Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bordertowns: Chapter 3

I dare you, dear readers, to read just the first paragraph below, and not tell me that Chuck Walker is a master storyteller. He knows his subject, and his descriptions bring the time period, places, and people of our region alive. Chuck can write a mean love scene, too...*wink*

I proudly present Chapter 3 of Chuck Walker's Bordertowns...
The distance from Fisher's Landing to the Red River across country was only twelve miles, but by the twisty river the distance was nearly forty. As the river was sinuous, the International seemed to crash from one bank to the other, pausing for minutes to reverse engines, and then proceeding forward. Trees grew to the edge of the bank, scraping stanchions along the deck, leaving broken branches and leaves lying everywhere. Never did the boat go forward for more than a few minutes before contacting the bank, swinging crossways, and sometimes sticking fast. Maggy expressed her feeling pointedly.

"Pat! The captain must have the patience of a saint to absorb this punishment. Will traveling on the Red River be as bad?"

"Naw! We should be out of this river and into the other late this afternoon. The Red's supposed to be a good-sized river, wide enough for a boat with barges."

Long before dark they reached the much larger Red River and proceeded a short distance downstream before tying up. They secured alongside barges loaded with steel rails destined for the new Canadian Pacific Railroad to run between Emerson and Selkirk, in Canada. The barges had been loaded at the rail-end in Moorhead, and then floated downriver over the rapids to Grand Forks. The remainder of that day was spent securing a barge to each side of the boat and loading a supply of cordwood for the boat's boilers.

Ian struck up a conversation with one of the Norwegian crewmen to find they were paid $35 per month. They numbered twenty-two deck hands: The captain, the pilot and other officers. In addition to their work of loading and unloading cargo, each man was required to carry aboard one cord of wood each day, for the boat burned twenty-two cords in the two boilers every working day. Upon a casual inspection of the cargo at the bow of the boat, he noted consignments for the soldiers' fort at Pembina. Stacked high behind this were barrels, boxes and crates of machinery for Emerson, Manitoba. Even further back were massive piles of freight destined for the Hudson's Bay Company and other trade stores at Fort Garry. All had been arranged in convenient groups to facilitate easy unloading at succeeding ports of call. Being a deck hand is not the job for me, Ian thought. Too boring, and what do the men do when winter comes?

Supper that evening was served in the narrow central passageway that ran through the center of the hurricane deck. Maggy deemed it more of a hallway, but it was carpeted and along each wall stood several ornately decorated chairs for the patrons. These were interspaced so that beside each chair was the door to a stateroom. After the meal the dining tables were removed and the long corridor again became a sitting room. The ceiling was high, bridged across with slightly curved beams. A row of narrow skylights extended on either side for the full length of the long corridor. Decorative ropes with huge tassels hung below the coal oil lamps spaced along the ceiling. Here and there were small tables that could be moved at the passengers' convenience.

Their first-class tickets entitled them to three staterooms, which Maggy scorned as broom closets. "Pat, there's barely room to stand, let alone dress. You'll have to take the upper bunk. Two could never fit in these narrow beds."

"Not to worry, Maggy. At least they're nearly three feet wide." Running his hand over the upper bunk, he suddenly laughed. "Wonder how Ian will make out. These beds are not even six feet long." He turned to Maggy; she was smiling too, thinking of Ian's well over six-foot height.

Near midnight ominous claps of thunder became audible, gradually growing closer. Pulsing breezes that rapidly turned to a gale accompanied the sound. The slow sound of raindrops pit-patting on the small window rapidly changed to a steady drumming. Finally a tumult assaulted the roof above.

"What's happening?" Pat awoke with a start.

"It's pouring outside . . . nothing to worry about."

As he dozed off, Patrick thought of his earlier conversation with the captain, of the man's mention that the river was getting mighty low for navigation. He thought of the old saying: "It's an ill wind that blows no good."

