Tuesday, September 28, 2010

MN Black History: George Bonga

MN Black History: George Bonga - I'm pleased to find this on Ampers, a website consortium formed by MPR and MHS made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota, aka Legacy Grant Funding voted in by Minnesotans!

Someone is finally paying attention to people like the Bonga family, a branch of that family being from Pembina.

Two amazing historical facts come out in the audio link above:

1.  One of the Bonga family met with Dred Scott when Scott was in Minnesota, and it's quite probably Scott was impressed with what he saw Bonga accomplishing as a free black man, and it could very well have further inspired him to take his case to the Supreme Court - he sued for his freedom as a slave - and

2.  Bonga wrote Bishop Whipple to intercede for the Dakota who were arrested and sentenced to hang, with President Lincoln.  Lincoln eventually commuted many of the over 300 (eventually 38 were hung in biggest mass execution in our history to this day...)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Portrait of a Saloon

First & Last Chance Saloon (St. Vincent, circa late 1800's)

You can tell me I'm wrong, but I won't believe you.

What am I talking about?  I'm referring to the fact that I firmly believe that what was once known as the First & Last Chance Saloon in St. Vincent, eventually became what was later known as Short's Cafe.

I base this on two main factors - location, and comparative known exterior architectural features.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ghost Towns: Pelan

Ode to a town that exists now only in memory...
Mattson. Caribou. Sultan. Pelan.

What do all of these towns have in common? They are towns that no longer exist, or ghost towns, that were in Kittson County. Those of us who grew up in Kittson County know of others that are headed that way shortly, such as Northcote and Orleans (some would say they are already 'there'...)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Caribou Pilgrimage

St. Nicholas was built in 1905

This past weekend, my partner Bill and I went on a Minnesota safari of sorts. We packed up a lunch, put the hiking boots on, and hit the road for Caribou Township in Northeastern Kittson County, a land of myth for me.

I know some people reading that will be amused by my description, or even perplexed. Why 'myth', you ask? Well, it's because I had heard about Caribou all my growing up, spoken of in such mysterious ways by adults that would not or could not explain to me where it was or what it meant. So I have had it in the back of my mind for years, half-forgotten and not much thought of. But once I began throwing myself more fully into local history research, it popped up in my mind's eye again and would not go away.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old Pembina Photos - Part I of II

Recently, a friend to this blog sent me links to several of the images below, found on Digital Horizons, part of the online collection of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. I later visited the site myself and found even more. I was aware of the website, but as often happens with online collections, it's not static and changes, which is a good thing. More images are being discovered of our area all the time, and I want to share several of them with you here.

NOTE:  The first photo here shows a hotel readers of this blog should be very familiar with - at least those that have read the Chuck Walker books, Sheriff Charley Brown, and Bordertown - where it was featured in both books as well as its owner, Lucien Geroux...

Hotel built before 1882 as the Geroux House, name later changed to Winchester Hotel.
Photographer Unknown/ Ronald Olin North Dakota Postcard Collection.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Oh, Canada!

There are many humorous stories circulating online, but only a few that I find truly amusing. I received such a one this morning from my friend James McClelland from Emerson, Manitoba, entitled "Oh, Canada!"

While humor is not the normal domain of this blog, I am making an exception in this case and sharing some of the piece with you since it's geographically-related and specific. Anyone from my hometown area, or further north, will appreciate it, and those that are not, will learn a thing or two...


1. You wake up one morning to find that you suddenly have a beachfront property.
2. Hundreds of huge, horribly frigid lakes.
3. Nothing compares to a wicked Winnipeg winter.
4. You can be an Easterner or a Westerner depending on your mood.
5. You can pass the time watching trucks and barns float by.

The Official Canadian Temperature Conversion Chart

50° Fahrenheit (10° C)
• Californians shiver uncontrollably.
• Canadians plant gardens.

35° Fahrenheit (1.6° C)
• Italian Cars won't start
• Canadians drive with the windows down

32° Fahrenheit (0° C)
• American water freezes
• Canadian water gets thicker.

