Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Memoriam: Charles Walker

Son. Husband. Father. World War II Veteran. Bush Pilot. Politician. Author. Local Historian (and descendant of some of the area's earliest pioneers...)

An icon of my home town area has passed from us.

I received word today from a reader of this blog that a good friend of mine had died. Charles Harris Walker lived a long and fascinating life. I got to know him towards the end of it, and wish I had known him much longer, but cherished the time I did have. We communicated mostly by email, but also in person during visits back home. We shared a passion for local history, one he had had long before I even existed, but I only learned of in recent years. He was there in the background of my life for many years and I didn't realize we shared this love of history. I was younger, and so was he, and we were at different stages of our lives. It's funny how you can be around people, even know them to a limited degree, but not REALLY know them, and then suddenly at some point it's like you finally open your eyes and see them for who they really are...or rather who they were all the time but you were too blind or ignorant to see it before.

I've been serializing his books - Sheriff Charley Brown, and Bordertowns here on this blog, in fact Bordertowns is still in-progress.

Bordertowns has just been published.

I shall sorely miss his knowledge, his sense of humor, and just who he was as a person. He was a special man.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More Local Baseball History

Happy ChandlerIt was the Dead Ball era...

Dick Cleem played in the St. Vincent town baseball team when he was an adult. He also played baseball with Pembina, North Dakota. He played with the Kittson County All-stars against the House of David's colored traveling team. He also played the House of David's team in Winnipeg.

Happy Chandler
Happy Chandler played for Hallock (at that time a semi-pro team) one summer to earn money for college, when they played against the Gooselaw team (8 brothers and one cousin...) from St. Vincent. Chandler later said, "I would say no man ever walked in shoe leather that could throw a baseball with more speed and control than Eli Gooselaw..."

On a Minnesota baseball forum, a member shared this with me:
I think the term “Twilight League” was a generic term describing many of the minor leagues in the early days of the 1900s. Of course, none of the ballparks then were lighted and the teams played at various times during daylight hours, but mostly in the early evening. Hence the term twilight league. I believe the league you are looking for though is the Northern League. Here is a link to a site that lists all the minor leagues in history. And within those lists are the following links that will give you the teams in each of those leagues: Northern League Class D (1903-1905), Northern-Copper Country League (1906-1907) Northern League Class D (1908), Minnesota-Wisconsin League (1909-1912) Northern League Class C (1913-1916), Class D (1917), Central International League (1912) Northern League Class D (1933-1940), Class C (1941-1942) Northern League Class C (1946-1962), Class A (1963-1971) Northern-Copper Country League Class C (1906), Class D (1907), Copper Country Soo League (1905), Northern League (1903-1905) Nowadays, there are semi-pro leagues that sometimes call themselves twilight leagues...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Portrait of a Rebellion

Our explorations of American versions of the rebellion begins with reports from the New York Times. On November 11, in a short story drawn from a "private letter," written to the Chicago Tribune, the Times gives its first account of events in the Red River country. The report is surprising in that it antedates all reports from St. Paul, Minnesota, the chief source for all subsequent reports. I suspect it may have come from "agents" operating in the Pembina region. I want to share the story in its entirety, including headlines, to demonstrate the shift in tone that will characterize the Times accounts.

NOTE FROM TRISH: An extract from those accounts is below; link at bottom to entire chronicle, which is incredibly fascinating!







Five Hundred Insurgents in Arms


Gov. McDougall Beleaguered at the Hudson's

Bay Company's Fort near Pembina





He Encamps on American Soil to Await the Turn

of Events


He sends to the Canadian Government for Troops

and Arms to Subdue the Rebels


Special Correspondence of the St. Paul Press

Pembina, D. T., Nov. 4, 1869.

Tuesday evening, the 2d instant a company of Red River cavalry surrounded the Hudson's Bay Company Fort near this place, where Governor McDougall and official staff were quartered, and notified his Excellency and party to leave the Territory by 9 o'clock the following morning.

The Governor demanded a parley, but was informed that the troops had come to execute a order and not to hold a council.

Promptly at 9:00 yesterday morning the troops entered the stockade, arrested and securely bound Wm. Hallet, (guide of Col. Denis, Surveyor General) whereupon the Governor and party made for their horses and wagons, and evacuated the fort without further warning. The entire party re-crossed the international boundary, and are at this time encamped on United states soil near this place, out of range of the enemies guns. The troops conducted themselves throughout in the most soldier like and orderly manner, not indulging in any excess, or any unnecessary demonstration, nor an expression disrespectful to the unfortunate executive or party.

In addition to this "news" story which seeks to assure us that the half-breed "troops" behaved like troops, "in the most soldier like and orderly manner" and not like a bunch of wild Indians engaging in "unnecessary demonstration... (and)... expression(s) disrespectful to the unfortunate," there are three other stories. The longest runs nearly three full columns on the front page. The headline and selected portions of the story follow.

From Half-breeds, Settlers and Rebels: Newspaper Images of the Red River Métis in 1869

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Although there was only a slight breeze that morning, the previous days storm had cast several large drifts across the road to the fort. Ian’s horse disliked the deep drifts and instinctively began leaping into them, the plunging almost dislodging him. The extreme cold brought tears to his eyes and he could feel the skin on his face tighten. Once again he found himself knotting his scarf tightly around his high collar. He could feel the warmth and strength of his horse under him, causing him to tighten his legs against the animal. Entering the fort gate, he turned toward the headquarters building.

Concerned about leaving his gelding in the wind, he was agreeably surprised to find the entrance side of the building in the lee, sheltered from the now increasing northern gusts. After wrapping the reins around the tie rack, he stopped momentarily to examine the mercury thermometer mounted outside the door. It confirmed his estimate of the extreme cold, for it indicated -36 degrees. He felt a personal satisfaction, for he had guessed it to be nearly -40 degrees below zero.

