South Dakota Gen Web

Brookings County South Dakota

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Oral memories of Edna M. Morris Handwerk

An Early Settler
In 1881, my Pa, Thomas W. Morris and his brother Robert were still on the hill, on the homestead (SE quarter, Section 30, Aurora Twp.), west of the place where I was born.  It was on a hillside, between our farm and Brookings.  It was later sold to Buckingham. The RR ran thru the S.W. corner, about 7 acres. Right on the hillside, about where it ran into his land, the RR runs up the side of a big hill. That is where the RR now has a crossing 'pert near where the section line is.  You now have to make an S turn to go toward Brookings.

The Handwerks were north of Brookings.  Fourteen and a half miles from where they came to sixth street. And it was the highway from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and intersected there at Brookings with another highway that went from the Black Hills and went across all of South Dakota.  And probably on to Minneapolis. I don't remember where it ended.  But it was the two highways intersecting right in Brookings.  Our farm was four miles east.  That is one mile south and three miles east from the main business part of town.  So then we had approximately four miles to go.  To get to our place, we went east on sixth street two miles.  Well, it was over two miles 'cause that isn't including the part of downtown.  And then a mile south and another quarter mile east.


The Morris Family

The Morris family originated from Wales.  As I can recollect it, John Morris was probably born about 1810 or 1796, Oswego, Wales.  He died about 1904 or 1937, age 94 in Seattle, Washington.  His father must of been alive during the presidency of Washington.  But if he fought in the American Revolution, he would have been on the British side.  He married Mary Watkins, also born in Wales, about 1798.  She died, age about 40, during the Civil War and is buried near New Ulm, Minn.  They settled in Ohio and moved to Minn. during the beginning of the Civil War.  When they landed in America they had five kids.  Lizzie, Sarah, John and Ann. Maria was born on board ship, 19 Jan. 1886, died 1938.  Lizzie 1883 to 11 Jan. 1938.  Emma, Rob, and Tom were born in Ohio.  Emma on 9 Oct. 1862.  There were two other kids, Jane and David.

My Dad, Tom was born 1846.  He was a veteran of the Civil War.  After serving 2 years in an Ohio Battery unit, he was discharged at the age of 19.  In 1879 he loaded a trunk, necessary tools for building a home and for farming such as a braking plow into a wagon.  He brought a hand seeder; a canvas bag to strap over his shoulder, so slung, so that he had both hands free to "broadcast" seed, as he walked the length of the field.  In this way he could cover an eight foot swath with which to harvest his grain and hay.  His harvester was a scythe.  Some years later he got a sulky plow - one plow share - he drove 3 horses and rode the plow.  Before 1900 he got a harvester and a seeder.  After 1900 he got a McCormick binder.  (The combine was developed about 1910 or later.)  He drove his team of Morgans west in 1879.  The railroad had reached Owatonna at that time, where he had been living.

Remember Benton Hill? He had to drive way north to find a way past the lake and hill.  Homesteaded the quarter west of the Tree Claim.  Built on the tree claim and then moved down there in Fall of 1884 and married Margaret Crawford Christison on 25 Dec. 1885.  My siblings: Ray was born July 1890, Wes, Nov. 1892.  Frank, Aug. 1894, Me, Nov. 1896 and Hugh in Jan. 1899.  We lived on faith, hope and grit.  We had a well balance diet, potatoes three times a day and side of pork or eggs when we could get them.  We also ate oatmeal for breakfast 365 days a year.  And there was always milk and bread.  A much better diet than my father had in the Army.  His diary repeatedly mentions, moldy hardtack and sour sowbelly.

I remember Ma saying she wouldn't come out to Brookings until Pa had a house built.  She was at Plainview, Minn. Uncle Harry, that is my grandfather and the whole family had moved to Minn.  They'd settled there.  It was pretty poor county for farming, 'cause it was all rocky.  Pa went to Rochester which isn't far from Plainview, because that's where his favorite sister lived and some others of the family were there.  From Rochester to New Ulm.  I think my grandmother is buried at New Ulm in a Welsh cemetery.  During the winter Pa was trying to farm a 20 acre farm at Plainview.  But you see, my Uncle Harry was going to do something new.  He was going to sell milk to people and deliver it to their house.  Nobody had ever done that as far as I know.  It was a new idea.  He thought that everybody that had to come to his dairy to get milk would appreciate it delivered.  So he hired Pa 'cause Pa had a good team.  Pa took the cans of milk around and everybody came with their little buckets and filled them up.  That was at Plainview.  And of course when Pa worked with Uncle Harry, well, they liked each other! And Pa and Ma's brother's were both good soldiers, Civil War.  Of course they had a lot in common! Pa evidently liked the whole family.  I know that my Aunts Helen and Clara were a little jealous because Pa chose Ma.  I heard them say that.  They were too young and Ma was the oldest, 14 or 15 years younger than he was.  Pa was full of fun! In talking about it, Ma and Pa would laugh about how they were so mad because Pa wouldn't look at them.  He would only pay attention to Ma.  So he married her! [1885].

