Tessin, Isabel Hubbell; Day County, - 1883
Autobiography of Mrs. George Tessin.
I am Belle, the daughter of James P. and Ermine H. Hubbell. We were living in Michigan about forty miles from Detroit when my father got the bug to "Go West, Young Man, Go West." I guess it was through the influence of two of my uncles and their families who came out in 1879 and took claims along the Elm River in the farthermost South West section of Frederick Township.
The fire kept burning in my fatherís heart until the fall of 1882 when he and Grandfather Hubbell decided to come out and look the situation over and I must say they were favorably impressed as they took up their claim.
Fatherís land joined my uncleís on the east and in Frederick Township while Grandfatherís joined us on the south in Oneota Township. After having built their claim shanties they returned to Michigan to prepare to move in the spring and on March 20, 1883, they loaded their earthly possessions consisting of two horses, two cows, two pigs and some chickens, machinery, a walking plow and drag, a hand scythe, lumber wagon and household goods into an immigrant car and started via: Grand Trunk Railroad to Chicago and via: Northwestern from Chicago to Ordway Dakota Territory.
We traveled seven long tiresome days and landed in Ordway March 27. We stayed here all night in a hotel, donít know the name of it but Ordway did have a hotel.
We arose early and started across country, a distance of about thirty miles to our uncleís placed with Sam and Topsy hitched to the lumber wagon which carried the family which consisted of four boys and me, Grandfather, Grandmother and Father and Mother.
Our difficulties started soon. Since it was early spring, there were lots of pot holes and sloughs filled with water and frozen over. We could go around the small ones but we came to a slough one mile long. Father decided if he went around, it would delay travel to too great an extent so he tried to cross it.
We got about half way across when little Topsy slipped and fell. She plunged and floundered around and couldnít get up. She would look back at us and beg us to help her. We children were crying, thinking little Topsy would die. While Mother was trying to console us children, Father took the ax and chopped the ice all around her to make it rough. After a few more plunges she was able to get onto her feet. And we were on our way.
After this, Father would chop all ice covered spots before attempting to cross. On and on we traveled and just before sun down, we reached our Uncle Peterís place tired and hungry. We stayed there until Father could move the stock and other things from the immigrant train and get lumber from Frederick, to build our house.
I believe it was about the middle of April before we were able to move into our house. The neighbors all did their bit in helping build the house and sod barn for the stock.
Our first year, Father seeded only about thirty acres since the ground was so stony and of course the stones had to be cleared off before the land could be plowed. I think this was seeded to wheat and oats. Father seeded the ground by putting the grain in a sack which he strapped over his shoulder. From the bag, he would throw the grain over the ground by hand. He would then drag it in and in the fall he would cut it by hand with a scythe and had it threshed with a horse power machine.
By the time we came out in 1883, there were quite a few settlers mostly along the Elm River. Some were living in sod houses and some had dug their homes in the side of a hill. By 1884, quite a number came and took up claims on the prairie everywhere.
We had lots of snow and cold weather in those early days and a blizzard about every three or four weeks. The blizzards would last three days and then when the wind subsided, it would be terribly cold and the snow would be drifted from two to four or five feet deep. It would crack loud like thunder and leave deep cracks in the snow.
After these storms, the neighbors would go together with their shovels and clear the way to Frederick to buy much needed fuel and groceries. On several occasions, my oldest brother who was about thirteen would go to Frederick on snow shoes. This was a distance of about seven and one half miles. He would buy a few necessary groceries to tide us over until Father could get through with the team and sled.
Then came the big blizzard of January 12, 1889. This was the worst blizzard the country has ever seen. It came up like a thief in the night, with so much velocity no human being could face it. Many people were on their way to town or to school and wandered around until they found a house or a haystack to shelter themselves until the storm subsided.
Father was in the barn doing chores and when he attempted to go to the house, he was so blinded he couldnít see his hand before his face so he tied a rope to the barn door and yelled to Mother to keep calling until he could find his way to the house. It took several attempts since the wind would blind him and blow him back.
We children were just ready for school but thanks to God we hadnít started as we never could have made it.
