blind John the peddler.

Last weekend my mom flew in from Vegas (she lives there) and, along with my sister, we drove out to South Dakota for a funeral.  The funeral was for my mom’s cousin’s wife.  Although I had met her a few times, I didn’t know her well.  But funerals are always a good time to connect with family and to see many of our South Dakota cousins while they are gathered together in one place.

For me the drive is somewhat torturous.  I’m not a fan of the road trip.  It’s about 4 hours through mostly farm country.  I always know that we are getting close though when I begin to see these.


I don’t think my photo does justice to how gigantic these things are.  According to my research, on average these are 260′ tall.

There are 100’s of these strewn across the landscape along the Minnesota border with South Dakota.

windmills 2

I find them rather creepy, like something out of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  Giant alien beings that have landed in the corn and soybean fields.

My maternal grandmother’s father, John P. Nordaune, immigrated to the United States from Haltdalen, Norway with his parents when he was a young child.  At that time the family name was changed to Moe. I’m pretty sure he didn’t see any of these wind turbines when he got to South Dakota!

Moe headstone

Have any of you read Laura Ingalls’ books?  If so, perhaps you remember her book The Long Winter which was about how her family survived the winter of 1880-1881 in De Smet, South Dakota.  That winter is still considered to be the most severe winter ever recorded in the United States.  The snow was so deep that trains stopped running for a good part of the winter and thus were not able to bring in supplies.


Not only that, but the snow came so early that many farmers hadn’t yet harvested their fields.  If you’re familiar with the book, you’ll know that the Ingalls family came close to starvation that winter.  You can read an account of that winter {here}.  That spring my great grandfather, his two brothers and their mother were on the first train to come through the area after the thaw.  They were coming to join their husband/father on the land he had claimed in Arlington, South Dakota.  My great, great grandmother once said that they had more food in the trunk they brought with them than was in the entire town where they disembarked from the train.  My cousin Ronnie actually still has that trunk, by the way.

The Moe Farm is still in the family 135 years later.  My cousin Travis now lives in the farmhouse with his wife and six children and he farms the land.

Moe farm

Travis (on left) took my sister, our cousin David and me (at the back) on a tour of the farm last weekend.


That corn is tall when you get up close to it!  Well over my head and I’m 5’10” tall.

My great grandfather, John J. Moe, was blinded in an accident as child.  I’m not sure of the exact details, but somehow he ended up piercing one of his eyes with a nail.  Infection set in and he ended up completely blind in both eyes.  Despite complete blindness, he married and had 10 children.  No only did he farm, but he also was a peddler.  I think ‘peddler’ has a slightly negative connotation these days, but all that meant was that he traveled from place to place selling small goods out of his wagon.  Thus my cousin Ronnie claims that he was called ‘blind John the peddler.’  When I was first told about this, I wondered how in the world he managed this while blind.  I was told that he used a horse drawn wagon and he relied on the horse to know the route.  He also carried a small pistol for protection.  My cousin Ronnie has the pistol now too.  I’m not sure exactly how he would have aimed that thing!  I suspect it was more for ‘looks’ than actual reliable protection.  Then again, perhaps a blind man with a pistol would scare most people!  As for the money, I’m told that he kept track of exactly how many bills he had and he kept them in numeric order.  So he knew what he had for making change.  He most likely relied heavily on the honesty of his customers.  When he returned home, his wife, my great grandmother, would make sure that they he had been paid correctly.

Many of my Moe ancestors are buried in the Bangor Cemetery which is a small family cemetery just down the road from the Moe Farm that is surrounded by cornfields.

It has the most gorgeous view that includes the farm.

cemetery view

OK, I have to get a little closer for you to see the farm.


Can you see the dragonfly in that photo?  Look to the right, yep, that’s not a helicopter.

I always enjoy spending some time out on the farm and being reminded of my roots.  Each time I visit I’m gifted with a few more old family photos that no one out there wants.  I love using them when staging my furniture photo shoots.

washstand staging

aunt lu

I came home with a fresh pile of photos, so hopefully I’ll have some furniture photo shoots coming up soon.  Stay tuned!

17 thoughts on “blind John the peddler.

  1. Linda, wonderful family history! It’s great that the farm is still in the family. When you were talking about Blind John the Peddler, it reminded me of the movie ‘Places in the Heart’ with Sally Fields. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a wonderful story of a widow who takes in boarders after her husband is killed – and one of them is a blind man who makes brooms. He shot a gun by listening to the sounds of people moving, since he relied on his hearing. Anyway, it’s always good to get together with family even if it is for a sad reason. Oh, and we have lots of those scary windmills in Texas, you should see the trucks transporting them, they can only carry one blade at a time. Thanks for sharing!


