Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter IX

September 12 witnessed the most violent thunderstorm of the summer. The morning had been a scorcher without a breath of wind, not uncommon weather for the season. Early in the afternoon low, gradually darkening clouds appeared in the west bringing a gentle, misting rain. By two o'clock the wind drove out of the southwest with an ever-increasing velocity, accompanied by a distant rumbling, indicating the approach of an electrical storm.

Charley, lackadaisically tending bar in an almost empty saloon, began counting the seconds between occasional flashes of lightning and the resulting clap of thunder. Knowing sound traveled roughly 1000 feet each second, he judged the squall was still nearly five miles somewhere to the southwest. Occasionally glancing out of the saloon windows he noted the ever-diminishing light outside as the dark ominous clouds approached. Gradually the rain increased until it seemed an endless torrent, making it nearly impossible to see neighboring stores just across the street.

George West, a machinery salesman, spoke up. He was engaged in a casual game of rummy with Mack Brown, the newspaperman. "Going to be a soaker, Charley. The people will appreciate the new plank sidewalk you businessmen put along the street."

"Doc Cavalier gets the credit for that, George. He planked north to the corner, then talked the rest of us into doing this block. The trouble is we should do something about cross-walks at the corners."

The thunder gradually grew louder as the crest of the electrical storm approached, changing to a series of violent, rippling, staccato-like explosions. A sharp, loud snap came, followed by a thunderous ground-shaking roar.

Mack Brown looked up, startled. "Judas, that was mighty close!"

West nodded, "Too darned close!"

Charles silently agreed, hoping no damage had been done. It was only minutes later when Howard Vaughn, the County Clerk of Court, residing in the Customs House next door, rushed in. He shouted, "Fire! Fire!”

Glancing wildly at Charley, he cried, "Lightning must have struck the roof of my building, my walk-up upstairs is a mass of smoke and flames. I fear it's beyond saving. Since your building has a common wall with mine, you'd best save all you can before the fire spreads to you!"

Charley turned to West and Brown. "Get all the help available! Tell them to bring pails!" To Vaughn, who was exiting the door, he cried, "Is there any hope of saving anything in your upstairs?"

Vaughn hesitated, then shook his head negatively, "Not a chance, the smoke is too thick; the fire is spreading too fast; it's not worth the risk -- only my household stuff up there anyhow. It's the county records downstairs I've got to try and save, especially the citizenship and court files. There might be time to move some of them. Thank the Lord my wife is visiting in Grand Forks."

Charley, knowing his store was safe for the moment, followed Vaughn to his door. "Lets get at it, I'll help you as long as possible."

Entering the door of Vaughn's building they found the downstairs already filling with lung-irritating smoke. What portion they could see of the tin-patterned ceiling was darkening progressively, the paint beginning to blister, the heat becoming intense. Hurriedly they seized heavy file cabinets and the boxes nearest the door, carrying them hurriedly onto the wet plank sidewalk. Moments later a muffled explosion upstairs forced the door at the head of the interior staircase open, showering them with hot, burning embers.

"Judas! That does it!" cried Vaughn. "We won't be able to save any more; this heat and smoke is just too much."

Charley nodded, realizing it was foolish to further risk their lives. "Let's check my upstairs, maybe I can save some of my furniture."

Reaching the top of his outside staircase he opened the door to find a faint trace of smoke along the upper edges of the north wall. Crossing to feel the wallpaper, he found it already warm to the touch. Snapping and crackling sounds could be heard on the far side. "Start in the kitchen, grab pans and we'll load up what dishes we can!"

Sounds of thudding footsteps could be heard on his outside staircase brief moments before several men burst into his living room. The powerful voice of Kabernagle thundered above the other excited voices. "Grab everything you see, get it all out onto the street." Seeing Charley, he cried, "You clean out your quarters and I'll see to the bar downstairs. We've time for that. We're lucky for this downpour, otherwise we might lose the whole block, maybe the whole downtown. Lyon's grocery next door is sided with tin. I think we can stop the fire there." Grimly he shook his head, "No chance of saving our building though."

Within minutes the interior of their building was stripped clean and men began moving the furniture and other contents across the now water-soaked, muddy street. The fire bell, located a block west, could be heard, ringing wildly. Charley noted two of his boisterous helpers standing across the street laughing; they were holding bottles of liquor in their hands. He had no qualms, knowing they had helped save the entire inventory and contents of the saloon. A sudden thought came: He realized that he and John had better get their remaining inventory secured before it magically disappeared.

Minutes later Charley and John dejectedly watched as their building succumbed to the fire. Finally John said, "Well, one good thing, they managed to get all three billiard tables outside. They're still in the rain, but tipped to the side. We'll have to re-felt them and have them varnished."

"Guess all we need now is a new building. We won't have much other expense. At least we've got $1000 insurance on the building, maybe should have had more."

"Yea, we talked about it. Oh hell! Win a few, lose a few!"

Meanwhile, they found that Mrs. Fisk, who owned the hotel nearby, had taken over the supervision of their property. She organized bystanders to move it into the entrance of her hotel.

Because of the saturated roofs the fire seemed strangely confined to the interiors of the two buildings. Men stood around helplessly, holding water pails that were of little use.

The eaves of the Customs Building leaked small, spurting plumes of smoke, indicating apparent air leaks. Fire and smoke now streamed from the two front windows of the building, all signs of glass long gone. Minutes later the upper front windows of the saloon darkened and occasional flickers of flame could be seen in the interior. With a sudden surge the two windows exploded outward, clearing the way for long tongues of flame that rapidly reached high above the roof.