The next morning it was still raining and the river had risen appreciably. At 5:30 a.m. they cast off for the Canadian border. Although it continued to drizzle, the wind subsided and the passengers could walk on the covered, exterior hurricane deck without getting wet.

The interior salon, which ran the entire length of the hurricane deck, remained crowded because of the inclement weather. Time played upon Maggy's mind as she noted and chafed at Mary's absence. She brought it to Pat's attention. "She's spending too much time with that boy. I don't want her getting involved at her age."

"Not to worry! The lad is going on to Fort Garry. They'll probably never see each other again."

"I wish I was as sure as you." Maggy was not mollified.

Mary was confused, for golden dreams were invading her mind. The strange feeling of response to Robert had begun in Duluth. Now, standing at the rail, she felt a tingling sensation, for he had put his arm around her waist and was holding her gently. Her sensation was a feeling of bliss and peace. She wanted to be loved and felt that her life was just now beginning. Unwanted warning thoughts came, perhaps orchestrated by her mother over the past years: Let your mind be superior to what your body says! Be strong! Men are weak but won't admit it! Casting unwanted advice from her mind, she raised her face to his. He drew her body tightly to him and kissed her tenderly. For seconds she was captivated, then she pulled away, almost breathless. But wasn't this what she wanted? Hadn't she wondered when this would happen? He was still holding her in a close embrace. Why was she pulling away?

Slowly she thrust loose, her sanity returning. "Oh, Robert, I'm only sixteen. You mustn't even think of loving me." Warning bells rang in her mind and she knew she must fight the feeling in her heart.

As Robert released her, he realized he was committing himself to this young girl. She appealed to his protective instinct and aroused his sense of responsibility. Now he believed he had pushed too hard and frightened her.

Grasping her shoulders gently, he said tersely, "Someday in the future you'll be my wife. I'll wait for you to grow up and mature. We'll be happy together, you'll see! Now, I've got to make my way in the world and build a future for us, but I'll be back. It may take some time, but I will be back." Pulling her warm body close, he kissed her again. She found herself clinging to him fiercely, returning his kiss with fervor.

Late in the afternoon as they approached Fort Pembina, three long echoing blasts of the ship's whistle brought nearly everyone to the outside deck. As they cleared the last bend, the passengers could see a group of soldiers walking down the hill on the west side of the river. When the boat nudged into the shore, wagons from the fort arrived to carry the cargo up the hill. Little could be seen of the fort itself except rooftops of stables on the high bank. The actual unloading at the fort took less than thirty minutes. Then the whistle sounded twice and the boat backed away amid a hissing and puffing of its engines. Minutes later they barely cleared under a telegraph wire that extended across the Red River near the settlement of Pembina.

On the west side of the river a ferry hugged the shore. It was apparent they had just lowered the cable crossing the river, enabling the International to proceed. Passing the mouth of the Pembina River, they swung into the west bank to unload goods at Pembina.

The stop here was brief, and after pulling back into the channel, the crew was kept busy moving cargo forward to the bow of the boat. Soon, just as the ship's whistle again sounded three deep blasts, Ian overheard one of the crew members remark, "We're just crossing into Canada. Emerson is around the next bend." Hearing the comment, he hurried to harness their team of horses.

Emerson had no dock, but the east bank was corduroyed with logs. A road angled down from the crest, leading to a widened, leveled-off space. As the boat swung in to tie-up, spectators came down the hill. With the giant paddle wheel still churning slowly under power to hold the bow of the boat firmly to the shore, the crew began to cast off lines to the barges. The downriver barge was tied ashore and the current swung it snugly to the bank. A team of horses was required to swing the other barge upstream, clear of the boat. These steel rails were to be unloaded for the Emerson end of the new railroad.

Simultaneously with the removal of the barges, the boarding ramp was lowered to the shore and the passengers began to disembark. Maggy and Mike watched apprehensively from shore as preparations were made aboard to move the team and wagon. Robert Douglas had come ashore and was standing to the side, conversing with Mary. For moments it seemed the horses were too frightened to cross the hurriedly placed plank ramp. Their terror forced Ian to jump from the wagon to grasp the bridle of one horse. Patrick reached the opposite horse quickly, and with soothing words the animals were coaxed step by step across the hazardous ramp to the shore.

"Judas! I'm glad that's over!" Ian sounded relieved. "Good thing there were two of us. One man couldn't have done it alone. Lordy, the horses were nervous."

Patrick wiped his forehead with his sleeve. "Let's get the family together and hunt up a place for the night."

Just as Ian climbed to the wagon seat, a well-dressed man approached Patrick. "Sir, my name is Thomas Carney. I watched you two manage that wild team. That was bully work!"

"They weren't wild, just nervous. They're young horses." Ian was quick to defend the team.

"Just so. May I ask if you are here as businessmen, or as settlers?"

Patrick noted the man's grey whiskers and balding head before answering. "I'm Patrick McLaren, and this is my son Ian. We're from Orillia, Ontario; we're looking for farmland."

Carney looked pleased. "We've plenty of land. Why don't you camp on the edge of town tonight? The campground is just up the hill and to the south. You can look up the government land agent in the morning; his name is Newcombe. It's too late to do anything tonight." Then he suggested, "Or would you rather stay at Hutchison's Hotel? It's not much, but they have food."

"No, I think we'll camp out. We have plenty of grub and can graze the horses. We'll probably see you again." Patrick was anxious to get his camp set for the night.

"See you later!" Carney raised his hand, and then turned to join other passengers.

It was evident to Maggy that many of the townspeople met the steamboats for the novelty. They apparently judged the financial status of each arrival by their clothes, equipment and furniture. She overheard comments to that effect made by the townspeople, especially the women.

While Ian drove the wagon slowly up the hill, his father and Mike followed on foot. Mary had tarried behind with Robert Douglas. Maggy turned impatiently, just in time to catch the two in an emotional embrace. Pretending not to notice, she turned her head. Moments later she heard Mary's hurried steps as she endeavored to catch up. Casting a quick glance at her daughter, she saw the tears and stricken look on her face.

Upon reaching the crest of the embankment, they noted several tents pitched on the open prairie to the south. "We'll camp there for tonight." Patrick pointed to the field. Ian nodded, and turning the team, selected an area far removed from the nearest tent. Unloading, they made hurried preparations for their camp.

Nightfall settled soon after they completed supper, and darkness found them all seated comfortably around their small campfire. All seemed too excited to seek their beds. "I wish Gramps was here with his fiddle. It'd seem a lot more like home." Mary sounded wistful and a bit homesick.

"Perhaps they'll come in another year or two. This is our home now." Maggy seemed unshakable. Then, turning to Patrick, she asked, "What are your plans for tomorrow?"

"I'll see the Canadian land agent first thing, and then check with the man representing the Minnesota land. We'll have to find out about a school, also about a church."

"Mary and I can see to the school and church. You and Ian look to the land." Pausing, Maggy looked up at the stars. "It's such a beautiful evening; it's cleared so perfectly that the Big Dipper stands out. Suddenly Patrick heard a distinct slap, then her voice again, "Darned mosquitoes!"

After an early breakfast Patrick took his family on a walking tour through the streets of Emerson. They were amazed to find the town, founded only three years ago, almost as large as Orillia. Every desirable type of store was available: a land titles office, a registry office, even a Masonic and an Orange Lodge. Most of the families lived in tents, but here and there were houses of log or frame construction. Several homes were in various stages of building.

