Interview with German-Russian Immigrant Jacob Kruckenberg
Hardships of Homesteading
The Kruckenberg family left southern Russia in 1888. Jacob was seventeen and faced the new order that the Germans would no longer be exempt from service in the Russian army. He was more than happy to go to America with his parents. They homesteaded in Mercer County.
Would you tell us about the early days on your father’s homestead?
We had two oxen and a hand plow which we bought from our neighbor for seventy-five dollars, and this was all they had to farm with. The seeding and all the cutting was done by hand. The first crop in 1889 was in fact the only crop they had up to 1895 on account of drought. From 1890 to 1895 the rains came too late for crops to mature, but there were good feed crops.
If you had no or poor cash crops, how did you earn money?
The settlers picked buffalo bones and every other kind of bones for a living, hauled them to New Salem and Hebron, a distance of 65 miles. The trips were made with oxen and wagons and took ten days for a round trip. Bones sold from five to seven dollars per ton. What little money we had was spent for clothing, and food, and when we had more money than what we needed for food and clothing, it was saved to build a new lumber house, or barn, as the women did not like to live in the sod shanties without a floor or a piece of furniture. In the year of 1890 we did not have one taste of meat for more than ten months; all we had to eat was milk, bread, and a few eggs about once a month. That was the hardest year we experienced. We were hungry and almost clothe less, no money to be made no matter how hard we tried.
Did you homestead yourself?
In June 1895 I filed on a homestead which was one half mile southwest of father’s place. I built a one room sod shanty fourteen by twenty with three small windows; the roof was made from tree branches and dirt, the windows and lumber for the door was bought in Expansion, North Dakota which was an inland town on the Missouri river banks about eight miles north of the homestead. I had no furniture and I slept on the floor on old sacks and rags. All I had was a cast iron cook stove which was used for heating and cooking. I had two big wooden blocks; one was used for a chair and the other for a table. All I had to start farming was a hand plow and two old oxen. The grain and hay was cut with a hand sickle worked together with forks tied into bundles by hand, and hauled home on the farm place. In the fall of the year the grain was spread out on a level place and tramped on with oxen or horses until the kernel was out of the heads. Then the straw was removed with a fork. After the straw was removed, the grain was shoveled back and forth on a windy day, and by doing that the wind blew the chaff away, and the grain was just as clean as if it had been threshed through a threshing machine.
You mentioned the town of Expansion. What was it like?
The town of Expansion was platted out in 1889 on the NE1/4 of section 27 147 86 in Mercer County on the Missouri River bank. This town grew fast and everyone in it was prosperous. At its highest peak in 1905 its population was 450 and had every kind of business needed by the settlers. Farmers came as far as 60 miles from the west and 40 miles from the south; the territory east only extended about eight miles to the river. Expansion had one of the largest farming territories in western North Dakota.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.