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Free Land Questions Sent to Almanzo Wilder to answer

April 23, 2013
Location of Dakota Territory

Location of Dakota Territory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Youth's Companion, January 5, 1831. Published ...

Youth’s Companion, January 5, 1831. Published by Willis & Rand, in Boston Mass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Dakota Territory in the 1870s and around 1880s.

1. What was the price of lumber?  Common lumber 2×4 and 2×6 $30.00 , Finish lumber about $50 per thousand.

2. About how much cash did it cost to build a frame claim-shanty?  8 – 2×4-10= 56, 4-2×4- 12 =32, 4-2×4- 14=25, 4-2×4-16=45, total lumber 20 , total price $158.00.

3. What were your wages on the railroad? the lowest wages you got . I worked with train 3.50 per day. Men 1.50 and feed your own team.

4. Did you get board also, in the railroad camps, or was the cost of it deducted from your wags? Board your self.

5. How many hours a day did you work on the railroad? 10

6. What did the farmer get for wheat, the first years is was raised there? No sure but I think it  was 80 cents.

7. Was winter-wheat known then at all? If it was brought to this country by the Russians. Did you hear of it in the 1870s? I don’t think it was but was not sure.

8. What was a fair price for a good horse? Average good work horse $150.00

9. A Wagon? $65.00, A saddle? $30 to 60, ow Boy usually about $60., A plow? Breaking plow to break up the prairie sod was $ 20 to $ 0 according to size., A harness? $40 – 60.

10. What would seed wheat cost, shipped from the east? I think it was $ 1.50 the first spring.

11. How much seed wheat was sowed to the acre? a bushel and a half.

12. Were any other crops raised to see? If so what,  and how much did they sell for, and how much was raised to the acre?

Oats seed, oats were 60 cents and we sold 3 bushels per acre.  the first crop was in 1881 and we got 90 bushels per acre and we got 40 bushels of wheat per acre.

13. Do you remember what year the first crops were raised around De Smet? 1881

14. And whether that was a good crop year? and the next, and the next, and so on?  We got nearly as good in 1885.

15. Could you give me a general idea of each  weather conditions for a few consecutive years, with dates?  The winter wee usually about the same a few people would  get lost in Blizzards and froze to death.The worst blizzard was cited in First Three Years was Jan. 8, 1888, it came up about 2 days in the afternoon after a nice warm morning and lasted that day and 2 more days and 3rd nite cleared about 4O’clock in the morning of Jan 11 several  froze to death. 2 men watched all the time during that blizzard and were 60 miles from where they had started their hands and ft frozen some but not bad along walk in 2 feet of snow.

16.  Do you remember prices of furniture? Bedstead, table, cook stove, etc?  cane set 1.25, bed and springs buran and corncob 15.00 cook stove  25.00 nails 3 cents per pd.

17. Dress-goods? Calico 7 cents a yard, Men’s clothes? 15 to 40, shoes? 3.00  1.50 hats

18. What did you usually wear to work?  More the stout after it got to old to ware for dress up. Don’t remember of sewing any overalls.

19. What did a window cost? Did you buy it complete, the glass in the sash? a cheap window for shanty 1.00 good windows. Depend on size as now. Yes glass in the sash.

20. How much did it cost to prove up on a homestead? About $10.00 had to have 2 witnesses to prove you had lied on land 5 years.

21. On Tree-claim? Don’t remember

22. What kind of trees did you  plant on a tree-claim? Willow, Box Elder, Cottonwood.

23. Did people want a slough on their land, or not? Why? Yes, Slough grass was much larger 3-4 tons per acre.

24. What papers did you must have, to prove up on a claim? The papers you got when I took  . Was there a land-office in De Smt? when? No, had to go to Watertown.

25. How deep did you dig for water, for a well? from 10 ft on down usually about 20 feet, sometimes they dug clear don did not get water

26. What interest did you pay on mortgage? or Personal notes?  Long time 10 per cents. Personal short time 3 cents per a month.

27.What newspaper and magazines were read? De Smet News, Inter Ocean  Interocian, Chciago, Youth’s Companion.

28. What did a buggy cost? From $ 65 to 85 depend on the make

29. Did folks feel that free land, homesteading, was anew thing? dating only from 1861? A kind of triumph of the poor man in America? Don’t’ think they did.

