Wednesday, February 27, 2008

News from the Past V

Pembina, Minnesota Territory - Froze to Death
Sunday, January 1, 1860

DREADFUL DEATH ON THE PRAIRIES – Lost and Frozen – A Mr. Mackenzie this day met his death on the prairies of Minnesota under the following distressing circumstances, the account of which is extracted from “The North-Wester,” published at the Red River settlement:
A party, including Mr. Mackenzie, started from Georgetown, at the mouth of the Buffalo River, to cross the prairie to Fort Garry. They started December 23rd, taking mules. The latter gave out in three days, distance only half done, and provisions getting short. Here they were, helpless in the heart of a vast, dreary, unknown prairie, in a cold, bleak month, far beyond the reach of all sympathy and aid, with starvation staring them in the face.

On Thursday, the 29th, Mr Mackenzie resolved to reach Pembina, and send back succor. The engineer accompanied him. The day was cold and stormy, and a bitter blast from the north drove them back. They all camped together that night near Pine River, about fifty miles from Pembina. In the morning Mackenzie started again alone. He had a presentiment that he would not get through. He wore but one thin coat, and was lightly clad throughout, wish to be as little burdened with clothes as possible, as he intended to run most of the way. A bit of [pemicam], the size of his fist, was all his food. On Monday morning David Tait pushed ahead, and reached Pembina the same evening. Mr M. had not been there.

Two men were sent, and they fell in with the remnant of the party shortly after midnight on Tuesday, and, after supplying their urgent needs, went off in search of Mackenzie. Wednesday they came upon traces which brought them to his corpse. After leaving his companions, he seemed to have followed the trail for a considerable distance, and then to have lost his way. Night came upon him, and, bewildered by the growing darkness and the drifting snow, he made towards a clump of trees, with the intention, probably, of kindling a fire. If such was his object, he seemed to be unable to accomplish it; and his beaten track showed that, to keep himself from freezing, he had spent the hours of that lonesome night in running round in a circle.

With the break of day, he again started across the trackless waste, every step that he took carrying him farther and farther from the spot which he was straining every nerve to reach. Another weary day of fruitless travel was followed by a second night even more dreary than the first. Again he had managed to stave off what he must have felt to have been the hour of dissolution, by long hours of ceaseless activity. A third day’s journey brought him towards Lac des Roseaux. Here he attempted to run around as before; but the strength and courage which had heretofore sustained him now forsook him.

He dragged his tired footsteps through the loose snow toward a tree, from which he plucked a branch and hung thereon a shred of his tattered coat, as a signal to mark his dismal resting-place; he next tore off another branch of the same tree which he placed as a pillow for his cold bed, and then laid upon it his weary head and died. His right hand was on his heart, and his left hung by his side, firmly holding a compass. The body gave indications of having undergone great suffering. Some portions of it had been frozen and thawed many times in succession, before death intervened and released it from further anguish.

Vincent's Semi-annual United States Register, Jan-Jun 1860 pages 5-6

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lake Stella

From Bob Cameron:

Lake Stella is a natural body of water, not man made. It is very shallow, maybe 5 feet deep or so. It is approximately three-quarters of a mile long and one hundred yards wide. In the past, it would always flood from the south in the spring and a few fish would get caught in there when the water from the Red River would go down.

When I was growing up, I didn't even know about Lake Stella until at some point someone casually mentioned it and I said, what, we have a lake near town? I always thought we were the only place in Minnesota without a lake, since our state motto was 'Land of 10,000 Lakes' and no lake to be seen (to my knowledge) near us (well, not counting Lake Bronson, but that was man-made and 30 miles away...another story in and of itself!) I soon learned that it was a strange little 'lake' - not a pond, or a slough, or a ditch; no, it was a true, natural lake, but just small and rather...long.

At first I couldn't see but a glimpse of it from the highway going out of town. Even on the rare occasion when we went on a 'close' country road, not much more could be seen of it. That, of course, just made it all the more mysterious. I wanted to get closer and find out what it was really like.

