The following was written by John Oliver Thorson who was a Grandson of John and Ida O'Neil
THE JOHN O' NEIL FAMILYPREFACE - Much of the following was written 30+ years ago and the transcript mislaid until recently. Since it was written, some new facts have come to light, so I have re-written the transcript to include these new facts and also to finish much which I never got around to do years ago when my time was short for such an enterprise as this. - John Oliver Thorson, 1992
This is the story, as far as I know it, of the John O'Neil family who settled near Inkster, Grand Forks County, Dakota Territory, about the year 1881.The head of the family was one John O'Neil, who was born near Valparaiso, Indiana, on April 15, 1853. His mother died when he was two years old, and his father left him, never to be heard of again. Both parents were born in Ireland, UK, and were of the Roman Catholic faith. Little John was taken by his uncle, Dennis O'Brien, his mother's brother, where he lived until he was six years of age. At this age, he was taken into the home of a man by the name of Syfers, with whom, he remained until he was 14 years of age. He then went to live with a family by the name of Howells, where he remained only a short time. He said that before he left, the family would sit down for supper, and they had a son grandpa's age by the name of Sammy, and that the plates were dished up only once for each, excepting the mother would ask the son, Sammy, "Sammy, would you like another piece of bread". She would not ask John that, and he was hungry and soon left to be on his own. Also, the Civil War being on during these early years, he tried to enlist as a "drummer boy" at age 13, but was not accepted.
John O'Neil had only one sister who was eight years his senior. They never lived together after their mother's death, and knew little of one another. Her name was Maggie O'Neil. She was raised Roman Catholic and was married to a man by the name of John Doyle, who was a railroad man out of Rochester, Minnesota. The family lived in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, where Maggie died about 1890. She had only one son, James Doyle, who never married. Apparently there was not much intimacy between the families, as Mrs. John O'Neil stated that Maggie was out to the O'Neil farm but once.
John O'Neil told me as a boy he moved west, earning his own way after he was 14 years old. He talked of having worked in Wisconsin as a farmhand. While he was in Wisconsin, he worked for a farmer with 100 milk cows. He and another hired hand had to milk these animals by hand twice daily. He said they would just finish the first milking and then they would have to begin over again. I asked him how long he lasted, and he said one week. He said his cords in his arms became so sore that he could no longer use his hands. Another thing he told me was how to tie a loose bundle from a grain binder. He learned that in Wisconsin, too, having worked behind the old McCormick binder, before they had perfected the knotter on the binder. The binder would cut the Grain and drop the bundles on the ground, after which the farmhands came along, tied the bundles and put them in shocks to dry prior to threshing.
There seems to be quite a space of time between the early years when he was in Wisconsin, and the later period which I shall mention. Grandpa told me about being on the Custer Battlefield three months after the Custer Massacre in June, 1876. Later, in talking to his son, John Leland O'Neil, it was established that John O'Neil had driven a mule team for General Miles at that time. General Miles, who has an excellent autobiography, came to Dakota Territory shortly after the Massacre to punish the Indians responsible, which they did by attacking the Indian camps in the dead of winter. I asked Leland why grandfather had not been a U.S. soldier at that time, and he said grandpa had told him that the soldiers only got $20.00 per month and their board, and had to walk, while he got $80.00 per month and board, and could ride on the wagon. At approximately the same time, he was in the Black Hills for the gold rush of that time, and he saw Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane in Deadwood, DT. He also told of an athletic meet they had in the Black Hills then, and he took part, and won the hop, skip and jump event. I can believe that as he had extremely long legs for his size. He also talked about the party he was in having been chased by hostile Indians, who never caught up with them.
Some time later, he took up railroad construction. One of my aunts, Margaret Elizabeth (Maggie) Johnson, said he began working on the old Manitoba railway right-of-way at Crookston, Minnesota, and was employed until the railway was completed to Larimore, DT. About 1881, he was section foreman for the Great Northern Railway Company's construction of the main line from Grand Forks to Larimore, DT. His home was in the first Section house in Larimore, where he had 100 track laborers under him. He had to feed them, and Sarah Jane Sanderson was his housekeeper and cook. In July 1881, he homesteaded in the Southeast Quarter (SE1/4) of Section Twenty-three (23), Township One Hundred Forty-four (144) North, Range Fifty-six (56) West in Elkmount Township, Grand Forks County, DT, which was between 20 and 25 miles from Larimore. The United States Patent was issued to John O’Neil on May 15, 1883, and was recorded July 13, 1889 at 5:00 P.M. in Grand Forks County, DT.
John O'Neil met Ida Emily Sanderson at Thompson (near Grand Forks). At that time, her mother was his housekeeper and cook in the Section-house in Larimore. They were married in Larimore, DT, on April 3, 1882.Ida O'Neil went to the homestead in Elkmount Township almost immediately after the marriage. Her father, Stauts Sanderson, built the frame home in the SW corner of their homestead. It was a shack of two rooms, and the trip to the farm was made by oxen with their small belongings on the oxcart, and the young bride of 16 walking the 20-odd miles to the claim. No crop was planted in 1882. The building of the claim shack and the breaking of the first sod seemed to have occupied their time. The first crop was planted to break the virgin soil for John, who continued to work on the railroad. They planted 26 acres and the crop was a complete loss when the same was hailed out. Ida O'Neil related that John wished to give up the claim after their loss, but she refused to leave the farm and remained there until her death in 1952.
