There’s nothing like a day of hard work — tiring, stressing and long, yet it possesses a certain character-building aspect that cannot be attained elsewhere.
I know at least a few of you are reading this and rolling your eyes, wondering how a “desk jockey” historian such as me would know anything about hard work, but I can assure you that my decade in the construction trade taught me some valuable lessons of physical labor. Though today’s manual labors toil the body and build the soul, it’s likely to pale in comparison to our historic counterparts who settled this land.
Joachim Daak settled in Lynn Township in 1871. Though the ruggedness of the region’s wilderness era was beginning to erode, the land still possessed a wild aspect about it that made living on it an arduous task that not all were cut out for. For a man like Daak, however, the toils of the settler were less an obstacle and more a simple part of life.
Daak was born in Germany in 1842. He came to the United States at the age of 19. In Barrington, Illinois, an old family friend boarded the young man. For a time, Daak made his living by working as a farm hand on the various neighboring farmsteads in the region until 1864, when he joined the ranks of the Union Army. Little is known of his exploits in the war. At war's end, Daak returned to Barrington and married Caroline Wollert. They began farming until the fall of 1871 when they left, with two children in tow, for the sturdy backcountry of Minnesota.
The North Country in 1871 was a bit different than Illinois, where there was a bit more sense of civilization. In Minnesota, not only could the weather be unforgiving, but roads were still nonexistent in many places, and a person wishing to make a living on a farm had to do so with knowledge of how to live as a pioneer.
As many were apt to do in those days, the Daak family came to Minnesota in the fall and boarded with another family. Joachim found an 80-acre piece of land and began working immediately. He secured a team of oxen and set out to a patch of woods near Hutchinson and began cutting timbers. With nothing more than a broad axe, he felled mature trees, smoothed them, and hauled them the 9 miles over a roadless landscape back to his land. When winter ended and spring sprung, he began building a one-room dwelling. It was a simple cabin made of the logs he cut through the winter and patched together with sticks and mortar made from clay and straw. The roof was thatched and made of cane, which he cut by hand. He even made a sizeable loft above the cabin and used the same mortar to make an upstairs floor. The furnishings, as well, were handmade by Daak. Only two shacks existed in the 9-mile span between the Daak cabin and Hutchinson — a desolate land to say the least.
Once, Joachim was caught in a three-day blizzard. He left for Hutchinson on a mild and beautiful winter morning. On his return trip, however, a whopping blizzard descended and drove him back into Hutchinson, where he was marooned for the duration. He worried greatly about his family back in the cabin, and they him, fearing he’d perished. One can imagine the relief they felt once reunited.
As the years wore on and the land became more settled, more hardships came. In 1904, Caroline Daak died. For the next 20 years, Joachim lived the life of a widowed man until his death in 1924.