Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Guest Essay: The Story of West Lynn

West Lynne, Manitoba townsite, today.
The Story of West Lynne and the First Customs House in Western Canada 
by James McClelland

To  say that the oldest federal building in southern Manitoba had a diverse and chequered past would be an understatement. According to the old Winnipeg Telegram, this building was originally built in the 1850s. The design and architecture were similar to buildings found in the Acadian region of Canada. The article describes the building as "20x26, and made from hewn oak timbers, dove tailed at the corners." Later this building would serve as a symbol of Canadian sovereignty and a floodgate against Yankee commerce.

Today it sits just 500m north of the border it guarded for so long.
The line separating the United States from British territory had always been vague and tentative. Agreement that the 49th parallel would record the western boundary was established as early as 1818, but its exact location tended to shift each time a party had been sent out to survey it. Between 1823 and 1870 three different boundary lines had been drawn; all of them controversial.
In the 1840s, agitation began to develop along this line between the free traders from the Red River Settlement and the Hudson Bay Company officials at Fort Garry. In 1843, the first regular cart service between Pembina and St. Paul was opened. This provided easy access to the American markets. This bickering heightened as more Red River traders sought the higher American prices. It intensified in 1845 when Norman Kittson, an American Trader, opened a store just a scant 4km south of British Territory, at the junction of the Red and the Pembina Rivers.

The door of American commerce was beckoning. In fact, Kittson offered such good prices for fur that the ensuing rush of illegal trade from British Territory was referred to by the HBC as "Kittson’s Fever". As a counter-move in September of 1845, the Hudson Bay Company opened a post called North Fort Pembina. It was located on what they considered their side of the line. The Company put John Palmer Bourke, a retired officer living in the colony, in charge of this new frontier post.

During the winter of 1845-46, Robert Clouston, an employee from the Stone Fort visited this place. In his journal, he described these Spartan surroundings.
"Mr. Bourke has a rough log house, the walls of which, inside and outside are plastered with clay, and the roof covered with earth - it is floored with rough logs: the men live in the same house, with merely a partition between them - a mud chimney in each room and a door opening from Mr. B's apartment to his trading room"
The following day Clouston visited Kittson's store. The uncertainty of the exact spot where American and British authority met is noted in his diary:
"About quarter of a mile above the house (the HBC store) we saw a post planted by Major Long - marking the boundary at a place called Monroe’s Encampment some wag had pulled up the post of demarcation and placed Uncle Sam's initials toward British territory." 
Clouston later reported that Kittson's store was about 3 kms farther south. Here, between Kittson's store and the HBC post, the log house was originally located.

From these squalid beginnings the HBC post at the border continued to develop. A sketch from 1858, shows several log buildings surrounded by a sturdy log palisade.

However, the strip of land between North Pembina and Kittson’s store quickly developed into a "no-man's land." Other buildings sprang up and an unsavory frontier community known as Huron City was born. A few years later the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba would complain to Ottawa about the rowdy brawling atmosphere and the flourishing trade in whiskey smuggling that was going on in this "Whisky Post". By this time, the log building, had been turned into an inn.

Unquestionably, many travelers passed through the doors of this establishment, but two guests in particular played a very important role in the creation of Manitoba. In the autumn of 1869, the Hon. Wm. McDougall, the Governor designate of Rupert's Land, stayed here briefly after he was denied entry into the Red River Settlement by Louis Riel's metis guards. In December, McDougall would return to the deserted post and read a Proclamation declaring himself the official lieutenant-governor of the region. Ironically, in August of the following year, Louis Riel himself found momentary refuge in the same building after his hasty escape from Fort Garry.

On July 1, 1871, F. T. Bradley arrived to become Collector of Customs. The log building, empty at the time, became Manitoba's first regular Customs House. It also served as a telegraph, express and postal office. Yet, in October 1871, one of the most bizarre events in Canadian history had yet to unfold on these premises.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Litchfield Brothers - "...Minnesota beckoned them in 1862"

Electus Backus Litchield
"Flagrantly & monumentally impudent"
How did the St. Vincent Extension (which was the rail line between east St. Cloud and St. Vincent) get made?  Well, it so happens that St. Vincent had its own version of "Hell on Wheels"... 

In the course of his various "business enterprises", E.B. Litchfield is said to have bought many an elected official. Except for one: Populist Congressman Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota. While Donnelly worked for all the railroads in Minnesota at one time or another, he refused to continue working for E.B. Litchfield and the First Division St.P&P RR.

While lobbying Congress to expand the St.P&P RR land grant to 10 sections (square miles) per mile of track built, E.B. needed the help of members of Congress. Railroads would sometimes hire sitting members of Congress (and other elected officials) to serve as their "legal counsel".

In 1868, Donnelly wrote to E.B. regarding his $1,000 "retainer" and position as legal counsel to the First Division: "The matter has given me no little uneasiness of conscience. I have been laboring under the fear and dread I might instinctively be willing to do more for your company as attorney than I would if I did not hold that relation to it." Donnelly even offered to return the $1,000 or perform some actual legal services for the money.