Opening the heavy door, he found Kirby conversing with an officer seated at a desk. A corporal, evidently the Charge of Quarters, sat by a heavy sheet-iron stove. He cast a brief glance at Ian, then he turned back to his book. The seated lieutenant arose hastily and greeted him with a smile. “So you’re Mary McLaren’s brother. Kirby tells me you witnessed the hangings yesterday. I’m Shawn Kirkpatrick.” He advanced to shake Ian’s hand.

“He’s her brother, that’s for sure.” Kirby was smiling. “He was an unwilling spectator at the action yesterday, so I wanted Captain Collins to hear his version. It’s my mess. I should have left some of my troopers with that bunch.”

Kirkpatrick sympathized, “I’d probably have done just as you. There was no way you could have anticipated the result.”

“I still blame myself,” Kirby said, and then he turned to Ian. “Might as well get it over with.” Beckoning with his finger, he advanced to the captain’s door. Ian followed. A brief knock brought the response, “Come in!”

Captain Collins was gazing out of a partially frosted window as they entered; he was leaning forward almost to the glass, evidently watching something of interest outside. He finally broke away and faced the two men. As Kirby introduced Ian, the captain began to smile.

“I met your parents and your sister at the Christmas Ball. They seem determined to settle in our country.”

“Yes, my father has filed on a homestead in Minnesota across the river from the fort. I couldn’t file; I’ve another year to go. I’m hoping to buy two quarters from the Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad when they put their acreage on the block.”

“I’m told they will begin selling soon, possibly when the road reaches the border. Please take a seat and tell me just what transpired yesterday. I understand you accompanied the men who hung those horse thieves.” He moved to his desk and sat down, indicating to Ian to sit opposite. Kirby was left standing on tenterhooks.

Ian related how he and Pete had met the posse, and then backtracked to show Kirby where they had seen the fugitives. He described the actions of the fort teamsters and the town men. “I don’t want to be the cause of trouble. Back in Ontario a horse thief would face the whipping post or a jail sentence, but not be hung.”

“Yes, but in the past it’s been considered a capital offense, especially in the Southwest. Now, it’s a penitentiary offense if convicted by a court. I’m responsible for bringing law and order to this section of the Dakotas, with the assistance of the sheriff and federal marshals of course. This business of men taking the law into their own hands has to be stopped.” Turning to Kirby, he chided, “At least now you’ve learned not to put too much trust in civilians. Sad, too, for now I’ll have to fire that man, Murphy. He’s only been on the job a few days; still, I’ll not have my officer’s orders disregarded.”

He suddenly arose, facing Kirby, his expression hardening. “Mr! Have Kirkpatrick bring the fort teamsters to my office at eleven o’clock this morning. I want you to see Sheriff Brown at Pembina immediately and give him an account of yesterday. I can do nothing about those town ruffians; I have no authority over them. In fact, I doubt Brown can take any action against them either. There were just too many men involved. However, if any of our teamsters are ever involved in anything as dastardly in the future, I’ll replace them all.” He stepped forward and opened the door of his office, effectively dismissing them.

Kirkpatrick looked up apprehensively as they approached his desk. Kirby shook his head negatively. “Status quo. Guess I’m off the hook. The captain wants you to have the teamsters in his office by eleven this morning. They’ll get a chewing! I’m ordered to go to town and inform the sheriff of the affair.”

“I’ll bet Sheriff Brown has already heard all of the gory details. Exciting news travels fast.” Kirkpatrick seemed positive.

Kirby turned to Ian with a wry smile. “Thanks to you, I’ve gotten off pretty easy. The captain is not always this generous. Want some company on your ride back to town? It’ll just take a few minutes to have my horse brought around.” He motioned to the Charge of Quarters, who reluctantly arose, put on his coat and slipped out the door.

“Sure! I’ve never been to the Brown and Kabernagle store, but I’ve met Charley. He seems a solid sort.”

“Yup, he soldiered for years, finally resigning from the Army two years ago to run for the office of sheriff. He enlisted in the war at the age of sixteen.” Reflectively he added, “It was quite common for youngsters to enlist in those days; there was so much poverty. Then, too, of course, youngsters joined for the excitement.”

The main street of Pembina seemed bleak when they reached the west riverbank. Two teams with bobsleighs were parked just ahead, on the right, and two saddle horses stood at the rack in front of the saloon.

Kirby joked, “Cripes, you could shoot a cannon down Cavalier Street and hardly hit a thing.”

Ian agreed, “It’s mighty cold for a Tuesday – guess everyone is staying where it’s warm.”

Just inside the door two men were playing billiards. Ian recognized one of the men as Turner, the land agent from St. Vincent. His pool opponent was a stranger. Further back, at another table, Brown was casually practicing pool by himself. Ian immediately became aware of the strong odor of tobacco smoke and sour beer in the room.

Seeing Kirby and Ian, Charley laid his cue on the table. Turning to his partner behind the bar, he remarked, “Mighty easy life in the Army these days, John. Looks like Kirby sets his own hours.”

Kirby smiled resignedly at Ian. “He’s just jealous of West-Pointers. He thinks we have it too easy.”

“’Spose you’ve come to tell me all about your exciting chase of yesterday.” Charley sprawled into a worn chair, indicating to the others to take a seat. “So those bastards from town pulled a sandy on you. I’ve heard most of the story. It’s a sorry mess, but not a total loss. It’s saved me a cold trip to Detroit with two prisoners.” A lazy smile appeared on his face.

Kirby spoke up. “Ian and his man were along with the bunch but didn’t participate. He can give you the details.”

“Don’t really need any,” Charley said morosely. “It was those two damn troublemakers, Murphy and Brogan. Hell, I guessed that when I heard the news. Murphy is an unknown. He has been around for months and was just hired at the fort lately, or so I’ve been told. Brogan, on the other hand has a depraved streak in him. He’s a congenital liar and a thief, the type to put the boots to a man when he’s down. Someone will kill him someday and I’ll have to make an arrest.” He laughed aloud and shook his head. “I’d hate to have to do that!”

