I was born late the same year, November 30, 1912. Of course, the first four or five years of my life I can't recall much. I do remember living in my mother's claim shack. It had two rooms: a large kitchen and a living- room/bedroom combination. In there were two beds, a clothes closet, and four chairs. The kitchen had a stove for both cooking and heating, plus a cupboard and four chairs. The floors were rough boards; you couldn't slide on them unless you were ready to pull slivers out of your posterior.
In summer, to make meals, dried cow chips were burned. In the winter, coal was used - a cheap grade called lignite, mined in western North Dakota. Curiously, buffalo chips were also referred to as North Dakota lignite.
There was no insulation in the walls or ceiling of the claim shack. On the outside of the 2x4 frame was a layer of tar paper and ship lap board. On the inside was a layer of boards. At times, it seemed colder than the arctic in the place. I remember one morning I saw some frost on a hammer, and I was going to lick it off. My tongue froze to it! That was the last time I tried that.
Four children were born in that shanty: myself, my brother August who died in infancy, my brother Gottfried, and my oldest sister, Friederika.
I might mention that in about 1918 the folks decided to buy a different house, one that was for sale about eight miles distant. Years later I could never see why it only had two large rooms and with a lean-to attached. This was no place to raise a large family in.
There was also another building on the place - a small barn with a lean-to on it for livestock. One Fall day when I was about three years old, my mother was out in the cow yard picking up dried cow chips for the kitchen range, stacking them in a pile. (When the pile was large enough, it was rounded off, and then, wet cow manure was smeared over the top to keep it dry). Anyway, while mother was doing this, I was playing with a small black dog. Now, there was a shallow hand-dug well in the yard, which had a 4x4 wooden casing. The casing stuck out of the ground about 2 1/2 feet and it was partially uncovered. The dog jumped over the well, and I can recall to this day, since the dog jumped over the well, I would do the same. Well, I don't remember falling in the well. However, it had about four feet of water in it, and a large rock. Mother heard a plop, and she suspicioned what had happen and let out a blood-curdling yell. Dad was at the neighbors, about 1/2 mile away. They heard it, and they all came running across the hill like a string of geese. Anyway, Dad got down and pulled me out and later said I was standing on this rock with a dead muskrat in my arm, none the worse for wear.
For transportation we had a buggy, a sled and a stoneboat. The stoneboat consisted of two fence posts laid side by side, about three feet apart, with planks nailed crosswise over them. The fronts of the posts were sawed in a kind of bevel so that they would not catch obstructions. These stoneboats were used to haul rocks off cultivated land, because one did not have to lift the rocks very high when loading them. Large rocks could be rolled onto the stoneboat. The front of the stoneboat had a an "evener" attached to it so that horses could be used to pull it. This device could be utilized to haul other heavy or clumsy objects as well. For instance, we would drive in the lake with it and fill tubs of water for washing clothes.
The lake water was softer than the well water. In those days, commercial soaps, fabric softeners, running water and electricity were unavailable. Every household made their own soap. Lard was cut off the fat pork at butchering time. This was then put on the cooking range and rendered, (cooked till it became liquid), and lye was mixed with the lard. This was then poured through a strainer to remove settlings and into a large pan about four inches deep. When it hardened, it was cut into bars, ready for use. If you used enough of it, you didn't have to worry about the clothes not being clean. The stuff would take the scales off a crocodile.
To do laundry was another chore. Until I was in my teens, we hadn't heard of a washing machine. We had a wash tub that held about 20 gallons of water. With this, one used a rub board - a device 18 by 30 inches which had corrugated metal in a wooden frame. One end was set in the wash tub and soap was applied to it. Then, each piece of clothing was rubbed up and down on it. After that, some of the white clothes were put in a copper wash boiler which was on the kitchen range. These were boiled for a while, then everything was rinsed in the wash tub and hung on an outside clothes line to dry. In the winter it would freeze dry provided you left it out long enough. The laundry became stiff as boards.
When the clothes were dry, they were brought in for ironing. The irons were heated on the kitchen range. To tell if they were hot enough, you spit on them. If the spit didn't bounce off, they needed more heat.
