Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Coming Soon!"

I plan on researching a lot of the images in the above set, and telling expanded stories about them, but that takes times - a LOT of time. Until then, I wanted to share these photos. Excuse the few duplicates, and also excuse the quality - some of these were second-generation scans, or photocopies. I haven't been able to get to some of the originals to get better quality images. I gather what I can, how I can, as I encounter local history.

NOTE: Anyone reading this that has information on any of these images, PLEASE contact me either here via comments, or click on 'About Me' link in upper right-hand corner, and then click on the email link on the next page to contact me directly. Any information could be a valuable clue to uncovering even more local history!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


One Hundred and thirty years later, nothing much has changed - opportunities bring speculators, which in turn bring opportunities to the common man and woman...if they're lucky.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gamble Family Reunion

My Grandpa Neill "Bo" Gamble gave me this photo of the William Neill Gamble farmhouse where he grew up near St. Vincent, Minnesota. His mother, Lillie Maud Griffith Gamble has written on the back: "According to size Kathleen & Frances in the back row. Kathleen has her hands on Wilhelmina's shoulders. May below Frances and Neill in front of Wilhelmina. Taken when Jean was a few days old." (My Grandpa Bo added FALL 1914.) - Posted by Lori Kohut Bianco

As many long-time readers know, I serialized an important part of local history on this blog - the Gamble Family Letters. It's rare such documents survive, and being able to share them here with the public was an incredible honor.

The descendants of that family will once again be gathering for a family reunion this summer in Hallock, MN. They have roots in our area that they deeply appreciate, and I will be attending the reunion to meet more of the family. It's exciting to be reaching back through the sharing of our common heritage while at the same time realizing and appreciating where it's taken us!

While local history has a very special place in my heart, so does genealogy. Lori wrote this week to say they had exciting family history news, and it was tied directly to an early St. Vincent settler:
Exciting news on the genealogy front to report...Alice Edkins Jablonski - a cousin descended from Elizabeth Gamble Griffith, sister of William Neill Gamble (who will be attending the reunion) - has made contact with a distant cousin in Scotland, via some Internet genealogy message boards! His name is William (Billy) Irvine, & his ancestor, Samuel Gamble, was the chief police inspector in the city of Dundee and the brother of our ancestor, Alexander Gamble. He has promised to dig up some information to send us.

...we e-mailed him a copy of one of the photos...from Dorothy Griffith - the one from the photography studio in Dundee - & he has confirmed that it is of Samuel Gamble & his family.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Engraving of interior of immigrant train leaving St. Paul depot, artist unknown, circa 1880 (Minnesota Historical Society)The ice on the Red River went out in late March, and on April 10 Jerold and Knute began their spring plans. When the new ground warmed enough for cultivation, they planned to plow all the remaining acreage they could, and seed it to a first crop. Necessity demanded a second breaking plow, which Jerold purchased in St. Vincent for twenty dollars.

A new teacher had taken over the Emerson school this past winter, and Mike had completed his first book when school was dismissed for the summer. Both Jerold and Knute had completed their fourth book and had made no plans for their further education.

Their neighbor, Mr. Trail, stopped by to inform Patrick that he had 600 acres he was going to seed to wheat. At the time, Patrick and Maggy were seriously thinking of starting a dairy. They now had 35 head of cattle, and although many were calves, the amount of milk they were getting forced them to churn cream every other day. Each week they sold 20 lbs. of butter for 35 cents a pound each. In addition, they sold a large quantity of milk for 10¢ a quart. Patrick changed his mind about going into the dairy business when the railroad offered him a watchman job at the station. His pay was to be $48 a month.

A heavy influx of settlers began coming through on the northbound trains, nearly 1500 each week. Most were from Europe, but many were from the Canadian province of Ontario. All seemed bound for the land in Western Canada. Freight shipments became heavy, with ten to twelve engines arriving in the yard each day. Five trains left daily for Winnipeg, at least two of which were heavily loaded with anxious immigrants.

Ian, Susan and Maggy planted a huge garden in late April and early May, seeding 20 bushels of cut seed potatoes in addition to a good quantity of necessary vegetables. Ian discussed the future storage of them with Jerold. "We'll have to dig a new frost-proof pit this fall. It'll have to be huge, with a good straw cover. Why, just the potatoes alone should yield 500 bushels."

Patrick ordered five apple trees from a seed house in St. Paul, knowing that it would probably be years before they ever bore fruit. He missed the apples grown back in Ontario and determined to have his own orchard. Apples were available in the stores each fall, but the shipping charges made them dear.

Wild fowl and game were plentiful, so numerous that it took only minutes to shoot a dozen birds. Ducks again covered the lake, and during the brief migration of geese to the north, the boys shot several. Elk were seldom seen now, having been thinned by hunters, although they were still being found in the eastern sloughs, as were many moose. Deer although abundant, were seldom shot nowadays, since beef and pork were plentiful and cheap. Maggy often said, "I'm not crazy about the strong taste of deer."

By May the condition of the newly laid railroad track on each side of the International Boundary was causing deep concern. Rains had turned the earthen roadbed to a quagmire. The rails and cross ties sank alarmingly as each train passed, causing squishing of mud and water to reach up and strike the under side of the engine and coaches. In fact, it seemed the trains were constantly climbing uphill. The road speed limit was 20 miles per hour, a speed trains seldom reached. Often the engines were forced to stop at creeks for water, or by bushes where wood could be found to raise steam. The train crew, including the engineer himself and any willing male passengers, would get out with axes and crosscut saws to haul in enough fuel to reach the next wood yard. Schedules fell apart when this happened. It was apparent that coal was the answer. A load of coal could carry an engine all day. At the time, the engines were American Standard wood burners, 4-4-0, with large funnel-shaped stacks. The tender had double-truck wheels and the cab, glassed-in sliding windows.

