Kremlin Homesteader Emmett Purdy, 1912

This history of Kremlin Homesteader Emmett Purdy was written by his daughter Donna Purdy Haugen and son-in-law Ed Haugen.

Kremlin Homesteader Emmett Purdy was among the earliest arriving
Kremlin homesteaders in 1912.

Emmett Louis Purdy was born on February 26,1888 in Mazzepa Township, Grant County, South Dakota. He was the son of Charles Louis Purdy and Eliza Jane Turner Purdy. He resided in Summit, South Dakota until coming to Kremlin, Montana in April of 1912.

Emmett's father was born in either New York State or Canada. As the boundary was in question, he took out U.S. citizenship papers as a safeguard. He was of Scotch-Irish decent on his grandfather's side and French on his mother's side.

Emmett's mother was born in London, England and came to the United States at the age of 2. Emmett's parents were married in Springvalley, Minnesota and later homesteaded in South Dakota where he was born.

Heading Toward Montana

When this area of Montana was opened for homesteading, Emmett's older brother Winfred filed on a homestead claim west of Kremlin. Emmett and his next older brother, Burt D. came on a visit to Winfred's, arriving by train in August 1911.

They returned to South Dakota after visiting and Emmett taught a rural grade school in Grant County, South Dakota for several months until leaving by train for Montana in April 1912. They traveled by "emigrant car" with livestock and equipment.

Brothers Burt and Win had preceded Emmett in March and had erected "shacks" on their claims. Their sister Edythe also filed on a claim adjoining theirs as she had been visiting a friend in Havre, 20 miles east of Kremlin, until their arrival.

In July of 1912 a house was built on Edythe's claim in which they all lived after fulfilling their residence requirement of 3 years and "proving up".

Many ingenious solutions were found to the problem of each homesteader living on his or her claim and yet sharing a building with a brother and sister. Some buildings straddled adjoining property lines, even in one case touching on three separate claims, therefore fulfilling the residence requirements but not living in isolated little boxes.

The Emigrant Car

When Emmett left South Dakota an "emigrant car" was loaded and he and Burt, who had returned for the work of packing, accompanied the shipment. They came by the Milwaukee Railroad to Judith Gap in south-central Montana.

The car was transferred to the Great Northern Railway through Havre and down the mainline of the Great Northern west where it was set off at Gildford, 30 miles west of Havre. Kremlin didn't have an agent at that time; this was a good unloading point however, since their homestead is halfway between the towns of Kremlin and Gildford.

The equipment shipped included: 8 horses, 2 colts and 1 cow, plow, harrow, drill, binder, 2 75-bushel wagons for hauling grain (called triple boxes), corn binder and cultivator. The plow they brought was a one-blade "breaking plow", and they later bought a gang plow (2 blades or shares) and a disk. They brought seed, durham wheat and flax with them.

Homesteading Begins

The wagons and horses were utilized to haul their equipment and supplies to their homestead 4 miles north of Kremlin and 5 miles west or 4 miles north and 5 miles east of Gildford.

After unloading they took the horses back to a farm close to the railroad siding called Xenia, where they could house them until they were able to build their own barn. This took only a few days, but they walked the 3 miles each day back and forth to care for the animals.

Since they came fully equipped they were able to begin clearing the land of rocks and breaking the sod as soon as the barn was completed for the horses. They "broke" 80 acres in the spring of 1912, which was seeded to flax and wheat.

After binding the grain at harvest time, it was put in "shocks" 8 to 10 bundles to a group to protect the unthreshed grain from rain or other damage.

They were able to await the arrival of a neighbor who owned a threshing machine and moved from farm to farm threshing the grain for selling or storage, depending on your present state of finances and if you were able to build a grainery.

Emmett and Burt Purdy had grown up on a farm and also had done the actual farming on their father's farm in South Dakota for two years previous to coming to Montana.

Emmett later received some training in motor repair, which was helpful after tractor power was substituted for horse power. He also received some general business training, this too at a later date. Probably his most valuable training was his on-farm experience in South Dakota.

Farming: South Dakota vs. Montana

As long as horses were used for power, the methods used for Montana were very similar to those used in South Dakota. The important differences that needed to be adjusted to were the difference and variance in climatic conditions, comparing South Dakota's 20-24 inches of moisture per year to Montana's 12-14 inches per year in this area.

The use of tillage tools changed right away as a harrow was found unable to penetrate deep enough to break up the heavy soil to prepare a seed bed and he soon substituted a disk. This was later found no longer useable and a duckfoot came into use when the extreme lack of moisture combined with the ever-present strong westerly winds caused the soil to blow.

In the early years until about 1917-1918 this was not as big a factor. Alternation of crops planted as from wheat to another small grain as oats or barley from year to year was common in South Dakota as a means of renewing nutrients, but this was a method that wasn't as successful in Montana.

Lack of sufficient moisture either stored or in the growing season, wouldn't sustain a crop, year after year on the same ground. Other methods had to be used, such as strip cropping and leaving the ground in summer fallow.

In South Dakota it was the practice to take a crop off and then plow the ground as there would be sufficient moisture in the spring before seeding grain to sustain a new crop.

Fall cultivation was not a good practice in Montana, as too much moisture was lost. Instead, the practice of leaving the stubble in the fall, undisturbed, and working it in the spring with a disk (later a duckfoot) was a better moisture conservation practice, plus the still later stripping and summer fallowing.

Early use of a variety of wheat called winter wheat that could survive freezing over the winter and then would begin growing again in the spring without reseeding, was thought to be a promising practice. It had the advantage of avoiding waiting for the ground to be ready to work in the spring for seeding and therefore maturing earlier.

Since Montana's growing season is often cut short by early frosts in the late summer, this was seen as an advantage, but the capricious winter weather and moisture supply often killed the seed if it went too long without a snow cover.

Successful use of this kind of wheat necessitated waiting until the development of a variety that was more resistant to Montana's peculiar conditions. It was used very successfully by some, however, in the early homesteading years.


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