Friday, May 08, 2009

Bordertowns: Chapter 2

The ship to the left - named the "Metropolis" - was a passenger ship out of Duluth at the time of this story...The ship that our characters are on would have been very much like this ship...

After a hectic week of packing and saying their goodbyes, the McLaren family finally arrived at Collingwood. They were directed to the location where the Manitoulin was docked; it was the boat that was to carry them to Duluth - the first stop on their long journey.

"We're lucky that Ben purchased our mules and farm equipment for cash -- got it all in gold and silver coin too." Patrick said proudly. "Hated to sell the plow and harrows though. We'll have to buy anew; they were just too bulky and heavy to bring along."

Maggy seemed complacent. "Lordy, Pat, our wagon is loaded to the hilt as it is. I never dreamt Collingswood was so far.

"Shucks, it only took two days to get here. If we're lucky we'll only have a few more days to go. That is, if we're able to make connections."

"A woman told me they have small cabins on the boat. If one is available, get it! At least we'll be inside if bad weather comes."

Lying abed that first night aboard the Manitoulin, Patrick marveled at his family. Maggy seemed absolutely fearless, and although Mary hadn't taken her attack lightly, she never mentioned it. The boys were excited at the prospect of moving west; even now Ian and Jerold were sleeping out on the packet's open deck. The thought of leaving Orillia left Patrick with a bittersweet nostalgia. He had spent most of his years there and now he was leaving, probably never to return.

Mary, with young Mike, occupied the bunk opposite his and Maggy's. Others were forced to sleep on deck, subject to the vagaries of the weather. Maggy deemed six dollars a small price to pay for the cabin, considering the privacy it offered.

Passage on the Manitoulin proved more costly than Patrick had anticipated, due to his heavily loaded wagon and team of horses. The large tent he had purchased for their temporary home in the new land would have to suffice until he could build a permanent structure. All said and done, he judged they had sufficient funds to carry them for at least one year, possibly even two.

He had been advised, "Take the Northern Pacific train at Duluth to Glyndon, Minnesota. Another railroad will take you from there to Crookston. You'll probably have to walk about 15 miles to Fisher's Landing to catch the steamboat to Emerson, Manitoba, in Canada." The land agent had added, "They're building a spur track to the landing, but it won't be completed until next year. Emerson is only a stones throw from the United States border, and to either Minnesota or the Dakota Territory."

Patrick found himself unable to sleep, as their small cabin was humid and unbearably hot. Pushing aside the light blanket, he rolled to his side and put his arm around Maggy's shoulder. She partially turned to push away his sweaty arm; it was apparent she was not in a receptive mood. Rolling back to his side of the bed, he realized she was still awake, probably solving problems of her own. He would have liked to voice his thoughts aloud to her, but feared awakening the children.

Before leaving Orillia he had assured his father and mother that he would keep them informed of their progress in the West, and, if successful, would send for them. However, the look that passed between them as he said this, left little hope that they would ever make the move. They seemed satisfied in their present home, surrounded by their Irish, Scottish and English neighbors.

The Red River Valley, where Patrick and Maggy planned to settle, sounded quite secure from the dreaded Sioux Indians, as there had been a military fort at Pembina since l870, manned by United States Army troops. The land agent visiting Orillia had further said: "You can homestead a quarter section of land in Minnesota for the legal fee, and more than likely gain a second quarter by the Timber Culture Act or by Preemption. Preemption land will cost you $1.25 per acre and you have to reside on the land for six months prior to filing for it. The Timber Culture act requires your planting and caring for 10 acres of trees."

Maggy's deep breathing indicated that she had finally fallen asleep, so Patrick carefully arose from the bed and reached for his trousers. Slipping them on, he moved as quietly as possible out the door to the starboard side of the packet. He realized they were now passing through the north channel of Georgian Bay; occasional lights were discernible on either side of the craft.

The moon was occasionally hidden by large cumulus clouds, the fringes of which glowed faintly from hidden reflections. Although it was a quiet, windless night the movement of the boat brought a chilling breeze. The only sounds were of the puffing of the engine and the rippling sound of disturbed water at the bow.

