by Alice Chamley
Egan man Joe Stombaugh has been long gone, but in 1974 he was still a spry man when he turned age 100.
I remember a lot of the stories he always had to tell, including those of how people survived the awful winters with blizzards that never seemed to end. He was a relative of my husband, Dave, which is how I learned of the stories. Our coldest days of winter with below zero temperatures are a heat wave compared to what those pioneers endured.
Joe didn’t have time for schooling, attending only about three months of the year. The rest of the time, the boys had to work.
At age 10, Joe was given the additional responsibility on their farm, caring for all of the cattle. He said his father wasn’t much for schooling.
Joe’s father was a veteran of the Civil War, and Joe was told that his father ran away from home at the age of 16 to fight for the Union.
Joe also vividly remembered the blizzard of January 1888. The day that it struck, he was at the Gale Ridge School south of Lone Tree. The children were ordered to stay at the school and when the storm hit, but they only had half a hod of coal.
The older boys went to collect fence posts to burn. Instead of fence posts, the boys found another boy who had been going to the school with coal, but when the blizzard hit, he left his coal and lost his way. His fingers, cheeks and nose were frozen.
After that, the boys tore down the outhouse for fuel. The next day, the weather was 40 below zero, but the children somehow were able to get home.
Joe started farming on his own in 1896 and then worked his father’s farm in 1900. Shortly after that, he bought his own land northeast of Trent. He ended up buying a farm outside of Egan.
He was in politics and was marshal for a time, a councilman and then mayor for 12 years.
The first president he voted for was William McKinley. He remembered shaking McKinley’s hand when he came through Egan on a train during his campaign.
In 1898, after batching it for years, he married Nellie Chamley. They raised six children.
Joe farmed until he was 75. At age 88, still active and still riding his horse, he broke a hip when a horse threw him and dragged him. He also broke a hip three years later in a car accident.
After his wife died, he lived with his daughter, Evelyn Hodge, in Flandreau.
He died at age 103.
His advice was, “Always be a square shooter.”
There is no doubt that is exactly the advice that Joe always followed.
Alice Chamley, who lives in Dell Rapids, writes columns for the Dell Rapids Tribune.