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

By Helen DePuydt
Saco Stories 

Listen to the Quiet: Part 3


One philosophy of the homesteaders was, “Don’t buy it if you can make do with a satisfactory substitute.” Resourcefulness became second nature to these Montana settlers, and the Kienitz family was no exception to the rule. For example: a nearby pit of sand became the source of their house insulation. It proved to be an excellent insulating material for their modest home, keeping it cool during torrid summer days and helping to warm it against the sub-zero temperatures prevalent in northern Montana.

Lizzie’s job came next; painting the interior of the house. The walls had been covered with building paper. This durable material remains to this day, hidden by many layers of paint, accumulated over the years.

In 1913, the Kienitz’s first year in Montana, another task was high on the priority list of improvements – that was the making of a fireguard. Only the year before, fire had swept the land from the Milk River to the Canadian border. Part of the land occupied now by the Kienitz’s was included. The fire was fed by the lush grass and was unhampered by plowed fields, as widespread cultivation came in later years. Fire, was probably more feared during the early 1900s than it is now, because of the scarcity of water and the lack of motorized vehicles; nor did these people have telephone service to enable them to warn others and call for assistance.

Getting back to the house once again, the stepping stones in front of this door are the same slab rocks brought from Rattlesnake Coulee in 1913. The original brick chimney is still being used and has never needed repairs, although the roof was redone once, three years ago. Other buildings cropped up to make the homestead more complete; the sod chicken coop – the sod having been plowed from the prairie. It hasn’t been mentioned before but the primary building constructed by any homesteader is the little shack in the back. Some years later an ice house was constructed, which consisted of logs and dirt covering a pit. The large chunks of ice were cut during the winter at Otto’s reservoir and then stored in straw and prairie grass to prevent melting. Otto says, “People even came from Whitewater to obtain ice for the making of ice cream.”

There were other tasks to complete before winter set in. And the important tasks were, as the very lives of the homesteaders depended on fuel and water, and prevailing feed for their livestock.

Luckily Otto had brought along his sawing equipment to Montana. The 2-horse engine, weighing 500 pounds, operating a buzz-saw and powered by gasoline, certainly saved time in the actual sawing of the wood. Ash was the preferred wood for fuel since it burned more slowly in a heating stove. The wood in Rattlesnake Coulee was inaccessible with a wagon, so a team of horses was used for transporting the firewood from its source. This particular community of settlers was a bit more fortunate than some, a few miles away to the west, who had no available timber for fuel and so had to resort to the gathering up of the cow chips was generally the job of the youngsters in the family.

The weight of Otto’s bulky engine was 500 pounds, as mentioned previously. Compare this to a present day 2 hp engine, which can be carried in one hand! And by now, you have guessed it, that way same engine is still in use – pumping water!

Rattlesnake Coulee, source of so many essential items, provided water for the Kienitzes during those first years. The four horses were driven down and were allowed to drink their fill at the flowing spring. Only then was water taken for house use and also for livestock.

This family was well supplied with canned goods taken from their Minnesota garden – even a jar of sauerkraut survived the long journey to Montana. The staples needed were purchased from the Saco stores: C.P. Martin, Birum and Nelson and Harry Vagg. Bacon was one of the most desirable items, so much so, that it came to Saco by rail, in carload lots. Leona or “Toots,” as she is affectionately known, commented that the family still has stone butter jars with the name HARRY VAGG imprinted on the sides. Vagg’s store was located at that time where MDU has their offices. Other names around Saco may ring a bell with many residents – I.C. Smith, depot agent; Charles Hess, local blacksmith who was located where Minshell’s Texaco is now. Hess, father of Mrs. Ernest “Maud” Erickson, was also a homesteader and neighbor of the Kienitzes. David Erickson now lives on the original Hess homestead.

The prairie grass was put up for hay late that first year. It proved to be abundant – this native grass was noted for its high nutritive value.

