The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Helen DePuydt
Saco Stories 

Listen to the Quiet: Part 2


Some young men’s thoughts turn to love in the spring, but for Otto Kienitz, during this period of his life, his thoughts centered on the “Land of Opportunity,” which was the vast prairie land of Montana. It was none too soon, as three years before, this territory was thrown open to homesteading and the days of the one-open range were quickly drawing to a close.

Anyway you look at it, this planned adventure, from Minnesota to Montana, took the courage of rugged individuals. The succeeding years proved this definitely was the “survival of the fittest.”

There were no brass bands welcoming the young Minnesotan to the tiny town of Saco. The train passengers were dusty and tired, but this didn’t seem to dampen their spirits.

Quoting Mr. Kienitz, “It was a beautiful day in Saco when I alighted from the ‘skidoo,’ the local passenger train of those days. I had met two other men traveling on the train who were also bound for Montana. Tom Juelson, whose brother, Juel Juelson, was already settled in the area, and Charles ‘Holledge’ Allen from North Dakota.” Juelson convinced his traveling companions that they should at least stop at Saco and look over the surrounding territory, which was available to the homesteaders. “Although my original destination had been Billings, I have no regrets to this day,” claims Otto.

This was May, 1913 – days not too many remember. As Lizzie Kienitz remarks, “We are the only complete family among the original circle of neighbors; the rest are gone.” - but the memories remain and what golden memories these are for the Kienitz family.

Childhood friends Lizzie Prechel and Otto Kienitz, both from solid German families of Blue Earth, Minn., were married June 20, 1912. Lizzie, the only girl among three brothers, had attended a German Lutheran School, as did Otto. The Preschels lived a mile from the Kienitz family, although by road it was more like 7 miles. So, according to Kienitz, “I didn’t see Lizzie as often as I would have liked.” Otto, whose family was larger, was third in a family of four boys and six girls.

The three young men, Juelson, Kienitz and Allen, hired a livery team for the total price of $6 to take them north so they could scout over the country. Tom Juelson’s brother, who as mentioned before was already settled, was most willing to show three prospective neighbors over the virgin land north of the Milk River. This was the Milk River that was so named by Lewis and Clark years before.

They first stopped at the A. J. Erickson homestead to get acquainted. This was about 20 miles from Saco. A. J. was the father of Ernest Erickson, retired farmer-rancher now living in the town of Saco.

Another person by the unlikely name of Rattlesnake Olson also escorted the newcomers over the available land. Kienitz eventually selected land adjoining the Erickson’s on the east and Allen filed later on land north of Kienitz.

When asked their reason for venturing out to this unknown territory, Otto remarked, “We rented a section of land after we were married, but it was extremely difficult to make a living – milking seven to 10 cows twice a day besides the farming. The Minnesota farm life also required hired help, so we decided after much soul-searching that I should take time to venture west to Montana and just see if Uncle Sam’s homestead offer was worthwhile.”

Moisture was plentiful that year with Rattlesnake Coulee north of Kienitzes running and the winter before had been extremely mild, according to local residents. The future looked very encouraging, so after selecting their land sites, Charles Allen and Otto Kienitz started walking south toward Saco. They walked as far as the Milk River Bridge. This was a high bridge a short distance west of the present Milk River Bridge. At this bridge, the two men were picked up by A. J. Erickson with his wagon and rode the remaining distance into Saco. This was a lucky break for them as the two were quite footsore by that time, as Otto recalls.

Although W. D. Miller was the U.S. Land commissioner stationed at Saco, the two tired men decided they would catch the skidoo back to Glasgow and file on their selected land with Otto Christiansen, land commissioner residing in that town.

While they were loafing at the Saco depot, one of the local men hanging around advised Kienitz with the words, “You’ll never be sorry for settling here – it’s a healthy climate and the people are healthy, too.”

Just at that moment, a skinny man, carrying a bottle of milk under his arm, came into view. Otto gestured toward him, saying, “Well, look at that fellow, he doesn’t look so healthy!” The local resident replied, “Oh him, he’s our local doctor and he’s starving to death!” That doctor was the beloved Dr. R. V. Minnick. Apparently the Saco sage was correct about the local health, because according to Kienitz, the local cemetery wasn’t started until a man was shot in town.

The two filed on their land, which was located on a map and paid a fee of $23. Otto says he paid this with a check which “didn’t even bounce.” So now Charles Allen and Otto Kienitz became official homesteaders in the so-called “wild west.”

