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Jens Scarpholt

June 1966


Jens Scarpholt first saw Glendive on July 6, 1907 early in the morning. He came with a group looking for homesteads, but when he saw the black hills of Hungry Joe*, just like the badlands they had come through east of town, it didn't look like the wonderful farming country he'd been told it was. He decided right then that he didn't want any homestead here.

Jens had been working on a big wheat ranch in North Dakota. These were pre-tractor days so all the work was done with horses, and the ranch had about seventy-five head of work horses. Mr. Leach, the ranch owner, had his own threshing machine with a big steam engine to power it. It took them twenty-six days just to thresh his own grain. They set the outfit up in the field amongst the shocks*, and ten teams hauled in bundles all day long, while four men pitched into the machine.

'All day long' was just that - a long day. They ate breakfast by kerosene light to start the day, and they ate supper by kerosene light at the close of the day.

The men working on the ranch didn't really know how much land belonged to Mr. Leach except that it was sections* and sections. There were no fences in Dakota at that time to mark property boundaries, but there was usually a wagon trail on the section line which marked off the sections.

Mr. Leach had ten outfits plowing his land. (One outfit consisted of a teamster and five horses hooked to a two bottom plow.) One day when they had finished plowing the section on which they were working, they pulled across the road to the next section and made a few rounds around it.

They were just getting a good start when the foreman came chasing out to where they were working and told them they were plowing on another man's land! So the neighbor got about twenty-five acres plowed free of charge.

The plowmen weren't the only ones who overestimated their employer's holdings. One man was kept busy with just the chores - taking care of the stables, hauling in hay for the horses, and other chores. One day when Mr. Leach was in town he happened to meet one of his neighbors, who complained that someone had been stealing his hay. Later that day as they were going home the neighbor, driving ahead, stopped and waited for Mr. Leach to catch up with him. "Look!" he told Mr. Leach, "There's that man stealing hay right now! Come along over with me and we'll catch him at it."

Mr. Leach was quite ready to help him catch the thief and went with him. What a shock, then, to find that it was his own chore man who was helping himself to the hay! "Ole," exclaimed the astonished Mr. Leach, "this is not our hay!" Bewildered, Ole protested, "But I thought everything around here belonged to you!" Mr. Leach paid for the hay so that ended the matter as far as the two neighbors were concerned, but the other men had a lot of fun kidding Ole about stealing hay.

Jens Scarpholt was born in Denmark, where his parents owned and operated a farm. When he was three years old, his father died, and soon after that his mother moved her family from the farm. Three months before he was fourteen years old, his mother also died, leaving him to make his own way in the world. Jens grew up in a little Danish fishing village and learned early about ships and the sea. Little wonder, then, that when he was out of school, he hired out on a ship.

His first trip 'out' they didn't get back to shore for about three weeks. If they had come in sooner, he speculates, his seamanship would have been ended. His mother was very particular about discipline in the home and especially about table manners. Good manners become second nature for children thus trained, and on the ship the other fellows weren't slow to notice that Jens was careful about such particulars.

This seemed to the others a good chance for some fun so they practiced the very worst manners possible, trying to drive him away from the table or make him sick. He caught on to what they were trying, though, and made up his mind, "You're not going to succeed." And they didn't succeed, even though many of the things they did were not fit to print. Spitting on the food in their plates and continuing to eat was one of the minor offences. When they saw they were not accomplishing their purpose, they finally gave it up, but then they started something else. They started giving him 'baymans'. That was rough. To give him a 'bayman' they held him behind the head with one hand while with the other hand they tried to press his nose back into his face.

He didn't dare protest such treatment because he thought they were all against him. After a few days of this his nose was bleeding all the time and was sore as a boil. Then he decided it was time for revolt. He figured they might as well kill him or throw him overboard (which he surely thought they would if he resisted) so when one of the sailors approached to give him another 'bayman', Jens clenched his fist and hit him on the nose as hard as he could.

Though only fourteen years old Jens was a big, strong boy. The fellow was so surprised that for a moment he could only stare with the ugliest expression, Mr. Scarpholt says, he ever saw in his life. As the sailor recovered from his surprise, the ugly expression faded and his face broadened into a grin, as he told the lad, "This is O.K., Tenderfoot; maybe you will become a man after all." The others laughed and patted him on the shoulder, and he realized that was what they had been waiting for. After that he was one of them.

Once while he was on a fishing boat, a sail boat with no propeller, they got caught in a storm out on the Dogger Banks in the North Sea. The storm was so severe they couldn't fish so they dropped anchor and hoped the weather would improve. For three days the storm raged with no sign of abating so they decided to head for the nearest port toward which they had good wind. During all this time the sea was so rough they couldn't cook so they had to live on cold lunch and coffee.

After they got on a sail with the wind the sea was fairly smooth so Jens was ordered to cook some pea soup. Dried peas, big and yellow (used like beans), were cooked with salt pork until mushy to make the soup. This was a favorite dish on the sea because they needed lots of fat to endure the climate. In the little 6'x6' kitchen on the deck, right back of the main mast, Jens set to work to make the soup. On each side of the kitchen was a sliding door, and above one of those doors was a little shelf. A big hunk of tallow was kept on that little shelf and was used to grease the fork of the mainsail boom to keep it from making a noise where it rubbed on the mast.

The pea soup was coming along fine, but just as he lifted the lid to stir, the ship gave a lurch, and that hunk of tallow splashed into the kettle! As he was considering what he should do about the embarrassing situation, one of the older sailors made the situation even more embarrassing by sticking his head in the door. While he 'bawled out' the cook, the cook was desperately trying to figure a way out of his dilemma.

He had to get the sailor out before he could do anything so he told him to go get his dish (they ate cafeteria style when the sea was rough); the soup was ready. As soon as the man's head was out the door, Jens grabbed the ladle and tongs to fish out the tallow, only to discover the tallow had all melted. He decided there was no choice; he would just have to dish up the soup, tallow and all. By the time he had dished up the last man's portion, the first man was back, wanting another helping of that good soup. He patted Jens on the shoulder and told him, "This is the best pea soup you ever cooked! Now remember how you made it and always fix it just like this."

The next time Jens was supposed to make the soup, he debated a while whether he should put the hunk of tallow in, but then he decided the reason the other soup tasted so good was just that they hadn't had any hot food to eat for so long. So he left the tallow on the shelf.

 

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