Ida Emily Sanderson was born near Seaforth, Ontario, Canada, on February 18, 1866. Her parents were Stauts Sanderson, who was born near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in 1832 of Scotch-Holland-Dutch origin, and Sarah Jane Latta, who were married near Seaforth in 1864. They migrated to the United States, coming to Crookston, Minnesota, in 1879, when Ida was 13-1/2 years of age. The children in the family were: Ida; Ed Sanderson, born in Seaforth in 1866 (Ida's twin), and died in Larimore in 1886, and is buried in a protestant cemetery there; Chauncy L. Sanderson, born in 1870 at London, Ontario, Canada, and died in British Columbia, Canada in 1942. "Uncle Chance" as we used to call him, came to the Thomas Thorson home in Minot on several occasions. He was a heavy cigarette smoker and was passing through going from North Dakota to Saskatchewan, Canada. He was a veteran in the Canadian Armed Force in World War I, 1914-1918, and was reputed to have taken part in some of the heaviest fighting in Europe, but came out of the war without a scratch. He went to Scotland after the war, married a Scotch lassie and went to British Columbia and lived there until his death in 1942. A search of the Benson County Register of Deeds records in North Dakota shows that Chauncy L. Sanderson filed on, the Northwest Quarter (NWl/4) of Section Twenty-four (24) in Township One Hundred Fifty-five (155) North, in Range Seventy-three (73) West by recorded Receiver's Receipt (Devils Lake office) dated September 10, 1901, and recorded in Book RRA, page 138, for $200.00, and recorded United States Patent to such land in Book B, Page 79, on August 18, 1902. Land later lost through Sheriff's Deed (foreclosed for $150.00 mortgage). Charley Sanderson, born in 1872, (record in 1885 Dakota Territorial Census) in London, Ontario, Canada, who came to the United States and lived with his parents. On May 1, 1901, he filed on the South Half of the Northeast Quarter (S1/2NE1/4), and North Half of the Southeast Quarter (N1/2SElj4), Section Twenty two (22) in Township One Hundred Fifty-six (156) North, of Range Seventy-two (72) West in RR A, Page 121, in Benson County, ND, on May 6, 1901, at 4:OU P.M. for $200.00, and United States Patent to such land filed March 17, 1903, in Book B of Patents, Page 6, and Sheriff's Deed to such land was issued April 21, 1903, to the Winona Savings Bank, Winona, Minnesota. Uncle Charles, as he was known in our home in my early youth, returned to Canada and farmed near Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan, Canada, the remainder of his life. Not much is known. Further, as to Ida's father, Stauts Sanderson, although for years I was under the impression that he had a claim near Larimore, I find that his claim to land was in Benson County, DT, in Aurora Township, described as the Northeast Quarter (NEl/4) of Section Twenty-five (25), in Township One Hundred Fifty-two (152), in Range Sixty-eight (68) West, by recorded Receivers Receipt Vol. 9, Page 96, $200.00 paid and filed July 10, 1885, at 2:00 P.M., entry number 1172, and later United States Patent issued to Stauts Sanderson recorded 9:00 A.M., May 18,1889. They lost the farm through Sheriff's Deed dated July 19, 1887, to foreclose a mortgage dated July 8, 1885, given by Stauts Sanderson and Sarah Jane Sanderson, his wife, for $400.00. Sold for $511.03 and recorded July 21, 1887 at 1:00 P.M.. Stauts Sanderson was a carpenter by trade and seemed to have spent most of his life in Dakota Territory at that trade. He was on his claim in Benson County when the Dakota Territorial Census was taken in 1885, and is listed thereon as age 52 (see such in Number 11, Supervisor District No. 2, Enumeration District No. 41, Schedule 1, Space 30 and 31). He died in 1886 and is buried in the Dodge Cemetery near Inkster, ND. Sarah Jane Sanderson, after the death of her husband in 1886, was living in Benson County. I have found no marriage certificate showing she was married to one William Tough, a farmer a few miles east of Rugby, ND, but I did find a recorded entry in the office of the Register of Deeds of Benson County, ND, showing an entry at Book C, page 343, where on November 19, 1898, Sarah Jane Tough quit-claim deeded the NW1/4, Section 9, 156 North, Range 72 West to William B. Tough for $300.00 and filed January 13, 1899 at 1:00 P.M. Little is known about my great grandmother Sanderson, except that I remember as a small boy that Ida O'Neil stopped at the Thomas Thorson residence on her way to Canada to visit her mother who had taken a claim near Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan, south of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Also, she most likely wanted to visit her namesake, Ida Emily, who was living with Sarah Jane on the claim. Stories I remember about the hard times they had on this Canadian claim were to the effect that when they ran short of meat, they would catch gophers. They were living 30 miles from town and had to rely on their neighbors to bring them supplies, which apparently was rather infrequent. I have tried to have my aunt Ida recite some of the facts concerning this period of her life, but she is reticent to discuss it, saying "she was quite a person". Ida returned to the John O'Neil farm around 1917, after being in Canada for seven years. Ida O'Neil was supposed to have been criticized for "giving away" her child by letting her go to live with Sarah Jane in her old age, but I always considered it a kindly act by a daughter to her aged mother. Sarah Jane was supposed to have died of cancer about 1920, and is buried in the Willow Bunch Cemetery. For a detailed genealogy of the Latta family, so far as it is known, see "family tree" to come elsewhere.
