Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Brain Drain

Amen to the message of this video.

This is what has been happening to my hometown and all such hometowns for many years now. As the video says at the end, it does NOT have to be this way, and those with the most at stake, the residents of these towns, have GOT to wake up and take back responsibility and action for what's going on...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


It was only a week after Patrick and Maggy moved into their new house in St. Vincent that Susan made the suggestion of a housewarming party.

"Ian, your folks have moved into the new house and no one has arranged a housewarming for them. Why don't we do it? It would be a wonderful surprise for your family and an opportunity for them to meet their neighbors. Don't the Irish and Scots do such a thing?"

He began to grin. "They sure do -- weddings, wakes and all; but to most of them it's just an excuse for a drunken party." Mulling it over in his mind, he finally said, "They'd like it, but how do we go about it? I'd have to make excuses to Pa and it would have to be planned for a Sunday. Even after his shift as foreman for the railroad he plows every Sunday to give the rest of us a break. We're trying to get 480 acres ready to seed next year."

Susan nodded. "Let's get Mary in on the plan. Between us we can do the invitations. We'll ask friends from Emerson and the local St. Vincent folks. Perhaps Kirby can extend invitations to some of the officers and men from the fort that know your folks. Could you see Reverend Scott? A lot of the Presbyterian congregation will want to be invited."

"That's no problem. How about food?"

"Silly, that's no concern. Everyone brings food to a housewarming. Besides, Marguerite and I can cook up a turkey and a couple of hams. We'll get Mary to do the baking." She hesitated a moment, then said, "No, that's not a good idea. Your mother will know something's up."

"How about some beer?" Ian said slyly.

Susan pointed her finger. "You can get a keg from the brewery, but only beer. No hard liquor, hear?"

He laughed, "I'll hide it behind the woodpile."

She snuggled close to him. "It seems something other than lemonade is always welcome at a party. Remember, nothing stronger though."

Susan consulted with Mary, and for the rest of the week they were busy with invitations and arrangements for food.

Ian informed Charley Brown of the proposed party and enlisted him to invite the most prominent citizens of Pembina.

When Patrick and Maggy returned home from the Presbyterian Church service the following Sunday, they found the street in the vicinity of their home crowded with buggies. "Oh, my gosh!" Maggie exclaimed. "Someone has been hurt!" She grasped Patrick's arm. "Could it be a fire?"

Gradually, as they grew closer to their home, Patrick heard the clopping sound of horses behind them. Turning, he recognized several of his fellow parishioners from the church -- they seemed to be following his buggy. "Don't know, Maggie. Looks like some sort of gathering." He was puzzled.

A spot in front of their house had been left vacant, enabling him to turn his horse into the yard. As they made the turn, a crowd of men and women surged forward, shouting, "Surprise! Surprise!"

Ian, Susan, Kirby and Mary, accompanied by the boys, approached the buggy as Patrick stepped down and took the baby from Maggy's arms. Ian stepped forward to help his mother dismount. Immediately the crowd gathered around to express their congratulations. Mary took Kathleen from her father's arms, saying, "You both must come with me. This is your official housewarming party from the folks of the community."

Maggy turned to Patrick and dug her elbow into his ribs. "Did you plan all this, you scalawag?"

Baffled, Patrick began to grin. "No, but I'm going along with it, and so are you."

Susan joined Mary and they escorted Maggy to the back of the house where a long table had been set up to hold the food. Maggy was amazed to see a huge turkey, hams, roasts, vegetables, pickles, jellies and a gigantic pot of steaming mashed potatoes, all covered by a strip of cheesecloth. She glanced around to see Kirby and the sheriff escorting her husband toward the woodpile near the partially completed barn. Turning to Susan, she demanded, "Where are they taking Pat?"

Ian, who had followed his mother, laughed. "Just off to prime the pump, Ma."

The shock of the surprise wore off and Maggy began to laugh. "Well, since it's a party for our family, I'm going to enjoy it." She looked at Ian coyly. "I'll even try one glass of beer, son. At least I hope its only beer you have."

Susan took Maggy's hand, "There's more. We have another table you must see." The table she referred to was covered with wrapped packages, household gifts from the guests.

While Maggy hesitated in awe, Reverend Scott chided, "You must open the gifts before we partake of the food. I'll round up Patrick to assist you."

While Patrick stood by, Maggie opened gift after gift to find they yielded a wealth of necessary items, many of which she already had: pots, pans, a huge roaster, plates, cups, saucers, towels, an embroidered tablecloth, even a wool-covered soapstone for warming their bed at night.

When the gifts were all displayed, Mary called out, "Time to eat, everyone!" She and Susan lifted the cheesecloth covering from the long table while Patrick escorted his wife to the end where the plates and utensils were stacked. A long line of guests began to form behind them. While Reverend Scott offered grace, Jerold made a trip into the house to get Maggy's rocking chair and the high-backed chair for his father. Ian and Kirby had previously brought all the other chairs from the house, but because of the huge crowd, many of the guests were forced to sit on the grass.

Word spread among the men of the keg behind the woodpile and the traffic became noticeable. While no woman would brave the passage, Maggy noted that several of the men returned with cups for their wives.

When the supply of lemonade ran low, Ian and Charley procured ice from the icehouse and made more in the kitchen. Patrick noticed that Jerald and Knute were surrounded by several of the local girls. It appeared the two boys had overcome their bashfulness. Still, although Knute seemed to bask in their attention, Jerold appeared to be on the defensive.

By 3 o'clock several of the crowd had left for their homes and, an hour later, all were gone. A final family group surrounded Patrick and Maggy. Susan nudged Ian surreptitiously when she saw Charley Brown slip away with her sister.

The day had gone well and Maggy was pleased. She had met many people and all were pleasant and kind. Not a thing had happened to mar the day. She expressed her thanks succinctly. "It's been a wonderful day and you've all been so kind to plan this party for Pat and me." She looked around the circle. "I only hope the day will come when we can do the same for you."

Mary began to clap her hands softly, and everyone joined in.

By mid-July the early wheat crop was fully headed and ripening. Jerold judged that by July 20 they would begin cutting.

"You sure you've plowed good firebreaks around each of the fields, Jerold?"

"Best as we can, Pa. There have been so many prairie fires lately, and it's been so dry, that Knute and I plowed a few extra strips."

