Case tractor and he traded that to Wilson who was the dealer in Cresbard. He got an Avery tractor from Wilson and used that until he quit the threshing business.
Gilbert remembered using a walking plow in the fields. He would walk behind the plow and drive the horses that were pulling the plow. He also remembered the Sulky Plow. A man could ride on the Sulky Plow that was pulled by a team of horses. Before that they used to kind of plow that a man walked behind while the plow turned over one narrow strip of soil.
It would take two horses to pull a single plow. Four horses could pull a double plow quite well.
The blizzard of 1888 was an event still vivid in his mind. He was in the school house all night. The school house was poorly built. The snow sifted in so that at times they could hardly see each other. There was a stove that they kept red hot. The students took hold of each other’s hands and marched around the hot stove in the night as a way to keep warm. The boys had brought in coal enough to last through the night. The coal house was a little ways from the school house. The boys took hold of hands to make a chain to get to the coal house and bring coal into the entry of the building. In the afternoon the next day a neighbor came with a team and sled to take them home. They did not have enough to eat and couldn’t sleep. Frank Bryant was the teacher at that time. The Dietz children were in school at that time. Gilbert’s brother Dolph and his sister Eva were students at that time. Some of Thare’s children were in attendance. Their father came and got some of the children and took them out of the school house. Thares and Townsends lived close together at that time. The parents were very worried. When the children arrived they couldn’t get into the house because there was such a snow bank in front of the door. They had to climb the snow bank and slide down to the house’s door. They were very glad to get home. In his memory, that blizzard was as bad as the Rapid City flood – a lot of people lost their lives. If you would get a little ways from the house you would be lost. You would not be able to see anything. There were quite a few lives lost and a lot of livestock perished.
Recreation in his youth was blind man’s bluff, tag and other games. He used to hunt. He had a rifle. He was crazy about guns. He was cleaning his gun one day when his sister came in and said that there was a flock of geese coming by. He put one shell in the magazine and one in the chamber. He just had two shells. He went outside and shot twice. The flock was way off and just a few geese in the flock. When the gun roared, one goose went around a half circle and dropped dead to the ground. There was a hole right through its breast. It was a miracle because he had good shots before and after without any luck. Other game that he hunted included ducks and rabbits. They did eat cottontail rabbits. Unlike today, there was no market for the rabbit hides. One of their hired men was known for being able to kill rabbits with a tossed stone. He used to bring in a rabbit about every day.
The dirty thirties were the worst for dust storms. The winds were so strong that their barn leaned. The dirt piled up along the fences from the loose dirt in the fields. It was just like plowing new land after the dirt storms. Often times the porch would get filled with dirt.
Grain was planted every year in spite of the winds. One year corn stalks were flat on the ground after the dirt was blows away from the roots. The WPA projects during the 30’s included road building and graveling roads. The men use shovels to load the wagons and then they would drive up the roads and shovel the gravel onto the road. Gilbert was working with the ASC and got enough money so that he did not have to work for WPA. His neighbors did work on WPA. Many people in the region who are well off today worked for the WPA in the 30’s. Gilbert felt that he was pretty lucky to be able to keep his farm during the 30’s. The dams at Cresbard Lake and Faulkton Late were both WPA projects.
SOURCE: [Unpublished] “Miller Book” by Audrey (Miller) Way, November 1988
Interview by Audrey E (Miller) Way at the farm home of Anna Miller, near the former town of Devoe, Faulk County, South Dakota (no date given). Interview conducted when Don Miller from Parshall, North Dakota was visiting.
AEW = Audrey Emma (Miller) Way
DM = Don Miller (grandson of Alexander Miller)
MM=Mina Miller (mother of Audrey Miller, daughter-in-law of Alexander (Alex) Miller
WM=John Wendell Miller (Always went by Wendell, grandson of Alexander Miller)
HM (Harley Miller, son of James [Jim] Miller and grandson of Alexander Miller)
AEW What kind of a farm was the Alex Miller Farm? What kind of stock did they raise?
JWM It was a stock farm known as the Devoe Stock Farm
AEW What kind of horses did they raise?
JWM Percheron horses. They were used for power in farming, and for sale. They raised enough grain and hay to feed the horses for their use and for finishing some of them for sale.
AEW Do you have any idea how many horses they would have on the farm?
JWM Oh, I think a hundred, and from that on up to 150 at least
AEW Did they have regular horse barns to accommodate these horses?
JWM Yes. Every horse was tied up in a stall at night. The barn had to be cleaned every day and hay hauled in every day, I think.
AEW Who were the children in the Alex and Emma Miller Family?
JWM My father first, John Lambert, Bert [John was always called Bert]
AEW Then after my father, Samuel Harold, Hal [he was always called Hal]. Who came next in line?
JWM It was Aunt Sadie or Sarah Frances. Then there was Hugh, James [always went by Jim], and Nancy Edna [always went by Edna].
AEW Did they have any hired men in those days?
JWM They always had a couple of hired men besides their own boys. There was a lot of work to be done, more work in the winter time than in the summer.
AEW Do you remember any of the horses?
JWM Well, not by name. But I remember seeing them when they led them out to water and when they were in the stalls.
AEW I think there is one horse that everyone remembers, and that was Old Gilbert. Can you remember anything about this horse?
JWM It was born in France and imported
MM The family had six loving cups that this horse had won at fairs. Some were from the Minnesota Fair. He was shown at the International in Chicago.
AEW Gilbert was evidently a famous horse. Do you know what ever happened to this horse?
JWM He died of old age at the Alex Miller farm. His obituary was printed in Breeder’s Gazette in France.
AEW Mother, did you say that this was also written up in the Cresbard Beacon?
JMM I think it just said, “Gilbert, 20 years old, died at the Alex Miller farm.
AEW Maybe we could go back in the Miller history – What state did Grandpa and Grandma Miller come from?
JWM Saline County, Missouri. In the Fall of 1882 they came to Northville. He and his brother Tom came and they started a livery barn there.
AEW They were both married and both had families. So what did they do for a livelihood?
JWM They started a livery stable. They located some land and hauled a load of lumber onto it in the Scatterwood Lake area, with the intention that when spring came they would file on that land as homesteads. During that winter they rented out livery teams and also drove prospective land seekers all over the area and they decided that it would be better to locate in a different place in Faulk County. So they loaded up their lumber in the Spring and came out to Devoe township and filed on claims there.
AEW They had claims and were they on land you now own?
WM Yes. One claim shanty was on the north west quarter of section 9 and one on the south west quarter of section 9. Grandpa Miller’s was on the northwest and Uncle Tom Miller’s was on the southwest.
AEW Who lived in these?
JWM Grandpa and Grandma and their family lived in their shanty to the north and Uncle Tom’s wife and children lived in the one to the south. He stayed in Northville and operated the livery barn.
AEW They didn’t have much income from their land did they?
JWM No. I guess not. I think they spent the first summer just breaking sod so that they could farm. As I have the story, they hired two men and each man had three horses on a breaking plow and they broke 200 acres of sod on these two quarters.
AEW And that would take the first summer?
JWM Right. And the second summer they planted it to wheat and harvested the wheat. How good the crop was I don’t know. But there were no threshing machines to thresh with so they stacked the bundles and the next summer two implement dealers in Northville had new threshing machines. They volunteered to bring their threshing machines out and put on a threshing demonstration. That was the way that they got their crop threshed after three years of work.
AEW Alex Millers had come to Dakota Territory from Missouri. What kind of business were they in down there?
JWM They raised corn and hogs..
AEW Was that a good business?
JWM Yes. That was their main source of income.
AEW How did they happen to come to Dakota?
JWM On account of Grandma Miller’s health. She had asthma and the damp climate affected her so that they had to move some place drier.
AEW So they chose to come to Dakota?
JWM And they found it.
AEW Did they have trouble about water and wells?
JWM Yes. There wasn’t any water. Only what they hauled from the creek.
AEW That would be quite a distance?
JWM Yes. About two miles, at least.
AEW Did they spend the winter in the claim shanty?
JWM I don’t think so. When they found that they couldn’t get water by digging wells they acquired the land where Mina now lives and eventually put up a set of buildings. They had water for the stock in the creek a half mile away and they could dig wells there in that sand base and pump water.
AEW The artesian wells came later?
JWM That was much later. In the early 1900’s
AEW I remember hearing that your dad, Bert, worked for a well drilling outfit?
JWM Well, yes. But he started before that. He and Grandpa Miller built their own well drilling machine from scrap iron and what else they could find. They bought a few things, but it was mostly home made. They made an arrangement with a neighbor, Nick Metz, to furnish the steam engine for power to run this well drilling machine. They drilled four wells. They drilled the one where Mina lives and it was a failure. I guess they made some mistakes. So they tried again and it was allright and it is still furnishing water there. And they came up to the place where Jerry lives [Bert’s place first, then Wendell’s, then his son Jerry’s, now owned by Bryce Miller, son of Jerry.] and they drilled a well there and it still furnishes all the water used. And they went to Nick Metz’s farm and they drilled him a well and that is what he got for furnishing his steam engine for power. And then they sold their equipment to the Norbeck and Nicholson well drilling firm in Redfield. Bert worked for them for two years.
AEW Were these deep wells that they were able to drill on their own?
JWM Yes. 1,000 to 1,100 feet
AEW There was a windmill at the Miller farm also?
JWM Yes. They pumped water into a stock tank.