He tried to cast off his feeling of insecurity and apprehension at the trip ahead. His childhood memories seemed far away, and he doubted he would ever visit Orillia again. He would miss the feeling of togetherness he had enjoyed with his folks, knowing he might never see them again. Casting aside his feelings of self-pity and guilt, he realized Maggy must feel even more uncertain about their future than he.

His thoughts turned to their arrival at Duluth. Would there be a problem arranging transportation for his team and wagon at the railhead, and at Fisher's Landing? And, when he arrived at Emerson, in Canada, would there be adequate wheat and barley seed available to put in a crop? Maggy had wisely prepared for a future garden, packing essential seeds, even bringing slips of her favorite plants. She had insisted upon silver and gold coin for their equipment and livestock, sagaciously deeming paper might not be accepted in the sparsely settled areas where they were headed. Patrick had agreed, entrusting their small hoard to her care.

In the dim light he could see that the deck was nearly covered with the lumpy forms of sleepers. It seemed that almost every Irishman and Scotsman wanted to move to the West. "God bless them!" he mused. "May they all find their dream."

It was beginning to lighten in the east when he finally resolved his thoughts. Returning to the cabin, he found the room had cooled. He moved to the bed and crowded closely to Maggy for warmth.

After a breakfast of porridge served in the galley, the packet Manitoulin entered the locks at Sault Ste. Marie. Two hours later it finally tied up at a dock to unload cargo. Patrick noted they took on even more freight than was dropped off, much of it heavy machinery. During the stop he and the boys fed his team with hay and oats carried in the back of his wagon. Two fellow travelers, perhaps bored by the monotony, watered his animals.

Passing through the locks had aroused the boys’ interest. Jerold exclaimed to Mike, "It's all done by the gates and water. A boat can be lowered or raised easily by adding water or draining water from a lock. Gosh it only took a few minutes to raise us up into Lake Superior."

So far, fair weather and a calm Lake Huron had been kind to the passengers, as none seemed to suffer from any malaise. Patrick had heard that Lake Superior was known for its sudden, violent storms with high waves. He hoped they would be fortunate in avoiding them, since human greed had sadly overloaded their small craft, leaving little freeboard.

By 3 p.m. they were well clear of the Sault and on their final 400-mile leg to Duluth. Time began to hang heavy upon all because of the crowded conditions.

Mary had recovered from her encounter with the exception of one remaining dark spot near her eye. Self-conscious because of it, she left their small cabin only at mealtimes. She spent her self-imposed confinement schooling Mike and playing card games with her mother.

Maggy saw little of her two oldest boys; they preferred to remain on deck, making casual acquaintances. When they did visit the cabin, they stayed only a few moments. Their enthusiasm and excitement seemed contagious. She was thankful that her family showed an eagerness at the venture and determined that whatever transpired at the end of the line, she would take in stride. She regretted sharing the small cabin with the two children, for at times she craved the love of Patrick. Yet she knew the trip would take only a week. When Pat napped that second afternoon in the cabin, she looked pointedly at Mary, but could not bring herself to ask for privacy, especially not after what had happened to her daughter at the trestle. Thank the Lord, Ian's arrival had been timely!

Speaking with the ship's captain, Patrick learned much about the Duluth area. The officer was loquacious, going on and on about Minnesota. "Helluva gold rush at Vermilion Lake in '65 and '66. Trouble was there were only a few pockets of gold found. My oldest boy tried it out and came back to Collingwood broke. He did say that north of Duluth a compass was worthless; it gave false readings.

Patrick met two geologists named Eames who told him the iron ore, called hematite, was magnetic. He also said that the ore was 65 to 80 percent iron.

"They say fortunes will be made up there in the future, but it'll take a heap of money. The country is mighty rough, nearly impassable in the summer because of the bogs. Supposedly they are improving a road from Duluth to the north, but they'll need rail lines to get any of that iron ore back to Duluth. Jay Cooke owned a big chunk of timber, about 45,000 acres. Also he had an interest in the Northern Pacific -- all until the bust of '73. Now Tower and Munson are the big wheels and they've named that north mountain of iron, the Vermilion Range. Oh yes, they've discovered another body of iron named the Mesabi. If you're looking for work in the mines, they are hiring anyone they can find."