30. Can you remember an more of this song? Come to this country and don’t you feel alarm, For Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm? No

32. Say any more of this song than: Come to this country and don’t you feel alarm, For Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm?   No

31. Do you remember what other song were popular then? I already have, Little old Sod Shanty on the Claim. I can’t remember except  There  be a hot time  in the old town tonight, and that is all I can remember of it

32. Say that a man’s feet are so badly frozen that he is laid up, can  not walk on them, but later recovers. What do they look like at various stages of freezing and recovering?  Never saw any. they said they  swell badly turn black and blue like a bad bruise, the skin peels off they are long time sore.

33. What were ordinary extremes of winter and summer temperatures? a nice da for s  sleigh ride was zero, a cold day was any here from 20 -40. I have been out with team at 45.

33. Ordinary wind-velocity? 20 to 50 60 for a day or to some times.

34. Do I remember correctly that  you lighted a cigar in a high wind by holding match against it and striking the match with the side of the match box? No I lit a cigar by striking the match on anything handy and got it to the cigar quick that all. 40 – 50 mil wind did not stop a smoke.

35. What song do you remember? For instance is asked, : How are You? in 1908, the reply was ” fine and dandy!” Now it is  :Okey-doke” What was the that kind of reply then? You said a man was ” all wool and a yard wide” What other slang would you use to describe him? Or say he was no good, what would say of him?

All wool and a yard wide- meaning he was honest and good fellow’ Say he was no good – he is shiftless no account fellow. sometimes nick name hi lazy John or what his name might be.

36. What were current phrases, like 1932’s ” forgotten man, and 1934’s ” more abundant life”? There was, ” Go west, young man and grew up with the country? Any others? Don’t remember as there was.

37. What was the price of Coal? soft coal from 8 – 9 a ton.

38. How much did it take for heat through a winter ? About 80 dollars which ever you burned.

39. I f was hard coal? 5 – 18

40. What else was generally burned for fuel? Hay

41. Were buffalo chips and hay in fairly common use? Yes

42. What wild animals did you see after claim shanties were built? Did you see buffalo? antelope? wolves, elk, in the late 1870s? I know there  were coyotes. No Buffalo quit a few antelope

43. Did blanket Indians ever come into De Smet? No

44. Or Indians in white-men’s clothes? No

45. What kind of gun did you have? Make? Caliber? An old Army musket

46. I know nothing about guns, please tell me all you can about it. What did it cost? What did cartridges cost? All t standard makes that are made guns same still had the old colts revolver that was loaded with powder and ball and cap.

47 Were pistols carried then?  What make would they be? etc. Revolvers were used but I don’t thing.

48. Revolvers were later, weren’t they? I remember Mama Bess had a revolver in Florida, but wasn’t it a lady’ s weapon? They had the automatic at that time, cartridges cost 50 cents a box.

49. Do you carry a Barlow knife or Bowie?  Or know a young man who did? No and No

50. Was a horse called a cayune? not there, at that time there  were none, King of Pony I think in Idaho that  was called a cayune

51. The Jail, the Calaboose? yes

52.A dollar ever called a plaster or plaster? No that was earlier and it was paper 25 – 50 75 cents priced called shiplasters.

53. Did you say, two bits, six bits and etc? No

54.What was the slang for dollar?  Or another slang names fr things Didn’t have any.

55.What were the early saloons like? Saloons

56. Did they ha mahogany bars, mirrors, paintings, behind the  bar, swinging doors, frosted windows, or anything like that ? Brass rails? brass cuspidors? Bars yes, Paintings yes swinging doors, Windows yes, rails yes.

57. Were they pool-rooms or were poolroom? yes

58.Separte places Yes

59. Did you shake dice for drinks? yes

60. Did you get cigars in saloons or drugstores ? Saloons yes, Drugstore Yes. And groceries and dry goods had cigars and m shook dice for them ever bought one. Don’t remember any brand of cigar they were 5 or 10 cents.

61. What was the attitude toward cigarettes?  never heard of a cigarette.

62. What groceries were luxuries and do you remember their prices? Oranges, for instance?  What else figs? Dates?

Dried apples 10 cents pd, Fresh peaches 3 for 10  cents,  dried apricots 15 cents per pd, apples 2 for 5 cents, dried peaches 12 cents per pd, apples in season 4 or 5  bushel. Oranges 50 cents a dz. Figs or dates dried 20 cents a pd.