“Speak of the devil!” Turner exclaimed, as he glanced out the large front window. “Here he comes now -- and with some of his bully boys.” He casually turned back to the table and took up his stance to shoot, pretending to be unaware of the men approaching the door.

A sudden cold draft rolled into the room as the door opened long seconds to admit several men, led by Brogan. It was evident from their loose swagger that all had been carousing elsewhere in the town. The devil-may-care looks on their faces indicated they were trouble.

“Set up whiskey, Kabernagle! I’m buying!” The loud, harsh voice was Brogan’s.

Kabernagle cast a warning glance at Brown as the men bellied up to the bar. Placing a glass in front of each, he began pouring generous measures. The unruly, unbridled remarks made by the men as they picked up their drinks confirmed Ian’s belief that their entry into the bar was planned.

Brogan finally turned his back to the bar and studied Kirby. “What are you doing here, soldier boy? Crying to the sheriff about your failure yesterday?” He smirked. “I see you’ve got that gutless McLaren with you, too.”

Ian tensed at the words and he could see Kirby’s sudden anger. Both Kirby and he jumped to their feet at the challenge.

Charley knew that Kirby, as an Army officer, could not be embroiled in fisticuffs with a civilian. He spoke up sarcastically from his chair, “Brogan, why don’t you take your friends to some other saloon? You know damn well you’re not welcome here.”

Brogan snorted, “It’s a public place and we’ll drink wherever we please.”

“True, But keep your mouth off of my customers or get out!”

“You’re just a civilian in here. If you’ll take off the badge, I’ll show you who’s the best man!”

“That ties it!” Charley glanced toward Ian and Kirby.

He stood slowly, removing his vest; then, unhooking the badge from his shirt pocket, tossed it to Kabernagle.

“John,” he addressed his partner without taking his eyes off Brogan, “See that we’re not disturbed.” Walking around the pool table, he faced Brogan squarely.

Kabernagle leaned down behind the bar and came up with a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun. The two large side hammers made ominous clicks as he thumbed them back. He smiled grimly as he said, “You won’t be, Charley!”

Before Brogan could react to the bartender’s surprise move, Charley slapped his face resoundingly, twice, forehand and backhand. They were hard, slamming slaps, making Ian almost wince.

For a short second Brogan stood in shock. Then, with a wild roar of rage, the huge man charged Charley. Ian was amazed to see the sheriff step nimbly aside, and then land a punishing blow to Brogan’s kidneys. The blow had sufficient force to swing his opponent off balance. He spun sideways into the wall, facing toward Ian and Kirby. Recovering his balance, he turned to charge Charley again, his huge arms and ball-like fists swinging wildly. It was then Ian gained an insight into Brown’s boxing ability, as he administered further punishment to Brogan with ease. What blows the sheriff received seemed to roll off his shoulders. Although he was a powerful man, Brogan seemed clumsy and uncoordinated. Seeing his awkwardness, Ian felt that even he might hold his own with Brogan.

Slowly Charley backed his opponent around the billiard table, forcing Turner and his friend who were standing between the window and the pool table, to give ground. Finally Brogan’s back was to the low-cased front window, the sill only knee high. When Brogan felt the sill against the back of his left leg he momentarily glanced down. It was then the sledge hammer blow caught him square on the chin, the driving force throwing him off balance and back through the wide front window. The cross frame supporting the four large glass panes bulged outward, then collapsed, the glass shattering into large shards, most falling outside.

Dropping his arms to his sides, Charley stared out the window at the unconscious Brogan lying in the snow. Two of the horses outside had pulled back on tied reins and were acting up.
The men at the bar stood in shock at Brogan’s total collapse. One man, his leg cocked on the brass rail, had unconsciously tilted his glass of whiskey and the liquid was dribbling onto the floor.

Turner walked questioningly to the glassless opening to observe the unconscious Brogan. Then he turned to the men at the bar. “Begad! You’d better get your friend over to the hotel. He’s bleeding badly. He’ll need some patching up.”

Brogan’s friends silently filed out of the bar to gather around him. With sullen glances toward Brown, who watched from the broken window, they lifted the unconscious man and carried him past the corner, headed north.

Charley turned to Kabernagel, who had already disposed of the shotgun. “Your turn to fix the window, John. I fixed the last one.”

Kabernagle looked at him accusingly. “Like hell you did. You hired Sam to do it and I had to pay half the bill.” He filled a shot glass with whiskey. Reaching out, he offered it to his partner. “Here! You’ve earned it! That’s the quickest I’ve ever seen you put a man away.”

Both Ian and Kirby had remained speechless during the brief altercation. Finally Ian volunteered, “I’ll pay for the window; that show was worth it.”

“No, you won’t!” Kabernagle was smiling. “Charley broke it fair and square. We’ll foot the bill.” He turned to his partner. “Cripes, Charley! Get the tarp from the back room, and don’t forget the hammer and nails. Judas, we’ll freeze before we get that damn hole plugged.”

Ian and Kirby held the tarp over the opening while Charley nailed it into place. Even so, the room had cooled almost to the outside temperature. After the last nail had been driven, Kirby remarked, “You haven’t lot your touch, Charley.” He pondered aloud, “It’s funny that Brogan hasn’t heard about your boxing prowess from the old timers at the fort.” Turning to Ian, he added, “I’ve had men out there tell me that Charley was hell on wheels with his fists. Why, he held the bare knuckles championship of the regiment back when he was a sergeant.”

Charley looked at Kirby soberly. “Flattery won’t get you a free drink in here, Kirby.”

The lieutenant smiled as he reached for his coat. “Can’t drink anyway. I’m still on duty.” He turned to Ian. “I’ve got to get back to the fort; I’m Officer of the Day until midnight.”

Ian approached the bar as Kirby left. Holding out his hand to Kabernagel, he said, “Charley didn’t introduce us properly. I’m Ian McLaren from Emerson —- soon to be from St. Vincent, I hope.”

Kabernagle switched the bar rag to his left hand to shake. He smiled. “Just call me John.” He nodded toward the tarp. “Don’t think this happens every day. Why, it’s been nearly a year since Charley threw the last bum out.”

“Were you really prepared to use that shotgun?” Ian was curious.

“Hell! It hasn’t been loaded for years. Good convincer, though.” Kabernagle winked, “Don’t tell on me.”

Charley grimaced. “He lies a little bit, too. That gun is loaded for bear.” He began racking the pool balls on a table. “Come on, Ian. I’ll play you a game of rotation, we’d better light some lamps though.”

“I’ve watched, but I’ve never played pool. You’ll have to show me how.”

Charley looked at him suspiciously, then he finally shrugged. “Your education is sadly lacking; but nothing’s for free. It’s going to cost you five cents for every game you lose. He pinned on his badge and shrugged into his vest, pausing momentarily to check his watch. “We’ll play until noon. By that time John should have the bar set up for lunch.” Slyly he looked toward his partner. “Hopefully, that is.”

Kabernagel shook his head dourly at the remark.

Late that evening a dejected Eck Murphy walked into the bar of Smith’s Hotel in St. Vincent. The stale, beer-charged atmosphere did nothing to reduce the pain behind his eyes. A loud voice came from the back of the room. “What in hell are you doing over here, Murphy?”

The words snapped him out of his trance and he grinned foolishly as he advanced toward Brogan and his companions.

Wouldn’t you like to know? Why, hell, I’m a man of leisure now.” His attempt at a light bravado failed; it was obvious he was bitter.

“I take it, then, that you’ve been canned,” Brogan questioned.

“That pious son-of-a-bitch Collins fired me —- told me I had no respect for military discipline.”

“Should have slugged him,” Brogan grunted.

“Yah, and spend a month in the fort guardhouse, probably get the hell beat out of me too. I’m not that much of a fool.”

“Well, now that you’ve got time on your hands, you can buy us all a drink. You can still come back to the Crossing and bunk down with us for the remainder of the winter. That is, if you can grubstake yourself and helps out with the booze supply. ‘Course you’ll have to take your usual turn with an axe, getting firewood.” He turned to smile at his cronies seated at the table.

Murphy’s eyes suddenly seized upon Brogan’s face and neck. “Lordy, what happened to you? Your face looks like hell! Where did’ja get all those bandages on your neck and cheek?”

Brogan looked sheepish and evasive. “Fell through a window in Pembina this morning. Had a run-in with the sheriff."

Murphy, although a powerful man, knew of Brogan’s uncontrollable temper. He deemed it prudent not to ask more. Finally, he said reluctantly, “I’ve enough coin to carry me most of the winter. I should be able to get back on with the C.P.R. in the spring.” He looked toward the bartender. “Give us a bottle of your best whisky. Mind now, none of that rotgut you peddle.”

Smith, the hotel owner, gave Murphy a hard look. “All the booze I sell is good booze. Keep it peaceful and you can continue your drinking until you leave.”

Brogan became hostile. “And what if we aren’t peaceful?”

“If it comes to that, someone is going to get hurt, maybe killed.” Smith seemed unperturbed.

Murphy snorted. “There are six of us.”

The bartender’s right hand lifted from behind the bar; he leveled a long-barreled revolver at Murphy. “Yes, and there are six in this Colt. Even if you are lucky enough to kill me, you’ll end up dancing at the end of a rope, same as those breeds you hung.”

The two men sobered when they realized the barman wouldn’t back down. Looking at the faces of other bar patrons around the room they saw nothing but hostility. Brogan finally turned to Murphy, pointing to an empty chair. “Come on; sit down.” Casting a side glance toward the hotel owner, who was still pointing the gun, he said, “Hell, we was only funnin’. We’re not looking for trouble.”

Smith gave him a disgusted look. “Sure, I knew you were joking.” Under his breath, he said, “Like hell!”

Immediately after the bartender brought the bottle to their table, the group began to exchange talk in a furtive manner. Brogan said threateningly, “I’m going to get even with Brown, McLaren and that damned lieutenant from the fort. We’ve got to find out more about them.” He puzzled, “Wonder where McLaren came from?”

One of the men spoke up. “He’s from some farm just east of Orillia, along the railroad line. I heard him and his pa talking about it last fall when we graded that stretch north of Emerson.” He looked at Brogan, “You ought to know, you were our crew foreman.” He laughed. “You rode that young fellow pretty hard.”

Murphy leaned forward, suddenly interested. “So, he’s from the Orillia area, eh? Just east?” He looked thoughtful; memories were coming back of the bridge and the young black-haired girl he had caught there. Then he had been struck from behind by someone. Sudden confusion came; something exists here that I don’t understand. Then he slipped out of his near trance.

He teased Brogan, “You might need help with that young McLaren, he’ll be tough to handle. Not hard to find him, though. You just have to pick the time and place.”

“I’ll get him,” promised Brogan. “That Ralston fellow from the fort, he’ll be hard to corral. He’s always with others, hardly ever alone.”

Another of the men spoke up. “He’s chasing that good-looking, black-haired sister of McLaren’s. You should be able to come up with something on that. How about the sheriff? He’s damned dangerous.”

At the mention of the black-haired girl, the voice began again, flowing through Murphy’s head. Remember! Remember! Then suddenly he did remember, but it was of the girl he saw in front of the saloon last winter, the one he stopped, the one who looked familiar. Shaking his head, he pushed away the pulsing memory and said to Brogan, “Brown checks the downtown streets of Pembina nearly every night around midnight. Lots of opportunity to knock him off then.”