Ian was incensed. "All the prairie fires we've had so far this summer have been set by humans. We haven't had any bad storms with lightning since the middle of June. I hear the Pembina County Commissioners are offering a $100 reward for anyone who reports an arsonist. Just the other day Mr. Forsyth, who lives west of Pembina, returned home in time to see his haystack and rack burning. He saw the man who set the fire running for the border. Forsyth tried to fight the fire but lost the stack and his hay wagon. If he hadn't stopped to fight the fire, he might have caught the arsonist. The man was either crazy or had a monstrous grudge."

It was a day later when Frank Webb, a farmer who owned land bordering Ian's, appeared at Patrick's door. From the grim expression on his face Patrick knew something was wrong.

"Is Ian around, Pat? We've got trouble."

"Come in for coffee, Frank. Ian went over to Grant's to see Susan. They plan to marry in the future." Pat led the way into the kitchen.

"I've heard that. I don't know her well, but she is certainly a looker." He hesitated. "Does Ian know someone tried to burn his wheat field last night, the one that adjoins mine?

Patrick was startled. "What do you mean tried?”

"Someone damn well tried to burn his field last night. The only thing that saved it was the dew and the lack of a wind. I never noticed the fire, just spotted the burn area as I came past on my way to town this morning. Who would do such a thing? My God, if his field had gone up in smoke, it might have taken my wheat, too. I would have lost maybe $4000 or more."

"Judas! Thanks for telling me. I'll round up Ian and Jerold and have a look." He shook his head. "Do you suppose the scoundrel will try it again?"

"Don't know, but I'm going to plow a firebreak, too." Frank looked troubled. "Should have done it long ago, but it's a lot of extra work. Got to now, I guess." His voice hardened, "If I see anyone who doesn't belong out there, I'll dust him with my shotgun. I guess the only thing that saved Ian's field was the fact that it was done at night. Golly, during the hot part of the day, and with a wind, it would have gone like a flash."

By the time Patrick found the boys and they reached Ian's land, it was nearly noon. It was apparent little damage had been done, for only a narrow strip along the north edge of the wheat had been burned. Patrick and Jerold watched from the buggy as Ian walked the burned portion. They saw Ian bend over to pick up an object. When he returned to the buggy, he was twisting a long wire into a coil. "Whoever it was must have tied a rag at the end of this line, soaked it with coal oil, and then dragged the wire behind him." He looked up to his father and Jerold.

"Bet it was that Brogan. I've never done any hurt to him, but for some reason he dislikes me. I'll see Charley Brown. Maybe he can check on Brogan's whereabouts last night."

"It'll be difficult to prove; might have been someone else -- it's hard to say," Patrick mused. "There are those that have nothing and are jealous of anyone who has. We should keep it quiet and see who says anything. Webb says he is going to start a firebreak alongside your land and I don't blame him. He would have lost heavily, too."

Late that afternoon Ian found the sheriff at his saloon in Pembina. He was involved in a pool game with Deputy Bill Moorhead. Charley noted the grim expression on Ian's face as he entered the door and grinned at Moorhead. "Ian looks fit to kill, doesn't he?" He laughed, "Come looking for trouble, or have you already found it?"

"Darn near it, Charley. Someone tried to burn my wheat field last night. I think Brogan is behind it!"

Charley and his deputy exchanged startled glances.

"You mean that 60 acres Jerold cropped for you?"

Ian nodded. "I was lucky this time, only lost about a quarter acre. It was done last night. If there had been a little wind, blooey!"

"You're probably right, Ian. But it'll be darn hard to prove. I'll snoop around and try to find where Brogan was last night; but even if he has no alibi, it's little proof."

Moorhead spoke up. "Maybe we should pass the word around town that you're hot on the trail of an arsonist. It might make whoever it is think twice about trying it again.”

"Look for tracks, Ian?" Charley leaned over the pool table and sank an easy shot.

"There weren't any in the field that I could see. If there were, the ashes from the burned grain would have hidden them."

Moorhead interrupted. "How careful did you check the road, son? The man had to be either afoot or horseback." He turned to Charley. "Let's go out and have a look. We can pick up Pete at Grant's. He can track a flea in a hailstorm."

"I never thought of Pete." Ian suddenly realized how little he actually knew of Pete's abilities. He felt foolish, remembering how Pete had never gotten them lost even during the worst of the winter storms. His instinct had seemed almost uncanny.

"Let's finish this game first. We have plenty of time until dark. Ian, do me a favor. Go to Mason's stable and ask him to hitch up my buggy. No, best ask for a two-seater."

Later, at Ian's wheat field, the three men watched as Pete walked the burned portion, kneeling occasionally to carefully brush away-blackened particles. At the end of the torched strip he shook his head. Straightening up, he cut across to the road and walked slowly back toward them. Suddenly he knelt down, and then looked up; he was smiling.

As they approached, he held out his arms to protect something on the ground. There, partially covered with tufts of grass was an imprint of a large boot.

Charley said grimly, "If that's the guilty man's print, he has big feet, it's over a foot in length, way over. It must be at least a size 12 or 14 boot. Doesn't tell us much, but it would eliminate some. Still, a lot of the Norwegians working on the railroad are big men."

Moorhead spoke up. "Sure, but what would they be doing way out here? There's nothing around but prairie and grain fields." He gazed down at Pete. "Look further along the trail toward town and see if you can find any more tracks."

More footprints of the same man were found, but the boot soles left no clue. There were no identifiable cuts or breaks in the leather. It was apparent to the men that the boots were nearly new for the sole imprints were sharp and not rounded.

"Might as well go back to town," Charley said morosely. All we've learned is that he has big feet."

Moorhead laughed, "Guess we'll all be looking for big feet in town. I'd rather look at the small feet of the ladies."

"Thought you were too old for that." Charley grinned.

"Never! When that happens, bury me."

Murphy's job of wrestling ties for the C.P.R. roadbed ended at 6 P.M. After eating supper, he caught a ride to St. Vincent. The next hours were spent in Fri's bar. His alter-ego had come back, needling him about Brogan. He's a damn coward, afraid to kill. I'm not! I'll show him how to get even. I'll fix that damned sheriff!

He felt like a caged tiger. Why, honesty and responsibility were the morals of fools. Why worry about remorse and uncertainty? He had occasional pulsing memories of things he had done: they came and left in flashes. I'll never be caught. I'm too smart!