Patrick was firm. "I'm a farmer, pure and simple. Be darned if I'm going to slave for someone else. With adequate and good farmland we can make a fair living. I've been told there's plenty of land in the Red River Valley, that's where we're headed."

"Well, I wish you luck, but I'll tell you many of my passengers are headed for the mines." The captain turned to disappear into the bowels of the boat.

Mary had been upset by her experience, but hid her discomfiture well. Her former self-assured manner had led to one of caution, although the change had not been immediately apparent to Maggy. Her attacker had truly frightened her; yet, she wished only for a man she could love and admire. She had had her menses at twelve, yet she had never felt uncomfortable about being a woman. Back at school in Orillia, boys had been of little interest. Her consequent over-attention to Mike's schooling ended in a near revolt. Mike began spending nearly all of his time out on the deck with his older brothers.

On the fourth evening of their boat trip, just at sunset, they approached the harbor of Duluth. The sky was alight with beautiful reds and pinks emanating from high white cloud wisps in the west. The sight was especially accentuated by the dark mass of hill to the northwest.

As Patrick stood at the rail alongside Maggy, he said, "'Red sky in morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight.'"

Maggy demurred. "Pat, that's not right. St. Matthew 16 says: "'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. In the morning, it will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and lowering.'"

Patrick tightened his arm around her waist. "You're right as always, Meg darlin'" Amused at her mild rebuke, he added, "Your minister Father taught you well!"

She said nothing, wishing to forget those harsh years spent with her father.

It was dark when they finally tied to a rickety dock in Duluth harbor. Few of the passengers went ashore, most referring to remain on board yet another night rather than chance finding lodging in the town.

Raucous calls of sea gulls and rumbling sounds of unloading awoke them the next morning. Stepping from their small room, Patrick found passengers already debarking, carrying pitifully small bundles under their arms. He noted that the precarious ramp would never support his team and wagon and wondered how they planned to unload it.

"Mr. McLaren!" A crewmember approached him. "We'll have a better gangway up in about an hour to get your wagon ashore. Would you rent us your horses for a couple of hours? We've heavy goods to unload and will have need of a team."

"Yes, if you'll allow my son to handle the animals. I hope it won't take too long. I've got to obtain our tickets on the Northern Pacific to Glyndon. We want to leave Duluth as soon as possible."

"Tell you what -- why don't you go to the depot to get your tickets and arrange room for your team and wagon? By the time you get back we'll have a proper gangway to move the heavy gear."

"Where is the train station?"

"Only about a quarter mile to the west, just along the main street."

Moments later, Patrick, accompanied by Mary and Mike, headed toward the Northern Pacific depot. Ian was left behind to harness the team. Maggy, assisted by Jerold, busied herself folding their blankets and storing personal belongings in the wagon.

The depot was easily recognized from a distance. A group of people was gathered around the platform. Patrick noted that many of the throng were fellow passengers from the boat, evidently also headed to the west.

Leaving Mary and Mike on the depot platform, Patrick entered the office to transact his business. Glancing around, Mary noticed a well-dressed youth seated on the edge of the platform. He wore a brown derby and seemed preoccupied. Finally he stood and turned toward her. When he caught her stare, his tanned face broke into a wrinkled grin. Removing his hat, he boldly approached her.

"Hello! I'm Robert Douglas, I work for the railroads."

Mary was uncertain how to take this direct approach and said bashfully, "I'm Mary McLaren. We're on our way to Fisher's Landing."

"Then I'm in luck. I'm heading to the landing also." Then, noticing Mike, he asked, "and what is your name, young man?"

"My name is Mike McLaren and this is my sister." Mike moved close to Mary and grasped her hand possessively.

The stranger gave Mike an amused smile, and then turned back to Mary. His smile grew warmer. "I'm glad you're a sister! Single, I hope!"

Mary felt her face warm as she nodded. This boy seemed likeable, and he was handsome.

At that moment Patrick emerged from the depot. Seeing the stranger speaking with Mary and Mike, he paused to study the situation.

Mary's eye caught his. "Father, this gentleman is Robert Douglas. He is employed by the railroad and is going to Fisher's Landing."

The young man broke in sheepishly. "Truthfully, sir, I've just graduated from McGill University with a degree in engineering. I'm hoping to find employment on the railway to be built between Winnipeg and Emerson, Manitoba."

