The family has always been an important part of the changingtimes throughout history. The book of Genesis probably records one of theearliest records of family life as we know it today. Through the passingof the years the family has changed. Our activities, entertainment,and duties are all different than they were at the beginning of the century.
The first difference is in the beginning of our life. Today,almost all of us were cared for by a doctor before we were born. Then wewere born in a hospital under the very best of medical conditions. In theearly nineteen hundreds most of the babies were in the home without a doctorever being present. The nearest doctor usually lived several miles away,there were no phones, the only form of transportation was the horse andbuggy. By the time they were able to reach a doctor it was too late forhim to be of any help. The death rate among babies in the early part ofthis century was much higher than it is today. The family in thisstory had two babies die shortly after birth.
This story is going to be a comparison between a familyliving in northeastern Kittson County in the early part of this centuryand a family in the same area today. The difference in their living conditionsthen and the living conditions of today is going to be compared.
This comparison is going to start in nineteen hundred andfifteen. The home is a two room shanty type house with two by fours inside.The walls are not finished. The floors are rough wood. Linoleum is stillnot very common in homes. Each week a scrub brush and lots of elbow greasewas needed to keep these floors looking nice.
This home is located at least twenty five miles from thenearest town. Going to town was only done once or twice a year and it wasa big event in their lives. There is a small country store only six milesaway where they can buy the necessities that they need. Today this is unheardof. Most families go to town daily or weekly for their grocery supply. Peopletoday wouldn't know how to buy a six month or a year supply of groceriesall at once.
Today, if we want to go somewhere we either get our parentsto drive for us or we drive ourselves where ever it is we are going. Thechildren in this story had one main way of going places. Most of their transportationwas by foot. Walking was the main way of getting places. Once in a whilethey could ride horse back if the horses hadn't been working. This is theway the children got around.
The farm usually had about five cows, a few sheep, a couplecats, a dog, about twenty chickens, usually a pair of geese, and two orthree pigs. There were no pastures, the cows and sheep strayed where theywished during the day. At night, they were rounded up and put in corrals.Bells were put around a cow's and sheep's neck so they could be found easier.
Cows were milked by hand in the corral. The milk was putinto containers and left to set for a day. Then the cream was skimmed offthe top of the milk. There was no electricity at this farm in those days.The milk was cooled by tying a long rope onto the container and hangingit in the well. Cream didn't stay sweet very long. When it soured it waschurned into butter. A lot of this butter was sold. A lot of cottage cheesewas also made from the sour cream. It was very easy to get sour milk whichis the base of all cheese.
Most children then had very few toys, and the toys theydid have were usually home made. Their dad would pick out a nice round logeach fall. He used this round log to make nice round wheels for the wagonshe made made for his children. How the children did love these little wagons.Children today still enjoy playing with wagons but now we buy them at ourlocal stores. Their dad also made them sleighs. The little girls alwaysgot a doll and it was also home made. These little gifts were probably moreloved than our store bought gifts of today. There were so few activitiesoutside the home so most of their fun was centered around these toys intheir own home.
There were a few activities that were looked forward toby all the people in the community. Rally Day, The 4th. of July, and theChristmas programs were big events in their lives. At these Christmas programsthe children were usually given a bag of goodies and some little gift fromtheir Sunday School teacher. These little tokens really meant the worldto these children. The 4th of July and Rally Day meant a picnic for allthe people in the area. It was also a time for the older people to visitand catch up on the news that had happened during the past year.
Now the big day is here for the hero of this story, AnnaSophie Hostrup, now my grandmother - Mrs. Glen Beck. She is old enough tostart school. There was no school bus going past her place. She had to walkand the distance was four miles for these first few years. On cold daysthey were met by their parents. They would come with a horse pulling a cutter.A cutter is a sleigh with one seat and it is pulled by one horse. The firstfew years of school were very interesting for the children.
There were so many things to see when the children walkedthese miles to school. There had been no deer in this area for several years.They started to return about this time and that was really exciting to see.There were very few foxes in the area at this time. But wolves were a dailysight. Today, we very seldom see a prairie chicken but in those days theywere so plentiful that they use to come right up into the barn yard in bigflocks to eat. So the wild animals living conditions change along with thepeople's conditions. When Mrs. Glen Beck was a third grader her family movedand then she only had two miles to walk to school. This was a great joyto her.
People of today would probably get very bored living sofar away from a town and not being able to visit with neighbors all thetime. Back then they didn't miss this. Their family life was happy and theydidn't miss this extra visiting that we do today. They didn't know our formof life those days.
Summer was a busy and rewarding time for the whole family.There was always fruit to be picked. In these early years there were alwayswild strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, june berries, etc. They pickedthese fruits in the summer and they were usually canned. Most of the timethey were canned without sugar. Sugar was a treat in these days and a poorfamily learned how to do without very much of it. Hazel nuts were somethingelse that was picked by the pailful. They were then placed in an oven fora while to dry and then they were stored for the holiday season.
