Living History in Big Stone County


One of the sights at the Big Stone County Museum

There are a group of folks coming together to Create a Value Added Community in Big Stone County. Through these gatherings I’m getting to know inspiring people, finding new treasures in the area (last nights people brought photos of a 1800's Rendezvous gathering, a kayaking stream, and a cormorant rookery), and working to make the Big Stone area a sustainable community for us (to quote Don Sherman).

We met last night at the Big Stone County Museum. This is a place of wonder and part of my awe was a brief conversation I had with Earl Komis, museum tour guide. Earl, nearly 90, was recently featured in Twin Cities Business Magazine in the 8 to 5 at 85 article. I learned just a snippet of Mr. Komis’ story.

In Minnesota, United States of America, around 1934 Earl Komis and some of his 11 siblings drew straws to see who would leave their farm. There was not enough food for the family. At 14 years old Earl drew the short straws and had to leave with just one loaf of bread. He walked 82 miles, sleeping in culverts and hungry. Along the way, a kind woman in Milan, Minnesota saw this hungry youngster and gave him a meal of grits. This act of kindness still catches in Earl’s throat 74 years later. Earl found a farmer needing help with 17 cows and was paid room and board for 2 years.

I asked Earl what he thought the future held in store for us—not just in Big Stone County but in our country. Earl, who lived through some of the hardest days our country has seen, said “The futures gonna be tougher than we’ve ever seen.?

I’m bringing Alma to this museum on Friday (when the boys are down for their nap). I hope I can nab Earl as my museum guide and maybe even have a cup of coffee with him. Earl is part of the richness and blessings of living in a county with one of the highest percentage of people over 65 in the nation.


You may have read The Dirty Thirties by William H. Hull (Stanton Publications, St. Paul 1989)...

I have never fully understood how a period "so bad" could be equally remembered as "so good" by those most affected by The Great Depression.

This collection of interviews and anecdotes is a trove of true, humble but life-changing stories of people like Earl Komis. Mrs. Donna Weller of Genoa, Nebraska, writes:

"My little brother Bobbie was four years old. He was stricken in 1936 with scarlet fever that summer and he died. My folks were a long time paying for that funeral. The service was held outdoors because we were quarantined. Bobbie's casket was on the porch and the funeral attendants sat on chairs out on the lawn -- but I should say in the yard because I'm pretty sure we had no grass then. So hardship was piled on top of hardship.

Being farmers, we went to town on Saturday night. I can remember sitting in our Chevy in town. Mom and Dad were sitting in the front seat and I was in the back. Mom was crying because they had no money for groceries. I told them they could have my $18 I had in the bank. I got that from selling my one sheep."

My Dad talked about a lot of dry, sometimes dusty pancakes and my uncles talked about chickens that tasted "fishy" from gorging on grasshoppers (perhaps too organic).

Sometimes in the fall when I walk the edge of a slough, a fenceline, an old farmsite grove, I come across a remnant of someone's hard labor and I admire "what it took" for people to live off this land. I once attempted to be the farmer behind a single-bottom horse driven plow, and I can tell you that the horse did fine but it was a wrestling match for me and the horse knew it long before the end of the row.

Some may think becoming self-sustaining is too pollyanish, but I think it's more like experimentation to try something new and utilize what works to whatever degree is comfortable and compatible for our own situations. Farmers have done this forever, trusting God for the rain and the sun. They have learned the rest from their families, their friends, or on their own.

Perhaps we believe we have to give up something too valuable to gain something we want today or 10 years from now. Earl's prophecy about "the future being tougher than we've ever seen" may be true, but we would do well to learn from Earl's wisdom.


I hadn't read Dirty Thirties-- I'm glad to know there are collections of those memories.

It is hard labor to live off of this land-- that is without lots of diesel fuel and steel to do the work of 100 men. I'm struck by what hard labor it is to generate enough calories to sustain a family.

Hope to find out what you are eluding to when you say giving up "something too valuable..."

I haven't had a chance to chat more with Earl-- but I hope too. My personal concern is that we've lost so many of the skills that people in Earls day knew. Even the basic- how to grow and save food.

In the mean time...

Happy Labor Day

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This page contains a single entry by Kathryn Draeger published on August 21, 2008 5:34 AM.

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