Murdo Girl…The rythm of life…Here and there

It appears to me that Peter Swinson was a man who was constantly on the go. He finished the new house in 1908, shortly after he and Mary were married. They had five children while they lived there and remember, Mary was a widow with two children, so they had quite a family. He moved buildings in from a Russian settlement that had been abandoned and used them for granaries. Another house was moved in and used as a summer kitchen.

The Swinson house when it was first built

Still having time on his hands, Mr. Swinson joined the Masonic Lodge and the Eastern Star. He also became a member of the Knights of Pythias. That’s one I’m not familiar with. He belonged to a literary club where men met to discuss issues of the day. He often told others his philosophy which was, “Don’t expect government to do anything you can do for yourself.”

In 1918 , when he was 56, Mr. Swinson decided to retire and move to Presho where he thought educational opportunities for his children would be better. He had only five years of schooling, himself, but he was a self educated man. In earlier years, he always read the Norwegian newspaper, Fremad, and always took a daily paper.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that even with all of his activities in town, a year later, he decided to buy a house with 40 acres of land and start a dairy. He built a new barn and silo and the house became the dairy house where the equipment and bottles were washed and sterilized. The cream was also separated from the milk and Mr. Swinson delivered the bottles of milk to the stores and about town in a milk wagon pulled by Pat and Charlie. He enjoyed this because he loved people and he liked to visit. He joked that with his early milk route he often saw the new babies, who were usually born at home, before their fathers did,

A thought occurred to me that my dad was born in Presho in October of 1919. I wonder if Mr. Swinson was the first to see him.

I believe this picture is of Peter M. Swinson’s wife Mary, standing by the milk wagon with her son.

One day, as he was returning from his milk route, a truck backed into the wagon breaking his ankle. Healing was slow and he was never very active after that.

All born in the late 1800s, the three men whose stories I am telling, alternated between flourishing and enduring throughout their lives. They only had themselves and their maker to depend on when making important, life changing decisions. Taking care of their families was a responsibility they didn’t take lightly.

Mr. Swinson was a charter member of the White River United Lutheran Church. The church had a cemetery where his father was buried. He was occasionally at odds with the the Reverend, so when his daughters decided they would rather be Methodists, he didn’t object.

As we end this part of his story, Peter Swinson has made his way from Norway to Presho, South Dakota and it appears he will spend the remainder of his life in the Presho area. He has woven many colorful, but strong threads together and although his life has had a few twists and turns, everything he has learned and accomplished will have a huge impact on the lives of future Swinsons…

The rhythm of life…Life is what you make it

Jack Francis’ life began in Greenland, Michigan in 1890. I don’t know that much about his growing up years… or his parents. I learned from my uncle that he was of Scotch-Irish descent.

A year after WWI began, he married Content Abbie Bottum. Somewhere along the line she had changed her name to Constance. However, to all who knew her, she was just Connie. They began their married life in Ashland, Wisconsin.

Jack worked for a time loading iron ore onto barges (probably in Michigan) during the war period. He was excused from military service due to an old football injury.

In the early 1900s, thousands of homesteaders came to live on the Plains. Just as in the previous two stories, settlers began the hard grueling life of “proving up” or turning the land they were given by the government into farms for permanent settlement.

My grandfather was one of these settlers, only he came to establish three hardware stores in nearby towns that supplied tools and materials to the farmers.

In 1919, Jack and Connie moved to Vivian, South Dakota, with their young son, John. Jack opened his first hardware store there. My father, William Francis, was born that same year. His Army separation papers list his birthplace as Presho, SD. The two towns are close together, so I guess he could have been born in Presho, though I don’t know what the circumstances would have been.

In 1921 the family moved to Murdo, SD, a distance of about forty miles, where Jack opened a second hardware store. South Dakota was just getting settled by farmers during this period. I was told that Jack shipped in barbed wire by the railroad carload to supply materials to farmers wishing to fence in their new places.

Three years later, their third son, Charles, was born at home in Murdo. Later, Jack sold the Vivian store and opened one in Kennebec, another nearby small town. I was told he owned a third hardware store in Westfield, Iowa, and that he hoped to have a store to leave to each of his three sons

When Jack and Connie were married, Connie had the word “obey” removed from their wedding vows. She was a strong, independent woman, which was a good thing because she became a young widow left with three boys, ages 2, 7, and 11, and three hardware stores. Jack Francis died in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, on November 22, 1926, at the age of thirty-six.

