April 23, 1873

Got up next morning strolled up the street, met a young man and gentleman in appearance. But a thief, a robber and a gambler in profession as you will see as I go on with my story. I will first attempt to discribe his person as nearly as possible. I should judge him to be about 19 or 20 years of age tall and spare built, hazle blue eyes and a fair complexion, darkish brown hair with no whiskers or mustache on his face. He wore a grizzle gray & mil of clothes with fine shirt nectie & collar to suit with a half white plug hat on his head, fine boots on his feet and gloves on his hands His manners were gentlemanly in every respect but one. (And that is the manner in which he led us).

He wanted to know which way we were going. We told him we were on our rode to Nebraska, that we was intending to take the train for Omaha. Well sez he I saw a man a few moments ago that had bought two tickets for Omaha and had given up going and would sell his tickets cheap sez he. He was over dere to this saloon a few moments ago les go over and see maybe he is there now. we went over. Sezs he to the saloon keeper where is the man that had them tickets to sell. Says the saloon keeper he has gone out he will be back in a few moments.

And he led the way into the back room which was furnished with a carpet, a sopha and a gambling table & some chairs one of which was occupied by a man. A gentleman in appearance but who turned out to be a rogue & a gambler in the end. As we entered the room he jawed the time a day with us and commenced conversation by saying that it was too damd cold in this country for him [as it was then snowing a little]. He was going back to Texas where it was warmer and after talking of the weather awhile he turned the subject upon cattle. He said he had just taken a drove of cattle up in Nevada to Nevada City and they was a man up thare that swindled him out of three hundred dollars $300. With 3 little cards he said he dident care a dam for the money for he had lots of it. But he said he made the man larn him the trick so he wouldent git catched on it again. 0 yes, says he, come to think I have got some of the cards here in my pocket now that he give me.

And saying that he drawed the cards forth and commenced to shuffle them. Says he, I guess I have forgot the name of the trick. Says the other fellow (which appeared to be a stranger to him but turned out to be his brother gambler.) I guess they call it three card monty. Oh yes, says he and he began to double the cards up and wrong side up at that pretending that he had forgotton how the trick was done. But by the other fellows assistance he managed to get them rite side up. Now his object was to get us to keep track of one of the cards while he shuffled them. At first he wanted us to guess for fun and as the game become more interesting he wanted us to bet with him. And as he pretended to be very green most any fool would bet the small sum of 45 or 50 dollars which was the right card except he was short sited and hadent confidence in himself that he could see strait. Of course we dident bet any thing.

But now a few words of advise to the rising generation old or young. Married or single, to home or abroad. If you ever meet a stranger that wants to know your business be sure that he is a man that you can trust before you tell him. Let him know that you know your own business and its a matter of indifference to him about it. Unless he is asking you for advise then treat him in a gentlemanly manner and give him the best advise you can. But as you go through the world study human nature. Learn to tell a mans disposition by his peculiar countenance. Judge his profession by his manners. See that he has no downcast look can look you strait in the eyes without changing the color in his face. Be upright and bold to every one you meet, assert nothing to be the fact unless you know it to be the truth. Hoping that you my young friend will profit by these few words of advise, I remain yours in truth.

April 24, 1873

As I go on my journey to Elk Point which is on the D.S. R.R., we bought a ticket for this place [fare $1.25) and reached the thriving little town about one o’clock Stopped at the Elk Point House kept by Mr. Bovie. Here we concluded to stop and work if it was to be had but looking around town we found work to be very scarse. Stayed over nights got up next morning and made our way up the railroad track and finally reached Vermillion about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, 15 miles from Elk Point. Went in Ashlys Bakery and bought us a cup of coffee and a piece of pie paying 40cts. Now we must find work if it was to be found as we only had $1.75 left. Inquired for work, sent us to C C Maynard who was moving a hotel. The Maynard house, or rather was trying to move it but failed in the attempt, as we inquired of him if he wanted to hire any help. He said he thought not but to come up to his house on the hill about sundown and he would see. We went up and stated our circumstances and finally hired out to him for 75 ct per day to work at the carpenter trade.

