Haymarsh is a living ghost town on the prairie
Before North Dakota became a state, the Haymarsh community began to form ten miles north of Glen Ullin, with the original settlers coming to the area in the early 1880’s.
In 1878, the Bismarck and Fort Keogh Stage Road was established between Bismarck and Fort Keogh near Miles City, Mont. The trail was a mail and freight stage line, which passed through the rolling valley known as Haymarsh.
Pioneers made their way out west to discover riches and live their American Dream. There were several ways to acquire the dream of “free” land. The early settlers could stake a claim through the 1862 Homestead Act, which allowed the head of the household to acquire 160 acrews of free land by living and improving the land for five years. After two years the homesteader could outright buy the land for $1.25 per acre.
Other means to acquire land was through a tree claim, meaning the land owner had to plant ten acres of trees, with seeds provided by the government, and keep them alive for eight years,
According to the book “100 Years of Faith,” by Mary Gietzen, another form of obtaining land was through a reservoir claim, where essentially, a dam or dug-out had to be built on the land.
The book “100 Years of Faith,” gives a detailed explaination of how Haymarsh, the church and the school were all formed. According to Gietzen, “The coming of the railroad opened up North Dakota to massive settlements by European populations, It was the last frontier in America and was an attraction to immigrants coming primarily from the Germanic countries.”
However, Gietzen explains how many of the early settlers in the Haymarsh area were not straight off the ship. Instead many homesteaders came from the east looking for their American dream.
Jacob Grewer, ventured out west from Ohio in the early 1880’s and had a homestead about one half mile southwest of the present St. Clement’s church.
Nick Classen came in 1883, from Ohio, to live at what was known as the Keller place.
In 1883, Frederick Kinnischtzke, from Ohio, homesteaded on the present LeRoy Kinnischtzke farm.
Also in 1883, Peter Braun, from Michigan, homesteaded on the Braun farm straight south of the church.
Peter J. Gietzen from Michigan moved out west in 1883, with his brother-in-law Nick Simon and his family.
Peter Kastner and his family was the only German-Russian family in the Haymarsh area in 1883, because most Germans from Russia families were settling south of Glen Ullin.
According to “100 Years of Faith,” “In 1885, Rev. Heidegger from Ohio, visited this area and was impressed with the possibilities here. When he returned to Ohio he encouraged a number of Catholics there to found a settlement in Haymarsh.”
The first family to respond to Rev. Heidegger’s encouraging words was Clemens Wehri and his son Frank in 1885. They ventured to Haymarsh to see the spectacular rolling hills and boggy marsh and came back in 1886 with their families.
Clemens and his wife Anna brought their daughters and their husbands, Annie and Henry Kottenbrock and Josephine and Simon Nagel. Frank brought his wife Josephine and their three small daughter.
Prairie life was met with uncertainty for the early settlers. According to Gietzen, Grandma Anna was working outside with the three small children while Grandpa Clemens was in Hebron on business. She peered on top of a hill to see two Native Americans waving at her and so she returned the gesture.
The Natives rode down to greet Grandma Anna and told her they were hungry. She gave them a loaf of bread she baked that morning, but was timid. The Natives were grateful and rode onto Hebron. While in town, they came across Grandpa Clemens and greeted him as a friend. They told the other Natives of their kindness and said Grandpa Clemens was a good man.
According to “100 Years of Faith,” “There were no Natives living in the immediate vicinity of Hebron in the early days, yet occasionally they came down from the north to trade and hunt. Whenever they came they used to make their camp about where the Urban Mercantile was located.”
“In the evenings the Natives would sit around their camp and it was not an unusual sight to see the village men folks down at the Indian camp watching the proceedings.”
When Clemens and Frank Wehri brought their families to Haymarsh they brought enough lumber for their homes and enough for the first church.
Although there was lumber for the church there wasn’t a site until Simon Nagel and Henry Kottenbrock each donated ten acres of land for a church site. Before the original St. Clement’s church was built, mass was held in several different homes until Fr. Ambrose designed and helped build the first wooden church. The structure was built in 1887, and was 14 feet by 40 feet and continued to serve Haymarsh community until 1891.
By 1890, Haymarsh became an incorporated community. The goals of the early settlers was first, to build a roof over their heads, second, to build a church, then finally their efforts went into building a school.
According to an article called “North Dakotans seek salvation for churches,” by Judy Keen, of USA Today, written in 2007, “North Dakota has more churches – operating, abandoned or used for other purposes – per capita than any other state.”
Haymarsh is no longer an incorporated town in Morton County and the church’s parish is dwindling. Unfortunately the church was the glue that held the community together. However, a non-profit group, Preservation North Dakota, saw the potential in St. Clement’s Church, along with Mary Ann Duppong.
In 2007, a $5,000 grant from Preservation North Dakota, was given to St. Clement’s for repairs. Former residents and local supporters matched the grant funds, which went towards a new paint job and replaced cracked stained-glass windows.
Although the lonely, unincorporated town of Haymarsh barely stands, the history remains. Bloodlines from original settlers still live on the land and they remember everything.
Kelvin Gietzen, distant relative of Peter J. Gietzen, one of the original settlers, still lives on his farm near St. Clement’s. He said his relatives went to the school in Haymarsh and his family still owns much of their original land the Gietzen family came to homestead moving to Haymarsh in 1883.
In the long run these early settlers were living the American dream and securing a future for generations to come.
By Katie Jones, editor