Mader: My great-grandma’s farm life
For The Fence Post
It’s no secret that I want to ranch, but my version of ranching involves pickups, indoor plumbing and tractors with heated cabs. As much as I love reading the “Little House on the Prairie” books, I’m not sure I would have really wanted to live in the country during those hard years. My great-grandma Emma was born about 35 years after Laura Ingalls Wilder and endured many of the same hardships on the farm that Laura did.
Emma’s parents grew up in Germany. Her father Henry was a farmer there and longed to move away from the political unrest in the country. He sailed to America in the late 1800s and made his way west to Papillion, Neb. Once there, he sent for his wife Matilda and their children. The couple had three or four children while they were in Germany and several more in the United States. Emma was born in Nebraska in 1902. Her father Henry was a bit of a wanderlust, so the family moved fairly regularly when Emma was a child. During Emma’s early school years they lived in the Dakotas near an Indian reservation. Many Native American children went to the school with Emma. The school was strict and Emma was constantly reprimanded with a ruler for being left-handed. These early years of life in America were especially hard for Emma’s family. Three of Emma’s siblings died during this time (probably from diphtheria) and the family was very poor.
When Emma was a teenager, the family made one final move. They took what little possessions they owned and loaded them on a train headed to Bennett, Colo. The ride was long and hot and Emma was eager to arrive. However, all she wanted to do when she got to Colorado was go back home. A dust storm — the first Emma had ever seen — was raging outside the train in Bennett. The storm terrified Emma and she begged her parents to leave. Much to her dismay, they stayed and settled on a small farm north of Bennett. Life continued in a rhythm of hard farm work for Emma. She eventually met and married a neighbor named Johnny. Johnny’s parents were also farmers and had immigrated from Germany in search of farmland. In 1901, Johnny’s mother died when he was born so he was raised by his older siblings and his father.
Johnny and Emma were poor but they were known for their generosity, even after they lost almost all of their possessions in the Kiowa Creek Flood of 1935 — a story I’ll share next time. ❖
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