His head began to throb again. The voice was pushing, pushing. There was something missing. Ah, again it was Brogan's reluctance; he was afraid of the sheriff. Well, he ought to be after the beating he took. A sudden recollection came of digging in the corral in Pembina. Did I do that? Yes, I did! I remember now.

Then came a brief memory of the bridge at Orillia. He had slept in the hobo jungle for days and watched the girl cross the bridge many times before he was able to trap and catch her. It's said that McLaren family came from east of Orillia . . . then something happened that hurt me. Yes, and I had to hide for days, but she's the one! Maybe I can get that young snippet, even that McLaren's breed girl friend. I'll fix them in more ways than one if I can get my hands on them! A fanatical gleam came to his eyes. The strange feeling crept over him again and his recollections faded. He felt his head nearly exploding. Rubbing it forcefully, he tried to massage the pain away.

The owner of the saloon, George Fri, had been noting Murphy's strange behavior. "Are you sick, man? If you're going to puke, go outside."

Murphy glared at him, then finally stood and left the saloon. His stomach was rolling, and leaning against the building, he vomited repeatedly onto the wooden sidewalk. Puzzling in the darkness, he decided what he would do. His hidden brother's voice came encouragingly as he set out for Pembina. We'll never be caught. We'll never be caught.

He found the ferry closed for the night as he expected. Removing his clothes and boots, he waded the river. Thirty minutes later he slipped into the rear of Mason's livery.

He left the stable limping and in a temper. He was massaging his thigh where the horse had landed a wicked kick. The burning ache from the hoof incensed him even more. I'll be back and burn that whole damned stable next time. A sudden feeling of pleasure overwhelmed him as he imagined the massive flames and roar of the fire. Watching a big fire was almost as good as having a woman. But he'd not hang around to watch, that would be dangerous. Too bad! His brother's words came encouragingly, "Do it! Do it!" He nodded and vowed, Next week, for sure!

At 7 a.m. the following morning, two days after the arsonist's unsuccessful attempt to burn Ian's wheat field, the sheriff was seated in Captain Bob's barbershop having his morning shave. After applying several hot towels to Charley’s face, Bob brushed on the final lather, and then began to strop his razor.

At that moment the hostler from Mason's livery barn burst excitedly into the shop.

"Sheriff, Mr. Mason wants you to come to the stable right away. You'll have to decide what to do about your horse."

Charley waved Bob's hand away. "Which horse? What's wrong?"

"It's your black, your buggy horse. He wants you now."

"What's wrong with Blacky?"

"All cut to hell, that's what!"

Charley bolted upright in the chair. "Is this some sort of joke? It's not April Fool's day."

"I don't fool about a cut horse. Some bastard tied a feed sack around the muzzle of your animal and cut the hell out of her hide."

"Gimme a rag, Bob!" Then, without waiting, the sheriff wiped his face with the apron covering him. Grimly he stepped from the chair and said to the hostler, "Let's go!"

It was only a block to the stable, but Charley's long legs left Mason's man far behind. Entering the large open door of the barn, he found three men standing around his black mare. Mason was dabbing a pad at the blood running from long cuts on the horse's loins and back, evidently trying to stem the flow.

Charley stood stunned and speechless. Then he felt sick. His first clear thought was, Oh, Lord, I'll have to have her put down.

Mason turned, "Charley, I don't know when it happened. Joe has been here all night, but he's been in the office most of the time. He says he didn't hear a thing, and I guess he's right. Look what I found tied around the head of your mare," he added, pointing to a grain sack and several feet of twine that lay on the floor. "I heard a strange flapping noise when I came in through the back door just a few minutes ago." He pointed to Charley's horse.

"She was pawing and shaking her head, trying to get the sack off. I never heard of anyone doing this to an animal before. You've got someone who must hate you like hell, to pull a stunt like this!"

Charley's mind was like a smoldering fuse attached to sticks of dynamite. That damned Brogan! It's his way of getting back at me. His mind turned to Ian's fire. At least Brogan wasn't guilty of that, seeing he was working 30 miles north of Emerson at the time. He couldn't have covered those miles and gotten back the same night. He's got friends though. Damn his friends! It had to be one or more of them that did this.

Mason broke in, breaking his trend of thought. "I've sent for Porteous, the veterinary. It's my stable and my responsibility. I'll bear any costs, even if we have to dispose of her."

Charley stepped to the mare's head and began stroking her gently. She was shivering steadily, and periodically she shuddered. Her glossy coat was blotted, wet and sticky.

"No need, Bob. She's my horse, and if someone did this to spite me, I'll take the loss."

At that moment, the veterinarian arrived. As he walked toward the group, his eyes took in the horse. He exploded, "Lord Almighty! Who did this to that fine animal?"

Mason answered, "We don't know; but whoever he is, he's a devil!"

"Devil my foot! He has to be inhuman and out of his skull!" Porteous, the veterinary, was shocked.

"What can you do with her?" Charley was skeptical that anything could be done.

"I'll try to sew her up, but I'll need help to hold her. She's in bad shape; she may not pull through. We've got to stop the bleeding and warm her up. She's pretty weak. I'll dose her with laudanum and maybe she'll stop shaking. At least it will kill the pain.”

Mason suggested, "Charley, why don't you go about your business? We'll help Doc. It's a damn shame, and an onus on me to have it happen in my stable. Doc knows his job; leave it to us."

Charley felt close to tears. He was attached to his two horses. "Don't treat her roughly, Doc." He turned suddenly and left the barn. Head hanging, he walked to his store to unlock the door for the day's business. His thoughts turned to the boot prints found near Ian's field. He had inquired at the three bootmakers in Emerson and the solitary one in Pembina. Also he had inquired at every store that sold shoes and boots. His list totaled 17 suspects who were known to wear size 12 or larger boots. The trouble is, he thought morosely, there are nearly 1500 transients working on the Minnesota side of the river, all working on the railroad. Lordy, probably another 50 of them wear size 12's or larger.

When his partner John Kabernagle arrived, Charley briefed him on the horse. "Hold down the fort today, will you, John? I'm going to try and make some sense out of this."

John noted the hard look on Charley's face. "Not to worry, Charley. Take all the time you want. Find that son-of-a-bitch. We'll arrange a little party for him, with hot tar and plenty of feathers!"