Brogan looked startled. “Hell, I just want to beat the hell out of him, not kill him. I’m not a cold-blooded murderer.”

“You have to take your chances—never know how it’ll turn out.” Murphy grinned as he exchanged looks with the others sitting at the table. Then, there it was! The pain began to throb behind his eyes again. The torment seemed to be of something missing, a vital link. He rubbed his temples in an effort to assuage the pain.

Brogan spoke up. “Got a headache? Hell, you need another shot, that’s all.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hallock Expatriate Reflections

Photograph by Mike HaubrichA very moving blog post from expatriate Mike Haubrich, who grew up in Hallock.

[Photograph by M. Haubrich]

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Historical Society Images I

Front and side view of the E.E. Barry Garage with four men standing out front. There are signs on the building advertising that say "E.E. Barry Garage, Lincoln Ford, Fordson Dealer. FISH Tires. Accessories. Services. Willard-Batt. Red Crown Gasoline. Goodrich Silvertowns, TUBES. New Constant viscosity Motor oil. Trucks. Genuine Ford and Fordson Parts SOLD - HERE. Allis-Chalmers tractor parts. US 81." There is a Red Crown gas pump on the left, and a utiliy pole and street light on the front right corner as well.

From the State Historical Society of North Dakota's Digital Horizons collection - See original record here...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Year in the Life of a Canoe Brigade

Chief Trader Archibald McDonald descending the Fraser, 1828 (Adam Sherriff Scott)
HBC Corporate Collection
When the North West Company built the Pembina River post in 1797, construction began on September 28th and ended on November 8th. In this time the brigade constructed a combined house, shop, and large house 70 feet long, plus two small houses. The proprietor and eight men lived in the large house, and the rest in the two smaller ones...One of the best accounts of the construction of a post is given by Alexander Henry the Younger...
From a fascinating article entitled A Year in the Life of a Canoe Brigade from the even MORE fascinating Northwest Journal. The journal is an incredible compendium of all things fur trade in our region. My hats are off to the people who created this amazing website!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Humboldt Son Returns

This last June and July(2008), there was an opportunity to return to America for a conference and a family holiday. During that time, we travelled yet again to Humboldt, Minnesota. We went there to see my Mom who was planning to stay up there for about a month. We stayed for ten days and got a chance to capture some new memories, perhaps for the last time.

I always ponder why the town is shrinking. The bottom line answer is that people just don’t stay because there is nothing there to do besides farming. There is some hope working for the elevator or even the bus factory and potentially for customs but these job choices are fairly limited and in high demand. Most likely people would work from Hallock or Pembina instead. It really doesn’t look good for Humboldt in the long run.

I was incredibly nostalgic when we visited Humboldt. Without limits, I wanted to soak up what it was and what it is. It is a hidden refuge, a placid timekeeper, a stabilize force. It is my roots. I did what I could. I took more than 100 pictures in and around the house and tried my best to remember what it meant to be in Humboldt. Hopefully that will be enough.

Now that my Grandparents are no longer in Humboldt and the house will potentially soon be gone, there is much less of a reason to go there. There is still some family nearby. However, things are not quite the same. Another factor is remoteness. If you are going to Humboldt, there really is not anything thing else on the way unless you are going to Canada.
To read the whole post, go here...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

kirby b. johnson photojournal

Halma, MinnesotaI stumbled across a blog today featuring shots taken in Kittson County such as the above, and this. There are others of our county on his website, but many from other locations, also. I'm not sure what the photographer's link to Kittson County is, but he's good; it was fun seeing our county through an amazing photographer's viewpoint...

Saturday, October 03, 2009


On New Year's Day Ian and Pete left St. Vincent, headed east across the ridge country toward the cabin of Henry Germaine. Ian had information that Germaine had a large cache of furs on hand. Pete was riding one of Ian's mules and was leading a second animal that carried their gear. They found the Métis' log cabin practically on the border, nestled on the south edge of heavy timber.

That night Ian examined and purchased a large number of beaver and mink pelts which had supposedly been trapped along the Two Rivers. Their host produced a sizeable jug of Hudson's Bay rum, prompting Ian to suspect the furs he was purchasing came from the Canadian side of the line. He queried Germaine, "Henry, you can't fool me. Your furs all came from across the border, probably caught along the Roseau and Rat Rivers."

Germaine belched prodigiously, and then laughed, exposing a small mouth concealed beneath a huge beard. "No matter where they from. They are here now." He thumped the table with his fist. "Damned Hudson's Bay, they want all furs but won't give anything for them, hardly no hard cash, want to give only trade goods!"

Ian exchanged a glance with Pete, who was already well into his cups. His hired man remarked judiciously, "Like he say, no matter now."

They slept on the floor of Germaine's cabin that night and awoke in the morning to find a strong northwest wind with new-falling snow. The mush Germaine fried for their breakfast was scorched, adding much to the foul odor of the cabin. A near whiteout storm was whipping up, forcing the two men to hurriedly pack up their furs and saddle-up. Ian was tempted to wait for the wind to diminish, but the thought of spending another day penned up in Henry's cabin was distasteful. While saddling the horses and putting the packs on the mule, Ian glanced out of the open-sided lean-to at the blowing snow. "It's going to be a humdinger, Pete."

Pete looked toward the west as he tightened the hitch on the mule's pack. He had a wry look on his face. "Long, cold ride home."

It was full daylight at 8:00 a.m. when they rode into the fine sifting snow, which was driven by an ever-increasing wind. Ian was forced to tighten his scarf around his high collar to prevent the snow from melting and running down his neck. After two hours on the trail he wished they had remained at Germaine's. Pete was morose and silent, evidently suffering from his over-indulgence of the previous evening.

Several times Ian surreptitiously consulted his pocket compass to reassure himself that they were headed directly west, primarily due to the fact that at times the visibility was zero. He was careful to hide his action from Pete, not wanting to show he distrusted his guide.