0° Fahrenheit (-17.9° C)
• New York City landlords finally turn on the heat.
• Canadians have the last cookout of the season.

-60° Fahrenheit (-51° C)
• Santa Claus abandons the North Pole.
• Canadian Girl Guides sell cookies door-to-door.

-109.9° Fahrenheit (-78.5° C)
• Carbon dioxide freezes makes dry ice.
• Canadians pull down their earflaps.

-173° Fahrenheit (-114° C)
• Ethyl alcohol freezes.
• Canadians get frustrated when they can't thaw the keg

-459.67° Fahrenheit (-273.15° C)
• Absolute zero; all atomic motion stops.
• Canadians start saying "cold, eh?"

-500° Fahrenheit (-295° C)
• Hell freezes over.
• The Ottawa Senators win the Stanley Cup

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Charms Revisited

One of the Charms' singles...

I recently ran across a source for old music that had available a single for the Minnesota Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Humboldt natives, The Charms...take a listen below...

Saturday, September 11, 2010


According to my statistics service, this website had the following stats over the last 30 days:

I hadn't checked my stats in months, and was surprised (but very pleased) to see the increased traffic. My main goal in creating and working hard on this website, is to showcase and promote my hometown area's local history, that it will not be forgotten, and that it can be a gift to those that come after me.

I've had emails upon emails upon blog comment from current residents, former residents, expatriates, descendants of early settlers, and authors researching our local history, etc. who contact me about the content. Many have said that this website has provided one of the few - sometimes the only - resource for a subject matter they are researching. I do not claim that all of the content is original or even the majority. It is the nature of such a website that I feature others' work(s) and am happy to do so. Some of the work I quote from others are from private collections that are not online. There are many resources online now, but not all local history is there yet, and some probably never will be.

But some of the work here is original also. Some of it is local history of a very personal nature but of broad appeal, not just personal/familial, but true local history, just that my family was intimately involved since we have deep roots in the area. Some of it is all original research and writing by me on a local history subject with no personal connection except that it happened in the region I grew up in.

I was recently in touch with the Minnesota Historical Society and asked them if any funding through the Legacy Grants could apply in preserving this website. They worked hard with me to find a way, even huddling one afternoon and discussing my situation (bless them).  They couldn't see a way for the existing guidelines to apply to my rather unique situation with a history blog.  

There are many history blogs, but not a lot of this particular type with such a narrow focus.  They gave me some alternative ideas I am now exploring, but most are long-shots.  If anyone reading this has ideas on how this blog could be preserved, I'm all ears, and would love to hear from you! For me, it's all about the history, of making sure it's not hidden or forgotten, and is accessible for generations to come...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

City of St. Vincent - Older Than We Realized

From Minnesota Place Names:  A Geographical Encyclopedia by Warren Upham
I just found out today that St. Vincent was incorporated twice. No one knows why, but I have some theories.1 The first time in 1857, the second time in 1881. This was brought to my attention by current resident and St. Vincent City Council member Kris Baldwin Ohmann, whom I worked with earlier this year in reclaiming the Red River Valley website. I greatly appreciate Kris letting me know about this odd situation. To be honest, it makes a lot of sense that the town would have been incorporated much earlier than 1881 because it has a very old history in the region.

For purposes of organizing a community celebration of my hometown, I am hoping that everyone I will eventually be working with (I'm trying to organize a committee as we speak...) will agree to work with the earlier date - May 23, 1857 (and yes, it is verified by historians...) To keep my sanity and give us a wee more wiggle room to get things properly organized, we're likely gonna move the original, tentative date of August 6, 2011 (when it was going to be the 130th based on 1881 date) up to August 4, 2012 for the 155th based on the newly-discovered older date.

