Remembering the Veterans who built this place.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 11.14.42 AM
Today, on Veteran’s Day, I want to pause to remember the two strong Veterans who founded the Veeder Ranch so we can call it home today.

Edgar Andrew Veeder, born October 5, 1894, in Stearnes County Minnesota was the first child born to Benjamin Wemple and Antoinette Marie (Volc) Veeder.

In 1907, Eddie moved to McKenzie County where he lived with his parents in the Croff community. He lived and worked at home until he was twenty-one.

In 1915, he homesteaded the Veeder Ranch in Bear Den Township before being drafted into the the Army, serving in the 77th Infantry-Machine Gun Company at Camp Custer Michigan.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 12.38.51 PM

After he was discharged at Camp Dodge, Iowa in 1919, Eddie returned to farm and ranch in Bear Den Township.

Eddie married Cornelia Belle Harrison on September 4, 1917. In 1925, Eddie bought his brother, Hank Veeder’s homestead, also located in Bear Den Township and continued expanding his holdings by purchasing additional homesteads in the area. In 1928, he bought a threshing machine and for the next fifteen years he did custom threshing in addition to running cattle and raising crops on the place. Through all the years that he lived in the community, Eddie always took an active part in the building and maintenance of the area. He was a member of the township board for many years and was responsible for keeping township roads and bridges open and in good repair.

Eddie and Cornelia, who died of heart failure in 1932 at the age of thirty-six, had five children, the youngest, my grandfather, Eugene (Pete) Veeder.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 12.55.46 PM

After the death of his wife, Eddie, with the help of his sisters, maintained the home until all of the children were grown. It must have been difficult, especially during the Depression, to provide for his family, but he was always cheerful. He enjoyed his children and grandchildren until his death in 1961.

After their father’s passing, Pete and his brother Lorraine each bought half of the family ranch land. Pete was inducted into the Army February 16, 1945, at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, took his basic training at Camp Hood, Texas, and was then stationed for a time in Korea. He was the recipient of the Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Army of Occupation Medal (Japan). He was discharged at Fort Lewis, Washington on December 19, 1946. Pete then returned to farm with his father and brothers.

Grampa Pete

Pete married Edith Linseth on August 24, 1951 and the two of them raised crops, cattle and three children, Kerry, Wade and my father, Eugene (Gene) on the original homestead.

Today the Veeder Ranch remains in the family, operated by Gene and Beth. My husband Chad and I have built a home here, making us the fourth generation to live and work on the Veeder Homestead. 

Remembering these two great men’s lives and service to their country and grateful for the legacy and land they worked hard to keep.

Veeder Barn

So it goes with love, land and family…

Veeder Ranch Centennial Card

Well, it’s finally here!

Wedding week at the ranch. The relatives are starting to roll in, (and helping to mow the yards), the fences are painted, the decorations are in a pile somewhere waiting for their places, we’ve got the burs out of most of our horses so they’re ready for company and we are watching the ever-changing North Dakota weather forecast to be reassured that it isn’t going to rain on our big parade.

Oh, and I vacuumed and scrubbed my floors, so things are getting serious around here.

IMG_2471

To say it’s been a busy spring around here would be an understatement. When we’re all working together for the common goal of beautifying this old place, every minute between work and sleep has a plan in place. And while there’s plenty of work left to do out here, it has been amazing to me how a love declared and a date set can get things in motion the way that it has. Weddings, for all of the hub bub and money spent, details agonized over and tiny bows tied, really become something special in the end for the way they bring the people we love from all corners of the country to celebrate a new family being formed.

I mean, how many times in your life do you get your aunt and uncle from Omaha in the same place as your mom’s family from the east coast and your cousins from Texas?

As the first round of relatives arrive, I can’t help but think that this wedding is extra special to our family in a lot of ways. For one, the baby of our little family has found someone weird, kind and patient enough for a forever future together.

But also because that future is set to begin on the dirt that holds our family’s history, where our great grandfather homesteaded before he went off to war, where he brought his new wife home, where they raised cattle and crops and five children. Where she planted yellow roses that still bloom in the bushes below the cabin. Where he lost her when she was only thirty-six and their youngest son, our grandpa, was only eight.

