Peter C. Peterson’s
Memoirs Written March 5, 1977
I was born in a sod house on
the Southeast corner of a quarter section of land in Lyman Co., South
Dakota on November 7, 1895.
My dad homesteaded this land 1/4 mile west of grandfather’s [Peder
Kristian Pederson (Peter Christian Peterson) b. 1846]
One thing I shall never forget
is that dad said several times that he would not like to see us ever
vote for a democrat. We have
never done that and never will.
It was during Cleveland 's time
in the 1890's that dad had a difficult time to make a living. Axe
handles are not easy to make but
he made for fifteen cents each. He also told us about finding a few
white beans spilled in or near a box car, scattered here and
there. He picked them up one by one trying to get enough to bring home.
He was a very good carpenter
but there were no jobs available. Hs did finally get a job in a
blacksmith shop as a wagon maker in Oacoma , South Dakota which was a
small town on the Missouri River . We moved there a short time later.
Sometime later he got
a Job with an old man who was a carpenter and had contracts building
schoolhouses, etc. on the prairie where needed. The old
man suddenly died which left my dad to finish the uncompleted contracts.
He started out as a building contractor using most of
the tools the old man had.
There was a prairie dog town a
mile or so north and west of our homestead to where we had moved when I
was about six years old
or more. There were hundreds of prairie dogs in that town. I don't know
how many acres covered.
On one building job he had,
there was a flock of sheep tended by a herder near by. The man came to
where dad was working and
said there are so many rattlesnakes at a spot near by that he did not
care to stay there. Dad wished to see that so. He sharpened
up a hoe and went to this spot, but after cutting off several snake
heads he decided to get out of there for there were snakes coming from
There was a herd of cattle that
passed our place that was several mile long. There were hundreds kept in
line, six or seven abreast,
In the summer of 1899 my folks
took me to my grandfather’s homestead where I stayed for several months.
I was well satisfied
there. My young uncle Fred [Peterson b. 1888]
often took me with him on is horse for a ride.
My grandmother was a popular
midwife. I went with grandfather and her to my home in town on December
22, 1899. I can recall sitting in the kitchen with grandfather. I
suddenly heard a strange noise in another room which I remember him to
say was a
little rooster who had just arrived. It was the day my brother
Bill [William Ralph Peterson b. 1899] was born and was yakking
The end of the railroad was
then at Chamberlain, South Dakota . A few years later they started
extending it across the prairie to Rapid City , South Dakota . It wad
built with scrappers drawn by large Missouri mules. Small towns were
then established about
8 or 10 miles apart along the new railroad.
My father [Charles M.
Peterson b. 1869 Denmark ] was a contractor and with a crew of
men built banks, hotels, and schools
and eating places in all those new towns. Hobos were plentiful. Later
on he took a carpenter’s civil service exam. Thereafter he
built several Indian agency buildings within Indian reservations for the
United States Government. He had a bicycle and came home on weekends on
it. He told of one incident where a sma11 herd of range cattle near by
having never seen such a vehicle on
the prairie before, gave chase. There was no protection in sight so he
had no choice but to turn toward them. He was in luck for they turned
tail and stampeded the other way.
All small ravines went to a
much larger one in which were large bare spots caused by water during
rains or spring thaws. On these places we often found arrow heads and
also lead bullets. Evidently a battle had taken placed there years ago.
For a short time we were in a
house near the Missouri River at the edge of town, and
I think it was the worst place I have ever
seen or been in. There was a log lean-to attached to the house which had
large cracks between the logs and was about half full
of broom corn. There were dozens of rattlesnakes on top of these stocks
and also in between. It was a terrible place and we did not
stay there long.
From there we moved back to the
homestead in about 1902. We did not have much to do and spent a good
share of our time hunt-
ing Indian turnips. Some were about the size of golf balls and very good
to eat, but other times we had to gather buffalo chips
which did make a very good fire in a stove and was the only fuel
available at times.
When I was about six years old,
I found an 18 kt. gold ring in the mud. It was an old time wedding ring.
At any rate, it fit my
mother’s [Christina (Stina) M. Albertson] finger. She
wore it every day, even to her grave.
Our old cur dog followed us
everywhere, and one day he got bit in the face by a rattlesnake. His
head swelled up pretty bad, but
he got over it in a few days.
I think the worst pests to
barefoot boys on the prairie were the cactus. There were lots of them
and they had very sharp spines
about one inch long with barbs. They went into a foot very easily but,
believe me; they were hard to pull out on account of the
barbs. The other pest was rattlesnake. It was necessary to keep your
eyes peeled at all times.
In spite of the hardships
encountered in the early days on the unsettled prairies
and in my early teens in Wisconsin, I consider
those days the most enjoyable of my entire life for they were absolutely
free of any government regulations or interference. In fact,
I was over 30 years old before I ever heard or saw a government man
except old H.P. Fuley.
