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New to McKenzie County


Today is another part of the story of a young preacher called to McKenzie County in North Dakota a century ago. The Rev. Richard C. Jahn was 20 years old, fresh from seminary when he arrived by train in Watford City.

He was met by the interim minister, who took him to the nearby town of Schafer, and showed him the road to Table Butte and Reservation Corner, where Jahn would preach at a family’s home and a schoolhouse. It was 50-miles round trip by horse.

On this date in 1915, after Jahn had only been around for two days, the two preachers set off to visit a bachelor homesteader at his cabin. In his journal, Jahn wrote that the man wasn’t home, so they broke in and helped themselves. The man came home later and they all prepared a big supper and played casino until 1 a.m.

The two preachers headed out the next morning and made for Watford, where the interim minister left town by train. Jahn ate dinner alone and practiced a sermon, which he would deliver in both English and German.

He got a taste of North Dakota winter just days later when he woke to snowfall that continued for a day. Nobody came to his first services. Eight inches of snow fell. Drifts were two feet deep. A neighbor cut a trail for him, but on his way back from getting groceries, Jahn got lost in the dark. Fortunately, found his way back to Schafer. The wind blew all night and the next day, and Jahn stoked up a fire and ate a dinner of oatmeal crackers and peanut butter. The night was “might chilly,” and Jahn noted he didn’t have hardly enough covers.

He also wrote about his loneliness, but he came to enjoy life in McKenzie County. He baptized, confirmed and buried residents. He contributed obituaries to the local newspaper. He helped with chores, rode horses, shot wild game and made friends during his 10-month stay, most of which he spent boarding with the bachelor homesteader in his cabin east of Watford.

Jahn’s journals were discovered in an old shoebox in 2002 accompanied by a treasure trove of photographs of the people, places and events he wrote about. It was published in 2014, enhanced by extensive footnotes for historical reference. The book is titled "Called to the Prairie: Life in McKenzie County, North Dakota, 1915-1916."

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

“Called to the Prairie: Life in McKenzie County, North Dakota, 1915-1916, From the Journals of the Rev. Richard C. Jahn.” Edited by Richard P. Jahn Jr., Jan Dodge and Dennis E. Johnson, 2014, Catlinberg Publishing.

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