Now, as to some of the physical characteristics of John O'Neil. He was a man over six feet in height, straight in carriage, and well-built and handsome in appearance in his younger years; and later in life, distinguished by his well preserved physique. Most of my recollections are of his later years, from his age 60 to 70. He was then in good health, robust, ruddy of complexion, tall and straight with only a slight stoop at the shoulders. He had no scars or lost members of his body. His hair was white and fairly thick, even at that age. His eyes were blue and his facial features of the sharp, well-shaped kind. He wore a short, well-clipped mustache, and on most days was well dressed when I knew him. He rode in a buggy around the farm, doing his work of managing the farm. The heavy work was done at that time by his son, John Leland and hired help, of which I became one at an early age - 8 or 9. John O'Neil was a man of quick temper. If anything displeased him, he was prone to let one know on the spot. A couple of examples that happened to me, or which I saw: One time, my brother, Orrin Thorson, 18 months younger than I, had been told by Grandpa O'Neil to fix a fencepost that was down. It was dry out that summer, and we got the post out but the hand powered posthole digger did not go down to make the hole like it should have. Grandpa came over and bawled us out and Orrin "sassed back" at him and Grandpa took him by the arm and shook him. I grabbed the digger and made a great show of digging. Needless to say, we were both frightened. Another time, Grandpa had a cow "in heat" and asked us to lead the cow over to the McManus farm, about a mile away for service. The cow lead nicely until she was getting away from the O'Neil land, and then she dragged us young lads into the ditch and headed for the barn. Grandpa came along about that time, grabbed an old fence post lying nearby, and hit the cow one blow across the horns, and we had no further trouble leading her over to the McManus farm and back. Another time, a neighbor named Blackhead came into the O'Neil yard and complained to Grandpa that one of his calves was in the Blackhead wheat, across the fence to the north of the house. An argument ensued. Finally, I saw Grandpa remove his suit coat (he was ready to go to Fordville) and handed it to me and said "I never saw a Norwegian yet that I couldn't lick", and took after Blackhead, who instantly turned and ran out of the yard unto the road with Grandpa in full pursuit. When he let you know of his displeasure, there was no mistake as to what he meant. However, he was quick to forgive and forget.
He was a man of great character. His word was his bond. He had the respect of his neighbors and business associates. He never mortgaged his real property at any time during his life and did not want his family to do such a thing after his death. His wishes in this regard were always respected. During his early years on the farm, he was prone to occasionally "drink to excess", but when Uncle Leland was born on October 13, 1897, he took the oath and never drank again. He was an excellent boss of people and a keen judge of human nature. I know little of his work habits when he was first on the farm, as he was past that stage of his life when I grew up big enough to know him. My mother, Dora Mable, stated that she always worked with him in the barns and in the fields when she was a girl and a young lady, and they worked together with good success. Mother liked to work with and for John O'Neil. All farm work was done during those years with horses for power. Grandpa had a two-bottom gangplow using five horses, and occasionally a sulky plow (16") with three horses.
The year that I was 9 years of age, my brother, Orrin, and I started doing the first shocking of grain for John O'Neil. Harvest was there, World War I was on, and farm help for harvest was scarce. Grandpa asked us lads if we wished to work. We said yes. He asked us how much wages we wanted for working. We thought awhile, and I finally inquired if 25 cents for three days was too much. He chuckled, though trying to keep a straight face, and finally said "No, I guess not", and we were hired. The first year, Orrin lasted shocking only one day and then was assigned to carry the water jug to the workers, then the next year and thereafter, Orrin and I would do the shocking, with him on one side of the field and me on the other, and Grandpa posted up toward the end of the field to which we were working, with a big shock of grain to lie against when we got there, and he had the burlap-wrapped jug of water on hand to cool us boys down a little. It was then that he would tell us of his adventures in his early days. Leland handled the binder. I recall how hard the work was for us small boys, but we stuck to it, and John O'Neil undoubtedly got the most possible work out of us two small lads. After we had been behind the shock, had some lunch and cold water (the outside temperature was probably 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit), and he had told us of his adventures in his youth and early manhood, we would be much refreshed and make the next round of the field as quickly as possible so as to get back for more stories.
This harvesting procedure lasted three or four years until we no longer went to the farm in the summer months, but tried to get out and find paying farm work. We also were taught other tasks on the farm, including handling horses, running the binder, and dragging. John O'Neil was a very good teacher, in my estimation, and he always saw that both his hired men and his teams had a good meal at noon. During the noon-hour on hot harvest days, we would go to the house, unharness the horses, give them a good drink and plenty of oats, and then, after we had eaten, he would lie down on the front room floor (which was almost always bare) and insist on us lads and Uncle Leland taking a nap, or at best, a nice rest and cool off, and then we would go back to work refreshed and usually worked until nearly sundown.
