A South Dakota Prairie Story Part 3 (Anna’s School Years)

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A few weeks ago, I began a new series here on Little House Living, my own personal prairie story! My great-grandma and grandma’s stories to be more exact. This week I’m back with the next part of the story, Anna’s School years and a paragraph where she talks about good old-fashioned wash days.

south dakota prairie story

A South Dakota Prairie Story
Anna’s School Years

If you missed last week with the introduction and the first part of the story (where Anna, my great-grandma, talks a bit about her mother), you can catch up here on Part 1 of the South Dakota Prairie Story.

And if you missed last week, catch up on Part 2 Anna’s Younger Years here.

Back to the story….

After the railroad came through, the town was built. One wonders where all the money came from to build a town! We had everything – doctors, lawyers, a hotel, livery barn, saloons, school, churches, drug stores, grocery store, and butcher shops where we could buy 3 rings of good homemade baloney for 25 cents. There was a large movie house where dances were held and vaudeville shows played in person. We even had a hometown band made up of local business people. Much of the material to build the town was brought by horse. Some was even brought in by rail.

We used to play with the Native children. One time one called me his sweetheart. I hit him on the head with an iron pipe and knocked him cold. I was about 8 years old at the time. I then started going to school. My first teacher later became my brother in law when he married my older sister. We always missed a lot of school as the school was too far for us to get there.

We lived south of town for some years and then my Dad became financially able to buy a farm southwest of town about 7 miles. School was close to our place so we all got an 8th-grade education. I liked school and when we had snow we could play “fox and geese”. The country was getting settled and we kids enjoyed barn dances, house parties, and had wonderful times.

When I got out of the 8th grade, I would have liked to gone on to make something of myself but I felt like I was needed at home. I loved all of my family and siblings, we had many good times together. All of us girls wore skirts down to our ankles and had long hair but it was pinned up – never hung around the eyes like it is today. I did most of my own sewing, we had no patterns but Mother would help me if I needed it.


I will tell you how we washed clothes. Those days we had to put a boiler on the stove to heat the water. We ran a washing machine by hand. We pilled and pushed a stick that made an agitator turn back and forth. We wringer had a handle that you turned while the wet clothes went through. Some of the dirty clothes had to be rubbed on a washboard. It was usually an all day job and drying clothes sometimes took 3 days depending on how heavy the clothing was. We always had a wash house to do the washing in and sometimes we canned fruits and vegetables in there. We made our own soap and sometimes used lye in the water to soften it. I always dreaded a table full of dirty dishes and many times had to do them while Mother washed clothes all day, bless her soul.

Coming soon…. Anna Talks About Tornados

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  1. I remember the old wringer washer down in the cellar at my grandparents’ old house. My favorite part was playing in the blueing tub! Had no idea what it was for…just liked the color of the water 🙂 . Sister and I have been cleaning and sorting out things as our mom recently passed, and among my goodies are two flat irons — one that I have to figure out how to get the handle back onto. These days, I so seldom iron anything (unless I’m sewing). I can’t even imagine ironing with flat irons — my arm muscles would sure show it!

  2. Its interesting that recent studies demonstrate that this current young generation is much less happy than prior generations. If they had to do laundry all day like that they might change their minds!

  3. Such a descriptive story! Of course, it would be so fun to sit and ask questions . . . I’m hooked and look forward to reading more in hope my questions will be answered. Thank you for sharing!

  4. I remember my great grandmother (in her nineties) washing on mondays.She heated the water in a side kitchen and washed clothes just like in your story. I was 16 when she finally let her
    Daughter and husband who lived with her put electricity and running water in the old homestead.
    My great grandfather built everything there and fell thru the ice in the river next to the house and died in his early 50,s.Grandma wanted everything left the same. They were both born in Germany!met at a boarding house,lived and died in S. dak. They were on my Mothers side of
    The family.My fathers side also lived in S.Dak,!but further north.Your stories sound so much like my families.I,m a lot older then you,so remember living with outhouses,hand pumps and rain barrels for water.The good old days when people were REAL.

  5. I love reading your posts as they sound much like what husband’s family’s stories. His great-grandmother’s family survived the Chicago fire and moved onward to South Dakota by covered wagon. Her family first arrived East River and moved onward to the Black Hills. I’ve read stories about her going by horseback to Rapid City to sell eggs. Her daughters became teacher and midwives. I bet all this sounds familiar to you too.

    Thanks for your lovely stories.

  6. My English immigrant grandparents brought their family from Idaho to Cascade, Montana in 1925, Their stories of living on the prairie and struggling to make a living from the land without running water or electricity are filled with faith and courage. Thank you so much for giving us this lovely account. Aren’t stories our own peoples lives inspiring? How they lived and what they felt. So important to know.

    I wish I had realized when I was growing up that the children in my school were also from immigrant families, for much of Montana wasn’t settled until the early 1900s. Now I know they came from many countries and how I wish I had gathered those stories. Thanks again. I am loving this.