63.Do you remember approximately the price of four? sugar? ( was white sugar the usual thing?) beans? fat pork? Coffee? Tea? Yes white sugar 10 cents per pd. flour 4 cents per pd., some as now except the did not have can vegetables and I don’t know to spell it but they did ha carton stuff in cans.

64.Were Fancy vests still worn? No

5. Did bankers, etc., wear flock coats and tall silk hats? Not there

66. I remember vaguely some speaker– Greenley? that you all drove 40 – 50 miles t hear speak, and did not like him because he ” talked down” to the crowd. Do you remember where, when, this was? What it cost to hear them? How the hall was lighted, what her wore, or any other detail at all ?

Didn’t answer

67. Remember what the political arguments were about, at that time? around town in the stores, and so on. I remember the Cleveland arguments, but but of course not the 1870s? Poburst Deoerates and Republican Mostly Popburst and Rep.

68. When people said, The East and Easterners, did they mane New York and Washington  or Minnesota and Chicago? When they said  The West, did they mean California, or Wyoming and Montana? Meant New York, Ohio, California.

69. Did you usually call the en you knew around town, by their first names? usually say “Mr.”? yes

70. What was your attitude toward the local banker? he was hole fellow now will to say hulo form but when it comes to borrowing money he 3 for a month.

71. Your father, as a farmer, looked down on townspeople and did not want you to be one of them. Was this feeling different in the Dakotas? Yes

Was there a feeling of difference between townspeople and farmers? no

Did homesteaders feel superior to merchants or merchants fee superior to homesteaders? no difference.

72. Did homesteaders generally do you think, intend to stay always on the piece of land? yes

73. About how much could a man sell a homestead claim for? say he had held it three years and had a shanty and a barn on it in cultivation? I want just a general idea, of land prices? About 3-4 hundred dollars.

74. All the land was taken up ahead of the railroad wasn’t it? So that most  land-transfers at the railroad came would sales of claims? yes

75. A man had to lives 7 months of the year for 5 years on a homestead claim, to prove up on it, didn’t he? What other requirements were there? Roughly, how much cash money would require improvements cost a man? 6 months he had to  have at least 10 acres broke and in crop , a house, barn. No requirements as to size or quality.

76. Please tell me about the difference kinds of wild grass: what they looked like, where they grew, what they were good for, did they make a difference in breaking sod, etc. Did you have all kinds of your homestead? or tree claim;?

Buffalo grass grew about 6 inches high very thick always looked like it was dead or vary was it but cattle would get fat on it. The blue stem or a was sometimes turkey foot I suppose  because the top spread out there was like a turkey foot it grew a thick bottom of leaves much like orchard grass and the stems had blueish cast and branched out, the bottom was very thick and made good hay. Blue grass was princely all blades of grass close to the ground they would be in one round stem and seem to   remote and be al blades a 1/4 inch wide at the bottom and  the bottom and return a joint from 3 to 5 feet high it made very good hay but not quit as good as blue joint because the leaves were a little tough made the best hay for fuel.

77. What kids of wild flowers / and weeds do you remember? that would strike an eye looking at the country, and at what different times of year? and weeds that were pests to the farmer. ( I can imagine the country in June when Wild roses were blooming, but what it look like earlier and alter? what mass and colors of wild flowers? Ozarks are white with daisies, but they came later, didnt’ they?)

I am sorry but I can’t remember a wild flowers except violets and wild roses the violets came early in spring but did not show as they do here for the wild grass started early and the whole country looked green but you would find violets in a few places.

Roses, were everywhere. I don’t remember of any weeds, they are in with horse feed oats and mill feed and seed grain but no weeds at first as I remembered the Russian thisel came later first started in Russia settlements and spreads all over. The worst first there is they grow round as large as bushel basket and when the seed gets rip it dies and the wind breaks it off and it will blow till it hits something lie a field or buildings and it scatters  seed every time it roles over and  when the wind changes it comes back.

78. Just in general , driving out from town, how far across country? would you look on a clear day? about 5-6 miles, yet up on a ridge you could see farther.

