This history of Kremlin Homesteader Joe Sohm Sr.
was written by his daughter, Ann Sohm Domire.
Kremlin Homesteader Joe Sohm Sr. was among the earliest arriving
Kremlin homesteaders in 1914.
About fifteen miles west of Havre on Highway Two is a grain elevator and two homes. This was once the location of the busy little town of Fresno. Here is where we started our life in Montana. This is the story of the Sohm family as I remember it.
Joseph Sohm was born February 23, I869 in Guttenburg, Iowa along the Mississippi River. His education was mostly from the famous McGuffy Readers which he claimed were better than any text book we have ever had. He had a sharp memory, and even in his later years he could still quote from these readers.
In early manhood he moved to Danbury, Iowa and started farming. In 1893 he was married to Mary Stork, a native of Germany, and here we six children were born: Frank, Joe Jr., Mary, Theresa, Ida, and Ann.
In Danbury many of the people were of German descent, and both German and English were taught in the school. We all spoke German at home as fluently as English. However, when war broke out with Germany, there was a lot of sentiment against Germans; and German was later dropped from the schools. We gradually dropped it from our conversation too, and now we would have trouble even understanding it.
Our farm in Iowa was small, only 80 acres, and land there, even at this time, was expensive; then came the news of "Homesteading" and cheap land out west. Dad decided to take a chance, and in 1914 we moved to Montana. Probably the presence of relatives, the Lammerdings, made them decide to settle in the Kremlin-Fresno area.
Our mother accepted Montana with reservations. She missed the new house we had left behind, and also the trees and greenery of Iowa. Then, too, she missed her beloved church services on Sunday. Here, where churches were so few, she made sure we had our own private prayers at home.
Once a month Father Sansone, a kindly Italian priest, came from Havre to say Mass for us. His transportation at first was the Great Northern "Skidoo". He usually had to stay over a day, so he took his meals and stayed overnight at our house. He loved to play "Rummy" and he thought it was great fun to beat us a game or two before bedtime.
As he was busy with his Havre parish on Sundays, he had Mass for us on Fridays. This one particular Friday, Mary hurried to get breakfast for the priest. She wanted everything to be special, so she started frying bacon and eggs. About that time she thought of Friday. Father Sansone thought it quite a joke. She served the eggs, toast, and juice, but he got no bacon. He teased her about this many times.
Later when automobiles became more common, some parishioner would give him a ride. I remember he always blessed himself before getting into the car. Guess he didn't trust those mechanical monsters.
In time a Catholic church was built at Fresno by the parishioners under the able direction of William Lammerding, Sr. Future priests who came to serve our area were Fr. A. J. Martin, Fr. Peeters, Fr. Werner, and Fr. Kohnke.
After we had lived one year in Kremlin on the Ted Oltesvig place, we moved to Fresno. Here Dad operated the Adams and McGuire Tavern together with a small eating place. This kept Mother, Theresa, and Mary busy as there were always road crews, building crews, teachers, salesmen etc.
I remember one day a troup of Gypsies came into the dining room chattering to each other and paying no attention to us. They dumped the left-over food into anything they had, even their aprons, and left without a word to us.
Periodically a hobo or tramp would come walking down the railroad track, and we could be sure he would make it to our back door. Mother never turned them away hungry. They had a way of communicating with their brother-hoboes, and none of them ever missed us.
Also there were a couple of little tots who never seemed to get quite enough to eat at home. They would come to the door as the customers were nearly finished eating and ask "Have the men eat yet?" They knew if the men were finished there would be a little snack for them and they usually had it timed just right.
Now that the homesteaders were taking over the land, the sheep men were being squeezed out. There were still a few herds north along the Milk River.
The shearing was done by special crews of well-trained and experienced shearers who traveled from job to job. They held the animal just so; and with a few strokes of their powerful clippers, the sheep were separated from their fleece. I don't know their time, but it seemed like only a few minutes.
When word was out that the shearing crew had arrived, the whole populace of Fresno would hurry to the scene and marvel at the speed and dexterity of these experts.
Each fleece was tied into a bundle and tossed up into a huge sack that was as tall as a man and open at the top. There was a small fellow shiny with perspiration, who stomped the fleece firmly. When the sack was full, it was ready to be hauled away.