Despite the constant rain, the flames managed to eventually creep through the north edge of the Customs building. Fortunately, both the roof and siding of the Lyons building adjoining their saloon was sheeted with heavy tin, which deflected large quantities of water down between the walls of the buildings. To all appearances the water was acting as a fire barrier.

Eventually the north wall of the Customs building slowly leaned into the fire, the roof collapsing inward. Moments later the common wall between the two buildings also folded, followed by the roof and south wall of the saloon. Charley looked with awe at the now exposed metal clad side of the Lyons building, realizing that the shiny metal reflected the heat from the wall, seemingly making it impervious to the fire.

Kneeshaw, Pembina's acting magistrate. stood quietly under a large black umbrella. As Charley turned, Kneeshaw said grimly, "Between you and Vaughn, you nearly put me out of business."

"Hell, William! John and I are out of business. The store you run for Bill Lyons is safe. Thank heaven our building is partly insured. Has the county any insurance on the old Customs House?"

"Some, I believe, but probably not enough. Anyway, the new courthouse will be finished next fall. We'll have to make do until then. Charley, why don't you and John get your mess cleaned up as soon as the fire is out. Contract with Nixon for a new building. I'll bet he can have one up for you within a month. I hear his carpenters are at a slack time."

At that moment Marguerite crossed the street from the direction of the hardware store. Gazing at the collapsed ruins of the two buildings that were still a mass of orange flames, she said, "What a shame Charley, I hope no one was hurt."

He noted the pensive look on her face. "Nope, no thank goodness. I heard the snap and thunder clap as it struck the building next door, but Vaughn wasn't aware his building was on fire for some time. Perhaps he wasn't inside, I just don't know. We did save everything from our building, but most of the county records have been destroyed. We saved a few files that were near the door, but darned few.

“Now I've got to go inside and thank Mrs. Fisk. She's moved most of our furniture and supplies into her hotel for safekeeping."

"I'll go along. I'd have been here sooner, but Lucien is away; I had to stay at the hotel desk."

Entering Mrs. Fisk's open doorway they found Charley's furniture piled helter-skelter in the lobby, leaving little room to squeeze by. As the small, business-like, woman appeared in the hallway, she smiled and said, "Charley, your inventory of bottle goods, tobacco and the rest I've locked in my back room." She indicated the furniture with a sweep of her hand, "I imagine when things settle down you'll move this elsewhere -- no hurry though." Glancing down at the carpet she cried out in dismay, "My Lord, how will I ever get that muddy mess off the carpet?"

"Send us the bill, John and I will pay for the cleaning and any damage. This is putting you out; I can't clutter you up like this."

"Nonsense, in times of strife we take things in stride. If someone complains, they can go elsewhere." She sniffed in disdain at the thought.

"Well, first thing in the morning then. I'll find storage elsewhere."

Marguerite grasped his hand. "I've got to get back to the hotel. I left the desk untended, just couldn't stand the suspense any longer."

As Mrs. Fisk left the room Charley put his arm around Marguerite's waist, drawing her close. She felt his kiss too perfunctory, it had little feeling. Realizing the strain and tension he must be under, she tightened her arms around his neck, kissing him fiercely. Her obvious concern and affection surprised him and for long seconds their embrace was held. Finally breaking away, she smiled, "Stop by when you have time."

"I'll do that soon, perhaps even sooner if John can be persuaded to go over to Geroux's for a bracer. Lord knows I could use one!"

Outside, Charley found the crowd of onlookers thinning, perhaps due to the remaining light drizzle, but more probably due to the fact that a further fire threat seemed unlikely.

A few men standing in the muddy street were busy throwing water on the smoldering plank sidewalk.

Approaching John, who seemed morosely studying the now darkening ruins, Charley said, "We're both soaking wet. Let's go over to Geroux's and I'll buy. It's not the end of the world; we'll build a better store and have it up before late fall."

John shrugged, "Might as well." Then he turned to smile as if suddenly awakening, "You know, my wife and daughters have been plaguing me for a visit to St. Paul for months. By golly, I've finally found the time!"

Returning to her hotel desk after pausing momentarily outside the door to shake and fold her umbrella, Marguerite slipped off her muddy shoes as she mused over Charley's loss. She knew the store was only a portion of his income, he was not strapped by the fire. She also realized they would have less time together, since now he would be involved in rebuilding his business. In addition, there was the immediate necessity of finishing the harvest and plowing of his farm along the border.

As Charley promised, he and John entered through the lobby on their way to the bar. Marguerite smiled at the pair, "Don't feel down in the dumps. If you'll take your drinks to the dining room I'll join you in a few moments." Somehow, she felt it necessary to inveigle Charley into staying for supper. It would give them a chance to talk about the future. After joining the two men a few minutes later, she listened quietly while they discussed plans for their new building.

John finally stood up. "I have to get home for supper. Funny, I didn't see the wife or girls at the fire. I thought the ringing of the fire bell would bring everyone out." Raising his hand in a farewell gesture, he added, "I'll see you at Nixon's yard about nine tomorrow morning."

"Now that he's gone what would you like for supper?"

Marguerite reached to cover his hand with hers.

"I'm a little antsy with the fire and all. Too bad we lost the county records."

"Yes, but it's in the past and no one is to blame.

It’s supper time, how about a steak?”