April 26, 1873

Went to work on the school house, worked a few days. But fared midling rough as we had to sleep on nothing but a buffalo robe for about a week. But we plucked up courage to stand it as he had a couple of pretty good looking girls who kept the piano in an uproar and whose melodious voices sounded through the house like the harp of a thousand strings. Worked some on Thompsons House and helpt some on the Maynard House. But as G C M failed to move it he let the job to W.R. Smith of Meckling for two hundred dollars $200. Then I and George went to work making rollers for him to move the house on. Made 20 eight inch rollers by this time.

G C M concluded he dident want us any longer and paid us off with $18.00 with this we was to find another place to work so we struck out for W.R. Smiths to Meckling for we knew that he had the job of moving the Maynard House and would want hands. Reached Smith's about eleven o’clock, found a depot a store and a ware house with a blacksmithshop and one dwelling house that was occupied by W.R. Smith. He also had a frame up for an upright to his house as he was going to make a Hotel of it.

May 13, 1873

He set us to work for 75 cts per day to finish his house, as we had no tools of course we had to go to work for what ever we could get. The weather being somewhat rainy it was very difficult to work but we mannaged to get to work in the black smith shop most of the time. And finally succeeded in getting the house done about harvest time. Through harvest we worked for W.R. Smith, John Smith, Sam Livingston, Sam Walton, F. Bromsson, A Falk & J, Welch at two dollars per day $200 bound after the Little Champion Reaper. And in the mean time would go to Sunday School once and awhile with Smiths daughter and hired girl. Oh yes I have left something out which I will here relate about moving the Maynard house. And as I have said before, Smith took the job of moving it for two hundred dollars but its being so very rainy it kept him from it for a few weeks after we come here but after some time it dried off and we went down and moved it in about five days, we also moved a jewelry store and a blacksmith shop.

About the middle of June we had quite a shower of rain and wind which blew the black smith shop off of its foundation on Main Street in Meckling. The time passed off very pleasantly until the 25 of August and then instead of Dakota being near by or close to Heaven it was closer to Hell . As there were two ladies and two gentleman took a walk one evening to pass away the time. As they returned to their respective places of abode there was a rumpus made with one of the young ladies for being out after night with a young man whom she did not know very well. Her father told her that he would give her to understand that she belonged to him for a few years yet and he dident want her to be roaming round after dark with every young man in the country.

And after lying silent in my bed for some few minutes and hearing a father go on to his respected daughter so. It aroused my ambition and I concluded that the next morning that I would settle my affairs with him and spin out. He paid us about one third of what was coming to us. And we made our tent and on the morning of the 28 of August we struck out not knowing where we were going. We made our way up the rail road track about one half mile and then took north for the bluff. It was very warm and as we were going up the hill on the bluff we sweat like a two quart tin dipper full of cold water in dog days afore we got to the top of it. We got to the top at last and turned and bid adieu to that miserable valley.

And to those happy faces that we had left behind. And we wandered our way over the hills and through the mellon patches until we reached Lodi. A small town on the Vermillion River fifteen miles above its mouth we went up to the hotel there and got supper forty cts apiece by this time we had made up our minds to go up to Sioux Falls. We had heard considerable said of the falls and for curiosity more than any thing else we would go and see the place. After supper went to the store procured some crackers and cheese ( and George also paid the drugstore man a dollar for some medicine for to cure his warts) And struck out down the road and up the river towards Sioux Falls. We went about one mile and pitched our tent for the night close by a wheat stack. The musquetois were very thick and they bothered us some. And in the night it rained some. But we kept very comfortable considering everything.

