Pioneer Days of Milton Bowen

Milton Edward Bowen 1950

I, Milton Bowen, one of nine children, was born in Greene County, Davistown, Pennsylvania, on April 6, 1869, to Thomas Hutson Bowen and Mary Lynch Bowen. My parents moved to Avon, West Virginia, in 1874, where we lived for sometime and then moved to Coffeyville, Kansas, where we did some farming, raising mostly corn. The chinch bugs and hot weather made it very difficult to raise anything.

In the spring of 1881, we started back to West Virginia in a covered wagon, and had traveled in so much red clay, it made it very hard for the horses. We went as far as St. Louis, Missouri, which was 500 miles, and from there we took a boat to Parkersburg, West Virginia. The name of the boat was the John L. Roads. It had a big wooden water wheel, and on the way, the pipes in the boiler got stopped up with mud and blew up. We had to let her drift to shore where we re-paired it and then continued our journey on to Parkersburg, West Virginia. We then journeyed on to Avon, West Virginia, where we made our home.

In the year of 1894, December 25, I married Laca Dame McLain. We lived in the same community, went to the same school, and went to the same church. Laca’s father, Marshall McLain, was my school teacher and was well liked and showed great respect for his pupils. His daughter was a fine, clean, and nice-looking girl. I felt it a great honor to have her for my wife. Since then, fifty-eight years have by and womanhood has lost many of its virtues which God blessed on them.) When we started housekeeping, we didn’t have much in worldly goods but we had four willing hands. We loved each other very much and God was good to us. We had a good crop of wheat and corn and also raised a good flock of chickens our first year of married life. (When the chickens were full—grown, thieves stole some of them. We knew who took them but could not prove it, but later when they moved away from our community we found that they had taken a board from the floor and hid the feathers.) I also worked in oil fields in spare time.

When we were married, my wife was a Christian girl, but I was not a Christian. She belonged to the Baptist Church. Later, when we had children, I realized I had a responsibility and became a Christian, too. God saved my soul one night in a Methodist Church at Pleasant Hill, West Virginia.

After we had been married for eleven years, we decided to pioneer to North Dakota. In twelve years there were six children born to us. We realized it was quite a task to start out to an unknown state in which we thought the Indians and buffalos were still running wild. My wife’s uncle planned to make the trip with us, but after we had our sale and was prepared to leave he decided not to join us, so we left alone, via train to make the long trip. My friends all told me to take a gun along so I’d be well prepared, but I told them I was going to make a home not going to fight. So all I took was a pocket-knife. Our faith was really tested the morning we were to leave. Our parents, brothers, sisters, and cousins were all there to bid us good-bye on our two thousand five hundred mile trip. We also had many friends and hated to depart from those beautiful West Virginia hills. It was almost like a funeral. Many of those people we never did see again, but if we live right we hope to meet them sometime in Heaven.
We saw a great many covered wagons going north and south on our trip. It was nearly a week’s trip, and the train was dirty, and there wasn’t room for everyone to lie down. Some of the children were sick every bump of the way. Mamie was sick and very cross. She had an infection in her lung. We landed in Minot about 2 a.m. on the 7th day of April, 1905, and stayed at the only hotel, The Windsor. We took Mamie to the doctor the next day and got some medicine and he said we should not move her, but we had a team of horses and a wagon hired to take us out to Douglas. On our trip, we had met two men who were going to Minot, and later they turned out to be our neighbors, a Mr. Brannon and his son Lonnie. They had been in North Dakota before and had a homestead so he was anxious to get home. We left Minot the third day and drove out to another friend’s place (people who had come out a year or so earlier.) It was a forty—five mile trip to Douglas, and we settled two miles west of there. With the help of God and the medicine the doctor gave us for Mamie, she became a strong, healthy little girl. The climate was very good for her. It was a cold trip and we had to eat a cold dinner on the way. The next day I took the team back to Minot and walked the forty-five miles back, starting at 8 a.m. It began to snow around the afternoon sometime and I got lost and went farther than I should have and got to a farm where the folks told me the right way to go. There were no highways then, just Indian and cattle trails and when the snow covered them, it was pretty hard to know where to go. There were not as many houses (shacks) then as there are now either. I got home around 5 o’clock in a wet, thick snowfall. Folks say that they don’t believe it, but it is the truth. I was used to lots of walking in the West Virginia hills, and had never seen a car.

We bought a relinquished homestead, where the folks had given up and gone back east. There had been a big storm early in the fall before, and there were dead sheep everywhere below our house, where they were caught in the storm. We raked them into piles and burned them. There were lots of dead cattle around the country, too. It was a pretty discouraging outlook. Laca cried a lot and was very homesick. To the kids, it was sort of an exciting game. They trapped gophers to keep them from eating up the garden and grain. The first year they had school in the summer only. Lots times on the way to school, they would see coyotes circle around watching them. The children had to walk two and one half miles to school, and I guess the coyotes thought them strange looking animals. After a few years, a school built one and a fourth miles from our house. There was no church nor minister in the community so we gathered at the Otis Marks home and had Sunday School, later at a Mr. Warne’s, a Presbyterian Missionary came and held meetings with us. We started and organized a Methodist Church, which we joined. We were able to obtain a minister by the name of Graham for a while and later a minister named Zimmerman. We built the little Methodist Church in Douglas that still stands.

The first few years in North Dakota were hard years us; we lived from what little crop and work I could obtain. The winters from 1905—1908 were the worst years we saw there. The first year we built a sod barn, and just the after we finished it a blizzard came and lasted for two days and nights. My wife and I went out one day to get some flax from a grain bin that was a quarter of a mile from our home and on returning, we got lost. We traveled about two miles before we saw a light that was a neighbor’s before we got our directions straightened out so we could find our home. It was a dreadful feeling to be lost out on the prairie with no landmarks to go by.

Another experience we had in the winter. We had two bachelor neighbors by the names of Ole Nelson and John Miller. One cold winter night, Ole Nelson came to our house to notify us that John Miller had passed away.

I went with him to Miller’s house where we stayed until morning. Then I started out to notify the rest of the neighbors. I was on horseback, and the blizzard was so bad that I had to turn back. We had to make a coffin from boards on the farm and also dig his grave, and he was buried on his own farm. In 1908, the railroad came through, and the town of Douglas was started.

The first real good crop I had was in the year 1912. Some years were good crops and some years we were afflicted with drought and grasshoppers; but with the grace and help of God, we always managed to get along. While in the Douglas community, I served on the school boards and township boards doing my best to build the community.

In the year of 1920, we moved to Ryder, North Dakota, where I organized a Sunday School and all the neighbors partook. I also helped to organize the Church of God at Ryder where my wife and I were members and where I still belong.

We were blessed with sixteen children, five boys and eleven girls, which we are very proud of. My youngest son, Willard is a Major in the Army and was stationed at Manila when it was bombed in World War II. I have five grandsons serving at present in the service. I have two brothers living. One is 75, and one is 95. I am 85.

After fifty-eight years of married life, the Lord came and took my companion away. No truer companion ever lived. She was a child of the King. She had a wonderful experience of salvation. She had been baptized with the Holy Ghost and spoke in other tongues. Before she passed away she had made all of her funeral arrangements as she had been failing in health for several years. It is hard to give up our loved ones, but God knows best. We can’t bring them back, but if we live a holy life, someday we shall meet again. In all our fifty-eight years of married life, we could never have gone through without the help and love of God. I thank God from the depths of my soul that I was blessed with a good Christian wife to help me along. This I dedicate to her memory.

By Milton Edward Bowen 1950