Storms were not the only worries the early settlers had. Fear of the Indians was great. We could not blame them in a way for being on the war path since the early settlers had taken their land from them.
The Sioux tribe traveled back and forth from Ft. Pierre to Ft. Sisseton. They camped along the Elm River on the North West corner of our land. There were usually five or six wagons drawn by Indian ponies. The squaws and papooses would be sitting in the bottom of the wagons with black shawls over their heads. The old Indian braves bedecked with paint and feathers would ride on a board in front of their wagons or ride their ponies beside the caravan to protect their families.
We had heard and read so much about how they would come in the early mornings and kill whole families so when we saw their caravans coming over the hill, we prepared ourselves as much as possible to protect ourselves from them.
On one occasion, after having seen that they were in our midst, Father and my oldest brother took the stand down stairs while Mother and the rest of us children were up stairs each with some weapon for defense.
It was a very dark night and about one A.M. we heard footsteps resembling those of a pony then a fumbling at the doorknob. Father grabbed his gun and went to the door. He had one hand on the doorknob and the other on the gun. He said, "Whoís there?" The fumbling stopped for an instant and then began again. Again Father said, "Who is there?" and it stopped again.
Father was a Civil War veteran. In war they gave the warning three times and on the third time they shot so on the third fumbling at the doorknob, Father said, "I have given you warning three times and now I am going to shoot." My brother opened the door while Father aimed his gun at what was supposed to be an Indian. To his great and happy surprise, it was our pet colt.
We found the Indians to be very friendly. They never gave us any trouble, except when they would come to our home to beg for food. We always gave them what we had so they would be our friends.
They erected a monument on the river bottom where they camped. I guess some of their tribe were buried there. The name has been changed to Colin Campbellís Fur Post in honor of the first white settlement in Brown County. This monument is located on the farm which belonged at that time to James Fluke. In 1882, there was an Indian Village at the monument called Sibly Indian Post. The children dug and found a skull. The skull showed that the person had been shot.
After one blizzard, Father went to see how the Flukes were getting along and found that the buildings were completely covered with snow so he worked hard and dug them out.
At one time, we children had crossed the river and in two hours, it had risen so high that we were not able to get back. Father came for us and at great risk took us back home in the wagon.
Frederick was first located in 1881. The first train arrived Sept 12 the same year. C. N. Pryor was the first agent. The first paper "The Frederick Free Press" was published by C. L. Spence, March 11, 1882. The first Fourth of July was celebrated 1883. We were at the celebration. The first church was built by the Methodists in Frederick in 1882. Prior to this they held meetings wherever they could get space.
My mother had the distinction of giving birth to the first set of twins born in Brown County. A boy and a girl born May 27, 1887. However they lived only five months. They died of Choloramorbus, a terrible disease that prevailed at that time.
We had good and bad years for crops. Some years we didnít get our seed back while other years we had wonderful crops. That still holds good for our crops.
Our conveyance was a lumber wagon and a team of horses. Our school house was built in 1885 and church services were held here until the Oneota church was built in 1888.
Before our school house was built we went to school in claim shanties. Mrs. Ralph Hampshire was our first teacher. Our entertainment consisted of school plays and church entertainments, Fourth of July celebrations, Memorial Day exercises and in the winter we held dances in our homes every two weeks.
Our homes were all small so you can imagine the small amount of room we had but we had fun and danced until morning and I really believe we had more fun than we do today.
In closing, I am glad as a Pioneer Mother to be able to pass on a bit of my early experiences to you Daughters of the Pioneers.
Trusting you will continue to make History where we leave off and keep your club alive.
I am Your Devoted Pioneer Mother
Mrs. George Tessin
Written March 30, 1953
Pioneer Celebrates 80th Birthday Here
Mrs. George Tessin, South Dakota pioneer, celebrated her 80th birthday last week. Two parties marked the occasion.
Wednesday afternoon she was honor guest at a party given by Mrs. Jacob Lapp. Gifts were presented to the honoree.
Guests were Mmes. Reinhold Knoblich, Barbara Schroh, Robert Stevens, Jack Clark, Mike Dashchel, Ed Klein, Carl Light, Glenn Walberg, and Martha Bickler.
