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Winter in McKenzie County


Life in McKenzie County was a new experience for the Reverend Richard C. Jahn. The twenty-year-old seminary student had answered a call for a minister from Schafer, North Dakota in the fall of 1915. He traveled by train from Missouri to reach his new post by November, and found lodging with a bachelor homesteader in a cabin about twenty miles east of Watford City.


Jahn, or Yin as he was known, kept a daily journal for the three-hundred and seventeen days he preached for several Lutheran congregations scattered around McKenzie County. He experienced all the joys of a winter on the open range: sinking temperatures, blizzards, icy travel, and strong winds. He passed the time writing sermons and letters, doing housework (including dreaded dishwashing), visiting neighbors, and conducting his services in English and German.

On this date in 1916, Jahn wrote of a low temperature of sixty-one below zero at Watford City. Stormy weather kept him indoors at a neighbor’s where he had arrived two days earlier for a confirmation class. He and his neighbors sat around the stove as a “sand-like snow fell,” driven by “a fierce northwest wind.” He read during the day, cut some wood, ate bean soup and slept on a miserable cot. The next day, he returned to his cabin under a sunny sky, and a high temperature of forty-one below.

Jahn was a well-respected community minister. He baptized, confirmed and buried a number of residents. His first deathbed service was for a man mangled by wolves in an extremely rare attack.

In September of 1916, Jahn returned to seminary. Bbefore he left, he remarked on his time out west: “I can hardly wait till I shall be permitted to leave here, and yet I shall miss the free and wild life of McKenzie County greatly.”

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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