    1. I’ll have to look for that movie, I don’t think I’ve seen it. As for the windmills, I can’t even imagine them being transported! Lucky they aren’t really aliens since they’ve taken over Texas too!


  2. That is an incredible family history! What a gift that you can still return to the farm as it’s still functioning. I have my childhood set of Laura Ingall’s books and the boys and I read them at night. We’re halfway through. The stories from that time amaze us with their tenacity. It appears your Grandpa was cut from the same cloth. What a great trip!


    1. I’m so glad that people still read those books. I loved all of them as a kid. I have my mom’s set. I didn’t mention this in the post, but blind John the peddler went to the Iowa College for the Blind, which is also where Mary Ingalls went to school after she became blind. I’m not sure if they were there at the same time or not though. The Long Winter is a great choice to read on a blustery winter day.


  3. I enjoyed reading your story also. My mom’s side of the family came from Worthington, mn. . When she was a kid they moved to Belgrade. . also farm country. Her grandfather lived with them. He used to drive a car in the later years, even tho he was blind. Mom said had a little dog he took everywhere and the dog would stand up in the driver’s seat with front paws on the wheel, back feet between grandpa’s legs, and the dog steered the car.


    1. That’s an awesome family story Nan! I can just picture that dog driving the car. I am picturing him wearing those old fashioned driving goggles, but I don’t suppose he really did 😉


  4. Those windmill giants are now on the way to beautiful Cape Cod, one was ok but now there are 5 and it’s distracting while you are driving and they suddenly appear like the aliens you mentioned. Great family story, I wish I had somewhere to go like that,


    1. I have heard about the controversy surrounding the offshore turbines in Cape Cod. I do think it’s unfortunate that they mar the landscape. I saw my first offshore wind turbines on a cruise in the Baltic Sea and had that same feeling of giant aliens taking over!


  5. I think I have seen those blades going down 494. Guess I never put the two things together. They are huge and only one on a truck. You didn’t mention the other places we went but I am guessing for another day.


  6. It is so fun hearing your family history. I am from South Dakota and recently just found out that my relatives on my maternal side came over on the Mayflower! I find it charming how “small” the world can be when you grow up in a tight-knit community like the ones in SD. Although, I love living in MN and now consider it home, it is always fun to go back to my roots. My grandparents lived on a sweet little farm that was homesteaded back in the 1800’s and has been passed through the generations, occupied now by my uncle. It is rich in history, including a murder mystery in the early 1900’s where a cousin kidnapped a school teacher intending to use her for ransom to get money from my great great grandfather. When he did not comply, the cousin shot my great great grandfather and hid his body in the barn under some hay! He is buried in a sweet little cometary down the road, like your Moe family, and now my grandparents are there, too. It is so scenic and peaceful. As for the wind-turbines, we have definitely lost count! They are huge beasts when you see one blade up close! However, I find them somewhat mesmerizing, watching them spinning in the twilight. A reminder of our modern world with the rolling prairies in the background.


    1. Thanks for sharing that story with us Angie! That is some colorful family history 😉 And I agree that there is an interesting juxtaposition between the giant modern turbines and old farmsteads they are ‘planted’ in, I think that’s why it feels so ‘science fiction-y’ to me.


  7. Loved the story of your family! I also am a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and have the whole set of books. My 3rd grade teacher read from the books everyday after noon recess. She made us put our heads down on our desks while she read, it was wonderful! There was a man with the last name of Moe who went to our church, he was from Minnesota, wonder if he is related to you?


  8. Family history has always been interesting to me. My father’s maternal family came over from Scotland in the 1800’s. He had a difficult chldhood for the most part. He lost his father and his sister to pneumonia when he was eight. His mother took him and his brother to live with his grandparents while she went to college to become a teacher. When she returned she had married a man who was not kind to her children. My dad ran away from that home in Utah to find his father’s family in South Georgia at the age of fourteen. He hoboed across the country riding the rails illegally. He was fortunate, that when he did locate this distant family, whom he had never met that they took him in.
    Enjoyed your story immensely. Great you got to see extended family and ruminate over old times. The farm and surrounding land is breathtaking. My mother’s father was a farmer. I have wonderful memories of visiting them. Life was simpler then and the work back breaking. But as a city child it seemed magical.


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