Charley spent the rest of the morning contacting the tavern owners for information as to who their late customers were the previous evening. His last contact was at Rosie's, where he was invited in for coffee. He had no quarrel with her, knowing the town fathers closed their eyes to her operation.

She was concerned. "The churches after me again, Charley? I know that bunch of women are jealous. They take my money, but they hate me, the damned hypocrites!"

"No, it's not that." Then he explained about his horse

“It must have taken a twisted mind to do that!”

He knew her sympathy was real, as she kept a two-seater buggy which she used almost daily. When she took her girls for an airing in her smart rig, the more respectable women of town turned their heads away. Charley suspected she did it more to irritate the holier-than-thou's than to advertise her girls.

"Anyone come in late last night?"

"A few, mostly regulars. In the past I've had some sick sons-of-bitches who were rough with the girls, but not often. I put the run to them if the girls complain."

"Can you give me some names, Rosie?"

She looked at him grimly, "I'll do better than that. I'll talk to the girls and send you a list this afternoon. Where'll you be? I might as well warn you, the list will be a long one. We've had biters, slappers and sluggers of all types. Cripes, Ethyl had one of her nipples bitten off by that bastard Eck Murphy. It got infected and she had a hell of a time. He's a cruel, sadistic bastard. It happened last winter when he was working at the fort. He dasn't come near here now, I ran him off with a gun, probably should have shot him!" She began to smile. "Business has been good because of the railroad, but I hear I've got competition over in South Pembina."

Charley nodded. "I've heard of her. Can't do much about it, though, unless she causes trouble." He placed his empty coffee cup on the table, and then arose. "Don't forget the list; it may help."

Rosie walked to the door with him. "I hope Porteous can save your horse. The girls and I have admired it."

Returning to Mason's stable, he checked on the mare. She stood, head hanging with eyes closed, as if asleep. He judged she had been well dosed with morphine. Bandages covered her rump and shoulders, some already soaked through with blood. She was no longer shivering -- a good omen he thought. The raw smell of creosote and carbolic acid disinfectants created a stench in the stable. Observing the mare quietly, Charley wondered if she would ever again be able to wear the light buggy harness. If she can't, he thought, I'll put her to pasture. Perhaps, in a few months she can be bred for a colt. She's the finest trotter I've ever had. I'll never be able to replace her.

Walking down the passageway, he stopped to check his riding horse, a bay gelding. The animal was unharmed and its glossy coat shone, a tribute to the care Mason gave all animals left in his charge. He was puzzled. Why didn't the man cut this horse, too? Then he realized that the bay stood alongside three other nearly identical bays. His glossy-black trotter stood out like a sore thumb.

Walking over to the jail, Charley unlocked the door and entered. He opened his lower desk drawer and withdrew a gunbelt. Buckling it around his waist, he practiced drawing the gun several times. Satisfied, he left for his saloon after locking the door behind him.

When Kabernagle glanced up to see Charley entering the door and wearing the gun, he commented, "That bad, Charley?"

"Yes, it's that bad, John." Sitting in his chair near the wall, he suddenly felt limp and exhausted. His contacts with the saloon owners and Rosie had been fruitless. No one had seen Brogan or his friends recently.

While his partner washed glassware behind the bar, Charley studied the particles of tobacco on the green felt of the nearest pool table. Got to brush it, he thought. Lazily, he reached into his pocket for the lists provided by the shoemakers. Perusing them, he saw nothing of note until he re-examined Mike Ryan's list from Emerson. The writing was almost illegible and the shoemaker's penmanship and spelling poor. One name puzzled the sheriff. Realization came that what he had thought looked like Humphrey, could possibly be Murphy. The longer he studied the scrawed word, the more it looked like Murphy.

Rising, Charley headed toward the door. "John, I'm going over to Emerson. I'll be back as soon as I can. Anything you need from there?"

"No. Take your time. It'll be slow until tonight."

On the ride to Emerson, Charley puzzled over Murphy. Just what do I know about him? Bell, the constable at Emerson, said that Murphy was one of the ten men bunking at Roseau Crossing at the time of the girl's murder. Soon after that he got the job at the fort. Then Captain Collins fired him after he was involved in the hanging of the two breeds. Even if he's the one on Ryan's list, it doesn't prove anything. I'll have to keep my eye on him. Maybe he's involved with Brogan.

His stop at Ryan's paid off. The little stoop-shouldered Irish cobbler was angry. "That's Murphy! That's his name right there." His finger repeatedly stabbed the paper viciously. "He's a big bastard, has a full beard and is mean as hell. He still owes me two dollars for the boots I sold him last month."

After thanking Ryan for the information, Charley walked to Northgrave's jewelry store. He knew Marguerite loved jewelry and he determined to find something that would please her.

Upon his return to Pembina his partner handed him a note. "Rosie's handyman dropped this off for you." The names Murphy and Brogan were both included in the list provided by Rosie and her girls.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Local History Video

An amazing film project put together by a guy with deep Fargo roots, it's the kind of 'local history' that I love, and would love to be able to put together about St. Vincent one of these days. Visually powerful, and deeply touching, it makes history come alive and become very personal...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interview with the BBC

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by the producer of BBC Radio Five's Pods & Blogs show. The producer, Jamillah Knowles, had been alerted to this blog by a friend of hers recently. Jamillah was doing a program on history blogs, and she wanted to feature mine on that program. As you might imagine, I was flabbergasted but highly honored. I said yes!

Jamillah interviewed me on December 5th. At first we were going to use Skype, but due to some unforeseen technical issues which prevented that, London came calling literally - we used our cell phones! Thankfully it worked well, the audio was crystal clear. Ah, I love it when modern technology works...!

The podcast just went online - You can listen to the podcast here...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sea of the North / Agnes Christina Laut


Pierre de la Vérendrye had heard of a region to the south much frequented by the Assiniboine Indians, who had conducted Radisson to the Sea of the North fifty years before—the Forks where the Assiniboine River joins the Red, and the city of Winnipeg stands to-day.


When the Sautaux were at war with the Crees, he met the Crees and heard of the great salt sea in the north. Surely this was the Sea of the North—Hudson Bay—of which the Nipissing chief had told Groseillers long ago.