Otto mentioned that, “Our first winter spent in Montana proved to be mild, similar to this last winter (1972-73), although we had more snow during 1913-14.” Little did they know that they wouldn’t see their home state of Minnesota again, until 1926 – a span of 13 years.

The Valleytown postoffice was 3 miles to the east and that distance was faithfully walked by some member of the family three or four times a week. The name, postoffice, might be considered a blanket term, as it actually consisted of a store, bar and postoffice – not necessarily listed in order of importance. Mrs. Whitbread was postmistress and her husband managed the other two enterprises. The Whitbreads were originally from England and still have a daughter living there. The two Whitbreads were weekly visitors at the Kienitz home. Mrs. Whitbread died in 1942 and the postoffice was turned over to Allen Marshall to operate for the remaining years until mail service was initiated from Saco to this area north. After his wife’s death, Mr. Whitbread took up tending bar for Sief Soennichsen at the Whitewater community. In 1945, Mr. Whitbread also passed away.

A false impression may be gotten from listening to tales of hardship facing these settlers, so let us say that all was not work – time was taken out for various parties and dancing. Some in private homes, such as the Jansey Tieden home situated on Turkey Track, where people from all around helped them celebrate an anniversary that first year. One gentleman by the name of Mikkelson played a banjo and a lively time was had by all. This was reported by Otto Kienitz, who didn’t miss a party if he could help it.

The Tollefson School to the north was a frequent site for neighborhood dances. One in particular stays in the memory of the Kienitzes. Some of the people remembered as being present, after all these years, were: Torgersons, Ericksons, Annie Eklund Hybeck, Hjelmer Reitan, Art Eklund, John Eklund and Cecil Hess. Cecil was a brother of Maud Erickson, now residing at Saco. Unknown to Cecil, his pet pig followed him north to the school house, obviously sensing some excitement. Sometime during the evening, a group of ladies ventured out in the dark to the outhouse but were unable to enter due to something or somebody forcing the door to remain closed. Needless to say, this caused quite a commotion that night. The next afternoon, Otto Kienitz noted a small movement in the pasture to the north – sure enough, it was Cecil Hess’s pet pig coming home from the schoolhouse, or shall we say the dance. The puzzle of the ‘culprit in the outhouse’ was solved.

“Toot’s” and “Babe’s” education was completed at the Tollefson Schoolhouse. During the winter months when weather was bad, their dad took them by sled to the schoolhouse and back. Their attendance was excellent. Lunches were packed daily in tobacco cans, which served as lunch pails. Mother Kienitz found it necessary to bake bread frequently for the many sandwiches needed. Some home tutoring was done at home, so by the time the two girls were of school age, they were very well prepared.

Anna Poland, the girls’ first teacher, boarded with Kienitzes as did another teacher, Luella “Tillie” McGears. During these years, courting was done in the Kienitzes’ living room – the unmarried schoolmarms proved quite popular with the neighborhood bachelors. Otto maintains that “this is a story all its own!” But, after some thought, it was decided that this would be passed over – at least for the time being. You see, many of these suitors and their wives are readers of this paper.

Although the deer and the antelope still play, and God’s paintbrush still paints a never-ending variety of sunsets, a gentle light has gone out in the Frenchman Creek Community and in the home of the Otto Kienitz family. Mrs. Otto “Lizzie” Kienitz, 86 years young, passes to her reward Friday evening. Gone, but certainly not forgotten, by those who knew her. Lizzie was a Christian lady in every way. She lived among the people she dearly loved and who took such tender care of her during her failing years. Lizzie was truly blessed with cheerfulness and her mind was good to the last. She was surrounded in her home by cherished belongings – such as her grandmother’s handmade, appliqued quilt which covered her bed; and the prolific Virginia Creeper outside her window, which was started from a slip of vine she had purchased so many years ago. “The best 25¢ I ever spent,” Lizzie had often said. These familiar things were precious to her and she was happy ... her spirit was willing, but the body wasn’t able ... we’ll miss you Lizzie ... may you rest in peace.

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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