When the land in North Dakota was first made available, thousand of homesteaders flooded in to file claims. After filing on a piece of land, the homesteader had to plow so many acres per year and meet some other requirements, one of which was to live on the land for a period of five years. Being a male-dominated society at the time, most of those who came were men, and many were single. Few women came to homestead on their own because it was believed that a woman’s place was in the home, cleaning and cooking. However, the drawback of this male-dominated society was that most of these single men couldn’t cook.
On this date in 1939, F. Collins Hoyt, editor of the Portal International related how the lack of culinary skills made homesteading quite difficult. He and Earl Waters, who would later become Burke County’s States Attorney, decided to file on a homestead in “them thar hills south of Lignite” in Burke County. Mr. Hoyt already had filed on an 80 acre tract beside his parents on the flats near the town of Flaxton, but he was allowed to claim an additional 80 acres.
So in 1906, Hoyt, along with Waters, a cousin named James Bliss and another good friend, Al Harris, settled on this new tract of land. Of the four young men, there were no cooking skills between them, so they placed their claim shacks as close to each other as possible, and they all ate at Hoyt’s shack. It was quite simple, once a week, Mr. Hoyt would hitch up the horses and travel the twenty miles to his parent’s claim near Flaxton where his mother would cook up a supply of bread, beans and other foods, enough to last a week. Sometime they ate too fast or, due to wintry conditions, were unable to make the trip and then they were on their own.
At that point, they made what they called “Kill Devils,” a substitute for bread. Basically they mixed up flour, water, lard, baking soda and salt, stirred it up and then set it over the laundry stove to bake. In perhaps a half hour or longer, depending upon the size of the batch, the so-called bread would be ready. After a hard days work, they were hungry enough to eat it, especially when it was coupled with Mulligan stew, which was a water-based potpourri of anything edible that could be scavenged, but… it was nothing like Mom’s home cooking.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The International (Portal, ND) December 28, 1939