Ida and I had our work cut out for us too. Dad always kept a few cows to supply milk and butter for the table. It was our job to milk and take care of the cows. There was no herd law and the cows could roam anywhere. We never had any idea where to look for them at night. We got plenty of exercise walking to find them.
Our other chores were carrying water from the windmill which was located between Frank McSloy's grocery and the Schults lumber yard which was run by Bill Brocklesby. This was at least a long city block. Then there was coal and wood to bring in and ashes to take out. Frank and Joe Jr. had taken jobs and were not at home.
There was a school located about two miles south and east of Fresno which we attended for awhile, later a four-room school with full basement was built on the south edge of town. Here we had the grades and two years of High School; the attendance was quite high.
At first we town children felt quite lucky not to have to walk to school, but soon we considered it a lark to walk home with some of the country children. Once in a while if I could talk Ida into doing my chores, I was permitted to go out to my cousins, the Nick Schend's.
We walked with the Tony Schend children whose home was along our way. This made a good place to stop for a rest and a drink, especially if we smelled Mrs. Schend's freshly baked bread. Bread and butter never tasted so good.
Some of the people and businesses in Fresno were Frank McSloy - Post Office and General Store; Mr. Madden - elevator; Lee Dierdorf - banker; Fern Dierdorf - cashier; Bill Brocklesby - lumberyard; Frank Smith - Livery; Herman Belan - barber; Warner Larson - harness shop; Mr. Thibadeau - blacksmith; Dick Transon - elevator, Del Trulson - Post Office and Store after Frank McSloy; Roy Damschen - elevator; Charles Thomas, John Goodman, and Wes Barnes.
Early day teachers were Marie Preeshl, Miss Slater, Mrs. Hunt, and John Treacy. Oh! yes Fresno had a weekly newspaper called "The Fresno Sentinel", Editor - Matt Casey.
We also had a dance hall with the delightful name of "Dreamland Hall". For a while Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hilla from Havre played for our dances. Other entertainment was supplied by traveling musical groups who were quite popular.
By this time people were advancing from horse and buggy to automobile. Distances seemed shorter and trips to Havre and larger towns were quite common. This took the business away and the small towns started to fold up. In 1917 the dry years became worse and money became scarce.
I guess Fresno was hit earlier and harder than the other towns because it was closer to Havre. Dad closed the tavern and went to work for the Great Northern Railroad.
Mary and Theresa went to Great Falls to find employment and later married there. Ida went to Havre to finish her Junior and Senior years of High School.
In the next few years, most of the businesses had closed except the Post Office and store with Del Trulson in charge.
Frank went back to Iowa where he was married and lived for several years. Joe Jr. was also married and farmed the Carruth place near Kremlin and later moved to Havre where he went into business.
In 1925 we moved back to the farm and the summers became drier and crops poorer. To add to our troubles we had to share our crops with the grasshoppers, and they left little for us.
Our neighbors here on the farm were Bill Adams, Albin Hyslop, Charles Hyslop, Ole Swanson, Emil Lindstrom, Frank Thomas, Alfred Larson, Phil Pagel, William Beilke, and Henry Beilke.
We kept a few cows, chickens, and a pig or two; and we always had some garden. This helped our food supply. Our meals through the summer consisted mostly of potatoes, garden lettuce, salt pork, and of course bread.
Our flour was milled at the Gildford Mill managed by Fred Mundy. This mill was a God-send to the whole Hi-Line area as they could take their cheap 35-cent wheat there and bring back flour which made excellent bread.
He also put out a breakfast food which wasn't bad and of course bran for stock feed. This bran, too, was used to mix with the grasshopper poison to save our crops. Mundy's mill was in operation from 1915 to 1951.
Many of the settlers left one by one to find a better life some where else. I don't think Dad had any thought of leaving. He always said if he could keep his taxes and life insurance paid, he wouldn't worry. He figured we could get by for another year somehow.
These years were surely hard, but it wasn't all bad. We had an old piano, and at times the rest of the family or neighbors would gather and have a song fest. Mother had sung in the choir in her younger years and still had a lovely voice. She taught us some German songs she had sung in Germany.
Cards were perhaps our greatest pastime. If someone came to visit we could spend hours at whist or pinochle.