Leaving the men, Maggy and Mary looked for, and found four active churches: a Methodist, Anglican, Baptist and Presbyterian. The latter, they were told, was still in the process of being formed. They also found the schoolhouse, and Maggy introduced herself. The schoolmaster, George Baldwin, was ecstatic to learn of Mary's advanced schooling and of her interest in mathematics. He questioned her at length to determine her qualifications, and then said, "You'll be a welcome addition to our one-man school staff, as I need an assistant. In fact, it's quite possible you may be able to teach in a school of your own in the near future. We're crowded, but will make room for you and your brother." Turning to Maggy, he said, "Alas, your youngest is just too young. Perhaps next year."

Patrick and Ian entered the Registry Office and were greeted by a jovial, florid faced man. "Come in! Come in! What's your pleasure?" The man seemed overeager. "My name is Bill Nash. If you're looking for a place to build, I'm your man!"

Patrick cast a wary glance at the man, suspecting chicanery. Finally he said, "We're looking for information about farm land. Can you help us?"

"That's no problem. First of all you are entitled to a free lot, courtesy of Mr. Carney and Mr. Fairbanks; they founded this town. If you're looking for work, the railroad is hiring anyone and everyone for grading, no questions asked." Then he said optimistically, "I guess you can find work anywhere. There's a dearth of labor."

"I'd be interested in that free lot, but all we have at present is a tent."

"It's all most of the newcomers have. Some don't even have that." Nash broke into a smile.

"We're farmers; we're looking for land."

"Then you need to see the titles agent, George Newcombe. His office is next door. He sold over 150,000 acres of government land last year, and is having a great run this season."

"What's land going for?"

"Well, the Hudson's Bay Company is asking twelve dollars per acre for their land, but the government wants only eight. I believe you can get terms from either."

Both father and son looked disappointed.

Ian spoke up. "I understood two quarter sections of land were available just for the filing fee, and homesteading."

"That's true, but that's land across the border in Minnesota. We can't match those prices."

"Then that's where we'll have to go; our finances are limited." Patrick turned to leave.

Nash looked crestfallen. "We'll hate to lose you; but before you leave, pick a lot from this plat sheet. I'll assign it to you free of charge. Perhaps you'll change your mind. You say you have a tent for your family, so you'll need a temporary spot. Also, we have a school for any children you may have."

"Sounds good," said Patrick. "A place along the border would suit us best, somewhere near our camping spot."

"There's lots of room. How about here, just east of the camp?" Nash slid his finger along the map. "I'll put you down for this one, just north of the boundary. It's #7, and staked on all four corners."

"Thanks! We'll find it."

Turning to leave, they heard Nash's final words. "Ask for Alexander Turner -- he's the land agent in St. Vincent."

Returning to their camp, they spent the remaining time until noon striking their tent and moving to the new lot assigned to them.

After a brief lunch, Patrick, Ian and Jerold drove south on the trail to enter the state of Minnesota. The grass along the dirt trail to St. Vincent was alive with prairie chickens and grouse. Interspersed between trees and brush were occasional patches of grass. At times birds ran along the path ahead of the horses before breaking into flight.

"Pa, we'll never starve here. Why, just look at the deer tracks." Ian marveled aloud.

"Look at those big tracks in the dried mud," Jerold added. They can't be made by cattle."

"Those are moose tracks, son," Patrick observed. "This land once belonged to the Indians. No wonder they didn't want to give it up."

Jerold interjected, "But Pa wasn't it bought from them in '63, by treaty?"

"Yup, and that's why they had to establish Fort Pembina. The Indians and Métis sold out and each got scrip for 160 acres. Trouble was, they sold the scrip for little or nothing to the traders, and then they wouldn't leave the land. In fact, they caused so much trouble with the settlers that the military had to be called to boot them out. I've heard they're still raising a ruckus with settlers in the Pembina hills, west of here. Oh, there were other reasons to bring in the soldiers: the Sioux began raiding close by in '68, and then Riel aroused the half-breeds in '70."

"Pa, why do they call the breeds Métis at times?" Jerold was puzzled.

Patrick mused thoughtfully. "Son, Métis is the French word for breeds of French-Indian mix. The English still call them half-breeds or breeds. Reflectively, he added, "Come to think of it, the word Métis sounds better."

