A PIONEER WOMAN: MRS. WALKER CLARK BERRY OR
MARY ADELLA FINLEY BERRY
BY Frances Maude Berry Hertz
....."My mother came to Ree Heights, Hand County, South Dakota, in September, 1885, via North Western R.R. She was accompanied by her father, A.J. Finely of Toulon, Ill., and her two oldest children; James J. and Lola D. Her husband and his brother Jim had driven overland that spring, filed on land and made a home.
Della Finley came of pioneer stock. Her great grandfather, Robert Finley was the second white man to settle in Richland Co., Ohio, prior to 1812. Her grandfather, John Finley, was born in Fayette Co. Penn. in 1802. His wife, Rebecca Gaffney was German-Irish. In 1834 John Finley rode horseback from Ohio, to Decatur, Ill. He taught school and started a store. His family followed. Twice he returned to Pittsburg to buy goods. In the spring of 1839, he and his family moved to Stark Co. Ill. There the Finley’s have lived ever since, respected and prosperous people. One son, Andrew Jackson, was the father of Mary Adella, our subject. Her mother, Margaret Jane Carter, also was born in Ashland Co., Ohio. My great grandfather, A.J. Finley, was county judge at Toulon, Ill. from 1857 to 1861. My grandfather, A.J. Finley, successfully owned and operated a stock farm of 300 acres near West Jersey, Ill. He was one of the pioneer thorough-bred stock raisers in Illinois. My mother, the fourth child, was born Sept. 23, 1857, on the homestead near West Jersey, or Toulon, in Stark Co., Ill. She was of a family of nine. When a young lady, she went to Abingdon, near by, to learn the dressmaking trade. (That knowledge came in handy when she was sewing for her eight girls.) She later went to Farragut or Northboro, near Shenandoah, Page Co., Iowa to visit her brothers and families, William and Oscar. While there she met Walker Clark Berry and married him at Clarinda, Iowa, on Dec. 20, 1882. They lived at Northboro for a few years, farming; moved to Freemont, Neb. by covered wagon with another couple, but did not live there long and returned to Northboro. In the spring of 1885 Walker and his brother Jim, drove overland to Ree Heights, S.D. His wife and two children went to her parent’s home in Ill. and stayed until in Sept. when the new home had been established.
The brothers each filed on a tree claim and pre-emption about ten miles north and a bit west of Ree Heights. My father dug down for both house and barn. Probably about 15 ft. square; about half under ground and the upper half sodded up. The house had an outside door at the bottom of the open cellarway. At the time of the big blizzard Jan. 12, 1888, that outside cellarway filled with snow and had to be shoveled inside, the morning after the storm, so they could get out. During the storm when my father went to the barn to care for his stock, he tied a clothesline around his waist and fastened it to the door. Many got lost and froze to death as the storm came up in a hurry after a seemingly nice morning; yet many remarked about a strangeness in the atmosphere. The temperature dropped rapidly and the wind pierced through everything. People literally froze in their homes and finally were driven to break up furniture to burn. My parents were fortunate in having the sod house to break the wind. Many teachers got panicky, dismissed the children, hoping they could get home before it got too bad, but instead the children got lost and froze to death. Many teachers perished, too. Bridget Young, from Miller, was one. Tommy Grant, living north of Miller had an experience that day. He and a son went to the barn to care for their stock. Returning to the house, they got lost and began to despair. With his Irish wit he told: "We were filled with fear. I said to son, ‘Let us kneel and pray’ and in doing so my knee rested on a pile of cow dung. I felt another and another near by, and knew we were in our own barnyard and saved" I was two days old at the time of the blizzard so did not share in the anxiety of those few days.
