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Pioneer Days

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This story is an attempt at documenting the early history of the Ladies Aide Society of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Orland South Dakota. It appears to have been written based on information taken from writings by a decendant of one of the Orland Townships early pastors - Sofie Ruste.

Transcribed from the July 12, 1955 edition of the Lutheran Herald. Published by the Augsburg Press

I have highlighted the portions of the document that deal with my family in red.

by Katherina Blilie (General WMF Historian)

Because of the work of women in the church centers around that of the congregation, we find that history of the Aid and that of the congregation more or less entwined. Furthermore, a knowledge of the early history of the community and its pioneers often gives us a better understanding of the character of these people. Sofie Ruste, a daughter of one of the early pastors of St. Peter's congregation near Madison, S. Dak., has remembered this in writing a history of her Aid, and parts of two of several chapters are here presented.

Dakota Territory, with its rich fertile plains, lay waving in the breeze, waiting for the coming of people to file and live on the land the government had given as homesteads, three claims, and pre-emptions.

The pioneers came, eager for a chance in the new land, willing to bear hardships, accustomed as they were to those experiences back East. They came from other states, from other lands; they spoke all languages and all dialects. The class of people in which we are most interested her are the scandinavian-speaking Lutherans who settled in the southern part of what is now Lake County and the northwest part of McCook County, or, in short, the Orland community.

These people came to build homes. They came knowing there were no schools, no churches, few towns. More and more people came to get the free land, and we meet the ox-drawn wagon of the Neshum's coming from Minnesota in 1877 to settle a few miles east of the Orland store.

The people moving into the Territory little dreamed of the hardships to be endured in the winter of 1880-1881. That winter the snow came early in October and was added to all winter, causing frightful hardships. This storm called by the old settlers "the October storm" came without warning and caught people unprepared.

Now we meet another of our neighbors, Erick Olson, who had a mill and ground his own flour. With the October storm coming so early before people could prepare for winter, so they brought their grain to Olson's for grinding.

Mrs. Olson was noted for her good churned butter and sold to neighbors in need. Strange to say, in such a winter she also had eggs. She wanted to winter her hens and, finding no other warm place she kept them in her cellar. "Here," says Mrs. Olson, "their early cackle made a pleasant morning greeting all through that hard winter." The Olson's had thirteen children and were known as the "Olsons whose wheat bin was never empty."

Lake County was rightly named. Tall grasses grew around Lake Herman and Lake Madison. A town was started at Lake Madison. This did not suit all the people, and when the railroad came through to this parts in 1880, some talk was started and one dark night things were seen to be moving about. This was in the year 1881. In the morning the town was located at its present site. The readers of this history are interested in this event because the Erickson men, namely Iver and Ole Erickson, helped to move the Madison House. This they did with a team of oxen on said dark night.

Now we have four of the signers of the constitution of St. Peter's congregation. Their wives were our early good workers in the Aid.

In 1879 a young Luther College graduate finished Concordia Seminary at St. Louis, Missouri, and came to Volga, South Dakota. He was the Rev. Erick O. Ruste. He had a good pair of ponies and a top buggy. That fall he was installed in the following congregations: Whitewood, Arlington, Medary, Volga; Toten or Lake Madison; and Lake Benton, Minnesota. These congregations may seem far from St. Peter congregation at this time, but they were served by Pastor Ruste together with Granite Falls, Fountain, West Renshaw, and Hoiland, all in Minnesota. It was at Toten, now Lake Madison, that Rev. Ruste baptized the first white child born in the Orland community, namely Martinius Olson, born August 27, 1879, baptized May 8, 1880. This child was the son of Erick Olson. Mrs. Olson we shall meet again as president of our Aid.

We next meet the Rev. E. H. Midtboe ordained in 1873 and pastor at Dell Rapids from 1881 to 1891, coming over to this community before it was organized. There are no records of this so we are told by people who remember.

Right here it might be stated that records are not exactly easy to piece together after these many years, being rather faded and worn; but we shall do our best with them.

It might also do to mention the popular mode of travel at that time, "Apostlernes heste" ("the apostles horses," i.e., walking) was most common. This method proved fully as speedy and quite as pleasant for short distances. When a trip to town was in order, however, the oxen were used. Mrs. C.M. Johnson told the following:

"I had no time to waste, what with sewing, knitting, cooking, and the children; I helped out doors what I could. When we went to town, it meant hours on the road coming and going, so I always brought my knitting along; and more than once I had a whole sock to show for my day's journey to town."

We have now met Iver and Ole Erickson, Erick Olson, Andri Neshum, and C. M. Johnson. Then there were Hans Heshum, Lars Skildum, Ole Torgerson, and Annon Anderson whose descendants I have been unable to contact, and Ole Olson who was with Sherman on his March from Atlanta to the Sea.