Electus was just one of five Litchfield brothers, all involved in one way or another with the railroad business.  Their main involvement: Investment.

Edwin Clark Litchfield was put in charge of the First Division.  He agreed to finance the branch line from St. Paul to St. Cloud.  To the Associates1, he was a greatly vexed investor, "a wary old bird".  The Associates had trusted allies in Horace Thompson and Edmund Rice, who promised to "leave no stone unturned to bring about a reconciliation" between the contending parties.  If they failed, the Associates had contingency plans "to handle, with or without gloves on," Litchfield, Becker, Farley, and anyone else who got in the way.  They had not come this far only to lose the much-coveted land grant from St. Paul to the Canadian Border.

Source:  Google Books
A second act, one of the many "special acts" of the Minnesota legislature appropriating funds to further build out the railway lines, provided for another land-grant line - an extension branch from St. Cloud to Minnesota's northern border at the town of St. Vincent.

1867 was the year the British North America Act granted Canadians their political independence.  "Knowing that newly independent Canadians would soon embark on their own transcontinental railroad schemes, SP&P directors held a special stockholders meeting to map out ways to pull northern wheat-growing riches down a proposed Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) branch line from Winnipeg to the international border, through St. Vincent, and then down into St. Paul.  On the strength of this scheme, the state legislature gladly renegotiated the land grants, rescheduling their completion for 1878."

The plan was for SP&P to construct a northern extension, connecting first with the NPR main line near Fargo, then with the proposed CPR branch line at St. Vincent.

Elisha Cleveland Litchfield
One of the brothers who swooped in, bought up several
railroads,  and sold them for profit as fast as possible. . .
Erasmus Darwin Litchfield - genially called "the old rat"...was "ornery" and "obstreperous")

Egbert Savage Litchfield (youngest brother) - Sent to St. Paul at one point to oversee and manage the brothers' investments in the railroad.  In 1868, Egbert became James J. Hill's early partner.  Soon, Hill began emerging as a businessman in his own right.

"The Litchfields' capital propped up the railroad's coffers and accelerated construction into the the state's already populated agricultural regions," and towards the Red River Valley (which the state legislature had recently approved a special act securing $3 million in bonds for railway construction projects...)

TriviaNP used contractors to build the St. Vincent Extension.

To break it down to its simplest terms, the Litchfield brothers simply "went where the money was". [See the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association's incredible article about the slippery Litchfield Brothers, and their particular involvement with the building of the railroad that eventually included the St. Vincent Extension...]
Question: Where did all the money the Litchfields stole from Brooklyn go? 
Answer: To an attempt to take over the lands and railroads of the northwestern United States (Minnesota) via federal railroad land grants and other financial tools, and then mortgage this wilderness property to unwary European investors (the Dutch) at vastly inflated sums.
No doubt E. B. Litchfield used his brother E. Darwin Litchfield, then a London banker, to launder the money hijacked from Brooklyn to acquire all the stock of the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad First Division, their new land and railroad speculation entity in Minnesota, which already owned 307,200 acres (480 square miles) of federal land grants. The Brooklyn loot was likely used as seed money to construct more track in Minnesota, thereby leveraging more massive federal land grants, which in turn enabled E. B. Litchfield to issue more St. Paul & Pacific securities in Holland with these land grants used as collateral.
It should be noted, that the activities of the Litchfield brothers, as well as that of governmental officials, was quite the norm for the time period. In fact, "Robber Baron" business practices as well as "Urban Machine Politics" are considered to be two of the three "antecedents" of Organized Crime in the United States. (See Organized Crime by Howard Abadinsky, 1997, pg 39-69.)

Trivia: The construction of the St. Vincent extension was promptly put under contract, and large quantities of rails and fastenings for track were imported from England. These were of iron, weighing 30 pounds per linear yard, and went from Buffalo to Duluth by lake. Their cost at the latter point was reckoned at about 90 per ton. Construction proceeded with vigor, and, for the methods of those times, with rapidity, until shortly after the financial collapse in 1873. [Source:  Minnesota Historical Society, James J. Hill Papers "The Great Northern Railway System"]

1 - The Associates were George Stephen, Donald Smith, James J. Hill, Norman Kittson, and E.S. Litchfield. Hill enlisted the support of Donald Smith and his equally wealthy cousin, George Stephen, of the Bank of Montreal, in getting control of the steamboat business on the Red River, the route to Winnipeg. Their syndicate, “George Stephens and Associates,” comprised Stephen and Smith, as the financiers, Norman Kittson, The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Minnesota agent, operating the steamboat line, and Hill, their St Paul freight forwarder. Once in control of steam navigation on the Red River, the Associates then went after the bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific Railroad which they intended to complete to the Red River and a connection with Kittson’s steamboats.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Jefferson Highway: North-South (1916-1926)

"We can talk good roads," he continued, "until we are blue in the face if there is not that great highway running between the hearts of the people of the country which binds them together in one common cause. The people hunger after comradeship these days, and, after all, the real test is that after this sacrifice that we are great enough to be conscious of one thing — to act as brothers. We must get away from that which tends to draw away one community from another. A road ought to be a binding tie between the communities through which it passes, and only when men pull apart is it that their problems cannot be solved." 
- Said at State Meeting in Little Falls, MN on October 9, 1917; Delegates and Commissioners from all the Counties along the Jefferson Highway participated in the Great Little Falls Convention
According to the Jefferson Highway Declaration, much of the Jefferson Highway north of Wadena all the way to the Canadian border, was paved only with gravel. This was due mainly to the rural nature of that geographical portion of the road together with the financing available thereof.