And on the very dirt where my sister will stand in a white dress waiting for her groom, our grampa  grew up to be a hardworking, dedicated cowboy who didn’t ride the rodeo or buy up thousands of acres, but carried on in his father’s footsteps and kept a steady and growing business of crops and cattle through tough times while raising kids, our dad one of them, who fell in love with the landscape and the idea of taking care of it, an important outcome for a man who dreamed of the future of his ranch with his family on it.

IMG_20150524_0006Gramma 2IMG_20150524_0010

IMG_20150524_0012IMG_20150524_0020 Kids

And so on Saturday my little sister will stand in front of that barn as the fourth generation to chose to stick around her home. Before she walks down the isle with our dad on her arm, our ring bearer nephew and our flower girl cousin will proceed her dressed in thier best and representing another generation of kids to know and love this place.

Then my little sister will declare her love for a man who followed her west to this place and they will continue the story 100 years after our great grampa Eddie staked his claim and put up his homestead shack next to that barn.

Summer Barn

My big sister and I will stand next to her and I will hold her flowers as they kiss.

Then I’ll look over at my husband standing across the aisle and we will smile at the thought of the baby in my belly, due to come into this world at the end of November, at the beginning of a long winter and of a new and long-awaited chapter in the story of lives lived, families grown and dreams fought for out here on the Veeder Ranch.

And so it goes with love and land and family…it holds the past, the present and the ever evolving and unpredictable future…

IMG_2500

Sunday Column: My great grandmother was Strong Man Johnson

A few weeks ago I gathered a group of women together for coffee and a visit at the pioneer museum in town. I was asked to craft a story that featured farm woman advice for city girls and, while I had a few ideas, I thought it would be wise to get the conversation flowing from  the minds and experiences of women of all generations.

So I called my friend Jan, who grew up with my dad on a ranch down the road, and she called her mother, the woman who raised her out there, and taught Jan enough about making chokecherry syrup and canning salsa that Jan could be of help to me in one of my  “canning emergencies…”

The two women joined me, my mom and another three generations of women to talk work and worry, weather and washing machines and what it was like, and what it is like,  to raise children and crops and cattle out here on the edge of the badlands.

Really, I could have stayed with them chatting all day and into the night. The history and knowledge, the fortitude and respect and connection to place was palpable. But so was the humility. They were all so humble when faced with questions about their accomplishment and hardships on a land and under a sky that could be so beautiful and so brutal all at once.

I asked them what they learned out there so far away from the conveniences of town, and what it was like without the help of today’s modern technology when there was so much on the line.

My friend’s grandmother, who homesteaded her place, and then helped her sister follow suit before falling in love with a town boy and moving him out to the farm with her, gave the end all answer:

“You just roll up your sleeves and do what has to be done. There is no other choice.”

And so this has been on my mind as I’m working to extract all the wisdom and lessons and strength in these women’s’ stories.

And I’ve been thinking of my own grandmother, and her mother, a first generation Norwegian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island when she was only 16 and made her way west to Minnesota before marrying and moving out to their homestead in Western North Dakota when she was only 18.

She raised twelve children and lived well into her 90s.

I was a young girl when she died, but I do remember visits to her room in her nursing home, her teasing the grandkids with her cane and this photo that set on her night stand, the youngest on her husband’s lap added to the photo later to make the family complete. My grandma Edie, dad’s mother,  is the girl in the middle with the bow.

I wish I would have been old enough to ask her things. I wish I would have known her.

Now all I have is stories and other people’s memories, my dad’s particularly, of a woman who used to call herself “Strong Man Johnson” before heading out the door of the house and pretending to lift it off its foundation at the grandkids’ delight and horror.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. My Great Grandmother Gudrun, Strong Man Johnson.

Coming Home: Winters on the prairies took immense strength
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

And now, after it’s been published, I’ve received a few emails from those who knew her, one in particular from a woman who cared for her in the nursing home and remember’s Gudrun’s story of baking five loaves a bread every day.

