Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Little Minnesota



A few years ago, Jill Johnson began an adventure writing about small-town Minnesota.  She wanted to focus on writing about towns under 100 in population. Jill began writing about them on a blog. Eventually it became a book project, that I am happy to say will be published in the not-too-distant future.

And the best part? St. Vincent is one of the towns featured in the book!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Setting the Record Straight

This appeared on the editorial pages of the Winnipeg Free Press recently...
In your editorial Radicals always in our midst (March 16), I was surprised to read in your editorial that in 1871 "the Irish rebel John J. O'Neill met Métis leaders in Manitoba to enlist support for an invasion of Canada in an effort to weaken British oppression in Ireland." I would respond: what Métis leaders?
I have researched this issue extensively. William O'Donoghue had recruited four Fenian leaders to come to Manitoba. The Fenian Brotherhood did not officially sanction this trip, but provided funds for 300 muskets. They had about 30 men with them when they crossed the Manitoba border and ransacked the HBC post at Emerson, which was called "Fort Pembina."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Early Church Ministries: Catholic


The Sisters of the Propagation of the Faith began working in Pembina, in the mid 19th century...

1856 - These sisters, seven in number, conduct an English, French, and Indian school, and by their knowledge of the languages used by different tribes they are particularly qualified for the instruction of persons of their own sex and of children. They have one hundred pupils in their schools. They receive boarders at the rate of $30.00 for six months. These sisters intend, as soon as circumstances permit, to extend their charitable labors to the sick.

1859 - This new order of sisters has been established especially for the instruction of children amongst the numerous half-breeds and the Indian tribes in the northern part of the diocese, as soon as their means will permit. They have now charge of St. Francis Xavier's Academy at Pembina, on the Red River of the North, Dacotah Territory.

From: A history of the Catholic church within the limits of the United States: from the first attempted colonization to the present time, Volume 4, by John Gilmary Shea
Even into the 1870's, St. Vincent Catholics were being ministered to by priests coming from St. Boniface...

In September, 1818, William Edge arrived at Pembina from Fort Garry to help construct a school as part of the St. Francis Xavier Mission. A log cabin was built adjacent to the first log church and served as the schoolhouse for many years...

From: The Challenge of the Prairie: Life and Times of Red River Pioneers by Hiram M. Drache

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mike's Memories: Town Ball

After the First World War, Manitoba became a preferred destination for barnstorming  ball teams from the United States. All professionals, these American teams would roll through towns and villages throughout the province playing local amateur and semi-pro squads and often, the barnstormers got themselves whupped.

From:  Home Run

My earliest memories were going to baseball games on hot summer evenings. My home town of Humboldt, Minnesota had first rate baseball teams in the 1920s and 1930s. The entire town would follow the town ball team.

The early teams featured the Diamond brothers: Levi, Herb, and Ikey. Lomas Matthews was another legendary track star and baseball player who hailed from Humboldt. Happy Chandler, later to become the baseball commissioner and Senator from Kentucky played one summer for Humboldt.

Another early legendary player from the Humboldt team was Cal Farley who, like most of the other ball players on the 1910 team, was also interested in track and wrestling and went on to form Cal Farley's Boys Ranch in Texas. The U.S. Government honored him by printing a U.S. stamp named for him. The 1920 team also shows many of the players.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Humboldt had an excellent travelling team.

My Dad played first base and my Uncle Burton Turner was a pitcher. Burton's father, Ernest Turner, was a legendary pitcher. Many of the stories of early Humboldt baseball are well documented on this web site.

