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The Reverend Jahn Departs

Today we share another story from the journals of The Rev. Richard C. Jahn, who served as a Lutheran minister at several churches in McKenzie County a century ago. The 20-year-old, fresh from seminary in St. Louis, spent ten months in the county. He lived in a cabin east of Watford City with a bachelor homesteader and immersed himself in rugged western life.

In September of 1916, Jahn’s term of service came to an end, and he spent his last days acquainting his replacement with the locals. On this date, he spent his last night in McKenzie County. The day had been stormy and windy, and the two preachers bundled into sheepskins and heavy blankets to make their services at a local schoolhouse. Nobody came except for one family that also came to exchange horses and say goodbye. Jahn recounted the moment in his diary, saying: “I took leave of them with a heavy heart, knowing that I would probably never see them again.” That diary, was discovered, annotated and published a century after Jahn’s call to McKenzie County.

Jahn spent his last night cooking dinner and packing up. He bathed and played casino with his roommate before going to bed at 11 o’clock. He was up four hours later and left for the train from Watford after a visit to Schafer. His train took more than eight hours to reach Williston. He made it home to Missouri a few days later.

It’s clear from Jahn’s journals that he enjoyed his time out west. He befriended neighbors through his services and by helping with chores. He documented local happenings such as one man’s death from a wolf attack and the drowning of a rancher in Cherry Creek. Jahn contributed obituaries to the local newspaper and baptized, confirmed and buried residents. He enjoyed “the free and wild life of McKenzie County.”

After he left, Jahn continued to write to his friends in McKenzie County. And he pondered what we would learn from his journals: “What will a stranger think, if he or she should ever read this diary? I have given myself just as I am, with all my faults standing out in glaring relief, laying due emphases on laziness. But there are redeeming features to me, too.”

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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