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Pa joined the 17th Ohio Battery.  That was his original status.  Later he was transferred to the 25th.  He was sick at the end of the war.  He was in the camp in Ohio, when he was discharged.  He went north back to his hometown, which I don't know the name of.  He found that all his family had moved west to Minnesota.  From what very, very little I heard him say, I think he had trouble.  You see, he was only 19 then, at the end of the war.  He had been in for almost two years.  From something in the back of my mind, which I cannot remember clearly, I think he'd been sick.  With dysentery and was trying to get home.  Well, the family had all gone west, his mother had died out west in New Ulm.  I don't know whether his father got re-married before he got out of the war and he caught up with them.  But he had to make his own way.  You know, he didn't have much money, these guys that'd just got out of the war.  They weren't paid anything much in the army in those days.  I think they gave them a hundred dollars when they left.  He found out from friends, that his sister had married and was in Rochester, Minn.  So he went there and from her traced the rest of his family.  I know he didn't want to talk a great deal about his family.

Sometime after 1890, he tried to get a pension, because of his having lost his hearing in one ear through a accident in loading a cannon.  He was told he was entitled to a pension.  But they couldn't find his record.  Nor any record of having been injured.  They eventually found it, mixed up somehow.  Perhaps it was with the records of the 25th.  I don't remember.  But he proved that he had been injured and he got his pension 30 years after the war was over.  And he had to establish proof himself, by looking up the fellows who had been with him.  There were six that had been knocked down by that blast.  He got hold of two of them.  Thirty years after the war was over, he was able to locate them.  And they didn't have telephones or good.........well! They probably had better mail service than now!

No mention is made of size of civil war pensions.  Pa didn't ask for one until the great Depression in the 1890's.  The poorly kept records did not show his injury.  With great difficulty he finally located two men who had served with him thirty years before.  They testified that his hearing had been damaged when the cannon was fired before the men loading it could get a safe distance away.  Then 30 years after the war he was allotted $6.00 a month.  No mention is made of the generous amount awarded as pensions.

It was difficult trying to find people, back then, when the country was kind of boiling around.  And many people migrating to different parts of the country.  That much I remember hearing.  But Pa's family was never talked about much.  His family and all were not discussed because he would of had to take Ma down and sit on her to give him a chance to talk about his family, because she always talked about hers.  So I grew up think her family was important and his wasn't.  And then when I grew up and found out that Ma's family were a bunch of stinkers and Pa's family, those that I'd met were grand!!


Early Brookings and the railroad

There was an Allison family there at Brookings.  They had the same names in the family as our Allison cousins.  They thought they were related to our line, but couldn't prove it.  I had an uncle Allison in Brookings and John, his brother, was a farmer.  They went out to Brookings before Pa did.  Pretty well established before Pa was.  There was no Brookings then.  It was the Dakota Territory.  And Brooking wasn't even named until the railroad had surveyed through the spot.  I am not sure what year but I do know that the Brookings was not even dreamed of in 1879, as the railroad survey had not gotten that far west.  If there were stage lines through the area, they went through the town of Medary which ceased to exist after the RR came through.  (It was located in a grove of trees along Medary Creek on the Jim Culbertson homestead).  Or through White, the oldest town in what is now Brookings County.  Fountion was about as old but it folded when the railroads by passed it.  When I saw it about 1902 there was only the square two story school and the Blacksmith shop left.

Flandreau was the most important point in the community as the government Land Office was located there.  Sioux Falls was an Army Post.  The Army was located upon the hill and a big Sioux Indian Village was below along the river.  I knew a man who grew up there.  Claimed to have been the first white child born in Dakota Territory.  He said his father was in charge of the Post.  His only playmates were Indian children.  His name was Harry Brown.

Shortly after my father filed on his homestead in 1879 the C.N.W. Railroad made its survey through the area choosing town sites about 10 miles apart.  Before the exact location became public knowledge, a vice president of the railroad sent word to his nephew, in Boston, to hurry out and buy up the relinquishments of the original homesteaders on the site that had been chosen for a railroad station.  I believe Arlington was already established.  DeSmet was the only other important settlement in the area.

The man from Boston, named Brookings, followed his uncles instructions, paying the original homesteader a minimal price for the land.  (A few years later my uncle sold his relinquishment at the top of the hill east of Brookings for $600.  I have the papers showing the amount of that sale).


First Presbyterian Church

The First Presbyterian Church of Brookings was housed in a stable for some time after it was organized.  It was the first church in Brookings and I believe it was organized before 1890.  They had little money and no place to hold services until a banker, Mr. Morehouse, offered the use of his new barn.  He said his horses could use his old barn for a while longer.  I do not recall the name of the first pastor but have a feeling the director of the choir may have been Aldrich, a tall, thin blond, young man.

