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Pioneer Days

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This is the story of Eric Olson, father of Carrie Olson Larson, written for a school study by his grand-daughter, Myrtle Larson, as told to her by her mother Carrie. Myrtle was 17 when she wrote this. The story written from Eric Olson's point of view so the use of pronouns like "I" refer to Eric not Myrtle.

Note: this is a second hand account of Erick's adventures, relayed by someone who was not really there when they happened. But is is the only account we have to work from.

Note: Records indicate that Eric actually spelled his name Erick as opposed to the Eric used by Myrtle.

Pioneer Days By Myrtle Larson

May 1923


I was born Feb 13, 1831 in Bergen Norway. I came to the United States when 21 years of age in the year 1852 and settled first in Chicago, later in Wisconsin and Iowa. I came to Dakota in 1858 before the war and located near Vermillion.

I was one of the first white settlers in the southeastern Dakota, coming to Dakota before land was opened for settlement and only inhabited by Indians.

For four years I farmed by Vermillion living with three sisters and my mother. In 1862 I was chased away from my small farm by the Indians. For three years I traveled between Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa selling oxen.

I married in 1865 at Decora, IA and our first homes were of logs, then sod and last lumber. In July 1879 I settled in Orland SD.

Chapter 1

In the year of 1858 I came to South Dakota and settled near the present town of Vermillion, in a wagon made of rude boards and drawn by oxen. With me I brought my mother and three sisters. It took me almost three weeks to make the trip and many times I was frightened by Indians which I met along the way. There were miles at a time when we could see only hills and large boulders. There were very few roads so we had to travel through the fields hardly ever knowing where we were. We had always to be on a lookout for the Indians, for we could always see a trace of some where ever we went.

When night came we would put the oxen on ropes and tie them to a tree if we were near any; if not we would tie them to a wagon wheel. Many a time we went thirsty, for we would not be able to get near some water in the daytime and at night it was impossible to travel.

When reaching the place where we were going to live the first thing I did was to cut down some trees and build us a log house which took me almost three months; of course I could not work on the house all of the time for I had to plant some corn and a few vegetable seeds which we had brought with us.

I had to till the soil with very rude plow drawn by the oxen and this was very hard and slow. My mother and sisters were always very happy but I knew that they were very lonesome for their old home and friends by the way they looked when he thought I wasn't around and many a time I saw mother wiping a tear out of her eyes when I came into the house.

Chapter 2

One day I started for town which was over seventy miles away. The few things we had were nearly all gone and mother said that I would have to make the trip alone. My sisters had all the work that they could do by taking care of our garden and the oxen; they also had to help cut grass for the winter. The grass was cut by hand with a scythe which was not much larger than the knives that butchers now use.

I started for town at sunrise and drove until dark when I came to a small place of shelter which was made of leaves and twigs by the Indians and here I sent the night. I didn't have minute to get lonesome, for the owls and other birds kept me company. I woke early in the morning and ate part of my lunch which I had with me and hitched up my oxen and started for the store.

I traveled for four days until I arrived there and on my way I met many Indians but they were all friendly and kind to me.

I got my groceries and a pair of shoes for my youngest sister, and some yarn for mother so she cold knit mittens and stockings.

I also bought some wool that mother could spin into yarn; also bought some more seeds for planting. That night I stayed at the home of the owner of the grocery store and early next morning I started for home. It took me only three days to get home, for I knew the road better and I also had two Indians with me who offered to take me home for a small piece of tobacco and I gladly accepted this offer for I knew I was safe as long as I had the Indians with me. The two Indians stayed with me almost two weeks and they were a great help to me. They helped take care of my corn and cut grass. After the two Indians left me I had visits from other Indians and they always brought us corn and pumpkins.

I had now lived on my little farm for over two years and had never had any trouble with the Indians. In these two years there were great changes taking place, for some of my friends from Iowa had moved out by us and started small farms. There were five families in all and all together there were twenty nine of us.

My mother and sisters were always happier than they were when we first moved to our little farm.

Every Sunday we all would meet at one of our homes and hold services which consisted of reading a psalm and a few chapters out of the bible. We also sang hymns and were led in prayer by one of the ladies. After services we would visit and then have lunch. And by that time it would be time to go home.

On winter evenings we would gather around the fireplace and mother and my oldest sister would change off reading verses out of the bible. After reading we would all go to our work, for we never had time to waste. My mother would spin yarn while my sisters would knit it into clothing, for all our clothing except shoes were made at home. I would always have the trouble of grinding corn for meal and this was done by running it through a coffee grinder which mother had brought from her native country.

I had a few weeks before, bought about 15 goats and two twin oxen, which I had to take care of. I also had to build a new shed for them for winter which took quite a while, for I wanted this shed built better than the one I had built before so it would be warm enough for the oxen and goats.