Patrick studied the young man shrewdly, deeming him presentable. He would like to have known more about this youth but was pressed for time.

"We've got to leave now. No doubt we'll see you in the future, Mr. Douglas."

Robert Douglas looked to Mary and bowed slightly. "I sincerely hope so!"

After walking a distance Mary looked back at the tall stranger. He seemed a lot like Ian, but she guessed him to be a year or two older. Shyly she raised her hand to wave goodbye. A strange new emotion seemed to possess her. "Why, he seemed nice . . . and he's manly." She became so immersed in her reflections that later she had no recollection of returning to the boat.

Late that afternoon a railroad section hand directed them to a boxcar and three dismal-looking passenger cars on a siding located by a side-track to the west of the depot.

"Park your wagon by the loading ramp. In the morning the yard crew will move the boxcar into place so you can load up."

After inspecting the passenger cars, Maggy complained. "Pat, the cars are filthy and there are no sanitary facilities. The toilets inside can't be used unless the train is in motion."

Glancing to Mary, she said, "We'll just have to walk back to the station when need be."

Few of the immigrants entered the cars to sleep that night, most electing to spend the warm evening under the stars. Patrick noted other groups had already prepared cooking fires along the right-of-way. He was not concerned about fuel, since he had kindling stored in a canvas slung under the wagon.

"Ian, you and Jerold get a fire going and we'll have supper within an hour or so. Mary, you and Mike get bedding out for dad and the boys. They'll have to sleep on the ground tonight -- the weather looks suitable." Maggy had taken over; she turned toward her husband.

Patrick smiled, "I don't need orders. I'll move the horses away a bit and tie them to graze." He looked along the siding. "It's a bit desolate here, isn't it."

After supper Maggy and Mary rummaged inside the wagon to prepare sleeping quarters for them. Caustic remarks were heard from fellow travelers sauntering by, about the so-called Zulu cars in which they were to travel. Word passed along the track that their train would depart the following morning at 9:30 a.m.

Shortly after daylight a snorting, hissing switch engine appeared to move the boxcar opposite the loading ramp. Ian drove the team up the ramp and into the car, and then, assisted by Patrick, removed the harness from the team. The stall had been obviously prepared beforehand; the feed bunk was full of hay and a barrel of water stood to the side.

After departing Duluth, the passengers found the roadbed rough and poorly ballasted, the train unable to travel more than twenty miles per hour. Even at that speed their car rocked wildly, as if about to leave the track at any moment. Occasionally smoke drifted into the car from the open upper vents, causing coughing and sneezing. Hot flying cinders became a problem.

Maggy felt nauseated and pressed Patrick. "How long do we have to stay in this dirty car? The rocking and jerking is driving me wild!"

"It's about 250 miles to Glyndon, but we'll reach Brainerd at 4 o'clock this afternoon. We can get out and stretch there."

"Why, that means we'll get into Glyndon long after dark." Her mind was not eased. How was she to tell Pat that she was pregnant again? My God! I'll be forty this fall. Why did it happen to me -- this late in life?"

"S'posed to be there about 10:30 tonight; then we'll sit on a siding until picked up by the Saint Paul and Pacific early tomorrow morning. We're lucky though; these cars go through to Crookston; we don't have to change."

"I just hope I don't get sick from this rocking. The boat wasn't jerky like this."

Patrick noted her pasty-grey face and watched sympathetically as she closed her eyes and attempted to sleep.

Mary and Mike mixed with the other children in the car and soon they were playing a game involving the clapping of hands and counting aloud.

Ian and Jerold sat quietly alongside a window. Jerold dreamily watching the trees pass by. Ian ignored the landscape, seemingly intent on the book he held in his lap. Actually, his thoughts were of Aggy Quinn. He pictured her smiling face in his mind, its total perfection. He wondered if he would ever see her again.

Shortly after 4 p.m. the train stopped in Brainerd with a shuddering jolt. The conductor entered the car to call, "Thirty minute stop here! Sandwiches are available in the depot."

Mary moved through the door of the car to the vestibule. Tugging her long skirt clear of her shoes, she carefully stepped down to the platform. As she lifted her eyes, there stood a smiling Robert Douglas.

"I thought you must be in this car. I've already checked the others."

