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Life on the Oksendal Farm

Written by: Ed Oksendahl and Arne Oksendal
Collected and edited by Karen Windheim, Oregon, USA.
Introduction by Kaare Trefall

Edward and Arne Oksendal are the two youngest sons of Kari Nilsdotter Trefall and Rasmus Nilson Yksendal which emigrated from Eksingedalen, Norway, to North Dakota, USA, in 1913. More about the life of the immigration family could be found in the story of Rasmus Oksendal Family. Kari's childhood on the farm Trefall in the valley of Eksingedalen could be found in Kari's stories.
The story:

Rich Valley school. Photo by Karen
Ed wrote - The Rich Valley Township in which we lived was peopled by immigrants. Our parents came from Norway and spoke Norwegian in the home, but most of the rest of the township was peopled by immigrants from Russia, and they spoke Russian in the home. There was a little prejudice and suspicion between the Norwegians and the Russian families. Nearly all the students in this class at school were 1st. generation Americans of the Russian background. This included Peter Fettig, Lew Wentz, Vivian, Jean and Florence Leieer and the Bachmiers. I don't recall a single time when any of my schoolmates visited me on the farm and I don't recall ever visiting any of them. Also, the Russian-American were Catholic and the Norwegian-Americans were Lutheran and this kept them separate also.
On the farm I milked cows (there were 7 milkers), fed the pigs, horses and calves. We milked in the barn, and it was very unsanitary with cow manure on the floor and flies everywhere. The cows were never washed and often flies, pieces of straw would fall into the milk pail, and we would pick them out with our fingers. Each cow gave 2 or 3 gallons of milk and after milking we would pour the milk in a separator, turned by hand, and milk would come out of one spout and cream out the other. The cream was put into 5 gallon cans and on Saturday they would be taken to town and sold. It seemed we always had a big collie like dog named Bingo. Our farm had a small coulee to the south of us and a big coulee to the west and this is where the cows and horses would pasture. I would get the cows and Bingo would go along. There were small streams in both coulees, but in summer they would dry up. There were no fish in these streams. The coulees had foxes, minks, skunks, weasels and gophers. Gophers also would have burrows in our grain fields and around their holes they would eat the grain and there would be a spot with no grain, only bare ground around each hole of about 10 feet in diameter or more. We would use poison to kill them, also traps, snares and a 22 rifle, but each year there were as many as before. At one time the county paid a bounty of 2¢ for each gopher killed, and I snared dozens of them. We also got a bounty for crow eggs. In the winter I trapped weasels and would get between $2 and $3 for each weasel pelt. I also hunted skunks. The way to catch skunks was to find a den and then wind a piece of barbed wire into the hole. This would catch onto the fur and then you would drag it out. I suppose you could do the same with a fox. It was a smelly work and I recall going to school once with skunk smell on me. One spring, I recall finding a fox den in the Big Coulee. I hid in the bushes nearby and watched. The mother fox was nearby and would bark, and the baby foxes came out and played at the den. I barked back at the mother fox. I also recall a hawk diving at me when I got near her nest. It made a whistling sound as it came down, but I never found her nest.

Arne wrote - When I was about 8-9 years old I went hunting with a 22 cal. Rifle. Setting traps for weasels and mink in the winter, and selling the skins for pocket money. And also skunk hunting. Skunks hibernate in the winter and the only way to catch then is to make them come out of the hole. Smoke cartridges were placed in the hole but were not very effective unless there was an air hole at the other end. Another way was to take a length of barbed wire and bend a hook at one end and make a crank at the other end. The wire was shoved into the hole as far as possible, and then turn the crank on the opposite end; eventually the hook would grab hold of the fur and skin of the skunk. Cranking as tight as possible and pulling on the wire I could pull the skunk to the tip of the hole. This time I hooked the seat of the skunk and slowly pulled it out of the hole. I kept pulling to see its head so I could shoot it in the head with my 22 rifle so as not to damage the fur on the body. Pulling on the wire with my left had and with my rifle ready in my right hand I caught sight of its eyeball. The skunk got sight of my eyeball too and he shot his missile right into my right eye before I could shoot him in the head. He was faster on the draw and a better marksman then me. I dropped my rifle and wire and wiped my burning eye and went home, washed and changed cloths but the smell lasted for a good week. That was my last skunk hunt.

