Charles Shafer & Elsie Easton and the North Dakota land rush

(Midwestern migration)

* Charles Elmer SHAFER

BIRTH: Charles Elmer Shafer was born on 25 April 1862 to the family of Martin Jackson Shafer and Arvilla A. Dyer. “…Mr. Shafer was the second son of Jackson and Arvilla Shafer, pioneer residents of Lawrence Township…” {D5}

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: Charles and his great grandson Larry F. Pierce [me] share almost identical upper facial features (See image below, right). Comparing photographs of both during later adulthood: cover the lips to chin and both look the identical from the lips up, including nose, cranial shape, hair, eyes, cheeks, eyebrows, its uncanny.(lfp)

MARRIAGE: Charles (age 23) married Elsie Easton (age 18) on 20 Mar 1887, Van Buren Co., MI.{D1}{D4} They were married in the residence of Minister Levi Dewey.{D3, D4}

Charles Elmer SHAFER married Elsie EASTON on 20 March 1887. They had the following children:  ♥ Pearl Elmer (b. 31 Dec 1887), Vern Alorn (19 Aug 1889), George Luther (b. 22 Dec 1890), Dell Earnest (b. 30 Mar 1893), Dale (b. 15 Aug 1894)

LIVELIHOOD: Charles was a farmer, auto livery owner-operator.{D4}

HOME: 1. “They (Charles and Elsie) lived in a shed roofed shack type of house on a farm he owned south east of Hartford, about two and a half miles, where his children were born.”
2. “In 1900 he built a modern type home for those days, with running water and bath.”
3. “In 1906 sold the farm and moved to a farm on west side of road just north of the old Shafer School house, that stood on north east corner of crossroads, and where his children went to school.
4. “In 1907 he bought the first Ford touring car in Hartford Twp (about $1000).”
5. “In 1911 or 1912 he moved to Hartford and operated the first auto livery there.”

[Internet image: This is a photo of a bustling downtown Hartford MI looking west toward Watervliet.
Date is unknown, however, is believed to be about 1911. Note the 1907 Ford Touring car, the only car in the picture and remember,
Charles bought the first car in the township just 3-4 years earlier. Is there a chance he’s in town and one of the men seen here talking.]

6. In 1913 the extended Shafer family moved to ND where they homesteaded. {D7} See Historical Note, below.
7. On 29 June 1915 Charles and Elsie were living in Ensign Township, Renville County, North Dakota. Members of this household included: Charles E. Shafer; his wife, Elsie Easton; their sons, Dale and Dell; and Dell’s wife, Ruth Kellogg. 8. The families other sons, including Pearl Shafer and his wife Alma D. Kellogg, were not found (census search) living in Renville County, North Dakota, they were apparently homesteading in townships of adjacent counties.{D6} During this period, son Pearl and his wife Alma, lived in a sod house in North Dakota.{D7}
9. In 1916 the families North Dakota farms failed because of the weather and the extended family broke up. Charles and Elsie moved to Wolf Point, Montana where they continued homesteading – still using the same Ford, which they had already made two trips to Florida in. {D2} Their son, Pearl, and his wife Alma, moved to northern Michigan where Pearl became a lumber jack for several years. The other Shafer sons and their families worked their way back to Hartford over the next few years, after holding jobs for a few years in Detroit, Minneapolis, etc.
10. “Due to illness in 1923 they returned to Hartford, MI.” {D2}
[Photo above: Adults, Charles and Elsie (Easton) Shafer, their son, ♥ Pearl Elmer Shafer at left.]

1. Charles Shafer and Elsie Easton, moved to ND in 1913, and then in 1916 removed to Wolf Point, MT where they homesteaded;
2. Their son, Vern, had a child born at Glenburn, ND on 18 Nov 1914;
3. Their son, Dell, married Alma’s sister, Ruth, in Crookston, MN on 9 Sep 1914 and taught school during 1914 – 1915 in Glenburn, Renville, ND (about 17 miles north of Minot), they had a daughter who was born at Glenburn, ND, on 17 Aug 1915;
4. Their son, George and his wife lived 1 year in ND, ca, 1914-1915. See the article, “The North Dakota Experience ca 1913 – 1916: The Charles Shafer and Pearl Elmer Shafer families.”