Our father was the most even
tempered person I have seen or known. I never saw him angry nor did I
ever hear him say an angry word to our mother. He would correct us kids
when he thought we were doing wrong, but never a licking. All the credit
go to our dad for trying to create a living in that wild unsettled land
for our mother was a very efficient person. We had a few sheep from
which she obtained wool and after cleaning and washings it in a tub it
was set out to dry. After drying, it was ready to be card-
ed and made into small rolls. She did most of that, but other times it
was our job to card it while she sat on her spinning wheel making yarn
for knitting socks, etc. for the brood, besides preparing food for us
all every day. She was also a good dressmaker. We were all from 12 to 14
years old before we had on any store pants or shirt. She made everything
of that nature, even her own
clothes. Some times she sewed a little for the neighbors. When we first
moved to Wisconsin , she did not like it too well. She was
used to the open spaces and described this wooded country like sitting
in a large box, couldn't see any place but up.
If a person would stop to think
of or compare the hardships and courage of the pioneers on the prairies
as described in this memoir with the people of today, you may begin to
wonder if they belong to the same race that now carry food stamps paid
by the govern-
ment and also many forms of
welfare, relief, and pensions.
Blizzards on the prairie was
something else and almost impossible to face. The high winds moved the
snow through the air so fast that it turned it into particles almost as
hard as ice and drifting behind any obstacle such as a haystack was hard
enough for cattle
to walk on it and over the fence to the hay. I can recall that one man's
barn blew away and his cattle turning tail to the wind drifted into a
ravine and were completely buried alive in a standing position. The heat
from their bodies and breath caused a hole up through the snow where
each animal stood under the snow and that was how this herd was found in
the next day or so.
I have never seen a so‑called
pot hole on the prairie. Depressions were always ravines, big and small.
Cattle always drifted with
the wind in those fierce blizzards and into ravines which would be a
slight shelter. It would not be long until the ravine would be drifted
full covering up the cattle completely. They of course, died in these
ravines by the hundreds and were worthless except for their hides.
I have heard my father and
others tell of residents going to these ravines in the early spring with
teams and sleighs. They were pulling the hides off from the dead cattle
by hooking on to the head and another to the hide in opposite directions
of it off.
My dad also spoke of one
instance where the blizzard lasted two or more days. A man had some
stock in his barn and he could
barely see his hand in front of him and was afraid to attempt going to
the barn to feed them. He broke up a wooden box and made
a bundle of sticks to stick into the snow at short intervals. He ran out
of sticks and did not find his barn, therefore, retraced the sticks back
to his house.
My uncles' built a round corral
about 100 ft. in diameter. A good strong solid post was put in the
center called a snubbing post.
When a wild horse was selected from the herd in the corral, it was
lassoed and the lasso wrapped around the snubbing post. The animal did
choke itself into submission at which time one of its hind legs would be
drawn up to its breast, called a scotch hobble
which made the animal helpless. A saddle and bridle was put on it. A1l
the other horses were turned out. It was then freed of the ropes and
Uncle Ed [Edward Peterson b. 1884 Indiana ] rode it
bucking round and round the corral until it was tired out.
After it found that the rider could not be dislodged it quit and never
There were lots of coyotes,
jack rabbits and prairie chickens which were the extent of wild life
except prairie dogs, gophers and meadow larks, bob‑o‑links and
The folks took us all to
Chamberlain in about 1908 where we had our picture taken. It was the
only picture taken in South Dakota
of the whole family.
Everyone had an earth dam built
across a ravine which furnished water for the stock and a hole dug, also
covered up, collecting seepage for drinking water. It was really clear.
Perhaps the frogs in it helped to make it so. The back water of the dam
was our swimming hole. I am sure that we spent as much time there as we
did on land.
One day our mother said the
chicken house was full of mites and that we should clean it up. We were
not too fond of that job, but
we went at it. A run for the dam was in order to wash off the mites. We
were covered with them.
Whenever dad was through with a
job he, of course, brought back the extra nails and spikes of all sizes.
We had a front porch built not too high off the around and was an ideal
place to drive in spikes.
One day we discovered that our
old dog had a litter of pups back under this porch. We wanted to see
them, but the spikes we had driven through the floor were sticking down
there, and we were forced to give it up.
We found several ant hills
on the prairie; some of them were full of small beads of all colors. We
thought that the ants made those beads, but I now am pretty sure that
there was likely a dead Indian buried there who had beads on his
footwear and other places.
The U.S. Government built a
good four wire fence around the Indian Reservation and leased the
enclosure to the ranchers, but
this venture was not entirely successful because
prairie fires burned up the fence posts and cattle would again be at
large. I never heard of any crew policing the fence.
There was some sort of itch,
scab or ticks among the cattle roaming the range at large before the
heard law. The government hired our dad to build a large holding corral
and a large dipping tank. Cattle were driven to there by cowboys and
were forced into the
tank containing some sort of dips material, perhaps sulfur.