John, Grandma Connie, little Chuck, and my dad, Bill. (he looks sad)

Though he died young, just think about the threads of his life that are woven into mine and that of my family and extended family. I was looking at the only good picture I have of my grandfather and noticed something very special. If I put my hand right under his eyes, I can see that my son, Mason, bears a strong resemblance to his great grandfather. He has the same eyes and eyebrows, and the same small ears and hairline. My other son, Craig, has his eyes, too, and so does my brother, Billy.

All three of the men, whose lives we are learning about were described as being small in stature and slender. They must have had little fear of the unknown, or they were afraid and forged ahead anyway. I was told that my Grandma Connie teased that when she arrived in Murdo and disembarked, the train was between her and the town. Had she been able to see the town before the train pulled out, she might have hopped right back on.

Small towners like to tell on themselves, but my Uncle Chuck said she really loved Murdo, as we all do. If it hadn’t been for these grandparents who moved there, I wouldn’t have had the joy of growing up in that wonderful little town.

Murdo Girl…The rhythm of Life…The long way to Wyoming

I’m going to tell you about Elba McNinch and John (Jack) Francis before I get into the war or I’m going to risk confusing everyone including myself. I have a tendency to get out of chronological order.

When Mr. McNinch was 96 years old, he wrote an autobiography that is truly amazing. He included many interesting stories about events that happened in his lifetime.

E.W. and Lois McNinch on their 66th anniversary. Elba served in the Marines in WWI shortly before he married Lois

Jim Thorpe, a Native American, lived thirty miles from where Elba grew up and always championed Native Americans. He broke many athletic records in the Olympic Games and was considered the greatest athlete of his time. Unfortunately, the metals he won were taken away from him in 1912. It was claimed that he won the metals illegally. It is almost universally viewed, today, as one of the great sports injustices. His gold metals in the decathlon and pentathlon were stripped from him after it was discovered that he had made a few dollars playing baseball.

When asked, Elba said the answer to his longevity was to take plenty of open air exercise, eat as regularly as possible, and sleep at least eight hours out of every twenty-four. I think he broke the code don’t you?

Young Elba grew up on a 1000 acre wheat farm in North Texas. He dropped out of school before finishing high school even though a favorite history teacher encouraged him to finish. Tired of working from daylight to dusk in 100 to 112 degree temperatures, he and a friend, with their parents permission, headed for Montana where Elba had an uncle. They saw quite a bit of country, but the jobs they were able to get to keep themselves going were not what Elba wanted to do for the remainder of his life.

He decided to heed his teacher’s advice and went back to Texas to attend a commercial school where he took bookkeeping and shorthand. He then transferred to East Texas where he taught bookkeeping and special penmanship. He taught for two years before enrolling in an academic school where he learned mathematics and English. After two years, working as a bookkeeper and mailman, he went to his history teacher, who had become a good friend, and told him he was leaving the south.

He landed in Denver, Colorado, tired and broke. He worked in a pea factory for a couple of months so he could eat regularly. When that job ended, he went on another job where he heard favorable things about Big Piney, Wyoming. He took the train to to Rock Springs and then a mail truck to Opal. From there, he caught a ride in a wagon pulled by horses. He said he arrived at his future home on April 10, 1915, He was twenty-six years old.

There was a lot of hard work ahead of Elba McNinch before he was able to file a homestead. He had moved from 112 degree summers to Big Piney which is often referred to as the coldest spot in the nation. A sign outside of town says, “Many came through here, but nobody stayed,”

E.W. and Lois with great granddaughter, Heidi McNinch

We’ve learned about two incredible men who had what it took to find their way in life and manage to end up just where they were supposed to be. The threads they weaved along the way contributed a great deal to my life and to Sherri my future friend as well.

Murdo Girl…The rhythm of life

They were from another generation. Their world was different from ours. Why should we get to know them? What can be gained? Learning who they were and the twists and turns their lives took will no doubt help us to better understand the rhythm of our own lives.  

Every choice, and every chance happening that affected the lives of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents is woven into the fabric of our lives. Whether we knew them or not, the pasts of those who came before us, from the intro to the outro, literally took us to where we began and greatly influenced who we are.

We’ve all had people in our lives who have touched our hearts, taught us a hard lesson, or otherwise influenced our thoughts, actions and beliefs.

I think this story explains why someone who grew up in Murdo, SD, quite accidentally befriended someone who was raised in Presho, SD. These two small towns are only 33.59 miles down the road from each other.

I am going to attempt to prove my point by comparing and contrasting the stories of three men who were born in the 1800s and two who were born in the early 1900s. I became aware of several coincidences while I was gathering information. I will share those with you when we get to those parts in the story.

I will begin by describing the lives of three men. I think you’ll find their stories interesting.