It was a few years before an opportunity presented itself. By this time, I had accomplished a dream of mine, of owning a horse. I was out riding one day when I said to myself, "Self, what's stopping me from going to Lake Stella?" "Nothing," I replied. "Well then, let's go for it!" And off I went. (By the way, I find nothing odd about talking to myself, having done it all my life. I picked it up naturally by hearing many people in my own family doing the same thing. They never thought it odd, so never have I; if others do, I think oh well and rattle right on...) Back to the story...

We went east of town, on the dirt road that ran by the old highway to the Junction (now gone); it was once the railroad bed into St. Vincent, that brought thousands (you may laugh, but it is true) into our town on their way west to settle into a new life. Some stayed, but most left. I knew the lake was in the general direction, but due south at a point not far out of town.

As we rounded a small bunch of trees, the sun flashed off the water and there it was, in the distance. I had Sunny cross down into a field, and we cantered across to another field that was fenced. No roads out in this part of the country, and before the new highway, little traffic anywhere. Except for the sound of the wind, and a few birds, it was peaceful. I knew even then that these rides and such times were rare and to be treasured. Thirty years later I still recall them with a smile.

The strange thing is that when we got closer we noticed the grass cut low, like a lawn. It was beautiful, but no one was there to appreciate it except us. I thought what a shame no one uses this lake, a best kept secret! I imagined a picnic on the lawn by the water. Ah well, maybe someone did that, once upon a time...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Early Pembina Photography
These photos of early Pembina (and there may be a stray St. Vincent one in there!) have been shared with me from various sources, but mostly from expatriates who have moved away, but also from archival material too numerous to mention. I welcome any information anyone can offer on individuals, places, or events shown in the photographs...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Four Corners Followup

The video above is a followup to the main story we shared earlier. I was especially moved - to tears - to see Noyes so desolate. How long can the depot stay open there, so isolated? It must only be a matter of time before Burlington Northern finds a more efficient automated method and even that will be gone...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Winter of 1873

We're spoiled least we are in the past few winters. It gets a bit breezy or the thermometer dips into the double digits below zero, and suddenly we start talking bad winter. I think -56 below zero, windy, wearing soggy wool and leather, and no central heating is a bad winter

International Falls, Minnesota may have a patent to their claim of being the coldest, but in reality Pembina/St. Vincent is right up there with 'em!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Four Corners of Minnesota: Kittson County

Click to See Video
KARE-11 News contacted me a couple of weeks ago when doing research on a story for their Four Corners of Minnesota series. They had found this website during their online research and wanted to talk with me about my impressions of what's going on up home, in Kittson County. I talked with Boyd Huppert, the reporter for the series, saying pretty much what all natives know - that we are sorry to see our hometowns growing smaller but know there's not much we can do about it, or so it seems. Then again, who knows what ideas or developments are around the corner?

It was wonderful to see my music teacher from my school days being interviewed. I almost didn't recognize Mrs. Docken at first, but when I listened to her talk, and saw her eyes, I realize yes, that's her! I daresay she'd probably not recognize me right off either! Time, as they say, marches on!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Like the Back of My Hand

I dream about it.

I've dreamt about my hometown all my life, but the older I get, the more I dream about it. I see the old home, the old trails, the hideouts, the town characters, the cracks in the old sidewalks that the town laid many years ago when it was once proud and up-and-coming. I see the interiors of homes I haven't been in, in years, and the people that lived in them, talking to me like it was yesterday.