Who was the greatest player in Kittson County History? Some might say Ernie Turner, Happy Chandler, the Diamond boys, or Clarence Beck. [Note from Trish:  And don't forget Eli Gooselaw...] We don't have videos and it is impossible to compare players across generations. My candidate for player of the Millennium for the County is Humboldt's own native son, Scott Matthew.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"A Stark Contrast"


Farmers in our area have had to, down through the years, wage battles on many fronts - weather, disease...and markets.
We are inclined to think that by this time the Canadians who, under the influence of the teachings of the liberal press, preferred to emigrate to Minnesota and Dakota rather than to Manitoba and the Canadian Northwest, will have had reson to curse alike their own fate, and the false teachers that led them to it.  The absurd stories about monopoly, about land laws, about high taxation, which served the purpose of the opposition, are certainly no panning out in the experience of the settlers.  Minnesota and Dakota farmers, teaming their wheat across the border, paying the Canadian duty of fifteen cents a bushell, and still making a profit of about four cents a bushell over what they could get on their own side of the line, is rather a startling condition of things.  We copied the other day from the St. Vincent Minnesota, New Era a paragraph describing the condition of things to be seen there daily of farmers, dsiguested with the local price of from twenty-seven to thirty-six cents a bushel, less, when the cost of threshing and twine is deducted, than the price of carrying it to market, teaming it across the border in order to get the profit, over and above the duty, which the Canadian price would give them.  We do not wonder that, as the New Era says, "all felt like cursing the county and getting out of it."1

By a letter received here last week, it appears that up to the 28th November no less than eight hundred and sixty-one bushels of wheat were imported at Emerson from across the border.  On that day No. 1 wheat was selling at St. Vincent at 37 cents a bushel, and at Emerson, just across the border on the Canadian side, at 56 cents; so that after paying the duty, the Minnesota farmer got four cents a bushel more for his wheat in Manitoba than he could get in his own state.  But the most gratifying feature is that this enormous adventage obtains not only on the immediate border but all along the line of the Canadian Pacific railway.  The price last week at Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie was sixty-one cents a bushel; on the Burnside and Brandon section it was fifty-nine cents.  From that point on to Fleming, it was fifty-seven cents, and from Fleming westward it was fifty-five cents.  So that even on the western section of the Canadian Pacific railway the Northwest farmers were receiving  eighteen cents a bushel more for their wheat than the Minnesota farmer was getting at St. Vincent.  These facts are the best answers to the "monopoly" cry which a year or two ago was sufficiently influential to drive many Canadians into Minnesota and Dakota, and we will be greatly surprised if they do not induce a large number of Canadians, now on the Americna side of the line, to transfer themselves to Manitoba and the Canadian Northwest, where, as we doubt not, they now heartily wish that they had gone in the first instance.

From: The Montreal Gazette, Monday, December 8, 1884
I found out there was a bit more going on than at first glance...
Manitoba was the centre of growth, and of growing grain production, in the West (of Canada) to the late 1890s.  But it was not until 1883 that Manitoba had a rail link to the East.  Up to that time, grain was shipped through St. Vincent, Minnesota, to the Great Lakes.  This indirect shipping was costly.  That year, the CPR completed its line to Thunder Bay (then Fort William/Port Arthur) Since the railway had the only direct access to the Great Lakes, "it was able to exercise a great deal of monopoly power and adopt a value-of-service pricing policy."  It set its grain rates at just below those through St. Vincent - Rates were higher than the actual costs justified.

From: Regina Leader-Post, January 22, 1982
That is what the "monopoly" reference mentioned earlier was referring to, and with some just reasoning in my opinion...

1 - The full editorial was: "On Tuesday last we saw a sight upon our streets that with little variation may be witnessed here any day. A number of our best farmers were in town, men we have known since they settled here, and known them to be sober, hard-working, intelligent, honest men. They had their waggons loaded with wheat, and the prices they were offered ranged between 27 and 37 cents per bushel, mostly 27 cents. After taking out the cost of threshing and twine, they were paid less for their wheat than the railway charges are for drawing it to market. Some took their wheat to Traill's mill, and traded it off for flour. Some took it to Emerson, Manitoba, and paid the duty and sold it there, others took it home again, and a few, disheartened, sold their loads for what they could get, not what it was worth, and all felt like cursing the country and getting out of it." So much for Minnesota...