"Naw, lets get a menu from Birdy; I'm not that hungry." Seeing the waitress was busy, Marguerite arose, returning with a menu. Moments later the waitress arrived and took their order. As she left Marguerite looked at Charley quizzically, "Where will you stay now? I can arrange a room for you upstairs."

Charley looked up intently, "You know that's not a good idea."

"Why not?"

"We'd be the talk of the town. Since you work here people would think that arrangement mighty cozy."

"I don't see why." She felt a sudden anger growing.

"It would reflect on both of us. Best I get a room over at the American House. McLellen will give me a good rate."

Marguerite reflected on the idea, knowing Charley was right. "Fine, then that's settled." The spate of anger she felt, faded. She knew Charley would not change his mind.

"After we eat I'll pick up my rig at the stable. It'll only take a moment, then I'll take you home."

"We'd best not tarry too long. The ferry may close."

"That's no problem; the river is so shallow we can ford it in the buggy without even getting our feet wet. They've had to dig out a channel to keep the ferry operating."

"Yes, but by tomorrow morning I'll bet the river will be up several feet!"

"We've plenty of time yet." He remarked languidly.

"What will you do for dry clothes?" She asked. "Oh, I know, we’ll dry them when you take me home.”

As Charley walked to Nixon's lumberyard the next morning he noted deep wheel-ruts in the street with pools of water glittering in the bright sunlight. Choosing his path carefully, he avoided most of the mud as he crossed the street. Inside the open lumberyard door he found John speaking with Nixon.

As Kneeshaw had predicted, they found Nixon amiable and willing to build their new store.

After a discussion of dimensions and details of the plans, Nixon said, "I'll get a crew cleaning up by this afternoon. It's a simple building, so give me about forty days. It might be too late to apply paint this fall, but that can wait until spring. I'll order new double-sash windows with storms, also a double cased outside door. With heavy felt paper lining under the siding you'll find a big saving in coal. A dry peat moss cover over your upper ceiling will also make a big difference. Its good insulation and quite a few builders are using it now."

Charley agreed, "That'll help, 'cause coal is mighty dear. We also want both chimneys to have clay inner liners in case of a chimney fire. Don't forget, the staircase is to go on the outside, on the south side of the building, fully enclosed, the same as before. Also we want lightning rods."

The adjoining building lot was quickly sold and stood only a week before the purchaser began the frame construction of an even larger building. The structure was to extend much further back toward the alley. Apparently the new owner was well advised, for it was rumored the contractor was ordered to sheet the exterior with a new, brick-patterned metal siding.

A building boom seemed in the making, for in addition to the two new buildings on Cavalier Street, Howard Vaughn began building a home just east of the livery stable. Frank Myrick, not to be outdone, began a new livery in the rear of his store building.

Their new building was nearly completed by October, the contractor putting extra carpenters on the job. All that remained for occupancy was the installation of interior accoutrements. Both Charley and John patiently awaited the arrival of the new custom-made mahogany bar from Minneapolis. It was to be twenty feet in length, with a matching, mirrored, back-bar.

As the two men prowled the interior of the building with Nixon, the builder said, "Another couple of weeks and you can move in." He smiled, "I've put up those lightning rods you wanted, one on each end of the roof. It's cheap insurance."

John smiled wryly, "Like locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen."

Charley and Marguerite were invited to the open house and dance at the new home of Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn on a Thursday evening. Charley apologized to Marguerite when they had lunch at Geroux's. "I'm stuck to take a mental patient to Sioux City on Wednesday morning. Why don't you attend for us, it should be fun."

"It won't be if you're not there. Besides, your mother will probably be invited; I'm not going to let her create a scene."

"She wouldn't dare, just avoid her."

"No thanks! I'll sit it out. I'll not take a chance on spoiling Mrs. Vaughn's party. They've been such good friends."

With the hostler from Mason's livery driving the rig, Charley appeared at Fort Pembina early on Tuesday morning. All signs of the heavy rain of weeks ago had completely disappeared; thin clouds of dust arose from the hooves of horse and buggy wheels. Entering the fort hospital Charley encountered Ira Hocking, the doctor's assistant.

"Here to gather up your nut, Charley?"

"That I am. He was supposed to be ready at seven; the train leaves for Minneapolis in about an hour. Is he going to be a problem?"

"No, he's elderly, quite docile, but short a lot of shingles upstairs. Want to take him in a jacket?"

“Is it necessary?”

"Don't believe so. He hasn't created any physical problem. Give me a moment to get him, he's ready."

"Where does he hail from?"

"Somewhere south of Drayton. His relatives brought him in -- claim they can't put up with him anymore."

Moments later Hocking reappeared, leading a grizzled, decrepit-looking man. Handing the commitment papers to Charley, Hocking added, "He'll not cause trouble, he's meek as Moses."

"Fine, I'll load him up." Taking the man's arm the oldster agreeably allowed himself to be led outside and assisted into the buggy. He was subdued, apparently with no interest in his destination.

After Charley left the fort, Dr. Appel arrived to take sick call. "What time is Charley due here to pick up the patient?"

"He's been here and gone. Left about ten minutes ago."

"Did you tell him of the man's predilection?"

"Oh gosh, I forgot!"

Appel began to chuckle, "No harm done, Charley will no doubt find out soon enough." He looked to Ira, still grinning, "He'll probably cuss you plenty."