Angling onto St. Vincent's main thoroughfare, they observed a narrow lake to the south. Scores of ducks could be seen. The lake seemed to extend far out of sight behind huge trees.

On the right side of the road men were clearing brush and cutting timber, making way for the future railroad yard of the Saint Paul and Pacific. The road from Crookston to Emerson was to be completed by the year-end of '78 to connect with the Canadian Pacific Railway, now under construction between Emerson and Selkirk.

Nearing the river, they by-passed a tent camp, and then approached several buildings along the west side of the load.

"Look, Pa! There's a lumber yard," Jerold observed. Patrick was gazing in contemplation at two men setting fence posts on one side of the road. "Ian, stop and we'll speak with them."

The rumbling of the wagon drew the men's attention, and they both looked up expectantly.

"Beg pardon! Can you tell us where to find the land agent, Turner?"

The nearer man was lanky, clean-shaven, with a weathered face covered with wrinkles. He studied Patrick for moments before pointing toward his companion. "He's Turner, I'm Joe McCaffery.

Turner thrust back his hat and approached the wagon. He was tall and thin1, with a long goatee. "What's up?"

"I'm Patrick McLaren and these are my sons, Ian and Jerold. I hear tell you can put us onto some homestead land."

The land agent hesitated, as if in thought. Turning to his companion, he said, "Joe, we both need a rest. Hook up the horse. Damned if I'm going to ride in that wagon with them."

Turning back to Patrick, he smiled. "No insult intended, but you've only got one spring seat on that wagon. My buggy fits my rear end a lot better." Then he said reflectively, "The railroad is supposed to get all the odd-numbered sections for six miles on each side of the track, so that cuts the choice of land. Up to now they aren't selling -- guess they can't until they get the railroad in operation. What land I represent is all prime, with plenty of black loam. The quarters are scattered though, due to what has already been taken up. Do you understand the requirements? You get a quarter section by homesteading and a quarter by preemption."

As Patrick nodded, Turner added, "It'll take a few moments to get my map."

Upon his return he removed a pencil from a pocket to point out details on the sketch. "Now this section is nearby; these two are about two miles away; the rest are along the border." He glanced at Ian, "How old are you, son?"

Ian sensed disaster. "I'm nineteen."

"Too bad. You won't be eligible until you're twenty-one." Turning back to Patrick, he asked, "I assume you'll want land close to town."

Patrick nodded seriously, "Within reason."

Just then McCaffery returned with a single-seated Democrat, pulled by a large bay. Turner advised, "You and your boys follow us. We'll take a shortcut around the slough to section 12, then cut across to the other land. All of the quarters are well marked -- just surveyed this spring. If you can't find land to suit you by four o'clock, we'll try again tomorrow."

He tugged on the gold chain that hung across his vest, releasing his pocket watch. Glancing at it, he smiled. "I promised Johnny Kabernagle to meet him at his place in Pembina for supper and a game of billiards." Grinning, he added, "He fancies himself a pool shark, but I'll take his coin!" Then his manner changed, "We'll have to push hard this afternoon."

It took less than two hours for Patrick to pick two quarters of land, two adjoining quarters lying just southeast of town. Using a shovel from his wagon, he had tested the depth of the loam in several places. Nowhere could he find the depth of the rich, black topsoil less than 12 inches.

Turner sat quietly in his buggy as he watched his client dig. He seemed amused at Patrick's diligence. Finally he commented, "Mighty fine land, isn't it?"

Patrick grinned at Ian and Jerold. "Sure suits me." Turning to the agent he questioned, "That bush along the river -- is it included in this quarter?"

"Yup. Reckon there's about 25 acres of woodland. Plenty of trees to build a cabin, and for your firewood."

"No log cabin for us. We'll build a frame house when the time comes."

Ian felt depressed, almost wishing he had lied his age. Turner's final remarks brought expectations.