As for washing machines, they started showing up about 1920. This amounted to a wooden tub on three legs with an agitator inside the tub, and a handle on the outside with cog wheels attached to the agitator. By pumping the handle, the agitator was set in motion. After running a washing through that apparatus, you were ready for six months in a rest home. About 1935, washing machines appeared on the market with a gasoline motor attached to the underside, which took a lot of the drudgery out of the process.
Another clever invention was the gasoline iron which saved a lot of time. It had a small tank attached to the upper side, in front of the grip. This held a pint of fuel, and with an air pump, you pumped enough air to force gas fumes through the tube to the center of the iron where combustion occurred. To light the device, one opened a valve and held a match at the orifice. From then on, all you had to worry about was hoping that the darn contraption didn't blow up.
Uncle Christ was 18 years of age when he arrived in the United States with his parents in 1898. About 1902 he married Marie Roehl and the couple had 14 children. Three children died in infancy and are buried in the August Gulke burial plot 14 miles northwest of Forbes, North Dakota. The remaining children are August, Everett, Washington, deceased; Christ, Oaks, North Dakota, deceased; Hulda Robb, Ludden, North Dakota, deceased; Gottfried, deceased at age 19; Theodore, New Brighton, Minnesota, deceased; Herman, deceased; Fredrick, deceased; Henry, deceased; Reinhard (Jack), Kirkhoven, Minnesota; Otto, deceased; Viola, address unknown.
Uncle Christian died some time in 1945 while I was in Europe during World War II. Uncle Christ always had a big farming operation going. I don't know how he did it; he had tractors and up-to-date machinery while his neighbors were still using horses and oxen.
My brother Klotzie and I spent a lot of time at the Christ Gulke place when we were kids. We were about the same age as Gottfried and Ted Gulke and we were together just about every Sunday. We would walk down to Uncle Christ's place five miles distant. It was an awful shock to us when Gottfried died at the age of 19 from pneumonia.
Theodore married Margaret Anderson and they had four daughters: Janice, Beverly, Carol and Joyce. Three live in Minnesota and Carol lives in Alabama. We get together with Ted's girls quite regularly and enjoy some good old times - except for Carol, who doesn't get to Minnesota very often.
In the Fall of 1919, at seven years of age, I started to country school - about 2 1/2 miles away from home. My dad was too damn lazy to take me, so I had to walk. He had told me so many "wild wolves" tales that I made an extra half-mile to school, walking around thistle bushes because I was scared there might be wolves in them.
On towards the winter of 1919, the old boy got tired of farm work, so he feigned a back ache, claiming he had lumbago. I was too young to recall the details such as how we disposed of the livestock. I know we kept the little ranch and moved to Merricourt, No. Dakota. Fourteen miles northeast of our place, Jake Fey, a carpenter, had built us a house. Dad got a job on the railroad and worked days. At night he was always down to the only dive in town, the pool hall, where most guys gathered to gossip till about eleven p.m. This he enjoyed because he was used to having a crowd around. ...more a about our years in Merricourt later.
Returning to my days on the farm, I remember at least four of us were born before we moved to town - five with August, who died in infancy of pneumonia. He was after me, I being the oldest. Dad went to town after medicine, but got drunk instead, and came home many hours later and the child was dead. It very likely would have happened anyway, but it showed irresponsibility. Gottfried was next, born November 1, 1915, then Frederika and Elsie. I was named Jacob after my grandfather Klotzbücher. August was named after mother's father, August Gulke. Frederika was named after my maternal grandmother, Friederika (Kock) Gulke. I never did know who my sister Elsie was named after.
Two of my sisters were born while we lived in Merricourt - Louise and Theresa. Louise was named after our mother and grandmother Klotzbücher, and Theresa was named after Mrs. Schmidtke, the section foreman's wife. Then there was Pauline; she was named after mother's sister, Pauline Mallach. Then John came along. He was sixteen years my junior. The folks dug out the Bible to select a name. They came across Israel, but we kids protested. So they finally agreed to Israel John, but we always called him John. The last child to be born was Rachel, who also died in infancy. I remember Gottfried and me sliding around on the rough wooden floor of the claim shack playing train. I can't recall that we had ever seen a train. We had no toys, but I remember using tobacco cans and other items to play with. Later in my life, Gottfried was known as Klotzie.
