Promise of the Prairie

The Kunkel House

The Kunkel House

Grandpa Ted caught North Dakota Fever in 1919.

According to other stories about Ted and Fanny, Ted had spent a summer in the Red River Valley working on a farm, fell in love with the land, and decided that’s where he wanted to start his own farm. Thousands of other people caught that same fever. The 1920 federal census shows almost eight thousand residents in Kidder County, compared to less than two thousand just twenty years earlier.

Can you imagine the excitement of those years, as hundreds of people thronged the real estate offices and railroad stations? Every train from the east dropped off new residents looking for farmland or a place to open a store. Greenhorns and shysters everywhere.

At the end of this story the excitement ends. Dust, not rain was the order of the day. Farms failed and people moved away. Population dropped precipitously. Today barely more than twenty-four hundred people call Kidder County home. The town nearest their farm, Lake Williams, is mostly abandoned with several empty houses and storefronts. The excitement has faded. Did the dreams die?

Esther’s story implies in several ways that Grandpa Ted was not the shyster. I’m left with the idea that he wasn’t the best business person.

One last note: Esther mentions a wedding dress. There’s a tradition in the family that I don’t understand very well. Wedding dresses are handed down to the next generation. Grace (Fanny’s daughter, my mother) gave her wedding dress to Karmen (one of Fanny’s great grand daughters) after altering it to fit. One of these fine days I’m going to gather the complete provenance of wedding dresses. All it takes is time and energy.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Esther writes:


Esther on the farm in North Dakota

Ted and Fanny married June 10, 1919, in Sioux City, Iowa, by a Justice of the Peace. Her father gave her a gift of money to buy a wedding dress (I believe the amount was $100). The dress was kept in a trunk the rest of her life, and was later restored by her daughter Grace. It has since been given to her great grand-daughter Erin Havelick. The newlyweds left soon after by train to go to North Dakota, an arduous trip with luggage lost and train delays.

Ted had made a deal with a land agent in Sioux City to lease a farm in Kidder County and this was their destination. To the best of my knowledge, the original deal was not a purchase. Mama used to tell about the summer hired hands restored the house (while Ted and Fanny were boarding with the neighbors Bert and Ethel Bowerman) and she said that Ted wanted to demolish the badly neglected house and build a small one. Because the present owner and/or land agent insisted, they restored the original house which had eight rooms. Many times Fanny was glad that it happened that way since they purchased the land the next year and she would have been stuck with a much smaller house if Ted’s opinion had prevailed.

Ted and Fanny

Ted and Fanny

It seems the early 20’s were blessed with adequate rainfall and good crops and great ambitions to expand the farming operation. They a purchased a section of land a few miles to the north, separated from the home place by a couple of other farms and a series of small lakes. We always referred to it as “the north place.” Ted fenced a home site on the property, planted a shelter-belt of trees, built a small barn, and dug a well. This was where the “new” house would be built. I still remember looking at the book of house plans. They never built the new house. The Great Depression began, and at the same time rainfall became very scarce in all the middle states. The Dust Bowl stories, the migration of mid-west farmers to the west coast, and historians have  documented the privations of the depression years.

I am not sure of exactly when Ted supplemented farming income with other efforts, but it probably started during the promising years, and continued into the 30’s. He sent livestock to market via railroad, and he would either buy cattle and hogs and try to resell them at a profit, or ship them on commission, gathering enough to make full train car loads. He might have fed some of them for a while to increase their size and weight. In the 20’s when many were developing their properties and fencing their land, he consolidated orders for fencing wire and posts.


Census information:,_North_Dakota_Genealogy
Recent pictures of Lake Williams: