Memories From A Dakota Farm

Perhaps last nights summer storm rekindled youthful memories of a simpler time on our prairie farm. When grandma’s cotton apron meant wholesome family meals.

My Grandma’s old farmyard stove,
Decorated with pitted strips of chrome.
Fueled by wood from the apple grove
That flavored our family’s home.

That old cast iron range
Moved from house to porch.
Tied with the seasons change
And temperatures that would scorch.

For a constant fire the tinder box
Was everyone’s chore to keep filled.
Splitting wood dragged home by ox
That was too small to be milled.

Those 19th century recipes
Of simple German fare
Fueled our family legacies
With bratwurst, kraut and beer.

When the wind would howl and hover
And the frost snuck in long ago
We’d wrap ourselves in patchwork covers
And watch the red embers glow.

– Clarence Holm

Hey – I Know That Kid!

Dorothy & Lucille Holm Holding Their Little Brother, Clarence

Dorothy Holm Storbeck & Lucille Holm Kunze holding their little brother, Clarence Holm circa 1917 (Evelyn Holm Grant and Walter Holm were born in 1918 & 1926)

Yesterday I received a postcard from the Carver County Historical Society of Carver County, Minnesota announcing a rebuild of their website along with news of the addition of fully indexed online library of 15,000 photographs held by the society. I was excited because my family has a long history with the county.

My paternal family had immigrated to Minnesota from Sweden in 1850 making them one of the earliest settlers of the territory. My Great Grandfather was born in Carver County and grew up to be one of the original members of the town council of Cologne, MN. His first born son was born in Carver County and moved with him as he homesteaded in Cuba, North Dakota, in 1886. My grandfather was raised in North Dakota, was married and raised a family on the prairie. My father was born near that farm in 1917. I was raised on that same farm (Now owned by one of my cousins) and lived in North Dakota until 1990 when I coincidentally moved to a small town near Carver County too start a career in Insurance.

I knew my family had relatives in the area, but knew nothing about the county or the people in it. I became interested in my family tree and began a 25 yearlong investigation of my family’s history with one of the first steps beginning with research at the Historical societies in the area. Thousands of hours were spent pouring over microfiche and index cards that contained newspaper information that had been indexed and computerized.

So, while I was very happy to hear about the new service, I was not expecting too much in the way of new information. You see I had been associated with the society for nearly 20 years during which time I had researched well of 40,000 individuals associated with my family, mostly in and around Minnesota and North Dakota and thought I had mined the source completely dry.

Imagine my surprise to enter my family name into a search engine only to discover a long lost photo of my father as a baby being held by his older sisters taken nearly 100 years ago. I can only surmise that my Great Grandparents had sent a copy of the picture to one of the cousins who still lived in Carver County many years ago.

Obviously I have ordered a duplicate of the photo to share with my brothers and sisters. I am sure they will cherish the photo as much as I.

I maintain a membership in a number of historical societies and have always been amazed at the dedication and sacrifice displayed by their memberships to maintain, catalog and display our history. Over the next few years I will be retiring from my insurance business and am looking forward to many hours of volunteering at the society to repay those people who have given me so much.

The Lambs of the Prairie

As a child my mother spoke gently of her family’s story and those that went before. She spoke of a special recollection of young children buried way too young on the plains of North Dakota. Her haunting stories spoke of the children buried beneath the plain white markers embossed with fading lambs representing their youth. The Prairie Rest Cemetery is solitary remembrance dedicated to the youngest lambs who died while establishing our state many years ago.

The Lambs of the Prairie

– Clarence Holm

Beneath the broad Dakota blue
On a hilltop kissed with morning dew
Were the silent lambs on prairie old
Lying peacefully, a family’s tears consoled.

Soundless sentinels endlessly resting
Reverent callers gazes arresting.
Their fading faces don’t betray
Machine etched stones, long in decay.

An eternal place of gathering,
Sweet memories in stone are offering
Old stories lost and gone
Waiting together for their eternal dawn.

The Western Meadowlark in Me!

-Clarence Holm

I appreciated my youth on the broad plains of North Dakota, unbounded by a horizon that rose before the dawn and dipped beyond sun. Much of my time was spent in solitude on the open prairie, tracking clouds as they journeyed across the sky. I loved to lie on the sweet pasture grass and feel the cool earth beneath my back, as the sun baked my face with it brilliant glory.

