BY NORMA JOHNSON
The story of Wist goes back to 1883. M.L. Satern came to Day County and took preemption on the Southeast 1/4 of Section 2 in Kosciusko Township.It was there that he built a small country store with the intention of serving the soon-to-be inhabited area. Satern took an active interest in the township, serving for eight years as township clerk, and as school clerk, and he was a member of the legislature from Day County in 1891. Across the road to the east lived Martin Wist Sr., another early settler.He established to post office in his home on May 19, 1884, and like many people of the day named it after himself. sometime later he moved to Webster, and the post office was transferred to the store across the road.
At this time two young men, Andrew Stavig and P.C. Johnson, were planning to go into business. their plans were to build a store in Sisseton. Then P.C. Johnson bought out M.L. Satern, and Satern went into business with the Stavigs in Sisseton. P.C. Johnson was a young single man at the time. He had come to the states at the age of 16 from Norway with his tow brothers. It took them six weeks to travel from Liverpool, England to New York. His folks had come earlier and settled in Day County.
Johnson homesteaded a quarter section of land in Nutley Township. During the winter he would haul grain to Webster with his sled and mules. The grain was put in large sacks, and about 15 sacks were stacked on the sled. P.C. received 50 cents a bushel or a dollar a sack. Before becoming a storekeeper he worked for the government hauling mail from Waubay to Watertown three times a week.
When P.C. first took over the store there were few settlers in the area. The land was some of the least desirable, and thus the last to be settled. Often there would be weeks at a time without seeing white people. P.C. learned alot of Indian language from his Indian customers. They would bring in fur pelts stretched on willow boughs to sell. These pelts were then packed tightly in large coffee bags and shipped to Chicago by train. Muskrat, mink, weasel and badgers were abundant then.
Around 1902 the homesteaders started moving in, and business at the store boomed. Farmers in the area all milked cows, so P.C. built a creamery east of the store building in 1902. This was a large two story building with part of the upstairs as living quarters for the hired help. Often it housed travelers who stayed overnight because of the story weather or because they needed a place to rest. The first cream separator in the area was at Wist. Farmers would haul their milk to the station and have it separated and haul the skim milk back home. There was a well in one part of the creamery. Water was heated in a large steam pressured boiler and stored in a large tank in the attic. The pressure forced the water down to the creamery. At one time, water was piped to the store to heat the building. But this soon proved impractical because most of the creamery business was done in the summertime. One butter maker who people recall was Mike Ellenbacker.
A route was set up to pick up cream from the area farms. The two cream haulers each drove a large spring wagon equipped with a scale, a case of sample bottles to test the cream, and a large container with a floating over for the cream. These wagons were pulled by mules. Six routes were set up, and stops were made three times a week at each farm to pick up eggs and cream. The cream was weighed a tested before being emptied into the container. The checks came on the next trip around. Often the wife left a grocery list to be filled and delivered on the return trip. Easton Floe was a cream hauler for three years. The butter was made from fresh cream and had a good flavor. New York and Boston placed orders for the butter. It was packed in wooden tubs and hauled to Waubay, then placed in refrigerated train cars and sent to the Eastern markers. The buttermilk was piped to a nearby building mixed with ground feed and fed to the pigs.
P.C. later realized that he could use a housekeeper. He hired Mrs. Wilbur from Wisconsin and her two daughters, Minnie and Pearl, accompanied her. Pearl took a teaching job near Clark, and Minnie clerked in the store and held school in the rear of the building. In June of 1903, P.C. Johnson and Pearl Wilbur were married. They lived in the upstairs of the store.
The postoffice was in the main store at first. Then in 1905 the south addition was added, and the post office was located there until 1914. On mail days, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the store would be packed with people eagerly awaiting news from relatives. The Norwegian newspapers, Decorah Posten from Iowa, and the Scandinavian, printed in Chicago, were the only newspapers that arrived.
A large blacksmith shop was built southeast of the store. B.L. Bendickson was the first blacksmith, and he lived in a house near the shop. In later years Carl Simonson lived in the creamery building and did shoe and harness repair. At one time there was a woodworking shop there.
A grinding mill was run by a gas engine, and ground feed for 10 cents a sack. The same engine powered a grinding stone used for sharpening plow lays and other tools. The large building used for a warehouse burned down in the 1940's. The Bendickson house was later moved to the Helgeson farm about 2 and a half miles south where Norbert Gruba lives now. An icehouse was built on the back side of the creamery. During the winter John Storely was hired to haul huge blocks of ice from Pickerel Lake. These were hauled by sled and stored between layers of sawdust.
Most of the food in the store was pruchased in bulk. Since many settlers were Scandinavians, lots of canned fish was kept on hand. Varieties of candy were in large glass jars. Only the caramels were wrapped in paper, and thus they were called "paper candy". Chewing tobacco was purchased in large bars and stored so it could be cut into five and ten cent pieces. Brands like J.T. and Yankee Girl were among the favorites. Big bags of smoking tobacco were on hand, such as True Smoke, Prince Albert, Velvet, and of course, Bull Durham.
