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1943: Merkel remembers Elk Slough near Magnolia

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.
         Lycurgus N. (Coge) Merkel, Beaver Creek, one of Rock county’s pioneer settlers, is this week’s Diamond Club member. Mr. Merkel virtually “grew up” with Rock county, because he came here in 1872 and has lived here ever since.
Born in a log house at Cannon City, near Faribault, Minn., January 20, 1869, he came to Rock county with his parents four years later. The trip, made with oxen and covered wagon, required nearly three weeks.
“My father’s family and belongings consisted of mother, one son, Lycurgus, four oxen, three cows, a wagon, a few sacks of potatoes, and some barley,” Mr. Merkel states. “The trip was slow, but we came through o.k.”
Remember Elk Slough
Mr. Merkel remembers crossing Elk Slough, between Luverne and Magnolia. In pioneer days, the slough was virtually a mud wallow, and to get through it required considerable engineering on the part of the traveler. There being no bridges, and only a rough wagon path leading up to it, the Merkel family did not attempt crossing it with the oxen hitched to the wagon. The best plan, Mr. Merkel states, was to unhitch the oxen, take off the yoke, drive them through the mud to the other side. Then all the oxen would be hitched together, a chain run across the slough and hooked into the wagon tongue, and the pull would begin. Unless there was plenty of power on the pulling end, the wagon would be stuck right. In that case, it would be necessary to take the wagon apart and carry it out piece by piece. “There was always some fellow stuck at that point,” he recalls.
Stop at Sheldon Farm
After getting through Elk Slough, the Merkels stopped at the E. T. Sheldon home. “Mr. Sheldon was very kind to my people and helped them in many ways,” Mr. Merkel states.
Mr. Merkel’s father filed a claim on the northeast quarter of section 21 in Beaver Creek township. With the help of neighbors, they built their home, a sod house, about 20 by 24 feet. First, a cellar, about 2½ feet deep was dug. Then sod was broken, and cut in 18-inch lengths, and laid in layers like brick. Posts to support the roof were cut from trees on the Rock river. Each post had a fork at the top, and these forks supported the ridge pole. Rafters were also reaching from the ridge pole to the sod wall. On top the rafters was laid a layer of small willow branches. This was covered with a layer of long slough grass, then overlaid with sod and dirt. The floor was of dirt, usually “careted” with a layer of slough hay.
Decorated with Newspapers
Even the pioneer housewife liked to decorate. Mr. Merkel states that newspapers were hung on the side walls by the aid of wooden pins stuck into the sod.
The home was lighted by a saucer filled with tallow into which were dipped plain cotton rags. “We had plenty of rags,” Mr. Merkel states, “and plenty of light too, if you could locate it.”
Bed ticks were filled with corn husks. Rope running crosswise of the bed served as springs. As far as comfort is concerned,” Mr. Merkel says, “sleeping on those beds would compare favorably with taking a nap on top of Bunker Hill.”
A common secondhand stove was used to heat the home, and twisted hay was used as fuel. One fine feature of the sod house, he states, was that it was warm to live in and easy to heat.
         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

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