I’d listen to hear the sounds of the prairie; the whistling breeze running through the barley. I spent hours watching the dancing waves of grain as they bowed to the pulse of the wind. I’d feel the melodic rise and fall of a song that would be punctuated by the plaintiff call of the meadowlark, repeating an encircling melody for his mate.

As the hush of evening approached, the song would be returned in the distance, almost reflective in its tone. Then another would take up the song, repeating it back and forth until darkness descended, covering the earth with a blanket of calm.

And I would sleep deeply in the Dakota night.

Dakota Winter Morning Walk

Dakota Winter Morning

A break in the storm, time to travel!

-Clarence Holm

Engine left to idle, heater placed on high
Another blizzard warning, another storm foretold
Bag packed, added provisions, should north winds start to cry.
Highway’s calling – must be going, through weather uncontrolled.

A frigid winters’ sunrise, grips the frosty air,
Cold light spills past the vista, releasing sun dogs for a run.
A frozen landscape speaking, challenging wanderers with a dare
The sun is up, ignore the cold, – today’s work must be done.

Postscript to picture

by Jack Holm

“I froze my butt more than once when I was a little kid walking that path with dad when he walked back and forth from our house to milk cows at Grandpa Holm’s. The picture is taken from the east side of the home place facing Calnon’s where Vernon Grant now lives. The trees on the left are the stand of Chinese Elms and to the right is the tree claim across the road from our house.

This is likely from the late 40’s. I remember a bull dozer coming out to plow a path to the hay stacks in late winter. We hauled hay in the winter using a hay wagon on runners pulled by horses. My part was stomping down the hay so dad could get more on the wagon. In the spring, a wall of ice and manure had been formed from the barn to the pump house where the cows had walked single file from the barn for water compacting the path as the snow accumulated. Dad had quite a battle to keep the stock tank insulated and clear of snow so the cows could get water twice a day. We had a hand pulled sled mounted on skis to carry skim milk in five gallon buckets to the hogs that were almost a hundred yards from the barn. Of course, we had to walk up hill with the full buckets. Cherished memories and good motivation to go on to college.”

Who Am I to Judge?

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

-Proverbs 13:24

“Go get a switch from the Plum Orchard” my mother instructed me.

I moved slowly, trying to delay the inevitable pain of the spanking I had earned for my conduct at church that Sunday morning. At the plum grove, I selected a tender branch, (the smallest I believed my mother would accept) to be used to deliver my sentence. Leaving the decision of which switch I would choose added to the anticipation of the penance.

Life had a rhythm on the farm. As a child too young to really work in the field, I spent most of my days playing with my younger brother in the fields around our farm house. In the evening, we would join my older brothers and sister in family games of baseball or hide and seek. Saturday early mornings were special as we were allowed to watch cartoons on the old black and white television we had on the farm. Sundays were reserved for church and rest.

Each Sunday began with us dressing in our best clothing, being taken to church and then being marched as a group down the center aisle, pausing to genuflect before entering our pew in our rural church. The next hour (half during harvest) we would stand up, sit, and kneel in time to the chanted Latin of the Catholic Mass. It was a solemn time, punctuated by the choir singing, the priest delivering his sermon and the occasional child, being dragged out of church by a red faced parent under the watchful eye of the congregation. The child knowing his fate would be whimpering and pleading for mercy, while covering his behind with his hand. It would be to no avail, as we all knew the sound of the church door closing would soon be followed by a whack and the immediate return of the sniffing child to his mother.

I never really knew what impious mischief I did that would guarantee my secular punishment. Perhaps it was my dropping of a toy I had smuggled into church, or maybe it was the coloring of a songbook page. Whatever it was, the look delivered by my mother told me justice was coming.

After church we were loaded into our car and were driven home. If punishment were in order, we were expected to go to my parent’s bedroom to wait as mom and dad decided our fate. The punishment would be most likely an easy quick spanking with an open hand, but could be escalated with a hair brush or wooden spoon if the occasion demanded. The fetching of a switch was the ultimate punishment.

Whatever correction was administered, the pain was momentary and was followed by Sunday dinner and life would go on. As far as I knew, the same scene happened every Sunday in every home around our farm. Sunday morning – get up, get dressed, go to church and then come home and get beat! It was nothing to be excited about, simply part of our lives and the duty of a loving parent.

Stories of corporal punishment from my generation are told with the same reverence as walking uphill in a blizzard to (and from) school or having to wear hand me downs that my brothers (and sisters) all wore. The stories are remembered almost fondly as part of our colorful fabric of our lives.

It was with that history, that I read the story last week concerning Adrian Peterson and his alleged abusive punishment of his children. I hadn’t heard the word “switch” for many years, but knew exactly what it meant. I was a little startled to find out the practice had survived to this time, but I guess it didn’t surprise me that much. I was even less surprised that Adrian Peterson was totally shocked to learn that the behavior was now considered a form of torture and his career and reputation was ruined.

I understood his behavior. Isn’t discipline part of love? I had spent many years as a parent struggling with that issue. I however spent most of my adulthood around parents who believed in “sparing the rod” and considered corporal punishment horrible. But if I had lived in Peterson’s neighborhood, I could have easily gone the other direction and taken up the switch.

I truly believe that he loves his children as much as my parents loved me. Does love justify his actions?

In this case I don’t know- I just don’t know. What I do know is that it is not up to me to cast judgment on Adrian Peterson’s actions. It is my duty to live my life as best I can and leave the decision of his intention to his Lord.

My Mother and Beowulf

Clarence and His Mother Hermione, His Grandmother Gertrude Nicoli and Great Grandmother Henrietta (Wolski) Koehn

Clarence and His Mother Hermione, His Grandmother Gertrude Nicoli and Great Grandmother Henrietta (Wolski) Koehn

-Clarence Holm

My mother first read Beowulf to me when I was about 6 years old. She had returned to college that summer to work on an additional minor in drama. One of the courses she was enrolled in was a class called Oral Interpretation. To practice she decided to present the entire story of Beowulf to me by reading it aloud.

In hindsight, a case may be made that the story was at the very least rated “R” for violence (Not to mention the incestuous heritage ascribed to tragic Viking mythology) but I would argue that Wiley Coyote was subjected to far worse treatment on a far greater number of occasions. – Besides I was allowed to close my eyes when she recited the gory passages.

Now to a casual observer, there could be no more pastoral scene then a mother sitting on a blanket next to a gooseberry bush with her son on her lap. The rapt attention I paid to the slaughter of Beowulf’s men in the hall was only eclipsed by mother’s rendition of Beowulf ripping Gwendolyn’s arm off and using it as a club.

As a young man I devoured the story and reveled in it. Later, during an afternoon nap, I dreamed that I was a hero, a true giver of rings.

Actually, now that I think about it, I should be glad that my mother decided not to share the arrow scene from Deliverance with me that same summer.

Once Upon A Farm


-Clarence Holm

Over the years my family had many dogs on the farm. Each in their unique way performed the duties that were expected of a working animal. A farm dog’s responsibilities included fetching the cows, guarding the chickens, killing rats and defending the house. If a dog could not handle those duties it was replaced. There was no forgiveness for mistakes, a dog that attacked chickens or stole their eggs cost money or at the very least stole food off our plates. Life on a small Dakota farm didn’t allow for tolerance.

That did not mean we didn’t love our dogs and treat them with reverence and respect. A good canine was a companion and friend. They possessed a spirit and seemed to have the ability to read minds and carry out unspoken commands. A good dog took the place of two men in the pasture and could easily maintain control of the herd as we drove them to a meadow for grazing. While the cows fed on the sweet June grass the dog would keep a wary look out as he sat with us on those lazy summer days.

pup 2

Farmers knew each other’s dogs. They recognized which had special skills as herders, hunters or guard dogs and spoke almost reverently of their talents. They were able to identify a dog on sight and recite which farm they worked on.


When I was young we had a collie named Lassie. She was a smart dog and who did her best to keep me out of trouble. She loved to go with me to the pasture, where she could run and chase the pheasants she’d flush out of the weeds. If she came across a hay bale, she would wait patiently for me to turn it over, exposing the mice nests that were always underneath.

But Lassie lived to round up cattle, as we approached the herd she would quiver with excitement, waiting for the command to “sic-em” whenever a young heifer dared to separate from the herd. The older milk cows would just roll their eyes at the foolishness or the yearlings. They would watch, while lazily chewing their cuds, as Lassie nipped at the hooves of the insolent bovines. However in the back of my mind, I always suspected it was all an act, put on for our family’s consumption. We truly believed when we weren’t around, it was a good bet that the heifers and Lassie were out playing together.

My final year of farming was when I was 10. By that time I had learned to drive the truck and most of the tractors. I could successfully drive a tractor, while towing a wagon to a field to pick rocks. While straw bales were no challenge to throw around, alfalfa bales (at 70-80lbs) were still a little too heavy to throw. (Although I could pick them up by one end and slide them around.) I could sack grain and run the auger; in short I left one year before becoming an official field hand. But by far the hardest thing was saying goodbye to that dog.

We took Lassie over to our Uncle’s farm and left him there. As he had eight children at home, Lassie’s last few years were filled with joy. The last glimpse of her was as she took over her new brood of kids, waiting for one of them to say “Sic-em”.

Twelve Feet is Less Than Eternity

All wound up and looking for trouble!

All wound up and looking for trouble!

Adventures On The Farm
-Clarence Holm
In the morning, we had fed the pigs, collected the eggs and run up the road to check for mail. By mid-morning we were slaying dragons and hunting wooly buffalo. The afternoon started with a circus, featuring the warted toads along with black and yellow salamanders we had captured near the well to be exhibited as wild animals. We loaded our side show into our red wagons, hooking them up to our bikes and trikes and held a parade. We sang “ta-da” and banged on the oil cans we used for drums.
For three young boys, ages 4, 5 and 9 we knew we had to keep busy. We had learned that people on a farm that didn’t have something to do, were given a job by my mother.
After an afternoon nap we were well rested, so we decided to go exploring and poking around through the old garage. Under a shelf we found a rusted hammer, with one claw snapped off. On the shelf was a can of used nails dad must have put aside to be straightened. Leaning against the wall was some old lumber that we knew could be built into something…
It was Jim, the eldest and most worldly that decided we would build an airplane. We had seen them fly over the farm many times and knew the basic shape. We needed two boards for wings, one longer than the other and a board for the planes body, big enough to hold one passenger. So we grab three boards, precut to length. We found a six-footer for the body with another the same length for the front wing and a four-footer that seemed just right for the tail.
With the nails we found in the shop, we pounded the ship together. It was Jim who remembered we needed to turn the plane over, allowing us to crimp the nails down. “That’ll make it extra strong” he said.
We dragged the plane out into the sun to do a final inspection. We had no wheels to put under it, but once it was flying it wouldn’t matter. 
We took turns climbing aboard imagining the flight. In our minds we soared up high and chased the crows from the sky. Our excitement really grew once we convinced ourselves that this plane could really fly. All we needed was a way to get it airborne.”If we could drag it up on the barn roof, I bet we could do loop de loops” I said. “I know I can fly it!” Eugene the youngest shouted.
“Because Eugene’s the youngest, he should be first.” Jim ruled. “But” he continued, “since he’s so small we should start off a smaller building- like the garage”.
With that bit of wisdom we agreed on a plan. We would climb up on the roof with the old wooden ladder, dragging the plane to the peak. There Eugene would climb on board while Jim & I would push as hard as we could to get him started. Eugene would slide down the roof, gaining speed and would soar off the garage roof out into the pasture where he could land safely.
Just a short test flight!
Next would be me, then Jim, who would go up on the barn for the grand finale. He planned to fly the plane over to our cousin’s farm and wave to them as they looked up in awe.
It was a grand plan – one of our best.
“Clarence” Jim said. “Grab the plane and head up the ladder, I’ll follow and push.”  With that we sprang into action and in no time all three of us were up on the garage roof gazing off into the wild blue yonder. Eugene was excited and wanted to go, but Jim had some last minute instructions. “Hold on tight and don’t fly to far, remember this is only a test flight.” Jim said.  Eugene nodded sincerely.
With a mighty 1-2-3 we pushed Eugene and the wooden airplane off the peak and down the roof.
It never really got going; in fact it skidded really slowly with Eugene bouncing it forward, urging the plane to the edge. As we watched it reached the edge and flopped slowly off the twelve foot drop, disappearing with a mighty crash.
When it didn’t reappear soaring into the sky, we ran to the edge and peered down at our brother- motionless. As we watched we heard him gasp, as if he was drawing in all the air in the world. We knew what was coming next; this was not our first adventure!
Eugene’s scream pierced that summer sky and reverberated off the barn. We knew we had to shut him up, before he attracted Mom. We clambered down the old ladder and ran up to Eugene. “Are you OK?” “Look at how far you flew!” “Do you want to go again?”
Confused at first, he struggled to his feet. After a moments silence he said. “Did you see me fly? I flew the plane, but now it’s all broken.”  Then he shouted out, “Should we find more wood to make another, so you two can have a turn?”
At that moment, Mom called, “Supper” and another day had ended.

