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 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.
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.
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…