The next morning when we arose the sun was about two hours high. And there was a very heavy dew on the grass but we shouldered our tent and trudged our way across the Vermillion bottom through the high grass and weeds. Reached Centerville P0 about three o’clock. Took a good draw of whiskey and went on about two miles called at a nice little frame house for a drink of water and the lady of the house gave us a drink of milk which answered the purpose very well. We went on our way rejoicing, traveled about two miles farther and it began to get late. We made our way to a hay stack that was close by, pitched our tent and then we concluded to have something to eat. Went to the house and called for a dish of bread and milk got it and offered to pay the Lady for it but she would not take any thing, we thanked her and went to our tent to roost. Took a very pleasant nap considering our tiresome limbs and the pesky musquetoes.

Saturday August 30, 1873

Went on our way rejoicing for Turnerville, reached the pleasant spot about noon. Went to the hotel (kept by Hr. Martin). and got our dinner, 40 cts apiece. We liked the lay of the country around there midling well. And concluded if we could find some vacant land close by, to look at it. So we procured a sectional map of Mr. Martin, And preceded to look up the vacant spots. Which we did at a very short notice as we supposed. As Mrs. Martin pointed out to us a mile distant on the hill to the west some vacant claims. We immediately went up and examined them and a deep feeling came over us that we must have those claims sure, as there was such nice building spots on them we took a little bit of crackers and cheese. And turned our backs to the promised land. Went back to the store and bought some more crackers and cheese and a tin pail to carry water in as they told us that there was no water between there and Sioux Falls.

We concluded to have our guns and ammunition there to relieve us of cur burdensome load. So leaving them in safe keeping we strolled on toward the Falls. Night overtook us a little after crossing the Vermillion river and we stopped by a wheat stack close by. Pitched our tent and lay down to sleep in sweet repose. The musquetoes were bad in the night and George built a fire in his tobacco box and put confusion in their tormenting bills . We rested in peace until the morning light had come. Arose from our slumbers and opened the tent to look upon fair nature and behold the sun was hid from our eyes. The fog was intensly thick and the air very heavy. As I looked through the dim fog I espyed two fair damsels approaching our tent but seeing me they fled from before mine eyes, retreated as it were in the thickest of the mist. Folding our tent together we eat a few crackers and proceeded on our journey toward the North East.

Although the grass was very wet with dew we reached Saddle Creek about noon 8 miles distant stopped and rested our weary bones and eat a lunch and went on over the flowing prairie on our journey. We saw one large crane and several wild ducks, some prairie chickens and some grouse. As the day began to dawn and the sun disappeared behind the horizon. the timber became visable on the Big Sioux River. We were joyfull thinking that we were again so near civilization. As we hadent passed a house or shanty after leaving Turner. After going on a half mile or so farther we stoped at a claim shanty built out of sod, or rather the foundation was laid. We found a few dry willows here and with them we pitched our tent and again reposed in silent slumber. Arose early next morning and proceeded on our journey to the falls.

We reached the beautiful village about noon somewhat surprised to see such a nice village in such a place, as it is all surrounded by bluff or hill. We passed away the time as best we could, we hired out for about an hour for to carry some hay in a barn close by got 75 cts. In the afternoon we went down to what they called the falls. And sure enough they are the falls. As the river is lined with solid rock for full one mile. The river falls one hundred feet in about a quarter of a mile and all over solid rock. After viewing the magnificent scenery awhile we went back up town, took supper and then pitched our tent for the night.

Tuesday, September 2, 1873

Went to the Land office and filed on our claims $2.00. Went to the Bakery and bought some dried beef and cookies. Then started on our way back to Turner. On our way Colonel Campbell & Silas Kidder overtook us. Treated us to a drink of Brandy and went on their way as happy as two Jay Birds. We reached Saddle Creek at sundown, concluded to put up for the night. Took a very comfortable nap, you bet your boots.

