Laura's Letters - 5 - 1914-17
I copied this out of the paper.
A rare and tragic accident occurred this week on Rainy Butte, eight miles southwest of New England, in southwestern North Dakota. Details of the sad story were published on the front page of the Hettinger County Herald, on Thursday the 11th of February.
THREE BOYS MEET DEATH IN SNOWSLIDE WHILE COASTING ON EAST RAINY BUTTE.
Four boys—ages ten, eleven, twelve, and fourteen—set out to do what most North Dakota boys that age would do on a Sunday afternoon in February if given the opportunity.
East Rainy Butte had opportunity written all over it. The steep-sided flat-topped landmark was just down the road from the Iver Lee farmstead where the families had gathered, and there was plenty of
snow. It was as routine for the boys to spend hours sledding on the butte as it was for the grownups to spend the whole afternoon visiting in the warmth of the farmhouse. Neither group was much interested in the activities of the other.
Noone realized the danger—not even when neighbors arrived and mentioned in passing there had been a snow slide, about 75 to 100 feet wide, on the southeast side of the East Rainy. The Herald
reported, “Nothing more was thought of it until five o’clock when the boys failed to return home.”
“At this time, Mrs. Lee became anxious about the children and so Mr. Lee and Sigurd Holtan started out in search of the boys. Thinking about the snow slide, Mr. Lee took along a shovel, but little did he think he would use it to save the life of his son.
“The two men followed the boys’ tracks up the side of the butte.” When they discovered the tracks led to the site of the snow slide, the walk to fetch the boys immediately turned into a frantic search. As they moved about and called for the boys, a smothered wail was heard. Moving toward the sound, they saw a hand pushed up through the snow. It took only a few minutes to shovel away the snow and release 14-year-old Elmer Lee. He had been buried for about three hours.
“The rescued boy was barely able to speak and could not assist in locating his companions…There was not a mark on the surface that gave any clue as to where to look for the other three victims. Elmer Lee was taken to the house and word was sent to the neighbors for help. The telephone was used and in a few minutes people for miles around were hurrying to join in the rescue work.
“For three hours neighbors worked furiously, hoping against hope that they might find some of the victims still alive, but one by one the lifeless bodies of the three little boys were dug out from under the heavily packed snow.
“By the story told by the only surviving member of the little party, it seems the boys walked directly into the path of the avalanche before they had enjoyed one coast down the side of the butte.”
A few days later a funeral was held at the Lee house for eleven-year-old Julius Hillestead, and he was laid to rest in the Norwegian Lutheran cemetery in Strehlow Township.
The bodies of ten-year-old Edward Hillstead and his twelve-year-old brother Wilhelm were accompanied by their heartbroken father to Hitterdal, Minnesota, and placed next to their mother, who had died ten years earlier on the same day the boys died, “when Edward was but three weeks old.”
I can’t begin to express how much sorrow I am feeling for you hearing about James being killed in the tractor accident. What a sad time you have had, and with your new baby too. We all wish we could be there to help you but I can't leave my kids, and with Josephine back in Canada, and the others out West, there isn't anyone else. I knowyou say you are going to stay on in the house, and cope as best you can for the time being, but my advice to you would be to go out to Oregon, and have some help from Pa and Berte. They don’t write often, but when they do, they have such nice things to say about the place. And if they could help care for the little ones, you could get a job.
Things are pretty hectic around here. Allan is a fussy baby, much more so than the other two were. He spends a lot of his time crying. He was born earlier than we expected, on May 22nd, so that might be part of the problem. He had to struggle to survive and keeps on letting us know that he needs to be looked after.
I have a new good friend in Lydia Netzke, who has got engaged to Nick’s brother Len, this year. He got all spiffed up and went in his matched pair of bay horses called Babe and Dan over to Pettibone to woo her. He loves his horses, and leapfrogs onto their backs when he goes for a ride. He has a nickname of Fancy, because of the fact he likes to look smart. They plan to be married next Christmas. She comes from Nicolette, Minnesota, but has been staying with and helping out her
aunt and uncle, Lena and Albert Dallman at their store in Pettibone. Len's building a small house on the property for them.
Nick sure does love chewing tobacco – and do I hate his spittoon. It's sure not a nice habit to have. If it was empty, it would make a nice plant pot.
We got a player piano this year. I have always loved music and wished the kids could learn an instrument like Len does so well on the violin. But this seems to be what we can settle for as it plays music but doesn't involve lots of lessons. Apparently when Len was still in Chicago and learning to play the violin, he had to sneak out because the other kids teased him so much about being a sissy, playing the fiddle. He even played the violin in church when they were in Chicago.
Do give a thought to the idea of moving out West. It has to be a better way of life for you at the moment.
As far as the rest of the relatives around here, Benjamin and his wife have had a boy, called Kenneth. Ida, Mary and Agnes are all still living in Montana, all the girls learning to be nurses, with Ida due to finish next year. Oscar is still enjoying his work as a miner, and doesn’t seem to have a girlfriend yet.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to you, and your family. I only wish we could do more for you.