We also kept geese on the farm, and I had a few encounters with the gander. On one occasion, mother had me by the hand, and as we entered the house, the gander came up behind me, grabbed me by the buttocks and started beating me with his wings. They were powerful and capable of killing a two or three-year old child.
The gander would fight with the bull. He'd grab a tuft of hair on the bull's head and beat the bull about the head with his wings, and many times put the run on the bull. Other times the bull would run over the gander, and when the bull cleared the gander, the gander would grab the bull's tail in his beak, brace his legs, and slide while the bull headed for the pasture trying to shake the gander. This may sound like fiction, but it happened just as I stated. ...wish I could have gotten this on a camcorder.
As a kid, I never got to town - maybe once every six months. I recall Dad took me along one time with the buggy in the summertime. I was about four or five years old. We would pass buggies and wagons on the way. Of course, I didn't know these people so I would ask dad who was that. If he didn't know, the answer was always the same: "That's Yankee Doodle Irishman."
Most of the time, Dad had us hired out to other people who needed a kid around as a slave to scrub up shit their kids dropped all over the house, haul water, chop wood, or any other dirty job they didn't have an appetite for - all that for $10.00 a month. When pay day came, my inebriate father was around to collect our pay and never left us one lousy nickel for a small treat of some kind. This he collected till I was 20 years old. The reason I never objected was because the rest of the family got some good out of it. But, the rest went for booze.
We used to catch gophers in the summertime. The township would pay 5¢ a tail. The idea was to keep the gophers from multiplying because they were hard on grain crops. The old boy would take the tails, collect the check, and that was that. After I got several treatments like that, I decided the hell with it, and we let the gophers run.
One time when I was about five years old, Dad and I went to town with the buggy. We went into the hardware store in town, and I remember a large bucket setting there which had about 50 buggy whips standing in it. Dad bought one, while I wasn't old enough to know you had to pay for things. Dad went out the door with his whip, so I decided I would also like one, and I took one and walked behind Dad for a block or so before he noticed I had this whip. That was my first life's lesson that there is a monetary consideration connected with anything you obtain. Dad said, "Where did you get that whip?" I said, "...from the same place you got yours." He got me by the collar, marched me back to the store, and pointed out to me what could happen was I old enough to know better. There were laws that governed our activities and breaking them could earn us some time in a crowbar hotel.
There was another incident that I'll never forget. As I mentioned previously, we had no toys, so we had to use our imagination to entertain ourselves. My brother Klotzie was about 10 or 12 years old when he built himself a contraption which consisted of two baby-buggy wheels, a three-foot rod to which the wheels were attached, one on each end, two other round shafts made of old broom sticks, and an apple box attached to the top of the contraption. He then coaxed a year-old calf in between the broomstick shafts and used a pair of old coveralls for a harness. Now he was ready for the count down. He seated himself in the apple box, gave the calf a poke in the butt with a pointed stick, and he blasted off at full throttle. At about 100 yards he broke the sound barrier, but the sonic boom didn't register until he struck the ruts of an old road. That's when the whole contraption went air borne - but not as a unit. Wheels, apple box and Klotzie were all vying for air space. The calf and the coveralls had left for parts unknown. At that moment, two fellows from a farmer's magazine had stopped at our front gate and witnessed the whole episode. At the next printing of the the magazine, Klotzie had made the headlines.
Another time Klotzie decided to go sliding downhill in the wintertime on an old sled we kids had nailed together from some old boards. The snow was quite deep, but it was a nice day. The cattle were outside that day, and there was a mean bull. The bull spied Klotzie and decided to join him when Klotzie spied the bull. He decided to run for cover. When the bull got within five yards of Klotzie, Klotzie fell in the deep snow. When that happened, the bull got disinterested and headed for the barn. ...lucky for Klotzie.
Another time, we kids were walking home from school. It was a cold, blustery winter day and we were facing into the wind. Klotzie pulled his coat up over his head, walking along feeling the road with his feet. It was a Friday night and a school teacher from another school was driving home for the weekend in a Model-T touring car. When she spied Klotzie in the road with his coat over his head, she decided to turn out for him. When Klotzie heard the car approaching, he also decided to get out of the way. As a result, she struck him and ran over him with her front wheels. He wasn't hurt but was obviously in shock. The rest of us kids thought he was trying to be funny when he asked what had happened.
