Can we really comprehend what some settlers in the United States did to succeed.
| A LIFE IN THE PAST
As a young man in the early 1970's I meet a man that I still think about from time to time. He was a small
man in his 90's when I became a neighbor of his in rural South Dakota.
He said his Dad had been a Hungarian from Germany, that fled from Germany at the young age of fifteen.
The Kaiser drafted all the young men, and since he was a minority, his drafted time would be serving the Kaiser
in a mine. Salt, coal, diamonds, it didn't matter to the Kaiser. It was cheap labor. His Dad at fifteen years old
smuggled himself aboard a ship, not knowing where it was going, but knowing he would never see his people
When he came to the eastern seaboard of the United States, it was shortly after the civil war. Working his way
across the States, he married in Illinois and came to the plains of South Dakota in the 1880's.
The ninety four year old neighbor that I knew was the oldest of the Hungarians brood of boys. Being the oldest
he helped raise his brothers and was close to thirty before he started farming on his own.
About half of his brothers never married, but he did, having two boys and a girl.
His wife was ten years younger then he was, and at the age of sixty eight she died.
His son by this time was farming the land and working in town so he retired. Retirement was doing what he
wanted, when he wanted, and being independent.
For the next fifteen years he took care of his chickens, cut his own wood, took his wash to town to the
Laundromat, and bought his own food at the store. Ketchup, hotdog buns, hotdogs and Ho-Hos. His daughter-
in-law would have him over for a meal once a week, but within the hour he would have something that he
needed to do, and he'd be gone. Sometimes he just would not make it. Through the years his granddaughter
would walk across the yard to visit him. They would share Ho-Hos together until her mom would go across the
yard to get her.
His son and I worked at the same place in town so we commuted together.
One morning the son was telling his dad that the log he had drug out of the shelterbelt was too big and knotted
to cut up with the buzz saw. The buzz saw was a five foot horizontal steel blade, that was mounted on a wooden
cradle, with a pulley on the center shaft.
No safety shields of any kind on it with a ninety four year old man, weighing a hundred forty five pounds
soaking wet, operating the cradle to feed the buzz saw. The old man's son was always afraid, someday, the old
man would fall into the saw.
A couple of mornings later, the son was in the yard and said his dad wasn't there, and his bed had not been
slept in the night before. The log and tractor were gone so we drove down to the creek to find him. We found him.
He had shut the tractor off and walked around to the back to unhook the chain. He laid down on the ground
and died. While his son went to call the Sheriff I stayed and waited.
What a beautiful way to go. That's what I thought. Here was a man that had always strived to do more then
just enough. Subsistence farming wasn't all that he did. Along with raising cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens, he
raised and bred draft horses. For the first three to four years of the horses life he halter trained them and taught
them to pull the plow, drag, rake, mower, sweep, wagon, and when to stop and go by command. He would then
sell them to someone that didn't have the patience to do that.
In the 1940's his sons sold the oats in the fall because the price was extremely good, going against their
fathers better judgment. That spring the horses did not have the conditioning from the oats to do the work so a
tractor was bought. That fall the horses went to the glue factory and farming was never the same, ever again.
Thirty years later when I knew him, the shop and tack shed alongside the horse barn was still his domain. A
five by eight foot barn was all it was, with a bench and vice on one end and the walls lined with harnesses.
A shrine to the past.