The Huffman family was one of the most successful farming families in Lower Saxony. Their farm encompassed 360 acres of fertile land. The farm was located about 10 kilometers west of Hannover, Germany. The farm had been in the Huffman family for 6 generations and had always furnished the family an excellent income. The main crops were sugar beets, potatoes, and rutabaga. They also had about an acre for a kitchen garden. The Huffman’s had seven children, four males and three females. The youngest child was Oskar. Oskar loved farming. When he was 18 years old, Oskar was six feet two inches tall and weighed a muscular 200 pounds. He could work from sunup to sundown without becoming tired.
When Oskar was twelve years old his father sent him to England to live with Oskar’s aunt for a year. He wanted Oskar to learn a different language and understand a different culture. During the time Oskar was in England he became fluent in the English language. He also discovered America. Norwich, the town of his aunt, had an excellent library for Oskar to use. He read everything he could find about America. The year was 1828 and the war between the British and Americans was still remembered. Oskar was able to talk with many men who had fought in America. He wanted to learn as much as he could. Oskar learned of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the lands they surveyed. He learned that he could buy government land for as little as $1.25 an acre so long as the purchase was 340 acres. The United States government owned vast tracts of land in the Western U.S. and wanted to encourage settlers to occupy the land.
Oskar took all this information back to Germany and it became his dream. During that period in Germany, the ancient custom of the family property being inherited by the oldest male child was still in place. Since Oskar had three older brothers, he knew that he would have no opportunity to farm in Germany. Land, if available, was very expensive. Oskar continued to work the family farm until he was 18. When he turned 18, he knew it was time to strike out on his own. His father and older brother, knowing the trouble the younger males would have getting started, had given each child a stipend to get them started on a new life. In 1836, Oskar took that money and proceeded to Bremerhaven to board a ship to America. It was a sad time for Oskar as he knew he would never return to Germany or to his family but he also knew he had to start his life.
Oskar’s ship took him to New York. At that time New York was teeming with new refugees and Oskar did not waste any time there as he knew he would have no interest in being in the East. The West was where he wanted to be. He took a train from New York to Chicago and then took another train to Omaha. He was now in the area where he wanted to farm. He read as much as he could about growing corn and millet. This was the land where that could happen. He went to the government land office to inquire about available land to purchase but was disappointed to learn there was nothing available in the area. He was advised to go to the Dakota Territory where there was government land for sale. Oskar purchased a wagon, two mules, and horse and saddle. He purchased the supplies he would need for the trip and crossed to the east bank of the Missouri River. He would follow the Missouri River to the Dakota Territory. He was following the route travelled by Lewis and Clark.
Other travelers had told Oskar to go to the small town of Mitchell as there was land available in that area. The land office official in Mitchell welcomed Oskar as he was hopeful of selling the available land so he could return to Washington. He took Oskar to see the three parcels he had to sell. One of the parcels was ideal for Oskar. It had two small streams running through the land and a two acre spring fed lake on the northern edge. On the western edge was a small forest so there would be a source of wood. Oskar went back to Mitchell with the land agent and signed the papers to purchase the land. He put what money he had left in the local bank and paid for the land. He also purchased a plow, harrow, and the food he would need. He was now a land owner in America. His dream had come true.
