Ferdinand Lawrence Steffler 6 Nov 1881 – 12 Dec 1962
Grandpa was 18 when he first crossed the border into North Dakota. His first job was in Penn, N.D. as a blacksmith. It was here that he ran into Jim Reels, who was also a bachelor, and they became close friends.
Jim Reels and Grandpa took out homesteads about 12 miles northeast of Rugby near Spring Lake. The Duchschers lived about two miles from the homestead. Grandpa was a good mechanic, and one day when he was at the Duchschers helping time a binder, he happened to overhear an argument between Barbara Duchscher and her father. Her dad was an army man who wanted strict discipline in his family. Barbara wasn’t going to do things exactly like wanted and they were arguing. Grandpa said he was going to marry her and take her home with him—and she said okay. She was 15 and he was 25. They were married 13 November 1911.
Spring Lake was rolling hills, buck brush and badger brush. Grandpa raised wheat, oats and barley on his dry farm. While here, three children were born: Charles Lewis, 9 Aug 1912; John, 25 Aug 1914; Fredrick, 20 May 1916.
About 1915-16 there was a bad epidemic of flu (probably the 1918 epidemic) Grandpa did his neighbor’s chores, brought groceries and buried the dead. He and Jim stayed half drunk with whiskey and survived. Charlie remembers drinking herb tea to keep from getting it.
During World War I all the neighbor girls had to haul the grain bundles and do the thrashing. Grandma used to run the binder and help shock grain, milked cows and cared for the chickens. Charlie’s first chore was helping milk cows; there were always 10 to 12 head. Charlie and Johnny went to school together. Neither of them spoke a word of English. They had to walk one mile to the schoolhouse.
Grandpa stayed at Spring Lake for about 10 years. Then he moved his family to Dry Lake, northwest of Devils Lake about nine miles. He rented from a widow lady, and Johnny remembers boats piled up, rotted, from when there was water.
Three more children were born here in the space of ten years: Teresa Margaret, 13 April 1918; Martin, 1 Sept 1919; Edward, 24 Aug 1921.
This farm was a real highlight for a youngster: lots of trees with crows, gophers, skunks to hunt, and lots of wild berries. An old dog named Shep smelled like skunks lots of times. The kids used sling shots and made their own ammo. It seems that Johnny was always playing in the water trough stirring up the water so that it was dirty, and Grandpa was always wondering why the animals wouldn’t drink from the trough.
The lake was dry and they farmed the lake bottom. When Charlie started working in the fields, he harrowed and plowed. They always had about 16-18 head of horses for plowing. They used two in the lead and three on the wheel; for harrowing they had five head abreast.
Grandpa owned his own machinery and kept it and the harnesses in repair. The binders had to be in time to bind the shocks and Grandpa was good at it. He always did his own butchering and helped the neighbors. He and Grandma loved to dance. During the winter they had whist parties and house parties. The kids and everyone would go: dancing to accordions, eating, and drinking all night long. The kids would dance til they got tired and then they would roll up in a blanket and sleep. The next day everyone would put in a full day’s work. Grandpa always talked about dancing and barn dances.
The third place of residence was called the Rainey place and was located 12 miles northwest of Devils Lake. During the five years here three more children were born: Philip Jacob, 15 March 1924; Robert, 14 Oct 1925; Barbara Magdalena, 22 March 1927. This farm was bigger; they dry farmed gain, and also raised milking short horn cows. It was half a mile to school. Charlie and Johnny graduated 16 January 1928.
About the only traveling the kids did in their early years was to Grandpa and Grandma Duchscher’s at Christmas time. They had to ride the train, although it was only a short distance.
Grandpa Duchscher was a bootlegger during the prohibition. He made the best brew around: 190 proof. When you touched a match to it, no residue would be left. Because of his good brew, when the revenuers came around town, the fastest horse in town would ride to warn Grandpa Duchscher and he would load the still on a wagon and hide it. He made good money.
The fourth place was bigger yet: 1030 acres. They had 900 acres of wheat, four grain binders, three gang plows and one tractor, purchased in 1929 or 30. It was a gas Rock Island with iron wheels. The DeMarr place was 12 miles northwest of Devils Lake and one and a half northwest of Grand Harbor. One winter the warmest it got was 30 below, and this didn’t stop the chores from getting done. In the winter there was skiing behind the sleigh, and skiing and sleighing down the neighborhood hill. In the summer there was horseback riding and barn dances. (Charlie won a waltz contest once.) There was a neighborhood swimming hole by the tracks to swim in after work each day.
It was here that Donald Joseph was born, 8 Nov 1928, and the depression hit. It was also here that Grandma died. She had been ill quite a few years with an enlarged spleen. In 1931 she went by train to Rochester, New York, to the Mayo Clinic, but there was nothing they could do. Sunday, 19 June 1932, some cousins had come to visit; then Grandma took a turn for the worst and died Monday. Shortly afterward, her mother and brother came to visit, but they were too late. She is buried at St. Joseph’s by or in Devils Lake. Everyone remembers Donald being just a few months old, but he was four years old. Various people offered to take or adopt some of the younger children but Grandpa, who had an unhappy childhood, and Theresa’s pleading caused the family to stay together. He tried to be a strict disciplinarian; however, he loved his children and his fondest wish was to keep his family together.