79. Would you say the land is flat, or rolling? rolling

80. Why didn’t you take a claim nearer town? Because I like to live near town.

81. Did homesteaders usually move into town for the winters? or only for Hard Winter? Nearly all were single men and boarded in town, When there was o work to be done on claim that was why the were in town for the Hard Winter after that the most of them got married and staid on the claim or had so  much stock they had to stay and take care of it.

82. What year did you take your first claim?  fall 1879

83. In the spring when you looked at the country, did you see a lot of activity, plowing etc., or did it seem wild and lonely to look at? not  lonely but wild enough? didn’t answer

84.  How near were how many neighbors? in shanties? or soddies? What nationalities were they? which ones were married?

We were only 1 mile from town I think at that time were all americans in the fall of 1879. When we built our sod shantie. We were there for a month in October and Nov. and did not see any one but hurd after that there was a man living 9 miles from where we built our shanties. We  dug a well that fall and go good water in gravel at 7 feet deep. the next spring neighbors built on nearly every claim around us and all arid men.

85. Why did you pick out that particular place or land? Were there others already taken that  you would have preferred and why? What as  most desirable in a claim, there and at that time, frontier he homesteaders’ point of view?

I know where the town was to e and wanted to get land as close to town as I could and took it with our ever seeing it and it was all good land wasn’t much difference in it.

86. What, in regard to your claim, gave you most satisfaction during the first few years? I mean moments of satisfaction, such as, finishing the shanty; putting up the team after the sod was broken; or seeing the wheat up; something like that. Those special ties that one remembers, of looking at something and feeling good.

As for instance, the day on Rocky Ridge when that first mortgage was paid off, ad we said ” Now the place is ours!” It must have been a grand moment when you walked into the bank and handed that money to old man Freeman. Must have been moments like that, in homesteading.

To save me 8 cents remember of anything except when I’ve thrashed the first crop we ever had but it was only a few acres because it was before we han much land broke up. M life has been  mostly disappointments

87. Were the summer winds always  dusty?  No along as they staid there. there was not land enough broke up to make dust storms.

88.  Was there any talk then, did anybody all say, that the country would blow away when it was plowed up? No

89. Did people believe the trees would survive on the tree-claim? Was their argument about it, and what was said? They seemed to think Willow and cottonwood would grow

90. Did windbreaks survive? Are their trees around  farmhouses now? A very few that most of them are dead.

91. Remember anybody who made money as real estate agent, locating claims for homesteaders selling and re-selling them to later owners? No

92. What there a slang word for home-steaders? No

93.. Did people say, take a claim? Didn’t answer

94. Did you fence the land right away? or raise wheat unfenced? what kind of fence? what did it cost? where did you get fence posts?

It was several years before . anyone beened and then pots.  Were 15 cents each barbed wire 3 dollars or numbered inch or pounds.

95. Remember when wire nails came out? and any. When they first  came out they would nail the boxes together food were shipped in with wire nails and you couldn’t hardly et the cover off and when you did there was a card big letters this cover was nailed down with glidenstel wire nails what do you thinkk of their staying qualities.

96. Or the first rider – plow? didn’t answer

97. First threshing machine? what it was like? They were the same as now maybe not quite as large.

98. First binder? Was before we went to Dakota

99. Any other new machinery in the 1870s?  or striking inventions of any kind? Don’t remember of any. there were some improvements on mowers and other machinery

100. You used kerosene lamps; what did kerosene cost? 15 cents a gallon

101. Did most claim-shanties or soddies have board floors? yes

102. What did flooring cost for 8 X 10 room? did not have floors in  them

103. If I  know you, you had a fit or extravagance now and then. What did you spend money on? when you had it in your pocket and just felt like spending it? Nowadays a man would buy  a new car.

remember one time when you did something like that? and hardly dast face Mama Bess with whatever you’d bought? That would be in the 1880s, but it’s all the same if it was something you would have bought in the 1870s. Or maybe  it was on time that Roy went on a spending spree, bought something you didn’t have to have, but just wanted? I ought a top buggie in 882. I bought a 50 dollar nickel plated harness in spring 1882.

I am sorry I would not remember more but it has been a long time and things did not impress me when they happened like they did some people.

It is none of my business but I would suggest that you give the key to the house over there to someone that takes care of their own things.


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