Oskar took all of his purchased supplies and went to his land. He liked the sound of that; his land. Summer was coming to an end and Oskar knew that he had to build some type of shelter. Winter comes early in the Dakota Territory. The first job was to select a building site. Since he would need water and wood, Oskar selected a site located midway between the forest, the lake and the northern most stream. Oskar had observed in his travels a unique type of structure the locals called a soddie. It was built using strips of sod that were stacked like brick. Oskar decided that building a shelter was the priority and then what time was left before the first snows would be used to prepare the land for spring planting. Digging the sod for the house was back breaking work but Oskar was used to hard work and soon had a twelve foot by fifteen foot house ready to protect him from the winter cold and wind. He also built a shelter for the animals and gathered a large supply of dried grass for the animals to eat. He knew that the animals would not survive the winter without shelter. It was now late September and Oskar knew that he would only have time to plow a small part of the land. He chose a 60 acre plot close to his house and proceeded to plow up the tall grass prairie and get the soil turned. After running the harrow and smoothing the land he was ready to prepare for winter survival. The first need was meat for the winter. Within a week, Oskar had shot two deer, an antelope, and a buffalo. He butchered the meat and proceeded to smoke the meat into jerky. He also rendered the fat for tallow for making candles, oil for his lamps, and for cooking. He prepared the hides into leather and blankets. Oskar gathered dead wood from the forest. There was more than enough dead wood to last through the winter. All this was accomplished just in time as the first winter blast brought ten inches of snow and extremely cold temperatures.
While Oskar was building his home and preparing the land, he noticed that his little lake was a very popular spot. He spotted antelope, deer, coyote, wolf, bobcats, pheasant, quail, one bear, and once six Indians used the lake to water their horses and themselves. Oskar watched the Indians but did nothing. The Indians watched Oskar but when Oskar didn’t react to them they ignored him. Through the winter Oskar observed the Indians on several occasions. He surmised that they were hunting parties and did not feel threatened.
At last spring came. The wind softened and didn’t have the chill. Oskar hitched up the mules and the wagon and went into Mitchell to buy seed corn. He hadn’t been able to prepare enough ground for millet but did buy some alfalfa seed to plant later in the spring. Oskar put his first crop of corn in the ground and started preparing another 60 acre field for alfalfa. The alfalfa would give him hay to feed his stock through the winter. Oskar wanted to get a cow for milk and some chickens for eggs but that would wait until all the ground preparation was completed. Now the corn was planted and the alfalfa seed was broadcast and Oskar could start preparing more land for planting next year. He estimated that he had about 240 acres that could be put into crop. The rest of the land was creek bottom, lake, or forest. Oskar worked every day from sunup to sundown. Oskar was determined that his farm would be the best, most productive farm in the territory. His first corn crop was doing very well. The weather was cooperative with many sunny, warm days and enough rain to keep the ground moist but not soaked. He gathered his crop of corn in late September. He kept enough corn for seed for next year and for him to use for food for the winter. The rest he loaded in his wagon to take to Mitchell to sell. The full load would have been too much for the mules to pull so Oscar had to leave about 20 bushels behind. If possible, he could take that later to sell. Oskar sold his crop and had enough money to buy two cows, six laying hens, and a rooster.
When Oskar returned to the farm and eyed the corn he couldn’t take he decided to see if he could make friends with his Indian neighbors. He bagged the corn in 30 bags and hauled it to the side of the lake that the Indians used. He opened two bags and spread the corn so the animals would eat that rather than tear the bags open. Two days later, Oskar saw the Indians come to the lake. He walked to his side of the lake and motioned to the bags and that the Indians should take them. They loaded up what they could take and left, looking back with a puzzled expression. The next day Oskar saw that the rest of the corn was gone but in its place was a pile of something. Oskar walked around the lake and found a beautifully sewn buffalo robe. With winter fast approaching the warmth of the robe would be very welcome. Oskar had just learned an Indian custom he hadn’t been aware of. If you get a gift you must give back a gift of equal or greater value. From that time, when the Indians came to the lake and saw Oskar, they would raise their arm in greeting and Oskar would return the greeting.