My father and Uncle Jim used their horses and a team of mules they had brought from Iowa, to help build the N.W.R.R. going through. It was completed to west of Ree Heights. Mostly they worked from Highmore to Blunt. This team of mules was my father’s pride, named George and Charley. He had raised them. They were not mean. Each time he hitched them to the wagon, they stood perfectly still until we all got into the wagon. When given the signal, off they started with a dash, fairly stretching out. My father would make no effort to stop them and with a pleased look on his face, would let them run the usual half mile or so before settling to the usual pace. We had them many years but when they began to get old, he traded them to Gill Collins, south of Miller, for a team of large white horses. How he hated those horses because they had taken the place of his nice small mules. When he went to the barn and saw them standing like mountains in the old mule stall, he with difficulty cared for them. He soon disposed of them. A few weeks after he traded off the mules, he drove down the main street of Miller and the mules were tied to a hitching post there. They brayed and brayed. It about overcame him emotionally.
Due to shortage of drinking water, they had to leave those first homes and move in nearer to Ree Heights, renting two different farms. The fall of 1889 there was not much food, so Mother, Jay, Lola, Estella, myself and Faye went to spend the winter at the old Finley home in Illinois. Jim Berry’s wife (Aunt Frances, for whom I was named) and three children went to New York to spend it with her parents. While in Illinois that winter, I had an abscess on my back when it was spring and time for us to return to S.D. I could not yet walk. Year old Faye could not walk either, so she felt she could not care for both of us on the trip. Faye stayed with the grandparents with the understanding they would bring her out in the fall. This did not materialize and in four years when they did come they were so attached to her, they did not like to give her up. She continued to live with the grandparents.
In early days, people drove herds of horses through. I recall, one morning we saw mist rising from an abandoned well—rather shallow—a horse had fallen in and been left unnoticed. My father and a neighbor pulled it out. A sorry looking thing, covered with mud, so weak it could not stand. Another time a horse was left with a bad cut on the hoof. We nursed "Skip", loved her and used her for years.
Dr. Smith was a congenial neighbor of Riverside Twp. on Wolf Creek. He sometimes taught school in Ree Heights. He was my first teacher. We may not have learned so much but we all loved him. I often sat on his lap when he taught and when he napped we all kept quiet to not waken him. He was not young. He said he knew the Walker Berry family pretty well and felt he had accomplished something; could remember the birthdates of the whole family! He liked to talk and when they had company he said he always talked a blue streak so they would not notice how much they lacked in furniture, etc.
I remember hearing them tell of one Indian scare but think it did not amount to much. The hills in south of Ree Heights had gulches and we would go there on horseback with pails, to pick choke cherries or wild plums if we were fortunate to have a good season. I always dreaded those trips even thought I knew they were a great help to us for I had a feeling that Indians were lurking in the trees. Guess I was used to and liked the wide open spaces. As our homestead had once been in the Indian reservation, they were in the habit of often traveling that way from the Stephan Mission or the Indian Agency in Chamberlain to a reservation in northeastern S.D. Several wagon loads usually traveled together. They would make camp near-by and we would enjoy (if we had a grown-up with us) visiting them in their tepees and would trade dogs, etc, for moccasins.
In 1895 my father took up a homestead about 12 miles south of Ree Heights. He lived there the rest of his life, 25 years. This had been an Indian reservation and just at that time opened up for settlers. Due to an error in the land office at Huron, he had not really filed on the land, or all the land he wanted. He was not aware of this error. After we had lived several years on it, a Maude Bennett from Minnesota, claimed she really had filed on it.
It went to court, even U.S. Supreme Court and after several years, it was established in my father’s name.
After a hard winter with shortage of feed, many farmers lost cattle. In the spring Tommy Grant from Miller would come out to skin them and sell the hides. He would visit us and entertain us with his wit. Before he entered Ree Heights, he said he would tie gunny sacks over the heads of his horses so they would not see the ‘nasty little town of Ree Heights’. We had several bad prairie fires, often getting near the buildings. My brothers and father would go with a group and fight for hours. When we were able to buy a spring wagon it was a real event and a step up from the wagon. Many times I would ride with my father on a load of wheat to Miller where the Miller Bros. Milling Co. ground it into flour; so we would have a load both ways. About a 40 mile trip (20 each way) diagonally across the plains and hills. We sometimes went to Highmore where my father did banking with the Drew Bros. Bank and shopped at the McLaughlin store. At that store he once got a dark flowered cotton material for each of us eight girls a dress. Some array, I fancy!