The spirit of these women drives me. It inspires me and it reminds me that I am braver and more capable than I think I am. Because it’s in this heart that pumps this blood, the blood of strong women.

May we raise them. May we praise them. May we be them.

My grandma Edie. One of Gudrun’s five daughters

In 100 years.

Today I’m roaming around the house, cleaning and packing and paying bills, getting ready to head out on a family trip to Disney World.

A destination dubbed “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Outside my window, on the other side of the hill, bulldozers and blades are scraping off snow, native and non-native grasses and cutting into the nearly frozen earth, pushing and flattening and re-imagining the corner of pasture across from the grain bins to make way for what the oil industry is now calling a “Super Pad.”

I knew this was coming.

We’ve talked about it and negotiated it a little, giving it the nod of approval because having three or four pumping units together on the same pad pulling oil from several directions under our ranch and our neighbors’ will mean less roads and less surface damage to the rest of our place and the homesteads that surround us.

The less impact the better has been our motto.

If it’s possible, we fight for it.

I know now for the next several months I will be listening to the sound of progress. I will hear my dogs bark at the sound of machinery they think might be coming down our road, but is really just passing by or pushing dirt. I will watch the landscape transform a bit and then the horizon will follow…oil derrick up, reaching to the sky, then another, and another.

Oil derrick down, then a pumping unit, then another, then another.

And there they will be for thirty or some years, pumping, pulling, coaxing oil from the ground, each passing year becoming a more familiar fixture on this old place.

This weekend my uncle was at the ranch for deer hunting season. As he was getting ready to head back to Texas, Pops brought out a couple folders that contained stories about the history of this ranch in anticipation of our upcoming 100 year celebration.

In 1915 my great grampa Eddie staked his claim on this place. He got married and headed off to war. When he arrived back in Bear Den Township he proved up his claim, planting some trees, flax and wheat, building a barn and putting up fences.

Over the course of his lifetime he would watch his crops grow, his wife die and his children  make their own mark on the land he laid claim to. He would meet a couple grandchildren and serve them his famous buns, tell them jokes and scruff their hair before leaving them all behind in death to do what they will with the place.

With the red barn and his old house.

I sat on that couch and looked at the old photographs.

100 years might as well have been forever.

We are not made the same these days are we? Do we have the same grit and guts that it took to survive in tar paper shacks through blizzards and prairie fires and forty below?

I listen to the sound of the bulldozers up the hill and know that in the next thirty years I’ll be a witness to more changes to this landscape than my parents and my parents’ parents ever saw in their lifetime.

I have mixed feelings about being that sort of witness.

Great Grandpa Eddie went half-way around the world to fight, to be free to break up this earth to feed his own family.

I doubt he ever took a trip to Florida.

And so I can’t help but feel a bit undone and displaced today, that instead of watching over that dirt I’m preparing for a trip to a fantasy land, leaving this little plot of earth to change forever as I fly away for a bit…

Not because the land is mine…

This morning a documentary film maker came to the ranch to visit with Pops and I about what makes our community special and to try to get to the root of why the people who chose to stay or come home to farms, ranches and small towns in Western North Dakota are so passionate about this lifestyle.

He asked us what it is about the landscape that inspires us.

He contemplated what it’s like to watch a community you know so well boom and bust and boom and bend and mold and grow in front of our eyes.

He wanted to know about our roots.

And in between the lighting checks, the questions about the economy, the oil boom and what it was like to be a child surrounded by all this wild space with an unspoken expectation to get gone someday, he wondered what it was that brought us back…

I have many answers to this question:

The promise of a sunrise over a landscape that grew me.

The need for the wind in my hair.

The hope that my children might be born to dig in this dirt and smell the first rain of the season.

The fact that I was planted here

That I belong nowhere else…

How do you say these things? How do you explain reasons to a stranger that you have not understood well enough to explain to yourself?

I thought about the question and kept quite as my father looked into the camera and told this story.

About his mother’s father.

His grandfather, Severin, tall and lean from the fjords of Norway.

A homesteader.

A farmer.

A husband and soft-spoken, good-natured, father of twelve who made a living with his family plowing fields and raising a few farm animals for milk and meat.