Section crews were busy building sidetracks to bypass trains, and it became apparent that gravel was needed to firm up the roadbed before derailments became commonplace. On the Canadian side of the border a temporary line was constructed to the gravel pits at the ridge, a town site called Ridgeville. Gravel hauling and firming of the roadbed on both sides of the border became a constant chore.

Ian's efforts to improve his position resulted in a five-dollar raise in January. He had been promoted to fireman at the roundhouse. To him, it seemed almost a blessing, thinking back on his boring night job. He soon found that keeping the fires fed and banked in five standby locomotives involved far more work than he had anticipated.

The huge building in which the engines were housed created a problem. When winter arrived the large doors were kept closed, confining both the coal gas and wood smoke, often making him gasp for breath. There were times when he was so sick from the fumes he was forced to slip outside to vomit. Fortunately, when spring came the doors were again left open, alleviating most of the gaseous problem.

Necessity required a rotation of the three shifts: daylight, swing and midnight. When Ian was on the daylight or swing shift, Susan seldom visited, the house and garden taking up most of her time. The evening Ian worked his first midnight shift he received a surprise visit from her. She brought coffee and sandwiches. That night they had their first argument, he deeming it unsafe for her to be out alone after dark. He knew the only night security the Railroad provided was the watchman stationed at the depot, several hundred yards from the roundhouse. Susan pooh-poohed his fear. "Who would bother me in St. Vincent? I know everyone in the town; no one would harm me. Just because I'm three months into my pregnancy, you're babying me."

"Yes, but there are still a lot of strangers carousing in the saloons, especially on Saturday nights. Honey, every payday the railroad pays out to a thousand workers. Why, we have over 100 men working in this yard alone! A drunk has little conscience, and you know it!"

"But I can take the back trail from our house to the roundhouse. That way I won't have to pass the taverns. Oh, Ian, I want to see you every minute possible. We have so little time together when you're working." Her voice held a beseeching quality.

"All right, we'll try it; but at the first sign of danger, you'll stop."

The arrangement worked well that winter, since her visits were brief, only long enough to steal a hug and kiss. When spring came, her after-midnight visits extended to a half hour and they sat tightly intertwined.

Neither Ian nor Susan knew that Pete also disapproved of Susan's midnight visits to the roundhouse. He thought it risky, and on weekends when the saloons were especially busy, he followed Susan surreptitiously to see to her safety. Remaining out of sight, he waited, and then followed her home.

It was the second Saturday night in May when his vigilance was rewarded. As Susan passed the section car shack, she suddenly disappeared from sight. Puzzled, he hurried toward the building to hear sounds of a struggle coming from within. Then he detected Susan's frantic pleading, the sounds being gradually muffled. A section handcar with tools stood at the edge of the building. Hastily grasping a pick, Pete slid the oak handle free. His moccasins enabled him to enter the open-sided building silently. A glance told him a man had Susan pinned backward over the edge of a work car. He was tearing at her clothing.

Approaching from behind, Pete swung the handle viciously at the man's head. The impact made a sickening, crunching sound. Discarding the handle, Pete grasped Susan's assailant by the jacket collar and flung him to the ground. Susan was gasping for breath when he raised her to a sitting position. Then she began to fight him.

"Ne to nish, [daughter] it's No tah. [Father] You are safe." Her struggles ceased when she realized who was holding her. Then she pushed away in an attempt to cover her breasts.

Helping her to her feet, he led her to the open side of the building facing the track. "We go home now."

"No!" Her voice became shrill. "I've got to see Ian. I have his lunch." The emotional shock of what had nearly happened was overwhelming her. The pitch of her voice indicated that she was becoming hysterical. Pete took her in his arms and held her tightly in an effort to forestall her collapse.

After long moments her body began an involuntary trembling. Tears began to form.

"Did the man hurt you?" Pete was smoothing her hair in an effort to comfort her.

"No, no!" She clutched him tightly. Then she realized what he had first said. He had finally admitted to being her father. She and Marguerite had often wondered about their parentage, suspecting Pete and not Joseph was their true father. They had noticed the nuances in conversation between Pete and their mother over the years, yet they puzzled over the fact that Joseph allowed Pete to live in the same house with them. Now she knew why he had been so protective and concerned over Marguerite's and her welfare these past years. Why had their mother kept this secret from them? Why?

"We go home and you clean up. Then you see Ian, but say nothing. Have courage; take great care."

"What will you do with this man?"

"He is not hurt bad."

They searched briefly outside the section house and found Ian's lunch and coffee bottle. Susan fought determinedly to regain control of her nerves. Although she had never personally been subjected to brutality, she had frequently seen it in the streets, especially among drunken whites and Indians. She wondered how her father happened along at just the right moment.

Tugging at her hand, Pete hurried her down the dark alley. When they reached Susan and Ian's new home, he by-passed it, saying, "We go to your old home to get the mule."

They slipped quietly in the rear shed door and Pete lighted the lamp in the kitchen. While Susan hurriedly pinned her dress, Pete removed Joseph's bottle from behind the stove. Raising it to his lips, he took a long pull, then he slipped it into his pocket.

Putting out the lamp, they left the house and entered the barn. Pete quickly bridled the mule and grasped a small coil of rope. Returning to the section house, he stopped to whisper, "Now go see Ian. Say nothing. Go!"

While Susan continued on to the roundhouse, Pete loaded the assailant's body on the mule. After tying the hands and feet together under the animal's belly he quietly led the mule northeast toward the railroad turn-around.

Susan was afraid she would be unable to retain her composure when she saw Ian. She feared she would disclose her father's secret. She knew he was attempting to allay her fears by saying the man was alive. He was dead, for she would have heard him breathing in the stillness of the building. She also knew he intended to dispose of the body; why else would he have brought the mule?

Ian was waiting on the turntable platform as she arrived.

"You're late tonight."

"I overslept." She hated to lie to him, but it seemed the only plausible excuse. She was grateful for the dim moonlight; it did much to conceal her anxiety and tenseness.

