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Column: Did you ever know a homesteader?

WORTHINGTON — One recent column talked of Bessie Whelan telling me about the pioneer nurse Emma Lawrence. Pioneer to Bessie to me. Hop, skip, jump. The history of Nobles County.

I was asked if I ever knew a pioneer: “Did you ever know a homesteader?”

Edna Ashbaugh, longtime resident of Rushmore, came to mind.

Do you know Ceylon? Sixty miles east of Worthington. Ceylon is not a usual prairie town. On the east side are Bright Lake, Clayton Lake, Tuttle Lake, Lake Okamanpeedan. On the west are Lake Susan, Fish Lake, Clear Lake. Seven lakes.

This slowed the coming of a railroad. Tracks were laid through the chain of lakes in 1899. Ceylon was founded in 1900. Markets were brought in reach of farmers. Fred Rouse moved with his family to a Ceylon homestead.

The Rouses had a Lincoln homestead experience more than a prairie homestead experience. “We were in the woods,” Edna remembered. “We had trouble even finding a place for a garden. My dad cut trees and then he used dynamite. He blew out the stumps for a garden.

“He had to clear the land. I think he finally got 50 acres cleared. Of course he didn’t do it all in one year.”

“There was a lake back of us that goes into a creek and the creek joins Lake Okamanpeedan.

“There was a prairie fire. I was a small girl. I can remember my dad tied a wagon with horses to a tree. We had what we called an attic over the kitchen. I can remember going up there; my mother was there looking out a window. My dad said if the fire got too close she should put us all in the wagon and get us out of the timber. We didn’t know what would happen.

“They plowed 12 furrows along the lake shore. They didn’t know but what it might hop that, but it didn’t. There were rushes on the lake and the fire jumped out on the rushes. It started to burn on the lake. I say the lake burned. People don’t believe that.

“My dad once put us in a wagon and took us in to see how they laid tracks. The engine was there. They would lay a little track. The engine would move a little. They would lay a little more track. The engine would move a little more. Ceylon then was just a country store, you might call it, and a church.

“There were a lot of wild grapes at our place. Hazel nuts. Walnuts — black walnuts. One year we picked eighty bushels of them. We would go in the pasture and pick up walnuts. The squirrels would husk them and put them in a hollow stump. Then we would find where they put them and we’d get a whole pail full, already husked!”

Mrs. Ashbaugh, what would you do with eighty bushels of black walnuts?

“Sell them. We got a dollar and a half a bushel. We’d get groceries with ‘em.

“And gooseberries. They’d grow wild. We used to go down with two ten-quart pails and fill them in no time. We’d take them to town. We got fifteen cents a quart for gooseberries. We’d take them to Ceylon.

“Indians used to come. I don’t know where they came from, but there used to be Indians there. We’d be going along the road and we would see the Indians. They would take the ducks they got and roll them in mud. They’d bake them on the fire. Then they’d take the mud off. The feathers came with it. That would dress the duck.”

Time went by as ever time goes by. Life changed as ever life changes.

There came a day when Edna was in Ceylon riding in the family car with her sisters.

“My sister Lottie and my sister Gladys were driving. They were going around that corner, turning on the street by the church.

“There sat that kid in the middle of the road digging dirt. Walter Mondale. They almost ran over him. Right in the middle of the street.

“Sure, we knew him. His father was the minister.”

Little Fritz. One day he would be America’s vice president.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on the Saturdays.