Thursday, May 31, 2007

Early Life of Benhard Ranum

Benhard Ranum was born in southern Minnesota in 1879 to Knute Neilson Ranum and Siri Dicken Ranum. He is listed in the 1880 census of Mower County, although his story always was that he came with his parents from Fillmore County to Polk County when he was two and a half years old.

His parent's met in Fillmore County and married in 1874. Siri had a brother named Andrew, the men decided to go land hunting. Knute and Siri already had four children, the youngest was three weeks old. There was Carl, (1876), Alfred, (1878), Benhard, (1879), and Edward who was the baby. The stories vary according to who is telling it. The name spellings vary according to who is writing it.

The families' went by covered wagon as far as Minneapolis. Keep in mind that Fillmore County is nearly the most southeastern county in the state. Minneapolis is about 125 miles north and west. We are traveling up covered wagon. How long do you think it would take? Most historians consider 2-3 miles an hour a good pace. Figuring 10 hours a day; it could be done in 4 days.

Let's talk about what a covered wagon is. The wagons was usually a wooden wagon made of hickory, oak, or maple. A wooden piece made from hickory stuck out from the front of the wagon. This piece called a tongue was connected to the yoke of the horses. Although mules and oxen were often used.

It had big wooden hoops, called bows that were bent from side to side. There would be 4 to 7 wooden hoops on one wagon. There was a canvas pulled across the hoops that would keep out the rain, wind, and the hot sunshine. Knute would rub oil on the canvas to make it waterproof. Inside the wagon there were many hooks that hung from the wooden hoops. They could hang weapons, clothes, milk cans, and anything there was room for. The front wheels of the wagon were smaller than the back wheels. This helped the wagon turn. Underneath the back wheels there was a bucket full of grease hanging from the axle. This was used to make the wheels run smoothly. The Conestoga wagons were called prairie schooners because from a distance the Conestoga wagon looked like a ship sailing slowly across the green prairie. Traveling in a wagon was not an easy trip. There were many things that could go wrong. For example some wagon wheels would break or there would be no water. If they ran out of food they would need to hunt. When they were on the trail it was very noisy because all the pots and pans hanging off the wagons were clanging against each other.

For the Ranum and Dicken families, the hardship was one of the horses died. Instead of buying a horse for $300, Andrew Dicken sold the remaining horse for $300. It is not clear in Benhard's story if they loaded the other horses and Conestoga on the train to Crookston where all of them continued on in one wagon.

In 1882, they had a pre emption on land in Polk County proving up in three years. (Proving up meant families homesteading had to live on the land and improve it, after three years they owned it). This land was north and east of Crookston on an Indian trail which they followed until they reached a wooded area. They cut sod and made the walls, layered poles and put sod on the roof.

They did not prove up the land; they moved again, this time to Marshall County, New Solum Township, section 29. This is where they made their home. Benhard was two and a half when the family reached what would be there homestead. Once again, they would build a sod house for their ever expanding family.

It is remembered that Siri had an accordion that she brought with her or was given later that was stored in those rafters made out of trees which stretched across the top of the sod house. The roof leaked some and one time when Siri was going to play her accordion, she had to clean it out to make it work because of the rain that had leaked on it. One day the kids begged and begged her to play the accordion. So she finally took it down to play and set it on her lap. A snake crawled out of it and unto her lap. She dropped the accordion and jumped up to get away from the snake. Alfred said he didn't think she played the accordion again!

The family lived in the sod house for about a year and then built a small log cabin which they lived in for about five years. It had a wood floor which was a nice change from the dirt floor of the sod house. The land was in sections 16 and 21 of New Solum Township, Marshall County. Try to imagine two adults and eleven kids in a cabin the size of your bedroom.

Grandpa Benhard told me there were about 20 kids in the family. Of course I believed him! Today, thirty years after his death, I am going to count them. Will he be right? Well, he was not always right but he was never wrong.

This was his thought process:

Knute and Siri had:

Karl, Alfred, Benhard, Edward, Bennie, Karina, Casper, Oscar, John, Sanfred, Freeman. (11)

Knute and Kari had:

Fredrick, Otto, Ruth, and Clarence (4) Now we have 15.

Kari and Fredrick Greenly

Olaf, Martin, Dorthea, and Charlotte (4) That is 19! That is what about is about

In June of 1896, Knute married Karen, (Kari), a widow who had come from Norway and was left with four children.

Benhard stated he grew up with his many brothers. He remembers how the brush rabbits were the main source of food to the family on the farm. They could be snared and there was no money to buy shells for the gun to hunt partridge or prairie chickens. When he was about ten years old, he started working out by herding cattle. This would have been in 1889. Working out meant living with another family as a hired hand; today it means going to the gym. It is possible that Karl and Alfred were already working out. When reading censuses, it isn't uncommon to have children missing; it was common to 'farm' out children. Yes, even young girls were hired out as servants. Jaeme, you are nine. Do you think you are big enough and strong enough to do the work of a servant?

Think about it.


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