When Ian gathered her into his arms for a kiss, he became aware of her nervous twitching. He also felt the dampness on her cheeks.

"What's wrong? You're shaking and your cheeks are wet. Is something amiss?"

"Just glad to see you. It's chilly." She nervously squeezed tightly to him, hoping to gain some of his warmth and strength. She didn't want conversation; she just wanted to be held tightly.

Ian sank his face into her hair. "After we get our crop off this fall, I'm quitting the railroad for good."

Susan felt relieved that she had been able to control her feelings. Ian had no idea of the danger she had been in. She dreaded going back to the house, knowing she would be unable to sleep. She also knew she would probably suffer nightmares in the weeks to come.

"Sonofabitch!" Pete muttered, wondering how he would dispose of the body. His first impulse had been to contact the sheriff in Pembina and report the attack upon Susan. Then he thought of the embarrassment to his daughter and Ian. He distrusted the white man's justice, deciding it only worked to the benefit of the white man. Then he thought of leaving the body in the section house, or perhaps in the river, where other bodies had been found. No! That was a poor choice, too. Bodies, even weighted down, sometimes came to the surface. And if they arose downriver, the steamboats were likely to find them.

Under the gibbous moon he followed the edge of the bush, leading the mule east to where the railroad tracks curved through heavy brush. He knew it was customary for the morning train to turn into the Y, then reverse and back into the depot at St. Vincent. He also knew that because the engineer was forced to back in blind, the body would never be seen until the entire train had passed over it.

Sliding the corpse from the mule's back, he laid it across the rails. In the dim light he looked the man over carefully. The body was heavy, over 200 pounds. The face was clean-shaven, so recently that the skin was pasty-white in color. To Pete the abnormal pallor indicated the recent removal of a heavy facial beard. Could the man have been attempting to conceal his identity? Pete grunted with satisfaction when he suddenly realized the man was Eck Murphy. Where had he come from? How long had he been in the vicinity without being recognized? He hadn't been seen for some time, and why had he come back now?

Reason told Pete that no one would ever suspect that the heavy-drinking Murphy had done anything other than goes to sleep on the tracks. To insure probability, he removed Grant's bottle from his pocket and, after taking a final swig, poured the remainder of the whiskey over Murphy's face, neck and chest. Tossing the empty bottle aside, he felt relieved. He knew the early morning train would do the rest.

George McCune had been forcibly ejected from Fri's Saloon in St. Vincent that night and was on his way back to Emerson. Tired and punchy, he decided to take a short nap. Bedding down just inside the edge of the brush, alongside the rails -- he dozed off. A few hours later he awoke with a compelling thirst. His mouth and throat felt like dried leather. Sitting up, he fumbled for his flask. The sudden approach of scraping footsteps alerted him to someone close by. Instinctively, he hid his bottle, having no intention of sharing the little Scotch he had left.

He watched silently as a tall man leading an animal passed by only a few feet away. In the dim light he saw the long ears on the animal. It's a mule -- by golly! Something was slung over the mule's back. He puzzled over the identity of the man, then, mystified and tired, gave up. He lay back and slept.

A courier hastily dispatched by the railroad depot agent in St. Vincent reached the sheriff's quarters in Pembina shortly before 7:30 the following morning. The messenger, a young lad, was excited to be carrying the startling news. "Sheriff, a man got his head and feet cut off by the train! He must have been drunk and went to sleep on the rails. The depot agent wants you to come right away."

"O.K., son. I'll be over to view the accident as soon as I can ready up. Thank's for coming over to inform me."

"Sure, Mr. Brown."

Charley could see the lad was proud to have been selected to carry the news. His friends would envy him for days.

Saddling his bay at Mason's new, rebuilt stable, the sheriff rode east into a sun already well up in the sky. There was no breeze, and all signs indicated another warm, dry day. He felt lucky to find the ferry tied to the Dakota side of the river. After a ten-minute delay, he was free to approach the St. Vincent depot. While passing by the ice-house, he noted the huge pile of chicken crates on the edge of the platform. Further on, the stationmaster stood by the door of the telegraph office.

Drawing rein, Charley called, "Hello, C.J. A young lad told me you've got trouble."

"Yah! The brakeman from the early morning train hoofed it in from the Y a short while ago. He says some drunk went to sleep on the tracks and the train backed over him. He's located on this side of the Y, in the heavy bush. The conductor has been holding the train to clear with the law. He's anxious to get going."

Swinging his horse around, the sheriff called over his shoulder, "Thanks, I'll find the place."

Gazing up at the bright, hot sun and clear sky he thought it best to have the body picked up as quickly as possible. Also, an autopsy would have to be done at the fort. Heading north along St. Vincent's main street he stopped momentarily at Dorf's livery to order a wagon sent to the Y.

When he arrived at the scene of the accident, several passengers from the train had gathered around the body, including the engineer and conductor. The latter greeted him anxiously.

"Sheriff, when we cleared the switch into St. Vincent, we backed over this man. He must have been sleeping across the rails." The official was holding his watch in his hand. "We're nearly two hours late. Can we proceed into St. Vincent?"

"Don't see why not, but let me take a quick look-see first."

When Charley first bent over the body, he failed to recognize the man. Although the size of the man was impressive and the face was clean-shaven, the sheriff doubted ever seeing him before. Searching the pockets brought no identification, but then his eye caught sight of the shaft of a knife partially covered by a trouser cuff. Drawing the blade from the sheaf, he noted the carving on the wooden handle. Eck M. It was then Charley realized the change Murphy had created by shaving off his beard. The boots further substantiated his identification for they were huge -- at least a size 12 or 14. It had to be Murphy, but what was he doing back in St. Vincent? He must have been planning some devilment, but what?