He was undoubtedly the master of his house, although Ida Sanderson O'Neil was a strong person and had a lot to say. I do recall them having some words occasionally, and on such occasions, Grandpa's voice became loud and hard, and occasionally I saw him raise a chair as if to strike, but I never saw him strike anyone. Ida was very devoted to him. I can recall her giving him his bath of a Saturday night, which included a haircut, fingernail trim and toenail trim, as well as some powder, clean clothes, and a little petting that they did not know that we small boys were taking in on the sly. To see Grandpa O'Neil eat a meal was an education in the old school. He had no gentile manners, but being raised among rough, working people, he did as others in his class did. He ate with his knife, using his fork only to assist him in holding his meat in cutting, as I remember, and holding all the food on the flat side of his knife. He was very dexterous at this and had no trouble beating the rest of us through with his meal, if he was in a hurry. He was a fast eater. When he ate soup, he used a big spoon and made quite a noise in getting it in his mouth, as his moustache interfered to some extent. He enjoyed good meals and his table was one of the best set and hospitable in this neighborhood. Many neighbors and friends ate there every week, as well as his large family, including us grandchildren (Thorson's), and the usual hired help. Grandma O'Neil was a mistress of the fast meal. I can recall a neighbor or friend calling unexpectedly. She would hustle us boys off to catch a couple young roosters, dig a few potatoes and pick a few other vegetables. If there was ice, we would start the ice cream freezer, turning by hand, and in no time she would have a big feed on the table, one that would have taken most others hours to prepare. Grandpa O'Neil always sat at the head of the huge table in the dining room, and very affably insisted on his family and guests to have another helping. Needless to say, we small fry needed little or no urging to get our second and possibly third helpings of Grandma's good country cooking. Now that I think of it, as good a table as was set in those days, I never remember either Grandpa or Grandma O'Neil ever having been on the heavy side. Grandpa never was in my boyhood, and Grandma, though being well-proportioned for a small lady, was never obese.
Another thing I remember about John O'Neil, was that when he went to town to transact any business that concerned figuring or arithmetic, or business of any sort, he always took Grandma along to verify the result. This was a wise thing for him, as he did not read or write. He was supposed to have had (being an orphan) only three days of schooling. He could sign his name and he had taught himself to read a newspaper, but his academic training was nil. Grandma O'Neil had an eighth grade schooling in Canada, and was good at figures as well as being very sharp mentally to grasp the ultimate result of any piece of business. It was a good method of doing the family business, as it left Grandma with a ready knowledge of their business when Grandpa died in 1924.
John O'Neil was a great hunter in his early days. I never went with him on his hunting expeditions, but I do remember seeing him look out the window of the house, grab his shotgun which was lying nearby, run out of doors, and knock down a chicken hawk circling over our poultry in the yard. Other times, he would grab his 10-gauge LeFevre shotgun and shoot at a fox or coyote that may have had designs on the turkeys. To small boys, these were things long to be remembered, and to Grandpa O'Neil, things that he liked to do for the fun of it as well as being very practical. This LeFevre shotgun took a man to handle it, as it was heavy. Uncle Leland owned it for many years and was a very fine wing-shot with it. Grandpa could handle this gun until the last years of his life. I have heard stories of his early-day hunting and fishing expeditions. One took him by horse and buggy all the way to Clearwater Lake, north of Devils Lake, ND. He would return home with his buggy filled with ducks, geese and prairie chickens to enrich the family larder. In addition to the meat so secured, Grandpa had the fun of the expedition, which apparently was something he needed. I do not know if he was joined by others in these expeditions, but he undoubtedly had companions. The joy of the hunt has been transmitted to his son, grandsons and great-grandsons.
Although I had never seen John O'Neil go on much of a trip, other than in the neighborhood and occasionally to my home in Minot, I have heard about his trips to various parts of the United States. He usually went alone as Grandma O'Neil had her children and other work to keep her on the farm. Furthermore, she did not approve of the financial outlay needed for these trips. She preferred to stay at home and save the money. But not so Grandpa. He went alone and took in these things he wanted to see badly. I have heard it said that he went to the World's Fair in St, Louis, Missouri, in 1903, and made trips to other cities, the names of which I do not remember. This is probably explained by the restlessness of his youth and his curiosity as to life in general. He was a very smart man and could figure faster in his head than most persons could with paper and pencil (there being no adding machines or computers in those days).
Apparently, John O'Neil was born a Roman Catholic, but did not become very well indoctrinated in that faith, as he did not follow it in adult life. Grandma O'Neil was Presbyterian and the O'Neil children were sent to the Presbyterian Sunday school at Belleville School, about 2-1/2 miles north of the farm where the early services were held for the community. Besides the O'Neil children going to the Presbyterian Church at the school (they never erected a church in the country), Grandma O'Neil would send us grandchildren to Sunday School, too, and I can remember the fun we had with the other children, the nicely-dressed people attending church there, and the nice horses and buggies then used, and later, a sprinkling of the first motorcars then about. I have found out, through the Fordville History that Grandpa did attend the Presbyterian Church in Belleville and was a member of the Christian Endeavor about 1894. Grandpa was a charter member of the Inkster Lodge, A F & AM, and was the first tyler.
