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Justina Beglau: Pioneer Mother


On this date in 1869, Justina Fisher was born in Tarutino, Bessarabien, in South Russia. When Justina was sixteen, she came to America with her parents, arriving in Scotland, South Dakota. A year later, in 1885, Justina followed her parents north, to a homestead in the hills twenty miles south of present day Kulm, North Dakota.

Justina’s story is typical of many frontier women who came to the Dakota Territory during this time; one of hardship and danger, but also one of simple pleasures.

Many of the other homesteaders in the Kulm area were from the same homeland back in Russia. One of these settlers was John Beglau. When John arrived to begin homesteading, he and his brother had to sleep out under the sky. His parents and smaller sisters took refuge in a wagon box. Like most homesteaders, their first priority was building their first permanent home.

In 1889 Justina and John Beglau married. For a wedding present, they were both presented with a young calf, generous presents from their parents. John in the meantime had been able to purchase a yolk of oxen that would help him start breaking the hard- stubbled sod. A year later, for $250, they bought two horses.

For ten years the Beglaus lived in the sod house that John had built, enduring all of the hardships that accompanied such an abode. When heavy rains fell, Justina would stand underneath the door frame, holding her baby, as it was the only dry spot inside the house.

During the extreme North Dakota winters, the snow would sometimes become so deep it would completely cover their tiny sod house. On one such occasion, one of their neighbors walked over John and Justine’s sod house without even knowing it. Digging a tunnel to get out of the doors after a blizzard was not uncommon. After a particularly hard blizzard, John was leisurely walking along a high snow bank, and suddenly found himself sliding down one of these tunnels. Much to everyone’s surprise, he landed right in front of the stove inside his sister and brother-in-law’s house.

Inside their homemade clay stove, John and Justine Beglau burned weeds and stubble or later on, chunks of manure to keep warm.

Groceries, even the flour, were often bought on time. Justine later recalled the kindness and generosity of the merchants of nearby Ellendale who allowed them to do this. Bills were paid when the patrons were financially able to do so. One can only imagine how long the homesteaders could make soup by cooking bones over and over again.

After many years of hard work as well as enduring the extreme winters and summers of North Dakota, the Beglau’s began to prosper. Tilling more land allowed them harvest more crops. Their stock herds began to increase. Wheat at this time was fetching $2 to $2.50 per bushel.

So what is unique about Justine and John Beglau’s pioneer story? Nothing really. Except perhaps that they were two of many thousands of brave and hearty frontier pioneers who helped make North Dakota what it is today.

By Dave Seifert