I’m Margaret Sams, mother of Craig and Gregory Sams and the widow of Kenneth Sams. I grew up in the 1920s and 30s in a Nebraska farming community. My Norwegian Aunt Anne also recorded her memories, which poetically capture the atmosphere of life on a prairie farm. I dictated my story to Sherry Grant, who kindly wrote it down as posted below.
LIFE ON THE FARM & OTHER MEMORIES – Margaret Doxtad
Our original family name was Dugstad, but it got changed to Doxtad to suit American spelling. Lars Olson Dugstad, my great grandfather, came over from Norway and pioneered the Koshkonong Prairie, living in a cave by a river for 15 years until he built a house and then married my great grandmother Ingeborg Helleve. Their son Ole married my grandmother, Olina Pedersen and one of their 7 kids was my Dad, Lewis Ingwal Doxtad. His younger sister was my Aunt Anne, whose writings are on the links on this page.
He married Agnes Rohde, daughter of immigrants from the town of Heide in Ditmarschen in the Schleswig-Holstein area of Germany, North Friesland.
The barn/cowshed, which Dad built, were alongside the house . We once had a barn dance in the barn where the horses were – stalls on both sides and an upper floor . Same barn, cowshed and house were there when I left in 1940. The hog-shed and chicken house and a small chicken house were built when I was very young. Mother bought chicks and raised them in the small chicken house with a small heater. Then they went into the large chicken house but both had hens and roosters. They built wooden nests with straw for hens to lay their eggs. Thelma and I would pick them out of nests and take them to the cave behind the house and pack them in crates with three dozen in each layer. I think 8 layers – sometimes we’d take two crates plus a five-gallon can of cream to Sioux City to the Safeway store. All the eggs were checked – held up to the light of a candle. The store manager paid us on the spot – we bought groceries etc and used the rest to buy clothes and supplies for the farm.Grandpa and Grandma Ole and Olina Doxtad lived on the farm, along with Mom and Dad. must have had Ruby, Floyd, Thelma and me on the Doxtad farm as I came to our farm in a buggy drawn by horses. Maybe Ruby, Floyd and Thelma came in a wagon – ha, ha. Being youngest has its advantages.
Mom buys 100lb bags of flour, sugar and oatmeal. No butter – we had a big wooden churn on the farm. We put the cream in and turned the handle. The churn went around – it may take half an hour of turning and then you’d hear thump-thump and you’d have 10lb of butter and nice buttermilk. The rest of the milk, the whey, was mixed with grains and fed to the pigs. The flour sacks were made of strong cotton fabric, so Mom would make us dresses out of them when they were empty. I had my first store-bought dress when I was 18, for graduation. It didn’t fit because we bought it mail order and since we’d never bought me a dress before, nobody knew what size I was.
We butchered one or two pigs a year for meat – and a young steer. We hung the meat in a shed outside and burnt wood to smoke it.
Field of Oats. A machine went along – it cut oat stalks down 4-5” from ground. It tied them in bundles and tossed them out. You went along and stacked 5 or 6 bundles in groups so they would dry. Late in fall my Uncle Ed would come with his thresher and about 9-10 neighbours. They threw it in to the threshing machine – it took oats off their stalks. There would be at least 12 men for dinner – 12 o’clock. These men came from each farm around us – then when they threshed we came to theirs – every neighbour helped the others. We would have to bake 6 pies and loads of mashed potatoes and vegetables. Huge coffee pots and cut sandwiches were taken to the field at 3pm. They finished at 6.30 or 7. Next day you were at a different neighbour’s.
There were fields of alfalfa. After it was cut a team of horses raked it up and brought it to where the haystack was. The load was put on this rake – I drove the team – I lifted the lead up – you had to halt at exactly the right moment so the load went on top of the haystack – if you stopped too soon or too late it would fall in front or behind the stack. I was good at that so I always had that job.
All year when it was a neighbour’s birthday – (the adults)- all the neighbours would come at night to their place. The men would play cards and the women would just visit. Then sandwiches. The woman whose house where the party was made all the sandwiches and cakes and neighbours too would bring a cake. When the party was for one of them everyone went there. The women would of course bring a cake there, in their turn.
In winter with snow on the ground cars couldn’t go. We went in our bobsled pulled by two horses. Dad stood up and we sat on straw in the back with a big blanket thrown over us. I hated to go but went – as a treat I’d be given white bread.
In the fall everyone harvested pumpkins. You had baked pumpkin, as a vegetable with butter and salt and pepper or a lovely pumpkin pie. People who had a huge crop had 15-20 pumpkins near the main road on the road from where your house ended – a sign FREE PUMPKINS. Also some people raised watermelons – our neighbour would bring 14 large long watermelons at a time to our place. We put them in our cave and ate as we liked – you could also make watermelon pickles out of the white part.