Dismissing his driver at the St. Vincent depot, Charley purchased the necessary tickets and boarded the train. He was pleasantly surprised to find his man promptly fell asleep, dozing almost the entire twenty hours of the trip, awaking only to eat sandwiches and fruit hawked by a porter on the train. Upon questioning his charge, Charley was unable to elicit any meaningful conversation; he was only too glad the man could at least express his wishes at toilet time. Arriving in Minneapolis the following morning Charley felt grimy and exhausted. The hard seat cushions and the need to keep an eye on his man had deprived him of any prolonged sleep. He found the Minneapolis depot crowded and after a complaint from his charge, Charley escorted him to the door of the men's room. Walking to the newspaper stand nearby, he purchased a copy of the Globe newspaper. While glancing at the front page he suddenly heard loud laughter and the excited shriek of a woman. Turning his head, there stood his patient, just outside the toilet door -- stark naked!

With a few choice epithets Charley rushed the man into the lavatory, bearing him roughly through the spring-loaded door. "What in hell are you trying to prove?"

His charge smiled at him with an innocent look.

The door swung open violently to admit a burley officer of the law. "What is going on? Who is this dunderhead without any clothes? Are you two trying to pull a fast one?"

"No, darn it! He's a patient I'm taking to Sioux City. I'm the sheriff from Pembina County, up in Dakota Territory. When I went for a newspaper this nut took off all his clothes. They sure didn't tell me he'd do that." Charley displayed the commitment papers, then bent to retrieve the man's clothing scattered on the floor. "Here now, put your clothes back on. I don't want any more foolishness from you." He was forced to help the man dress, his charge seeming to have little interest in doing so.

The depot policeman obviously enjoyed the situation; breaking into a smile. "I've seen everything now. Wait until I tell the boys down at the station. Say, think you'll have any more trouble with him? Want me to watch him for awhile, and give you a break?"

Charley shook his head in disgust, knowing he should have expected the unexpected. "No, I'm sorry it happened. It won't happen again."

Arriving in Sioux City late that evening the sheriff hired a hackney to deliver his charge to the mental institution. Due to the late hour he pounded on the heavy door for long minutes before a light could be seen and the man on duty appeared.

Accepting the commitment papers from Charley, he perused them briefly, and then said, "Did you read these?"

"Never bothered, they're for you."

"Same old thing. This poor bastard has advanced syphilis. His brain is gone. We've got several more just like him in here."

It was Saturday before Charley arrived back at St. Vincent. Stepping from the car he ran into Carl Gooding, the depot agent. "Your fancy new bar arrived by freight yesterday. We sure had a time getting it out of the boxcar. John was over with the drayman to pick it up. Reckon you two will be back in business soon. Need a ride over to Pembina?"

"Naw, I'll walk it -- appreciate the offer though.”

"Charley!" The shout came from across the street. It was Ian McLaren, he had just come out of Lapp's store. Joining together, Ian asked, "Been away long?"

"Only a few days. Had to take a mental case to Sioux City."

"Walk over to the house with me. We'll hitch up the buggy and I'll give you a ride home."

"That's not necessary."

"It's about those mules they're going to sell at the fort. I need to talk to you. We could use another team and you know the teamsters out there. They'll level with you, and tell the good animals from the bad. I sure don't need to buy someone else's troubles."

"I'm thinking of bidding on a pair too. Gosh! I forgot the sale is on Monday -- how about tomorrow?"

"It'll have to be after church -- best after dinner, say about three o'clock. Why don't I bring the girls along and pick you up at the American House?"

"Yup, three o'clock will be fine. We can look over the critters, and then take the girls out to supper. I want to show Marguerite our new building; we should be open in another few days. I'm kinda anxious to see the new bar; it was expensive, set us back almost $500."

"Wow! That's a lot of hay."

"Well worth it if it brings in customers. Competition is mighty stiff. Cripes! You've got eleven saloons in St. Vincent alone. That cuts the trade a'plenty."

Arriving at Ian's home they went directly to the barn. Whiled Ian harnessed the horse Charley tugged the buggy from its storage shed. At that moment Susan came from the house.

"What are you two planning?"

Charley smiled, "Ian insists I need a ride to Pembina. It's so far away, almost a half mile."

"Then he's got something else in mind; he's not that generous with me." She was smiling, and then turned to Ian as he approached with the horse. "Where are you headed?"

"Just giving this poor old man a ride to Pembina. Incidentally, we've decided to take you and Marguerite to supper tomorrow night. Isn't that nice of us?"

Charley explained, "We're going out to the fort tomorrow afternoon to look at the mules they're selling on Monday. We thought you girls might like to go along. We'll take you to supper afterward."

"Then I suppose, you and Marguerite will disappear after we eat!"

"It's quite possible." Charley broke into a smile.

"Are you stopping at the house to ask Marguerite?"

"I could, but will you ask her for me?"

"Okay, I'll do your dirty work. But we get to pick the restaurant."

As Ian backed the horse to the buggy, Charley bent to hook the tugs. Turning, he said, "It's a deal, you girls get to rule the roost."

When they arrived at the fort corral the next afternoon they found the area apparently deserted.

"Where is everyone," Susan queried.

"It's Sunday, everyone's day off. The soldiers not in town are probably sleeping. I'll check the teamster’s shack. As Charley stepped from the buggy and opened the screen door to the bunkhouse, O'Brien, the only man in the building, looked up from his letter writing. "What's up Charley? We got trouble?"

"None Nat, just jumping the gun on the sale tomorrow. I wanted a tip on the teams that are to be sold."

The teamster grinned as he pushed his chair back. "That's going to cost you when you get your new bar open."