EVENT: “…Mr. and Mrs. Shafer formerly resided for many years on a farm in southeast Hartford, but for many years had resided in North Dakota and Montana. They returned last fall, Mr. Shafer being in ill health, and went to Detroit to spend the winter with their sons, where the death occurred.” {D5}

DEATH: April 1924; “The body of Charles E. Shafer, aged 62, was brought here Saturday evening from Detroit where his death occurred last Saturday following a long period of ill health.” {D5} Charles died of stomach cancer.

BURIED: Charles and Elsie are buried together on the hill in Maple Hill Cemetery, Hartford, MI

1. Latter Day Saints, IGI Micro Fiche, LDS Tucson, AZ, p. 8,741.
2. Descendants of John Shafer 1810 – 1967 by Howard Leroy Shafer of Union City, IN, printed 1967, about 100 pages.
3. From a newspaper article pasted in the Pulaski Easton family Bible, 1856 edition.
4. Certified Copy of Marriage Record, Record Number 5318; Van Buren County Clerk, Van Buren County, Paw Paw, MI.
5. Obituary of Charles E. Shafer; Hartford newspaper; article found in the Shafer family Bible.
6. 1915 South Dakota State Census, Renville County, Ensign Township; census data collected 29 June 1915.
7. Recollections of granddaughter, Hazel M. Pierce, 1988.

* Elsie EASTON

BIRTH: Elsie was born to the Pulaski Easton family on 31 July 1869. {D1}, 30 July 1869 {D2} at Hartford, MI.

HOME: She was raised in a farm family.

MARRIAGE: Elsie Easton, age 18, of Hartford, married Charles Shafer, age 23, of Lawrence, a farmer, on 20 March 1887. {D3}
EVENT: When son, Pearl, married the once divorced Alma Delight Kellogg, on 25 Dec 1912, Elsie decided she’d have nothing to do with Pearl’s family. When Pearl and Alma’s children were born and the family would visit Elsie, she rejected these grandchildren by pushing them away and exclaiming. “Get!”. When Pearl’s daughter, Hazel May Shafer (the future wife of Robert F Pierce) was a child, she’d been to the hospital or doctors office to have her appendix removed. After the surgery and still being too ill to be taken home, she was left to stay with her grandmother, Elsie (Easton) Shafer in Hartford. As Hazel was recovering, Elsie told her in a hostile manner, “You talk too much! I’ll be glad when you go home.” Sixty years later, as Hazel (my mother) recounted this story to me, I could see in her face, voice and gestures that her grandmother’s attitude and behavior still hurt her. {D5}
Note: Elsie Easton was daughter of Pulaski Easton. As a young man, Pulaski traveled west as a California Gold Rush ’49er, see post.

DEATH: 15 October 1940. Then widowed, Elsie died of “Organic heart disease”, at age 71 years 3 months 20 days, in Hartford, MI.{D4, D6}

1. Date taken from handwritten notes made in the Pulaski Easton family Bible, 1856 edition. The Family Records appear to have been written primarily by Pulaski Easton with several later additions by another person.
2. Certified Copy of Record of Birth, Record Number 1703, Van Buren County Clerk, Van Buren County, Paw Paw, MI.
3. Certified Copy of Marriage Record, Record Number 5318; Van Buren County Clerk, Van Buren County, Paw Paw, MI.
4. Certified Copy of Death Record; Van Buren County Clerk, Van Buren County, Paw Paw, MI.
5. Recollections of granddaughter, Hazel M. Shafer-Pierce, 1988.
6. Descendants of John Shafer 1810 – 1967 by Howard Leroy Shafer of Union City, IN, printed 1967, about 100 pages.


The North Dakota Experience ca 1913 – 1916:
The Charles Shafer and Pearl Elmer Shafer families.

In 1913 or 1914, the Charles Shafer family with its grown and married sons, traveled from rural Hartford, Van Buren County, Michigan to the vast open plains near Glenburn, Renville County, North Dakota.
Among those in the extended family who moved to North Dakota were: the parents, Charles Shafer and wife Elsie Easton; their son Pearl and his wife Alma Delight Kellogg; a second son, Vern, and his family; a third son, George, and his family; and a single son, Vern, who married Ruth Kellogg, Alma’s sister, during the families several year residency in “the Dakotas.” Little has surfaced in regard to the family’s reason for leaving Michigan or their attempt to settle on the arid northern plains. The following dialog will shed some light on the early 20th Century public perception of North Dakota and hint at conditions encountered by the family.