I must update my diary with some North Dakota stories, while I have a few moments, or this project of mine will get lost. But I can’t do more than just put them down as headlines. Maybe I will go back and fill in the details later.
North Dakota's wheat crop this year was the largest it has ever been.
The Legislature passed laws outlawing the death penalty except in cases where prison guards are murdered.
The first state organization for Farmers' Educational and Cooperative Union in North Dakota was formed.
Another start to a new year with bad weather. There was a record low of -44º this January 13th.
I only get a chance to write in this book occasionally, so put in tidbits as and when I can. Lynn J. Frazier was a successful Non Partisan League candidate for governor. He supported programs helpful to farmers so we were very pleased.
The railway has now been complete all across the state.
There was talk of moving the state capital to New Rockford, but thankfully it was disallowed.
On December 10th, this year, my brother-in-law, Leonard, married Lydia Nytzke at her home town of Nicollet, Minnesota. I’ve seen the wedding photograph of them. It was a beautiful wedding, and she looked so lovely. Lydia wore a long full sleeved white dress with lace around the neck and
sleeves. She had two white roses in her hair, and carried a bouquet of roses. Her long auburn hair was parted on the side, and caught up at the back of her head. Len wore a white tie with what looked like a diamond pin in front, and a black suit. He was looking at her with such an enthralled look. Her bridesmaid was her best friend Eileen Stagie. Her two brothers and five sisters were all there. Len built them a small house to live in on the same property, so they will have some privacy.
Then on Christmas day, we had what was considered the worst storm in 48 years, with 20 inches of snow and 36 miles an hour wind gusts. The snowfall began on Christmas afternoon, with the snow making the trains unable to travel. Mostly all travel was by bobsleds and sleighs. They had to dig tunnels through snow banks for trains. On the 26th, there was a big fire in Bismarck, and also a strong wind, fanning the flames. The fire fighters had problems as the subzero temperatures
immediately turned the water on their clothes to ice making them human icicles. So they had to turn their water hoses to a building in the path of the flames, and the water turned immediately to ice,
preventing the flames from taking hold. The next day the building looked like an ice palace - but it hadn’t been burned down.
Hello all of you in Montana and a very happy holiday to you. What a bunch of nurses we are going to be having in the family. I hope you are all enjoying it.
Our lives are busy as usual, and yet we seem to be getting somewhere with the farming. Nick is thinking of increasing his acreage. We are specially busy each year at harvest time, and I’m enclosing a picture of the thrashing crew that worked this area last year. They were very efficient, and everybody helped everybody else. Can you guess which one is Nick?
My best friend Emma Burman who married Harry Fisher has had a son, and they called him Johnnie. I hope he and my children will be good friends.
This awful war is now starting to affect our lives too. This year North Dakota units were ordered into Federal military service.
There is talk of women voting, but it won’t happen for some time yet. The bill has been introduced, but even if it passes, it needs to be signed into law, ratified, and so on. I doubt if it will have any
effect this decade.
We have had some frightening accidents around here. Little Mildred hung herself in the barn. How it happened was this. She watched Chester go from the haymow down through an opening into the feeding racks in the lean to building. So she thought she would try to do the same thing, only she picked the wrong set of feeding racks, and they were too narrow and she got stuck. She had a 2 x 2 on each side of her ears. She says she screamed and screamed, but the wind was something wild
that day, and nobody heard her. But when she had been missing for awhile, I send Chester out and he found her. He and the hired man got a hammar and eventually they got her out. She was hysterical, and very sore behind her ears. I finally got her calmed down in her high chair and I thought that would teach her to be more careful.
Then not a week later, Chester had a friend over and they were fixing their bikes, and he cut the end off one finger. Luckily we managed to stop the bleeding before too long, but he will always have that short finger to remind him to be more careful.
Then if that wasn't enough drama for one summer, Mildred a few months later, was climing on a board nailed to a telephone pole. She slipped and the nail in the board tore a long gash in her arm which cut it clear to the bone. Nick and I wondered if we should take her to Bismarck to have it seen to, but decided that since it had bled freely, it wasn't likely to have blood poisoning. But I'm sure she
will always carry that scar too.
Dear Pa, Berte, and Bertha and family,
I am so pleased that you are all together this Christmas time and know things will be easier for you now, Bertha.
I am sending the latest picture of our children - which I think is very sweet. I think Chester is the picture of Nick, and people say that Mildred looks a lot like me, but little Allan seems to have a look all his own. Chester is six now, and started school in September. He loves it.
Well, with this war going on, the men are supposed to sign up for the draft. Leonard did it, but he asked for an exemption on the grounds that he was the sole support of his wife.
As far as family news goes, Benjamin and Caroline had another baby,
who they called Alice.