The winter of 1831 was brutal. Many days Oskar could not leave the house to care for the stock. During the summer and fall, he had enlarged the animal enclosure to account for the cows and for the hay to be stored. Oskar had put in a substantial supply of firewood and shot enough game to see him through the winter without being hungry. As it always does, spring came and Oscar went to work in the fields. This year he planted 120 acres of corn, 60 acres of millet, and 60 acres of alfalfa. He had now used up all of his available farm land with crops and he was satisfied. This year he planted a kitchen garden close to his home. He also decided to start building a proper house of wood. He could use the soddie to house additional animals. After the crops were planted, Oskar proceeded to cut trees to build a cabin from logs. He had the mules to drag the logs from the forest to his home site. It was strenuous work but by the end of summer he had a three room cabin with windows, a proper door, and a massive stone fireplace for cooking and heat. The stones came from the creek bed where the water had cut into the top soil and left the rock exposed. Now Oskar felt he truly had a farm that didn’t look like something that could be abandoned.
For the second year in a row Oskar had an excellent crop. He had to take four wagon loads into Mitchell to sell. Three wagons were full of corn and one had millet. With the proceeds from the crop he bought three more cows, one bull, and a pig. He had the unused soddie to house the additional animals. When he returned to the farm he still had enough corn for seed for the following year. He determined that 120 acres of corn were enough but he needed the 120 acres for alfalfa to feed his growing herd of cattle. This would also enable him to rotate the crops to keep the land fertile. Oskar had learned from farming in Germany that if you plant the same crop year after year in the same field that all of the soil nutrients would be used up.
For the second year Oskar had enough corn to give to his Indian neighbors. He had a little more than the previous year so he bagged it up and took it to the lake. He waited for the Indians to come and when they did he put a rope on one of the cows and walked around the lake to give it to the Indians. Now the Indians were truly amazed. Previous experience with the white settlers had been the settler taking but not giving. Now this one was giving and expecting nothing. The Indians took the cow and what corn they could carry. The next day, while Oskar was working in the field he saw the Indians return for the rest of the corn. They also had a young Indian woman with them. They motioned for Oskar to approach them and when he did they presented him with the girl. Oskar had just learned his second lesson. A cow is worth more than buffalo robes. Oskar was soon to learn a third lesson. When Oskar tried to refuse the gift the Indians became very agitated and angry and Oskar was wise enough to understand that he could not refuse the gift. He graciously accepted the gift with gestures of thanks and the Indians calmed down and left. Now Oskar had a female in his possession.
Oskar could not pronounce her Indian name so he called her Marie. She understood and pronounced it back. Winter was approaching and now Oskar had to kill more game as he had another mouth to feed. He also had to prepare her a place to sleep. Oskar was raised in a very devout, strict Lutheran sect and he knew it was morally wrong to have a woman he was not married to. During the long winter months Oskar taught Marie to speak rudimentary English. Marie taught Oskar to speak, what he later learned was Lakota Sioux, her language. They were both smart people and by the end of winter they were able communicate. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start.
Spring came and Oskar learned that having Marie was a major help and not a hindrance. She took care of the animals. She milked the cows. She gathered the eggs, she accumulated firewood, and she went to the lake and brought water. She also was able to catch fish from the lake. She planted the kitchen garden and kept out the weeds. She did the cooking. She washed Oskar’s clothes as well as her own. These were all things that Oskar had been doing and it freed him to work the fields. It also allowed him to work smaller plots for future farming. Oskar was now able plant 300 acres of a possible 340 acres. As summer wore on Oskar started looking at Marie as more than an Indian worker. He wanted to have her as a wife and raise a family. No preacher would marry an Indian to a white man. The civil government did not recognize a marriage between an Indian and a white person. Marie had also grown very fond of Oskar. He treated her well and with respect and did not beat her. She proposed a solution to Oskar. There was a holy man in her village that would marry them in the Indian way. Oskar struggled with this but finally came to the conclusion that this was better than no marriage. Marie went to the village to ask the holy man if this was acceptable. He said it was but they would have to come to the village for the ceremony. Marie told Oskar what she had learned and they proceeded to go to the village. The ceremony was held and the entire village turned out. They all knew of Oskar because of the gifts he had given. After the ceremony they returned to the farm. Oskar was surprised to learn that the Indian village was so close, only a few miles. That night, Oskar and Marie proceeded to start a new generation of Huffmans.