Then occasionally we would gather in someone's living room, empty granary, or hayloft for dancing to the music of a violin, banjo, or accordian. Both Bill and Frank Lammerding brought their "fiddle" and helped with the music. I can even remember dancing in Ole Swanson's little shack. Everything had been moved out and we did quite well. Everyone brought something for lunch, and we had a good time without costing anything.
Ida went to Great Falls for a while but returned to Havre where she worked in Buttrey's Grocery. I graduated from Havre High School and went on to Dillon for two years of college. I got some financial help from Dad and some from Ida. Then with a job at a cafe where I earned my board, I made it through.
I taught the South Fresno School and other schools in Hill County for several years, but I spent my summers at home.
I was always home for harvest and was part of Dad's harvest crew. Headers were still being used to cut the grain, and Dad exchanged work with Alfred Larson.
Mother always had dinner ready for her hungry crew. Even the salt pork tasted like ambrosia. I had time to give her a lift with the dishes while the men took care of the horses.
Later in the fall Emil Lindstrom would come with his thresh machine to thresh our stacks, and we would know how rich we were until another harvest rolled around.
Ida and Del Trulson were married about this time and lived in Fresno where together they continued to run the store and Post Office. In 1937 Ben Domire and I were married, and we went to live on his farm near Rudyard.
The Montana winters were sometimes long and cold. Some members of the family were home occasionally for a short stay, but for the most part our parents spent a few winters alone. Food and fuel had to be provided for several months. It was six miles to the nearest store; and if we had much snow, the roads were sometimes closed for a month or six weeks.
If there had been any sickness, I hate to think what could have happened to them on the farm by themselves. God must have watched over them; for when the roads were finally opened, and we made it out there, we found them well and so happy to see us.
Dad loved to read and spent the long lonely evenings reading anything he could find. As there was no mail delivery, he sometimes ran out of things to read. Mother could be found spending her time between prayer and hand-work. Her well-worn prayer book and bible gave testimony of the hours spent in seeking comfort from the good book.
When the book was laid aside, she reached for her crocheting or knitting. If she ran out of thread, she tore cloth into narrow-strips and used that as thread to make pillows or rugs. They did have a battery operated radio; but when the battery ran out as it usually did, that was it until they could get to town to get it charged again.
After the death of his first wife, Frank came back to Montana with his two oldest boys, Vernon and Clair. He and Dad both farmed for awhile, but Dad was gradually slowing down.
Our mother was the first one of our immediate family to be called to her eternal reward. She had always prayed that she wouldn't become helpless and a burden to anyone in her last years. God must have heard her prayer. She died in September, 1940, after only a few days illness and only a few hours in the hospital. The cause of her death was a respiratory ailment.
In the early forties Del Trulson received word that the Fresno Post Office must be closed because of lack of business. He decided to close the store too and move to Kremlin where they took over the Hoerish Store. This marked the end of Fresno as a business place. The elevator has continued its operation until the present time.
Somewhere between 1940 and 1950 agriculture in Montana picked up again, and those who had withstood the lean years would now reap their reward. Foreclosures had been numerous, and the remaining farmers could add to their holdings with very little capital.
Moisture and weather conditions became more favorable, and farms became larger. With the advent of the practice of summer-fallowing they found they could raise good crops on Montana's good soil. Montana's agriculture had finally come into its own.
As the people left Fresno, so did the buildings. The townsite is now under cultivation. The bank was moved to the Country Club area near Havre, to be used as a home for the Lucky family. Dad's tavern was moved a little distance east to become the beginning of "Sande's Tavern". The school was sold and other buildings were moved or destroyed. The old store and post Office building was accidently burned.
Dad retired in 1951 and went to Livingston to make his home with Mary. He did a lot of card playing and a little fishing, but his retirement was short. He died March, 1953 at Chico Hot Springs near Livingston. He died of an enlarged heart and complications. He collapsed in the Dr's. office after a short walk from the bus to the office.
One more sorrow was to come into our lives. In April, 1967 our brother, Joe, died suddenly in the Sacred Heart Hospital. We missed him very much, but life had to go on.
This brings me to the end of my story and the end of Fresno, which figured greatly in all our lives.
Since I didn't take time or space to give an account of the marriages in our family, I will just name the couples and their children: