OLD TIMES & NEW BEGINNINGS
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Home in Elm Point
A "page from my past" is a favorite story told about my home's earliest days. It concerns the cave perhaps thirty feet away from the house, where we kept ice during the "icebox" years in rural McLean County. That cave was my grandfather's first home in North Dakota.
The Swedish immigrant's first winter in the wilderness in 1882 arrived harsh and sudden.
Each hour it grew colder. The last of John Ecklund's wood supply was encased in ice before it was hauled up from the woods and added to his pile beside the dugout. He tied his extra blanket over the ox and saw him snug in the protection of the trees and hill. He was tired. Once inside the shelter he was glad for an excuse to eat early and catch up on his rest.
He slept soundly from late afternoon into night, stirring occasionally to note the continuing gale. He thought of his ox and went outside to check on him. Concerned that he might break loose and go with the storm, John led the animal into the dugout.
The intense cold creeping up under his covers awakened him at daybreak. The wind had ceased. John was hastily thrusting sticks into the gray coals to start a fire when he heard a gunshot nearby. Before he could shove the ox aside to see out through the peephole, there was another report.
As he stepped into the open, rifle in hand, he felt cold strike through his woolen shirt and underwear like he had stepped into a pool of ice water over his head. His first glance at the white lifeless outer world revealed death. The snow covered small and large mounds of animal carcasses. The silence was broken by the squeaking of snow beneath his boots and the occasional loud cracks. John realized it was not gunfire making the noises. He was the lone settler in the region known as "Elm Point," located across the Missouri River from the Hidatsa Indian Villages. And he knew that not even red men would travel far from their camps in the severe cold. When he saw the large elm fallen by the well hole near the ox pen, he understood the situation, for its trunk was split open. The intense cold had frozen the sap in its heart wood. Everywhere, throughout the timber, trees were splitting, making the explosive reports that sounded like gunfire.
When John returned to the dugout, his arms laden with firewood, the ox appeared in the doorway and mooed. Clouds of vapor shot from the animal's nostrils. A loll work of tiny icicles formed about his muzzle. The ox had not suffered.
John brought his bride, Mari, home to the cave in September 1885. My mother, Hattie, was born in the dugout in 1886. The log cabin built later (albeit since expanded and modified) became my home and my children's home. It is 100 years old in 1987.