Grandpa was always hospitable. If anyone came, he would always inquire if they had eaten. If they hadn’t they must stay and eat. There was always room for one more. For instance, Aunt Katie and her kids would come and stay weeks at a time. That winter there were ten children and an aunt with two children—14 at the table for every meal and there was no relief from the government. Aunt Katie and her kids were usually in a state of few clothes, etc. Theresa used to order material out of a catalog and sew for all of them so they would have something to wear. Katie always knew she could count on Grandpa to help her when she needed it.
The family lived on the cream check and raised wild Canadian geese, killed eight hogs and one beef for the year’s meat. They made sausage and cured meat; raised their own vegetables and canned; made their own butter from an old wooden churn that the kids had to stomp.
The kids did the farm work and Grandpa raised the family with the help of Theresa. He tried to assist Theresa with the household duties. Barbara can remember seeing Grandpa do everything except iron. He was a good cook and did the washing. Grandpa did most of the wash on an old washboard; it would take all day. Finally they got an old gas washer and ran the hose out the door (or window). During haying Grandpa would hire a housekeeper to come help Theresa. (Sweet clover hay was grown at all the places.) Every spring after the wheat was plated, all the kids had to haul rock for two weeks; it seemed to grow as well as the crops.
One winter Grandma Duchscher came and helped make quilts all winter. They had to card the wool. They made about three or four all winter.
Like most kids, many fond memories are remembered from their childhood. Here are a few: the great Northern tracks were about one quarter of a mile from the house and the kids would watch the hobos and bums on the train** Once a horse had fallen into a neighbor’s well. He was a good horse and they didn’t want to hurt him if possible. Grandpa rigged up a block and tackle and pulled it out. **Grandpa was proud of his trotting horse and buggy. He had the fastest buggy in Devils Lake. He would have to go to Rugby to get a binder part and would be back in two hours ***He always had some whiskey around so he could fix a hot toddy when he was getting a cold. *** Barbara was a pretty good singer. When she was between six and ten, she was feeling pretty sick. Grandpa fixed her a hot toddy, extra strong, and within half an hour she was singing and carrying on. **Robert can remember Donald on his rocking bed. He would spend hours rocking him to sleep. The art of rocking was to slow down real gradual so when you stopped, it wasn’t noticeable. Then you had to watch out for the squeaky board on the way out, or you would have to start all over again. *** Grandpa used to like to take a little drive on Sunday and when the kids heard the squeaky garage door open (and it could be heard all over the farm), they would make a mad dash from wherever they were so they could go with him. The kids enjoyed these little tours taken to see how everyone’s crops were doing. Grandpa was always going to oil that squeaky door, but he never did. *** Dolly was the name of a horse that would never gallop just a hart trot, unless another horse tried to pas her, then watch out and hold on.
One Duchscher cousin said she remembered the boys being so mean; with no mother to tie them down, they did a few things they shouldn’t have: They would run sheep through barbed wire fencing so they could pick the wool and sell it for picket money. Their form of “chicken” was seeing who could lay closest to the railroad tracks when a train went by. They would jump nude from the hay loft because it felt good. They rode the calves and sheep. One buck curly-horned sheep was mean because the kids teased it. They would stand in front of a post and tease it until it would charge them, then they would step aside and it would smash into the post. Grandpa would come into the pasture and have both hands full with feed, and the old sheep would charge and buckets would go flying. Robert remembers the impact of the old sheep once when he was stooped at the side of the lake. Like most kids, Barbara remembers a few things she shouldn’t: the choice swear words Grandpa used on the horses, in German of course. When she told these to Grandpa a few years ago, about the only German she remembers, he really got a chuckle out of it.
Like most families they had their share of accidents. When Charlie was around a year and a half he was out in the corral with the horses; a mare and a colt got spooked and the colt kicked him. Charlie lost his eye. In 1934 when Jack was a boy, he had been suffering from a bad sideache. Donald came home from school and Jack was in bed. Donald was so glad to see him he jumped right on Jack, resulting in a ruptured appendix. He almost died from it. About 1932-1934 Johnny had been hunting rabbits or skunks at night. He was riding in a car; evidently he was standing up. Someone had put barbed wire across the road and he about strangled in it.
These kids may have had a rough and rugged childhood, but they were tough and knew how to look after themselves. They were also quite musical. Some play the guitar and accordion by ear.
After the drought, the “dust bowl” of North Dakota in 1934 to 37, the older boys started out on their own. Johnny was the first to leave, then Fred, then Charlie. These three ended up in Idaho. Alex, Theresa and Grandpa visited the fall of 39 and were impressed with Idaho. They sold everything in 1940 and came to Idaho in a car and a two-wheeled trailer. Grandpa farmed the Ballard place on Sand Creek, three miles west and ¾ miles south of Goshen for three years. By this time all the boys except Fred and Donald were in the service. Fred was married with a family and a farm and Donald was too young. Most of the children were married during World War II. One mother around Goshen was heard to say – marry one of those Steffler boys, you can’t go wrong—and five girls from that area did! Everyone respected Grandpa around Goshen. He kept his boys clean and neat. Grandpa always told his kids, “Don’t get throwed in jail and don’t marry a Negro.”
