In 1881, a 21-year-old bachelor named Irving Gardner headed to Hope, North Dakota, to homestead. As he later wrote, he was unprepared for what lay ahead of him.
"…The train was a freight train with a few passenger cars and a caboose in the rear. After traveling about half the distance toward Hope, the passenger cars ran off the rails and bumped along on the ties. We were going pretty slowly, and no one seemed much alarmed at first, but some of the men got up on the cars and tried to attract the attention of the engineer by yelling and waving coats. They had no success … the cars began to zigzag. The call was to jump off. … I made the plunge into a snow bank and went in up to my waist … No sooner had I jumped than over went the cars on their sides…"
Gardner reported that a passenger beside him on the platform who hadn’t jumped got buried in the wreck. Gardner pawed away the snow to free the man, who was still alive. With the help of others, the man was carried to a nearby house and cared for.
Gardner’s life on his new quarter-section of land was at first discouraging. Burglars made a number of visits, first taking his blankets, then dishes, then tools, then a clock. Each time Gardner would try to secure the house, but the burglars were persistent. Gardner finally got the doors and windows barred, but even that didn’t end the problem. Gardner writes:
“They climbed to the roof and pulled up the stovepipe. … One night I was wet and tired and got home only to find my stove several feet short of pipe. … But a young adventurer like me could not let that bother him. I had to do something, for it wouldn’t do to let the smoke pour out into the room. So I pulled off a couple of boards from a partition and ran them from my bed to a table, lifted the stove to this higher level, [and] shoved the pipe through the roof again … started my fire, and in no time was all heated up ready for business as usual.”
Like many others, Irving Gardner found the life of a homesteader wasn’t what he expected. After proving up, he rented out his land and moved back to the East Coast where he went into the insurance business.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm