When the last glacier slowly moved across this part of North America it left behind millions of tons of building material. That was in the form of field stones, there was every size, shape, or description imaginable. The engineer who wanted to build a building with fieldstone could turn his architecture talents loose. Before mortar mix was available, the combination of different stones was held together with a mortar that was made from local limestone and sand that they dug out. One part of limestone to three parts of sand.
The early pioneers had no equipment to move these rocks to their building location. This is when the old stone boat was invented. The rocks were loaded onto the stone boat and horses or oxen would pull the stoneboat back to the building location. Most all of the area here in America’s upper Midwest has plenty of rocks per acre, they usually didn’t drag a load of rocks very far. In this part of the country farmers will tell you, “there is always something to be done on the farm.” They are referring to picking rocks, you could farm here for 80 years and pick rocks every year, you will hardly notice any have been picked. Many rock piles bear witness to the fact there has been a lot of rock picking going on ever since the first settlers arrived. Yes, those rocks got to the pile on a stone boat.
Huge stones were used for the cornerstones and for the foundation. When you look at the size of some of those stones it is hard to imagine how a couple of men slid them onto the stone boat. They had to have been very good engineers, using every form of leverage to slide those huge stones onto the stone boat. I can picture many fingers and hands with homemade bandages wrapped around them, the bandages no doubt stayed on long enough for them to get back to work
After the stone boat arrived back at the building site, the task of unloading the huge rocks and moving them into the proper location started. When you think about all of this being done manually, it seems like it was almost impossible. They were driven by the image of the finished stone house that would be able to stand through any storm. Also in this area a house made of stone could withstand a prairie fire. There was a time when prairie fires started by lightning destroyed much property.
My great uncle Eston Olson Hoel and his family were living near Hayti, South Dakota in 1890. A huge prairie fire came roaring through the area and destroyed everything they had. After the fire, all they had were their clothing and the bedding that they carried out to the garden. In 1905 they moved to Ward County North Dakota. They tried farming there for a few years, it was so dry crops would not grow. Some family members where left buried there.
They continued to move north to Canada. They traveled by train to Red Deer Alberta, rail tracks ended there. From there they went West traveling by oxen and wagon, that they were used to. They finally settled at Rocky Mount House, Alberta Canada. That is where they spent the rest of their lives. My great grandfather went with them and spent the rest of his life in Canada. He left my grandfather here in South Dakota. I have often thought, I was almost a Canadian kid. I think I could have gotten used to that real easy.
I would imagine they moved many things by stone boat or bobsled in those early days at Alberta also. Eston’s son-in-law Jack Edgerton started a dray line there with a wagon and six black horses. He later had several trucks and men working for him, making deliveries in that area of Canada. There has been much progress made since the first stone boat was dragged across the ground, probably by people power.