From the Warren Sheaf (September 5, 1917):

The Hallock newspapers are belaboring their constituencies and the County Commission for a favorable sentiment toward the appropriation of public money for the building and maintenance of the Jefferson Highway through almost inaccessible swamps and sand dunes in the southeastern part of Kittson county. Marshall county authorities saw the foolishness of routing the Jefferson that part of their county, and have refused to do anything with it. Kittson and Pennington counties are asked to do this work for Marshall county.

The "Soo Line" Jefferson road boosters are determined to "work" Kittson county for a big appropriation to strew along this so called highway, which is only laid out and fit for travel in SPOTS. When next spring the KING'S HIGHWAY is completed from Galveston, Texas, to Winnipeg, Manitoba, the traveling public will forget the Jefferson road to absorb the appropriation of public money. Kittson county people will certainly not stand for any appropriations to be thrown away on the Jefferson road along the 'Soo'.

The above article taken from the Kennedy Star is indeed, misleading to the reader, who is not acquainted with the conditions as they really are. To think that a newspaper editor would try to make his readers believe, that there are sections in this county and in Marshall county, in which there are only sand dunes and swamps! What a poor advertisement this article would be for prospective settlers or tourists to read. The other day we drove over the highway in this county and along the road we found well stocked and equipped farms. Surely this does not bear out the Star's statement.

Sometime ago the Sheaf criticized the highway association because of the route chosen but that was because of the fact that it did not enter or benefit even one town in the county. Had the highway chosen a route passing through the towns in eastern Marshall county or through the towns of western Marshall county, it would have been better off, as far as securing the support of this county is concerned. Now that the route is chosen, we do not believe, the territory through which it passes should be advertised as sandy and swampy country, Just because of petty selfish reasons.

That the Jefferson Highway through Marshall and Kittson counties will ultimately be changed to follow the identical route of the scenic King-of-Trails, is possible, and desirable of course, on account of economy in construction and other advantages, but there is no need to speak slightingly of any portion of the two great counties. After all, Brother Estlund, we believe you will agree with us, when we say that the best form of criticism is that of a constructive nature, rather than a destructive method.

Commissioners of Kittson Report Progress
On "Pine to Palm" Projects

The following letter was received by the state convention from the County Commissioners of Kittson County:

"The members of this board find that their individual affairs will prevent their attendance at the Little Falls meeting on the 9th instant. Notice of the meeting came to our notice too late to permit the necessary arrangements being made.

"This county has about fifty-five miles of Jefferson Highway. Of this nineteen miles have been so constructed as to provide a very reliable all-weather summer road. Thirteen miles more, now under construction, will be completed this fall. The remainder of the Jefferson Highway is all graded up, according to state specifications, and is an excellent road, except in wet weather. It should be hard surfaced.

"We are now contemplating improvement next spring of sixteen miles — Federal aid specifications. We believe the Jefferson Highway Association has been, and is highly instrumental in arousing popular interest in permanent road work, and we sincerely regret our inability to be present at the Little Falls meeting."

County Board, Kittson County, Minn.

The excerpt below, from the October 1917 issue of the Jefferson Highway Declaration, goes into further detail on the rivalry-laced insults in the Karlstad and Kennedy newspapers concerning the new Jefferson Highway routing in Kittson County...

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The St. Vincent Depot Interviews

Photograph of St. Vincent depot, as described in the article below...
One of the great things about our readers is how they participate in discovering and sharing our local history.  

I was recently contacted by such a reader, who found an article written by Maribel Berg for the Scribe Tribe, published by the Kittson County Enterprise in 1976...

Monday, January 15, 2018

Map of Abandoned Railroad Lines: The St. Vincent Extension

This is a working map primarily of abandoned railroad lines across North America, with layers to include abandonments in other countries, interesting railroad sites, abandoned towns, and interesting or unique railroad crossing signals. 
St. Vincent's abandoned extension line has been added to Andrew Grigg's North American Abandoned Railroad Rights-of-Way Map (I submitted it along with supporting documentation...)  I'm pleased to see this bit of transportation history acknowledged in this wonderful historical railway map on Google!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Traveling Shows: Uncle Tom's Cabin

Source:  Pembina Pioneer Press (August 13, 1897)
In his book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the American Stage and Screen,” drama professor and theater historian John Frick of the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences chronicles how Stowe’s novel was adapted to theater not long after the book the plays were based on, was published – and details how, by the beginning of the 20th century, more than 400 separate companies traveled and performed some theatrical version of the story.