Tuesday evening Mr. and Mrs. Light entertained Mr. and Mrs. Tessin at a dinner party.
Mrs. Tessin came to Dakota Territory with her parents in 1883 from Minnesota in a covered wagon. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Hubbell and was six years old at the time. She grew up in Frederick Township and had spent practically her entire life in Brown and Grant Counties.
Mrs. Tessin attributes what she calls her "80 short years" to South Dakotaís good fresh air and keeping busy. She has written several articles on the early history of this county.
Mr. Tessin also is an early pioneer. His people settled near Milbank when he was a baby.
Early Hardships Are Recalled By Pioneer
On the 71st anniversary of her arrival in Dakota Territory, Mrs. George Tessin of Aberdeen has written an autobiography in which she describes the early day hardships of her grandparents and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. James P. Hubbell, who took up claims in Frederick Township in 1882.
The family came originally from Imlay City, Mich. In the fall of 1882, Mrs. Tessinís grandfather and her father made a trip to South Dakota and so impressed were they with the country near Frederick that they both took up claims and built their shanties.
They returned to Imlay City to prepare for the moving of their families in the spring and on March 20, 1883, the Hubbell family, which consisted of four brothers and one daughter, age 6, began the journey by immigrant train, over the Grand Trunk railroad to Chicago and thence by way of the Northwestern Railroad to the city of Ordway in Dakota Territory.
"We landed at Ordway late in the afternoon, March 27, tired and hungry," Mrs. Tessin recalled, "After seven long days in a freight train, during which time we ate mostly cold lunches which Mother had prepared for the journey." She says that Ordway was quite a large town at that time and supported a good hotel, which "was heaven to us after our long journey."
On March 28 the family started on its way to the claim, a distance of about 30 miles from Ordway. Mrs. Hubbell and the children stayed at the Peter Coutts home until her father moved his stock, consisting of two cows, two pigs and some chickens, besides machinery and household goods from the train.
He also purchased lumber from Frederick with which to build the familyís home. He was assisted in the building by the Coutts and Willard Deneen families, besides James Fluke, a kindly neighbor, all of whom had come to Dakota Territory earlier.
About the middle of April the family was able to move into the new abode, a two-story frame house. At that time, Mrs. Tessin recalls, many of their neighbors were living in sod houses and some in dugouts in hills along the Elm and Maple Rivers. The popular mode of transportation was by ox team, hitched to two-wheel carts.
"We thought we were rich," Mrs. Tessin says, "because we had two horses and a lumber wagon!"
She recalls that the familyís land was stony. The first year her father seeded 30 acres of wheat and oats. Seeding was done by strapping the grain in a sack over his shoulder and throwing it over the ground by hand. It was cut in the fall with a hand scythe or cradle and was thrashed by a horse power machine, owned by Archie McKenzie.
As the years went by the pioneer families had alternately bountiful and poor crops. One year it was impossible to raise potatoes. However neighbors who lived along the river, raised potatoes and as a Christmas gift presented the Hubbells a half-bushel. "That was the best Christmas we ever had," Mrs. Tessin says.
The water situation was a problem. Mr. Hubbell dug five wells with no results, and as a last resort he dug a cistern and hauled water three miles for household purposes. This meant the stock had to be taken one-half mile to the Elm River for water.
"Our weather was very changeable ó from lots of snow and cold weather and blizzards in the winter, to dry, hot windy summers.
Mrs. Tessin recalls vividly the Jan. 12, 1888 blizzard. She says, "This was the worst storm this country has ever known." Her father was in the barn doing chores and when the storm came up at 8:30 a.m. he tried to get to the house, but was turned back repeatedly each time by the blinding storm. Finally he tied a rope to the barn door and then started for the house. "He would yell to Mother to keep shouting, so he could follow the sound of her voice. Finally after several attempts he reached the house, relieved that the children had not as yet started to school," his daughter recalled.
"But storms werenít our only worry," Mrs. Tessin says. "We had heard and read so much about the Indians coming and either scalping or killing whole families, that this was a constant source of worry. At that time they were traveling quite frequently from Ft. Pierre to Ft. Sisseton. In caravans would be the squaws and papooses, while the Indian braves, bedecked with paint and feather, rode their ponies beside the wagons."
