Diary of Mary Dodge Woodward
In 1882, when I was fifty-six,too old to be following my children West,I went with them to homestead in Dakota territory.I went with them to Fargo with my old rose geranium [End Page 131] brought, to remind me of home, from Kingston, Wisconsin,the town in which I raised these children and buried my husbandso long, it seems, ago, so many seasons past.Here in Fargo we count the years not in daysor months, but in the seasons and their extremes of weather.
In April, seeding is in full swing.Past springs, men wadedwith rubber boots through mud and water.Now dust coats their faces,and the wind blows without cease,and the dust flies in great clouds.The boys went out about noon,but could not endure it and came back in,their eyes nearly put out.The house, tight though it may befills with black dust; the sills piled.I swept a dustpan full, upstairs.Dust is even in the closets,although they have no windows.Our faces turn black inside the house.
In May the wheat rises out of the ground.A bright yellow flower blooms with violetsin great numbers, some nearly pink.
In June terrific thunder and wind. The boyssaid the granary roof fairly wiggled.Plows were blown out of the furrows. The windhas torn my pansies all to pieces; leaveson trees hang in ribbons. Afterward,a hard frost left the ground white.
July and a fearful storm,The sky black as ink.Then rain, wind, thunderand lightning. The wind laid flat [End Page 132] everything in the garden.I watched a brood of chickensI had taken painsto raise. The hen, too farfrom the barn to get back in,took the chicks underher wing, but all were blownhard against the barn and killed.
In August, harvest time. Now no restfor man, woman, or beast until the frost,which comes, thank heaven, early here.I got dinner for thirteen men and bakedseventeen loaves of bread today.Since last Sunday seventy-four loavesnot to mention twenty-one pies.And puddings and cakes and doughnuts.How beautiful the wheat fields look—long avenues between the shocks,and just as straight, one mile in length.The feathery plumes of goldenrod groweverywhere, reminding me of home.
This morning one of the boys said,This is a God-forsaken country.
Not with the whole of Cass countycovered with number one hard wheat,not with the wayside all abloomwith goldenrod and asters. My writingresembles feather stitching and French knots.
This December we've had more snowthan any time last winter.Elsie and Lena Lessing are hauling woodwith a four-horse team.Elsie stands and touches up the leaders [End Page 133] with her whip like any man.Those two have done almost all the workon their farm this past season:the plowing, seeding, harvesting. I cannotunderstand how anywoman can do the work they do,yet it is plain they can, they do.
In January the new year finds usstill here, the same but older,sometimes lonesome, but not unhappy.Forty-two below this morning;our mercury will go no lower.My frozen finger bothers me.It is peeling, stiff, and cold,but all I have to do at presentis feed my small family.The boys are busy daily caringfor sixteen horses, the cow that givesmilk, the fifty hens and sixhogs, besides bringing inwood and coal for the stove.Walter went to Fargo becauseour groceries were getting short.I was afraid he would freeze, for the windwas blowing, and in winter any Dakotanknows what that means: to be lostin blown snow can mean death.
Walter wore two fur coats,one astrakhan and one buffalo,besides his under coat. The lasthour he was out was hard for me.I thought he would surely perish,but he arrived safely...