The Tom Shows as they were colloquially known as, were “ubiquitous and part of the common culture by the end of the 19th century...” Professor Frick said – a theatrical phenomenon that bridged culture, commerce and ideology.

The shows were a small industry built on the genre known as moral reform dramas or melodramas, such as “The Drunkard," “The Gambler,” or "Ten Nights in a Barroom," which were widely received.

Midway through the traveling shows' popularity, the show advertised in this newspaper ad (see left) came to our area, including Pembina.  Going by what the write-ups uncovered, it would have been quite the show, especially under a big tent as it was.  Excitement would have pervaded the atmosphere as you waited for the show to start!  Prior to the show, the show's performers  would arrive in town to much fanfare, later parading through the town to drum up business, encouraging one and all to attend the show that night.  Yes, it would be quite exciting for small towns in 1897...

Part of the Terry Show's train, and company readying themselves for the pre-show parade...
Terry Show troupe portrait, in front of the show's tents; note Uncle Tom's Cabin in center back...

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Double Back: Tracing Histories of the Red River Ox Cart Trails

Norman Kittson, as painted by Kit Leffler...

The Artist Statement for the Double Back: Tracing Histories of the Red River Ox Cart Trails series: "This project explores the road stories of the Red River Ox Cart Trail, a network of paths joining the Red River Colony (aka the Selkirk Colony) and its north-flowing watershed with the south-flowing Mississippi River. The paths were a thoroughfare for early fur trade, and ran from current day Winnipeg, Canada to Saint Paul, MN. Rather than a strict historical resurrection of the trail, the project is intended as a learning experience: an attempt to create a historical and artistic narrative that balances on the unclear line between the past and present." - Kit Leffler

Among the local characters highlighted in the exhibition: George Bonga, Pierre Bottineau (below), Little Crow, and Norman Kittson...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Little Minnesota in WWII

I just got my copy of Jill Johnson's newest book, Little Minnesota in World War II:  The Stories Behind 140 Fallen Heroes from Minnesota's Littlest Towns.  As readers may know, Jill also wrote Little Minnesota:  A Nostalgic Look at Minnesota's Smallest Towns.  As in that book, so too does the newest book feature St. Vincent.  This time, in the form of two brothers who fought and died, one in each theater of the conflict...

The two entries about the Gooselaw brothers of St. Vincent, tell a fascinating and eventually sad story, all too common among many American families during World War II.  I can only share images of the entries in the book, but I encourage all readers to buy a copy, or borrow one from your library,and read these stories for yourself...

"The Gooselaw family endured much tragedy during World War II. When Adele Gooselaw's husband died in 1942, she could not imagine that she would lose two sons in battle in World War II: Jerome in the New Georgia Campaign in 1942, and Arthur in the Battle for Metz, France, in 1944. Three other sons, Lewis, Edmund and Nazareth, also served in the army during World War II..."

Pembina County at 150: Historical Automobile Dealers

Where Have All The Car Dealers Gone?
by Jim Benjaminson

Gregory Ford's announcement last week that they are giving up their Ford Motor Company franchise after 58 years of sales brings to a close a long history of Ford sales in Cavalier —stretching all the way back to 1906. As Gregory's fold their tent for new car sales, Pembina County is left with just two automobile retailers – Soeby Motors (also Ford dealers) in Walhalla and the recently opened Birchwood Motors (GM dealers) in Cavalier.

Several years ago, the late Maxine (Fiedler) Least approached me during the annual Pioneer Machinery Show at the Pembina County Museum and asked if I had ever compiled a list of the implement dealers that had done business in Pembina County. Maxine's father was one of the principals in Fiedler & Moe, a John Deere agency in Cavalier. I had to admit that I hadn't but since our conversation I've made it a practice to note the names of various automobile and implement dealers—a random collection of notes that is far from complete – but continues to grow. The automobile and farm equipment business has changed over these past 111 years. In the old days nearly every community had an “agent” selling the latest car or tractor of some sort. In memory of Maxine and all those who have been involved in selling cars, trucks, tractors and motorcycles here is an incomplete history.

Pembina County's first Ford agency was granted to James Lang of Cavalier in 1906. His appointment named him “agent for Pembina County”. The first Fords sold, three identical 14-horsepower Model N “Light Tourings” arrived by rail in Cavalier that March and were sold to merchants D. E. Schweitzer, Charles Burgess and banker Ed Stong. They were not, however, the first automobiles sold in Cavalier but were the seventh, eighth and ninth automobiles in the city. Two years later (the same year the Model T Ford debuted) Lang and business partner Thomas G. McConnell formed the “Cavalier Garage & Automobile Company”, doing business out of a large brick building on the corner of East Main and Division Streets. Their business announcement stated they would continue selling Fords and “other favorite autos” in addition to handling “auto fixtures and supplies” and “do all kinds of repairing” plus add an “auto livery business”.

