The Snippens

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Reminiscences of the Snippens
by Irene Nelson and Julia Hill

One stormy day in January 1967, we were reminiscing and talking over many of the pioneer incidents which had been related to us by our parents, John and Emma Snippen.

In 1902, our parents were a newly married couple residing near Cyrus, Minnesota. They had heard of the wonderful opportunities awaiting "Out West". There was a land boom on in North Dakota, and everyone was anxious to go out and file on a claim, which was considered a wonderful way of establishing a new home.

So, on May 17 in the year 1903, our mother was with a group of women and children who left by train from Hancock, Minnesota. Their destination was Minot, where they were met by their husbands, who had arrived on an earlier train.

From Minot, they traveled by lumber wagon over well-ruttted trails, never imagining these ever would be replaced by super highways. During the pleasant two-day trip, they saw the prairies, near and far, dotted with the scattered shacks of the homesteaders who had already established  homes here. They spent the first night at one of these homes, where they were welcomed with open arms.

After the big build-up Dad had so well told Mother about this new home in the West, it was a disappointment to arrive and find that the shack which had been built the previous fall had already fallen victim to the Northwest winds. In true pioneer spirit, they were invited to live with relatives.

In a few days, a tent was secured and staked on their homestead; this became their honeymoon cottage in North Dakota. A short time later, their homestead shack was rebuilt. Mother wanted to make it more "homey" so she later covered the 2x4s and walls with newspapers, putting them on with a paste made of flour and water. As they gazed at the walls, they could read their old copies of the Skandivaven. This also helped to keep in the heat because one of their concerns was to be ready for the coming North Dakota winter.

September 11, 1903 was a pleasant day, so Mother took advantage of the weather and walked to the home of her sister, Mrs. Peter Kolden, to secure a stovepipe for their laundry stove, which was used as a heater and cook stove. The walking distance at that time wasn't a matter of great concern, so a distance of 2 ½ miles meant nothing to her, as it was both a pleasure and a business trip. The next day, a blizzard hit and raged for two days, so she was happy she had made the necessary trip the previous day.

Getting ready for winter was a matter not to be taken lightly. Even after the windows had strips  of material packed around them, the snow would find a way of filtering in, and the inside walls were covered with frost. Snow drifts were very deep that first winter and it was necessary to dig a sort of tunnel from the doorway of the shack to the top of the drifts, and walk on top of the hard snow to another tunnel which led down into the barn.

What Mother described as her usual wash day is a far cry from the modern way of washing clothes. She carried snow in tubs and melted it, and we know it takes a lot of snow to get a tubful of water. The next process was to strain the water through a dish towel, then fill the copper boiler and heat it on the laundry stove, set up two tubs, and get to work on the wash board. Imagine this washroom arrangement in their one-room shack. During the winter, the clothes were also hung up to dry in this one room by putting up lines from one wall to another. The next day the ironing was done with a sad-iron.

Water was always a big problem. To get necessary cooking and drinking water, Mother would carry it from Glennon's well, a distance of a half mile. Often we would go along to visit Pat and his brother, Mike, in their log house. Mother related of how Mrs. Jim Shea had a longer distance to go and she, too, got her water from Glennon's well. She would pull a a child's express wagon and transport the water home in gallon pails, besides having two small boys to add to her load most of the way.

Mrs. Shea was one of the first settlers to stop at oru place to greet us after we arrived in North Dakota; but years later she told us the main purpose of that first visit was to stop in to see what a Norwegian looked like, as she had never seen or heard of a Norwegian before these Minnesota people came. The Sheas and oru parents became very dear friends, and they spent many pleasant hours together.

It was a joy in spring to place a barrel on the stoneboat and hitch up old Dandy, the reliable black mare, and go to a slough and fill the barrel with sparkling soft water. Dad and Mother attempted several times to dig a well. Dad would be in the hole, and Mother stood at the top with a pail and rope, which she lowered into the hole to pull up the dirt.

On a trip to Underwood, Dad's brother, Henry, secured a windmill. Before this, they pumped by hand, and Mother said, "It really made me mad when I had pumped a tubful of water and homesteaders passing by would stop and water their horses, leaving an empty tub for me to refill."

There were wagon trails near the shack, and the folks were often awakened in the early morning hours by rumbling noises which turned out to be  homesteaders in their wagons going to get a load of coal.

They often longed for word and mail from relatives and friends they had left behind in Minnesota, and this was what inspired them to establish a post office in connection with their grocery store in the spring of 1904.

These pioneers, without the activities and social affairs, and means of travel of our day, were happy and contented. They looked forward to Sunday, when they would gather in the homes and  have their devotional services. The rest of the day was spent in visiting and discussing the happenings of the week.

While we have been reminiscing and looking at hold pictures, we found a picture with the caption, "The Rommegrot Party, May 24, 1905". The picture was taken at the Hans Lunden homestead, and we noted how everyone was dressed in his best, featuring white shirts, bow ties, vests, and some with plug hats. Other gatherings were ball games and ladies aids.

The Diamond Hill hall, located about 3 ½ miles south of our home, was a favorite dance hall where many wedding dances were held. Fourth of July celebrations were held at Glennon coulee. There were stands for refreshments and lunches, programs, games, fireworks, and a large bowery was built where the day was ended with a big dance. Indians from Fort Berthold Reservation came in wagons and set up their tents in advance to be on hand for the big celebration. Another highlight each year was the annual Hiddenwood picnic that everyone looked forward to attending, and prepared many goodies to go into their picnic baskets. We were happy when our Grandma Snippen was here from Minnesota and went with us to some of these picnics. Mother said that for one of the first picnics, Aunt Elise (Mrs. Henry Snippen) and Sophia Rhue (Mrs. A.P. Mattson) carried a spring seat from their shack to our place so they would have a seat to sit on in our wagon to ride along to the picnic. One lady even hauled along a trunk in the back of her buggy so, in case of rain, she would have a protection for her good hat. In those days, every lady wore a beautiful hat to the picnic of the year.

One thing everyone feared in those days was a prairie fire. One big fire started at Palermo, burned for days, and finally ended at the Missouri River, south of here. While the men were out fighting the fire, the women were busy at home making fire breaks around their shacks and haystacks.

A man to be remembered around our place was Emil Strand, who set up a blacksmith shop in our yard. He was known as the country blacksmith, and people from miles around kept him busy shoeing horses and sharpening plow lays. We enjoyed watching the sparks fly from the forge, and hearing the anvil ring when he pounded the plow lays.

Mrs. Henry Snippen was the first teacher at Frost's shack, and looking at a picture of that first school group, we recognize many familiar faces. We started school in 19112 and went 3 ½ miles to the school, situated across from the present (1967) Edward Austad farm. Minnie Johnson, from Turtle Lake, was our first teacher. This same old schoolhouse, now a vacant building, stands close to County Road No. 9 near Roundtop in Gate Township.