Peter M. Swinson, born March 3, 1862 in Vinje Norway…he died July 6, 1942…he lived in Presho,.South Dakota
John Russell Francis was born October 4, 1890 in Greenland, Michigan…he died November 22, 1926…he lived in Murdo, South Dakota. (Notice the attire my grandparents wore while on a camping trip.)
E. W. McNinch, born April 24, 1889, near Charlie, Texasdied April 15, 1988…lived in Big Piney, Wyoming

Peter M. Swinson is the grandfather of Sherri Swinson Miller who was raised in Presho, South Dakota and now lives in Pierre, South Dakota.

John Russell Francis is the grandfather of Mary Francis McNinch, who was raised in Murdo, South Dakota, and now lives in Mabank, Texas.

E.W. McNinch is the grandfather of Kip McNinch, who was born and raised in Laramie, Wyoming and now lives with his wife, Mary in Mabank, TX.

Peter M. Swinson

Mr. Swinson came to the United States in 1879 when he was seventeen. He landed at the lake port of Detroit and then went on to Arcadia in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. It is not known when he got to Dakota. In the 1915 census he reported that he had been in South Dakota thirty-one of the thirty-six years he had been in the United States.

On October 24, 1892, he renounced his allegiance to the king of Norway and became a citizen of the United States.

Typical log house built on the Prairie by homesteaders

The next years were spent homesteading and improving his land.

**Passed by Congress in 1862, The Homestead Act provided for the initial settlement of present-day South Dakota. A typical 160-acre farm cost about $18. A settler had to homestead the land for five years.

Mr. Swinson established residence in 1894 and in 1907 He made final proof that he had fulfilled all of the homestead requirements. He married Mary Christensen Lillebo, a young widow with two small sons, on January 18th of 1907.

By this time he had a log house, a small barn, a chicken house, a good well, and a good dam. He had one acre breaking and 100 rods fencing. This was all worth about $1400.00. Mr. Swinson was grazing 250 head of livestock and had thirty chickens. His new bride was also a homesteader. With their combined land and some they accumulated from people who moved, they eventually put together a 1500 acre ranch.

The couple lived in Mr. Swinson’s log house with grass growing out of the roof. He later told his children that he woke up one night with a rattlesnake in his bed. He said the most common sound that broke the silence in the prairie was the lonely howl of the coyote. Shortly after their marriage, they started to build a new house and as soon as the basement was finished they moved in.

I gave a lot of thought to the way things were back then. Mr. Swinson was the only one of the three in the story who immigrated. Imagine what that would have been like for a seventeen year old boy. He did what was required of him in order to take advantage of the opportunity to homestead. The land wasn’t given to the brave homesteaders… they earned it. Through perseverance and extremely hard work, they were able to make a good life for their families. Some didn’t stay and some didn’t live through it, but the ones who built up their farms and ranches, had to be tough. The threads of their courage and ability to overcome are woven through the hearts and souls of those who came after them.

Next: WWI and the great depression…

Murdo Girl…The TV Tray Tent (one of my faves)

I feel bad. Today I told Mom her teeth are yellow. She was getting onto me about brushing my teeth, and I said, “Well, my teeth are whiter than yours!” I expected her to say something back, but she didn’t. Of course my teeth are whiter. Her teeth are thirty-one years older than mine are. I couldn’t really tell her that now could I? Then, I got the bright idea to make a tent out of a TV tray and a blanket, and sleep out in the front yard. It works pretty good. You can actually use two TV trays if you have a big enough blanket. You have to be able to stretch the blanket over the trays and pound a clothespin into the corners, and then into the ground. Don’t ever plan on sleeping two people in a one TV tray tent.

I got myself all set up, and I thought everything would be fun. It got dark kind of early. I have a flashlight, but what fun is it to lay there in your front yard under a TV tray tent all by yourself, without anybody to even talk to? I don’t have a dog. Billy has a cat named Yappy, but she hides up in the attic above the garage all the time. She only comes down when she brings her kittens to us. She’s friends with Pete Reese’s tomcat. Pete is the old man who lives next door. He has a tomcat we call Tommy. The cat got his tail partially frozen off one bad winter. I personally don’t think cats are all that much fun. We kept one of Yappy’s kittens once and named him Tinkerbell. After he got bigger, he ran off somewhere and didn’t come back for a whole year. Cats aren’t fun, but they must be smart to know how to get around like that.

