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Weekend Work in McKenzie County

A drizzly June made for mucky conditions for a young preacher and his neighbors in McKenzie County a century ago. The Reverend Richard C. Jahn came to North Dakota in the fall of 1915 from seminary in St. Louis, answering a call to preach at a church in Schafer. For 10 months, he immersed himself in the rugged lifestyle of McKenzie County, riding horses, shooting wild game and providing services to neighbors, while also keeping a daily journal. He lived with a bachelor homesteader in a cabin east of Watford City while preaching for several Lutheran churches. Being bilingual, he preached in both English and German.

Jahn’s journal gives us some insight into the day-to-day life of a pioneer preacher. On this date in 1916, he reports washing dishes with his roommate then working on a sermon based on Acts chapter 16, verses 30 to 31. He tried to write and practice the sermon in one day, but found it difficult. Meanwhile, his roommate washed towels, shirts and pillow cases, then went to a neighbor’s to butcher a 180-pound hog.

Another neighbor interrupted Jahn as he worked on the sermon. The neighbor wondered if Jahn could help with a horse that had a nose bleed. Jahn wasn’t much help, and was soon back to work on the sermon, but managed to procrastinate by teasing their cat.

The next day, Sunday, Jahn was up at 5 a.m. to finish his sermon, bathe and cook breakfast. He frantically practiced his sermon before delivering it at the local schoolhouse. Muddy roads hurt attendance, with only 22 people showing up. Later that day, Jahn and his roommate visited a neighbor at her ranch and had a chicken dinner, with lemon pie for dessert. Jahn had two slices, and paid for it the next day with a stomach ache, but still wrote that the meal was worth it!

The Reverend Jahn’s journals were discovered in an old shoebox in 2002 accompanied by a treasure trove of personal 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 It was published in 2014, enhanced by extensive footnotes for historical reference.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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