When Radisson came back from Onondaga, he found his brother-in-law, Groseillers, at Three Rivers, with ambitious designs of exploration in the unknown land of which he had heard at Green Bay and on Lake Nipissing. Jacques Cartier had discovered only one great river, had laid the foundations of only one small province; Champlain had only made the circuit of the St. Lawrence, the Ottawa, and the Great Lakes; but here was a country—if the Indians spoke the truth—greater than all the empires of Europe together, a country bounded only by three great seas, the Sea of the North, the Sea of the South, and the Sea of Japan, a country so vast as to stagger the utmost conception of little New France.


Title: Pathfinders of the West Being the Thrilling Story of the Adventures of the Men Who Discovered the Great Northwest: Radisson, La Vérendrye, & Lewis and Clark by Agnes Christina Laut


I question if Norse heroes of the sea could boast more thrilling adventure than the wild buffalo hunts of American plain-rangers. A cavalcade of six hundred men mounted on mettlesome horses eager for the furious dash through a forest of tossing buffalo-horns was quite as imposing as any clash between warring Vikings. Squaws, children and a horde of ragged camp-followers straggled in long lines far to the hunters' rear. Altogether, the host behind the flag numbered not less than two thousand souls. Like any martial column, our squad had captain, color-bearer and chaplain. Luckily, all three were known to me, as I discovered when I reached Pembina.


Title: Lords of the North
Author: A. C. Laut

Agnes Christina Laut(1871–1936). The prolific Canadian author Agnes Christina Laut wrote fiction and nonfiction mostly about the exploration and early settlement of Canada. Her topics included explorers, fur trapping and trading, gold prospecting, and other aspects of Canadian life in the era of European settlement.

Like so many other adventurous women at the turn of the century, Agnes C. Laut knew a passion for travel as well as a "gipsy yearning for the wilds." Fortunately she lived and worked at a time when the sphere of women´s lives was widening significantly. She was born the youngest of eight children in Ontario´s Huron County on February 11, 1871, just one year after Manitoba, amidst the troubles on the prairies, became the first province of the new Dominion of Canada. Her father was John Laut, a merchant from Glasgow and her mother was Eliza George, the daughter of Rev. James George, Chair of Logic and Mental and Moral Philosophy and vice-principal of Queen´s University from 1853 to 1857.

When Laut was two years old, she and her family moved to Winnipeg, which had just been incorporated as a city. In 1907 Laut recalled the importance of her early childhood years: "It was my good luck to have spent the first seven years of life on a farm enjoying all the fun of the real thing; riding real horses, not rocking horses; sailing real rafts on real creeks, not just blowing paper boats on a bath tub; hunting the secret nooks of live, real, woodland things ..."

Laut acknowledges some of the pioneering historians whose works inform her fiction: Alexander Ross, author of The Fur Hunters of the Far West (1855); George Bryce, author of Manitoba: Its Infancy, Growth, and Present Condition (1882) and The Remarkable History of the Hudson´s Bay Company (1900); and Donald Gunn, co-author of History of Manitoba (1880).


Lords of the North


Agnes Christina Laut, 1871-1936, (Herstory 1985), was a novelist and historian who based many of her works, such as Lords of the North, and The Conquest of the Great Northwest (1908), on the Hudson's Bay Company's records of the fur trade. She was the first historian allowed access the the HBC archives, then in London, England.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Electric Train

Soo Motor Car-Gas Electric Cars-Soo #1 - Gas electric built by McKeen -day local passenger train between Thief River Falls & Noyes, MN -1914-only 1 or 2 years - sold to: Electric Shortline RY

The Soo Line Railroad had 3 Gas electric cars: 1-Mckeen, 101 Genl Elec. Used on Minn. Northwestern Electric between TRF & Goodridge-1913-1940:M-1 - EMC 1925 used between TRF & St. Paul on trains 111-112 until 1931

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


July 4, 1902 Parade down main street in Pembina, ND (courtesy of State Archives of North Dakota collection)

When the steamer Cheyenne arrived at Fort Pembina on July l, Army paymaster Reese and his accompanying guards disembarked. Since the troops had not been paid for three months, they were anxiously awaiting money to celebrate the approaching Fourth of July. Expectations were high, since a gala parade was planned, sponsored by the three border towns of Pembina, Emerson and St. Vincent. The parade of bands and floats was to make an entire circle of the three villages. Lieutenant Reese, assisted by Sergeant Heidelberg, completed paying the men by noon the following day.

That evening, after the retreat formation, many of the troops headed for the saloons and fleshpots of Pembina and Emerson. Only essential personnel were to be left on the post for the coming Independence Day.

Late that evening Privates Eberhard and Close, after imbibing at several of the saloons, decided to visit Rosie's house. The nefarious brothel was located in a double-storied cabin only four blocks west of the Pembina River crossing. When near the house, Close paused to relieve himself. The inebriated Eberhard continued along the trail alone. A stealthy figure carrying a club stepped from behind a bush and dealt Eberhard a smashing blow to the head. The robber then knelt over the unconscious man and began going through his pockets.

Approaching in the semi-darkness, Close saw a large man kneeling over a man on the ground. Confused, but apprehensive, he shouted and broke into a run, charging the thief. Well aware of his approach, the robber drew a long knife from his boot and stood to meet the attack. When Close reached the thief, he felt a sharp blow in his lower abdomen, and then the fiery burning as the knife was ripped upward. He dropped in instant shock and was dead within seconds.

The murderer calmly wiped his knife on Close's uniform and reinserted it into the top of his boot. Retrieving his club, he ruthlessly crushed Eberhard's skull with well- directed blows. Lifting Eberhard to his shoulder, he carried the body to the nearby blacksmith's corral. Returning to the scene, he picked up Close's body and dropped it alongside Eberhard. Entering McCarvel's forge shop by the open rear door, he lit matches until he found a shovel. Returning with a short-handled spade, he slipped between the lower bars of the pole fence. At the far side of the corral he began digging a hole to hide the bodies. The several horses in the enclosure snorted and danced nervously, standing well away as he dug. The digging was comparatively easy; the deep layer of decaying horse manure having kept the ground moist.

Time dictated the necessity of a shallow grave, and it was only minutes before the murderer considered it adequate. After searching the bodies thoroughly, he dragged them beneath the lower fence rail and rolled them into the hole. As he covered over the grave, he carefully packed the earth solidly with his boots. Briefly studying the remaining pile of dirt, he carefully spread it thinly around the interior of the corral, just a few feet inside the fence line. He then scraped manure over the freshly covered grave. Finally satisfied, he wiped the blade of the shovel with his boot, and then returned it to its original location. Returning to the inside of the circular corral, he proceeded to herd the horses silently around and around for several minutes, obliterating all signs of the digging. His headache was now easing as it always did when his brother's orders were fulfilled. Disjointed thoughts came to him. I should have stopped him from doing this, but I like to watch.