James Lang has the distinction of placing the first ad for an automobile in the Cavalier Chronicle in the June 26, 1908 issue. Found on page 4 the ad featured a line drawing of two Ford runabouts – the ad ran for the next six issues without change. Lang also gets credit for placing the second automobile ad in the paper, beginning with the March 19, 1909 issue, advertising both a $500 Maxwell and an $850 Ford, this ad running for twelve weeks. Lang was a busy man as he, along with partner George Horn, started the Cavalier electric light plant. By 1916 the local Ford dealership was taken over by G. A. Westline and Peter Freschett. Two years later Westline and Freschett were out of the Ford business, being replaced by Akra's Thorwaldson Brothers who would run the business until the mid 1930's, Westline took on the Essex line in 1919 while Freschette later picked up Pontiac and Oakland.
Trivia [answers at bottom]
  • How many automobiles were in Cavalier in 1905?
  • What year did the new hotel in Glasston open? 
  • What year did Cavalier remove the hitching posts from Main Street?
Following the end of World War Two S & T Motors opened a Ford agency in Cavalier on September 18, 1946. Owned by Bob Tomlinson of Devils Lake and Clarence Smerud of Minneapolis, a new brick building was built to house their facilities. Tomlinson soon left the business which operated until 1958 when Mr. Smerud passed away unexpectedly. The agency was then sold to Oliver Gregory who took over the business April 1st, 1959. A new dealership facility was built on the south of edge of Cavalier, opening in 1962 where the business is still located.

Soeby Ford of Walhalla, which can proudly claim the distinction of being the oldest dealership in Pembina County traces its roots back to 1926 when C. K. Soeby acquired the Oakland and Pontiac car and International truck franchise. C. K. Soeby became a Ford dealer in 1930, passing the business along to his son Jack in 1948 who in turn passed it on to his sons in 1986. Another long time Walhalla dealer was A. O. Tetrault, whose Walhalla Motor Company held the Ford franchise in 1926, a year that would see a first in the delivery of new Fords when the first load of “completely built up” Ford cars arrived—previously dealers had to install items such as lights, wheels, tires and fenders before delivery could be made to a retail customer.

Harold Morrison and Freeman Levi built a new building “two blocks south of the post office” under the name of Cavalier Implement, selling Case farm equipment in May of 1944. By 1952 they added the Pontiac and Willys line of automobiles using the business name Cavalier Motor & Implement. Discontinuing selling farm equipment and moving to a new location on the west edge of Cavalier the new building was lost to fire Christmas Eve, 1959. Rebuilding on the same spot and re-named Cavalier Motors, it had the distinction of being named “Studebaker's newest dealer” in 1960. The business, which continued to sell Pontiac, was sold to Olson Motors in 1962. Down the street, Page Oil Company, which had been selling Oldsmobiles since 1941, took on the Rambler line in time to introduce the 1959 models.

Like S & T Motors several other dealerships were opened in Cavalier following WWII. Melsted-Olson Motors built a new brick building one block further south of the new S & T building, selling Chevrolet cars and trucks as well as Massey-Harris farm equipment. Kuball & Andrews, which had been in operation since before the war (Ole Andrews having been a Chrysler dealer since 1927), continued to sell Dodge and Plymouth cars in addition to Lehr's “Big Boy” tractors. Utilizing a Chrysler engine, Dodge truck 5-speed transmission and 2 speed differential, the “Big Boy” sold for $2,136 in 1948 and had a “road gear” good for 22 miles per hour. Letzring Motor & Implement which had previously sold Hudson and Terraplanes in Neche was also selling Chrysler products along with Allis-Chalmers tractors in Cavalier. Kuball's sold the Dodge-Plymouth agency to Erwin Herzog in May of 1956. Twenty years later Erwin sold the business to his son Tim, who later sold the business to Swanson Motors in September of 1999. Jack McPherson began selling Kaiser automobiles in 1950 and its companion compact car Henry J in 1952. A post war start-up company, Kaiser-Fraser dealers also included Andre Gratton at Walhalla and Hughes & Shaver at St. Thomas.

Auto and implement dealers weren't just centered in the larger towns of the county. Robert Halcrow, whose address was Nowesta, was an agent for the Lambert automobile in 1913; he is noted as having “brought a cow to town in a box wagon behind his auto”. It's claimed he made the eleven mile trip to town “in one hour and went home considerably faster”. In later years Halcrow Ford would be one of Drayton's leading automobile dealers. Drayton's early pioneer car dealer R. J. Moore began handling the E-M-F line in 1912 - named after the three principals of the company, Everitt, Metzger and Flanders - detractors claimed the initials stood for “Every Man's Failure” or “Every Morning Fixit”. It was later absorbed by Studebaker.

