Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Mists of Time

A recent newspaper article reminded me of how quickly we can be forgotten.

I have often imagined the St. Vincent of the future as being a Brigadoon.  Every 100 years, it will come back for a time, rising amidst the mists along the Red River. Nothing left but memories, but memories so strong, they materialize.

I also have imagined the St. Vincent Cemetery residents as characters like in Our Town's third act, remembering for a time who they were, but slowly forgetting.  For a time, they hold conversations, remembering the past, looking onto the living, their comments both insightful and bittersweet.

And then there is me (Trip to Bountiful).  I cannot let go of the powerful memories that invade my dreams and daytime thoughts, that compel me to write about the places and people who were, and are now gone. But no, they are not gone.  They live in my memories.  They live in many of your memories reading this.  And for all we know, they live on past this life in a way we cannot yet comprehend.

Each one of us affects far more than we ever realize...

Saturday, November 30, 2013


This week, as many celebrated Thanksgiving in the USA, I would like to say how thankful I am to have been born in St. Vincent, Minnesota.

While there are many places in the world where people care about one another, and people hold these places just as dear to their hearts as I do St. Vincent, this is my hometown, and thereby all of you (meaning those born there also, or in the neighboring area) are part of my extended family. You are all part of the rich and amazing tapestry that is my life.

You who taught me, who scolded me, who teased me, who quietly helped me when I didn't even know it, who served me behind a counter, who waved at me as I rode past on my horse, who gave me a first job as a young girl, etc. - to all of you I say thank you. Thank you for being you, and I love you all...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jerome Family Portrait

A lost family portrait is found!

Recently, Ed Merck posted an intriguing entry on the Kittson County Historical Society website:

A kind lady contacted me about a picture she found in a California antique mall. Fortunately, she found my website about the Jerome Family and offered me the picture for her cost. It is in excellent condition. What a find! Based on the apparent size of my Uncle Julius, the boy in the photo, I estimate the picture was taken around 1904-5. 

There are comments on the backside written by an unknown descendant of the Smith-Jerome families. I include them here:
Back Row:  Elizabeth Smith Burk (mom's sister), Anna Smith Irwin (Mother) 14 yrs., Angeline Jerome Parenteau (mom's aunt)(sitting), Marie (Mae) Smith (Panshab, Whiteside ) (Mom's sister), Roger Jerome (mom's uncle), James H Smith (mom's father) ((Hiram – Elizabeth Smith) mom's grandparents)(sitting), Martin Jerome (mom's uncle)
Front Row: Andre Jerome (mom's grandfather), Julius Jerome (Napoleon's son), Margaret Gooselaw (orig. spelling: Goselin) Jerome (mom's grandmother) (Her mother McKay King), Napoleon Jerome (mom's uncle) (his wife was Elizabeth Renville), Margaret Jerome Smith (Mrs. James Smith) (mom's mother)
This is the only picture I have of my grandfather Napoleon in his younger years. It shows him with the athletic appearance I pictured him having. I had heard stories when I was a kid about how he and his brothers raced across the Red River, swimming with their hands tied behind them. Andre had a homestead on each side of the Two Rivers where it joins the Red River, so I imagine that is where those races were held when they were young. Grandpa was a great 'buddy' to me when I was a kid when he would spend a few months a year in our home at Ada and Argyle. Unfortunately, I never knew Grandma.

Andre lived just North of Emerson on land given him by Hudson Bay Company, near the fort. In early census listings they were included in U. S. census because of confusion over border. That was before he was arrested and tried for treason against the Queen following the Fenian raid. Stories say he, and his brothers or sons were in the dray business and carried supplies for the raiders. He was imprisoned by the British in the 'Stone Fort' at Winnipeg; the trial ended in a hung jury so he was returned to prison for the winter, then tried again, and once again it ended with a hung jury. Following release, he moved to a homestead west of Hallock. 

At one time, Napoleon bought and lived on what had been Fort Pembina, which they called the 'fort farm' and my mother spent several of her younger years there. Amos (Napoleon's son) and his family lived in Pembina and some of his family lived in St. Vincent at one time or another...Joe Rolette's wife was Angelique Jerome, but I think they lived in Pembina (I'm not sure of that because Pembina County included much of what is now Kittson County...) Angeline Parenteau was a Jerome. Her son Mark became a noted artist. I accidentally met him when I was going through flying training in the Rio Grande Valley in 1957, so we became friends and I have a portrait he painted of me at that time. He spent winters there with his sister. I remember visiting him and his mother in St. Vincent when I was very young. At that time he was a teenager and I was impressed with the soap carvings he had whittled.