John O'Neil was a small farmer by today's standards in the same area. However, his two quarters of good farmland was enough to keep he and his family busy. There was little expense for farming outside of machinery and buildings. They had small grains, including flax, wheat, oats and barley. He also raised 15 acres of Timothy Grass which he hayed for horse feed. He also kept a large patch of corn, which was cut early before frost for fodder, shocked, and then hauled to the barn for feeding as needed. I can recall cultivating this corn patch and how big and strong were the cornstalks at the height of the summer season. Inasmuch as I was on the farm only in the summertime during our school vacation, my impressions of the other seasons of the year on this farm are made up mostly of what I heard the next year from the members of the family. The farm work was done with horses. John O'Neil was a good judge of horseflesh and had some fine draft animals, including Dan, Jennie and others I do not now recall. He also had several fine driving animals at various times during his life on this farm. I particularly recall Belle, a small black or dark brown mare of about 1000 pounds, who, at the time I was familiar with her, was still a good buggy horse. Many are the trips I have taken behind this animal. This was partly true at this time because she was extremely gentle and trustworthy. She was very fast on the road and I recall that she was never passed by other horses. When a little race was on (nowdays they would call it "hotrodding"), she really got down and ran, even when she was old and spavined. I also remember Grandpa giving me a team to plow with, made up of one ordinary workhorse, one old grey mare with colt at side, and Belle, to plow with the sulky (a one bottomed 16" plow). I could plow three acres daily. However, I did suffer as this team was not well matched, either as to size, speed, age, color, weight or temperament. Belle, being nervous and speedy, would try to pull the whole plow, the old grey mare being in the rear and the third animal in the middle. I had to pound the old grey mare to make her pull her share of the load, and I had to pull in on Belle to make her ease up. She would have killed herself if I had not. Anyway, for a lad of 11 or 12, it was a rich experience which I shall never forget. It showed how Grandpa got his work done at the right season with a makeshift crew to assist in this important task. Another incident occurred when Grandpa was haying on the "lower place". Grandpa always raised 15 acres of Timothy hay for his horses. It was a solid stem plant which the horses relished and on which they stood their work in the fields well. On this particular day, Uncle Leland was pitching the hay off the ground unto the hayrack and Orrin and I were loading the hay and spreading it around on the wagon. The wagon had two slings, one placed on the floor of the hayrack and then loaded until the rack was about half full, at which time the other sling was placed on top of the then loaded hay and the load was completed. When this load was about to the top, the horses became frightened at something and suddenly lurched forward with the loaded hay. Orrin was at that moment on the rear of the load and was bounced backward off the top on the load and landed on his head on the ground. I have often thought since that he was lucky not to have broken his neck. He was a little wobbly on his feet but seemed to have survived. The loaded wagon was then hauled to the new barn which had a track in the haymow with a long, heavy rope extending to the ground which was attached to the top sling, and the other end to a double-tree, and a team of horses which pulled the hay sling loaded with fresh hay up to the top of the haymow and into the barn where it was dumped in the exact spot they wanted it unloaded. This was accomplished by pulling a dangling rope attached to a tripping device. After the first sling was unloaded, the second one was treated in the same manner and we went for another load while the sun shown.
John O'Neil was a charter member of the first Masonic Lodge in Inkster. It was the Forest River Lodge, granted its dispensation on September 8, 1888, chartered June 13, 1889, with the tyler of the lodge listed as John O'Neil. He also filed on a tree claim from the United States prior to 1893, which was in Walsh County a few miles north of Fordville. I do not have the date. I learned about it from Uncle Leland when we were driving up there one time, when Leland's son Jack had owned a piece of land they had purchased from the Andrew Davidson estate, of which Leland was administrator. Suddenly, Leland said: "There's Grandpa O'Neil's tree claim". I asked if he still owned it and he said: "No, he traded it in the early days for a team of horses." It appeared to me to be a rather hilly piece of land running into a small creek valley and I paid no further attention to it, except when the U.S. built a huge anti-ballistic missile base south of Langdon, ND, about 1970. They went all the way to the Fordville vicinity for an ample supply of fresh water, and I would think this farm would be in the middle of the aquifer used for that project which was abandoned almost immediately.
I shall now put down some of my many remembrances of my Grandma, Ida Emily (Sanderson) O'Neil. She was born at Seaforth, Ontario, Canada, on February 18, 1866, and died at home on the farm on August 25, 1952. She was married to John O'Neil on April 3, 1882, at Larimore, DT, and almost immediately started for the John O'Neil homestead with a few belongings in a cart drawn by oxen. The original claim shack on the farm (SEl/4, Section 23, Township 154N, Range 56W in Elkmount Township), was built in the southwest part of such claim by great-grandfather Stauts Sanderson, but was later moved to the northeast part because of drainage problems. Ida was then barely 16, and she remained faithful to her home for 70 years.
First, as to her appearance. She was not a tall woman, and as a young boy, I remember her as not being too heavy, but not too slender either. She was possibly 5'3", and I remember her as having a rather shuffling gait, quick of movement, and with an exceptionally clear, loud voice. She was a person of great compassion - it being her desire and ambition to help others. She had a great love for children, otherwise I should not have known her as well as I did, because I was sent down to the O'Neil farm nearly every summer after I was two years old and she was the one who took care of me and my brother Orrin, who also went with me on most occasions, especially after we were a little older. They still tell the story about me that when the O'Neil's were building the big house on the farm in 1908, I was just a real small boy, but at the farm, and the carpenter, Ole, was up on the frame of the house building, and he happened to see me in the garden close by, eating potato bug. He hollered loudly to my grandmother O'Neil, "Mrs. O'Neil, the little boy is eating potato bugs". Needless to say, my grandmother yanked me out of the garden in a hurry. Another time, when I was real small, but at which time I can still remember, she grabbed me out of her persimmon patch and in no uncertain terms told me I did not have watermelons but persimmons. They grew on a vine like a watermelon and though small in size, had light and darker green stripes in the same fashion.