My mother did a great deal of knitting, for always some child needed stockings or mittens. She had belonged to the Congregational Church in Ree Heights, and often Rev. Fisk and wife would drive out and stay overnight with us after we moved to the homestead in Spring Hills Twp. Mrs. Fiske was a small crippled lady and had to be carried in and out of the buggy. Was very affectionate and kissed us all as she came and again when she left. Mother may have helped organize a S.S. in the hall school house, but it did not last long. She was instrumental in organizing a church and S.S. in the Center school. Rev. Everhart (Christian Church) from Highmore, came out for that. We had revival meetings. When that ceased to function, we all drove northwest into Hyde Co., Van Order Twp. I think, to attend S.S. at the Cramer school. Another thing we all enjoyed and took part in, was the literary societies. We would go miles in a bob sled or wagon to attend them. At the Hall school, the Maxwell family furnished the most talent and over in Hyde Co. the A.N. Van Camp family did the big share. The Obed Bawdon family and we usually went together to the Hyde Co. one; a whole sled full.
Della Berry was a quiet, refined woman, hard of hearing due to inheritance, so was unable to do much in a public way but more than did her part to have her children get what schooling they could and get religious training. As we girls were able, we all taught school; mostly in the country in Hand and Hyde and Turner counties, but Bernice and I went to Normal and were able to teach in town. Mother did without that we might have, but did not complain. Her special friends were: Mrs. Frank Gardner in Ree Height, Mrs. Elfrank north of town and Mrs. Henry Heasley south of town.
The house we lived in south of town, was moved out from Ree Heights. We at times milked many cows - I recall 35 one summer-. Each day we churned with a big barrel churn, handle on each side. Cream separators were just out. My mother worked this butter and we kept it in butter tubs in our cool cave until each Tuesday we took it to town. A refrigerator car went through then and we shipped mostly to Wayne & Low in Chicago. In 1900 my mother’s parents celebrated their golden wedding and she, I and all children younger went by train to Illinois for that. We stayed about 2 months and what a wonderful time it was for me. I was 12 years old, had never remembered seeing such "grandeur" before; such lovely big homes, etc. A real eye-opener and I never forgot it.
A great event in our lives was when a barrel or two of clothing and apples and nuts would be sent to us from Illinois. We tried to go to town once a week to get the mail, etc. My father read the "Weekly Inter Ocean" from cover to cover, mostly aloud to us. He often read books to us of an evening, too. Usually we would run out of coal if the winter was hard and much snow. That was an ordeal. He would start for the 12 mile journey early, rest his horses in town for a few hours and often be after dark and sometimes lost, in getting home with a bobsled of coal. Team would be exhausted for often the road had to be broken both ways, due to wind. The little hills all looked alike when covered with snow after dark. During the summer we would go in south a few miles where the Braden & Cowan ranch ran big herds of cattle, and pick up "cow Chips" by the wagon load.
After my father died, my mother and two youngest children moved to Parker, S.D. to live. Later, for a few years she lived with her father in San Diego, Cal. After his death she returned to S.D. She spent most of her time with Verna and family. After she became so hard of hearing, her main pleasure was to ride some place in an auto. She made several trips from S.D. to her old home and relatives in Illinois, stopping in Iowa City, Iowa to see me and family and to see relatives in Shenandoah. She did not have the sorrow of seeing one of her eleven children die. In the spring of 1937 she went by auto and new trailer house with Lola and family, to Wenatchee, Washington. She soon became ill and died there at the home of Margaret, on July 16, 1937. Buried in Ree Heights, beside her husband."
Link for article:
Berry, Mary Adella Finley; Hand 1885