The third winter I spent on my farm was the coldest and severest winter and many a day we were snowed in. For two days I could not get outside the door and I was very afraid my goats would die or suffocate in the shed for it was all snowed in and we could only see a part of the roof, the snow had drifted up so. But the third day I was able to dig away the snow and get into the shed and I found the goats and oxen just as I had left them but they were very thirsty and I thought I'd never get through carrying water to them.

Towards spring I had used nearly all my hay feed up and had to be very sparring on what I had left, for there was so much snow on the ground the oxen and goats were unable to find any grass for themselves.

The storage of our food became very low and we had to live nearly all the time on cornmeal bread and mush for I was unable to get to the store. Although it was only twenty-five miles as a new store had been started the spring before. And I could now take my mother or one of my sisters with me.

The first of May I was able to get my garden planted and there was plenty of work. I had to go to the store about once every two months and buy groceries. And I also had about twenty-one goats to take care of and five oxen. I had had seven oxen but I had sold two of them to a man who was traveling through that part of the country.

I had to till more soil, for my garden was much larger than it had been before. And I had the largest field of corn of any of my neighbors, which made me feel very proud. I also had plenty of milk and cream so mother could cook cheese and butter, which tasted very good after the hard winter we had had. I had many visits from our Indian friends who seem friendlier than ever. They would also bring me corn and pumpkins in exchange for milk.

I had a few visits from another Indian tribe, which were not friendly and always liked to quarrel. And they were sneaky, and always trying to take whatever they saw.

Chapter 3

One morning when I was busy working in my garden I saw my neighbor come running across the field. I stopped my work and waited until he had finished his story. He told me that the Indians were coming to fight and we would have to stay there and die or leave at once. I finally decided that I would leave with the other neighbors.

I started at once to pack all the fine things I could take with me. My mother and sisters were busy packing clothes in a large chest, which we could not take with us. I was going to put it down in an old well and cover it over with hay and dirt. In a few hours we were all ready to leave.

It was a very tiresome trip to make but it was not as lonesome as it was when we came to Dakota.

I bought a home for my mother and sisters and I began to travel selling oxen between Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The first trip I made back to Dakota I went to my farm and after much searching I found the well in which my trunk was hidden. But my house and shed were burnt down.

I made two trips to Dakota after we had been chased out by the Indians.

In 1865 I was married at Decora, Iowa to Miss Karen Olson. For six years after my marriage I owned a store where I sold everything from shoestrings to chewing gum. I sold out and came back to Dakota with my wife and three children and settled in Orland Township.

We built ourselves a log house with two rooms in it and there we spent the first long and weary winter without much food. For there was no place near enough to travel to get food.

When spring came I planted a garden and also some grain, which provided nearly all of our winter food supply.

For three years we lived in this small home; then we built a home out of sod for there was not enough timber within ten miles with which to build a home.

The sod house had no floors and only some old paper on the walls. We lived in sod houses for twelve years. Many a night large snakes would crawl into the house, but they never tried to do us any harm, if we left them alone.

I can never forget the last sod house we lived in. For it was that winter that we went hungry many a day. It was the year of the great show storm and for three days we were snowed in.

We took a small window out of the east side of the house and took snow into the house through it for drinking and washing. We dug a tunnel through the snow from the house to the barn so that we could tend the oxen and cows. In the last part of April I had to stand on a large snow bank to dig out hay for the stock.

Our food that winter consisted chiefly of cornmeal which we used to grind in a large coffee grinder which was used for three families.

When I went to town which was on the north side of Lake Herman that winter I had to use a small sled that I had built out of logs. I could not take the oxen for the snow was too deep for them to travel through and there was not a definite road to take.

On one of my trips home from town I became very tired and exhausted and was going to lie down near this path to rest. Then I thought of my sick wife and children and what they would do without me, for I knew that I would never get home again if I lay down there. It was very cold. My dog also kept barking and pulling at my clothes if I stopped and would not give up until I reached home at a very late hour.

The next day my wife became very sick and w had to send one of my neighbors for a doctor. This was a trip of over forty miles and he had to stop very often for the oxen to rest so they would not become to over worked. The doctor got they at two o'clock the next morning and by that time my wife was not expected to live. The doctor stayed with us until my wife was out of danger.

The next summer in 1891 I built a house out of lumber, which I bought at a town eighteen miles away. I also got ownership papers on the land, which I had worked. This house consisted of eight rooms. I also had a barn and hen house and fenced in all my land and planted trees all around it.

The first tree I planted on this farm is still there and it is the largest tree on the place. This tree is also used as a landmark.

Eric Olson died in 1899.