Grandmother O'Neil was a real wheelhorse for work, with unending energy in the days I spent with her on the farm, which would be 10-12 years. It was her place in the household to get the rest of us up, get us fed and about our tasks. During harvest, I can remember her sticking her head up the stairway to the second floor and hollering "Leland, time to get up, going on five o'clock", and at that time it was maybe five minutes after four o'clock. Incidentally, Leland was then going with his first wife, Julia Thoe, and had not been in bed long at the time and needed the sleep. She was a great hustler and a good leader and teacher. I particularly remember later when Uncle Leland's wife, Julia, died, she stepped into the home and cared for Jack and Louise O'Neil. When I was small, she assigned many small chores to Orrin and I around the farm. I would help her milk when I was older - she would milk four cows twice daily and I would milk two. Orrin did not like to milk and I do not recall him milking, but I suppose he did occasionally. Also she taught me gardening when I was six or seven years of age. She always had a big garden, fenced, directly north of the big house, and I was the official weeder. She taught me the beets and the carrots from the weeds, and explained carefully how to remove the weeds without harming the vegetable plants. It was something I followed all my life and which I still do (1985) to a limited extent. She was great with poultry - raising 100 Holland turkeys and 400 chickens each year. I remember one had to be careful or you would step in something you did not want to scrape off your shoes, or if you did not have any on, your bare foot. One time when my brother Donald Thorson was two or three years old, he walked out into the barnyard where the turkeys were, and the big, white gobbler took offense and ran at the boy and began picking at his face. My aunt Ella Mae and myself were present, and Ella Mae ran out and took Donald up and out of danger. We immediately ran to Grandma O'Neil and reported the incident, and that night the gobbler was taken from the henhouse, on top of which he was then roosting, and caged and the next morning was taken out to the heavy, wire clothesline, and after the big butcher knife had been well sharpened, he was decapitated. After the proper period of bleeding, he was picked and made ready for the oven. The bird weighed 40 pounds, and Grandma could hardly get him into the oven to roast him, but I do recall what good eating he was, and of course, the circumstances kept it fresh in my mind ever since, which is close to 70 years. Grandmother had many other duties at that time from early morning to late in the evening on those long, summer days of the teens. She was a great cook. The morning fare for years was large buttermilk pancakes with lots of thick cream from the evening milking, with brown sugar and fresh, country butter. Also, eggs and some sort of meat - bacon, ham or otherwise, depending on the time of the year and whether there had been butchering going on shortly before then. Her large meal at noon took many forms - chicken and dumplings I remember well, and though her dumplings were mostly soft and fluffy, she was able to make hard dumplings in the same pot with the soft ones, as Uncle Leland liked the hard ones. During harvest, there being no refrigeration on the farm, she would buy beefsteak from the butcher in town and we would have steak, or maybe a large pot-roast or even occasionally a home-cured ham that she had hidden in the oats in the oat bin near the house. Of course, there was a large variety of garden vegetables during the growing season, on which preparation squad I was a member, and then much fresh bread that she baked daily in the old Malleable Range in the kitchen. She also was an expert on soda biscuits which were an inch and one-half tall, never hard, and perfectly shaped, every one of them. For dessert, we had some pie, but often, especially when there was company, the dessert was homemade ice-cream or homemade sherbet. I always got in on the turning end of that and still like both ice cream and sherbet. With the ice-cream she would serve either a piece of homemade cake, or a homemade cookie. The cookies were her pride and joy and which she made as long as she lived. I recall when Edna and I were living in Portland, OR during World War II in the forties, she was out visiting her daughters (Irene, Ida, Jenny) and she called up and wanted to come over to visit us. We went after her and she was ill when she came but did not want her daughters to know it, so she called us and stayed several days until she felt better before she went back. During the time she was there, she was busy making her famous cookies, fruit, gingersnap and white sugar, and I, of ice cream or homemade sherbet. I always got in on the turning end of that and still like both ice cream and sherbet. With the ice cream she would serve either a piece of homemade cake, or a homemade cookie. UMMM! Other things she did in those days was the making of the butter, the surplus of which she would sell Saturday night at the store in Medford (later Fordville). The preparation of this butter was made to very high standards of health and cleanliness. First was the milking of the cows, they had to be wiped down under the udders, and, if necessary, washed. The milk was strained through cheesecloth on the top of the bowl on the cream separator and the cream separator was located inside the pantry just off the kitchen, which was spotless, with a varnished, hardwood floor. The cream separator was cleaned after the morning milking and the sieves were not only washed in hot, soapy water, but then dried with a clean towel and laid out in the morning sun to dry. Grandma's butter never had anything but a good, fresh taste, and that which she sold in the five-and ten-pound crocks in the store in town were the first to be taken by those who were in the market for fresh butter at the time, and it had a wide reputation in the vicinity. This butter was sold by the storekeeper and applied to Grandma's account on any purchases she would make. She would get jars back for the next week's sale of butter. As to the making, she had a large barrel-like churn that would make up to 20 pounds at once. This churn was wooden-staved with metal horizontal bands when the churn was standing in an upright position, ready to fill with the rich, thick cream. Grandma kept her cream separator "turned down" so that the cream was thick. The churn sat on a wooden cradle and the churn had a handle on it which was fitted into the notches, which after a little oil, we boys sometimes churned an hour and it usually seemed longer. After the butter began to "come", Grandma would release the pressure on the lid to the churn (which had an ingenious fastener) to check if it was fully churned, and we would then remove the butter, add some coloring and salt, and she would begin a mixing operation which took quite a little time. I think butter sold for about 20 cents a pound then and Grandma first used all she wanted in her household cooking before selling any. There was not much use of lard then and oleomargarine was unknown then in that neighborhood.