She felt a sudden confusion at his boldness and, although unfamiliar emotions assailed her, she felt a strange accord. "You told me you were going to the landing, but I didn't know we were to be on the same train."

"Why, I'm planning to be on the same boat with you." His smile was spontaneous and catching. Extending his hand, he added, "Do you mind walking along the platform with me until the train departs? I'm tired of that hard seat."

"It's the dirt and smoke that's bothered me." Mary glanced fleetingly at his face. She wished it had been possible to wash before seeing him again. She felt she must look like a frump.

The first few steps of their stroll were conducted in silence, then both spoke at once. Breaking into laughter, they turned face to face. "What did you say?" he asked.

She felt herself blushing. "I was asking where you are from. We're from Orillia."

"My folks live in Ottawa; my Father is with the government. Originally my parents came from Glasgow, Scotland, but I was born in Canada. I finished my studies at McGill University this spring. My parents objected to my going west. Father hoped I would accept a government post at home." He shook his head. "He's a bit put out with me."

Gazing at him contemplatively, Mary noted his strong boned, clean-cut face with its slightly aquiline nose. He was tall and wiry, nicely built, with blue eyes and light wavy hair. He seemed precise in his speech and voiced his opinion in a pleasant manner with no sign of an accent. She felt a sudden rapport with him.

A shrill blast of the whistle called their attention to the train; they could see the passengers gathering.

"I'll see you at the landing -- I hope."

"I'd like that!" She looked into his eyes and smiled, then turned to step up into the car.

Maggy had been one of the last to leave the car at Brainerd. Upon stepping to the platform, she observed Mary in conversation with a young man. Patrick had mentioned seeing Mary speaking with a stranger in Duluth and volunteered the information that the youth seemed clean-cut and unpretentious. Maggy purposely moved a few steps away before turning to watch them surreptitiously. Mary seemed happy; the smile on her face bespoke that. The young man did seem handsome, and, Maggy reasoned, not too old for her daughter. She watched them for moments, then joined Patrick and Mike, who with others were admiring their huge railroad locomotive. "It's a Baldwin built, 4-4-0 engine, Mike," Patrick advised. "It has four guiding wheels forward, and four main driving wheels. That hump on the smokestack is to cut down sparks that may set bush and grass fires."

"That big lamp on front, Pa, what makes it work?"

Before Patrick could answer, another man spoke up. "It's run by carbide gas, son. It's real powerful!"

Moments after Maggy appeared the shrill whistle of the engine tore at their ears. From somewhere along the cars they heard a voice shout, "All aboard! All aboard!"

Hurrying back to their car, they were in time to see the young man assist Mary on the steps. She was smiling at him.

In a low tone Patrick observed. "Looks like Mary has found a beau."

"She's entitled to one," Maggy said softly. "The hell she's been through." Then she put her hand on Patrick's shoulder. "He does look like a nice boy. I'll have Mary introduce him properly."

Maggy awoke during the night to find it quiet and the car stationary. Puzzled, she shook her husband awake. "Did they leave us behind, Pat?"

"No, love, we've been on a siding for hours. We're at Glyndon. Go back to sleep; it must be after midnight."

The next morning car couplings thumped and wheels squealed as the cars were hooked to the train just arrived from Alexandria. By noon they were in Crookston, stopped momentarily before being shunted to s siding for unloading.

"End of the line, Maggy!" Patrick leaned across the seat to peer out the car window. Turning to Ian and Jerold, he said, "We'll have to get our wagon out of the boxcar."

"What do we do now, Pat?" Maggy questioned.

"I'll help the boys get our wagon and we'll load up for the drive to Fisher's Landing. I was told it's just a bit over 15 miles. They are supposed to finish a track to there this summer, but as it is now, we'll have to hoof it. We should make it long before dark."

"Pa, is that where we meet the boat that will take us down the Red River?" Mike asked excitedly.

"Supposed to be, but we'll find out for sure as soon as we get unloaded and ask around." Turning to Ian, Patrick said, "Why don't you and Jerold see get the wagon out of the boxcar? I'll go over to the depot and get directions to the landing."

For moments Patrick and Maggy made no effort to join the straggling line leaving the coach, for many of the passengers were carrying bulky articles. As the line thinned, Maggy said, "Pat, let's get out of this box. I'm so grimy from the engine smoke that I don't think I'll ever get clean again."