Oskar was eager to enlarge the farm. He felt that he could do more if he had more land. Oskar approached the government land agent about buying the property that adjoined his. This was the last piece of land that the agent had to sell. If it was sold he could abandon the wilderness and return to Washington. Selling the land to Oskar was not entirely legal but Oskar did not know that. The land agent was an old hand and knew a number of ways around the law that made it possible for Oskar to buy the land and get title to the land. Now Oskar had 680 acres to farm. The new land only had one stream running through it but did have a forest of about fifty acres that Oskar could not farm. That was good for Oskar because on the tall grass prairie a source of wood for building and fire was valuable.
The next spring, Oskar realized that he had taken on a herculean load. It was at the limits of what he could handle with the help of Marie. However, Marie was pregnant and couldn’t help as she had previously. Oskar went into Mitchell to see if he could find some help. He was fortunate that two German immigrants had arrived just a few days previous. They were disappointed to learn that all the government land had been sold. They had no funds to go further so Oskar offered the two men jobs as farm hands. They were experienced farmers and were anxious to learn the ways of farming in America. It was also helpful to them that Oskar spoke German as they were just learning English. Oskar bought two more mules and another wagon. He bought another plow and the three men set out for the farm.
With the help of Peter and Friedrich, Oskar was able to get all of the crops planted. He now had over 600 acres of crops growing. Oskar and the hands built a bunk house. They also enlarged the house as the baby was coming and needed the room. By the end of summer the farm was in good condition except for taking care of the animals. They were still housed in the soddies. Oskar determined that next year he would build a proper barn as the forest on the new land had an ample supply of wood.
Oskar was very careful about rotating the crops. He found that he could grow corn for two years but then needed to plant alfalfa for a year. He set out a plan where 400 acres a year would be in corn and 200 acres in alfalfa. He also found a good market for alfalfa. Many of the small cattle ranches in the area needed to buy alfalfa for winter feed.
The farm continued to prosper and Oskar had achieved his goal of having the most productive farm in the territory. Marie also proved to be very productive. The babies kept coming and Oskar was madly in love with all of them. After having six children they decided that was enough. The three boys and three girls were a handful for Marie. She still had her other duties to perform so Oskar agreed that she would have her Mother come to live with them to help. As the children grew older an unforeseen problem arose. The school would not take half breed children. They were pariahs and Oskar was angry. They were beautiful children. They were well mannered and hard working but his anger did nothing to resolve the situation. Oskar was adamant that his children be educated. He recognized the importance. As chance would have it, Oskar was in Mitchell buying supplies when he overheard a man ask the store clerk if he knew where he could get a job teaching school. Oskar hired him immediately and they went to the farm together. The teacher took a room in the bunk house with the hands. He had two jobs. He was to teach the children during the day and teach English to the hands in the evening. Everyone took their meals together in the main house.
Oskar, the teacher Alfred, and the hands hurriedly built a school house so they would be ready to teach the children when fall arrived. A neighboring farmer learned from the store clerk that Oskar had hired a teacher and the farmer asked Oskar if he could send his three children to the school. The man offered Oskar twenty bushels of corn as payment. Oskar readily agreed. Another nearby farmer heard of this new development and offered Oskar the same payment if his two children could attend. Alfred was delighted as it is easier to teach eleven children than to teach only six from the same family.
For Oskar, life was perfect. He had a loving wife, six beautiful children, a very productive farm, and enough work to keep him busy from sunup to sundown. During this time, Oskar did not forget his Indian friends. He continued to give them a portion of his corn crop each year. They had reached an agreement that they did not have to give him anything in return. The corn was payment for the Indians allowing Oskar to farm on their land. Oskar recognized that the government had appropriated the land and it had belonged to the Indians long before the white Europeans arrived.