It was because of this fear, that Mr. Hubbell and his oldest son slept downstairs with loaded guns, while other members of the family slept upstairs with hammer, stove pokers, etc. for self-protection. As time went on the families found that the Indians would not harm them. Occasionally an Indian would arrive at the Hubbell door to beg for bread, eggs, etc.
Social life in those days, according to Mrs. Tessin, was really fun. There were church socials, school plays and picnics. Decoration Day and the Fourth of July were big days, she says. The entire community would pack lunch baskets and go to either Frederick or the Allison ranch where they would all eat together, enjoy ball games, horse races and dance. In the winter there was skating and toboggan sliding.
The Hubbellís first school was held in a claim shanty and was a three monthsí term. It was in 1885 that a new school house was built in the district. There was an enrollment of 10 pupils.
It was in March 1882 that the Frederick Free Press was edited by E. L. Spence; the first Fourth of July celebration was staged in 1883 and Frederickís first big enterprise was started when a 200-barrel capacity flour mill was built. The first train arrived in Frederick Sept. 12, 1881.
The Hubbells prospered. Mr. Hubbell accumulated quite a herd of cattle. Mrs. Hubbell made and sold butter to the stores and hotel in Frederick. Top price for butter was 15 cents per pound.
Mrs. Tessin says everything was cheap in those days. She cited coffee at 27 cents per pound and with calico at six cents per yard, one could purchase enough material for a dress for 30 cents. Mrs. Hubbell did all the sewing for her family, even to the boysí overalls and suits. She even made big straw hats from green wheat straw for her husband and her sons.
Mrs. Tessinís grandparents died and others of the family, except the Aberdeen woman, left South Dakota in 1898. With the exception of one year she has spent the past 71 years in or near Aberdeen and at Milbank. In 1894 she was married to Arthur L. Smalley and for 14 years the family lived at Columbia. Mrs. Tessin has two sons, Eugene, Ward and Marion. Her son, Ward Smalley and his family live on a farm west of Barnard. Eugene lives in Washington and the daughter lives in Colorado.
In 1914 the Tessins were married. Mr. Tessin is also a pioneer of Dakota Territory.
In concluding her reminiscing, Mrs. Tessin says "the developments in the past 71 years have been marvelous, from kerosene lamps to electricity; from sod houses to beautiful modern homes, from dirt roads to graded, paved and graveled roads; from ox cart to handsome automobiles."
As she sits in her home listening to radio programs or chatting with friends over the telephone, Mrs. Tessin says, "I can look back over these 71 precious years that I have lived in South Dakota with great pride. While I havenít stored up worldly wealth, I have many golden memories of the past and have been spiritually blessed. I am happy that our churches and schools have made such wonderful progress and my prayer is that they will make much more progress in the next 71 years!"
Donít Try This In Your Wagon
These early April freeze-thaw days remind Mrs. George Tessin of her first days in Brown County 77 years ago.
It was 1883 and Mrs. Tessin was then six-year-old Isabel Hubbell. Her parents, the J.T. Hubbells, arrived the last of March at a homestead southwest of Frederick. They had moved from Imlay City, Mich.
They came first to Uncle Peter Couttsí farm along the Elm River. Early on April 3, Isabel and her four-year-old brother Frank crossed the river on the ice to play with the youngsters in the James Fluke family.
The sun was shining and it wasnít long before the ice began to melt. Soon the river was high and when the children decided to go home, they couldnít cross. So they sat down on the bank and cried.
Meantime, back at the ranch, Father Hubbell had arrived home. Exhibiting (in the childrenís eyes, at least) great daring and courage, he drove the horses and wagon right into the river. The water came up to the wagon box and the horses had to swim but they crossed to the other side all right. Papa picked up the howling children and back across the river they went ó safe and sound.
And that, girls and boys, is something your dads ó or you ó had better not try even with all those horses that lurk under the hoods of those powerful wagons (stations wagons, that is) that stand in your driveways.