1 - For the first incorporation:  Athough it didn't become a state until 1858, Minnesota's constitution was drawn up and ratified in 1857. In fact, in February 1857, the U.S. Congress passed the Enabling Act for the State of Minnesota which allowed for it to organize and become a state.  I think St. Vincent's timing for this initial incorporation was in anticipation of the territory in which it was currently a part of, becoming a state in the very near future.  A mere week after St. Vincent incorporated that first time, an election was held to select delegates for the future state's constitutional convention on June 1, 1857.  The convention itself met in July and August 1857, and the constitution was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1858.  St. Vincent was positioning itself for the future!  As for the second incorporation, I have yet to find anything definitive as to the reason, but I shall continue to research this - my working shot-in-the-dark theory is, maybe they reincorporated 24 years later to absorb another nearby settlement - if it's one thing I'm learning since starting this local history blog the past several years, it's that there is a LOT more to learn about my hometown than I ever imagined...

Sunday, September 05, 2010

YouTube Local History: Pembina Depot

The video above was brought to my attention by Bill Ash the other day. In the interim, Bill found out from Clarence Bingham the scoop on the last few seconds of the film showing a depot, which turned out to be the old Pembina Depot, in its glory days!

Clarence also had this to say about Olaf Hanson, whose family (including Olaf) are shown earlier in the film:
Olaf Hanson was a Customs Inspector at Pembina during the 1950s. The depot in the video is the old Great Northern depot in Pembina. Olaf had a penchant for getting in trouble with the passengers he inspected by trying to joke with them. Unfortunately, travelers were not in a joking mood when crossing the border. To make matters worse the Collector of Customs office was just a couple of miles down the road in Pembina, so they would stop and complain. My desk in the headquarters office was close to the Collector's , so I could not help but hear some of those tirades. One day Olaf inspected a young man and woman at the Pembina Border station. He ascertained they were not married while establishing their citizenship, then when he was inspecting their car/suitcase, he jokingly inquired if it was appropriate that their underwear was comingled in the suitcase. They did not appreciate his attempt at humor and stopped at the Headquarters to lodge a complaint. The Collector - John O'Keefe - subsequently had Olaf in and threatened to transfer him to Hannah, N.D., where he would not encounter so many travelers. I don't recall if the transfer was in fact ever carried out.

When we lived in Pembina the GN depot was repainted. The B&B crew came to town - about 1958/59 - and in a few days painted the depot and associated buildings that God awful brownish/mustard yellow color the GN used in those days. A year or two later the section crew chief in Pembina repainted his house and by some mysterious circumstance the color was the same as the depot.
Bill Ash has this to share about Clarence:
Clarence "Bing" Bingham is a first cousin of my mother...He grew up in Wisconsin but got a job at the Railway Express office in Noyes, MN in the early 50's and soon after took a position with US Customs at Pembina and Noyes. He is retired now and is living in the state of Oregon.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Scientific Find in Kittson County (1892)

Found via Google Books,
aka "the researcher's friend"
The following excerpt highlights a pharmacological discovery by university scientists of an important plant (Northern Senega) in locations in northwest Minnesota, including Kittson County. 

The plant (general species, Senega - sometimes spelled Seneca) was originally identified into modern medicine, in the 18th century by a Scottish physican, whose attention was brought to it by the Seneca tribe in Pennsylvania. The plant had (and continues to have) important properties used in medical products to this day. It is also important in alternative medicine, as demonstrated at this Manitoba website showcasing local herbal remedies - all available to me in my backyard.

Trivia:  Metis (introduced to it by the Ojibwa) have long used Senega/Senega, aka Snakeroot, for it's medicinal properties.

I found it fascinating to run across this medical journal report of the find from 1892 (especially since the natives in our area are mentioned as using it mainly for subsistence purposes, not medicinal as tribes in other areas of the country had...)

MARCH, 1892.


By L. E. Sayre, University of Kansas.