His work completed, the murderer began the walk back to St. Vincent. He planned to wash his clothes when he waded the river. If anyone asked, he would tell them he was drunk and fell while crossing the river. It had been a profitable night; neither of the soldiers had spent much of their pay.

Common practice dictated that after the ferry closed down for the night, the men returning to St. Vincent waded the Red River, holding their clothing over their heads. The river was only chest deep that July.

Reveille formation at Fort Pembina the following morning disclosed Privates Eberhard and Close, from Company I, AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave). Their friends exchanged worried queries, for although many had accompanied the two men to town, no one could remember seeing them after midnight. One soldier remembered seeing Close in the Ragged Edge Saloon earlier in the evening. He also remembered Close remarking that he might visit Rosie's establishment.

That afternoon Captain Collins sent Lieutenants Ralston and Kirkpatrick to search for the missing men. Both enlisted men were well thought of and it was considered unlikely that they would desert. Their friends were adamant; Eberhard and Close were not defectors.

Kirkpatrick was optimistic. "They probably went to Emerson and found some girls. More than likely they got drunk and are sleeping it off."

"You may be right, Shawn, but they've never done anything like this before. I know Close was going to enlist for another five years, he told me so. His enlistment will be up this fall. Let's look up Charley Brown and ask his help. He'd be our best bet."

They found the sheriff in front of the Pioneer Hotel, near the steamboat landing. He was in a discussion with Mrs. Fisk, the hotel owner. The woman's final petulant words came to their ears as she turned away from Charley. "I want you to find the thief who is stealing my chickens!"

Charley smiled at the officers as the door closed behind the woman. After Kirby and Shawn dismounted, he explained the situation. "I looked at her damned chicken house and fence. It's plain to me that a skunk is taking an occasional bird. She blames the kids or bums, but there's a hole at the end of the fence where the critter has dug under it. I even showed her the black hairs sticking to the wire and told her to fill the hole with broken glass." He shrugged, "What the hell, the polecat has to live too!"

Noting the sober faces, Charley added, "Must be something mighty important to drag you two into town in this heat." He removed a kerchief from his pocket and wiped his forehead.

"It is darned hot, isn't it?" Kirby said agreeably. "We're actually in town to look for Eberhard and Close. They both missed muster this morning; it's not like them."

"Well, I've been prowling the town and haven't seen either of them, and I know them well. Matter of fact, I don't remember seeing them last night. The town was pretty wild. It must have been payday; there was a lot of money floating around."

Kirby nodded. "The gang'll be in town again tonight, and all day on the fourth. That is, all those who haven't already blown their pay."

Shawn interjected, "Close was seen at the Ragged Edge Saloon last night, sometime before midnight. He told one of the men he might stop at Rosie's."

The sheriff looked across the street. "C'mon!" He angled across to the north side of the street toward the Ragged Edge. Kirby and Shawn exchanged puzzled glances, then followed, leading their horses.

Stopping momentarily at the hitch rack, the officers tied their mounts, and then the three stepped up to the open door of the saloon. A swamper was sweeping the rough plank floor, chasing a cloud of dust. The foul odor that greeted them was overpowering, compounded by myriads of buzzing, clinging flies.

"Where's Johnson?" Charley was curt.

The swamper eyed him casually and raised a hand limply over his shoulder. "He's asleep, back of the kitchen."

"Get him out here!"

"He ain't going to like to be awoken."

"Just get him out here! Now!"

The man disappeared momentarily. Then a loud belligerent voice was heard.

A squat, fat man appeared; he was barefoot, and was stretching suspenders over bare, hairy shoulders. When he saw the sheriff and the two officers, he seemed unconcerned. "Well?" he grunted.

"We're looking for two soldiers, Eberhard and Close. Were they here last night?"

"Close was in here about 10 o'clock, but he didn't stay long. The place was so packed I didn't notice Eberhard."

"That's all you know of them?"

"Hell, yes! Check Rosie's, or maybe that whorehouse in West Lynne. They might have gone over there and got loaded."

"Thanks, Ole. Sorry we disturbed your nap." Charley winked to Kirby and Shawn. It was obvious that Charley cared little about waking up the saloon owner.

Leading the way out of the bar, he stopped briefly by the horses. "We should split up. Kirby, why don't you and Shawn check the business places? I'll take the saloons and Rosie's house. We can meet at my store in an hour or so to compare notes."

When they met later that afternoon, they found little news to share. All felt frustrated. Finally Charley rounded the end of the bar to draw them three beers. Turning, he said, "If those men don't make reveille tomorrow, let me know. I'll go to Emerson and check with Jack Bell. He's the constable over there and a good friend. I agree that something's wrong; I just hope it isn't serious. With so many railroad workers about, anything could happen; but if they've met with foul play, we should eventually find them. Even bodies tossed in the river rise to the surface after a few days."

The morning of July 4 the two men were again listed as AWOL, and Captain Collins sent Kirby to accompany the sheriff to Emerson. Kirby welcomed the order, for it presented an opportunity to visit Mary. He suggested to Charley, "Mind stopping at McLaren's on the way home from Emerson? We can return on the east side of the river -- might have luck on dinner there."

"Kirby, Kirby." Charley chastened, "Sure we'll stop so you can visit with your future bride." He began to chuckle.

"I wish!" Kirby had a gloomy look on his face. "She's evasive."

"Give her time, man. She's pretty young."

"Seventeen now. Anyway, I'm working on it."

Charley glanced at Kirby and saw the gloomy look slowly turn to one of complacency.

Heading north out of town, they approached Huron City at the International Boundary. In spite of land speculators' wild claims as to the town's grand future, only a few cabins and a small hotel were in existence. Charley knew that the hotel held the reputation of being the local brothel. Crossing the boundary line, they came to the road between West Lynne and Emerson. The hot, humid afternoon seemed to wrap the two men closely.