The fact that Murphy was dead was suspicious. He sensed something wrong with the scene. The youngster's report had been accurate; the body had been decapitated and the legs severed at the boot tops. He caught the pungent odor of booze as he bent over Murphy. Reaching under the victim's shirt he found the skin and underclothes damp. Smelling his fingers, he detected the raw smell of liquor; just outside the rail laid an unbroken bottle.

The cork was lying to the side, the bottle empty. Picking up the flask he examined the label: Old Crow.

Casually he slid the container into his pocket as he mused to himself whether or not the doctor at the fort would be able to tell him anything of Murphy's condition. Somehow, he doubted any man, drunk or sober, would pick a spot between the railroad rails to sleep.1

While onlookers watched, puzzled by his action, Charley seated himself between the rails and assumed the dead man's position. He propped his neck on one rail and his legs across the other -- mighty uncomfortable! Then he rested the back of his head on the rail. Not bad this way, he thought. Would the man have his head severed at the neck if the back of his head rested on the rail? Charley was almost sure that Murphy's body had been placed on the rails to cover the crime of murder. Rising, he beckoned to a nearby man to help him lift the torso from the track. Then he turned and motioned to the conductor to move the train. He stayed only long enough to supervise the loading of the body parts into Dorf's wagon and instruct the driver: "Take the body to Doc. Appel out at the fort. He'll have to do the autopsy."

1 - You might be own great grandfather died drunk, run over by a train, head decapitated and the rest of him ground to pieces...

Monday, May 17, 2010

History Detectives, Local Style

Wow, the news keeps coming on all the websites and history that our area encompasses, and changes to them. The following news is extremely exciting, because we've been working on resolving this problem for over a year: What to do about losing the Red River Valley history website started by Dennis Matthews, one of the earliest websites documenting my hometown area and surrounding region. It's a long story but in summary Dennis lost his host for the site and all the data is locked on his computer. A fellow expatriate wrote to say this, just this past weekend:
Meant to email you sooner. I am out in Seattle for a graduation and I am trying to set up a meeting with Dennis Mathews to see if I can get a back up of all of his historical data for you on Monday or Thursday of this week.
I wrote back to her to express my delight at hearing this news, and that her inquiry about if the Rootsweb site was still available and a viable option, to reassure her that yes, indeed it was!

The hundreds (probably thousands) of hours Dennis has put in on putting this website up is just amazing. He transcribed historical essays among other documents into web pages that had before only existed in rare hard copy format up until then. We owe him a LOT, and thus are going the extra mile to help him recover and preserve his work...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Honored & Humbled

Being the historian/archivist/documentarian type person I am, I felt I had to preserve the off-site reactions to the recent honor this blog received. Many readers expressed their congratulations on Facebook rather than in the comments here.

As I say below, I am honored but humbled...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Historical Society Website News

Glenn Brown, administrator for the Kittson County Historical Society website, wrote today to say that the website will be moving. The need was precipitated by the current site switching from being free to charging fees.

As anyone reading this probably knows, historical societies have a hard enough time surviving without this added financial stress. But there is good news! Glenn has found a viable and free alternative!

I encourage anyone reading this that cares for local history in the upper Red River Valley of the North, Minnesota, or Kittson County in particular, to join this site and participate. Read the details below...
...I have spent considerable time checking a dozen sites out and I picked as the most appealing. I have spent considerable time checking a dozen sites out and I picked as the most appealing.

I could write pages about the good and bad things found in my search but we have to act fast before our present pages on are deleted. is preparing software in order to allow us to migrate our sites to other providers. That will not be ready until July 2010. Our site will be condensed into a special import file and when ready Spruz will be able to migrate our site and everything in it. Sorry, but I expect many trials and tribulations before this is all done.

Small uncomplicated sites simply deleted their files and started all over on a new site. They then had to contact all their old members and sign them all up again. We cannot do that because we have too many groups and photos that would be lost, not to mention the data.

I have opened the new site that can be located at here. I have started a Blog that you can read but you cannot add any comments or suggestions unless you are a member. There is nothing else on the page and there will be little but the blog until at least July. I suggest you hold off joining and contact me at my email address if you have any comments or suggestions. I will also post information on my blog on the old ning page. If you would like to open a topic of discussion under the forums please do so.

In the 13 and a half months since our [original] web page was created I have contributed a great deal of time and effort and to lose it is irritating. If you are unhappy with recent developments I fully sympathize. I will keep you informed of developments as they arise.

Glenn Browne
Kittson County Historical Society (old site, up until July 2010)
Glenn, best of luck on the new site. From small acorns grow great trees!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

SVM Named to "Top 100"

This blog have been named to the Top 100 Genealogy Sites as defined by - I'm pleased as punch to see that my little blog about my hometown area has gotten recognition. But I don't do this alone, folks...

Sure, I kill myself most weeks to research and write it and get it out there, but there are many others who tip me off on local content or share their stories or photos. Many of you reading this ARE those people! In the end, it's the history that's important. It's who we are...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Trick Drummer

One Dominion Day celebration in Emerson brought out a combined [brass] band from Fort Pembina, Emerson, and Dominion City. Tubby Ardis of Pembina was on the bass drum and during the street parade the band played the Ruby Rose March. Tubby was carrying the drum high, as bass drummers do, and marching along at a fairly good clip when he ran right square into the silent policeman1 (big cast-iron affair weighing well over 200 pounds). The impact forced Tubby to turn a complete backward somersault which landed him right on his feet. Coming down he accidently hit his drum twice, right in time with the music, and never missed a beat. Spectators watching the parade figured the band had engaged a trick drummer especially for the occasion. From DOMINION CITY: Fact, Fiction & Hyperbole

1 - Before the days of the horseless carriage, horse & buggy drivers pretty much drove where they pleased, obeying rudimentary traffic rules. Generally, horses would not run into each other, regardless of what kind of attention was being paid by their driver. There were no one-way streets around the turn of the 20th Century, and if everyone kept to the right, few problems developed.

However, with the advent of the newfangled gasoline-powered automobiles, which came upon the scene during the early 1900's, drivers, both horse and auto, would become much more aware of the problems which arose when they met.

Horse owners complained of the high speeds that autos drove–up to 20 miles per hour!–and the noisy engines, which scared their teams. To accommodate and protect the horse teams, proper etiquette dictated that cars must keep to the right of center, and not exceed a 6 mile per hour speed when turning street corners.

How far right, was right? Some vehicles would cut a corner, thereby getting into the oncoming lane, with potential disastrous results. Intersections were the worst, where four streets met. Few, if any, stop signs existed then, so who had the right-of-way?

Instead of having a traffic officer at each busy intersection directing traffic, the problem was solved with the installation of what was then called a “Silent Policeman”. It consisted of a cement pillar, about 5 feet high, usually with a shiny globe on top. The globe sometimes lit up at night for better visibility. It was understood that, upon entering an intersection, drivers must always keep to the right of the Silent Policeman. If one wished to make a 90 degree left-hand turn, the driver would have to turn right, circle the pillar and exit at the desired street. It was a type of “roundabout” commonly used in Europe at the time.

From Silent Policemen by Bill Schuette

Friday, May 07, 2010


January turned cold and blustery, with nagging winds and a heavy depth of snow. Drifts to the south created rail delays and often a day or two went by without the arrival of a train. When the trains did get through, the clanking and rumbling as cars were coupled or uncoupled became commonplace. On the calm, frigid, below-zero nights, the mournful whistle of engines carried for miles.

Patrick realized the firewood was going fast and was thankful for the huge pile remaining near the barn. The railroad had recently begun to haul in coal from Duluth, selling it for six dollars a ton. In Duluth it cost only two dollars.

Bob Wilson, the sutler at the fort, visited the McLarens occasionally. He reported that many soldiers at the fort were suffering from frozen fingers, toes and ears, an indication that the wool uniforms provided by the military were inadequate for the frigid Dakota winters. Most soldiers bought toques and sheep-lined mittens from the merchants in town and covered their winter boots with layers of oversize socks. The officers disregarded the strange uniforms that appeared whenever the men worked out-of-doors. Every effort was made by Captain Collins to purchase potatoes, cabbages, onions and other vegetables to prevent an outbreak of scurvy.

Jerold and Knute formed a partnership and purchased a half-section of land a few miles to the east, adjoining the railroad. The previous owner had become drunk in St. Vincent, and lost his way home. He was found the next day, frozen to death. His wife, left with three children to support, was glad to sell and return to Minneapolis.

In addition to his employment with the railroad, Ian again began to purchase furs. Long buying trips were out of the question, greatly reducing his profit. Even so, when he finally turned the furs over to the Abram's representative from St. Paul, he found he had realized three times more than his original investment.

With the many cattle on hand, most of the short winter days were spent feeding, milking and cleaning the barn. The coats on the horses and mules were heavy, nature's way of protecting them from the cold. When mild weather came during the first days of February, Patrick, Jerold and Knute began cutting oak timber for their next winter's firewood.

It became obvious to Patrick that Maggy missed Mary's company, for she often took baby Kate and visited Susan, sometimes spending the entire afternoon. When he teased her about it, Maggy excused herself. "I've been helping Susan paint the interior of the house. The carpenter left all the decorating for her to do."

Toward the end of February Susan realized she was finally pregnant. She laughingly conspired with Maggy. "I think I've beaten Mary to it. Our new addition should arrive about the end of October, give or take a few days."

"Oh, my gosh! Have you told Ian yet?" Maggy was instantly excited.

"No, but I think he suspects something is wrong. He looked at me strangely when I had to leave the breakfast table this morning." She looked sheepish. "I darn near threw up the oatmeal on the table.” Rising to get the kettle from the stove, she added, "I've felt squeamish this past week, but I’m sure now. I'll tell him tonight. He wants a boy, and so do I. Still, a girl would be nice." She laughed lightly, "Guess we'll settle for whatever we get."

The evenings were quiet and lonely, for the boys were often out, visiting neighbors or at house parties. Ice-skating became popular, as clamp-on skates were cheap and could be mounted on any shoe or boot. Patrick often sat near the parlor stove while he carved wood duck decoys. Maggy spent her evenings in her rocking chair, either crocheting or knitting for Susan's baby. Frequently she tutored Mike in his first book. He was having trouble memorizing his multiplication tables. Light from the lone kerosene lamp was augmented somewhat by the parlor stove, which had isinglass windows in the door. The flickering flame seemed to add a warm, cozy glow to the room.

It was in late February when Patrick and Maggy received a surprise visit from Charley Brown. They were about to eat dinner when they heard a knock on the back door. When Jerold arose to open the door, he was surprised to see the sheriff. "Just in time for dinner, Sheriff! What are you doing out on this cold day?"

Charley stepped by Jerold and began taking off his heavy coat. Turning to Patrick, he dropped his bombshell. "I bring good news in a way, if you can call Brogan good news. He won't bother anyone any more. He's dead!"

Excited questions flew until Charley held up his hand. "He and another man showed up in Pembina last night and got pretty well oiled. Somehow they got to St. Vincent, and then decided to go to Emerson. Not having a ride, they stole a section hand car from the yard. Nearing Emerson, they were struck by a C.P.R. engine backing from the St. Vincent junction to Emerson. As you know, the C.P.R. locomotives don't have a light on the rear of their engines as ours do. I guess that with the noise of the north wind they were bucking, they never heard the engine approaching them from behind. Charley added wryly, "Booze probably had something to do with it, too. At any rate, the man facing south on the handcar saw the engine in time to jump clear, but Brogan didn't. He was badly mangled1 and the handcar was destroyed. I just came from Emerson where I viewed the body. It's Brogan, without a doubt. Incidentally, I stopped to tell Ian about it. He's going over to see the corpse -- just why, I don't know -- said he could hardly believe the man is dead."

Maggy murmured aloud, "I disliked the man, but I wouldn't wish death on anyone. The Lord does work in mysterious ways though."

Ian had one purpose in mind when he rode to Emerson. He wanted peace of mind -- to know if the crooked-necked Brogan was really the man who attempted to rape his sister. Brogan had been on his mind ever since Mary had told of being accosted by a heavily bearded man after leaving Mrs. Traynor’s store the previous winter.

Entering the warming room of the Emerson Railroad Depot, he found the stationmaster engaged in a card game with three other men. Because the huge waiting room was difficult to heat, the players were huddled near the potbelly stove. Ian spoke to the stationmaster. "Frank, where did they put Brogan's body?"

He looked up. "Come to pick it up?"

"No, just wanted to see if it's really him."

"It's him all right, we all know the bastard. He finally got what was coming to him." He nodded, "He's in cold storage -- in the north freight room. If you want to see the body I'll have to come with you -- railroad rules. I hope you're the last to ask for a glimpse. Hell, I've already had to open up for Jack Bell and that sheriff from Pembina."

It was obvious to Ian that Frank was reluctant to accompany him to the freight room, seeing the great to-do he made of putting on his heavy coat and overboots. Ian waited patiently while the stationmaster unlocked the storage room, then he stepped forward to assist him in sliding the heavy door open. The inside of the huge room was stacked with crates and barrels, but a lone four-wheeled baggage cart stood near the door. Moving to the cart, the depot agent grasped the edge of a tarp and flung it back.

Even in the dim light Ian's stomach nearly revolted. The body was in pieces, but the head was still connected to a remaining portion of chest. Forcing himself, he examined Brogan's neck, but could see no sign of any external damage or scar. The head still held the same unnatural angle that it had when the man was alive. Ian decided it must have been a congenital deformity. One of the severed legs had a dangling shoe still attached. It was a huge shoe, easily a size 12 or larger, but it was old, with rounded edges and a run down heel. Ian realized it would not match the boot prints Pete had found in his wheat field. Satisfied, he tugged the tarp back over the corpse and faced the agent. "I've seen enough, Frank. Thanks for allowing me to look him over."

Both men grasped the door to slide it shut, the stationmaster quickly affixing the padlock. He abruptly turned without another word and hurried back to his card game. When Ian mounted his horse, he was momentarily confused. Although he had examined Brogan closely, he had no positive way of knowing whether or not he was the man who had attacked Mary at the bridge. Perhaps the man's neck had healed without leaving a scar. While tightening the scarf around his coat collar, he decided to see Charley in Pembina. Perhaps the sheriff could cast more light on the situation. He might even be able to get the Canadian authorities to do an autopsy on the body. Then he realized the unlikelihood of this, since it was an accident, cut and dried.

Entering Kabernagle and Brown's saloon an hour later, he found Charley the only occupant. He was behind the bar washing the previous night's glassware. As Ian removed his cap and coat, the sheriff tossed him a towel. "You wipe, and when we're done, I'll beat you in a game of pool."

While Ian wiped beer glasses, he related his problem. His evasiveness in skirting Mary's involvement drew Charley's suspicion.

"Level with me, Ian; it'll go no farther."

Ian went so far as to tell Charley that Mary had been attacked near their home in Orillia, and that he had struck the guilty man with a track splice-plate, thinking he had killed him. "When Dad and I returned the next morning, we found a pool of blood, but no body. The thing that has bothered me this past year is that Brogan's head was canted to the left, and he might have been the man I struck. Then, too, I had heard he arrived here from Eastern Canada shortly after we did. I examined his neck but could see no scar. Also, although his one remaining boot was large, it was badly worn. It wouldn't have matched the prints we found in my wheat field last fall."

For moments Charley seemed lost in thought, and then he said, "We know that he and Murphy were close, as were those other three men. Incidentally, Bell is attempting to find the names of the three. When I saw Mike Ryan last fall, he mentioned making a new pair of boots for Murphy -- even said Murphy still owed on them." He mused, "New boots would have left sharp outlines like the ones we found in your field. Murphy's boots were practically new at the time. There are a couple of other things that also fit. Murphy was at Roseau Crossing when that Indian child was abused and strangled. Also, Rosie informed me that Murphy mistreated one of her girls. I've heard that he acts weird at times and often talks to himself. He could be demented."

Ian suddenly recalled the day he and Susan had dropped Marguerite off on the hill leading down to the ferry and he had seen the heavily bearded, fully dressed man washing in the river. He mentioned it to Charley.

"It could have been Murphy. You say he was a big man with a full beard? Maybe he's the man with the scar and is hiding it. Yet, why would he hide it unless he suspects someone from the Orillia area would put two and two together?" Charley suddenly stared at Ian. "You suppose he knows or suspects your sister is the one he attacked and that she might recognize him, and that either you or your father might have been the one who struck him? If so, you and your family are in danger."

Ian's mind began to race. "Last year, in December, Mary was stopped at dusk on the Emerson sidewalk by a huge, bearded man. He said to her, "I know you from somewhere." Do you suppose it could have been Murphy?"

"I'll just bet it was; now to find him! The problem still remains; we have no firm evidence. We’ve a lot of guesses, but all are circumstantial. Still, it's beginning to fit together. I'll get telegrams out and see if we can locate him. He's probably somewhere along the railroad line in Minnesota, or maybe in St. Paul or Minneapolis. The problem as I see it is that the demand for labor is such that he could be working anywhere.

"Ian, the more I think of it, the more I believe he's the man who attacked your sister. Why my horse was damaged and finally destroyed in the fire, I can't justify. No doubt it is related to the whipping I gave Brogan. They were probably helping each other. Then, there are the missing two soldiers. I believe they're dead, probably murdered for their pay. I've been told Murphy didn't have employment at the time. He might have needed money badly, and those soldiers had just signed the Army payroll. You be watchful and tell your family to be on guard. That man might be vengeful enough to return."