Railroad building in the late 19th and early 20th Century brought a population boom to North Dakota and completed the settlement of the state. As the railroads extended their branches, lines of villages and towns sprang up along the new track. From 1900 to 1910, 137 new towns were incorporated, where as only 75 had been incorporated prior to 1900. In 1906, the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and Labor started a promotional enterprise known as the “North Dakota Magazine”. By 1910 they had distributed 170,000 copies of the magazine, 265,000 folder type maps of the state, 10,000 wall maps and 370,500 folders and circulars.
[Internet image above right: Typical North Dakota grasslands.]
A mania to secure land seized people, while political leaders in Great Britain and the USA said that the growth of population and the end of unoccupied and tillable land meant a shortage of food, because food consumption was increasing faster than food production. These trends, they said, would mean scarcity and high prices; they would make the farmers the most prosperous class. Both the businessmen of the new towns and railroad employees caught land fever. They filed on homesteads, built claim shacks, slept in them long enough to comply with the law, and hired others to plow and seed the required acreage. The average value of farm land per acre, in North Dakota, rose from $11.00 in 1900 to $26.00 in 1910 and to $35.00 in 1920.

The railroads advertised for settlers. After 1909, although the boom was slackening, the Great Northern alone moved 64,000 new settlers into the state. By 1910 almost 51% of the farmers were foreign born. During the span of the boom, from 1898 to its end in about 1915, North Dakota’s population grew from an estimated 270,000 to 637,000, which was the number counted in the 1915 state census.
These latter day pioneers soon dotted the unsettled countryside with their shacks. On the open prairie, the newcomers often built 14’ by 16’ – foot sod houses, laying up tiers of sod. Windows were small. The walls sometimes 2.5 feet thick, were often boarded on the inside and whitewashed. Many had floors of cottonwood slabs or boards. Occasionally, settlers hauled lumber from a railroad station and built a 14 by 14 foot claim shanty covered with tar paper, often putting sod outside the walls for greater warmth. Sometimes sun dried bricks were used to construct thick walled houses of two or three rooms which were plastered inside and out with marl and then whitewashed, some were sheathed inside and out with boards. [Above Internet image of a typical old sod house.]

The acreage planted to wheat doubled during the period; wheat production during half of those years was greater than the amount produced in Kansas. The First World War increased the price of wheat, but the state did not benefit much from it. In 3 of the 6 years from 1914 through 1919 North Dakota had poor harvests due to drought.
Rural schools usually had poor teachers. They often taught a term of seven months for $260, about 62% of the yearly wage of a domestic servant in North Dakota. Most of them were farmer’s daughters holding second grade elementary certificates. In 1916 their average teaching experience was two years, so that each fall half the rural teachers were beginners.
Many settlers homesteaded land unsuitable for farming; others found that their farming experience in humid regions was not much help on the semiarid plateau. Many speculators left without ever having farmed; others farmed a while but soon gave up and sold out to their neighbors. Some had never farmed before; some lived in town, still plying their trades as teachers, carpenters and businessmen. Gradually the smaller farmers sold out to the larger ones and left.

On 29 June 1915 Charles and Elsie were living in Ensign Township, Renville County, North Dakota. Members of this household included: Charles E. Shafer; his wife, Elsie Easton; their sons, Dale and Dell; and Dell’s wife, Ruth Kellogg. Note: Renville County is on the north side of the state boardering Canada.
After 1915, it almost became a folk saying in the state that, “North Dakota’s greatest export was people.” The extended Shafer family came late in the land rush. By the end of 1916 the family had departed North Dakota, all making their way back to Van Buren County, Michigan.
They were but a single group amongst many thousands of families who came and found the land overpopulated for its dry and sparse resources, and whom then moved on. By 1920 some 71% of the owner operated farms were mortgaged. When the land price bubble burst in the early 1920s, many farmers lost their land, banks failed and the optimistic time of settlement passed to a long period of stagnation that was eventually followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s. The settlement of the Dakotas was a finalizing period which closed the book on the frontier experience in the continental United States. The country was filled from coast to coast with an underlying, basic culture: farming. Farming had been king since the colonial days, now growth would shift its focus to the cities and a national infrastructure.

•  History of North Dakota, copyright 1966 by Elwyn B. Robinson, published by University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
•  Descendants of John Shafer 1810 – 1967 by Howard Leroy Shafer of Union City, IN, printed 1967, about 100 pages.
•   1915 North Dakota State Census, Renville County, Ensign Township. Enumerated 29 June 1915.

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Filed under My family in history, __4. Midwestern migration

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