You know, I’m just laying here thinking. I really don’t know Pete Reese very well. If he lets his cat’s tail get frozen off, who knows what he might do to a kid who’s laying outside under a TV tray tent? The ground is getting hard on me. Dad never got around to planting grass, so I’m laying here on prickly weeds. What a dumb idea this was. Mom should have told me, no. She’s probably still in there feeling self-conscious about her yellowing teeth. Maybe I should just go in and finish this night out in my bed. I sure hate to admit defeat. On the other hand, how are you going to know if something will be fun unless you try it out? I could just say I tried it out and it wasn’t fun. It’s not like I just got scared and went in. I stayed out here quite a while and I’m also without food and water.

Shoot, I forgot to go to the bathroom before I came out here. What if I fall asleep and have to go inside the house and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? I’ll have to leave my TV tray tent unprotected. I don’t have any idea how long it’s been since somebody changed the batteries in this flashlight.

I feel sorry for Mom. What if something happens to me? She’ll spend the rest of her life blaming herself, because she started this whole chain of events when she confronted me about my teeth. Do you know how long a person should tryout an idea like sleeping outside in a TV tray tent, without food and water, and a flashlight with unknown battery life? I don’t think we have another flashlight so Mom can’t check on me even if she wants to. I shouldn’t be so thoughtless.

Oh no… I’m going to have to go inside. I just remembered something. I forgot to brush my teeth.

Murdo Girl…FUMC is preparing for a humongous garage sale!!!

We’re four days in and all I can see are millions of tables surrounding me.

I see dishes, and knick knacks, and purses, and pictures… linens and tools, and all kinds of fixtures.

We pray every day that we can get through it. We’ve piled it so high…can we get to it?

We’ve got jewelry and gadgets and all kinds of books; frames and mirrors to see how you looks.

We have tables of toys for toddlers and babies; electronics that work! We don’t sell you maybes.

Bring your dollars and quarters and a credit card. We’ve got appliances, pillows, and things for your yard

Hurry before our fearless leader buys all the toys!

The Methodist garage sales sure are the best. Bring all your friends they’ll be really impressed.

If the sun doesn’t shine and the rain comes our way, we’ll be smiling and selling, anyway.

Friday’s the day and at eight o’clock sharp the doors will be opened and the fun will start!

Thank you ladies…the food is delicious and I’m sure the desserts are really nutritious

Friday and Saturday, April 23rd and 24th…FUMC Mabank…across from Eubanks Funeral Home

Some photos are from previous garage sales. The pictures are older, but the people are not.

Murdo Girl…In a lifetime

The world has changed in the last hundred years.

Let’s think about that for a minute.

If our grandparents could have been foreseers

Would they have picked now to live in it?

Back then parents raised their kids.

Now, some kids raise their parents.

Today, there aren’t as many forbids.

Back then not as much forbearance.

When Grandpa was a youngster

They had to blow out their lights.

Many years later they reached the juncture

When electricity brightened their nights.

Buckets of water were hauled from a well.

Now, it flows from a faucet.

These days we all talk on our cell

Party lines made it easy to gossip.

The homesteaders life was a gamble

Sometimes it was root hog or die.

For most it was all they could handle.

On hope and a prayer they relied.

The competition today is daunting.

The human spirit has suffered a blow.

Back then they were working not wanting

To reach each new status quo.

We didn’t decide to live now or then.

The choice was not ours to face

A good life doesn’t depend on the when

If we draw strength from God’s love and Grace?

Murdo Girl…Moving right along

We had some good family times while we lived on the lake. Scott proposed to Heather on the 4th of July one year. It was a big surprise to everyone including Heather. In the picture below, Scott looks a hundred times calmer than he did before she said yes. My friend, Mary, and her daughter, Katie were there. Mary was in the bathroom changing into her swimming suit and missed the whole thing.

We had a birthday party for Sadie when she turned fifteen. We don’t do this for all of our dogs, but she was very special to our whole family. She was Kip’s Mom’s dog and the only one who was with her when she passed away. I couldn’t believe how good she was during her photo shoot for the invitations. Olivia got to blow out the candles and Kip got to open the presents which were mostly bones. We had nine family members there to help Sadie celebrate.

I’m going to stick in a few more camping pictures here.

I could only find one of the inside of the little travel trailer. Heather is on the left and Nikki is sleeping. I didn’t do a very good job taking the picture…sorry Heather. The one on the lower right is of Mason and Kip on that fateful day of the fateful night at Dangerfield State Park. Below are pictures of the lake house, Craig skiing, and Billy and I on the boat. I ran across tons of pictures I took of people skiing, but you can’t tell who it is in most of them. Billy loved our lake house. He liked to sit out on the back deck and smoke his cigars.

We decided to sell the lake house because we didn’t feel like we were really “getting away.” So we sold everything and moved to the country.

I’m surprised the family is still able to find us.