As I was going through my email account and flagging all of the photo submissions we’ve received, I came across this photo which had somehow been overlooked. The original was wrinkled and severely faded, and had a child’s scribble marks on it. You can still see some hints of that, but I spent several hours cleaning it up, restoring the contrast, and removing the wrinkles from the photo. What I ended up with is the photo you see here.
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It was emailed to me by an unsigned member of the family with the following comments: it’s the homestead of my grandmother, near Ardoch, ND – in Walsh county. She was born in 1888 and was the little girl in the front of the picture. Near as I can determine, picture must have been taken around 1905-06
The photo was captioned with “Minto, ND” on the bottom, and I’m not exactly sure which girl the emailer was referring to. She was described as “the little girl in the front of the picture” but if she was born in 1888 and the photo was taken in 1905 to 1906, that would make the girl in question 17 to 18 years old. At any rate, the more I worked on this photo, the more amazed I became.
I can’t tell you how often Rat and I arrive in a small North Dakota town and end up saying the same thing and asking ourselves the same question… “Look at that house over there. Did somebody actually live there?” It’s so hard to imagine. Some of the homes we’ve seen are so small. If you own a home with a double garage, it’s a good possibility that your garage is larger than many of the homes we’ve seen, and the one pictured here is no exception.
Not only did families live in homes like these, but they were large families. There are ten people and a dog in this photo if I’ve counted accurately, and I only see one house. And as I examine more of the photo, I’m further amazed at smaller details. Note the soot on the roof from the chimney — the heat which sustained them in the winter surely gave that chimney a workout. Also, if you look carefully, you can see the tips of the tree branches are a little blurry. There was a breeze blowing when this picture was taken, and camera technology around the turn of the century would have required the photographer to leave the shutter open for more than the split second you get with a modern camera. Hence the blurring of the tree branches. But that also means, the people in the photo would have had to stand quite still for a moment to take this picture.
They were posing — the entire family, even the horses. And see the gentleman with the pitchfork? The man proudly displaying the horses? And the women with the children? These were the things that mattered to early settlers. Home and family. Imagine the hardships they endured. The planting and harvesting. The endless chopping to sustain the woodpile. The chores. Caring for the children. Surviving the winters.
It challenges me to reflect on the relative safety with which we now live our lives in this state. The convenience of having a phone with you at all times. Heated, gas powered vehicles to carry you to your job every day. Indoor plumbing. Air conditioning. Fast food. I am grateful to the early settlers for the sacrifices they made, and at the same time, envious of a life where your daily existence was focused on the simplicity of doing what you needed to survive.
It is a testament to our people, and the legacy of our state. The pioneer settlers of the place we call North Dakota. –troy