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Good Neighbors and Bad: Religious Differences on the Plains in the Early 20th century

by Ezra and Dan Miller/Laurie Mercier

The harmony of rural life is often romanticized, but differences among neighbors, whether ethnic, religious or political, could often lead to tension, especially as new groups emigrated west. Ezra and Dan Miller were born in a sod house in North Dakota but migrated with a group of Amish Mennonites to Montana. In this 1981 interview, conducted by Laurie Mercier for the Montana Historical Society, they described how local cowboys reacted to the influx of Amish farmers.

Listen to Audio:

Dan Miller: But these ranchers never did like the settlers to come in, you know...

Laurie Mercier: In different parts of Montana it seems like some got along OK and others didn’t.

Miller: Yes, yes

Mercier: And I’m interested in finding out the relationship between the early settlers or early farmers and those ranchers.

Miller: Well, one time Dad was just here, getting coal and a cowboy came along and tried to discourage him from farming. And he’s telling him how terrible the wind is here and how, the hardships they have to go through you know. So he told Dad that he remembers when it was so windy that they had a log chain hanging on a nail at the house, it was so windy the log chain was stuck straight out. And then Dad literally say “Well if that would have been in North Dakota, it’d pulled the nail out of the wall, besides” he said. So, they tried tactics, you know, to try and scare out the farmers. They didn’t like the farmers.

Mercier: Other than maybe running cattle into their fields, do you recall any kind of conflicts?

Miller: No, not really. They accepted us. But words maybe, once in a while. All in all I think they got along fairly well. Well, some of these ranchers are real good neighbors too.

Source: Oral history courtesy of Montana Historical Society.

See Also:Dancing after Dark: A Rural Woman Recalls Farm Life in the Early 20th century
Saturday Night on the Range: Rural Life in World War I Era Montana