Skip to main content

1943: Lucurgus Merkel tells story about his life in continued Diamond Club interview

Bits By Betty
Lead Summary
Betty Mann, Rock County Historian

The following article is part of the Diamond Club Member group that began in the January 7, 1943, issue of the Rock County Star Herald. Members of this group consist of persons of age 75 and older.
The following appeared in The Rock County Herald on May 20, 1943 and is continued from last week.
Corn Main Food
Although he wouldn’t advocate trying it, Mr. Merkel knows that it would be possible to ration everything except corn, barley, milk and potatoes, and people could still live. When they first came to Rock county, their bill of fare was usually corn mush and milk for breakfast, fried mush for dinner and corn bread for supper. Barley was roasted and used for coffee, after it was ground in an old-fashioned coffee mill.
“It was tough stuff,” he declared, speaking of the food, “but it was part of the bill of fare. The first year, we had a few potatoes once in a while, and on special occasions we’d have gravy. This was made by putting flour in a skillet, allowing it to burn brown, then pour on water and let it boil, then add salt. We called it sop. It too was tough to take. It proved that if you lived, you too were plenty tough.”
Calico Dresses Fashionable
         Two or three years after they came to Rock county, several loads of clothing were shipped here from Minneapolis and St. Paul. Ladies wore calico dresses, and when they had a new one, it was something in which they took great pride. Mr. Merkel states he has seen women often times dressed in gunny skirts.
         Although there were no churches, the residents of the community attended services and prayer meeting every week in some home. Rev. Bronson was the preacher.
         The first school in the Beaver Creek vicinity was on the Ira Crawford farm about a half mile west of town. It was a frame building, 16 by 20. Jennie and Abby Grout, H. Stall and Joe Adams were among the early teachers.
         The winters of 1872 and 1873 were described by Mr. Merkel as “terrible,” and he remembers one storm in particular. He and his mother had gone to the Sheldon Place, and were there when the storm struck. That storm, he states, is perhaps the worst this area has ever seen. A short time after it struck, the chimney of the small farm house at the Sheldon home was filled with snow, and it was impossible to have a fire. Mr. Sheldon was in Luverne, so Mrs. Sheldon, her little girl, his mother and himself took all the bedding they had and went into the shallow cellar to keep from freezing to death, The storm lasted for three days and three nights, and they were without food except for a few crusts of frozen corn bread that was so hard one couldn’t bite into it.
Had Well in Snow
         The first year they were here, they had no well, so his father had a hole in the creek where they obtained their water. The snow kept getting deeper and deeper, until by spring, there was a well in the snow 20 feet deep. A bucket tied to a long pole, was the only means they had of getting the water to the surface.
         Before the railroad came in 1877, all grain was hauled to Worthington by oxen or horses. Forty bushels of wheat was considered a standard load. On the return trip, the driver would bring back lumber, rough cut but of choice wood, which they were able to buy at $4 per thousand feet. On this trip too, residents of the west part of the county had the Elk Slough to cross. The trip often took a week, and going over and coming back, they would usually stay at the half way house near Adrian. There they could get lodging for 25 cents a night, and meals at the same price.
         Mr. Merkel remembers that the country in 1872 was a wide expanse of prairie almost as far as one could see. The only timber that could be found was along the river and the creeks. However, all buffalo and Indians had left the country by that time. In the fall, there would often be prairie fires, and one could look almost in any direction at night, and see nothing but red skies on the horizon in all directions. It was a beautiful but frightening sight. In a heavy wind, the flames would spread as fast as a horse could run.
Game Plentiful
Wild ducks and geese were present by the thousands in the fall and spring. Also present but in fewer numbers were sandhill cranes, plovers and Jack Curlos. One time Mr. Merkel’s father found a sandhill crane’s nest with four eggs in it. He took the eggs home, set them under a hen, and hatched three chicks. Two of the chicks died and one grew to maturity. It stood as tall as Mr. Merkel did and followed him about the place as if it were a domestic pet. Sandhill cranes are extremely shy, and are now seen only on rare occasions in this area.
Prairie chickens were everywhere.
Donations to the Rock County Historical Society can be sent to the Rock County Historical Society, 312 E. Main Street, Luverne, MN 56156.
Mann welcomes correspondence sent to

You must log in to continue reading. Log in or subscribe today.