The air was dry and the wind blew strong, making it difficult to see far ahead of the horses. The young pioneer's nostrils filled with the brown dust that covered the sun like smoke from a wildfire. He squinted toward the west. The grove of trees ahead looked like a good spot to rest -- the horses were tired and he was ready for a meal.
Although the air was fierce today, he knew he wasn't far from the fertile lands he had heard of.
Prior to the arrival of the European pioneers, the Dakotas were inhabited by Native American tribes. As the newcomers came to the area, they offered gifts for the land they were about to settle.
Below is the Introduction to the Horace Centennial book, “They Planted Their Roots Deep”, written in 1973 by members of the steering committee.
Imagine, if you can, Dakota Territory in the years between 1869 and 1872; a land of tall prairie grass, virgin soil, trees, and Indians roaming on foot or by boat.
This is what greeted the French and Scandinavian settlers 100 years ago as they came … by horseback, oxcart, or on foot … to make their home in what would later become the Horace community.
They arrived in Dakota Territory, sometimes one family at time, or two families and more. Sometimes a father and son would come ahead to make a home before sending for the rest of the family in Canada or other far off places.
One family history tells of a man walking 25 miles from Fort Abercrombie with all his earthly possessions in a sack over his back.
Some families heard of Dakota Territory from relatives who had come here, or from friends who knew people in Dakota.
One early settler saw an ad telling there was “good fertile land available in the Red River Valley in Dakota Territory.” The ad said there “was rich, virgin grassland requiring no clearing but ready for plowing and fertile in every sense.”
A member of that same ancestry worked for three years to earn enough money to pay for his passage to Dakota Territory.
It was with a spirit of adventure that the settlers came here, leaving the comfort and security of their homes and venturing into a land that was unknown to them.
For the most part, they brought with them only a handful of personal possessions. If they had anything at all except the shirt on their back, they had their talents, traditions and customs, and a determination to survive and make a better life in a new home.
One settler reached Dakota Territory and had to make a loan of 10 cents for postage to write home and tell his family he had arrived safely.
Finding land to settle on and build a home was perhaps the first order of business for the settlers. Many of them built small claim shanties or log houses with sod roofs to start their life of farming. Many lived with friends or relatives until a cabin could be built.
As was mentioned, the settlers weren’t the first persons to step foot on the virgin soils of Dakota. Indians roamed the land, and several family histories tell of relatives encountering Indians in the area and asking them for bread and tobacco. One family history tells of Indian families encamped along the Sheyenne River when settlers came. The Indians were persuaded to move on with the gift of a cow.
Farming was the first and most important task the settlers undertook when they arrived. If you were fortunate enough to own a pair of oxen and a walking plow you could begin breaking ground immediately. But if you didn’t, you helped neighbors until enough money could be made to buy your own equipment.
Farm work was hard and it was a job that required the help of the entire family -- father, mother and children. History tells us that the days were long for the settlers and work was slow and tedious.
Settlers to Dakota Territory in the late 1800s were a self-sufficient group of people. Everything they had, everything they ate, wore or did was the result of things they provided for themselves. Cows and horses were used for both work and transportation. They raised all of their food. And if money was available, things like flour, sugar or spices were purchased. Cows, chickens and pigs were butchered for meat and the settler could readily identify wildlife and wild foods as being an important source of food.
And because their existence depended on the preservation of these foods, root cellars, wells and other special buildings were built for storage. Many of the people put up ice out of the river during the cold months. They built ice houses on their farms and preserved the ice by covering it in flax straw.
The amount of work the settlers had to do was tremendous and it is hard for one to imagine the hours and hours of hand labor that went into harvesting, plowing, building, butchering, caring for livestock and the other jobs that had to be done.
In compiling the information for this book, it was pointed out more than once the importance that the mother played in the role of the settler to Dakota Territory.
Her work was hard, too. She not only clothed and fed her family, but also worked side-by-side with her husband in the fields. She knew how to cook and she could butcher and care for the livestock. Sewing clothes was important, but so was the making of dyes and cloth.
One person told how her grandmother could harness up a team of horses and drive them as well as any man. This was typical of the pioneer woman.
But besides the physical labor, the women were mothers and wives to their families, caring for their sicknesses and keeping their lives as complete and untroublesome as possible.
There was work for the children to do, too. Pioneer farm children worked in the fields at jobs that needed to be done. And as they grew older, they assumed more of the responsibility until they married and moved to a new home.
The early settlers didn’t accomplish what they did without their share of hardships and misfortunes.
The threat of a crop failure constantly loomed over their heads; blizzards and floods were frequent and prairie fires destroyed acres and acres of valuable crop and grass land.
One pioneer writes of the blizzard of 1888 when more than 100 persons lost their lives, many of them found lying frozen between the house and barn.
History also tells us that grasshoppers cleaned out many gardens and destroyed many crops.
Prairie fires were so severe at times that some of them even jumped the rivers and started burning out of control on the other side.
Serious illnesses such as diphtheria took many lives in the 1800s. And children died during infancy because medical technology had not been refined. An expectant mother was aided during birth by a “midwife” … a neighbor woman.
There was a social life for the settlers. And it was tied very closely with the family, the church and the schools.
Basket socials were common in churches and schools. Picnics and other outings were held. And though they worked hard, settlers enjoyed and looked forward to the threshing bees, quilting parties, barn-raisings and other times that neighbors got together. The settler survived in their new surroundings because of their determination. But the same spirit of adventure that had lured them to this area also brought other people here -- enough people so that a small community sprang up on the prairie.
The community was Horace and it was named after Horace Greeley, the famous statesman and newspaper publisher. It continued to grow, making a home for merchants, craftsmen, traders, peddlers, etc.
The railroad came; elevators sprang up and no longer did the farmer have to go to Fargo for supplies and other necessities.
The railroad, besides providing transportation for people, goods and supplies, also brought with it jobs for farmers and townspeople.
Men with ox teams found work pulling scoops moving fill dirt for the railroad bed. Others pounded spikes or did whatever jobs were available.
And as time passed, conditions of the Dakota pioneer became less harsh. Roads were improved and transportation was made easier. Technology began changing the method that farms operated. Telephones and electricity came into existence.
There was more time to do things, so more social events took place. Better schools were built and church enrollments grew so that bigger churches were needed.
We see by census figures that Horace was to lose population in later years. But it didn’t have an effect on the people who continued to display the same determination that the early settlers had.
About 1900 there were 150 people in Horace with still more to come. In 1950 there were 190 people, and in 1969, 178 people.
Today, Horace has grown to a population of more than 275 citizens. And at 100 years, it continues to grow.
New faces are moving in, building homes and settling, joining people whose last names are the same as those who came here 100 years ago. These new citizens also display the same spirit of adventure that the French and Scandinavian settlers did when they stepped on virgin grasslands in the 1800s.
If one thing is evident in the area, however, it is the fact that the early settlers left their mark on the area.
“THEY PLANTED THEIR ROOTS DEEP.”
And today we still find those roots being cultivated into a growing and progressive area.
One that is surely strong enough to last another 100 years.
Main Street, Horace
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Our sesquicentennial event will be August 17-20, 2023