Charley smiled, "That's fair. Both Ian McLaren and I figure to bid for a team. Neither of us wants to buy a kicker, biter or balker. Can you show us around?"

The teamster leaned over the desk to put a stopper in his inkbottle, and then carefully put his writing away. "I can do that -- you're being smart! He moved to the door, "We haven't gotten around to number them for the auction. We'll probably do that early tomorrow morning. Think you can remember their markings?"

Stepping outside, they approached the corral as Ian drove the buggy alongside the fence. Dismounting, he joined Charley and O’Brien as they approached the pole corral. After introducing Nat to the girls the men turned to the animals. Both Charley and Ian listened intently while Nat described the merits of the mules. The two men picked and discussed their preferences, selecting alternates, knowing the bidding would be brisk.

"We'll sell the culls first," Nat said. "There are about ten of them. Then the bidding will pick up, but there are nearly forty animals, all told."

"Appreciate your knowledge, Nat." Charley turned to Ian. He was smiling. "Maybe we'll be bidding against each other."

Ian laughed, "No matter, there are enough to go around. I only need a pair. I won't bid against you on those grays if you don't bid on that pair of roans." He nudged Nat as he grinned. "If I get those roans, I'll owe you."

After thanking the teamster, Ian turned their buggy to the road between the laundry and officer quarters. "Where do we go now?" he asked.

Susan looked to Marguerite, "Why don't we just see the country. It's a beautiful day and it's not yet five o'clock. By the way, where are we eating supper?"

"It's your choice." Charley turned to Marguerite, "Haven't you girls decided?”

"I've a better idea. I want to see your new building. You promised to take us inside."

"Not much to see, it's nearly a copy of the old one. We've moved the bar to the south wall, but the upstairs is much the same. We figure to open on Wednesday if all goes well. They should have everything done by them. I've already had my stuff moved in upstairs, even bought new furniture. What I had before was pretty shabby. I figure on moving in tomorrow. These weeks at the American House have given me darn little privacy. I kind of like being back in my own place." He paused to glance at Marguerite.

She returned his look slyly. "It sounds like you, the lonely, bachelor sheriff. That's your main problem."

Susan was embarrassed. Worried about an argument starting between the two, she changed the subject. "How did you make out on your farm this fall, Charley?"

"I only had 80 acres of wheat on my quarter this year, the rest was fallow. Guess it came out to nearly 3000 bushels."

"Not bad for 80 acres," Ian commented. Don't imagine you have time for any more land."

"As a matter of fact I hired most of the work done. Oh, I seeded the piece, but hired the plowing and harvesting done. I'm small time compared with you, your father and the boys."

Ian smiled, "We've lots of mouths to feed, but we did harvest nearly 700 acres this fall. We have over double that in land between Pa, the boys and I, but there's a lot of sod that we haven't had the time or equipment to break."

Crossing on the new toll-free, iron bridge recently completed across the Pembina River, Ian turned the team toward Charley's new building. Turning in the middle of the street he skillfully pulled alongside the plank sidewalk.

After assisting the girls from the buggy Charley unlocked the front door of the building. Stepping inside and hesitating, Susan exclaimed, "This is the first time I've ever been in a saloon."

Charley smiled, "John and I call it a sample store. It's the latest name for a saloon."

Ian let out a long whistle as he gazed at the gleaming expanse of mahogany. The mirrored back bar ran full-length with spaced, display shelves. He exclaimed, "You even had a brass rail installed."

"We didn't order that, it came attached to the bar. The brown linoleum on the floor is John's idea. It'll make it easy to clean up the dust. I'd pour us all a libation before we eat, but the bar hasn't been stocked yet. Glancing at his watch, he said, "It's nearly time for supper, have you two girls decided where we eat?"

Marguerite protested, "I'm not deciding until you show us your new quarters and furniture!"

"Let's do that after we eat. I've got playing cards upstairs. We can whip up a game of whist or cribbage if you like."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Sound of Money

What became known as the Red River Cart was an area original. You could hear them coming for miles, and there was a very good reason why...

According to Mark Peihl, archivist for the Clay County Historical Society, "...The hubs were left ungreased - trail dust would mix with lubricants and work like sand paper." Makes sense to me!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dinky Trains

Courtesy Robert Cameron, this example of a Dinky train used to travel the rails in our area back in the 1950s...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Old Article About Even Older St. Vincent

North West CompanyNOTE: Since writing this, I have been told this article is from the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Kittson County Enterprise, published in the 1930's (of which my mother had a copy, location now unknown but I looked through it many a bored summer day as a child, amazed at my county's history...) - August 1, 2010

Some time ago, I took down notes from an article written about St. Vincent in an old document. I normally take great pains to document source material, but for whatever reason, I cannot find the source documentation for the article, a fascinating excerpt of which is below. I do remember in general that it was written nearly 100 years ago. Although there have been efforts to document stories, there has never been the "ambitious effort" the writer assumed would happen in the near future. As you know I am trying to do that, although I have a feeling that many stories are lost to time, which is a big shame...

As St. Vincent is the oldest city in Kittson County from the standpoint of settlement, we find that the frontier lore and traditions of the Lower Red River Valley on this side of the boundary and west (sic) of the Red River are centered about this old town. Most of the "firsts" in St. Vincent are dealt with in the history of the county in this issue. Here we shall deal principally with the village proper. First however, we direct attention to the fact that there was a trading post at St. Vincent as early as 1780 and that the XY Fur Company erected a post there in 1800 and that prior to that time Peter Grant had maintained headquarters there as a fur trader. Of course, the Selkirk settlers who founded a colony at Pembina in 1812 spread over into Minnesota and later the Swiss and other settlers connected with this colonization enterprise settled to some extent in the St. Vincent community.