Wednesday, September 3, 1873

Looked considerable like rain, was on our way again by sunrise reached Turner at ten o’clock. Stopped at J. S. Williams, found by inquiring of Mr. Williams that we had filed on the wrong claims. So in the Afternoon Mr Williams took his ox team and went with us to show us some other claims. Thursday September 4th, sent in declaratory statement to file on South East quarter of Section 21 & North East quarter of Section 28 in Town 97 of Range 52 East. Also helpt to Build Mr. Williams stable. Stayed over Night with Mr. Williams. (Here I will just say for the inquiring friends that Mr. Williams was an old bachelor at that time. But has since got married)

Friday September 5th.

Hired J.S. Williams to break 4 Acres on our claim $14.00. Took our leave from Mr. Williams to go back to Meckling about eleven o’clock. Got as far as Bakers Mill or rather his farm. Now known as the Morton House. Hired out to A. Baker to work finishing his house. Build store and farm. worked for him 2 1/2 months or until the first of December, took a yoke of oxen for our pay. Then went back to Meckling to spend the winter, as there was nothing to do out on the prairie. Went back to W.R. Smiths to get the remainder of our pay. But when we got down there found that we could not get any money out of him so we concluded to board it out. We then took a job of chopping of C.W. Taylor and boarded at Smiths.

(Diary says [in original ink] Sept. 5/74---some where here the diary loses a year. This diary was probably written after the fact--leaving much out.)

Chopped 67 cords of wood for Taylor at 75 cts per cord. After getting through chopping wood we went to work on the Section 7 on the D.S. R.R. for one dollar and thirty five cts per day [$1.35], mild winter weather most of the time.

Feb. 28 [Think this is February 28, 1874]

Writing school commenced, taught by L. M. Greenstreet of Sodi. And here I will give the eight principles which he taught:

First was a strait line _____________ 
Second was the left side of an oval __________ 
Third was the right side of an oval ___________ 
Fourth was a loop either above or below the line__________ 
Fifth was the capitol____________ 
Sixth was the latter part of the capitol C 
Seventh was the first part of the capitol U ________ 
Eighth was a capitol  stem __________ 

And he also gave me a specimen of his drawings which you will find on the following pages.

(Drawings follow by Lovel Fish--Date on the drawing is Feb. 28, 1873.)

(One drawing is of a turkey--- "Tis a photograph of the Turkey we had at our wedding.” Oct, 8th, 1874. L. & M.A. Fish.)

And as writing school closed every thing became quiet around Meckling. Worked on the section until the second day of April when I took my departure back up to Squire Bakers. Where George had already gone about two weeks before. We had worked for the Squire the fall before and as he offered us good fair wages I concluded I would work for him. And let George break prairie. As we had now raised a breaking team between us which cost us two hundred and twenty five dollars $225.00. Time passed off very pleasantly, the weather was beautiful. Harvest came & we had one hundred and sixty acres of wheat & oats to harvest.

But here just let me state that the grasshoppers came also which made the harvest very light especialy in the number of bushels. I believe the Esq did have enough wheat to about pay the harvesting & threshing, harvest was over then came threshing. The squire thought he would save considerable in the way of threshing bill so he goes & buys an old threshing machine. Well we fooled away about two weeks on the old machine to get it in running order finally got it started at last. Run two or three days midling well especialy with the team as we had on two yoke of oxen.

But it soon begin to drag. The horsepower began to jump cogs then the little pisszons began to break now and then. The bull wheel would snap in two until it broke in 8 pieces at last when we gave it up in despair. Well threshing was ended at last by paying 14 dollars per day for another machine. Now nothing must be done but George & myself must rent the Squires farm for the next season.

But here let me state that through this long and beautiful summer, George had broke on our claims 30 acres of sod and about 40 acres for the Squire.And I myself became somewhat drawed over in the way of matrimony by the eldest daughter of the Squires. So I fancied within myself that nothing would be nicer than to rent the Squires farm to get married in the fall.