AEW Did they also have a windmill that was used for other power?
JWM Yes. There was another windmill; and that was on top of the granary on the east side of the road.
AEW Do you remember the windmill or them grinding grain for flour?
JWM I remember the windmill and I remember the little grinder that sat in the top of the granary underneath the windmill. I don’t remember it being in use.
AEW Was this used to grind flour for lots of other people?
JWM Yes. But some people ground their own. It was graham flour.
AEW The windmill on the west side of the road was used for water. I remember my dad telling how their mother would take them to the creek for their baths. In the summer she would sit on a rock and give them their baths. They still used creek water for many years. Some of the Miller land was acquired by homestead and some by tree claim. Is that correct?
JWM Yes. And the rest was bought from other homesteaders who wanted to sell out and go back.
AEW Now I am going to ask Don Miller some questions. He can remember some things that his dad, Hugh Miller used to tell him. What about people who used to stop at their place?
DM He told about a traveling preacher who used to stop. Seems he wanted a hand-out more than for the religious benefits. There were traveling dentists. They used their wagon for their office and my dad told about one splitting a tooth with a wood screw and taking the tooth out without any pain killer.
AEW Whos tooth was this?
AEW What other kind of people stopped?
DM Peddlers. Apparently they sold household items.
AEW I understand that they called the east bedroom of their house the preacher’s bedroom. Apparently many people made an overnight stop there and also stopped for meals.
MM They always boarded the school teachers and a couple of hired men.
AEW What do you remember about dad telling you about early farming Don?
DM He talked about working with horses and the big tractors, the breaking that they did for several years [referring to breaking sod]. Dad had a notebook that he kept as bookkeeper of the work they did. It listed the expenses, the acres, income, etc. from the land breaking operation.
AEW What kind of expenses did they have?
DM Fuel and labor. Apparently they made their repair parts.
AEW What was the fuel they used?
DM Kerosene and I remember that the price was sixteen cents a gallon.
AEW Was your dad one of the operators of the tractors?
DM No. At least he didn’t say anything about it.
AEW This was a family project and apparently he was the bookkeeper?
AEW Who did run the tractor?
DM Hal did most of that.
AEW How big an outfit was it?
DM A four-cylinder Hart Parr.
JWM It was a two cylinder.
AEW How many bottoms did the plow have?
DM/JWM [jumbled voices with a difference of opinion…either eight or ten bottoms]
AEW Now Harley, what can you remember you dad telling about plowing?
HM He said that they used to plow nights and they would hang a lantern on the front so that they could see where they were going.
AEW You mean so that they could follow the furrow?
HM Yes. And to see when they got to the end of the field.
AEW How many did it take to operate the outfit?
HM Two. One to take the plow out of the ground.
AEW There were no hydraulic lifts on that big plow?
HM There was a lever for each two bottoms. The man would walk down the plank and lift each set as they came to it.
AEW Wendell Miller, what can you remember hearing about the drilling for the first artesian wells?
JWM Norbeck and Nicholson were drilling artesian wells. But they had more jobs than they could get to. So Grandpa Miller and my dad [Bert] built a well rig out of scrap iron and what they could find. Probably bought a few pieces. And they drilled four wells. After they sold the rig my dad went to work for them for two years and then he was married. And they built up their farmstead where the well was drilled. The wells still flow after more than 70 years.
MM Grandma Miller wrote a letter back home to her brother [James McClelland in Missouri] and said that the water smelled from the dug wells, worse than the salt springs of Missouri. My folks [the Paul family] dug wells by the creek at their place and they would smell terrible when the water level got low. But we used it and drank it. We didn’t even boil it.
JWM My dad would tell about them digging a well before the artesian wells. In the big slough in the pasture [near Jerry’s farmstead] and in the big ravine that runs through the pasture. They dug a well and struck water. They bought a tank and a windmill and a float to control the water in the tank. And fenced in that quarter section. They put the horses up there and that was going to be their winter pasture. They went back in a few days and the windmill was running and the tank was empty. It had run dry.
AEW Wendell, tell about some of the water problems at the Devoe church. A basement was dug under the church when Reverend Boslaugh was preacher and they thought it was going to be such a wonderful improvement. It was used as Sunday School rooms and dinners. But what was the problem in the spring?
JWM Every spring there was water in the basement, whenever there was water standing in the trees north of the church. Soon there would be water in the basement. So somebody came up with the idea that if they could direct the water to the creek the problem would be solved. So they bought tile and the men turned out and they buried a line of tile along the north side of the church and across west end and to the road ditch and down to the creek and everything worked out good.
AEW What about the survey crew?
JWW Uncle Jim and I kind of did that. We used a carpenter’s level and drove some laths in the ground and ran the grade line that way.
AEW What kind of power was used to dig the ditch?
JWW Sweat and hard work.