Not a word was shared until they reached the ferry, when Charley said, "We'd better help pull on the rope. It'll save time." Kirby complied silently, grasping the manila line and working it hand over hand to assist in propelling the heavy barge to the east shore. When he remounted his horse, he could feel the perspiration running down his back and under his arms. He particularly disliked the sticky sensation and the dark stains that formed under his armpits. Still it was far worse when they wore winter uniforms of wool. He hated the itch!

Charley and Kirby found constable Jack Bell at Kenneth McRae's blacksmith shop, a building often used as the town jail. Bell was a big man with a paunch that sagged over his belt; dewlaps were forming on his cheeks. He looked content as he sat in the shade of an elm tree while watching McRae work at his outdoor forge. A dribble of brown juice ran down one cheek as his chaw leaked. Rubbing his wet chin with the back of his hand, he remarked, "Kenny, we've got company."

McRae ceased pounding the weld on the tire rim and turned to face the approaching men.

"Hello, Charley! Hello, Lieutenant! What honor do you bring us today? You after someone?" Bell smiled ingratiatingly.

"Yup," Charley answered as he and Kirby dismounted. "Looking for two of Kirby's men from Company I. Wondered if they came over here a couple of nights ago?"

Bell shook his head slowly. "You've wasted a ride unless you've come to join our parade." He winked to Kirby. "They're forming the band and floats at the school right now, and are to leave for Pembina at eleven o'clock. It’s going to take some time to get everyone across on the ferry though. What's the fort military doing for the occasion?"

"The band and both companies are parading, but I'm not involved in the parade. I understand it's to start in Pembina, then move to St. Vincent, then circle back over here to Emerson."

"Jack, is it true you're getting a new jail? I heard a rumor." Charley was curious.

"Not until next year. The town fathers are planning for a new jail; it's to be of solid oak logs with steel barred windows." Bell looked toward the blacksmith. "Kenny's shed is too easy to break out of, but it's served its purpose from time to time."

"We need a new lock-up in Pembina too. There's talk of building a new brick courthouse and jail soon. We could sure use it."

"Then you haven't seen any soldiers over here?" Kirby was anxious to move on.

"Like I said, Lieutenant. I haven't seen a soldier from the fort for days. 'Course they could have been over to Miss Stone's house on the other side of the river." He winked suggestively, "its good business for me to stay clear of there unless there's trouble. Kind of figured the troopers were all broke." He looked at Kirby shrewdly, "Are the men you're looking for deserters? If so, they're safe over here."

"Sure, I know I can't touch them in Canada, but that's not the problem. They've disappeared and I'm beginning to suspect foul play."

"Well, as long as you're here, how about a snort?" Bell stood up to rub his rump, then sat down again.

Charley was agreeable, but with reservations. "One wouldn't be remiss, but it won't cool us any. Can't stay long, though; have another stop to make." He smiled at Kirby.

McRae disappeared momentarily, returning with a gallon jug. "Have a lick," he said, as he passed it to Kirby. Kirby smiled apologetically as he passed the flask to Charley. "No, thanks, I'm still on duty. Too early for me anyway."

Running a forefinger through the handle, the sheriff questioned Bell. "Anything further on that young Indian girl who was strangled last winter?"

"Nothing. It had to be one of those railroad men though. I questioned them all and got nothing. They all claimed they were drinking and that no one left the shack except to piss." He spit out his chew as he accepted the jug from Charley. "It sure as hell wasn't the breeds at the Crossing that killed her."

Leaving the blacksmith shop, the two men rode to the C.P.R. roadbed east of town. Charley rolled a cigarette while they stopped to watch the bustle of men laying ties for the sidetracks. It seemed the tie crew was barely keeping ahead of the crew laying and anchoring the steel. Following the tie layers a man on horseback pulled forward a four-wheeled, short flat car loaded with rails. Men working from each side of the car seized rails to lay them on the ties. After four rails were in place, the car was rolled forward and the process repeated. Gaugers and bolters then set the rails, and gandy dancers spiked the steel to the ties. When the car was empty of rails, it was tipped from the tracks and another loaded car was pulled forward to take its place. The tipped car was again placed on the tracks and moved to the rear to be reloaded. The work went on with methodical precision, prompting Kirby to say to a bystander, "Looks like they'll have the line done soon."

"Naw." The man shook his head. "The crews north of here are having trouble. The ground is swampy and saturated. Wouldn't be surprised if they have to wait until freeze-up to finish. It's said Jim Hill is sending up an engine and some bridging to help as soon as they get this part of the line hooked up to his."

Drawing rein, they turned south and dismounted at McLaren's. While Charley stood by the horses, Kirby approached the door. He noted the new screen door, not yet painted. A slotted strip of oilcloth had been tacked to the upper edge to discourage the entrance of flies. The inner door stood open.

"Hello there!"

Maggy appeared at the door, hastily buttoning the upper part of her dress. Kirby guessed that she had been nursing the baby.

"Come in, Kirby." Then she saw Charley standing by the horses. "Oh, you've brought a friend. Invite him in." She stepped back as Kirby beckoned to Charley. The screen door made a protesting screech and slap as Kirby entered the house. He noted that Maggy appeared to be alone. "Is Mary around?"

"She's with Jerold and Knute. They are picking saskatoons just east of the railroad grade, the place the town has picked to be the future cemetery. We'll be moving to St. Vincent as soon as our new house is completed.

Charley entered at that moment and Kirby made the introduction. "Charley, I'd like you to meet Mrs. McLaren. You'd better call her Maggy or she'll be angry."

Maggy looked questioningly at Charley. "So you're the sheriff Ian talks about."

"All good, I hope." Charley smiled.

"Well, he seems to set store by you." She began to smile as she turned to the stove. "What will it be, tea or coffee? There are oatmeal cookies, too. Mary made a batch yesterday. It's a wonder there are any left, though; she must have hidden them from the boys. There'll be rhubarb pie, also, if you care to wait. I'm just starting to put dinner on the stove."

Kirby noted that Maggy had a particular grace and beauty even though her hands appeared rough and chapped. Instinctively, he knew that Mary's beauty would hold up as had her mother's.

When they settled for tea, Maggy was voluble, obviously glad to see Kirby. She was impressed by the clean-cut appearance of the sheriff, immediately judging him too old for her daughter. She shook her head in frustration, thinking, I'm getting to be an old, greedy matchmaker. But Kirby is just right, he's the one.