But while these settlements opened the way for later development, the harsh conditions of the frontier accentuated by the rivalry of the fur companies, which sometimes resulted in bloodshed, discouraged settlement on a large scale. Then, too, the remoteness of the region, lack of adequate transportation facilities, and improper protection against the severity of the winter operated to check settlement. St. Vincent seems to have been but little affected by the visits of explorers and government expeditions, such as those by [Major] Long and [Major] Woods.

Steamboat traffic, however, had an important bearing, not only on the village beginnings but on settlement in the community. From the early 1870s well into the 1880s, steamboat traffic pumped life blood into the Northern Valley. Then late in 1878 came the St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Manitoba Railway, now the Great Northern. St. Vincent's career as a village began soon after. The St. Vincent township board (the township is the oldest in Kittson County) held its first meetings May 15, 1880. The first officers were: R.W. Lowery, Chairman; G.A. Hurd, F.M. McLaughlin, L.A. Nobles, and F.M. Head. The village was organized April 16, 1881. The first Mayor was James L. Fisk, and J.W. Morrison was the Recorder. John A. Vanstrom was the first Assessor. It will be seen that he also served as Register of Deeds and later was elected Sheriff. The first St. Vincent school board was organized January 7, 1880 with John B. Tree as Chairman, George Ash as Treasurer, and John B. Hutchin as Clerk...

...St. Vincent today is a village rich in tradition and historic incidents. While little attempt has been made to probe for details of the rugged history of the community, it is probable that within the next ten years interest in local history will result in an ambitious effort to assemble and preserve major facts of the record of the region from distant exploration to the present...

Dakota War of 1862: Pembina's Role

You'll notice the title of this post is "Dakota War of 1862". I almost used the more well-known "Sioux Uprising", but decided to go with the less inflamatory (and in my opinion, more accurate) title above. It's not that "Sioux Uprising" is inaccurate, and there was certainly an uprising - and horrific killings that arose from it - but there were equally horrific reasons for it coming to the point that the native tribes felt they had to act - or rather in this case, REact.
The prevailing attitude of the US government and the majority of the settlers in 1862 is represented by a famous quote from one of the government traders who operated in our territory. "If they are hungry," said Andrew Myrick, "let them eat grass or their own dung." They weren't hungry, they were starving due to government corruption, and most felt that of the two options available to them, fighting was better than starving to death.

From Honest Abe? by Fern Eastman Mathias
Hostilities in northwestern Minnesota

Further north, the Sioux attacked several unfortified stage stops and river crossings along the the settled trade route between Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) and St. Paul in the Red River Valley in northwestern Minnesota and eastern Dakota Territory. Many settlers and employees of the Hudson Bay Company and other local enterprises in this sparsely populated country took refuge in a prairie "fort" known as Fort Abercrombie, located in a bend of the Red River about 25 miles south of present day Fargo, North Dakota. Over a period of six weeks, the Indians launched several attacks on Fort Abercrombie which were repelled by the white defenders and which came to be known as the "Siege at Fort Abercrombie". Steamship and flatboat trade on the Red River came to a halt, and mail carriers, stage drivers and military couriers attempting to reach the Pembina and Fort Garry settlements and St. Cloud and Fort Snelling were killed by the Indians. Eventually the garrison at Fort Abercrombie was relieved by a United States Army company from Fort Snelling and the civilian refugees were removed to St. Cloud.

The Chippewa or Ojibwa Indian bands from Pembina and Red Lake were awaiting a treaty goods shipment for a contemplated land cession of 1862 along a ford of the Red River near the junction with the Red Lake River near present day Grand Forks. The shipment never arrived, and the treaty negotiations were postponed until 1863, when the Treaty of Old Crossing (1863) was consummated near Huot, Minnesota, a ford of the Red Lake River utilized by oxen-drawn Red River carts. The Ojibwe at times were accused of complicity or direct involvement in the attacks, but no evidence exists that any of the atrocities associated with the conflict between Indians, whites, and half-breed settlers of 1862 were perpetrated by anyone other than the various bands of the Sioux Indians.

From Sioux Uprising

After seeking sanctuary in Canada with other Dakotas, he was confined as a Prisoner of War at Fort Pembina in early 1864, and from there imprisoned in Iowa. It was during his incarceration that he converted to Christianity and became known as Jacob Eastman, adopting his late wife Mary's surname. Two other leaders who had been captured and held at Fort Pembina around the same time, Chiefs Shakopee and Medicine Bottle, didn't survive the kangaroo court and were hung. It is said that as he stood on the gallows Shakopee heard one of the first trains arriving in our country and said, "As the white man comes in, the Indian goes out."

From Honest Abe? by Fern Eastman Mathias

In April 1863, Little Crow and a group of 60 men traveled to St. Joseph, Canada, some 30 miles west of Pembina where he attempted to follow up on overtures other Dakota had made to the British in Canada. He also requested Canadian assistance in freeing the Dakota still held prisoner in Minnesota. Little Crow's men also wore British medals given the Mdewakanton for the assistance they gave to British forces during the War of 1812. A British official present wrote that the Dakota spoke of, "great friendship to the people [of the colony], but they vowed vengeance on the Americans." Little Crow then moved on to Pembina were he tried to enlist the Pembina Ojibway in his war. Red Bear, the Ojibway leader was not interested and met Little Crow while draped in an American flag.