Behind our house was North and this brought a very cold wind. So by way of a windbreak we had hundreds of mulberry trees – black and white ones. An old sheet was laid on the ground and you’d shake the tree and mulberries, twigs and all came down. We would sort and you had mulberry pie and also we canned them.
We had a big barrel in the washhouse. There was a wood burning stove to heat water for washing clothes and when we were canning, we’d put giant jars full of fruit or vegetables in the barrel to preserve them and set the seal. My Dad brewed beer, bottled it and sometimes it would explode in the cave all over the jars of fruit and vegetables.
Behind the house we had a soft water or rainwater well. All our clothes were washed in soft water.
My Uncle Ed had a light plant in the basement of his farm, which was the next farm to ours. His wife was Alvina. She had boy triplets (2 died) then she had one boy, then twin boys. Aunt Alvina was on the basement steps when the light plant gas exploded. She caught fire. She pushed on the door, but it was hinged inwards and Uncle Ed couldn’t push it open to pull her out. When he did, Uncle Ed tried to put flames out on her – she was taken to hospital. He was in a wheelchair for a while due to burns – the boys were in school when it happened. They were taken to hospital. She wanted to see them before she died. My older sister Ruby helped him for a while in summer. He had to hire housekeepers. I worked for him in summer, cooking for six people – washed all their all overalls and bed linen – did all the housework. I went home at weekends but left a nice cake for them on Friday, which I’d hide. On Sunday they would phone and I’d tell them where it was hidden.
We had a bull – you had to watch out for him. Once it was chasing Floyd. He was running toward the fence to get over to safety. Dad stood with the shotgun to shoot the bull in case Floyd wasn’t going to make it.
My Aunt Minnie lived in a farm near Dakota City. At the end of her land was the Missouri River. My Mother and Aunt Martha were visiting her and Aunt Martha and her girls Dorothy and Dolores. Thelma, and me and Dorothy and Dolores walked down the road 10 minutes and there was a raft tied to the shore. We had our feet making it go up and down. Dolores fell in – Thelma and Dorothy ran to the house to tell the women. I got on the corner and reached out and grabbed her hair and pulled it and helped her on to the raft. She was fine. Mother came running down and saw Dolores was safe. After that I was always Aunt Martha’s favourite. She always wanted me to stay there – couldn’t do enough for me, always wanted me to stay overnight – made me food I liked.
She had a dog – if you said ‘Tra la’, he would get so angry and take after you. I’d run and Aunt would have the door open for me and we’d have a laugh. Even years and years later she’d say – remember you didn’t notice how close he was and I had to jump on the side of the hayrick.On her deathbed she said “Margie we always wanted to thank you for saving Dolores’s life”.
GOING TO CALIFORNIA
My second cousin Marguerite came for a week or 2 to visit us from California. She said, “Why don’t you come back with me – I said, “I will” so we bought a suitcase. Mom said, “You have to ask Dad.” “Mom I asked him and he said No”. She asked him again and he said “No”. She said, “You have to ask him”. That time he said “all right.” I stayed at Marguerite’s house and I had a girl Florence from my class kept wanting me to come to her place. They lived half a block from the ocean – on the beach – so I did. We used to run down to the Aragon ballroom and dance a few dances – big bands. I tried for a job with the owner of a chicken place. Very low wage but a raise in 3 months. They had two young girls. In a month they bought a baby grand for $1000. I let it go for a week or so and then asked for my raise. She said “oh dear, I’ll have to ask Mr Helpern” – yes 50 cents more a week. Well in two weeks ‘my mother was ill’ and I’d have to go home!!!
I went back to Florence’s place. I was standing in the ballroom – 2 girls saw me and asked if I was working. Mrs. Miller, the lady they worked for needed someone to massage her as her masseuse left so she hadn’t walked out for 6 years. Well my hands were big and strong from years of cow milking, hoeing, haymaking, so I was so strong. She said “harder, harder”. Once I did a tiny bruise – she said “Never mind”. Well in 4 months she was so much better that she went out and had her hair done and— She was so pleased with me. My job was that and mending tiny tears in her gowns. One day she said “Mr. Miller said you had men in your rooms.” I said, “You can come and rap on my door day or night”. He’d break china or a glass – toss it on the vacant lot next door and blame me. The worst was when I wrote in a letter “I feel like quitting” – I never would have without notice – Mr. Miller mailed the letter but only after he’d read it. Next day she said “you said you felt like quitting, we are keeping 2 weeks wages back.” I said, “If you do that I quit”. I phoned a cab, packed my bag and left. Then I got a job at Douglas Aircraft.