Near mid morning, just as they were paralleling a heavy poplar thicket on their right, the animals began to act up nervously, and then stopped. Seconds later, the two men became aware of a rumbling sound to their front. Suddenly a large group of trotting horses loomed out of the near white-out, almost colliding with them. The hard-pressed herd passed on either side of them, and momentarily they caught a brief glimpse of the two hunched figures. As they turned to watch the departing animals, they noted the herders swinging them to the north, into the bush.

Pete pulled his mule close and shouted to Ian. "Maybe twenty-thirty horse and mules. Something wrong!"

"Yes!" Ian yelled. "Did you recognize the herders?" Pete raised his hand to his mouth to deflect the strong wind. "No! Too quick!"

During the next two hours of cold, plodding travel into the angling wind, Ian puzzled over the incident. Who in his right mind would pick this day to drive horses any distance? Then a suspicion grew in his mind. Could they be stolen? Shucks! Can't be! The large number of animals precluded theft, he reasoned; even at the Pembina fort he doubted there were that many horses or mules. Still a reeling of mystery remained that he was unable to shake.

When they crossed the open sand ridge area at noon, the drifting snow thinned due to the predominance of high grass. There, coming directly toward them was a large group of horsemen. Ian noted those in the lead were soldiers; then he recognized Kirby Ralston. It was apparent the lieutenant was in command of the troops. Within moments Ian and Pete found themselves surrounded by an obviously hostile group of men. Fortunately, Kirby recognized Ian.

"What is hell are you doing out in this blizzard?" Kirby's scarf was encrusted with frost and his horse was breathing heavily, casting streams of vapor. He looked tense, almost angry.

"Are you looking for horses?" Ian suddenly realized his first suspicions were correct.

"Hell, yes, almost the entire herd from the fort. We've been following their tracks east, but we've lost them in this snow. How did you know?"

Ian became aware that several of the group were civilians from Pembina. Then he recognized Brogan and several other disreputable men.

He pointed to them. "Where did you get that crew?"

Kirby sounded disgusted. "I'm after the fort horses. This town bunch joined us after we crossed the river. They claim they lost some horses in Pembina. They aren't under my command, but, by golly, they better obey me!"

Brogan blustered, "We just came along to help." He pointed to Ian and Pete accusingly, "You'd better check that pair, Lieutenant. They're probably the thieves -- got the horses hidden away somewhere."

Ian ignored Brogan's remark. "A couple of hours ago we saw a bunch of horse -- maybe thirty. They swung north into the bush after passing by us. There were two men herding them."

"Will you backtrack and show us where they turned off?”

"Sure thing. Only trouble is, it's been blowing so hard our tracks may already be covered over." He turned to Pete. "Do you think we can find that bush where they turned?"

Pete nodded. "Sure thing! We find, and tracks still be plain in bush."

Some of the civilians crowded closely to Ian and Kirby, anxious to hear what was being said. Others were restless and began arguing. One burly, heavily bearded teamster, Eck Murphy, growled, "They cleaned out the fort corral last night after the storm blew up. We borrowed most of these horses in Pembina and St. Vincent for the chase."

Kirby questioned Pete, "You think we can catch them before they cross the border?"

Pete shrugged his shoulders questioningly, "Maybe."

A teamster spoke up angrily, "Border, hell! Maybe you soldiers can't cross it, but, by God, the rest of us can! And will! We're going to hang those bastards!"

Kirby shot back, "We're going to take them back alive if we can. Any of you with other ideas can head back home." He turned to Ian. "You ready?"

"Sure! I have my Winchester, but Pete is unarmed."

"I come too!" Pete looked around at the hard-looking group. "Lots of guns here, maybe too damn many."

Kirby turned to his men and motioned with his arm; the noise of the wind almost totally smothered his shouted command. The troopers fell into line behind him, forming a column of two's as their horses broke into a trot. The non-military men straggled behind.

The drifting snow was rapidly filling Ian and Pete's old tracks, leaving them barely discernible. It was nearly two hours later when the bush suddenly loomed up as a dark wall. Pete, who was riding beside Ian, shouted to Kirby.

Turning his horse alongside Ian, Kirby asked, "What's he want?"

A hurried conversation took place between Ian and Pete with a puzzled Kirby trying to make out Pete's broken shouting over the gusty wind noise.

Ian turned to Kirby. "He says for half of us to check along the edge of the bush for tracks where the thieves entered, then follow them slowly. The rest should swing around to the north of this bush, then spread out to cut them off on the other side. He says this is a big bush, maybe two or three miles across.

Kirby eyed the breed for moments, realizing the wisdom of his advice. "I'll take my men around to the north edge to cover it. I just hope they've stopped to rest; if they haven't, they're in Canada by now."

He turned to Murphy, one of the recently hired teamsters from the fort. "Take the fort workers and the Pembina men and find where they entered the scrub. Push them toward us if they're still in there, but give me plenty of time to get my men into place. Remember," he warned, "I want those men alive -- not dead!" From the scornful looks on the men's faces, Kirby felt a moment of distrust. He knew the teamsters and the civilians present possibly represented the dregs of the fort and the trash of the two towns. Still, he felt that his men would make the capture; surely the thieves would run from this pursuing bunch.

Turning away, Kirby and his platoon quickly broke away from the group and headed north along the west edge of the bush. Ian felt disappointed at not being asked to accompany Kirby, inasmuch as he had qualms about being left with this unsavory lot.

Minutes later, shouts indicated that one of the men had found where the stolen horses had been turned into the trees. Entering the thicket, and finally out of the wind, the men dismounted to give the soldiers time to get into position. As the bitter cold began to penetrate their clothing, the men began their drive. They were forced to lead the horses, each individual picking his own way through the tangle of deadfalls and heavy brush.