Over at Hamilton C. A. Morton's Auto Livery advertised they were agents for the Vulcan, Buick and Marathon brands and had “one 25-horsepower Marathon touring car used a little for demonstrating which will sell at a nice reduction." Any of the cars on hand could be bought “on one years time with first-class security at 7 percent interest.” By 1921 E. K. Evenson was selling Fords at both Hamilton and Neche. H. C. Thomson of Bowesmont was also selling the popular Ford line. George Paxman had been the Hamilton Ford agent as well as the Overland and Willys-Knight dealer. A disastrous fire July 7, 1918 destroyed the Paxman building but 5 new Overland cars were saved. At Hensel, H. J. Norman & Son were also selling Fords while Graham & Ross sold Republic trucks. In later years Frank Gillis would handle the International line in Hensel, eventually selling out to Art Anderson. Other International dealers included Glenn Morrison in Cavalier, and Neche Farm Equipment in that city.

Crystal's Bradley & Hunter were sales agent for the Racine, Wisconsin built Mitchell in 1912 while the Crystal Auto Company was selling Hudsons by the car load, adding the Studebaker line in 1917 and Essex, Overland and Willys Knight two years later. A man by the name of Bymaster later took over the Crystal Mitchell agency. G. G. Thompson of Pembina was also selling Mitchell's in 1912, with his territory carrying over to St. Vincent, Minnesota. By 1915 Thompson was a Maxwell dealer. At Mountain S. F. Steinolfson was selling Ford's while G. M. Benjaminson (his name was always misspelled as C. M. Benjaminson in newspaper ads) was selling Pontiac's and Oakland's in Gardar. Peter Freschette, earlier Cavalier's Ford dealer also took on the Pontiac-Oakland line in 1927.

As small town America dwindled several dealerships continued to run successful businesses. Louis Byron Motors sold Pontiacs after the war and were long-time Chrysler-Plymouth dealers in Mountain. Likewise, Dietrich Motors in Crystal sold DeSoto's and Plymouths while Christopher Motors at Pembina, which dated back to the 1920's sold Chevrolets well into the 1960's.

Among the more noted implement dealers have been Cavalier's Fiedler & Moe (John-Deere), Pembina's Meagher Brothers (Massey-Harris), Glenn Morrison (International Harvester), Hamilton's Frank White & Ernest Einarson (Minneapolis-Moline), and J. J. Myers, Mountain (Holt combines).

At least three Pembina County residents saw the demand for motorcycles, with B. S. Thorwaldson of Akra (a partner in Thorwaldson Brothers at Cavalier) selling the 11-horsepower Harley-Davidson Twin, Martin Brothers of Hamilton handling the Indian line (ride it to work and ride it for fun) and Svold's August Vivatson offering Wagner Motorcycles at prices ranging from $160 to $200.

There was always something special about going to “show day” - when the new models were introduced to the public. Coffee, doughnuts, trinkets, colorful brochures and new cars. What could be better? Sadly there's not as many places to go anymore.

Trivia answers




Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pembina County at 150: The Painter & the Pugilist

Jim Benjaminson is a local historian from Pembina County, North Dakota.  This year is the sesquicentennial of Pembina County, and in celebration of that, Jim has been writing a column for the Pembina New Era entitled, "Pembina County at 150".  The column has been running a few months now, and recently I invited Jim to serialize his fascinating history columns here on the blog. He graciously agreed.  This is the first one...

The Painter & the Pugilist: Two Former County Residents You've Probably Never Heard Of

Simply put, Birdeen Gibson was an artist. Born in Oregon in 1913 but growing up in Neche, the daughter of Augusta “Gussie” (Hughes) Gibson graduated in a class of 21 from Neche High School in the spring of 1931. Times were tough and jobs were scarce but Birdeen managed to make a little money by making sketches using India ink on white paper. Her favorite subjects – Lincoln and sailing ships. A March 1934 family letter told of her selling “the largest size (4x5) for 35 cents” , with smaller drawings selling for 25 or 30 cents. It was mentioned “she's sold 18 now.”

Unable to afford to go to college, her art work came to the attention of Dr. Ernie Coon of the University of North Dakota. In a February 28, 1934 letter Birdeen wrote Dr. Coon's wife, Jennie, stating “I want to let you know how greatly I appreciate your taking an interest in me”. Dr. Coon had spoken with a UND art professor who said he felt there was a possibility of getting her “a CWA job”. Skilled as a typist and in shorthand, Birdeen owned a typewriter (which had been purchased for her by her mother), skills that would soon prove to come in handy. She continued “I have entered two different art contests conducted by the Federal Art School in Minneapolis. Both times I received a part scholarship but the entire course is too expensive for me, so I have been unable to take advantage of it.” Another portion of her letter mentioned the ink drawings she had been selling and thanked the Coons for their interest in her.

Birdeen's sister Sally wrote the Coons that “Birdeen is certainly a nice girl in every way. She's quiet, but once you get to know her, she's very likeable”.

Sorority Girl - Delta Phi Delta
Birdeen Gibson's school portrait

By September 1934, Birdeen, along with her mother and brother Ray, traveled to Minneapolis where Birdeen would continue on to Waterloo, Iowa. She had been told “there was a man there giving lessons on painting—a professor—who wanted to see what talent she had before he would accept her as a student”. That man was Count Odon de Szaak of Pest, Hungary. How much time Birdeen spent with him is unknown. Birdeen enrolled in the art program at UND working for “room and board” doing “Federal work, getting an education and her living besides” utilizing her typing and shorthand skills. She would graduate from the University with the spring class of 1939.