But, it is hard to remember accurately, things that happened before one was born.  The first "horseless carriage" to appear on the streets of Brookings was built by a Blacksmith named Jake something, who had a shop in Aurora. Brookings was to have a "Gala Day" probably 1899, and the contraption was brought to Brookings, (by horse power) in the night and covered with horse blankets behind Sexaurs' Mill until time for the grand entrance.  It was pushed out onto Main Street by man power.  The motor was started and it tore down Main Street at 2 or 3 MPH.  There is no way to describe the racket, except perhaps 3 Jet planes flying low, might equal it.  It sped up Main from the RR track as far as the corner where Rudes Funeral Parlor was located back in 1924.  Then it gave one last loud BOOM, and died right there.

Jake, the Blacksmith, had removed the shafts from a small topless buggy, put a motor in the boot behind the seat, brought the steering gear up through the floor, center-front.  He said he "forgot" to remove the whip from the whip stick! Main Street always had dust 3 or 4 inches thick except when the mud or snow was a foot deep.  I was just big enough to get a strangle hold on my fathers leg just at the knee.  I hung on and screamed!

I attended church quite regularly as I loved to gaze at those stained glass windows.  They were about the only thing of beauty I ever saw in those days.  I still have a small gold star awarded to me about 1905 for attending Sunday school a whole year without missing.  Sometimes I walked, although it was almost 4 miles each way.  One Sunday it was so cold my younger brother and I took turns driving while the other ran behind the buggy to get warm.

Some members of my family lived in what is now Brookings County for 99 years until my brothers death last year (1978). Today there is no one left.


Brother Hugh's accident

I don't expect you to believe the following was really a personal experience -- but it has to be.  I could not have overheard others talking about it because parts of it were seen and heard by none other than myself.

It must have happened in the Fall of 1899, although I have no proof of that.  I only know that my younger brother Hugh, was born in January of 1899, and at the time of the following `happening', Pa was holding him and he was wrapped in a blanket.  I am sure that he was not yet a year old.  If my deductions are correct that would have made me almost three.

The older children were at school.  Clouds piled up threatening a severe storm.  A couple of ladies driving past were frightened by the ominous clouds and lashed their horse into a gallop to reach out house before the storm broke.  They barely made it.  Pa hustled them into the house and got their horse into the barn.  Then made it to the shelter of the house.

One of the ladies was sitting in our only rocking chair so Pa had to sit on a straight chair.  Ma immediately handed him the baby to hold while she busied herself at some dishes on a small table near the cook stove.  The clouds came down so close it became almost as dark as night in the house.  There was an ominous feeling, lightening flashing, thunder rolling - then, came the most horrible CRASH! I was facing the cook stove and saw the stove lid raise up at an odd angle - a ball of fire about as big around as the lid, popped out from under the lid, hovered there for a moment, then shot toward the pantry door, passing just between my mother and myself.  Ma turned then and screamed.  There was an explosive sound from the pantry where the lightening ball had struck a half-full can of kerosene.  Then everything was turmoil.  The two strange women ran out screaming.  Ma grabbed me and took me outside and ordered me to go to the barn - instead I followed Ma back in.  Pa shouted at her to pour the pans of milk "setting" to raise cream on the pantry shelf, into the fire.  From where I stood facing the pantry door, I could see only a mass of boiling flame - then saw Ma reach across above the flames to grab the pans of milk to douse the flames with.  She again led me outside and standing there in the pouring rain I saw Pa standing on the top of the high door "stoop", aim carefully toward the big flower bed some 20 feet away and toss the blanket wrapped baby into the soft mud and water, then turn back into the house to try to save his home.

Again Ma came out into the rain and ordered me to `go to the barn and STAY there.'  The barn was barely visible through the sheets of rain, and I made slow progress toward it, then stood out in the rain in front of it, too frightened of the horses to go inside.  Standing there I could dimly see the house, but saw Pa smash the pantry window with his bare fist, then grab up one 10 gallon milk can after another and pour the contents into the flaming pantry.  He then ran to the well and with incredible speed draw up bucket after bucket of water on the rope and pulley arrangement - the same type made famous long ago in the well- known song, "The old Oaken Bucket".  This water was then poured through the smashed pantry window.  He moved with such speed it seemed to me he was constantly running the distance from well to house.

Then it was over.  Ma came to the barn and called me to come back to the house.  Then she turned to Pa saying, "What did you do with the baby?" He answered that he put him in the flower bed where the mud was soft.  But baby wasn't there.  Again there was terror and screaming until nearby neighbors arrived and said the two strange ladies had brought the baby to their home and told them our house was all burned down.

The thing that has bothered me for all these many years is: Did that carefully aimed tossing of the baby into a soft, muddy flowerbed in some way injure the baby? I alone saw him thrown out into that awful storm.

Baby was never quite as bright as the rest of the family.  He took forever to learn to read.  In later years he spent more than half his life in a Mental Institution.  He is now 70 years old.

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