Ian estimated they had penetrated only one-half mile when the acrid odor of smoke became noticeable. Gathering together, the group discussed the possibilities of capturing the two men.

"They stop to rest," said Pete, "Build fire to eat and warm. Maybe spend the night."

Eck Murphy turned to his friends. "We'll split up and surround them. Three of us can move in on either side of them. The rest of you spread out in a line, keeping abreast. Push straight into them, but be damned careful to give us plenty of time to pen them up." He grinned, "Ralston isn't going to take this pair back to the fort if we get them!"

Ian's temper rose when he realized the men had no intention of taking the thieves alive. "You heard what the Lieutenant said, leave those men to the law if we find them. If you kill them, we'll all be in trouble."

The civilian posse exchanged sly grins. Brogan spoke up menacingly, "You keep your mouth shut, sonny! If you're not man enough to go along with us, take your breed and get the hell out of here! We don't need your advice." Under his black beard Brogan's lips curled in derision.

Ian noted the sudden look of hatred Pete gave Brogan. Having worked with Pete the past two months, he knew his hired man hated to be called a breed. He also knew Pete might be a dangerous man when crossed. To prevent an immediate confrontation, he said resignedly, "Well, we'll ride along with you, but remember, if anything untoward happens, it'll be on your heads."

Several of the men gave Ian a disgusted look. Brogan expressed his further contempt by spitting a stream of tobacco juice in Ian's direction before turning away. The men began tethering their horses to the trees around them, ignoring Ian and Pete, who obviously were not in accord with the plan.

The remaining men waited until after Eck Murphy's two flanking groups disappeared from sight. After a few minutes the penetrating cold forced the men into action. Spreading out abreast, yards apart, they began their silent drive.

Ian was hesitant to follow closely and consulted with Pete. "I wonder what will happen. Should we follow them?"

There was a stolid look on his helper's face as he nodded, and then began leading the two mules in the direction of the disappearing men.

Suddenly three rapid shots were heard some distance to their front, the signal of a rendezvous call. They could hear the crashing of brush ahead of them as the posse hurried to respond to the firing.

Following existing paths taken by the hunters, Ian and Pete caught up with the pursuers within minutes and found the men they had been following had rejoined Murphy's teamsters. The group was standing around a small fire, laughing and shouting boisterously, jeering at their two captives who had been caught in their sleeping robes. Two men were already preparing coffee at the small fire, the ingredients and pot probably garnered from the supplies carried by the thieves. Two saddled horses were tied to nearby trees. Near them other animals were standing, heads hanging with fatigue. Examining the captives closely as they lay on the ground, Ian could see the looks of despair on their faces.

Murphy's voice suddenly rang out over the clamor of conversation. "Let's get at it!"

Roughly rousting the two to their feet, the men of the posse quickly tied their hands behind their backs and hustled them under a tree. Two ropes were produced, slipknots tied, and nooses placed around the culprits' necks. Ian was forced to admire the courage of the two thieves, since neither uttered a word of protest. It seemed they accepted their obvious fate. Remembering Kirby's admonition, Ian stepped forward to protest the hanging, only to have Pete seize his arm.

"Stay, Ian. We can do nothing!"

Ian turned toward Pete and saw the drawn face and expression of disgust. In a low voice he asked, "Do you know the two men?"

"They live in the Hair Hills to the west. They are thieves." Pete looked angry. "Even so, not to hang them!"

A brief argument ensued among the men, one townsman insisting a proper hangman's knot be tied. Brogan countered, "What the hell? What's wrong with a slip knot? We're just stringing up these bastards."

Another brief argument began, some insisting they mount the prisoners on horseback. Someone else squelched that argument by throwing the end of one rope over a high out-jutting limb. The other rope end followed within seconds.

It was Murphy's voice that again rang out, "Grab the ends and hoist!" Gasping, choking sounds were heard as the ropes tightened and cut into the necks of the prisoners; they were mercilessly hoisted into the air, the rope ends tied off.

Ian felt bitter bile crawl into his mouth and the sour taste of it as the two victims jerked, kicked and twisted, slowly strangling. Many of the group laughed and joked as they watched the sickening sight; others were silent, almost as if regretting their participation.

The conversation ceased when the sound of approaching men and horses was heard from the north. Kirby and his men had heard the gunshots.

Emerging from the heavy poplar thicket into the small clearing, the lieutenant brushed the snow from his shoulders. Then he noticed the two victims. Boldly walking near the hanging men, he studied their faces. After pausing for long moments, he suddenly turned to face the civilians.

"You sons-of-bitches! Just couldn't wait, could you? I'll probably be blamed for this. He demanded vehemently, “Who’s idea was this?”

Brogan spoke up defiantly, "Shucks, just looks like two suicides to me."

Some of the guilty men pretended disinterest, turning their backs, as if busy at other things. Others were scornful, obviously siding with Brogan. Murphy interjected saucily, "Must be suicides, Lieutenant.

Kirby cast a scornful glance at the guilty men, finally turning to his platoon. "Gather up all the stolen horses and mules. We're going back to the fort tonight."

The fort soldiers approached a few of the animals to attach lead ropes in preparation for the move back to the fort. Kirby noted that Ian and Pete were standing well away from the main group of men, easing his fear that they had been involved. Addressing Ian, he said, "You two want to ride back with me?'

"You bet!" Ian felt relieved, glad to avoid any further unpleasantness.

"Wait a minute, Lieutenant. We'll all ride along with you." Brogan's voice carried a pleading tone.

"Like hell you will! I'm taking all of the stolen animals back to the fort; you can get back on your own." He pointed to the hanging bodies. "Murphy, you and the other fort teamsters pack those two bodies back to Dr. Appel's dispensary. They'll have to be accounted for."

"How about the Pembina and St. Vincent horses?" demanded Brogan. "You can't take them!"