Stepping down from the stool placed by the brakeman, they were pleasantly surprised to find it sunny and warm. Clumps of grass and weeds were bending under the strong northwest breeze. Mary and the boys had preceded them from the train and the boys were already standing by the freight car that held their team and wagon. Mary was not in sight. Concerned, Maggy eyed the depot area. "There she is!" Involuntarily she pointed to her daughter. "She's with that boy again."

"Didn't take her long to find him." Patrick seemed amused.

"Oh, Pat! She's only sixteen. It's puppy love. She'll go through a lot of boys before she decides on the right one."

"Dunno! Kind of looks like she's taken to him." He grinned and squeezed her shoulder.

Unloading the team of horses from the freight car presented no problem, but when the wagon was manhandled on the ramp, a wheel broke through the planking, necessitating unloading nearly the entire wagon. Mary's friend Robert stepped forward and assisted Ian and Jerold in the tedious work. When the wagon was freed from the ramp and reloaded, Mary approached Robert and took his hand. "Come, I want you to meet my Mother."

Smiling, he wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "Mary, just give me time to fetch my coat. I want to be presentable." Shrugging it on hurriedly over his sweat- soaked shirt, he and Mary approached Maggy.

"Mother, this is Robert Douglas, from Ottawa."

Maggy smiled, "Thank you for helping us with the wagon, Robert."

"It was no trouble. I have nothing but time." He seemed almost embarrassed.

Patrick approached just as Ian and Jerold finished hooking the team to the wagon. "Maggy, you and Mary take Mike along with you in the wagon. We've about sixteen miles or more to cover this afternoon. The boys and I will walk. That's the trail to the landing." He pointed westward to a path alongside a new railroad grade.

"Pat, I'm making a bit of lunch before we leave." She turned to Robert. "You'll join us, won't you?"

"I'd love to, thank you." He removed his suit coat and turned to Mary. "It's just too darned hot to wear a coat. I'm frazzled. May I put my valise in your wagon? Would there be room?"

Ian overheard the request. "Sure, Robert. You've earned your keep today."

After a brief lunch, Patrick's wagon led the group of over forty immigrants on the trail to Fisher's Landing. Two other hired wagons followed, carrying women, children and surplus baggage.

It was nearing the supper hour when they arrived at the landing to find it a beehive of activity. A sawmill emitted dense clouds of smoke, accompanied by the soft puffing of a steam engine and the high whining pitch of the saw blade. Four men were busy pushing a large log onto the sawmill carrier, while at the dock several men were rolling kegs down an inclined ramp to the deck of the steamboat International. It was obvious the men were playing at their work since there was much shouting and joshing going on. No smoke appeared from either of the steamboat's stacks, indicating her boilers were probably cold and the boat would not move for hours.

Patrick joined the long line at the office and stood for several minutes before his turn came to speak to the clerk. "Have you cabin room for a family of six to Emerson, Manitoba?"

"The cabin comes with a first class ticket, unless you would rather go steerage. That's cheaper, but no frills and we don't furnish grub." The clerk seemed cheerful.

"I've got a wagonload of personal belongings and a team of horses. What about them?"

The clerk turned to a group of men playing cards at a table. "Captain Segars, have you a moment to spare?"

A tall, thin man arose from a chair and leisurely walked to the counter. "What's the problem, George?"

"This man has a team and wagon; he wants it dropped off at Emerson. Can you make room?"

The captain eyed Patrick momentarily. "The only room would be on the bow. Hadn't planned on another wagon, but I guess we can accommodate you." He looked to the clerk. "Have the crew get the wagon aboard last. Outside of what cargo we discharge at Fort Pembina and Emerson, the balance goes to Upper Fort Garry." Turning back to Patrick, he offered his hand. "I'm Segars, Captain of the International. My boat's been on the river since '62, but it's still the biggest and best!" He winked at Patrick slyly, then turned to rejoin his companions.

Patrick found their passage with staterooms came to $16.50, but the freight bill for his team and wagon was $24.00. They were to leave for Grand Forks early the next morning, and while there, pick up two barges loaded with railroad rails destined for Canada.