From Punishment of the Dakota

The horror of the Sioux uprising so infuriated the whites that with one sweep the standing debts to this tribe were abrogated, those under arrest were driven onto barges, and after great hardship were unloaded far beyond the existing boundaries of the white man's land. Not content with banishment, Minnesota officials, with the aid of the War Department, carried out punitive expeditions against the escaped bands far out in the Dakotas. Sibley's expedition of 1863 to the region of Devils Lake, and the winter skirmish of Hatch's Battalion at Pembina the following winter, were highly publicized drives that did little to correct the depredations within the State itself. But not until still more troops had been sent to join Sully's expedition in 1864-65 did Minnesota lose interest in wholesale acts of vengeance and turn to the less spectacular business of bartering with the Chippewa.

From First Americans

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Selkirk Historial Park

Early 1920s photo of WWI memorial (in background) and flower beds
In the background is the World War I memorial, on a raised step.  The inscription on this memorial states "Erected by the people of Pembina Township to the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice for Our Country in the great World War" on one side. The other side has the names of two soldiers and the date of 1918. While it was erected in 1918, the dedication was not held until May 30, 1920 with Governor Lynn J. Frazier delivering the address. The memorial was moved from its original location in Selkirk Park to the Pembina State Museum in 1998 due to a flood control project. [Photo:  Robert Cameron Collection]
The [Pembina] Park has had many names - Selkirk Park, Selkirk Historical Park, Memorial Park, and Pembina State Park...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Fargo Marathon: St. Vincent Native Runs

I am a bit tardy in posting this since the Fargo Marathon was almost a month ago, but I thought it was fascinating to read that a native of St. Vincent was a runner, and he placed very well!

Summary number of finishers: 1112
number of females: 383
number of males: 729
average time: 04:15:57

Rick Clow
bib number: 201
age: 50
gender: M
location: Fargo, ND
overall place: 191 out of 1112
division place: 10 out of 81
gender place: 163 out of 736
time: 3:35:43
pace: 8:14
10k: 45:50
13.1: 1:40:39
20 m: 2:37:35
last 10k: 58:08

From William Ash: Rick told me he has run in the NYC and Boston marathons in the past. He is planning on entering a 50 mile marathon later on.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Exciting times for telling stories of our lives, using technology to make it even more meaningful, and easier for all of us to connect.

Here are some examples...

That's my goal with this blog, too - connecting you with your past, making the present mean even more.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

1904 Train Wreck

Posted by Jan Patrick Mongoven on is the following window into a tragic accident in our region over 100 years ago, that has a local connection...

My great-grandfather, Michael Stephen (Steve) Mongoven, was a Northern Pacific conductor who was killed when his train - stalled on the tracks during a winter blizzard in the earliest hours of Sunday, 7 Feb 1904 - was demolished by the train sent to his rescue. The accident happened about three miles northeast of Grafton, Walsh County, North Dakota. Steve had requested rescue and told authorities that his stalled train's location was about one mile north of actuality it was about three miles north. The rescue train from Pembina came down from the north at about 25 miles per hour. It approached Grafton at around 2 a.m., believing the disabled train was one mile north of the town. The rescue engine smashed into the caboose where my great-grandfather and his brother sat waiting. He was killed and his brother was burned and suffered injuries that later healed.

My great-grandfather's body was taken the next morning to his home in East Grand Forks, MN, where his wife was informed of his death. Elizabeth Mongoven was already very ill, recovering from her final pregnancy. In a cruel twist, her newborn baby had died only hours before her husband was killed. The news left her grief-stricken, but she survived and lived to raise her five young children. A coroner's jury was convened on the Monday after the crash outside Grafton. They pinned blame on Conductor Mongoven for an error in judgement...that he had incorrectly informed the rescue authorities that his train was one mile north of Grafton instead of the actual three. Later that year, his wife (with the aid of a family friend who was a Catholic priest) received a $7000.00 payment from Northern Pacific in Minneapolis, and the case never went to court. According to newspaper accounts from the time, there were many who believed my ancestor could not have been to blame, that he was a meticulous individual who knew what he was doing and was not prone to misjudgement. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Profile: Elmer Barry

"...The old museum was up close and personal. You could look down the barrel of a gun once shot by a soldier at Fort Pembina. Elmer Barry was not a trained historian nor did he seek to profit from his collections. He collected artifacts for the pure pleasure of sharing a historical tradition."
While Mayor Christopher is credited with leading the effort to establish a much needed and deserved museum in Pembina in the early 1960s, it was Elmer Barry that seeded it from his own personal collection.

From June Webster's Elmer Barry: Father of Museum Collection
In 1962, Elmer retired and placed his museum display in a store building that he owned. A museum was dedicated at Pembina on July 4th, 1962, by the State Historical Society when Pembina observed the 150th Anniversary of the coming of the Selkirks, the first white settlers in Dakota Territory. This museum was to include Elmer's display, but the historical development of the area was to be portrayed and there wasn't enough room left to show all of Elmer's display. So, a second building was built in 1962 by the State Historical Society to display all of Elmer's collection. Both the museum buildings are located in the Pembina State Park, the site of both the Chaboillez trading post established in 1797, and Fort Daer, built by the Seikirks in 1812. Elmer received the Pioneer Historian Award at the Red River Valley Historical Society spring banquet in 1968 for his collection which is valued at $30,000.
From Mike Rustad's Lost Pembina History
The Pembina Museum, in its day, was the best museum in the upper Red River Valley. The Pembina Museum had far more treasures than today's Grand Forks Museum which seeks to reenact history. Unlike the Grand Forks Museum, the old Pembina Museum had an intangible charm. Pembina was a hub of activity before Grand Forks was incorporated.