During the summer their diets really lacked only one essential.They didn't have mush meat as they should have had. There was no electricityso the only way of preserving meat was by salting it or frying it down.Very few people canned meat in these days. Prairie chicken and rabbit werea reel treat for the children. They did have lots of wild fruit, vegetables,and all the milk, cream, and butter they wanted. And they always had homemade bread. There were very few sweets of any kind so maybe their dietsweren't as bad as they may seem.
At Easter time they had colored eggs, but not as we dotoday. They had only two colors, pink and brown. They did not use a dyethat they bought in town. The brown eggs were colored by boiling them incoffee. The pink ones were colored by boiling them in the skins of the redonions that they had raised the year before. All the onion skins were savedthroughout the winter to be used for dye at Easter. The eggs were just amild shade of pink. They enjoyed these colored eggs as much and probablymore than we enjoyed the vivid colors we have today. They very seldom, ifever, had any candy to go with the eggs. These eggs were a big treat forthe children.
During the summer months when school was out, it was nota vacation for the children. Even the small children had their chores. Oneof the chores all the children did was dig seneca roots. These roots werethen washed and dried and used in exchange for groceries. These roots grewalmost everywhere and were easy to dig. The children had a double job todo. The cows were turned out and the children would herd the cowsand dig the seneca roots at the same time. Each child had a little aprontype thing they tied around their waist. They'd fill this with roots eachmorn and afternoon. The children would take the cows out in the morn andwatch them until the sun got straight south. Then they would drive the cowsback to the corral because they knew that when the sun was directly southit was noon. After a bite to eat they would take the cows out again anddig another apron full of roots.
Every family in those days had a large vegetable gardenin the summer. It was the children's job to weed and hoe it and it had tobe kept completely free of weeds. All the vegetables for the family usehad to be raised in this garden. Besides the regular vegetables they grewlarge patches of beans and peas that they let dry for soups in the winter.These beans and peas were dried in the fall and then they were all shuckedand cleaned by hand. This is one of the reasons that children in these earlydays didn't get lonesome. They were too busy with the family chores.
The family did not forget about beauty either. By everyhome was a large walk around flower garden. Most of the flowers were gottenfrom other neighbors and started that way. A few were dug up from the wildand replanted in the flower bed. Even with all the other work to do theflower bed was free of weeds. These were always a beautiful sight to see.None of the plants were bought at a greenhouse or a store. All flower seedswere started in the home and raised by the people themselves. Flowers wereone of the few little extra beauty and luxury spots these early settlerswere able to enjoy.
Sunday was a favorite day for the children in this family.Their church was six miles from their home. So, on Saturday evening theywould walk to their grandparents home which was half the distance to thechurch. They would spend the night there. Then on Sunday morning they wouldwalk the rest of the distance so they could go to Sunday School. They veryseldom missed a day of Sunday School. Their parents usually drove the horsesand wagon to church so they usually got a ride home. But Sundays were alwaysa very special day for the children.
Their grandparents home was different than their own home.It was a log cabin with a sod roof. The floor of the house was clay. Theywould water the clay down at regular intervals to keep it from getting dustyin the house. This type of floor didn't have to be scrubbed but there werechunks of clay to clean up from the floor when they came loose.
There were no built up roads in these early days, onlytrails that were crooked, stony, and rutty. If someone came by in theseearly days all the family were very interested to see who it was and whatthey may have to tell them. Yearly peddlers use to visit. They usually soldsome kind of notions. Very often they would give the little children a stickof gum or a piece of candy. This was always a cherished treat.
There was also a group of Indians that came through mygrandmother's yard each summer. They would sometimes camp right in theiryard. They would beg the people for butter, eggs, and other foods. Theyalways drove a team of skinny horses and a wagon. There were usually abouta dozen Indians on one wagon. Very few people drove past these far out placesand when some one did everyone in the family was all eyes and ears.
All the members of the family had their own chores. Theyounger children had wood to carry for the cook stove and the heating stove.All stoves used wood. There was also the ashes to carry out each day. Ifthese ashes didn't get carried out the stoves wouldn't burn right and theywouldn't heat the house. A lot of these old stoves are worth a lot of moneytoday, in those days they were a necessity.
By the time a child had reached the seventh grade he hadherded cows, hoed field corn, hilled potatoes, hoed the garden, dug senecaroots, picked berries, picked mushrooms, raked hay, and had done almostany kind of work that had come along. The girls had learned to wash clotheson a wash board and to wring them all by hand. She had also learned howto scrub a rough floor with a scrubbing brush. Both boys and girls had learnedto dip water from the well by hand for the cows and horses to drink, harnesshorses, do field work and a lot more.
Sunday was their only day of rest and they enjoyed theirlong walks to Sunday School each Sunday.
There were very, very few radios in this neighborhood inthese days. There was no television. Only a couple families in the wholetownship had a phone. Cars were very scarce and only a couple were in thearea in the early days. When my grandmother left home in nineteen thirtytwo her family had none of these conveniences yet.
Mrs. Sophia Beck, Interviewed, December 29, 1971, at 2:00p.m.
in nineteen thirtytwo her family had none of these conveniences yet.
Mrs. Sophia Beck, Interviewed, December 29, 1971, at 2:00p.m.