"I can take them, and will!" Kirby replied caustically, "I doubt you men own any of them." He glared at the civilians contemptuously, "If I ever see you-all again, it will be too soon to suit me!"

When they left the woods, the wind had died; the crunching steps of the horses and creaking leather of the saddles were the only sounds. Darkness was already over-spreading the sky. The soldiers were cold, hungry and quiet.

It was long after dark when they arrived at St. Vincent, where Kirby halted the patrol briefly. Turning his horse toward Ian, he spoke in a soft voice. "Ian, will you come out to the fort in the morning and give Captain Collins your version of the hanging?" He continued speaking quietly so his men could not overhear. "I'll probably be blamed for the deaths of those two men, and in a way it was my fault. I shouldn't have trusted that bunch."

Ian nodded in agreement. "Sure, I'll come if it will help you." He added ruefully, "It's going to be mighty hard to get up in the morning. Judas! I'm cold and tired."

Breaking away from the line of troops as they resumed their way to the fort, Pete suggested, "You stay with me tonight. No sense going to Emerson, then to fort in morning."

Ian felt grateful for the offer, but apprehensive at being invited to spend the night at Grant's house. Then he thought of Susan's surprise at finding him there in the morning. An involuntary smile came as he said, "Good idea!" He turned his horse to follow Pete toward Grant's log barn near the edge of the road.

While he tended to the animals in the barn, Pete stored the purchased furs in the woodshed adjoining the house. Finally they entered the kitchen where Pete removed his heavy mittens to light a lamp. Within moments Annette appeared, dressed in a dark robe. She immediately began to converse with Pete in the Cree language. For moments Ian was totally ignored; Pete was evidently relating the happenings to her.

Ian gradually felt the pleasant warmth dissipating the long cold. He could feel his cheeks begin to burn, the numbness leaving his toes, causing them to ache. A lethargic feeling began to creep over him.

Annette finally turned to him. "Ian, I'll make coffee and fry eggs and pork. You men must be starved. Pete says neither of you has eaten since early morning. It's too late for you to go home. You can bunk with Pete." She stopped her bustling by the stove. Breaking into a smile, she pointed at Pete, saying, "If you can stand his snoring."

Ian found himself glancing at the stairs as he ate, all the while hoping Susan would awaken and join them. Evidently the remaining members of the family were sound sleepers for no one appeared.

The sound of wood being fed to the stove and the rattle of utensils awoke Ian the next morning. He became aware of the tantalizing odor of bannock being fried, and could tell oatmeal had been added to the flour and bacon fat. Swinging his legs to obtain a sitting position on the edge of the bed, he glanced at Pete, who appeared to be alternately snoring and gasping for breath. The quivering and vibrating of his lips as he exhaled brought a smile to Ian's face. Thinking he had overslept, he hurriedly dressed and entered the kitchen to find Annette cracking eggs into a frying pan. Marguerite, who was setting the table, turned to smile at him.

Grinning back guiltily, he tugged out his pocket watch to discover it was early, only a bit past six. Casting a glance out the window he noted it was still dark.

"The light of your life is primping for you," Marguerite teased. "If she'd known you stayed here last night, she'd have been the first in the kitchen this morning." Her manner then changed to a serious tone, "Mother told me about you and Pete helping the Army chase those horse thieves, and of the soldiers hanging them. I can't believe the men at the fort would do such a thing. They've always seemed so kind and polite."

"It wasn't the soldiers; they weren't the guilty ones. The dirty work was done by the fort teamsters and riff-raff from the local saloons." While he explained the details to Marguerite, Susan entered the kitchen and moved behind his chair. Her hand slipped to the back of his neck and he looked up at her longingly. Her long, shiny black hair was slowly slipping from behind one shoulder, gradually covering the side of her face as she smiled down at him.

"This is the first time you've seen her this early in the morning. She isn't always this neat." Marguerite was being mischievous.

Susan scrunched up her face at her sister. "How about you? Did you pretty-up for Ian?"

Marguerite shrugged her shoulders, raising her hand to regally smooth back her long hair. "Well, I didn't want to scare him to death. He might never come back."

Ian smiled as he turned to encircle Susan's waist with his arm. "No fear about that!"

The hinges of the bedroom door adjoining the kitchen squealed as Pete entered the room. He sat down heavily at the table, his face drawn with weariness. His hair was uncombed and his wool shirt only partially fastened, disclosing an expanse of grey wool underwear. He looked slowly around the room. Appraising the girls carefully, he turned to address Annette. "Woman, You're still the best- looking female in the house!"

The girls exchanged quick glances at this outburst, and Annette turned her face to the stove to hide her embarrassment. Ian detected, as Susan had previously implied, that there was more to their liaison than met the eye. He was glad Grant was still abed, remembering the man's sudden show of anger when Pete addressed Susan as daughter on Christmas day. Still, glancing at the faces of the two girls, he could detect no rancor.

After breakfast when Ian mentioned that Kirby had requested he go to the fort, Susan smiled. "Then you can give me a ride to Pembina. I have beds to make and rooms to clean at Geroux's hotel before school starts."

"You ride to Pembina with Ian, and I walk. That darned Charley has never given me a ride on his horse. Sometimes it seems he's ashamed of me." Marguerite seemed irritated.

Ian remained silent for he knew little of Sheriff Brown's personal life. Rather than remain for what might develop into involved talk, he went to the barn to saddle his horse. When Susan appeared, he held out his hand to ease her mount onto the horse. To his surprise she swung into the saddle instead, revealing the fact that she wore a long split skirt. She smiled down at him and reached for the reins. Shaking his head in feigned anger, he mounted behind her and kneed the horse into action. At Geroux's hotel she lightly slipped from the saddle and turned to him. "I'll be back here after school is out. I have to set the supper tables; but I'll be done before six. Will I see you again today?" There was a wistful look on her face.

"I'll see you then, and carry you home."

She smiled up at him as she turned to the hotel steps.