"Half of the settlers won't keep their land after proving up. They'll sell their improvements for a small amount, and then move on." He looked to Ian. "It'll be legal to pick it up by paying their price. Also, the railroad will be selling their grant land as soon as they get title. They don't care how old you are. Money talks! Further south of us, the St. Paul & Pacific2 has been selling on yearly payments, making it easier to buy. I don't expect they'll change that policy." He concluded, "I'll register these quarters and submit your application and fee of $15. You can pay me now and move onto the land at your convenience."

After accepting Patrick's registration fee, he laboriously made out a receipt, wetting the lead of his stub pencil repeatedly with his tongue. "Good thing you're paying the filing fee in hard coin. Most paper money is worthless around here." Tearing the receipt from the pad, he handed it to Patrick. "Don't lose the slip. It's your only proof of purchase until I can get it recorded. You'll have to come to the office soon to sign the papers."

"Can we cut our winter's wood from the river quarter?" asked Patrick.

"Sure, it's your land now. So long." He stepped up into his buggy, turning the horse back toward town.

It was late in the afternoon when they returned to Emerson. The return trip was enlivened by rapid and enthusiastic conversation. Jerold was the silent listener. The older men could hardly contain their jubilation at the ease with which the quarters had been acquired. They knew that the preemption quarter required a payment of $1.25 per acre, but they had thirty-three months to comply with that payment.

"We should break your ten acres as soon as possible," Ian suggested eagerly.

"Yup, but first we need to buy a plow, maybe even another team of horses or mules."

"Why don't we work for the railroad the rest of the summer?" Ian replied. "I heard mention that they need horses for grading the right-of-way. Why not buy another team and let the railroad pay for them? I've saved over 100 pounds sterling from the smithing; that's over $500 out here. I'll pay for the plow and team."

"Pa," Jerold broke in. "I can do the plowing if you'll get me a team. Then you can both start working right off."

Patrick and Ian exchanged amused glances for a moment; then both realized the wisdom of his offer. "You think you can handle it, son? It's no easy job." Patrick was thinking it just might work.

"Sure, Pa. I saw several plows at that Ashdown's Hardware, and one is a dandy. It's a St. Paul Star, a riding sulky, with a cutting coulter and a 12-inch breaking bottom. I think it has a three-horse evener, but maybe our team can handle it."

Patrick put his arm around Jerold's shoulder and smiled. "O. K., son, in for a penny, in for a pound." At that moment they arrived at the open gate at the border and turned to their corner lot. "We'll think it over and decide tomorrow." Patrick seemed complacent.

Mary approached the slowing wagon excitedly. "Oh, Pa, I have a job!" She seemed overjoyed and was dancing from one foot to the other. "Mr Baldwin, the schoolmaster, was here this afternoon. He said the school board will pay me eight dollars a month to help teach. I'm to instruct in arithmetic." She smiled proudly, "Why, I don't even have a certificate to teach yet!"

Maggy approached with a well-pleased look, "What do you think of your daughter now, Pat? Is she too young?"

He stepped down to the wagon hub, then dropped to the ground to clasp Mary in a hug. "Colleen, it's proud of you I am." Turning to Maggy, he exclaimed, "We'll all be working soon; we've finally gotten our land."

She looked at him incredulously.

"It's true! We came here to seek land and a new life. Now we've got the land and can move onto it whenever we want!"

Maggy stepped forward and grasped him in a joint hug with Mary. Ian and Jerold exchanged amused glances. Young Mike seemed puzzled by their enthusiasm.

1 - NOTE from Trish: Knowing the Turner family as anyone from my area does, I can vouch for this description of a Turner...tall AND thin!

2 - The earliest predecessor railroad to the GN was the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, which Hill purchased in the late 19th century. He formed the Great Northern Railroad in 1889 merging the StP&P with the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway and Montana Central Railroad. - FROM Great Northern Railway (U.S.) history