In those days when farmers like my great-grandfather were sectioning off land and turning up dirt in the more fertile landscape north of the Little Missouri River, there were major cattle operations still present that would use those acres to drive a herd of hundreds across country to the big operations in the badlands to the south.

And so the story goes, and it isn’t a long one, that Severin woke one morning to find his cattle missing.  My father is quick to point out here that the quantity of cattle raised by Severin’s large family likely consisted of only five to seven milk cows—not a large herd worthy of the drama of a Western novel and apparently not significant enough for the cowboys to take notice or any action to sort them off from the herd.

But no matter the numbers, they were Severin’s cattle and he was determined to retrieve what had mistakenly and nonchalantly been taken from him.

So the tall and soft-spoken Norwegian homesteader from the clay-packed fields of western North Dakota (the man who rode his bicycle 93 miles over North Dakota prairie from the train station to his homestead) took off that day, with a big stick in his hand, to begin the 7-mile walk over rugged buttes, under the hot sun (or maybe the relentless wind, to this story there is no season)  to find his cattle, to sort them off from the herd that tried to own them, to turn them around and bring them home.

7 miles.

To the land he laid claim to.

The home where his son raised his family.

Where his grandson has raised his.

Where his great-grandchildren are likely to return.

My father laughed as he completed painting an image of a man from another time.

A time when you gave everything inside of you not only to belong somewhere, but to survive there.

Severin’s blood pumped through the veins of my grandmother just as it moves with every heartbeat inside the body of the man who raised me.

Inside my body.

The one I can’t seem to move off of this place, not because the land is mine…

but because it is me.

Severin’s Family.
My grandmother is the young girl in the middle with the bow.

The ghosts of winters past

I have continued my walking ritual even in this winter weather. It’s important for the sanity of a woman living out here surrounded by snow and horse poop.  Because I can get to feeling a bit stir crazy, a bit cramped in, tripping over my stuff a few too many times, scratching at the Christmas tree branches breathing down my neck and stepping on a couple of tails sending cats running for their lives and me cursing the day I uttered the words “kitten-good idea.”

The animals get to feeling the same way too, and even though they’re pretty good at sleeping, every once in a while the whole winter hibernation thing sends the cats scampering through the tiny living room, taking a flying leap to the chair, bouncing off of the couch only to land, dangling, off of the very top of my curtains.

I screech, scratch my neck and send  a few choice words their way.

The dogs whimper at the door.

And it’s time to get the heck out of here.

That was the case on Tuesday afternoon as I rose from my desk, stretched my arms out and hollered (in my head, I think) “I can’t take it anymore!” and began the ritual of bundling up.

Because oh, it has been cold here. Along with an uncommon amount of snow being dumped on the area early in the season, the wind has been blowing a bit harder, the temperatures have been below zero, and then, just to see if we are indeed on our toes, it warmed up enough to rain…only to return to its regularly scheduled programming in the morning.

So as you can imagine, as I stepped out the door and into the brisk evening, my winter wonderland was looking a bit crunchy, a bit crispy, a little less fluffy, a little more glossy. Beautiful.

So off I went, trudging in my snow pants and boots, crunching through the unreasonably deep snow, panting to get to the top of the hill, walking a few steps on the top of the hard drifts, only to be sucked down, in snow up to my knees when the ice broke under my weight.

The lab was in heaven, jumping on the hard stuff to bury his nose in the fluff underneath.

The pug thought it was the apocalypse and wondered why he even got up this morning.

The cats were probably hanging by their claws on the curtains inside.

But it felt good to be out in this. It was so quiet, so calm and white, the wind from the days before creating interesting drifts and shadows, the setting sun on the ice coating this world making everything sparkle warm pinks and blues. I spent the evening admiring my world, squatting down to get photos of the grass poking through the snow, shading my eyes as the sun sunk below the horizon, laughing as the dogs fell through the snow and then magically reappeared.

I was feeling lucky to be a spectator.