These people were now beginning to talk of a church organization. Services were conducted at the homes, mostly sod-houses. There were two frames houses at this time. A meeting was arranged by the Rev. O. O. Snado, Baltic. Under his direction the St. Peter congregation was organized and signed by the above mentioned men. The first called minister was Pastor Shirley, who was assisted by Rev. O. A. Berge.

We have still found no record of a Ladies Aid, but the church organization had not carried on without the women. The services were in the homes mostly, and we find the women busily preparing for the coming of the minister and for the comfort of the members. Hospitality in those days fitted with the travel, which was tedious and slow and called for refreshments in the way of solid food. A good ht dinner for those who stayed, and hot coffee for all, with friendly visiting, followed the services.

We find that at the meeting of the congregation on December 13, 1886, a subscription was taken for Norwegian School (religious school) for the following summer. In 1888, too, we find the same being done, showing that these people valued the Word and wanted it taught to their children in this early settlement.

In 1889 the rev. M. Svaren of Sinai was called and served till in 1903. In that year the congregation decided to incorporate under the laws of the Territory, and thus the congregation under the name of St. Petri had all the privileges of a private corporation.

The women who had worked so faithfully side by side with the men folks, now began to organize the Ladies. Aid. They planned that in this way they could do just a little more to raise money for the church building which now was so eagerly planned. This church should be built as soon as the sum of $800 could be raised. The women got together and planned on oyster supper. The fee was to be ten cents. This supper was a Annon Anderson's. Two suppers were charged and paid for later. The women went home well satisfied with the proceeds, $2.50. This they say, was the beginning of the church building fund.

We find no Ladies' Aid Constitution and no rumors of one, so the women evidently worked together as one body with the sole aim to get a church building in the community. We find the first auction sale report on November 27, 1890, at 7;00 P.M. This sale netted the Aid $25.37. There were 39 articles sold, consisting of towels, hose, caps, jackets, dresses - very much like our present day sales. From now on we find they have two sales a year besides the regular meetings.

Mrs. Annon Anderson was the first president, Mrs. Elshaug, the second, and Mrs. Olson the third. It is said that Mrs. Olson served the highest number of years.

By 1897 the sum of $800 had been raised by subscriptions and the Ladies' Aid. The church was built and equipped as well as the funds would allow. There were common planks for pews; the church would have seemed bare to us. Just think what the church meant to these people; how they had worked for every stick of it. It was their own. They could have used this money to good advantage in their own homes; but no, the church to them was a necessity.

Let us see how folks traveled now. Gertie Strom, in telling about her Confirmation says: "At that time Mr. E. Olson had the only team of horses. He took the confirmands to Madison (ten or twelve miles) the day before Confirmation and we stayed over there over night. We were confirmed in the Adventist church in Madison, Sunday."

Horses soon replaced oxen, and we find the family hitching the team to the wagon foe s Sunday outing. Fresh hay or straw was piled in the wagon-box to make a comfortable bed or seat as might be needed for any member of the family; also the same wagon had often been used for farm work, making it slightly unsightly for Sunday dress. The spring seat of a wagon was a common thing, and if the family was large or the neighbors were to be picked up, boards were provided to extend across the box. In this way all could be afforded room. As a rule there were two or three sitting in the open end of the wagon dangling their feet, ready to jump out to rescue anything, from hats (regular kites in those days) to gloves or youngsters that were shaken off.

It was nothing to see a woman gather up an armful of skirts, revealing a stoutlaced shoe and homemade stocking, climb on the wheel, up to the top of the wheel, to the top of the box, and settle in the spring seat. There, perched on to of a grain load, often three or four boxes high, she would reach down ad take the baby in their arms. Sometimes there were other youngsters on back of the load who had to be admonished from time to time to be careful lest they slide off.

The long hot ride often made the children conscious of a parching thirst before they reached town, and it became a usual sight to see the team pull up a the tanks along the road for water to be pumped for the team and the whole family. In fact, there were even watering troughs built in town. At first these were common wooden tanks with hitching posts near. Later they were replaced by cement tanks. The teams were tied up and blanketed; when the intense cold or storms were too severe. they were put into the livery barns......

I wish there were space to tell the other interesting parts of Miss Ruste's history, incidents when the parochial teacher "boarded around" at the homes; when a sheet hung on the reaper called the mother home from the field in an emergency; when the wrong horse was driven home from Aid; the pretty mustache cup given by the Aid to the pastor; Mrs. Ruste's house plants cut for funerals; the hendrive for the Aid which brought in nearly $36; assisting in building the new church - all of an active, growing women's organization in a congregation.

The only information I have been able to gather thus far on Katharina Blilie was from The Center for Western Studies at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD

Katharina Blilie (b.1885) Papers, 1896-1969. One box. Diaries on microfilm. Includes the letters, poems, essays, sketches, and diaries (1906-1963) of Ketharina Blilie. She served as a public school teacher, county superintendent of schools, teacher training instructor at Augustana College, and General Women's Missionary Federation historian for the Evangelical Lutheran Church.