Another activity that I remember helping Grandma with was the making of lye soap. In the winter, the big house was heated by a large, hard coal heater in the dining room. It gave off a sort of white ash which was removed from the stove and placed in an ash pile near the house, but in the direction of the new barn near the privy. She would send me out to the ash pile with a pan or box and instructed me to bring in some of these ashes. From that, the lye and lard, tallow and other fryings she made light-brown bars of soap, about twice the size of the old commercial laundry soap that my mother and wife later used. This would be cut up and used in the washing machine to wash the bedding and clothing of the family. This was before electricity on the farm so everything was power by manpower, of which we lads were donators. The washing machine in those days was another thing and I do believe Grandma had as good a washer as was on the market then. As I remember it, the machine was round, made of wooden staves with a plug in the bottom to drain. The lid was made of heavy hardwood with a mechanism to turn the washing blade on the inside of the washer. The washer was filled with hot water and then with clothes and bedding which had been processed by Grandma according to her high standards, usually by boiling over the hot fire in the Maleable Range first. Then we boys would stand by the hour and turn the washer and wringer until the clothes had all gone through the washing machine and the rinse, which was cold, fresh water, all of which was lugged in and out of the house. Usually the wash was done on Monday which was called "washday", which it was and which took most of the day. Of course, Grandma did not do all the washing and other heavy work alone. She often had some of her many fine daughters home to help her. I remember aunts Irene, Maggie, Blanche and Ida, as well as Ella Mae, who was only three years older than me, as being home at different times to help with the cleaning of the big house (5 bedrooms and big attic) as well as in the kitchen and barnyard, but Grandma O'Neil was the big producer and the one who made things hum around the farm.
Grandma O'Neil was nobody to talk about herself or her relation. Consequently, I never did know too much about her folks as you can see by what is written above about them. She never explained to us about the birth of her own children, eight girls and one son. I never heard of any of her children dying, so she must have been a careful person concerning health and considering the primitive environment she was living in after her marriage and trip to the farm. She was a person who had the very best of health although I remember her having indigestion and occasionally taking a little baking soda to relieve her stomach. She did have bad feet. She had bunions on her feet and when she was alone on the farm with just the family, she often wore canvas shoes that were on the large side, which I always imagined was more for comfort than style. She always wore a dress. I cannot remember her having ever worn a pair of pants, though I presume she did sometime in her lifetime. Her hair was long, drawn up into a pug on top of her head, and fastened with hairpins or some other fastener. Her complexion was ruddy and her movements swift with no wasted space or time when she was doing something. I once told her that I could not go to sleep easily at sundown. She took time to explain that it was easy - all you had to do was lay down, tell yourself you were to go to sleep, and, presto, you were sleeping. She may have had an alarm clock but I cannot remember one. She must have had a "built-in" alarm clock, as she was always the first one up at daybreak. I slept most years I was on the farm in the summer in the bedroom right over the kitchen on the west side of the house, and this room was connected with a heat ventilator so I could hear what was going on in the kitchen. When she had the cook stove going, she would begin cooking and the pans would begin to rattle and the hot, good smells that came up through the ventilator would entice one to get up and get downstairs to where the food was. One incident I do remember about this situation happened when I was ten or eleven years old. During an early-morning thunderstorm and shower, a bolt of lightning hit the house, descended through the ventilator in this bedroom, and hit the hot cook stove below, rolled on its top and disappeared, without damage to any of us. My grandmother was fortunate she was not hit, as were myself and my brother Orrin, as the lightning passed within a couple feet from us to the room below. Another thing that Grandma did when I was with her was "rubber" on the telephone. This phone was in a small room off the kitchen, now used as a bathroom. The telephone was an old type that was on a country line and was operated with a hand-crank by giving just so many long- and short-rings to summon the listener you wanted to talk with. She loved to talk to her neighbor ladies but sometimes the ring could be heard for another party on your line (about 8 to the line then) and she would go into the small room, raise the receiver very gently, and listen to the conversation. Sometimes she would repeat what the conversation was about, especially if it was of "earth-shaking" importance to her. Because of that, she was able to keep up on the neighborhood gossip, events of importance, and occasionally be of help to her fellow man. Before the telephone was around, I presume the local gossip was learned by visiting other neighbors and friends and by the weekly trip to Inkster, where they traded. I believe Inkster was incorporated about 1884, so I do not know where they traded prior to that but presume it was to Larimore, which was considerably further, especially traveling by horse and buggy.