The geographical distribution of senega has been a subject of a good deal of interest to the members of the pharmaceutical profession and the drug trade for a number of years. Chief among the contributors to our present knowledge of the drug in this particular have been Prof. J. M. Maisch and Prof. J. U. Lloyd, as will be seen by glancing over the back numbers of the American Journal of Pharmacy, the Proceedings of the American Pharmaceutical Association, and other pharmaceutical publications.

Reference has been made to senega growing in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but there has not been very definite information given, I believe, as to its collection or the exact district of country from which it is collected in these States. "Northern Senega" has been a current term meaning a variety of senega having certain physical characteristics very unlike the original Polygala Senega. Prof. Lloyd (Proc. Amer. Pharm. Asso., 1881), describing this variety1 — which he says is derived from the Northwest from the States of Wisconsin and Minnesota—says it is very large and fleshy, sometimes white, again rather dark brown, the knotty crown measuring often from two to three inches in diameter, even of the dried plant. The root just below the knotty head is (when dry) from the size of the little finger to that of the thumb of a man ; six to ten inches in length and generally destitute of keel; not so contorted and branched as the " Southern " senega.

Northern Seneca Root
harvested in Manitoba
L. L. Dyche, Professor of Zoology and Taxidermy, of the University of Kansas, some months ago made an extensive hunting tour in the Northwest, the main point of his operations being in that country lying near the Lake of the Woods. During this hunting expedition he had an excellent opportunity of studying the country, its products and its people. On his return he handed me a root which he thought might be of some interest to me. He said it was collected in very large quantities and seemed to be one of the staples of that country. The natives depending upon its collection as one of the means of subsistence, have made this quite an industry among them. There the squaws and the children dig the root while the " Braves " hunt the valuable fur-producing animals. Prof. Dyche says that he saw at the different trading posts in Marshall and Kittson Counties, in the storehouses, as much as a thousand pounds stacked up in one heap. At a little town, Rocksted, near Thief River Falls, the Indians come in from long tramps of forty miles or more and bring in the fur, skins and this snakeroot. Here they had an immense stock on hand. Since his return, Prof. Dyche has received a letter from a trader at Jadis2, Kittson County, stating that he has on hand a thousand pounds bagged up, waiting for a fair market price.

The root referred to is undoubtedly a good sample of senega. In length it varies from 4 to 8 inches; in diameter from 1/16 to 1/2 inch. Surrounding the root is a dark scar-covered head. This head in the case of younger roots is covered with immature pinkish leaf-covered stems. The characteristic keel of Southern senega is rarely present and the contour of the root is much less contorted. The color ranges from the light yellow of young roots to the dark brown of the older ones.

Near the head, prominent annulations are present. These continue with enlarging intervals of space for some distance down the root. Lengthwise the whole root is deeply wrinkled, while frequent warty enlargements occur. The branches are not numerous. In considerable quantities, the odor of gaultheria is quite prominent, as it is also in a cold aqueous infusion. The taste is very acrid.

Under the microscope the wood is found to be cylindrical, and the ingrowth of the inner bark on one side which produces the keel of the Southern variety is not apparent in a majority of cases. The wood is whitish, ligneous and occupies about y of the diameter of the root.

A sample of the drug was handed to Mr. McClung, one of the senior students, for the estimation of the polygalic acid. He used Quevenne's process, and obtained of the pure acid 35 per cent. Methyl salicylate was abundant, as shown by the ferric chloride test.

It would seem from the above that this specimen handed to me by Prof. Dyche represented a good sample of senega; its quality, equal to the average root of the market.

I have planted some of the roots, which seem to be full of vigor, and hope to be able at some future time to classify the plant.

1 — Northern senega, collected in the northwest United States, is considerably larger than the usual variety (western senega), and darker in colour; it is less contorted and shows the keel less distinctly, but it has a very acrid taste, and is undoubtedly a good senega. It is said to be derived from Poly gala Senega, var. latifolia.

2 - Jadis (named for Mr. Jadis, Kittson County Auditor) eventually was renamed Roseau - Kittson county included the western portion of what is now Roseau County until 1894 - From Kittson County History.