I never forgot when Dad was going to load some hogs on the wagon and take them to town - nothing organized as usual. They were out in the hog fence. Klotzie suggested we put them in a pen. It would be easier to drive them up the chute into the wagon. For this suggestion he got his ears slapped. We all got out in the hog pasture, formed a semi circle and drove the hogs toward the wagon. Finally, one old 300-lb. sow decided she didn't want to go along with the program and bolted for freedom. Mother happened to be in her way. Mom had a long dress on. The sow ran between her legs; her snout caught mom's dress and mom landed on top of the sow. She clamped her hands around the sow's belly and down the pasture they went. After about 500 feet, the sow got tired, laid down, and mom ambled back to the starting line.
Returning to the four years we lived in Merricourt (while I was between the ages of seven and eleven), my father decided we were getting old enough to do the farm work. He had worked on the Soo Line Railroad as a section hand and the work was getting to him. He also had set up a shoe repair shop in one corner of the house, an occupation at which he could have done well, but more shoes came in than he cared to fix. He would get mad, and mom finally got so she did most of the work herself.
I hadn't learned to talk English by the time we moved to town. Of course, my first day in school in town, all the little town bullies had to try out the new kid in school. One kid challenged me to fight. I didn't understand what he was talking about till he poked me in the nose causing it to bleed. I ran home and told mother what they did to me. She told me I just had to learn to defend myself. One of the neighborhood kids owned a set of boxing gloves. We got to be good friends and his dad trained us to box. After that I had no more problems. This same kid tried me later; my brother was with me. I told Klotzie if it looks like I am losing, jump in and give me a hand. But it turned out the kid was no match for me. I put the run on him in no time.
We lived in Merricourt during Prohibition days. One Sunday afternoon I was playing with the neighbor's kids when I noticed some men in the neighbor's hen house. They had a whiskey still set up and were catching the moonshine with a tablespoon as it came out of the spout. By evening, some of them had trouble finding their way out of the hen house, including my dad.
In the spring of 1923, we left Merricourt and moved back out to mother's homestead. The old boy had made a deal with a well-to-do local farmer, John Knepfel, for some livestock. Dad traded him the house in town for four horses, several head of cattle, pigs, chickens, and several pieces of farm machinery. This move got him off the railroad; working eight hours a day cramped his style. Now he was his own boss and the kids were getting old enough to handle some of the work. But, a lot of it never got done. He did manage to set up a still to make his own moonshine.
It was springtime and all the farmers were busy putting in a crop. The old boy helped me, an eleven-year old, harness the horses till I knew how. We went out in the field, hooked up the plow and he started me out. Whenever I didn't start the end farrow properly, I got one along side of the head. He made me so darn nervous I couldn't see straight. After a couple years, Klotzie was old enough to take my place. So Dad hired me out to other slave-driving bastards. They didn't care about a poor, unfortunate kid. It was all of ten hours a day in the field with horses - no modern machinery. And if weather interfered, there were always barns to haul manure out of and chicken houses to clean. One would wind up with chicken lice all over himself. There were also all sorts of chores to do, morning and evening, like hand milking a bunch of cows and feeding live stock - with no running water and no indoor plumbing.
Going to the rest room in the winter was like a trek to the North Pole. When you finally got to the receiving station through five feet of snow and peeled off ten layers of clothes, then you deposited your bare hinder on the seat which was covered with an inch of snow while a northwest wind played a tune off your glockenspiel. The job wasn't finished till the paper work was done. Since we had no electric corn cobs, we had to resort to a Sears Roebuck catalog and be sure to use the soft pages. The shiny ones set your hemorrhoids on fire.
In the summer I was always hired out elsewhere and the old boy was always there at the end of each month to collect my wages, leaving me penniless. Later years I spent most of my time working for my uncle, John Gulke. In the summertime, as a kid, I was paid $15.00 per month and later on I got $25.00 plus my room and board. Aunt Ottilia was a great cook. Anyway, Dad collected my wages till I was 20 years old. After that I said, "No more." He had sister Frieda hired out from the time she was nine years old, or perhaps younger. Klotzie ran away from home when he was 15.