From: The North-West Agitation, The Toronto Mail (December 1884)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mathematic Word Problem


Something I had never imagined - of St. Vincent used as a textbook example - came across my screen when doing local history research the other day.
What is the difference between the average July temperature +65 and the average January temperature -8 at St. Vincent, Minn.?

From: Practical algebra, first year course (1910)
I got a kick out of seeing my hometown village used in this way...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Customs Stories III: Opium Smugglers


Smuggling contraband is a long tradition along borders, including the border area around St. Vincent...

Bold Opium Smugglers

Confiscated Opium...
St. Paul, Minn, Dec. 20, 1888 - A gang of daring smugglers has been engaged for some time in bringing opium into this state across the Northwestern border. The deputy collector at St. Vincent, Minn., acting on information from one of the gang who is under arrest, captured a wagon containing eight hundred pounds of the drug in the crude form just on the Dakota line. Detectives are in pursuit of the man to whom the opium was consigned. Opium smuggling on the extensive scale is being carried on, and such are the precautions against detections that it is almost impossible to stop it.

From: The Ithaca Democrat (December 1888)
Good thing, then, that Deputy Collector Nelson E. Nelson was on the job!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

St. Vincent: Port of Entry

H.R. Bill 814 makes St. Vincent's case

Did you know that at one time, St. Vincent was a port-of-entry?

After you read the original bill requesting that the town be made an official port (at left), you'll understand the logic; it actually makes sense for the time.

As of 1916, it was still a port. I'm not sure when it was discontinued, nor in what capacity it served as one.  Since the town wasn't right on the border itself (like Noyes) my guess is that it wasn't used for a crossing point, but functioned solely as a conduit for the border trade, or customs.

In 1883, it becomes reality - St. Vincent becomes a (sub)port-of-entry

I found out this much:  A deputy collector resided at St. Vincent during the time frame it was a port-of-entry.

With further research, I learned there was a Customs House in St. Vincent at some point, and not only was there a Deputy Collector of Customs, but at least two other positions there, also.

For example, in 1887, those on-duty were:  Adelard Guernon, Collector; Nelson E. Nelson, Deputy Collector; and Alfred F. Storey, Deputy Collector, Clerk & Inspector.

In 1887, there was no 'district of Dakota'; in fact, even the Pembina Customs was listed under the 'district' of Minnesota.  But between then and 1916, that changed...
The district of Dakota, to include all of the States of North and South Dakota and the county of Kittson in the State of Minnesota, with district headquarteres at Pembina, in which Pembina, Noyes, St. Vincent, Portal, St. John, Hannah, Neche, Ambrose, Souris, Walhalla, Sarles, Sherwood, Hansboro, Crosby, and Antler are ports of entry...

"The border crossing station at Noyes was established in 1905, after having been previously located in the nearby town of St. Vincent." - MN/DOT Historic Roadside Development

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Poem about Humboldt

Downtown Humboldt around the time the poem was written...

Ode to the North
[With apologies to Longfellow, and
acknowledgement to the Franssens]
Author anonymous
(Written circa 1938)

I
In the old Red River Valley,
Near the muddy, rusty, river
There’s a town by the name of Humboldt
Little town, quite far from St. Cloud!
Up, far up into the Northland
Where the people are dirt farmers
Strong and handsome sidewalk farmers.
Farm one farm and then another
Farms the whole damn country round them
Rent the land by sections, even
When we farm only 100 acres!

II
Much the things they do there different
All use tractors ‘stead of horses
Trucks and trailers ‘stead of wagons
People there are great on motors,
All got cars and big machineries
Packards, Plymouths, Dodges Chevies
Buicks, Fords what got the shimmies
Deering, Farmalls, Allis Chalmers,
Bradley, Deere John, and Missus Harris
All own combines, lusty swathers,
But they don’t have cultivators
Cause they don’t grow corn way up there.