I associate the Pembina museum with trips with my Dad, Rustee Rustad. It was my Dad who created the spark of interest in history through our visits to the Pembina Museum. We would visit the Pembina Museum together frequently while on water hauling trips. We often went to Pembina because my Dad filled up his truck with water at the Pembina Waterplant.

We would take a break on a slow day water hauling and visit the Pembina Museum. We would also stop at Elmer Barry's garage very often to see his collection. The Museum was not particularly well organized, but it was always orderly and interesting. It was truly a boy's paradise with swords, buffalo horns, arrow points, canteens, rifles, saddlebags, and many artifacts from the military outpost at Fort Pembina. The old museum was a treasure trove of history. When the old museum was finally closed because of the floods and the intervention of the State of North Dakota, many treasures were removed to Bismarck and warehoused.

Today, there is an antiseptic museum along with tower. The displays are pale imitations of the Smithsonian or Field Museum's interpretive museums--quite professional but antiseptic. The new Museum has lost its sense of being connected to organic living history. Elmer Barry's great collection of historic items was housed next to his garage. I spent many happy days with Dad sharing stories about Indian culture and Fort Pembina. Elmer had at least one good story about every artifact. The old museum had a Red River Valley Cart and cannon. There was an unbelievable display of Indian artifacts and leather leggings etc. Later, Elmer's collection was moved to the old museum. The old Museum had interpretative displays reenacting life on Red River Valley in the age of the Indian. I coveted the fur-covered hunting knife! There were also a lot of displays on the Canadian/U.S. fur trade. The age of the buffalo was also depicted. There were old pictures of Fort Pembina and artifacts from each war.

My Dad was a great collector, in the tradition of Mr. Barry. Still, he was not even close to being as comprehensive of a collector when compared to Elmer Barry's prodigious efforts. Barry had bathtubs from the 1890s, oil lamps, old pianos, buffalo robes, cash registers, piano rolls, and every imaginable object from everyday life: dishes, cutlery, etc. Barry was a true genius and today's social historians would see him as a collector with a vision.

The old museum was up close and personal. You could look down the barrel of a gun once shot by a soldier at Fort Pembina. Elmer Barry was not a trained historian nor did he seek to profit from his collections. He collected artifacts for the pure pleasure of sharing a historical tradition. You could touch the beaded leather pouches made by Indians. Today, the living history section of the Pembina Museum may be historically correct but it is packaged, boxed and not very charming. The museum of today is worth visiting but there is much lost history because it is does not contain Barry's collection. I think that Upper Red River Valley residents should petition the state to return Pembina's lost artifacts so future generations can touch a buffalo horn or an Indian axe.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Jerome Family

Andrea JeromeAndre JEROME was born on 14 Dec 1829 in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Canada. He was baptized on 15 Dec 1829 in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Canada. He appeared in the census in Sep 1850 in Pembina, Minnesota Territory, USA. He appeared in the census on 6 Jul 1860 in Pembina, Dakota Territory, (Unorganized). He participated in O'Donoghue's "Fenian Raid" in Oct 1871 in Manitoba, north of Pembina, at Hudson's Bay post. He was arrested in Nov 1871. He was imprisoned in Stone Fort (Lower Fort Garry). He was acquitted of "feloniously and unlawfully levying war against Her Majesty", Spring 1872 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He immigrated Spring 1872 to Kittson County, Minnesota, USA. He was recognized as the first settler in Kittson County, Minnesota, USA. He appeared in the census in Jun 1880 in Township 162, Kittson County, Minnesota, USA. He appeared in the census in Jun 1900 in Township 162, Kittson County, Minnesota, USA. He appeared in the census in Apr 1910 in Hill Township, Kittson County, Minnesota, USA. He died on 12 Jan 1916 in Hallock Township, Kittson County, Minnesota, USA. Andre JEROME and Marguerite GOSSELIN were married before 1853.

Another fascinating excerpt, showing the long history and proud roots of the Jerome family: Francoise JEROME Jr. was born in 1706. He was the earliest voyageur from Quebec in the North West during the French regime. In North West, between 1727 and 1757 he was a voyageur and trader. He was appointed to the French post in 1730 at Detroit, south of Lake Huron. He made a contract with the Sieur de la Verenderie [sic] to go to the Sea of the West in 1743. He made the transition to the new fur trade in the British regime as a trader after 1763.

The information above is from Prairie Forum (Spring 2004) - Indigenous Knowledge, Literacy and Research on Métissage and Métis Origins on the Saskatchewan River: The Case of the Jerome Family by Ruth Swan and Edward A. Jerome

Saturday, June 02, 2007


School Lyceums (1950s onwards...)

"In their heyday the lyceums contributed to the broadening of the school curricula...", to provide cultural enrichment, additional learning experiences outside the norm, to stimulate thought and imagination.

Back during school days, most students preferred Lyceums over class. We got little to no advance warning, which made it all the more sweet. It almost felt...sinful!

The programs varied widely, many of them coming out of universities or other cultural entities in the region. Musicians, actors, puppeteers - you never knew what you might see at a lyceum...