Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sarah Thal and Her Life on the Bitter, Windswept North Dakota Plains

by Heather Blanton
I love learning about the women who settled America. As a breeder of German Shepherds, I seek out certain characteristics and temperaments to create the best dogs possible. For a long time, America was no different. The bloodlines were amazing.
The people who thrived here were independent, strong willed, stubborn, adventurous risk-takers.
Just this morning I read the story of Sarah Thal, a German-Jewish immigrant who came to America with her husband in 1880. On the way here she contracted typhoid, but the couple soldiered on and settled in North Dakota. Her second child was born in a cabin so full of cracks that a make-shift tent was draped around her and the baby. They literally camped in front of the fireplace to keep warm. She watched prairie fires light up the distant sky on more than one occasion. Took shelter from tornadoes. Begged God for rain.
The winter of Sarah's first year in North Dakota, a neighbor and her child were lost in a three-day blizzard. The pair were found fifty feet from their front door. "I remember that beautiful baby to this day," Sarah wrote. "She wore coral ear rings and necklace. The frost glistened on her cheeks making her look more like a wax doll than a once live baby. The tragedy and the horror of that experience is as clear in my memory as though it happened yesterday."
Sarah lost a baby one winter because 10 feet of snow prevented her from getting to a doctor. "For many years we kept up the lonely graves. In time the wolves and elements destroyed them. They are unmarked in all save my memory. All the neighbors came to the funeral. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Gutting. Afterwards we became fast friends. The friendships of those days lasted as long as life itself."
This was Sarah’s existence. It never broke her. She didn’t let it turn her into a bitter old woman. She accepted God’s will and plowed on, making friends and living life for all she could wring out of it.
One year the German community decided to get together and celebrate the 4th of July. It was a 22-mile trip each way for the Thal’s to attend, but they were proud and eager to do so. As she wrote in a letter, “Each foreign colony celebrated in their own fashion, loyal to the traditions of the old land and faithful to those of the new. . . .”
Women who chose to come to America in those early days of the American West were strong and resilient as a rule. I would argue the toughest in the world. I appreciate their bloodlines and hope I do them justice in the stories I write.

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. A truly wonderful woman. Doris

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    1. Thank you, Doris. She was some kind of tough.

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  2. I love these types of stories too. They aren't romanticized or "pretty" but I owe a lot of my roots to such hearty women and I really appreciate what they went through so that I might have the life that I do now. Nothing was handed to them. They had to work for it. I enjoyed learning about Sarah.

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    2. Their perseverance is what separates us from the rest of the world. People who came to America were a special breed.

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  3. Thank you for sharing her story. I often wonder if I would've been strong enough to survive the way these strong women did. In 1880 my great-great-grandparents owned a farm and raised three boys in WI. I don't believe it was as isolated as the Dakotas at the time, but they went through a lot. I admire these wonderful women.

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    1. Might not be as isolated, but pretty dang cold! You come from hardy stock!

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  4. Reading about women like this is so interesting, and it encourages me to want to be stronger like this Sarah. You always find the best true stories, Heather.

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