Monday, December 13, 2010

PIONEER LETTERS; 1872; part 1 of 2

This account was written in 1949 by Mrs. Mary Dostal of Olivia, MN:

When my parents came to this country in 1872 from Czecho-Slovakia, they bought a small tract of land in McLeod County. They lived in a neighbor's home until they cleared a piece of land on which to build their log cabin. They chose to live in the woods in preference to the prairie, because the trees provided shelter, fuel and lumber.

This cabin my parents built into a home. The first work that had to be done was to cut down trees and grub the stumps. When they had a small plot cleared, they planted potatoes, proso (a grain similar to millet) mangels, and turnips.

This new soil was very fertile and yielded well. The potatoes and proso meal with skimmed milk was their main food. The proso was hulled by pounding a small amount at a time in a bell-shaped mortar, made by hollowing out a block of hard wood.

Mangels and turnips with slough hay was the winter's feed for the cow. In the summer they would tie a bell on the cow's neck and let her wander in the woods to find her own feed.

Year after year, as they cleared more land, they were able to plant other crops. They raised sorghum cane, which they took to a neighbor who had an improvised oxen-powered press. This press was crudely constructed but served its purpose. The pan used for cooking the syrup was a large tin-bottomed pan with wooden sides. The sorghum made this way, was used for sweetening.

My father was a jack-of-all-trades; he was especially handy with carpenter's tools. Neighbors asked him to help them to build their homes, and they repaid him by helping him in other ways. Father had constructed a device for making shingles; it required two men to furnish the power, and one man to feed the machine with the bass-wood, and any number of us children to stack the finished shingles and to tie them into bundles.