Nora Magdalene Welsh
- Born: 27 Feb 1887, Cotesfield, Howard Co., Nebraska 10
- Marriage: Jens Christen Christensen (John K. Hammer) 24 Jan 1907, St. Paul, Howard County, Nebraska 13
- Died: 17 Jun 1969, Vassar, Tuscola Co., Michigan, at age 82 11
- Buried: 20 Jun 1969, Riverside Cem., Vassar, Tuscola Co., Michigan
"THE EARLY YEARS"
An Autobiography of Nora M. Welsh (Hammer)
In 1873, fourteen wagonloads of immigrants had come to St. Paul, Nebraska, and settled southwest of there. My father and his family were among these early settlers. The area where they first settled is known to this day as Canada Hill, because all of the settlers came from the Peterborough region in Ontario, Canada. They were all Irish Canadians, related, and each family had lots of children.
My mother's family came from Moravia about the same time, and settled in Schuyler, Nebraska. From there, they moved to a farm near St. Paul. There were three girls and one boy in that family. When my mother was older, she worked in a restaurant in St. Paul, where she met Dad. They were married July 9, 1876.
I was born in 1887 - February 27 - on my father's farm in Cotesfield, Nebraska, I know little of that period, except for what Dad told of a terrible blizzard they had that winter; a good many froze to death. In some cases the roofs blow off their soddies. Dad walked home from work through that terrible storm and found Mom in the barn where she had gone to feed the animals. The rope she had tied from the house to the barn blew loose, and she couldn't find the house where the little children were alone. They would all have perished if Dad had not found his way home.
Dad sold that farm and took a homestead and timber claim up in the hills thirteen miles northeast of Elba. There were miles and miles of rolling hills with not a tree or house in sight.
After the folks went up on the homestead, we lived in a dugout on the east side of the farm facing west. There were small windows up next to the roof, There were just the two big windows and a door on the west side. The dugout had dirt floors and was divided with board partitions like a barn. The horses were kept in a dugout by the windmill, a quarter of a mile to the west. We had to carry water for our use all that way. We had some kind of a barrel with rope wound around it and a bucket at each end of the rope. We would hitch a horse to it with a hook and would pull up one pail of water as the other one went down again. There was a big tank there by the corral, which we filled for the animals that way. The animals were kept in a corral by the tank at night, and we herded them on horseback in the daytime. The older girls all had ponies. The coyotes were so bad that we couldn't keep a cat, as they ate them, as well as any chicken that strayed away from the house. The coyotes would sit up on the hills back of the house and howl so you could hardly sleep at night. There were also some wildcats. On a moonlit night, you could hear the prairie chickens clucking like a bunch of old people.
About four years later, my dad built us a sod house by the windmill and barn. They plowed the sod in strips and cut it in squares with grass on the upper side. Then they stacked the squares in rows the size of a house they wanted and poured water over the grass so they would grow together. The windows were about half the size of an ordinary one and were set deep in the sod, which made nice windowsills for flowers. Some put paper or boards on the inside walls and whitewashed them. I think we just had building paper on the inside. We took the gray clay and puddled it with water and spread it over the ground inside. When it was given two or three coats, it looked almost like marble. We didn't have a board floor for years.
Snakes were very thick - especially the big bull snakes, which were not poisonous but were dreadful looking. We had blue racers and rattlesnakes, too, which were poisonous.
Around every water hole or tank were lots of prairie dog holes. These animals were about as big as a small dog, with short tails and sharp ears. They would whistle and chatter when they were scared.
There were very few settlers. Most lived in sod houses in the canyons. The only frame buildings were on John Allen's farm (he was a rich English bachelor) and our one-room schoolhouse. An old-maid aunt of one family was our first teacher. We had church in the schoolhouse. A retired minister who had taken a homestead there served as minister for us.
They plowed firebreaks around all the buildings and kept barrels of water sitting around. Those prairie fires were a fearful sight at night, roaring over those open prairies, and lots of animals burned to death. The farmers usually loaded up their water barrels and went to help the neighbors when there was a fire. We all had caves, either in the ground or dug back in the hills facing east, as we had such terrible storms from west to southwest. There were also terrible hailstorms.
We were afraid of horse thieves too, as there were many roaming those prairies. My dad always traded horses when they wanted to and kept on the good side of them. I remember one they had caught and sent to prison when I was a little girl stopping for dinner in Elba with us when I was sixteen.
The cultivated fields were all on the level tops of the hills. My dad plowed with a walking plow and sowed the grain by hand from a sack he carried on his chest. There were buffalo wallows in the fields, which filled with water every time it rained, and they would get full of polliwogs if the water stood very long. The nearest river was thirteen miles to the southwest.
There wasn't a tree for miles except choke cherry and wild plum brush in the draws. Obtaining fuel was a problem, as there were no trees. Corncobs were one thing we used, and I know we burned dry cow dung. We would go out in the wagon and turn them over when one side dried so the other side would dry. They did not smell too bad, being mostly prairie hay.
We had one big long room and a slanting kitchen. In addition to our own family, we also boarded the teacher. We had just one lamp, and Mom made candles out of tallow. She also made soap out of tallow.
One year the grasshoppers came in and ate everything green - they even ate the handles on the spades, hoes and everything for the salt that was on them. We had to kill all our calves and pigs and fry them down, as we did not have feed enough for them.
We had a little school house about 1-1/2 miles east of us and we walked every day. Had an old lady for a teacher that was so cranky. My sister Bessie taught them 4 years, as soon as she finished the 8th grade. Leola also taught after we moved to town.