We always were home in the winter to attend country school. We were supposed to buy our own books, but in our case we had none. We sat with neighbor kids and used theirs. We could do little home work for not having access to books. Then the old buck would brag to anyone listening how smart his kids were, no thanks to him. Whenever there was some nasty job to do, I was kept home from school to do it. After I left home permanently, he trained sister Elsie (Becky) to do the field work, etc.
Klotzie came back home a year or so after he had run away, but went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps, (CCC). This was a program, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, which was set up by President Franklin Roosevelt to relieve some of the poverty-stricken families and to offset starvation. Typically, $30.00 was provided: $25.00 for the family and $5.00 for the CCC member. Families who qualified could also receive commodities once per month such as fruit, cereal, some meat products, etc. So much was allotted for each family member. The CCC was also responsible for such projects as planting trees, updating parks, and building dams. Klotzie worked on that for a couple of years.
Elsie helped at home and also put in several hours per week on another government program called the NYA, National Youth Administration. For about $15.00 per month, which Dad took full advantage of, the kids at home lived better than they ever had.
Sister Louise never grew up with the rest of the family. A neighbor lady and her husband, who lived in Miller, So. Dakota, took her in to baby sit when she was about eight years old. They sent her through school, also high school and through nurses training. She was the only one of our family who had the opportunity to go through high school.
From the time I can remember, we kids always had to herd cattle. The old boy never fixed a fence. If we didn't herd the cattle on our own land, they would be on the neighbor's property. If the neighbor's called, us kids would wind up getting our ears boxed.
We tried fixing the fences in a haphazard manner, but the fence posts were rotten and the barb wire rusty. It would break when we tried to tighten it. There were no staples to fasten the wire to the post, but some how we made it.
We all had the normal childhood diseases: chicken pox, measles, etc. During the bad flu epidemic around 1917-18, we escaped it. Guess the reason was we never went anywhere to contract it. People died by the thousands. Doctors at that time didn't have the means or the know-how to stop it. In the army camps, bodies were piled up like cord wood during World War I.
I can't give enough credit to our mother. She saw to it that we had our three meals a day. I'll never know how she did it. She always managed a small garden and a potato field, got us kids to do the hoeing, and there were always enough animals to butcher in the Fall for meat. She managed to get enough help out of the old man to do the butchering. He prided himself on doing that job.
We preserved the meat in a large crock. We also made sausage which we smoked and hung in the attic where it kept all winter. We also made something we called a pressmagen. The animal's stomach was cleaned out and then stuffed with precooked ground meat and flavored with spices such as garlic, oregano (Pfefferkraut), salt and pepper. Then it was put between a couple of boards and a heavy rock was placed on it for a couple weeks. After that you could slice it off in slabs. It was delicious.
Mother was a great cook and baker, particularly with the primitive equipment she had to make things with. On top of all this, she was crippled. Her right leg was about four inches shorter than her left due to an accident which she and her brother, Jake, had when she was a girl of about 18 or so. They upset a load of hay and mother's hip was put out of joint which could have been fixed easily. But those days, no one was available with the medical wisdom to put it back in the socket. So, she spent the rest of her life in that condition.
If Dad would have been any kind of husband, he could have done something to alleviate mom's condition. She always saw to it that things got done. She used us kids quite effectively to help her. We were always aware that if she ever mentioned to Dad that we refused to do a job for her, he was always ready to apply harsh punishment. He would use any means available. If a stick was handy he would let you have it over the head or any other place that was available. He always kept a razor strap hanging on a nail in the house near the washbasin. He used that for two purposes: to sharpen his razor and to discipline the kids. He used to beat us without mercy with it. You were ready to climb a bare wall; he raised welts a half-inch high all over your buttocks.
Mother had many other talents such as sewing and crocheting which was fortunate for us kids. We seldom received any new clothes. Mother would cut up old clothes, use the good parts, and sew shirts, pants, dresses, etc. for us. Some of these old clothes were ones we got from the neighbors who knew what our situation was at home. Also, Mom would crochet stockings and mittens for us. The wool she used was from unraveling old sweaters. Most of the foot wear we had was ill-fitting hand-me-downs from people that had no more use for them. Overshoes were something we saw other people wear. I froze my feet several times. As they healed, the skin would peel off. In the summertime, we had to go barefoot.