Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Their Own Words: Charles Cavileer

Source:  State Historical Society of North Dakota
[Click to enlarge...]
By Charles Cavileer

I came here (Pembina) in 1851, in company with N.W. Kittson and others. After being here a few days Mr. Kittson asked me to act as assistant postmaster, he having been appointed postmaster some time in 1849. Joseph R. Brown was contractor to carry the mail from Pembina, Wisconsin Territory1, to Crow Wing in the same territory, via Thieving River, at its mouth at Red Lake River, thence by land and canoe to Red Lake Village, making short portages, thence making short portages between small lakes to Cass Lake and then by the same order of travel to Leach Lake and so on to Crow Lake and to the end of the route at Crow Wing Village, which was the headquarters of the North-West Fur Company for all that section of the country claimed by the Chippewas from Crow Wing to Pembina northwest and northeast to Sandy Lake, and Fond du Lac.

The contract was a go-as-you-please, on foot, horse back, cart or canoe, anyway-to-get-there affair. The contract price for carrying it was $1,100 a year. Kittson, being postmaster, could not act as sub-agent. He appointed me as assistant postmaster, and I ran the machine until some time in 1853 or '54. I did all the business of the office, made the quarterly returns and deposit of funds due the department, attending to every detail of the office, which at that time was no child's play as every letter and package had to be tied up in wrappers, waybilled and addressed to its destination. St. Paul packages contained nearly all of Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit and east and west exchange.

An example of an 1868 letter with U.S. postage
sent from Red River to St. Paul via Pembina
Source: The Minnesota Territory in Postmarks

Letter rates of postage ran 6 1/4, 12 1/2, 18 3/4, to 25 cents, according to distance, from 6 1/4 for short distances to 25 for 500 miles and over. Every letter and package had to be wrapped and addressed. Even single letters had to be wrapped and addressed to their proper offices. All wrappers had to be saved and used as long as they would hold together and an address could be put on without showing another.

But when it came to making out the quarterly reports the dance had just commenced. Every letter received and dispatched must be returned from the records kept on bills for that purpose, and it made a package about the size of a family Bible, and the footing up of columns with the amounts running from 6 1/4, 12 1/2, 18 3/4 to 25, was a corker. And right here let me tell you, with a feeling of pride, that I never had a quarterly return come back to me for correction.

Let me give you a sketch of the business at that early day, and the hardships and tricks of some of our carriers.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pembina Christmas, 1801

The Time of Trouble at Cornplanter's Village, by Jesse Cornplanter

From the journals of Alexander Henry (the Younger):
Friday, Dec. 25th (Christmas) - Snowed all day. Indians perpetually going around coming from one house to another, getting what they ask for, without the trouble of hunting...

28th - Red Lake Indians arrived...We have our hands full; since my arrival it has been the same - never one day quiet.

Friday, Jan. 1st, 1802 - This morning the usual ceremony of firing, etc., was performed. I treated my people with two gallons of high wine, five fathoms of tobacco, and some flour and sugar. My neighbors came visiting, and before sunrise both sexes of all parties were intoxicated and more troublesome than double their number of Saulteurs; the men were fighting and quarreling all night.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

St. Vincent WWI Veterans

'Casualty' does not always mean 'Killed in Action'
It can also mean 'Wounded' - I knew at least one of 
the men in the list when I was growing up; he was
very much alive for many years after the Great War
[Click to enlarge]

I discovered a blog today with a 'casualty listing' for Kittson County World War I veterans on it.  I excerpted from it all veterans from St. Vincent in the list you see to the left.  This type of listing only contain names of those killed or wounded in action; it's not a comprehensive list of everyone who served (so far I haven't found one that includes all who served...)

I was interested to see that one of my great uncles is listed...William Samuel Fitzgerald.  I had known he was in WWI, but nothing about his experiences. He definitely didn't die in the war, but must have been WIA.

William S. Fitzgerald's draft registration card
The Selective Service Act was only passed
the month before in May 1917...
One St. Vincent veteran of WWI that is not on the list is William's younger brother (because he wasn't a 'casualty').  Below is an image of a postcard sent by my great uncle Edward Fitzgerald, to his sister (and my grandmother) Elizabeth Jane (Fitzgerald) Fitzpatrick, while he was in basic training. Transcription of the card says: 
Co J Camp Ross, Great Lakes, Ill.  
Dear Sister:  
This is what a person can see every Wednesday afternoon at Main Comp (Company?) Notice all the visitors along the right of the picture.  
The review we had last Wednesday when Secretary Daniels was here, there was about twice as many "jackies" on the field.  
(on the other side was a photograph of service men in review...)
While William was in the Army, his younger brother Ed was in the Navy.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Old St. Vincent in Photos: 1948 Flood

The pictures below were recently shared by a reader of this blog, a descendant of an early settler of the St.Vincent/Pembina area. Most of them were taken during the 1948 flood, with a few taken in other (mostly) unspecified but close years to 1948, including one of the then-new St. Vincent elevator, identified by handwriting on the back as being erected in 1950...