III
In the springtime comes the rainstorms
Rains and rains and comes the gumbo
Slippery, slimey, black and dirty
Charlsie scrapers and calls it cowshit
Cause its all so smooth and stickey
Trucks get stuck, must be pulled out
By the fat man’s caterpillar
Gum gets tracked in the houses
Housewives have to clean and scrub them
But they do these little labors
Think not much of little labors
Glad to live up in the Northland.

IV
Up from St. Cloud comes the girlies
Stay to sport away vacation
With Aunt Pearl and Uncle Ollie (Berg)
Tear around with neighbor laddies,
Goes to shows with Wimp and Gordy
Vamps around and goes to Bronson
Have themselves a plenty good time
Play the checkers and the ping-pong
Drink root beer and eats the pop corn
Rides in trucks and on the combine
Drive Joe Diamond's “Master Chevie”
And with his beloved, Jerry!

V
In the town there is the people
Leonard, Herb and Lawrence Diamond
Big B’S-ers, them three fellows
Like to tease and tell big stories
All in fun does Ikey do it
Him the Cop, - - - the Chief of Police
Him the Fire Sergeant also,
But not the Mayor,
Him is Tom Brown.
Squirty little duck, the mayor,
All for work and money getter.

VI
Bumped his head on Bud’s truck mirror
Wondered what the hell had happened
Looked around and pulled his whiskers
Bud and Donnie blowed a tire
Knocked the cap from Uncle Bud off
Blew the cigarette from his mouth out
Donnie Brown rolled over backwards
Laughed & laughed and rubbed his stomach
Him the kid that can fry “burgers”
Juicy, greasy hot hamburgers
He displayed his art one winter
At Aunt Pearl’s and Buds Household

VII
Also for Tom, works Sylvester,
Fat and happy Slim Sylvester,
Went with teacher from the "Hoc Schule"
Drives himself a pretty Chevie
Scoots around with old "Shell" gas truck
Round town and in the country
Bringing gasses to the farmers
Much he teases little Mary
Also Pete and sassy Jerry

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Poem: "Queen River..."

Red River of the North by Apyh P
Red River of the North, by Apyh P

As often happens in my research, I stumble across something when looking for something totally different. The poem below was written about the Red River; I smiled when I first read it, because it's obviously so idealized (at least about the river itself). There are also elements of imperialism and prejudice regarding the aboriginal cultures. Yet, to be fair, there are at the same time paradoxical phrases (such as "priestcraft's snare") that could be taken as condemnations of the eventual results.



by J.C.H.

'Neath high arched skies of clearest sheen,
Sweeping thro' prairies' boundless green,
Where branching elms and poplars throw
Dark shadows of the flood below;
Thro' the great rival nation's land,
Uniting them with silver band,
We greet thee, as we greet a Queen,
Red River of the Northern Plain.


Thy crown is of the azure hue
Of sun-set sky and pearly dew;
Thy tresses of the ivy made,
Twined with the willows, lighter shade;
The Bois de Sioux, the small Marais,
Unite to make thy girdle gay;
The Assiniboine and wild Roseau
Thy fair feet have in Northern Plain.


A Naiad Queen - thy bounteous hand
Refreshes oft the parched land;
The cattle bellow forth thy praise,
The blackbirds land thee in their lays;
The plover, mallard, and wild goose
The slow-paced bear, the antlered moose,
Come, lave and drink, a thankful band,
Queen river of the Northern Plain.


Pray tell us of those ancient men,
The Sioux, the Blackfeet, the Cheyenne,
Whose forms majestic, by thy face
Reflected were - a stately race;
Their children on thy banks still stand,
Sad remnant of a noble band;
Their old renown, their fate, you ken,
Old rover of the Northern Plain.