A photograph—and picture she painted of herself—graced the front page of the Dakota Student (UND) newspaper of April 28, 1939. The caption read “Birdeen Gibson saw herself as others see her when in eight hours before a mirror she made this self-portrait. Produced in her home in Neche, N.D., this painting is but one of a series of her works, some of which have been on exhibition in London and Paris. A senior, majoring in art, Miss Gibson has studied under the famed Count Odon de Szaak of Des Moines, Iowa.” The 1940 census records that she was working as a secretary in Neche. When her brother left for the West Coast to work for Boeing, she apparently moved west as well. Little is known of her activities except that she married a man named Donald Cisney on July 22, 1950. Birdeen had no children and passed away at the age of 66 August 30, 1979.

Although her name may not be well known, as least one of her paintings is. She is one of many artists who have painted “Christ Knocking on the Door”. An Internet search reveals many different versions, yet none of Birdeen's were found during research for this story. There are at least three of her “Christ Knocking on the Door” paintings in the immediate area. One is displayed in the dining area of the Cavalier Methodist “Chocolate” Church. Another hangs in the sanctuary of Drayton's Methodist Episcopal Church—a church built of Drayton produced brick in 1905 that also has a unique “disappearing” wall. A third painting hangs in the Presbyterian Church at Calvin, North Dakota.

How many other similar paintings exist is unknown. Do any of her sketches still exist? And what other works of art did she produce during her lifetime? Truly a woman of mystery!

Our second subject is also a man of mystery – much more so than Birdeen Gibson. James Barry claimed to have been born in St. Vincent, Minnesota but called Drayton home. Or was he born in Culbertson, Montana – or did he live in Chicago, East Grand Forks or Petaluma, California? Perhaps we should mention that Jim Barry wasn't his real name. At various times in his life he claimed his real name was Louis Edgar Rogers; at other times it was Hugh Edgar Rogers. And his birth date – was it August 12, 1886 – or August 7, 1887 or August 10, 1887? At one point in an interview that appeared in the Bismarck Tribune May 28, 1916, he claimed “Jim Barry isn't my name at all, and I'm not Italian as everyone believes. My real name is Hugh Edgar Rogers. My father was Jarvis A. Rogers, from County Antrim, Belfast. My mother was a full-blooded Sioux Indian (there are claims she was French-Canadian Metis). They've always said I was from Chicago, when, as a matter of fact, I've hardly ever been there over night. I lived at Drayton, N.D., with my folks, including six other brothers. I'm the youngest and the smallest of them all.”

One thing we know for sure, his father's name was Rogers although he was known simply as “Rog” to most people. And he had been a mail carrier between Grand Forks and Pembina from 1868-71, carrying the mail by sleigh, dogs or on foot during the dead of winter.

Louis Edgar Rogers, aka Jim Barry (1910)
So who is this man of mystery with so many different names and birth dates? A criminal hiding from the law? A man on the run from alimony and child support payments? No – Jim Barry was a pugilist – a prize fighter of some renown.  A man who was the last of the bare knuckle fighters, who John L. Sullivan claimed would one day be heavyweight champion of the world. And he probably would have succeeded had it not been for his battles with gambling, drugs and booze. Sullivan himself was a well-known rounder who took Barry under his wing, teaching him his “tricks” in the ring. There were times when Sullivan's partying “required” him to pawn a championship belt studded with hundreds of diamonds, a belt estimated to be worth $10,000 in the late 1880's. At one point, the belt was rumored to be in Jim Barry's possession when it “disappeared”, not to be found until after Barry's death – minus its diamonds. It's reported that the belt is now owned by the Smithsonian.

Weighing in at 192 pounds and standing 5 feet 10 3/4” tall, Jim Barry had a 42 inch chest and a reach of 73 1/2”. Making his professional debut April 4, 1904, Barry won 25 matches, 18 by knock outs, lost 24 matches, 10 by being knocked out and fought to a draw in 5 matches. A formidable opponent, the Los Angeles Herald in its November 6, 1908 issue reported Barry was scheduled to go 10 rounds with Joe Flynn. Barry, who outweighed Flynn by 20 pounds, placed a $200 bet against Flynn's $160 that he would win the match. The Tonopah, Nevada Daily Bonanza reported “Jim Barry of Chicago had the better of a 10 round bout with Jim Flynn of Pueblo before the Pacific Athletic Club tonight. Barry showed fine form and landed terrible blows to Flynn's body and jaw throughout but was unable to stop the fireman.”

Calling Barry and Al (the California Hercules) Kaufman the “mastodons of pugilism” the L.A. Herald commented in its December 27, 1908 issue that “no human being can stand up under the best punch (that) Barry or Kaufmann is capable of handing out.” In a run-up match as contenders for the world's heavyweight title Kaufman knocked out Barry in the 39th round of a scheduled 45-round fight.