When I'm awake, I can imagine it just as clearly.
it's still there the memories are strong tins cans crisco cans raspberries gardens straw hats belts chokecherries bread canning cowboy cookies and teaspoons tea Sunday dinners with Grandpa and Grandma leaf piles nuisance ground hands out of car windows whipped by long blades of sharp grass Canadian geese honking won't be long now fires burning pastures mowing gardens plowing bed making hospital corners dumping the pot porches and slop pails screen doors slamming on the way to Toots' house PK gum and rolled chins tall imposing steps old persian rugs pianos and women talking playing alone imagination running wild looking up through tree branches wind kissing cheeks tasting milkweeds playing house mud pies bugs barn spiders haylofts Dusty Smoky prairie roses peonies in water veined hands crocheting Dad's hands on Mom's legs cattails in kerosene floods trains trips cousins driftwood hospitals piano lessons dreams horses bicycles freedom washing dishes and Star Trek books on shelves discovering new worlds wallpaper transister radios late in the night Macabre Theatre door creaking no borders everything possible no worries love always love changes but it's still there the memories are strong

overalls wide paintbrushes kerosene cleaning tree swish swosh swish swosh bark stained with years of paint leading down a path to a pet cemetery and Hawkeye and Chingascook can I be Chingascook today Popeye shared bathwater Iten's water service cisterns graindoor sidewalks hand-me-downs Outer Limits ceiling grate peek nightmares slanted ceilings that certain smell as I press my nose against the window screen noon 6pm 10pm town whistles county fair quonsit hut blue ribbon jam Egg Pants Tonto George's general store from another time Friehboldt's Garage dime fridge pop swinging from the gas sign Dad filling up Old Man Friehboldt checking the oil exploring behind discovering old jail bars ghost firehouse horse-pulled truck curling rinks town pumps Bordnick's farm equipment cacophony vs. Hughes' livestock menagerie potato bugs canning wringer washer hanging reaching pinning squinting gathering folding the smell oh the smell crisp stiff alive tarp paper garages anti-anti-I-over1 scared running laughing screaming late Sunday night meetings jumping off church steps hide 'n seek around the church in the fall cold running until we see steam rising off our skins in the moonlight breathing so deep sore throats in the morning no regrets alive so alive so young was it all a dream
Memories rush over me one to another...
silver threads among the gold rope swings I dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair Grandpa napping on the porch Grandma making pound cake with that broiled coconut brown sugar butter topping in the kitchen bike riding down the center of main street look no hands discovering hidden paths back alleys abandoned house begging to be explored the river always the river bridges looking down wondering what it would be like to jump scared yet excited floods dikes sandbags moving away until the water goes down taking the army 'duck' through the waters to the parked cars marooned at the junction Sunday afternoon drives to nowhere cousins dropping in food laughter catching up part of something bigger roots family history cobbler aprons long hair in buns large hands in bread dough warm arms wrapping themselves around you feeling like you are SO special because you are loved so loved those capable arms and legs that love you sucumb and it's your turn to be strong for them wheelchair cat's-cradle those last years together end too soon and you're weeping at the coffin bending over kissing cold lips not caring what anyone thinks feeling for the first time real loss Grandma I will miss you so much you are my best friend remembering sleeping with her, breakfasts of cocoa and brown sugar toast only she makes that special smell of her body as you snuggle with her at night after Grandpa is gone and she's alone Grandpa who gave you pink peppermints whisker rubs and called you his little girl Grandpa who napped on the porch age made no difference they were love