Then tell us of the men who came
In humble guise and holy name,
Who bore the cross, and taught that loss
Was gain, and gain on earth was loss,
With Him before whose sacred throne
The red and white man count as one;
Good men, ye sought for heaven to tame
The wild men of the Northern Plain.


But ah, my Muse, in shame and tears,
With downcast eyes, of after years
She tells. By lust and lucre nurs'd,
Came wrongs and cruel deeds, that curs'd
The land, sod made the red man fall
And fade, who had been king of all
Canadians - shall the coming years
Redeem from stain our Northern Plain?


Astraean Muse, the tears conceal,
And of the coming years reveal;
"Fair Queen, thy virgin shores shall be
The home of Myriads blest and free;
From despot's rod, from priestcraft's snare
Thy waters pure their freight shall bear,
Thy praise they'll raise, thy glory feel,
Queen River of the Northern Plain."


NOTE: The Bois de Sioux, Marais, Roseau, and Assiniboine are four of the many rivers that drain the northern part of this immense prairie, and fall into the Red River of the North...


From: From Manitoba Free Press November 6, 1875

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Louis Riel Poem

Photo of Riel (1878)

It was from the border town of St. Vincent, Minnesota, that on December 26, 1878, Riel gazed longingly at his Manitoba homeland and composed the following lines.  Since he was still purging the five-year exile imposed on him in Ottawa in 1875, he could not enter Canada.  Filled with anger by the thought that a recent influx of English-speaking Protestant settlers was now controlling his province, he contemplates mounting an armed invasion of Canada which, with providential support, would liberate his people.  Riel condemns the actions of Lisgar and Dufferin, governors general, whose terms overlapped that of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald.

Minnesota, Which I Now Entered (1878)
Minnesota, which I now entered,
Filled my heart with longing
For my home strung along its border.
I fell, sighting two cities, a bliss,
St. Paul and Minneapolis,
For eight or nine parents settled there.
I am moved almost to tears
As the train slowly draws near.
But the train moves on and the engine
Takes me to Breckenridge, to Crookston;
Then to St. Vincent from where, happy,
I contemplate my beloved country,
My sweet.
Manitoba,
Enticing as a loved one's charms,
Now held in the Orangemen's strong arms:
Manitoba,
For whom I have toiled unceasingly,
Your countenance inebriates me.
As if subdued by sweet catawba,
I reel.  Like Solomon to Sheeba
I am beckoned irresistibly.
For your glory my love must avail
And, God willing, my efforts prevail.

I have just returned from the Northeast.
While I waited, punished in exile,
Through the machinations of a Beast
Your innocent hearts have been reviled.
I, God willing, with renewed vigor
Will find ways to crush this enemy.
Friends on the banks of the Missouri
Will, with conviction as their armor,
Fight the native people's righteous fight
And, with me, armed by justice's might,
Fly swiftly on a northerly breeze
To help our Metis brothers resist.
Passions and fierceness I will enlist
And to great injustice match great fury.
They will attack Portage la Prairie
And destroy that wicked place entirely.
The river Boyne will be a bloodbath,
Red Assiniboine its aftermath.
Lisgar and Dufferin have bequeathed
Ignominy. Their men's legacy
Is betrayal. With revenge unsheathed
The Blackfoot will make Winnipeg pay.
Do not falter, worthy countrymen.
Oppose the English.  Respect your name.
John A., no better than a madman,
Ottawa will lose at its own game.
Spirit, be guided by Providence.
Do not too hastily take offence.
God moves his finger in mysterious ways.
By prudence, not by passion, be swayed.
All intentions are as scattered dust
When they contradict the divine plan.
If God tells me:  "Till the land," I must.
Or: "Make yourself stronger," this I can.
Or: "You must die," His will must be done.
Thus perhaps I am not intended
To help my people gain their freedom.
Let not my people be held ransom.
Let them thrive, let them be defended.

From:  Selected Poetry of Louis Riel