We would not skin skunks because of the smell and sold them whole for about $2.50. Mink and weasels we would skin and then turn the fur portion inside and then stretch it by pulling the skin over a thick flat wide board. By doing the skinning ourselves we could stretch it to larger side and get a better price for the fur.

Another thing we did was catch gophers in the summertime. Benson County offered 2 cents bounty for each gopher tail that was brought to them. Gophers were doing damage to the crops so the county offered a reward for each one caught, I would use binder twine that was used to tie bundles of wheat or sugar cane. I would make a noose at one end and place the noose over the gopher's hole and then lay flat on the ground about 50 feet away waiting for the gopher to stick his head out of the hole. When his head was high enough I would jerk the twine and snare the gopher. After killing it I would cut the tail off and put it in a can and add more and finally take the tails in and get my bounty.

With my money I bought an old bicycle from a neighbor but don't remember if I ever learned to ride it or not. I ordered a lens kit for a telescope but being out in the country I couldn't find a tube to install the lens in, so I gave it up.

Edward bought a 2 seat horse and buggy and rode it around. Norval, my oldest brother bought a car, I think it was a 1937 Chevrolet. I remember very little about my four sisters during this period. My Uncle Lars would bring candy for me in his Model A car. I had a lot of fun and things to do and seemed to be satisfied with farm life.
Ed wrote - Our farm work included mowing and raking hay. This was with two horses and pitchin hay onto horse pulled hay wagons and onto haystacks, riding the combine during grain harvest, shoveling wheat from the grain wagon into the grainery, and being a "go-for" for his brother Norval, when Norval was fixing some farm machinery. I enjoyed farm work and don't every recall complaining. When Norval wanted something, he would always run both ways to get it. I recall working for Edward Willy one fall during harvest. I earned $100 hauling bundles of grain to the stationary thresher that Willy ran. The hay wagon was pulled by two horses and had iron wheels, no tires. It was bumpy. I recall one other bundler hauler, Peter Fetting; he would fill up the hay wagon first and then race to another field. His hay wagon had rubber wheels and we would gallop the horses down the road to the other field. After harvest was over, Edward Willy took us to town for a milkshake then drove me home. He lived about a mile south of our farm. He dropped me off about a ¼ mile from our house and I walked from there. I took a shortcut across a field that was being plowed and lost my $100. Arne and Norval. Photo by Karen
Mom and I hunted for it and couldn't find it that day and we though it was probably plowed under, but I finally found it the next day. I also worked for other farmers in mowing and raking hay. I must have been about 12 years old at this time. At one time I had my own calf to raise (a shorthorn steer) and entered it in a county fair and got a prize. I don't recall how I made money, but at one time I bought 160 acres of land near Devils Lake for $1000, and sold it after the family moved west.

There seemed to be plenty of time for recreation. I had a pony (a black 20 year old Mustard or Indian pony that had come from Montana). I rode bareback and had no saddle. This horse was like a quarter horse, very fast for a short distance. I remember racing with two other boys on Dec. 7, 1941. They had big horses and one was a purebred Morgan. My pony would beat them for about 50 yards and then they would pass me. The reason I remember what day it was is because we stopped at one of the boy's houses and his mother came out and said the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt had declared war (World War II). I also skied on home made wooden skis. I believe it was in 1939 that Russia attacked Finland in World War II and the Finns dressed up in white uniforms and engaged the Russians as guerillas on skis. Russia never did conquer Finland. But I recall skiing in the Big Coulee pretending I was a Finlander. We also learned to skate.

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Last updated 17th of August 2019


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