Because I chose to be out there, in the chill and crisp, under the setting sun. And when I walked through the door to my home, stripped off my layers of clothing and poured myself a cup of hot tea and went about my business, I could relax.  I could look out the window that night as the wind blew the snow sideways and tapped at our windows and not have to worry.

See, living out here on the ranch, a dot on this big, white, landscape, always gets me thinking about those who came before me–the men and women of this area who settled this land. These people leaned in against this season in order to hold on to their livelihoods, they watched the patterns of wildlife to predict the incoming weather, and, in the midst of a blinding blizzard, would tie a rope from the door of their shack to the barn so they could feed the horses and milk cows and not get lost on along the way.

When we complain about the snow and the ice because we have to get up out of our beds and start our car in our robes before we venture off to a heated building to earn a paycheck, I sometimes think about my relatives whose paychecks depended on rising each morning, rain, shine or blizzard, to feed the cattle, to break ice on the dams, to haul wood to heat their home, and to sometimes welcome a barnyard animal or two into their small home in order to keep it alive, or, in the places where trees for fuel were sparse, to help keep themselves warm.

I wonder, when I stand high above this white world, no sign of a neighbor’s light, what it might have been like for them out here deep in the heart of the landscape, fifteen to thirty miles from the general store and postoffice, their only link to the outside world, with no snow plows clearing a path for their escape, no plane tickets to purchase to send them somewhere tropical–only work, and faces chapped by the wind and an occasional card game by the fire at night to pass the time.

It must have been lonely for them and it must have been terrifying during those nights when the temperature dropped well below zero, the wind whipped through the cracks in their cabins and shacks, creating drifts of snow reaching high above their heads, making it nearly impossible to tend to their livestock, to get to the neighbors or to the store to stock up on supplies.

And I wonder on those eerie, cold, North Dakota nights how far away summer must have seemed. How desperate it must have felt out here, how helpless they were against the circumstances of the weather, how they just held on tight and did what they could.

I wonder if anyone went crazy with grief and desperation, loneliness and isolation. Because, life, like this landscape, was hard.

But really, I don’t think they stopped long enough to complain. I don’t think they wallowed in the hardship. They didn’t have time. They had to keep moving, they had to attend to the next thing, be prepared to weather the next storm. And yes, the storms were something, but I like to imagine that made the sunshine all the warmer, the evenings by the fire a little more cozy, the company of a neighbor a little sweeter.

My pops told me that when he shared the news with one of his aunts about how I was moving back to the ranch because I wanted to, because I loved it, she scoffed at the thought and wondered out loud why anyone would choose to live out here. So much work, she said. So much work.

Because that is what her life was, and although she picks at the struggles, I am pretty sure the good times, the picnics in the summer sun, are as fresh in her mind too. But it is because of her steadfastness and the hold on tight spirit of my great-great grandparents and their children and those who came after them that I am allowed the chance for a different life out here. A chance to stand on my favorite hill and see the world they called home and work through a different lens.

Oh, I see the work too. I see the reality of my plans, the fences that need to be fixed, the buildings that should be torn down, the roofs that need to be repaired–but that doesn’t have to consume me right now, in the middle of the winter.

Don’t get me wrong, the ranching and farming lifestyle our here exists in full force. We dig out hay bales to tend to the cattle in the winter, we break the ice the same way, we bundle up against the wind to feed the horses.  They coyotes still howl at night, the calves continue to be born in snowstorms and have to be warmed up in the basement. Some things don’t change.

But much has. Now we have big o’l tractors with heated cabs, 4-wheel drive pickups we can plug in to an outlet to be sure they start, warm outbuildings and shops to repair our modern equipment and the lucky ones have snowmobiles. The drive to town takes a half an hour if the plow’s gone through, we have computers that link us to the rest of the world and provide us with access to information, weather warnings and a chance to make money from the comfort of our homes if we so chose.

Because these days, we have a choice.

I wonder if the ghosts of winters past ever saw this coming. I wonder what they would think about the fact that if they were alive right now they might have the time to take a moment, like I do some days, to dig out from underneath the work and demands and stand with hands on hips, cold wind at their face, and instead of racing the sun, take a moment to watch it dip down and set below the horizon…

…and be captivated.