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

By Helen Depuydt
Saco Stories 

Listen to the Quiet: Part 4


Religion played an important part in the community life of the homesteaders. The Kienitzes belonged to the Lutheran congregation, which met once monthly at the Gus Pehlke home, beginning in 1916. Members would take turns meeting Pastor A. Jordan at Saco, where he arrived by skidoo. Pastor Jordon was stationed at Chinook and was single at this time. He was silent about possible romantic attachments and his congregation might have been in the dark to this day if it hadn’t been for Mark Wright’s sheepherder’s weekly Chinook newspaper. One Sunday, Otto inquired about the Pastor’s recent “life contract” and being a Christian. Pastor Jordon had to admit that he had taken a wife during his month’s absence. The Chinook newspaper heading read, SIGNS LIFE CONTRACT.

Dinner was served to all attending the services in the Pehlke home and on one particular Sunday, with various denominations present, the overflowing table was upset by children playing underneath – food flew in all directions. This was a real crisis, because food preparation in those days was quite lengthy and the neighborhood grocery was many miles away. Somehow the ladies managed to scrape up enough “vittles” to satisfy everyone. Perhaps it was a small miracle, of the loaves and fishes variety. Anyway, as Otto described the event, it was a wonder how the ladies salvaged enough for a dinner.

In later years, this Lutheran congregation divided into two groups. The west community centralizing in the tiny hamlet of Whitewater and the remaining members organizing east, with services for awhile in the New Deal Schoolhouse. The east congregation, which the Kienitzes belonged to, eventually bought the Corwin Center store and had it moved close to the Lars Solheim farm, where it still stands with the white paint peeling and weeds growing in the churchyard. This is another sign of the times along with vacant country schools and farm houses deteriorating after the families move into town. This little country church was the site of various church services and also fall dinners attended by people coming from the far and wide. Politicians were quite noticeable during election years, enjoying the generous home-cooked meals and buying the handcrafts which were auctioned off during the evening. Wedding receptions and anniversary parties were also held in the little basement beneath the church. The Lutheran families in this community now travel into school for their church services.

Kienitzes planted their first Montana garden in the spring of 1914, with “the good Lord watering it.” These gardens provided the family with much needed fresh vegetables and enough surplus for Lizzie to can for the winter months.

1916 proved to be a year that the Frenchman Creek settlers won’t forget. One March day, a letter arrived from Blue Earth, Minn., stating that Lizzie’s parents were starting out for Montana on March 1st, and “would someone please meet us at Saco.” Unknown to the Prechels, the weather awaiting them in the Saco area was anything but pleasant – the snow was 3 feet deep! A neighbor of the Kienitzes, Charles “Holledge” Allen, remarked that Lizzie’s folks had “picked the wrong time of the moon to come west to Montana.” His prediction was 100 percent correct. Since there was no way to head off the relatives, the young couple simply had to make the best of a bad situation. Otto harnessed up his trusty team of horses to the sled and spent the entire day traveling to Saco. (If that old sled could talk, it would tell its own story for it sits yet out on the homestead.)

That night was spent in the town of Saco, resting up for the return trip north. Rain awakened the tired members of the party during the night. The following day it was a slow, tired group of travelers and two exhausted horses that finally reached the little home on the knoll. The rain had softened the once hard crust of the deep snow, causing the horses to sink down with every step they took. The Preschels stayed three weeks and then Otto was able to take them by wagon to meet the train at Saco.

The abundance of moisture was a mixed blessing that year. Otto called it “the year of the mosquito.” The Frenchman Creek flooded twice; although this didn’t reach the Kienitz home which was on higher ground, it did cause much hardship for the Mark Wrights, who were flooded out both times. Their new Buick car was also caught in the flash flood in June. It left a foot of water in the house, forcing the family to move upstairs. The cats belonging to the Wrights came to a bad end – drowning beneath the house. Since it was impossible to drag them out, the resulting stench reminded everyone of their presence.

The flooding resulted in a tragedy when the deputy assessor by the name of Murphy drowned as he was attempting to cross the swollen Milk River. His body was recovered by dragging, which resulted in the drowning of a man who was assisting with the dragging operation. The accessor’s briefcase with the papers intact was rescued from the flood water.

The winter of 1916 was very hard. The cattle from the Turkey Track Ranch in Canada drifted down looking for feed. Jansey Tieden took care of some which wandered into his place and many others went as far as the Milk River Bridge.

During the spring of 1916, Arthur Prechel, one of Lizzie’s brothers, decided that he would look the country over for a suitable location. The Albert Pehlke place was for sale at that time - Albert, being Gust Pehlke’s brother. But Mother Prechel wrote a letter in German to her son stating that he should “come home and we will go to North Dakota, as it should be better there!!”

Mrs Prechel obviously left her daughter’s home with a bad impression of Montana. The Albert Pehlke homestead now belongs to the Milton Olsen family. Arthur Prechel still lives in North Dakota and is ribbed about rejecting Montana land each time he visits the Kienitz home.

The five pet sheep which the Kienitzes had acquired were sheared in June and Otto carried the wool to his neighbors, the Wrights, who lived on the Frenchman; but when he came over the hills, he could see that everything was flooded for the second time. The Wrights raised sheep and handled the wool for Otto, but this time Otto sold it at Saco for about 14 cents a pound.

The surrounding land now was well settled with a family on every half section. This is a totally different situation from what it is now. There was an unwritten rule that anyone was welcome for a meal and a bed – with no questions asked. Lizzie tells about the time a stranger stopped at the house and said he would like to spend the night there. Lizzie replied that Otto wasn’t home and that she would have to ask him first. The man replied in no uncertain terms that he was going to stay anyway! The family feels to this day that this stranger was a fugitive. He wasn’t the only one which came to the Kienitz door looking for lodging and a home-cooked meal. Some would tell tales and others remained silent about their affairs. This homestead became known as Last Chance, an appropriate name as it seemed to be a favorite stopping spot.

Seed oats had been purchased from Tom Tollefson that spring and this was seeded after the wild oats were picked out. This 100 pounds of oats produced 22 bushels that fall. Otto also raised some wheat and flax which went 22 bushels to the acre. The garden did alright for itself, too – producing a 23-pound head of cabbage, as one good example. There’s an existing picture of this mammoth vegetable, so no one can dispute that claim. The Kienitzes had various garden spots over the years, the present one being located near the dam.

Leona, the first child of the Kienitzes, was born on June 24, 1917, at the family home. The midwife at this particular time was Mrs. Pehlke, Gus Pehlke’s mother from the west farming bench, later known as the Forks community. Three years later, Luetta was born to Otto and Lizzie. This time it was a fast-flying stork as this baby arrived before the midwife did.


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