Mary made it a policy to write her father, mother and the boys each Sunday. It was the letter that arrived in mid-April that really excited the family.
Easter Sunday.

Dear Father, Mother and all,

Two days ago I heard a knock on our door and found a well-dressed couple smiling at me. I was puzzled until the woman said, "You've got to be Mary. Kirby has described you in every detail."

I felt like a fool, for the few moments it took me to realize these folks were Kirby's father and mother. Although our house is small, thank goodness it was clean. At first, after inviting them in, I was tongue-tied, but after a short while I realized they were down to earth people like you and father. They were charming and instantly made me feel that I was one of them. They told me they were staying in the railroad yard, and it wasn't until a few minutes later that I realized they had arrived at Leavenworth in a private railroad car. Kirby had said his parents were well off, but he had never been explicit. To put it mildly, I felt like an idiot.

They are lovely, sincere people, and seem to like me. When I suggested tea, Kirby's mother countered by asking me to accompany them back to their railroad car. "We can have tea there," she said, "and what is more important, our daughter Laura is anxious to meet you." I knew Kirby wouldn't be home until suppertime so I left a note telling where I would be, and then Kirby's father added a postscript to my message.

Laura, an attractive brown-haired girl, met us just outside the car. She is Kirby's younger sister and I liked her from the moment we met. She is single and two years older than me.

I had been apprehensive about Easter, knowing Kirby's folks were coming to visit us. I no longer have any qualms; they have accepted me as Kirby's wife. Mr. Ralston seems much interested in our life in Minnesota, and in Jim Hill's railroad. It seems he is the director or manager of a railroad operating out of Washington.

Kirby's older sister, Marlene, is married and has two children, a boy and girl. They live in Richmond, Virginia.

The Ralston's railroad car has a living room with a rear, outdoor vestibule. Then to the front, what they call a dinette, then several small cubicles for bedrooms. It seems like a magnificent hotel suite outfitted with crystal lamps, polished brass fittings and several lovely paintings, which Mrs. Ralston said she purchased in Paris. They have an elderly couple that prepare meals and serve the family needs. They are treated more like members of the family, than servants. Kirby made a special fuss over them when he arrived just before the supper hour.

The Ralston’s have been here the past two days and will leave for home the day after tomorrow. They have invited me to accompany them to their home for a visit, but I won't leave Kirby alone. Poor little me -- a farm girl -- mixing with the wealthy! At any rate, we will continue to live on Kirby's pay -- he insists upon that! His father's pride in him is evident. They have been so kind to me. Now I really feel accepted!

That first night after their arrival, when Kirby and I went to bed, he remarked, "They've taken to you like a duck takes to water! I knew they'd love you!"

I am so happy!

Love to all, Mary Ralston.

P.S. I like my new name!
1 - My great grandfather died in a similar fashion, i.e., drunk and run over by a train. The details, as given by the newspapers of the time in 1913, went like this: Mr. Fitzgerald was known to be a man of intemperate means. Having visited Emerson, it was assumed when coming back across the border on foot, he stumbled into or lay down unto the tracks, whereupon the next train ran him over. The accounts were vivid (or gruesome, depending on how you read it) in their descriptions, stating that his body was decapitated, and his remains had to gathered up in a bag. An American coroner that was called stated he had no jurisdiction because in his opinion the accident took place on the Canadian side of the border. Searches made by the author years later in all possible provinces and states has yet to yield a death certificate...

Monday, May 03, 2010

Interapolis: City That Never Was

Map from View from Inside the Portcullis: A History of Emerson Customs and General Area, by Elmer McClelland (1992)

I recently posted about a very real city that is now long gone called Huron City. That post drew responses that revealed to me that there was a proposed 'twin' to Huron City, a town that never was, called Interapolis...
A. W. Stiles, connected with the U. S. Land Office in Washington, D.C., walked up the street to take in Hallock the other day while the train stopped. Mr. Stiles is one of the pioneers of this country. He ran the first settler [sic] store at Fort Pembina, establishing it in 1871, the year the fort was built. He also started the townsite of Interapolis, located between St. Vincent and Emerson, in this county, but which never amounted to much. [From Kittson County Enterprise, July 1894]
Since receiving a copy of the above-referenced book recently from Elmer McClelland (cousin of James McClelland, friend of this blog), I have since come to find out that the term I had coined for the town was already coined by him, i.e., the 'city that never was'...great minds think alike, I guess! Anyways, Elmer's piece from the book has this to say about Interapolis:
This town or city site was actually planned, with certain streets and avenues named. It was to have been on the east side of the Red River immediately south of the International Boundary - south of Emerson, Manitoba and due west of Noyes, Minnesota. Its name was listed as "Interapolis". To pinpoint exactly its mythical location, glance off to the south as you leave Emerson on Highway 75 and proceed westerly towards the Highway 75 bridge. The town or city that never materialized would have been about 200 yards to the south - at least, its most northwesterly corner would have appeared there, if all had gone as planned. This writer gained photocopies of the planned city from the Hallock, Minnesota deeds office. These copies show that Mr. & Mrs. Albert Stiles filed the plan on September 9, 1882. The office land description is as follows: North half of the South East Section 26 - Township 164, Range 51, in St. Vincent Township of Kittson County, Minnesota, U.S.A.

Mr. Stiles had arrived in the area to become sutler at Fort Pembina and probably envisioned great possibilities for his new city. The plan covered 62 blocks and the streets and avenues were named: International Avenue, Stiles Avenue, Manitoba Avenue, Missouri Avenue, Irvine Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, River Street, Wilson Street, West Lynne Street, and First to Fifth Streets. There was also a proposed ferry and steamboat landing site on the Red River.