John Holm – My Grandfather

John & Victoria Holm at Home

John & Victoria Holm at Home

My grandfather John Holm passed away August 31, 1951, just a little more than a year before I was born.  As a result he is the grandparent I know the least about.

Because of this, I should start this with the facts I’ve found. John Holm (no middle name) was born September 22, 1883 in Cologne, Carver County, MN the eldest child of John E Holm and Kathryn Ann Ranft. His parents were lifetime sweethearts, who defied the ethnic restrictions and combined their lives around their Swedish and German heritage. The blending of Swedish Lutheran Evangelism and Germanic Roman Catholicism resulted in my grandfather having a deep respect for education and a devotion to the lord. (Tempered with gusto for life enhanced by good German beers.)

In about 1883, he moved with his parents to the hills just west of Valley City. His father’s 1st cousin and boyhood friend, John Anderson, a real estate developer who controlled many sections of land, convinced John Erickson Holm to sell his mercantile in Cologne and bet it all on a new life in North Dakota. All went well until sometime in 1886 when a disastrous fire consumed the entire farm, sending my Grandfather and his family back to live with relatives in Minnesota. Ten years passed until John E Holm tried North Dakota again. (Although he didn’t officially move back to North Dakota till 1896 he actively worked the land near Cuba for many years during the summers leaving the family in Minnesota.) Together with his partner John Anderson he began another farming operation, this time on the flat treeless plains near Cuba, North Dakota (southeast of Valley City). Perhaps it was a testament to John E’s vision that he christened the area Meadow Grove Farm.

As a young teenager, John Jr. helped his father expand the farm to control many sections of land (A section of land is measured one mile long and one mile wide), while establishing a hardware/mercantile store serving the needs of the small Barnes County community. On November 11, 1911 John married Victoria Anna Schiele. Victoria had come to North Dakota to work on the Holm farm to help feed the growing group of hired hands that worked the expansive fields of wheat and durum that North Dakota was known for. Victoria was the sole remnant of her family, who joined the John Schug family when her widowed mother remarried. (John Schug was a cousin of Kathryn Ranft and many of Shug’s children came to North Dakota to work the Meadow Grove Farm).

Upon his marriage John and Victoria Holm were offered their choice of a section of land or the Cuba Mercantile. (It was a source of pride for my Great Grandfather that he had accumulated enough land to marry off each of his children and provide them with their own farm.) Rightly or wrongly John chose to farm and settled with his bride in Norma Township, just southwest of Cuba, ND.

John and Victoria had five children, Dorothy Anna Storbeck, Lucille Mary Kunze, my father Clarence Louis Holm, Evelyn Catherine Grant and Walter Ervin Holm. In each, John and Victoria established a strong work ethic, a love of the teachings of the Catholic Church, along with dreams of adventure and a taste for strong beer. (There seems to be a pattern evolving here)

From federal censuses I can track the family’s growth as sons and daughters married and either left the farm or stayed on the expanding farm. The original farm grew to three sections and provided shelter and sustenance for all who stayed.

From stories I’ve been told, my grandfather enjoyed life and took relish in simple pleasures, like capturing the images of farm life with his camera and tripod or driving with his grandchildren with long cane poles tied to the car, pursuing the wily “Sunnies” that inhabited the nearby Sheyenne River that flowed through the valley just west of his farm. From photos I glimpse a man, well-rounded from good German cooking served with plenty of Swedish meatballs along with an occasional touch of Lutefisk and a side of apple flavored sauerkraut.  If I look closely, I catch in his eyes a twinkle that he retained in the face of a life that included his share of challenges.

I don’t recall my father speaking much of his dad, other than the time my mother decided I should shave off a youthful mustache I had grown in the summer of my senior year of high school. While she went on and on about how horrible it looked and how it would reflect badly on me when I went looking for work, my father waited patiently for the storm to pass and stated, “I never saw my father without a mustache and if a son of mine wants to grow one that would be his decision.” My mother never spoke of my choice of facial hair again.

While I can’t say for certain that he was without faults, I can tell you I know my father loved and respected him and missed him dearly when he was gone.