McCall's (Henniman's). Skogmo's. The Spot. Dick's Corner. The Hartz Store. The Tastee Freez. Coast-to-Coast hardware. Ice rink on the banks of the river, lights strung overhead. The dam. South Pembina. The airport. The [old] museum. Crossing the Red, then the Pembina. Ukranian church dome. Old 81. Old Pembina with the vines growing up the side of the old Methodist Church. Ancestors' rocking chairs in the museum...the old museum that seemed like a treasure chest of old area artifacts. Many a summer was spent touring the row upon row of exhibits, taking in as much as possible. Imagination working overtime wondering who the people were that once owned that dress, that gun, that book. So MUCH stuff that each display area was a mini Fibber McGee open closet. Even the walls were covered with treasures all the way up the the ceiling. The Park nearby had a monument towards the back, almost hidden by the now older trees. The white pyramid-like steps led up in the center to a pillar. Names and a dedication, barely legible, told of a war to end all wars, and the local boys that wouldn't be coming home again. I would climb that monument thinking it was magical, touch the white stone, rough and hot in the summer sun. Who were these people who were just names now, I wondered as a child. I was in awe of someone who would sacrifice so much. Bike home over the bridges, daring to stop and look down to the river below. Such a long way it felt, and sometimes there would be a pull in the back of my mind to jump...jump! A little thrill would run up my spine at the thought mixed with incredible fear. I almost drowned once. I was with my mother and her friend Glennis Friebohldt at the Emerson pool on a sunny summer afternoon. I wandered away from the wading pool area. I was little, but could see more people were having more fun in the big pool. I wasn't afraid to try it. I tentatively lowered myself over the edge into the pool, intending to hang onto the side. But the pool was very busy that day, many jumps, splashes, and waves. A wave caught me and lifted my body, and I panicked. My hand slipped, and before I knew it, I was floating away from the edge, I couldn't grasp it, and I was sinking...I was scared, but at the same time, as I went below the surface, I kept my eyes open...I was facing up, looking up, seeing the light above me grow smaller as I sank...The next thing I knew, I was laying on warm cement, coughing up water...Glennis was there. She had seen me as I began to sink and dived in and rescued me. Years later, despite still not knowing how to swim, I love water, and remember that day, and how peaceful it seemed. A few moments of panic, then quiet...
1 - Ante Over (also Andy I Over; Andy Over; Annie, Annie Over the Shanty; Anti-Anti-I-Over; Nicky-Nicky-Nee).

This old and popular boys' game requires a building over which the ball is thrown. In the gymnasium a curtain is often stretched across the center.

The two teams take their places on opposite sides of the building. A player of Team A calls "Ante Over" and throws a softball over the building. The Team B players attempt to catch it. If someone succeeds, he and his team mates dash around the building and the player holding the ball attempts to hit one of the Team A players, who may take refuge by running around the building. If he succeeds, the hit player joins Team B. and the ball goes to Team A. If no one catches the ball when it is thrown over the building, the side doing the catching calls "Ante Over" and the ball is thrown back. The side wins which has the most players when play ceases.

In some sections the boys call "Pigs tail" if the ball hits the building and bounds back. It is then thrown over again. (Mason and Mitchell, "Active Games and Contests", 1935) - From Hard at Play: Leisure in America, 1840-1940

Friday, February 01, 2008

Talking with Bob

Recently I sent off an email to a hometown contact named Bob Cameron. Bob's Mom was Simone, and she was a cook at the St. Vincent school that I and many others attended. A little slip of a woman, she was ever cheerful as she dished up some mighty tasty lunches.

But I digress...

Bob emailed me back yesterday and said he should call me to talk. I replied with my number. This morning he called me while I was at work, but I didn't let that stop me. When you have a chance to talk with an older resident of St. Vincent, who has ties with even older residents, you do it! What he ended up sharing was like a peek into the past, which is what it was...

- Bob recalled seeing many rats in the town's nuisance ground, which was by the river. He played in it as a boy with other town boys. Descendents of those same rats were seen stranded in the nuisance ground's trees during the 1950 flood, the poor creatures starving to death during the weeks the water was high.

- Matilda (Ottem), (William) Wallace Cameron's second wife*, a renowned seamstress in the area, was a good friend to my grandmother.

- Wallace was 'town cop' for St. Vincent at one time. He carried with him a small book that he kept in his shirt pocket to keep notes on; it saved his life one day in 1914, when he had to wrestle a drunk (and disorderly) man to the ground. The man was carrying a gun that accidently discharged in the tussle. Today, that book and the impression the bullet made into it can be seen at the Kittson County Museum.

Bob ended by saying the next time he's down my way, we should grab a cup of coffee (or tea) and chat more. I'm definitely taking him up on that offer and intend on picking his brains some more; it goes without saying that I'll be sharing what I'm told right here!

* - His first wife was Luella Pearl Hutchins, who passed away in 1910...