WORKING AS A RIVETER DURING THE WAR
I went to Mrs Leach’s where she always had a room for me. I applied to work as a riveter at the Douglas Aircraft factory. Four of us had to have a trial as 3 men watched. I yelled at the woman I was working with: “Keep the bar on the rivet”. They said, “You come in to me”. I thought I’d had it for yelling, but in fact they liked that I was good at what I was doing. They put me on cowling – half of the cover that surrounds the engine.
I went by the sound with the rivet gun – zit-zit so I never had any mistakes and it meant I could go so fast. After months I had to fix everyone else’s mistakes. Every week I’d get a raise. I’d say to Mr Nelson “I just had a raise”. I picked a bucker – we were put on the part that surrounds the engine. Previous girls did 3 a night. We did 10, then 13. Another raise – then they needed us to catch them up on the wings. We got in trouble with some of the other workers for working too fast but I had married a Marine and the war effort was more important than anything – besides, on the farm we always worked as hard as we could.
Ken was in the Marines and went off to duty. I went home to Nebraska on the farm. I milked cows – my cousin Donald Rohde worked for us. I wore an artist’s smock the whole time I was pregnant. I took the team out with the manure spreader. The neighbours said, “Oh Agnes has a hired man.” Naturally I wore overalls but the smock covered the stomach. We had the baby bed in Mom’s and my bedroom downstairs. My doctor was Dr Kildebeck. In February Dad died, I still had 5 months to go.
Well the months were up and I was on the other side of a barbed wire fence in the watermelon patch and I got this terrible pain. I had to get through the fence with my big stomach. I walked down to the house and Mom and I got in the car – a 12 or14 mile ride to Pender. It was bad weather – we got there and Mom had to turn around and come straight back. She could do nothing anyway. She hadd to get back before it poured with rain as the dirt roads would be too muddy. Don came home from the fields and said, “Where’s Margie?” “She’s in the hospital”. “What happened to her?” “Why she’s having a baby” – he was so surprised and said, “Hope it’s a boy”. Craig weighed 8lb 4 oz
Once he was in a push thing and started to cry. I ran up from the barn and his foot got caught. He walked across the long room when he was a year. When Floyd got out of Marines after the war he married Katherine and they came back to live on the farm. I said, “Mom let’s go to California”. She said “OK”. I said, “Let’s take Aunt Minnie – she said “OK”.
Aunt Ann and Aunt Ellen were the artists in the family – both painted – Ann more than Ellen.
Aunt Ellen had one son and a not very nice husband!
Ann married a man called Fred Olsen – they lived in Denver and had two boys – one was named Leon.
Uncle Hank married Catherine– they had two boys (Harold and Lowell). Hank farmed near Emerson.
Uncle Herman married Kitty. They lived in Omaha and their children were Helen, Derward and Donald.
Mainly – breakfasted on cornflakes in summer and oatmeal in winter.
Lunch was meat and two veg.
Supper mainly meat and 2 veg or pie and homemade rye bread.
They bought flour and oatmeal and sugar.
Also bought apples in winter. Summer from the farm.
Dad bought 5 cents worth candy to share between the three of them.
The farm provided hams, sausages, bacon, liver and chicken.
All vegetables and salad in summer.
In winter potatoes and onions which had been stored
First one – a Model T Ford. Open topped in summer. In winter we snapped on izing glass.
Next we had a green Pontiac. The neighbours were jealous.
We had our own gas pump on the farm for the tractor and cars and it had to be kept locked.
The school was a one roomed schoolhouse – all the kids from 1st grade to 8th grade in the same classroom with one teacher.
Bertha Krause, the teacher got the highest acclaim because she got them all to High School. Bertha had a daughter who had braces on her legs (possibly polio).
Teacher would be in school an hour before the children to warm the place up. She’d put all their wet clothes over and around the heat.
The school put on Xmas plays in which they all took part and loads of people including pupils and parents from other schools came.
It was over a mile to school and they always walked.
I went barefoot outdoors in summer, all the kids did.
All the big bands came through Homer.
Mr Barker owned the dance hall and the movie house.
Sometimes the girls danced with the girls.
When we drove up to Wisconsin we visited Aunt Isabel (Lewis’s sister). Their children were Barbara and her brother – they all lived around Cambridge, near the area where my great grandfather Lars had pioneered after he came over from Norway.
I have loved painting all my life and have studied with artists such as Rhoda Pepys and Conchita Moore. Here are some of my paintings