How we got enough clothes, I'll never know. Dad's sister, Carrie, was a dressmaker in St. Paul, and Mom's sister, Clementine, was dressmaker in Farwell, and they got us some clothes. Mom made a coat from Gramp Svoboda's fine overcoat that four or five girls wore. There was a new one of us girls every two years, except the last and third from last, who were boys. There were nine children altogether. Trading in Elba took us all day, and it was a thirteen-mile trip each way.
When Dad first came to Nebraska, he enlisted and was with the troops at Fort Hardsuff, near where Ord is now. He was teamster and hauled freight from Grand Island to Ord. It was necessary to ford the river near Elba. One time he lost Mom's new cookstove in the river after they had finally saved up the money for it.
I remember where we lived in the sod house my little sister Florence, 3 mo., took very sick and dad rode a horse and led one 18 miles to Scotia for a doctor. When they got back they had both been drinking. It was a terrible blizzard and the Dr. gave the baby such strong medicine she strangled to death. I must have been only 6 but I remember Mom saying My God, Fred, she's dying just as if it was yesterday. Well they made a little coffin and took her in the wagon to the cemetery at Cotesfield. It took two days. They had to drive to Elba 13 miles south of us, cross the bridge and stay over nite and go north to Cotesfield 14 miles to bury her and back to Elba to cross the bridge and home the next day. My older sisters were so afraid of horse thieves they put blankets over the windows and sat up all night with the shot gun.
Dad used to dig wells for the neighbors over 100 ft. deep. Several men died from cave-ins or gas when they got down deep. There was one abandoned well in a canyon, and we kids would light paper and drop it down and when it hit the gas it would go out.
Dad moved back to Elba when I was eight and ran the livery barn. He had about twenty horses, and Fred and I fed and cleaned the horses, watered them and hitched them up for customers.
Grampa Welsh had a homestead between Elba and St. Paul, and they boarded the railroad men while they were building the railroad to Ord from St. Paul. Both my aunts married railroad men. My sister, Clarice, was born the day the first train went through Elba.
Dad had an old muzzle-loading gun and had to put powder and shot down the barrel with a ramrod. He killed so many prairie chickens with that gun. Dad had another way of catching them, too. He would prop up a box and put a grain of corn under it on a string, so when the bird pulled on the corn, the box dropped down over it. I remember helping him dig out several badgers from their holes.
In Elba, we went to school and the two oldest taught. We all got the measles when I was twelve, and Leola and Bessie died just a month apart when it turned into pneumonia. Clarice was in California and came back alone. School only went to the tenth grade, so I went to school and then worked in the printing office. They had the eleventh grade the next year, which I took, and then worked in the St. Paul printing office for a year. After that, I attended college for a year and taught school one year. The school where I taught was all Polish except for four Welshes - distant cousins. I was paid $30 a month and had to pay my board from that.
The first printing office I worked in was in Elba, Nebraska when I was fourteen and in high school. It had a flat platform that we put the form for the page on with thick soupy ink in a trough at the end. After we fastened the form in, we would dip a roller in the ink trough and roll it over the form. We would have a sheet of paper clamped in the bed and would put it down on the inked form and roll a heavy roller over the top. Then we lifted the lid and took the paper out. All the type was set by hand, picking up each small letter and putting it in a small form we held in our hand. Then we would transfer it to a galley the width and length of one column until we had the page made up.
In St. Paul, where I worked on a county paper, we still set the type by hand but had a big press and several smaller ones all run by a gasoline engine. The paper was fed two pages at a time into the big press and came out at the other end printed. One person stood up on a platform and removed the papers, and two of us sat at tables folding them.
When I went to college was 17 then there were about 75 going. Was a business and normal college in St. Paul about the size of Vassar. I think there were 40 related to me on my father's side. Mostly children of the Irish and Scotch that came from Canada. Nearly every one had 8 or 10 children. The men were all so tall. There was among the Welshes William John, Big George, little George, Elijah, John Fred, Jim and of course lots of girls. Then there were the Irvines, Armstrongs, Crowes, Hills, Fairburns, Grahams and lots of others.
I met John in St. Paul and we were married Jan. 24, 1907. We lived with my folks in Elba till spring when we moved in one of dad's houses. John bought a pool hall and confectionery and ran that. Curtis was born June 25, 1909 and Dorothy July 4th, 1911. My sister Clarice died at that time and left two little boys. Mother came out from Michigan and stayed two weeks. My folks moved back to Michigan and took Fred and Glenn when Curtis was 9 months old. Dad always wanted to go back and mother thought they'd be back in a year but never did. When Dot was 9 months old, John's father died and we moved on a farm at Upland with his mother. It was terribly hard for me. I couldn't do anything to suit her and she couldn't talk American. John was in town every day and late at night mostly. Curt and Dorothy started to a little country school 1-1/2 miles south of us over big hills. They got lost once in a fog and were wandering on another road when some one found them and took them to school.
Married -At the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Hogensen, east of St. Paul, on January 24th. Rev. Tooley officiating. Mr. John Hammer and Miss Nora Welsh. Both parties are well and favorably known at Elba where they reside.
There was a mistake in our issue of February 1st regarding the place of marriage, hence this notice. - Ed.
Noted events in her life were:
• Residence, 14 Apr 1930, Vassar Twp., Tuscola Co., Michigan. 18
Nora married Jens Christen Christensen (John K. Hammer), son of Peder Christen Christensen (Peter C. Hammer) and Dorthe Marie Katrine Jensen, on 24 Jan 1907 in St. Paul, Howard County, Nebraska.13 (Jens Christen Christensen (John K. Hammer) was born on 25 Dec 1878 in Hjermind, Viborg, Denmark, died on 8 Jan 1944 in Vassar, Tuscola Co., Michigan and was buried on 10 Jan 1944 in Riverside Cem., Vassar, Tuscola Co., Michigan.)