Archived Story

From Myrtle to Montana and back

Published 8:40am Friday, July 22, 2011

Column: Between the Corn Rows

My recent request for more information about the group of people from the Myrtle area who went to Montana to become homesteaders has resulted in more details. Those details and names came during a very interesting visit with Milo Belshan of Northwood, Iowa, and Emil Prantner Jr. of Oakland.

The names of those Czech (Bohemian) folks who went to Montana about a century ago, according to a list they provided, were the four Prantner brothers, Frank Plevka and his wife Mae, Joe Choc, Ed and Agnes Schradle and maybe a member of the Skala family.

Emil and Milo said the main reason these folks went west for the free homestead land was the lack of farm places available for rent or possible purchase in this area at that time. Also, the families in that era were much larger.

The part of Montana they settled was near the town of Geraldine in Chouteau County, southeast of Fort Benton and about 45 to 50 miles east of Great Falls. The main crop in this region is still wheat and ground moisture levels are very low. To emphasize this — no rain, no wheat, no money.

Emil’s father, Emil Sr. and his brothers, Josef, Fred and Frank, went west to be homesteaders. Sadly, Fred Prantner, age 21 or 22, died of pneumonia during 1917 in Montana.

Here’s a portion of what Emil Jr. wrote about the family’s Montana adventures:

“The homesteads were 320 acres (half section). You had to live on it for five years, build a house and barn, plow 40 acres and have running water. They solved that by tying a jug of water behind a horse and the witness would testify they had running water. My dad said he helped dig some of the wells. They would go down 60 feet without casing. The water was not good. It tasted like alkali (bitter and salty).

“The nearest sawmill was at Fort Benton, 45 miles away. My dad drove four horses and the wagon to haul the lumber for his house and barn. There were no roads.

“He was 17 years old when he signed up for his homestead. You were supposed to be 18. He proved up his homestead. He moved back to Minnesota. He rented out the land out to a sheep rancher and never got any rent money. People stole his building. He sold the homestead about 1936 for $1 per acre, $320.

“He built a machine shed with the money, 20 foot by 40 foot, that is all he got for his five years in Montana and his homestead.

“Frank Prantner was a carpenter. He built his own building. They say it was the only two story house in Montana (at that time). His wife Rose came by train. He met her at the station (with) four horses and a wagon. He told her to go buy groceries. She came back with about four days worth, and he laughed. He said we won’t be back to town for another month. They didn’t get no rain and he never harvested a crop.”

“We (Emil Jr. and his brother Donald in 1970) took a trip to Montana to look at dad’s homestead. We did find Joe Prantner’s cabin. A rancher had bought his homestead and moved the cabin to his ranch. I have a picture of it.”

My personal interest in this homesteading venture comes from knowing the late Frank Plevka. He was a neighbor and talked several times about the rough seven or eight years of frontier life out in Montana.

Frank grew up on a farm near Myrtle. He married Mae Suchy of St. Ansgar, Iowa, in 1913 and they soon went by railroad to Geraldine. Their daughter, Alice, was born in 1916. (She later married Louis Belshan and thus was Milo’s sister-in-law.) Their son, John, was born in 1918.

About 1922 the Plevkas left Montana and came back to Minnesota. A stop in Fergus Falls resulted in two years of farming on rented land. Then this family came back to Myrtle in 1924 to continue the farming life. After retirement, Frank and Mae moved to Albert Lea.

Cornstalk comment

One of the overlooked recreational assets in Albert Lea’s park system could be based on the horseshoe playing areas in Frank Hall and Edgewater Parks. Are there more local facilities for horseshoe playing in our parks?

With just three exceptions, Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.