Alas, not a building was ever to grace this proposed town. The plan remains in the Hallock deeds office and the land is used as prime agricultural land at this writing.
I can attest to that last statement. When I was growing up, I had horses as a teenager. At that time, Harvey Le Mesurier's old place was being lived in by Reuben and Gloria Ohmann and their family, and I was best friends with their daughter Kathy. The place was north of my parents, who lived in one of the most northern points of St. Vincent, by about a mile. Right north of the Ohmanns was where Interapolis would have been. Kathy and I used to ride our horses there quite often, and I always noticed it was a very isolated area, peaceful, with one of the only true hills around, believe it or not, quite a dip for our flat-as-a-pancake area, which was fun to run up and down on at a canter!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

In Memoriam: Helen Tri

Today, a woman who touched many lives in my hometown area will be remembered at a memorial service, ironically in my new hometown of Thief River Falls. Her name was Helen Tri.

Helen was many things in life, including a teacher. She taught many people through the years, including my two older sisters. She also taught Mike Rustad, who has not only been a friend to this blog but encouraged me to start it in the first place. Mike wrote this to say about Helen's passing...
About ten years ago Dotty Boatz, a former Humboldt resident recommended that I place a call to Helen. I have known Helen all of my life. In my early childhood, she was our neighbor and I spent countless hours in the Tri yard along with many other Humboldt kids. Everyone was welcome at the Tri house and there was nothing that pleased Helen more than to have a pack of kids playing in the yard or large sand box. When we lived in town, Helen was right across the alley from us, a next door neighbor. Our other neighbors were the Dockens, the Diamonds, and the Turner/Hatherlies. Dotty thought that Helen might enjoy a call from me and I was reluctant to call after not being in touch for decades. I finally did make that call to Helen and kept in touch with her via email for a number of years on a weekly basis. Helen rarely emailed me but she seemed to enjoy hearing about all of the news I could muster from Humboldt. I learned a great deal from Helen as she had a unique perspective on Humboldt from the late 1930s. She taught both my Dad and Uncle Einar and has memories of my Dad as being a good student.

Helen had a deep affinity and interest in Sweden as her father was from Malmo which is a major city in Southern Sweden close to my Lund University, where I've taught in the summers for many years. Each summer when I visited Lund she would remind me to send her a post card from Malmo. She would enjoy hearing about Sweden and its very strong family structure and government. Helen was a voracious reader well into her late 80s and was well informed and very opinionated. I enjoyed her opinions because they were well reasoned and backed by data though sometimes we disagreed. She was a good listener and enjoyed debate and discussion. Helen experienced great adversity during periods of her life. She lost her Mother and was raised by Gottfrid, her father. I think this experience of being so responsible led her to have an independent personality and character.

Helen was born in 1915. She was a young girl at the infancy of aviation. In May of 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo flight across the ocean in May of 1927. We all remember film clips of Lindbergh's parade in New York where he was greeted by millions. Helen reminded me that Lindbergh toured the U.S. that summer. Here's the story Helen told me and I find it emblematic of her personality marked by great determination. She was only twelve years old and decided she wanted to see Lindbergh. She went to the local library and found addresses for hotels, book, and paid for a hotel in San Francisco. She traveled alone to San Francisco by railroad. When she arrived at the hotel, the clerk was reluctant to admit her--a twelve year old. Helen did not back down and said a contract was a contract. She told the clerk that she paid for the room and was entitled to it. She was able to see Lindbergh pass by in the parade. I asked Helen many details about the trip and they every detail fit. I do not doubt Helen but the image of a twelve year old taking a trip alone from Minneapolis to San Francisco and back is daunting.

As her obituary indicates, she was a graduate of one of the finest universities in the United States, Gustavus Adolphus College. As in Helen's day, this college was rigorous and drew good Lutherans from a Scandinavian background. Helen graduated from college thanks again to her determination. She worked at a large number of jobs. She told me about her academic success while working at a number of jobs. She remembered courses in sociology as being formative for her. I think Helen also studied political science and philosophy judging from her sophisticated understanding of the American polity. Helen gave me a window onto the world of my hometown of Humboldt Minnesota that stretches from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Throughout her life she had a deep love of Humboldt and its residents. She had plans to travel to Humboldt in the summer of 2007 but was to ill to travel. I am sorry that she did not make the trip because she would have so enjoyed it and seeing Humboldt in its glory. She loved hearing any news of the Baldwins, Boatzes, and my family, the Rustads. I learned that she was great friends with Marion Brown. Helen and Marion came to Humboldt around the same time as young teachers. She and Quint (as she called him) would double date with Don and Marion Brown. She loved Humboldt right from the beginning even though it was certainly less settled than the Twin Cities of Minnesota. She mentioned to me how much she enjoyed Grandma Bockwitz and was great friends with the Virgil Bockwitz family.

Humboldt was a close knit community in the late thirties and early forties. Baseball was important to the town. She remembers my Dad and Uncle Burton Turner playing for the Humboldt team and other area teams. She remembered when Herb Diamond and his brothers were still active in baseball.

Helen had a memory that was legendary and it was not just a past memory. Helen and I would talk about present day events as much as the past and her comments on present day events were just as sharpened. Helen and Quint started a bee business and began mailing specialty honeys all over the world. She was very proud that she sent honey back to Sweden and Germany. Quint's family was German and thus the new country was replenishing the old. Helen was one of those rare persons who continued to grow and develop throughout her life. She overcome a great deal of adversity losing her husband at such a young age, but she truly was Mother Courage!

I have so many memories of Helen and prefer to think of her tending her garden. Helen was a great gardener and my Mother was not. I remember her helping my Mother plan her garden. So, that is how I will remember Helen tending her garden. I feel very privileged to have known Helen Marie Tri.
Mike told me many times I should talk with Helen about her memories. I always meant to, but now I will never have the chance. Let that be a lesson to anyone reading this - don't put off talking to your older relatives and friends while you still have the chance!