After a few minutes of conversation, it was apparent to both Maggy and Charley that Kirby was becoming restless. He finally turned to his friend. "If you don't mind riding back to Pembina alone, I think I'll look up Mary." He turned to Maggy. "What time is the parade scheduled to reach here this afternoon?"

"Not until three o'clock. Why don't you run along? The sheriff and I can visit a bit longer."

Maggy and Charley exchanged amused glances as Kirby hastily left the house. Their discussion turned to Charley's mission to Emerson and of the missing men.

Kirby crossed the railroad grading and caught a glimpse of Mary's white bonnet bobbing along the edge of the trees. She turned to smile as he approached. Holding her basket toward him, she teased, "You're almost too late to help me pick berries. We've already filled three big pails, and the boys and I are just finishing our baskets."

Kirby slipped from the saddle just as Jerold and Knute appeared from behind some bushes. "Hello, Kirby!" greeted Jerold, "Come over to view the parade with Mary?"

Seeing Jerold standing beside his sister was an eye opener. Kirby had never seen a boy grow as fast and mature so quickly. He would not like to see this boy angered. He knew this brother of Mary's, although young and inexperienced, would be a tough contender someday. What a man he'll be by the time he's twenty-one! His eyes turned to Knute. The boy was smiling, but silent. Knowing Knute's lack of English, Kirby attempted to draw him out. "Lots of berries, Knute?"

The boy answered seriously, "Yah, lots of berries to pick."

Jerold's liking and approval of Kirby was obvious. He volunteered, "Knute and I'll take the pails home. You two can finish filling Mary's basket." He winked at Mary; she responded with a gay smile.

"Tell Mother we'll be home for dinner in a few minutes. We'll have plenty of time to watch the parade this afternoon."

Picking berries was the furthest thing from Kirby's mind when the boys left. Removing the basket from her arm he took both of Mary's hands in his, and then drew her close. She offered no objection, but studied his face with a rapt expression.

"Now, no interruptions. I'm going to say my piece and you're going to listen. I love you and want you to marry me. I know the Army isn't any bed of roses for a woman, but it's the life I've chosen."

A flood of raw emotion overcame Mary as sudden realization came. Her prior fears vanished and she knew she truly loved this man, and only this man. She uttered a sharp cry, "Oh, Kirby," as she threw her arms about his neck, accepting with relish his mouth as it covered hers. It was a hunger she had never anticipated, born of months of emptiness since Robert's betrayal. Their embrace was almost savage and she could feel Kirby's hands roaming over her intimately; then her hands began to do the same to him. A reckless feeling of sheer joy came over her and unbidden sensations seemed to float through her body as his lips closed with hers again and again, soft at first, then hard. She felt her bonnet being slid back and the pins being removed from her hair. As the glossy hair fell loose to spread down over his hand Kirby lifted the folds and buried his face into them. She could feel his intensity matching hers, and her worries about responding to his touch vanished at that instant. As his hand cupped her breast, she felt her limbs seemed to turn to water. Then she realized a sudden embarrassment and pulled away from him to regain control.

Gathering her composure, she teasingly scolded him. "Enough is enough for now. I'll marry you the day I turn eighteen, on March 31, next spring." She hesitated, "Will you wait that long?"

Smiling, he said, "I'll respect your wishes, but you just wait. I'll be there the day you turn eighteen."

She touched his lips with her fingers. "Don't say more now. You'll make me feel guilty."

Although it was not yet noon, the sun burned on her cheeks and she pulled her bonnet back into place. Taking the draw ribbons from her hands, Kirby attempted to tie them under her chin. He dropped them without completing his task, for kissing her suddenly became more important. Again the overwhelming feeling of desire swept over her and she felt almost unable to resist. She knew she was vulnerable; the sensations she was experiencing in his arms were overwhelming. However, she also knew that a successful marriage must be based upon a knowledge of each other, and not just a biological feeling or impressive looks or beauty.

Gently breaking their embrace, she looked into his eyes, knowing she must never let him know how much she suddenly wanted him. Her eyes sparkled as she said softly, "I take it we're formally betrothed now."

His arms tightened around her again. "You bet we are, and don't you forget it! You'll have the ring tomorrow." He sought her mouth again.

Laughingly she pushed him away. "Kirby, we've got to be sensible. It's nearly noon and I've got to get back. At least you can stay for dinner, can't you?" Then with a puzzled look, she asked, "Just what are you doing over here on a workday? I didn't know they gave soldiers the day off." She shook her head. "Oh, what's the matter with me? You've got me so excited and confused. Of course! It's the fourth of July!"

He released her and walked to his horse to gather up the reins. Returning, he said, "It's a long story, too long for now. Sweetheart, do you want to ride, or shall we walk?"

Slipping her arm through his, she pressed tightly against him. "Let's walk. This long skirt isn't made for riding."

As they walked hand in hand, they became aware of the fragrances emerging from the bushes and wild flowers. They watched two blackbirds pursue a crow that had ventured too close to their nest. A soaring hawk provided more enticement to the birds and they took turns harassing it, chasing it nearly a half mile before returning to the thicket. Their only interest was each other and they stopped frequently to grasp, hug and kiss.

Somehow it all seemed strange and new to Mary. She had put Kirby off for a year, feeling no desire. Now, strangely, she found she could hardly keep her hands from him.

Nearing the back door of the house, she asked, "Should we tell them now?"

"Why not?" He dropped the reins of his horse and smiled. "Unless you want to change your mind."

She grasped his upper arms and buried her face in his chest. "Never!"

"Then let's do it!"

Maggy immediately detected the aura of happiness that emanated from the two as they entered. She instinctively knew her fondest wish had been fulfilled.

"We're engaged, Mother!" Mary's arm was around Kirby's waist as they entered the kitchen, her excitement obvious.

Congratulations, Kirby!" Charley stood and reached across the table to take his friend's hand. "I envy your happiness."

Jerold rose to congratulate Kirby as Maggy hugged Mary excitedly. Knute remained sitting at the table, an embarrassed smile on his face. He had hidden his feelings for Mary, and felt a sudden dismay.

Mike stood nonplused, not knowing what to do or say. Finally he caught Kirby's attention. "Are you taking Mary away from us?"

Kirby immediately perceived the boy's concern. "No, Mike. It's more like I'm joining up with you all. I'd never take Mary from her family."

Mike looked relieved. "Then I guess it's all right."

The group smiled at his answer.