The prairies were no longer a
cattle or horse country. There were too many immigrants, wire fences,
etc. where there used to be
cattle by the hundreds, they were now small herds fenced in due to the
In 1910 the neighborhood
dissolved, a good share of them went to Canada , but we and Uncle
Jim [James Peterson] and family went to Wisconsin [
Hayward area]. We moved to Wisconsin in the spring of 1910 to a farm dad
had bought in 1909.
In the late fall of 1910, our
house burned, losing everything including our clothes. There was
considerable pine timber on our place. We cut some of it and the
neighbors assisted in building a two‑story log house. It was built in a
very short time. This was the house were Nina [Nina Dunlap – daughter of
Karen (Carrie) Peterson b. 1894 and George Dunlap], my niece, was born
We then took the job of cutting
a neighbor's fire killed pine together with our own and sold it to the
large saw mill at Hayward . It
was a full winter’s job.
The following three years we
cut and hauled stove wood to town. I was fifteen years old and hauled
the wood with our team of horses. I made trips two per day. Believe me,
it was a cold job. I had frozen toes every winter.
In the late teens, I started
guiding fishermen in summer and continued doing so most of the twenties.
For two years between 1920 and
1923, I did go with who I thought was a very nice girl friend. We did
intend to get married, but I
did not think that I had quite enough money at that time, but in part of
1922‑23, I did accumulate about eight hundred dollars,
but I was too late. In the early fall of 1923, she went to Iowa to
visit her aunt, and there met and married a guy in Des Moines .
The First National Bank of
Hayward was always considered dependable, but it went broke in March,
1924 and that was goodbye
to money deposit.
It did then seem to me that
nothing was dependable even my changeable or fickle girl friend. At any
rate, that was the end of girl friends for me. I had no desire to seek
another during the following fifteen years.
In 1930, I took an exam
for game wardens. I was successful in passing the exam, being third
among 20 applicants and was assigned as warden for Washburn County under
In the mid 1930's, I was given
the job as supervisor of beaver controls under Civil Service for the
entire northwest quarter of the State of Wisconsin . Beaver were
becoming a pest in that they were building dams on streams everywhere
flooding railroad tracks, highways and farmers' pastures, etc.
I took a six mile trip by canoe
down the Moose River to check on illegal trapping in June, 1933. On that
trip, I counted 135 deer
along the banks of the river.
In 1938 Betty
White of Dallas , Texas , and I decided to get married. We had
known each other since 1925. She was the manager
of Snap‑On Wrench Company for that district.
In June, 1939, I took Betty
with me down that same river. There were only 35 deer along the banks
and I feel certain that if that same trip would be made
today, less than 10 deer will be seen.
In the time of warden duties, I
was gone from home most every day, and Betty did not care for that too
much. Therefore, in 1940,
I resigned from the Conservation Department and together, we bought a
corner lot in Hayward and thereon built a gas service station. My
nephew, Chester Dunlap [son of Karen (Carrie) Peterson b. 1894
and George Dunlap] operated it for
several years on a commission basis.
After that, I also acquired 1
3/4 miles of lake shore on Lake Chippewa for almost little of nothing.
On that project, I took on Roy Risberg as a partner, having known him
since 1916. He was a very good salesman, and I think he could sell a
snow ball in January. In fact, he was responsible for selling our lake
shore for fifty dollars per foot. It is now all sold.
My brother Bill also got
married in 1938 to Betty's sister. We could not have
found a better pair of partners than those two sisters. They were not
one bit lazy and would tackle most any kind of job. If nothing else was
in sight for them to do, they would knit socks and mitts from wool yarn.
I still have four pair of heavy wool socks. Bill and I
have not bought a pair of wool socks since 1938.
In most every case of married
couples, women do not get anywhere near the credit due them until they
have passed away. Bill’s
wife passed away in 1972 and Betty passed away in 1973.
I am now 81 years old and
consider myself very fortunate to still have a very good memory. .
All memoirs mentioned are from
recollections and incidents told to me by my parents. To mention all
incidents that may have happened within an 81 year lifetime would fill
quite a book.
Together with our parents,
there were seven in our family, three brother and two sisters. My
brother Bill and myself are the only ones left of the family.
Therefore, memoirs of our activities during our lifetime may be
of interest to every niece and nephew of the original family.
Peter C. Peterson
Note on bottom of page:
“Nephew of grandpa Albertson” [grandpa is Nels P. Albertson]
[Peter C. Peterson passed
away in August 1986. He was 90 years old. He was the son of Charles
M. Peterson and Kristine (also known as Christena or Christina) Marie
Albertson (Christensen) who was from Denmark . She is a sister to Nels,
Martin, and Albert Albertson. William Ralph Peterson (Bill) was born on
December 22, 1899 in Lyman County , South Dakota and passed away in July
1982. Both brothers are buried in or near Hayward , Wisconsin .