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Just dropping by ... Three pioneer stories

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairy Published on 19 July 2021

Recently, I have been recording family histories, and I found three stories I heard as a child that I thought my readers would like. Looking back to the past, there are stories that reveal the character and desires of our ancestors and shed light our own traditions and desires.

My grandmothers on both sides of the family were women of courage and perseverance but approached life in different ways. 



Poison water

One time, Grandma went to stay with one of her friends while her husband was gone. While she was there, one night her friend had a terrible toothache, and they spent until 2 a.m. trying to get it to stop aching so they could go to bed. Finally, it subsided and they were able to sleep. In the gray of dawn, they were exhausted and didn’t hear the American Indian sneak into the house until he was right over the bed. He leaned over the bed and reached for them in a menacing way. Grandma saw him and scrambled from the bed. In the ensuing struggle, she grabbed a chair and broke it over his head, knocking him cold.

With much effort, the two women dragged him onto the porch. They watched him through the window until he came to and crawled on his horse and rode away.

When Grandma hit him with the chair, she knocked his headband off. She took the band and hung it on the hat rack made of long horns above the fireplace.

“Let’s make a pot of coffee and some cookies. I am afraid we will have visitors,” she said.

It wasn’t long before they heard horses. They watched the chief and his braves dismount and come to the door. They were painted and ready for war. Grandma motioned for them to enter and offered them coffee and cookies. When the old chief’s eyes saw the headband on the horns above the fireplace, his eyes grew angry. Grandma pantomimed the battle and showed him the broken chair and the blood on the floor. The old chief’s eyes grew angrier, but Grandma knew it was not anger directed toward her. The chief waved his hand at the braves, they mounted their horses and rode away in a cloud of dust.


A few weeks later, Grandma was staying with her brother and his wife. This same Indian came to the corral where Grandma’s brother Joe was working and asked if he might stay the night. Joe, who was fluent in the language, said “Give your horse a drink at the well, bring him to the corral and we will feed him.”

As the brave led his horse to the well, he saw Grandma coming down the path with a bucket. He jumped on his horse and sped past Joe saying, “Water poison.”

Joe looked at Grandma curiously. “What was the matter with him? When he saw you, he said our water is poisoned.”

“That is the Indian I hit over the head with the chair.”

Joe laughed. He understood why the water was poisoned. He had heard that the Indian, because of his conduct, had been banished from the tribe.

The thief at dinner

My great-great-grandparents on the paternal side were hospitable to a fault. It didn’t matter where a person came from, who he was or what the intentions. If someone came to their door hungry, he was fed. If he was tired, he found a place to sleep. Grandma would often walk to the store to see if a destitute person needed help.


Once a man came to Grandma’s house, and while he was eating, he said, “I hear there has been some horse stealing going on around here.” Grandmother replied, “Someone stole our team a while back. We were fortunate to have another we could use, but poor Mr. Nielson lost his only team. Last week, someone stole it. I feel so sorry for him and his big family. He has nothing to plow and plant a crop to preserve food for the winter.”

The next morning, Nielson’s horses and my grandparents’ team were back in the pastures. They were convinced the horse thief was the guest at dinner.

The king is humbled

On one occasion, Grandma had been asked to go take care of Mrs. Deisenhofer, who had a new baby. Mr. Deisenhofer was a schoolteacher during the fall and winter and an affluent farmer in the summer. His wife waited on him hand and foot. Grandma went there in the summer to stay with and care for his wife until the baby came. Usually when Grandma was hired to care for the mother and baby, she did all the cooking, cleaning and caring for other children.

Mr. Deisenhofer’s wife milked the cows, did the chores, chopped and carried in the wood. He figured since he worked in the field, it was not his job to do anything else. Grandma arrived at his place on a Sunday morning, and right away things began to change. Mr. Deisenhofer got up, put on his suit and was ready for his Sunday meetings. “Miss Tanner, here is the milk bucket, just throw some hay to the cow, and bring the milk in and strain it.” Grandma had heard tales of Mr. Deisenhofer’s treatment of women. “I was hired to take care of your wife and baby, do the cooking and cleaning in the home. I was not hired to milk and feed the cow,” she said firmly. He was so flabbergasted a woman would talk back to him that he grabbed the bucket and went to milk the cow.

It wasn’t long until he came back with milk all over his face and suit. There was no milk in the bucket. Grandma knew the cow had kicked the bucket over. Grandma couldn’t hide her laughter. Red-faced and huffing, he fumed into the house and left without saying a word. After he was gone, his wife began to laugh. She said, “I didn’t dare laugh while he was here, but it serves him right. He should take more responsibility to do the chores. Most of the time he just goes around dressed up like he was the king of it all.”

Mr. Deisenhofer had a large farm and hired men to come and work it for him while he bossed the job. He said, “This bunch of men and I will be home to eat dinner.” Grandma was very capable of putting out a good meal for a lot of working men. Grandma said, “Mr. Deisenhofer, you will need to get me an armload of wood so I can cook the dinner.” Mr. Deisenhofer ignored the comment and went about his business. Just before he was ready to leave, she said, “Would you please bring some wood? I am just about out.” He still ignored her.

Grandma was not to be ignored. She peeled the potatoes, put them on the stove, which by now was cold, got her vegetables and everything on the stove ready to cook. She even made biscuits and put them in the pan. Then she got a long piece of wood, stuck it in the stove and waited for him to come.

When he came in, he said, “Is dinner ready?” Grandma said, “Just as soon as you get me some wood.” He and his men washed up and sat around the table already decked with plates and silverware. The time was going by, but there was no food. He went to the kitchen to investigate. He saw the food on the cold stove with the wood sticking out the front.

“Why haven’t you cooked the dinner? You know I have all those men waiting out there,” he stormed. Grandma rocked back and forth in the chair and calmly replied, “As soon as you get me some wood, I’ll get it cooked.” He raged out of the house muttering under his breath. He took his men to a boarding house to buy dinner.

After that, the cow was milked and the wood was stacked in the wood box. She had no more trouble with him. Mrs. Deisenhofer said, “How could you treat him so?” Grandma said, “He has got to learn he is a family man who has responsibilities and not just a king that sits on a throne and gives orders.” end mark

Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.