One time, Grandma O'Neil was up to Minot, visiting, and she and my mother got into a conversation on early marriages. She was against them for that generation. Mother made the remark, "You're only seventeen years older than I am." To this Grandma replied, "Just because I was a darn fool is no sign others should be too". Having been married at age sixteen, assuming the responsibilities of a wife, homemaker and mother all at once at that age and making a success of it speaks highly of her energy, friendliness and productiveness. She had six girls before she was 25, and all were born in the two-room homestead shack. I have talked to my mother as to how they got by in such tight quarters, and she said that her folks had a big bed in the living room part of the house and it was well feather-ticked and the children were laid like cigars on the bed so that they were cross-wise and all could have a bed. The other bed was in the other room where Grandpa and Grandma slept with usually the baby in between them, especially in the wintertime for warmth. Mother said that when she and her sisters wanted to move during the night, they would all have to do it together.
I never heard how the children were delivered when born, but it had to be by midwife, of which many of the farm women of that era were proficient at. Grandma was famous for this. She helped all over the neighborhood with this important task, and all without any thought of reimbursement. She also was a very good self-made physician, knowing alot of homemade remedies and poultices, and being sharp mentally, she had good success in this, her avocation, which she carried on as long as she lived. After Grandpa O'Neil died in 1924, she hired out as a nurse during confinements. It worked like this. The expectant parents, most always farmers, would contact her a month or two before the baby was expected, and would engage her to help the expectant mother prepare for a home delivery. She would spend on the average of three weeks on each case, going to the home about 10 days before the confinement and spending her time giving the home a thorough cleaning. When delivery was near, the doctor - usually Dr. Lommen from Fordville - would come to the farm and remain until the delivery was made, all with grandmother's assistance. After the doctor had finished and left, grandma would remain and take care of the new baby and the mother (who then was usually confined to bed for from 10-14 days) before she got up and began caring for her baby. Grandmother, depending on circumstances, would give instructions to a new mother on feeding and caring for a baby before she went home and there waited until she went on a like case. For this service, she got her board and room and $20.00. She carried on this activity for some years until more hospitals were built and the custom of home delivery changed to hospital delivery. I do suppose some pregnant women about this time went into what was termed a "lying-in" home, where the householder took in the woman until after the childbirth.
After the death of my uncle Leland's first wife, Julia, about 1929, Grandma took charge of the farm home again for my Uncle and helped raise Louise (O'Neil) Haugen and Jack O'Neil, until they got a stepmother, Stella O'Neil. Grandma was great with babies and small children and loved to hold them and feed and clean them until she was very elderly -- never showing that streak of impatience and sudden temper that many older people show toward small children, including their own grandchildren. One thing she did that I questioned, was to put food in her own mouth and chew it, and then take a spoon and transfer it to the mouth of the young child. How old the custom was, I do not know and I do not remember my mother doing it to my younger siblings, but Grandma did it at home, and the grandchildren she helped feed and raise were always healthy. An example is her own children, most all having lived past 80 years, and my mother being 93 when she died in 1976, and my aunt Maggie still alive and going strong at 99 years (1985).
Grandma O'Neil was a life member in the Masonic Order of Eastern Star. In fact, a portion of the name of the Forest River Lodge at Fordville (formerly at Inkster, but transferred many years ago) was named after her given name - Ida. She also was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), as was my mother, and she also was a charter member of the Christian Endeavor Society of the Belleville Presbyterian Church which was organized in 1894, and of which not only Grandma was a member, but also Grandpa O'Neil, my mother Dora Mabel, and my aunt Jennie. She was very much against alcoholic beverages in any form; also tobacco, especially cigarettes which she called "coffin nails". Possibly because of her strong stand on these issues, I can never remember my grandfather having used either alcohol or tobacco, though I am sure he did drink some in his earlier years - otherwise, he would not have been Irish. Uncle Leland did chew "J.T. Plug Tobacco" and he liked to say he liked it as his wife's initials were J.T.
Grandpa O'Neil came many times to get Orrin and I at Niagra when we came to the farm for the summer, or took us there when we left in the fall to go back to Minot to return to school. It was a long drive by horse and buggy, but it appeared to go fast because we did not want to leave her. She always went alone, and when we were returning home, we visited and occasionally had lunch at the McLean home. She and Mrs. McLean were great friends, and I suspect she left early so as to get in some time to visit with her friend. We did not always come that way. Sometimes, after we were older, mother sent us to Devils Lake on the Great Northern Railway Company train. We would get off there and carry our little packages over one mile to the Soo Line Railway depot, where we waited some little time to board a passenger train for Fordville, where Grandma would again meet us with the buggy. Also, she would make calls by buggy in the neighborhood. I remember trips to the Bond farm, one mile north; to the Bell farm, also a mile; to the Best farm, about one mile; to the Radcliffe farm, about two miles; to the McManus farm, over a mile; and then the close neighbors, Sam Wicktom, McConachies, Walkers, Bensons and the McMillans. The McMillan family was one where I went to play and visit, and later my aunt Ida married John McMillan. The first car I drove was a Model-T Ford from one of those neighbors, but which one I have forgotten. The McMillans also owned an early car called the Kissel car, and I recall Orrin and I being taken along one bright summer evening while Ida and John went driving. We sat on the floor in the rear and were advised to keep our mouths shut - to be seen and not heard. It was an exciting night for a ten-year-old. Later, John and Ida married and John went off to camp in World War I but was discharged before he left the country. He returned to North Dakota and farmed near Fordville in the 1920's until they left for Portland, Oregon in the late 1920's. Ida was a great mother and an equally great grandmother whom I shall never forget.John Oliver Thorson, the #1 Grandson.