So on the 21st day of August 1874 we drawed up a contract between us which reads as follows [as near as I can recollect)

Know all men. That I Andrew Baker of the first part & George W. Filkins & Lovell Fish of the second part do hereby enter into a contract. The contract is as follows, That I Andrew Baker of the first part do agree to rent my farm to G. W. Filkins & L. Fish of the second part giving full posession of the same. The said party of the second part is to put in 80 Acres of Wheat 50 Acres of Oats. Harvest, stack and thresh the same delivering one third in the half bushel or grainery to the party of the first part.

Here I will further state that we also bought 120 bu of wheat 100 bu of oats, a World Reaper & mower combined, an Esterly Seeder, one breaking plow, three drags, three pitch forks and two hoes of Mr. Baker; giving our notes of $441.50. But we was to do breaking for the reaper drags which amounted to $180.00 And Mr Baker sold the drags which he endorsed on the back of the $261.50 note which left it $223.00. Now our fall plowing commenced which consisted of only 40 acres or thereabouts. This we had all done up by the first of October or nearly all done. When the squire and family made up their minds to take their departure for central Illinois. The night of the 8th of Oct come & the turkey was roasted. And I and my intended became as one at the residents of the brides father by the Squire himself. Yes we were joined in the Holy bonds of matrimony, never to be separated always to live together and that to live peaceable.

After we were married we danced a little and then came the tearing up of the houshold goods to prepare Mr. Baker and family for their journey. On the morning of the 9th at sunrise they were on their road towards the East and I and my chickabiddy were preparing for house keeping. Time passed off very pleasantly. The first of Dec or thereabouts froze up and winter commenced. George went to Yankton and spent two or three weeks, come back and hired out to Dr. Smitt to do chores. While I stayed at home to take cane of the oxen. And to keep my beloved one from freezing......................................

The 8th of Jan brought on a Dakota blizzard and also very cold weather, the thermometer stood at about 20 deg below zero. The cold weather continued to come and the blizzards came also. I believe we had 6 blizzards in all, the last one was the worst which lasted two days and three nights. George went out to feed the oxen and in coming to the house got lost or nearly so for he missed the house by about ten rods. At the coldest weather I believe the thermometer stood 25 deg below zero at Vermillion. About the 24th of March it begun to break up, we had pretty nice weather for about a week then came a cold snap which lasted about a week with some snow. Then a few more days of nice weather and we commenced seeding. Seeded about twelve acres up to April 5th when it again commenced snowing which turned into a steady rain which lasted two days and two nights.

This raised the Missouri river with the snow and ice from the mountains until it overflowed the town of Vermillion and also most of the Missouri bottom. We finished up seeding April 27th 1875. Put in 70 acres wheat & oats. We rented our breaking for one dollar per acre [$1.00] to Geo Peterbaugh 30 acres in all. Snowed quite hard April 20th, cold raw wind from the North & South. After seeding was finished we commenced plowing for corn; we also broke about three acres of prairie on the other side of the river on Mr. Bakers timber claim. We finally got in about 60 acres of corn, altogether broke about 50 acres of praire. Time passed off very fast breaking prairie and hoeing in the garden But here let me state that on the last of November 1874 Mr. Baker came back from the East. And in the spring of 1875 his family came back as they liked Dakota better than Illinois.

They moved to Yankton where he runs a blacksmithshop as he is a blacksmith by trade. Well the summer passed off very fast as I said before expecting every moment to see those flying animals called grasshoppers. But the 26th of July came and harvest commenced and that to without any “Desert Locusts” (as they are termed by some) We cut our grain with a Marsh Harvester, we hadent out much before a heavy storm came up from the North - East which knocked our grain all down, which made it very disagreeable Harvesting. But by steady pecking we did manage to get through the 26th of August.

Now here let me say for the inquiring mind that our harvest was a good crop, the best known in Dakota for a number of years. The grass hoppers done no damage this year to speak of, this being the year of 1875. Wheat will average about 15 bushels per acre barley 30, oats 40, corn 50 or 60 and potatoes about 150 together with an immense quantity of garden stuff such as beets, onions cabbage, tomatoes, etc.

