Aunt Bess Nelings wrote this story of her family. She is one of the women in these beautiful hats.
[on back of paper]
This is the Nelings Family
My father was D.T. Nelings.
This is a story I wrote some time ago. And first run onto it to-day Mar. 28. 1955. thot I would copy it some one might read it some time. Bess.
[front of paper]
My father came to South Dakota, then Dakota Territory, in 1881, he worked in Huron the summer of ’81 went back to Elkader Iowa, in the fall came out again in 1882, worked that summer, took land (filed on land) as they called it. In Foster Twp. Beadle Co. where we still live. In the fall Nov. 8, 1882 the family came Mother, two boys Jimmie and Claud and us girls Bertha, Maud, Girlie and myself (Bess). In the spring of 1883 the other three girls came. The two older ones Willie (Wilhemina) and Jennie had been teaching school and Mary was staying with an aunt. On April 7-1886 my younger brother Dick was born in S.D. When we came in 1882 we came by train to Iroquois and went finally to the homestead, there was just a little wooden shanty about 26×24. With a floor half way across above for sleeping space. A stove pipe sticking out of the roof. And only about three [?] houses in sight. After the family was mooved in on the land some food and fuel hauled in, Father went back to Huron to work for the family had to eat. Mother and we kids were alone out on the prairie, Father came home Sat. night after working all week He often walked all the way out from Huron, or if he could off in time he would catch the train to Iroquois and walk home from there. 8 ½ miles. I remember them telling about that first winter there…came a snow and father rushed home hired coal and flour hauled out to the homestead thinking a hard winter was upon us. But it proved to be a mild winter.
Father bought oxen and my brother James and Claud (14 and 16 years old) broke up the land. While Father stuck to his work. He was a plastering Mason by traid. He worked on many of the old houses in Huron and Iroquois, he plastered the old Dakota house and worked on the old Court House. Said he slept in a tent the first year he worked in Huron.
But I think it was Mother who real had the hardest part of the pioneering. Alone way out there on the prairie with a house full of children. I know she used to cover up the windows, so no ray of light would shine out. (except Sat. night then she had the boys put the lanterns up on the corner of the roof so Father could find his way) She would read aloud to us for hours in the evening by candlelight or a small kerosene lamp. She was afraid of Indians but she never let us know it. After years she told us of how she was so afraid. But we were all blissfully happy I guess. My older brothers knew she was afraid.
One morning she got us all up early and said we would go to a neighbors 2 miles away. She thought she had seen Indians coming. They came nearer then she seen they were antelope seeing them in a mirage and being frightened she seen them as Indians. The antelope came right up to the clothes line when the clothes were hanging.
At first there was no school my sister Jennie taught us children at home. Then the school house was built. And she taught the first school in it. There was no twp organization then one member of the school board lived up near Lake Byron and another near where Sheffield is now. She had to make that round to get her money and I think she got $18.00 a month.
My oldest sister Willie taught in Iroquois when she was the whole teaching staff. And in Mitchel when there was one other teacher beside herself.
She stayed in the school house in Mitchel and kept the children there in the blizzard of 1888.
We seen in the summer of 1883 shanteys sprung up on nearly every quarter section. These mostly single men and girls who took the land at first. My mother bajed bread for as many as 10 batchelors at a time. Sometimes she would make cookies or a pie. She would send the younger girls to stay with the young ladies at night. She tried to mother them all. Giving her supply of home remedies when they were sick. Mending their clothes sewing on buttons. When they had proved up on their land they all left. The shanteys were tore down and all was bare again. The next people who came were Men with families. They stayed unless they couldn’t take it. And hard times drove them out but some stayed and as ourselves are here yet. Or gone beyond the sunset.
We went through the Blizzard of 1888 the school teacher came to our house that morning they was short of cole at the school house so couldn’t have school.
My brothers Jimmie and Claud were in the farm when the storm struck doing chores. They were there about eight hours. Mother and Father were frantic thinking the boys were out in the storm. Mother tore some new muslin (she had in the house) in strips she tied them together and tied it to Fathers arm. Then the teacher let it out the window of a summer kitchen holding it tight the string would reach away farther then the barn. But Father never hit the barn he would go as far as he could then the teacher would hold the string Father would follow it back rolling it up as he came. He made a good many tried but never found the barn. The boys heard some one call and thought Father was out in the storm. So they put the dog out and followed him, and this way got to the house. Old Doc, a little brown spaniel, he kept his nose to the ground and just scratched along. Although he was nearly exhausted as my brothers were when they reached the house. We had cole and plenty of food so we went through the storm all right. In the morning it was clear and cold and the prairie was dotted with cattle and horses frozen to death some standing upright in the drifts.
We have had to stay all night in the school house in storms. We lived through the drought, the days of cow chips and twisted hay. But always had clothes to keep us warm. Enough food to eat and fire to keep up warm in winter. And something a little extra for Christmas and the other holidays.
Sometimes when I see what children get now at Christmas I wonder if they are any happier than we were with Molasses candy and popcorn balls. And Oh-an orange in the toe of my stocking. And maybe new mittens or new overshoes. A scarf or hood something always that we needed. Of course we had dolls out sister who was teaching school always managed a doll or toy.
Father and Mother finished they days on the homestead they were pioneers and never cared to leave the home they had put so much of themselves into. And gone through so many hardships to establish a home in a new country. You might say blazed the trail for coming generations.
[The school teacher mentioned was Jim Murta. The neighbor 2 miles away was Bailiff [?]]