John Witzel, known as ‘Jack’, first came to the area known as Mount Carmel in Cavalier county in present day North Dakota in 1883. He was one of three brothers born to German immigrants in Tavistock, Oxford, Ontario.
In History of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and Surrounding Area, I learn that for whatever reason, John came by himself to search the area. The land had not yet been surveyed for settlement but Jack considered that a minor detail. He decided where he wanted to settle and then returned to his home in Ontario. He convinced his younger brother Adam, their friends Louis Schneider and Sabastian Koehmstedt to go back to Dakota Territory with him.
He started back and the three men shortly followed him on foot. His instructions to the three were to cross two small rivers and come to a small valley with a stream running through it.
When crossing the streams, Louis and Adam carried Sabastian, the smallest of the three, along with their supplies to keep them dry. When they arrived at the area now known as the ‘tree claim’ the weather had turned bad and they were cold.
They saw a small light on a hillside. Though they knew it might be an Indian camp, they decided to check it out – it was either that or freeze to death.
It was Jack Witzel who had taken shelter in a cave. He was wet and cold.
The three eventually ‘cornered’ homesteaded, meaning they built their homesteads on the corner of the claim, close to each other for company and to share work.
Jack’s first home was a dugout, a cave dug into the side of a hill and roofed with branches and sod.
A third brother, Harry, later joined John and Adam. Their parents and two sisters remained in Canada. All three brothers spent the remainder of their lives in the Mount Carmel area, close to the Canadian border.
Adam later married Etta Quigley. Thirteen children were born to their union, including Vera Alberta.
A note: Adam’s Homestead Certificate No. 4991, Application 18422 was recorded 7 Dec 1899. The land was now his. But for whatever reason he filed another claim in Canada.
The Homestead records for Saskatchewan show Adam applied for a homestead 6 April 1903. This was the about the same time as Etta’s father and brothers also filed claims in the area. Why? What happened to their plans?