On the 6th of September 1875 George could wait no longer so he was joined in the bonds of matrimony to a sweet 16 by the Reverend S. Bridgeman living near Centerville. And we are now keeping house together. This being the 12th day of September 1875.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- One year has passed and gone since my old chum has bargained himself away. And still we go marching along. Quite a change has taken place. I moved to Yankton (The Capitol) to learn the blacksmith trade while Geo moved to the - timber to swing a backwoodsman's axe. Spring come and he went to the farm again to enjoy the coming harvest. But when harvest came, Lo the grasshoppers came also and away went poor old Grandmas care .



January 23, 1999

This personal journal of my great grandfather Lovel Fish’s was originally transcribed from his handwriting to a typed document, by cousin Laura D. Frame of Pierre, SD. Her pages were scanned & placed in an electronic document. Then some editing was done, only to the extent of adding a few commas, changing some capitals to lower case & creating a few paragraphs. No text was added or deleted. There are many misspelled words in this document by today’s standards, however these are the spellings of Lovel’s for the time period he lived in.

Cousin Patricia Waiters of Atascadero, CA thinks some of Lovel’s journal might have been written years after the occurrences & I would have to agree. There is some confusion as to some of the dates in the journal, also leading one to believe some of it may have been written, certainly partly, from memory.

There were other items in this same personal journal, but not included in this text. Lovel kept a record of who he had worked for apparently beginning in LaGrange Co, Indiana. Mr’s D.M. Gardner, J. C. Blanshed, J. Evans, E.D. Diehl, J.H. Gage & L. Foster. It shows he worked 70 1/2 days & was paid $95.77. No dates appear on this page.

There is also a Family Register on two of these pages dated 1875. It lists the family of Lovel (1850) & Mary Ann Baker Fish (1860) on the first page, their twelve children being born from 1876 to 1904. Second page lists the family of his parents, Samuel (1808) & Elizabeth Leeper Fish (1814) who lived in LaGrange Co, Indiana, their children listed being born from 1832 to 1850 & Lovel being their tenth child. Then it lists the second marriage of Samuel to Julia Holly (1819) & their two children born in 1854 & 1857.

Also in the journal as referred to by the transcriber are pages of bird & turkey drawings by Lovel. It was simply impractical to add the work record, family register, drawings & the aids from the writing school in this document.

In another transcribed copy of the journal (unknown by who) appears this text at the bottom of the last page:

On Aug 19, 1912, A Baker of Neville Saskatchewan, Canada wrote to Mrs Rosy Gilchrist, Academy S. D. The letter was hard to read but more or less told her he received her letters & pictures of her mother (his daughter). He was coming to the states and was planning to buy a car load of horses and wanted her to check on prices. He says it is 7 miles to Neville from my ranch.

Unknown who the author of this addition is but we know it was not Lovel Fish as he died in 1907, likely his widow Mary Ann who never remarried but continued to reside on the homestead & raise her twelve children, until her death in 1937. Unknown when Squire Andrew Baker moved to Canada, evidently sometime before 1880 when his wife, Mary Jane Simpson Fish, married second, Jacob Stoffer Ingeldue.

Lovel Fish’s journal is a bit colorful in some places but it does give us an insight on what life was like in what was then known at the Northwest Frontier in the period he writes about. Also tells us some about the homesteaders & what they had to go thru to get started in their life. Even tho the crops were bountiful in the new broken prairie soil in South Dakota it appears the elements & the dreaded grasshoppers were always lurking over them.

As of this writing, Lovel & Mary Ann Fish’s homestead near Platte S.D. is still owned by one of their descendants.

Robert B. Fish
Modesto, California
Copyright 1999
Reprints only by permission.

Contributed by Robert Fish

Deb Murray