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Centennial Birthday Plus One for Sheridan Native

Tinker, Allan. "Centennial Birthday Plus One for Sheridan Native." McCluksy Gazette, 11 December 2008.


Walter Essig is shown with his great-great-grandson, Maverick Hartlieb, on Nov. 1, 2008, the day after Walter's 101st birthday

Walter Essig, a 1907 Halloween baby, will enjoy his centennial Christmas plus one this year. He noted that his parents didn’t tell him right away that he was born on Halloween, a novel time to celebrate birthdays as a youngster, what with all the free candy and other treats that mark that event each year.

Essig, who retains a bright mind and lively sense of humor, lives with his daughter Margaret Pretzer in his home in Bismarck. He and his wife Alice (Reidinger), who died in 1997, had four children. Besides Pretzer, there is Kay (Richard) Bennett, the oldest; Jim (Judy), and Bob (Rita). There are three great-great-grandchildren, numerous great grandchildren, and 13 grandchildren, according to Pretzer.

Essig was one of five male children born to Christian and Minnie (Siegele) Essig. His younger brother by seven years, Hugo, still resides in McClusky with his wife, Frances.

His other siblings are brothers Edgar E., Edwin, and Otto P.

Essig’s current goal is to “get another year older,” he said with a smile. He recalled his early days of helping on the farm for his parents, helping with dishes as well as outside chores. He walked to school and “found my way back home” the one mile distance. He met his wife-to-be in McClusky.

Essig states that his happy memories are many, but his memory recalls fewer of them each passing year, something that is sad. He recalls his writing and research of pioneer trails in Sheridan and McLean Counties, his office work in Denhoff at the bank before he married, and office work other places afterwards. He went to farm in the 1930’s then moved to Bismarck in 1974.

Walter Essig reminisced while leaning on his sturdy cane, used mostly for balance, recalling the early days of Sheridan County and his family's life there

His research has appeared in many places, including the Sheridan County Heritage ’89, published by the McClusky Gazette. That volume included “Indians, Settlers Kill Last Buffalo,” “Sheridan County Trails,” “1866 Holmes Wagon Train,” “The Harvey Washburn Trail,” “The Fort Totten Trail,” “The 1866 Fisk Wagon Trail,” and G.W. Lee and Horse Thieves,” plus many others.

His work shows a careful attention to detail and an active interest in how things changed and were changed by the settling of the prairies in the past centuries. Essig was interviewed in February, 2003, by Mercer historian James Gessele, who was researching for the Mercer Centennial book. He credits Essig extensively in the history of the area printed for that occasion.

Many of Essig’s writings and publications are on file at the State Historical Society in Bismarck, including the Gessele interview and Essig’s small manuscript collection.

On May 3, 2008, Maverick Hartlieb was born and is shown with Essig in the accompanying photograph. The photo was taken on Nov. 1, after Essig’s birthday on Halloween, in 2008.

When asked what new happy memories he was working on now, Essig replied, “eating and sleeping,” with a smile. His home in northeast central Bismarck is just a far stone’s throw from the Heritage Center where his work will remain for many future generations to discover.

Essig, who is not one to remark much on his accomplishments, urged anyone who wanted to know more to “lean heavily” on his brother Hugo.

The Essig family is descended from the father Christian who immigrated from South Russia in 1892 and mother Minnie who was born in Germany and came to the U.S. with an aunt in 1895. They married in 1902, after filing homesteads separately, along with Christian’s widowed mother Luisa, in Sheridan County. After all the expenses in starting farming and a household, they started married life with only $2, but succeeded until 1910 when Christian contracted pneumonia. He then ran for county office and was elected, serving as treasurer, auditor, and Sheriff. He set examples of excellence in detail that his sons Walter and Hugo followed.

The long genetic lifetime that Walter and Hugo have been blessed with was handed down also. Their father and mother lived 75 and 84 years, respectively.

Printed with permission of the McCluksy Gazette, McClusky, North Dakota.
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