From far right front backwards:  Mont(gomery) Clinton's Minneapolis-Moline 
dealership, Art Clinton's home (Baker's Pool Hall), Post Office (Bill Ahles' 
grainery), (George) Sylvester's Store (Old Dick Lapp/Ahles Store), 
old City Hall, and finally, Short's Cafe (old First & Last Chance Saloon...)

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Once found in Minnesota, but
now is evidently extinct here...

In 1823, Mr. Keating noticed the Salt springs in Minnesota State and Dacotah Territory, far south of the boundary line.  Even at that early period in the history of the Settlements on Red River, five hundred dollars were cleared by one individual during one winter from the sale of the salt he had manufactured from springs near Pembina.  The price of salt in the Settlement was then six dollars per barrel weighing eighty pounds.  At a spring on Saline River, south of the boundary line, Major Long's party found the Salicornia herbacea growing very abundantly around it.  "Mr. Schweinitz states, on the authority of Mr. Nuttal, that this is the only inland locality of this plant, besides the Onondaga Salt Springs in the State of New York."

- From Report of the Exploration of the Country between Lake Superior and the Red River Settlement (1859)

Early in the exploration period of Minnesota, note was made of a potential bonanza.  It wasn't about gold, but...salt.1

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lena Returns Home

I finally made it up to Hallock to visit my Aunt Lena yesterday.

It was a cold day, but bright and clear with an intense sunlight.  After about an hour's drive, Bill and I arrived  around 1:00pm at the Kittson Healthcare Center where Lena now lives.

We asked staff where to find Lena, then proceeded to walk down the hall to the end where her room was. Her door had a warning sign on it about being contagious and to wash hands if in contact.   I asked staff what that meant, and was told she had an extremely antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection of the bladder, and that if any physical contact was made, it was important to wash your hands.  I made a note to avoid physical contact, which was disappointing because I would have loved to hug her and be able to be hugged by her, but for now, it wasn't possible.

Walking in, I could see immediately she had a private room.  It was decorated with many photos, nic-nacs, and other  memorabilia.  Lena lay on her bed, looking up towards the ceiling.  She looked much like I remembered her, her hair still brunette and cut the same, her skin showing age, but the dark eyes and small features unmistakably her.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Scene of a Tragedy

Map showing Fitzpatrick farm where 1954 tragedy occurred
[©Google Maps, USA Farm Service Agency]
When hearing the story of the tragic spring and summer of 1954, I often wondered where the scene of the second of the two tragedies - the drowning of my uncle and my two cousins - took place.  As strange as it may sound, not once did anyone offer to show me where it happened (on the other hand, it was a very painful memory for my mother, who was very close to her brother...)  I know it happened on my family's farm (at that time owned and run by my uncle, but once my grandparent's homestead), but where the farm itself was, I had no idea.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

March 1941 Blizzard Revisited

Coverage of 1941 Blizzard in Minnesota & North Dakota
[WILMINGTON MORNING STAR, North Carolina, March 17, 1941]
Last year I wrote about the 'Ides of March' blizzard of 1941, sharing a story that a reader of this blog sent me of his memories of that event.

Now, in the course of my new job, a patron shared with me that a book had been written about the blizzard.  In the book, there are several references to local/regional stories of people touched by that storm, including the following two stories...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

First United Stated Dragoons

In the early part of the 19th century, what would later be commonly referred to as the U.S. Cavalry, were known as the U.S. Dragoons.

In 1849, the First United States Dragoons would play a part in our area. According to an introduction to first-hand accounts documented in the book, "Minnesota as Seen By Travellers"...
...Too frequently reports of exploring expeditions are written only by the leaders...It is interesting, therefore, to get an intimate account of one of these expeditions as it appeared to an underling. The writer was a member, very probably a sergeant, of Company D, First United States Dragoons.
The writer had an appealing writing style, with much dry wit and not a little sense of humour; nothing much has changed since that time either, since he often mentioned... mosquitoes! In fact, he wrote:
"Poor hungry things! How would they have been saved from starvation, but for this expedition of ours to the North?"
This recollection is too good simply to refer to, quote from, or even serialize in entire.  Instead I bring to you in-whole, the writings of a Sergeant from Company D, describing their coming up from Fort Snelling to the Pembina/St. Vincent area to survey and establish the U.S. Boundary. I have a hunch you'll find it as fascinating as I have.

Please note that inconsistencies in spelling are from the original, and are left intact on purpose so you can experience how people wrote at this time.  It does not necessarily reflect inferior education, but rather was more common among all levels of society and rank during this time period; in general, English has been and continues to be a rather fluid and fascinating language...but that is a topic for another time!

Also, the spring/summer of 1849 was an unusually cold and wet time period - be aware of these extraordinary conditions as you read this account.

And now, "Canteen Sketches", by an unknown soldier of the ranks...