In 1910 P.C. Johnson purchased one of the 50 Avery Trucks that were manufactured. This was used to pull a huge farm wagon to haul supplies from Waubay. It had cast iron wheels with holes in the rims so one could insert wooden plugs to get more traction. These wheels were wider than those of ordinary trucks, and so P.C. had to travel alongside of the trails made by others. When traveling near Enemy Swim, he would get stuck in a spring. One day he got some wooden posts and some men helped fill the spot. This old truck was sold for scrap-iron during WW 2.
In 1914 the Soo Line came through the area, diverting the traffic to towns that sprang up elsewhere. Business declined and the creamery was closed down.
Throughout the years many people worked as clerks in the store. At least two clerks were needed at all times. This was especially true on the days when the mail came in. When the lady clerks were not needed in the store they went upstairs to help Mrs. Johnson with the housework and fixing the meals for the workers. Martha and Minnie Floe, Hannah Engebritson, Hans Peterson, Josephine Strand and Josie Lobben were some of the many who worked there.
For many years Wist was a hub for buying and selling and for social activites. Mrs. Johnson liked young people and often invited them over for get-togethers. She had a piano, so musical games were played and songs were sung. Homemade ice cream was often served since cream and ice were so plentiful.
A Literary Society was formed, and money making activities were held to earn money to buy books. Books were purchased, shelves were built and a lending library was established. A Debating Society was started, and people debated on the popular issues of the day at the schoolhouse south of Wist. Baseball games were played during athe summer. Playing for the Wist team were the Skaarhaugs, the Johnsons, the Ellingsons and the Blues. They often played and lost to the Buffalo Lake Indian team.
As more and more people got cars, business at the little country store declined, and finally the store was closed. An auction sale was held on October 15, 1940. The store was then purchased by Nels and Clara Skaarhaug and reopened later that year. The Skaarhaugs started buying cream for Sugar Creek of Bristol, selling gas for Standard Oil, and purchasing eggs and chickens for Wist Produce of Webster. In addition, they stocked the store with a variety of general merchandise. They also bought furs in season.
Then came the area of buying frogs. During the summer and early fall the children and adults brought in sacks of frogs to sell. These were weighed and put in pens in a building with a cement floor. During the hotter part of the day they had to be watered down. When there were enough they were packed in huge crates and hauled to Fairmont, North Dakota. From there they were shiped to OshKosh, Wisconsin.
One winter the area was so blocked with snow that supplies had to be flown in from Wester. The snowbanks were even with the tops of the gas pumps.
Some of the people hired to work during this new era of Wist were Ernest Gruby, Melvin Solkatki, Arlyce Romaas, Ronald Hendrickson, Lovina Hendrickson, Edna, Tysad, Lauretta Shinkle, and Beverly Plant. Also of course the Skaarhaug children, Neil, Leif, Halvor and Suzanne. They also worked during weekends and in the summer. The Skaarhaugs continued the store, gas station and cream station until 1963, when Nels passed away.
By Clara Skaarhaug
In 1940 we purchased Old Wist form the Federal Land Bank. The representative came to Brookings and brought my son, my husband and me back to close the deal. My husband Nels was on crutches due to a construction accident in Brookings . He decided a country store would be a place where he could hobble behind a counter and maybe make a living. Relatives in the area were all most helpful, and with $100.00 and a borrowed car we went to Park Grant in Sisseton and purchased the first stock for our store. I remember that Olaf Skaarhaug was our first customer. We rented out the farm land, and so made our yearly payments to the Federal Land Bank. Nels' brothers gave us the advantage. They purchased all their groceries from us. His sister Mrs. Edward Hendrickson and her family were also always ready to help when needed.
Well, we were storekeepers and my husband never did get off his bad leg. He bought cream for Sugar Creek of Bristol, eggs and produce for Wist Produce of Webster, gas from Standard Oil of Peever, pop from Pete Monzel of Webster, bread from Aberdeen and Watertown and meat from Mercantile of Milbank and Coyne of Roslyn, and there were many others. He bought furs and frogs, and tried to stock the store with whatver people asked for. We had our share of counting red stamps and blue stamps and gas rationing and tire fixing. There were blocked roads and airlifts. Jeff Nelson and Hummel landed their planes on a snowbank even with the gas pump with supplies one winter. There was mail distribution, carrying charges, forgotten billfolds, forgotten bills, bad checks, stranagers spending the night stalled in snowstorms and best of all , learning to know a community of very wonderful people.
It certainly made it easier when REA was turned on. No longer did we have to bother pumping gas by hand or using the flashlights to read the gas pumps by. No more need of the kerosene lamps, gas lamps and lanterns.
Here we raised our family of four. Neil was in the Navy, Halvor in the army. Leif was just out of high school, and Susanne was a junior in high school in 1963 when Nels died.