That night was to be spent at Glasgow’s Shannon Hotel, but plans changed before sunrise – the two young men decided they couldn’t spend any more time in bed, so they hopped a train back east to their homes. Some time later, the Shannon Hotel’s bill caught up to them.

All the necessary arrangements were made for the Kienitzes to move to their land awaiting them in Saco, Mont. The young couple’s belongings were loaded into an immigrant car on the railroad. Lizzie’s brother, Walt Preschel, agreed to ride in the car so he could care for the livestock, consisting of one dog and “no cats,” Otto emphasized, along with four workhorses, 40 brown Leghorn chickens and one shorthorn milk cow. All the machinery and household furniture, including a high cupboard, which incidentally had glass doors and a Minnesota sewing machine. It must be mentioned that the Bucks cast iron cook stove and the previously mentioned household items – ARE STILL IN GOOD USE. The coal and wood stove were bought by Otto in 1908 and were 15 years old at the time. This was used by Otto before he was married while one of his sisters kept house for him during his bachelor days. Lizzie, Otto’s wife, never bought a loaf of bread in her life, it was all baked on this shiny black iron stove.

On Sept. 23, 1913, Lizzie and Otto Kienitz arrived with their possessions at the little Saco depot. The cost of transporting all their belongings amounted to $111. Oats had been poured over the machinery to conserve precious space. This feed was needed for the livestock and also for seed for future planting on the homestead. Everything reached Saco in good shape, even the glass-doored cupboard, which occupies the northeast corner of the Kienitz’s living room to this day. All these possessions were unloaded at the stockyards which was then located where the east grain elevator stands at Saco today. The machinery was transferred to Stile’s livery barn, where the Krotsch house now is located at Saco.

The first year was an exceptionally busy year for this new family, while Lizzie stayed with the Ericksons, Otto and his brother-in-law made daily trips to Saco for lumber. They each drove a team, going into town one day and then bringing a load of building material back north the next. Byron and Nelson and Joe Rosendahl supplied the lumber at the modest price of less than $300. Otto reports that a total of 16 trips were made for lumber. “Within a week, a barn 16 x 36 was built,” remarked Otto proudly, “the horses staying at one end and a floor was laid in the other part, which provided temporary living quarters for us until a house was built.

An unforgettable sight in those pre-barbed wire days to the people living in the barn, was an immense herd of sheep, divided by the building standing in their route; possibly 4,000 to 5,000 head estimated Otto, which were being herded by sheepherders to the Sweetgrass Hills. One of the sheepherders told Otto that if he could catch a sheep, he could keep it, but no such luck, as the sheep were just too fast. The sheepherder then set his dog on one sheep blind in one eye, and presented that to Otto. This sheep became a family pet, along with a few others given the couple by various neighbors.

Otto mentioned that while this building was going on, two female horseback riders, Mrs. Jansey Tieden and her sister, Clara, stopped to observe the activity.

Sometime later, Mrs. Tieden remarked that she had felt at that time that these unfortunate people wouldn’t last very long out here on the prairie.” The Tieden homestead was north and west of where the Kienitzes were settling. Mrs. Tieden now resides with her daughter, Mrs. Lochief (Gladys) Edwards at Malta.

The next project on the agenda was the house building. It was decided that a small knoll to the west and a little to the south of the barn would be an ideal location.

First a cellar was dug with pick and shovel. According to Leona, “The dirt was so hard that the pick marks are still visible on the cellar walls!” The cellar proved to be an ideal good cooler.

The shell of the house was built and the remaining lumber stored in one end. It must be mentioned that Lizzie was an able assistant to the men, helping to lift the boards into their proper positions and doing other odd jobs. By the 22nd of November, 1913, the family moved in the house from the barn. Much of the work was done at night by the flickering lights of kerosene lamps. One amusing incident which brings a twinkle to Otto’s eye when he tells it, concerns the building of the south partition. After retiring for the night, it occurred to him that things weren’t exactly as they should be, so he remarked to his wife, “Lizzie, I believe that I built that doorway wrong, the opening goes clear to the ceiling!” This error was rectified the following day, when Otto boxed in the upper part of the bedroom doorway.

Helen DePuydt is a regular contributor to the Courier and a member of a homesteading family in the Saco area. All of her stories are true.

'Listen to the Quiet' originally appeared in multiple installments in Hinsdale's Independent Tribune beginning in July, 1973


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