Then Grandpa moved to the Eaton place near where John and Fred farmed. It was three miles west and one mile north and a half mile west of Goshen. Grandpa farmed with horses still. He never really adjusted or liked irrigation-type of farming.
In 1945 Fred and John had an auction sale and dissolved partnership. In 1946 Johnny, Alta, Elvone, and Darwin moved to Hebgen Lake. Grandpa sold out everything but one team of horses which he gave Robert and Alice, and invested the money in Johnny and Alta. He helped John haul the logs for the cabins.
Grandpa really enjoyed his years at Lake View Cabins. He seemed to think that atmosphere was a cure-all for whatever ailed him. Every spring he’d keep asking Johnny, “When are we going to the cabins?” He was always helpful; he spent hours keeping the kindling box filled. (He always tried to help wherever he was. At Robert and Alice’s he would churn the butter and pick up and fix up.) Lots of times he would sit out back of the cabin and look over the lake and talk to the dogs.
But most of all, Grandpa loved to fish. He had never fished until he moved to Hebgen Lake, then he picked it up naturally. He would drop everything to go fishing; he would rather fish than anything. In fact, it probably extended his life from five to ten years. Grandpa first met Duke Simpson in 1947. He must have fished more with Grandpa than anyone else.
Duke recalls one experience that happened in 50 or 51. They were fishing Watkins Creek and Duke was filling the motor with gas while it was running and the motor caught on fire. Duke threw his coat over the fire, but Grandpa didn’t get excited one bit; nothing ever seemed to bother or worry him.
As a rule, Grandpa loved to troll fish. He would use pop gear and worms and Duke would use flatfish. He fished every part of the lake, but his favorite place was a rocky point west of the cabins; it was called Grandpa’s Point. (Everyone called him Grandpa.) Next he liked to fish Watkins Creek. Grandpa would say, “We’ll just fish all day; they have to eat sometime.” He never got discouraged. Grandpa had one peculiar habit: he spit Beechnut tobacco juice on the worm before he let the fish have it.
Maybe this habit came from the fact that Grandpa was never without something to chew: gum or tobacco. Flora recalls that Grandpa liked to give each one of his children a taste of his “candy.” The little ones were always curious when they saw him get out his tobacco. When they got real curious Grandpa would give them a small taste. One was all it took. They didn’t’ want any more. She thinks this tickled him more than anything. He sure would giggle when they spit and sputtered. Then he would talk how none of the grandchildren took up his habit. Robert and Alice had a spittoon which Grandpa would use when he stayed there.
During the winters Grandpa stayed with different kids. One winter he spent in California with Martin, one in North Dakota with friends and relatives, and one Edward and Flora took him to visit Theresa. Grandpa was enjoyable to have around. He never interfered with family problems and everyone go along good with him. He was never demanding and didn’t complain; he was always grateful for whatever anyone did for him. He always enjoyed the kids. He was always welcome to go on picnics, swimming parties, and dancing with the kids; he just loved to be around his children.
Grandpa could take over in the kitchen as well as any woman. He could butcher, cut up the meat and mottle it and make German sausage (Edward inherited this). Right after he and Flora married they butchered pork and didn’t have a deep freeze or fridge and Grandpa helped can the meat. He enjoyed eating good food. He loved cabbage slaw, cooked cabbage, red beets and cinnamon rolls.
The hard of hearing trait that Grandpa had seems to run in the family; several sons and grandchildren seem to have inherited it. Once someone bought Grandpa a hearing aid, but he would never wear it. He said he heard too much. Also, Grandpa was completely toothless for 10 or 12 years.
Aside from all this, he was a pretty wonderful man. He did the best he could for his family; he kept them together. Grandpa, with the help of Theresa, raised a good size family. Barbara says, “Sis was my mother and sister all combined. She still acts like a mother hen watching over her flock; this is toward all of us.”
Grandpa was a religious person, but his religion even though a Catholic was within himself. He was very broad minded and tried to teach his children to be this way. He used to tell them that a family should be united in a church – any church – or the one of their choice.
Grandpa usually celebrated his birthday at Robert and Alice’s. There he had a room to himself where he could go and be by himself which was heated. As he got older he stayed more and more with them in the winter. Alice can remember that he loved to play penny-ante poker.
The earthquake upset Grandpa badly. Shortly afterward when he was in the hospital, a doctor said he was going to die. But after an operation he seemed to rally and lived for a couple more years. When he did die, the whole family was together with him. As he was dying, he seemed to be reaching for something with a pleasant look on his face. He had lived a full life; he was ready to go. He died 12 December 1962 at Blackfoot. He is buried at the Moreland Cemetery, Moreland, Idaho. The next summer at Hebgen Lake everyone missed Grandpa and asked about him. He was loved by everyone who knew him.
This story is dedicated to all of us who never knew Grandpa, so we can love him too.
Source: written by Kaye Sanford Steffler