Eyeing the world championship, Denver's Franklin's Paper of October 9, 1909 reported “Jack Johnson the world's champion pugilist, intends to make a grand cleanup of the heavyweights before he meets Jim Jeffries, Stanley Ketchel in October, Al Kaufman (the California Hercules) and “Philadelphia Jack” O'Brien in a return engagement.” The article continued “Jim Barry, the Chicago Slugger, who has been hurling challenges right and left, may also be taken on by the champion”. The same paper in its November 27th edition, reported Johnson defeated Tommy Burns in 12 rounds for the world title. He fought Kaufmann, O'Brien, Barry and Ketchel and “a few others” for the world's title which he now holds. Among that list of fighters was Sam Langford, a Negro many white fighters refused to go up against because of the “color barrier”. Langford held the middleweight crown after defeating all other middleweights when Papke refused to fight him before moving into the heavyweight ranks.

Sam Langford and Jim Barry had a longtime relationship, Barry not being stopped by the color of a man's skin. The two first paired off in September of 1907, fighting each other 16 times, their last match taking place in March of 1913 in Australia, with Langford defeating Barry each time although two matches were called as a draw. Both the Tacoma, Washington Times and Chicago's Day Book reported on the March 1913 fight, the Times terse two sentence article reading “Sam Langford won from Jim Barry in one round. We should worry.” The Day Book's article gave a few more details - “Sam Langford, the Negro heavyweight, knocked out Jim Barry of Chicago in the first round at Brisbane, Australia.”

Traveling to Australia for a series of five fights in 1912 for promoter Hugh McIntosh of Sydney, Jim Barry defeated Bill Lang, former heavyweight champion of Australia in one round; it would be his only Australian win. On the return trip home, Barry was arrested when the S.S. Zealandia docked in Vancouver, British Columbia. Charged with assault it was reported Barry had “lost at cards and then started a rough house.”

The March 15, 1913 fight with Sam Langford brought a temporary halt to Barry's boxing career – he wouldn't return to the ring again until June 30, 1916. Little is known of his activities during that time period except for discovery of an “emergency passport” issued by the U.S. Embassy in London. In it Barry claimed to have left the United States in December of 1912—the December 10th Tacoma Times reported him “visiting in Tacoma” having recently returned from “the Antipodes and is now ready to meet anybody in the ring.” His “visit” to Tacoma was to act as referee at a “smoker”. Three months later he would fight Langford in Australia. How or why he ended up in England is unknown. It is known Barry entered a New York hospital upon his return to the U.S. for treatment for cocaine addiction —at the time cocaine and other hard drugs were legal to possess and use.

The Ogden, Utah Standard of May 8, 1916 revealed “Jim Barry, who was a worry to all the heavyweights 5 or 6 years ago, is now planning a return to the fight game. Barry has the reputation of having fought Sam Langford with varying results, 16 different times. He is now in training earnestly and thinks he will soon be in trim to cross bats with Coffey, Al Weinert or Moran.”. On June 6th Barry stepped into the ring against “Battling” Lavinsky – and lost. He would go up against “Sailor Jack” Carroll in July, Jim Smith in August and Billy Miske in September. All with the same dreadful results.

His final fight came in March of 1917, against another black fighter, Sam McVea. Only this fight would take place in Colon, Panama. Stepping into the ring with McVea March 11th, he was “floored for the count” in the sixth round. The next days Panama Star & Herald had a different story to reveal about Jim Barry. Barry had been shot and killed in the Lobby Hotel in Colon by a gambler known as C. Jerrett, aka “Tex” Martin.

According to news reports “Martin accosted Barry in the Lobby Hotel bar and Barry pushed him back, saying he didn't want anything to do with him. (There had been an altercation between them in Panama City the previous day, stemming from a disagreement over a gambling debt.) Martin then pulled a Colt 44 and shot Barry three times. Barry staggered out of the bar and fell dead. Martin was quickly arrested after the shooting and later stood trial for murder. Apparently it was found that Martin had been threatened by Barry, was acting in self-defense, and was released”. Martin was later reported to have been killed in San Antonio, Texas.

Thus ended the career of Jim Barry, aka Louis Rogers, aka Hugh Rogers. Find-a-Grave lists him being buried in the Drayton Cemetery. Cemetery records compiled by the Red River Valley Historical Society do not list any Rogers or Jim Barry as being buried anywhere in Pembina County. Even in death, Jim Barry is still a man of mystery.

Pembina County Trivia
  1. Who was the first recorded farmer in what is now Pembina County?
  2. Where was this farm located?
  3. What year was the O’Brien Hotel in Neche built?
  1. The first known farmer in what is now Pembina County was Charles Bottineau.
  2. Bottineau's farm was located on land now farmed by the Horsley Family of Neche.
  3. The O'Brien Hotel in Neche was built in 1895 at a cost of $14,000. It’s known today as the L&M Bar.