I just checked the 1857 census for St. Vincent, Pembina County, Minnesota. It lists several Jerome families including Andre, his father Martin, and some of Andre's brothers as well as Joe Rollette.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

One of Our Own

"Music bubbles out of me..."
[Poster created by Nancy Ansari]

Cleo Bee [Wang] Jones is a St. Vincent native.  Cleo's grandmother was a Lang, and her mother was a Turner. The Langs and Turners, much like the Gambles, left big footprints on St. Vincent and its history.  In her own right, Cleo became more than the little village could contain.  Rightly so, she went out into the bigger world and shared her gift - her "Great Voice"...

[The following is an excerpt from a 2012 article]

Cleo Bee has something to look forward to: On Sept. 9, 2012 she will be inducted into the South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame. This will be her second such honor — she was inducted into the Minnesota Rock and County Hall of Fame in 2007.

Cleo, 72, was born in St. Vincent, Minn. (population 64) and sang all over the country before she moved to Hayward with her husband, when he retired in 2006. She has a voice and a talent — and most of all, a love for song.

Her gift became apparent in second grade when her teacher asked the class if they knew what a four-leaf clover was. Before anyone could answer, Cleo stood up and said it was a song. Then she sang “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover.”

“I sang and they clapped and that’s all it took to start the whole thing,” said Cleo, who has never had a voice lesson in her life.

In high school she sang in a dance band, recalling Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” But she said she was most influenced by the powerful voices of Kay Starr and Mahalia Jackson, before rock ‘n roll arrived on the music scene.

Also while in high school, she said she was snuck in the back door of the Eagles Club to perform onstage with a group that was there from Arkansas. She was 16.

Cleo won a talent contest that year and went to New York City to audition for the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. Her two aunts traveled with her. There were about 500 contestants, she said, and she waited for hours before it was her turn to get onstage where she sang “Mr. Wonderful” and “On the Street Where You Live.”

“I didn’t make the cut that night,” she said, but shortly thereafter she won third place in the 1957-58 finals Amateur Show sponsored by the Associated Canadian Travelers and held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Cleo said she was the only winner from the U.S.

Cleo married, had two daughters and moved to Minneapolis, where she soon became a popular singer.

Her big break came in 1968 when she joined the Sherwin Linton Show, entertaining in ballrooms, nightclubs, lounges and touring the country in the band bus. The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas was often their venue.

Cleo said that over the years she worked with George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Dottie West, George Hamilton, Tex Ritter and Buck Owens.

In 1977 Cleo wrote a song and sang some of her favorites, along with duets with Linton, on a cassette, which was later released on CD. Some of the selections were recorded live at the South Dakota State Penitentiary on Aug. 9, 1971.

When she left the Sherwin Linton Show, tired of the travel, Cleo became the featured singer at Louie’s Inn in Dresser, Wis., and the house band was soon named “The Honeycomb.”

“No more buses but we sometimes performed six nights a week,” she said.

Cleo kept that pace for four years and then remarried and moved to Rochester, Minn. She stopped singing in 1980 and said she missed it terribly.

“It was horrifying. I would sing in the car on long trips, in the house, anyplace — it drove my husband nuts,” she said.

Twenty years later she performed again with the Sherwin Linton Show and repeated those performances a few times in cities in Minnesota and North Dakota.

She said one of her most memorable performances was at her mother’s memorial service which was scheduled on Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists attacked New York City and the Twin Towers fell.

“Mom wanted me to sing at her funeral, and after all that had happened that day, I sang ‘America the Beautiful.’ There wasn't a dry eye in the place,” she said.

Cleo Bee, as she is today...
Cleo still sings locally. She has guested with “Molly and the Danger Band,” has sung at the Stone Lake Cranberry Luncheon and the Hayward High School 50th Reunion with some members of The Honeycomb.

Music has made her life rich, she said, through travel and meeting wonderful people.

“Music and opportunities — that’s who I was and who I am. Music bubbles out of me,” she said.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Border

The little border town of Emerson, Manitoba, was a surreal place to be in April 1997.  Behind the permanent dike that had been doubled in height with the addition of a temporary structure of plywood and sandbags, Emerson was a dry island in the vast sea of the Red River, which had burst its banks.  All the inhabitants, with the exception of a few who had been left behind to fight the flood, had been evacuated.  The electric power still worked, so that at night the island of Emerson was ablaze in a strange white light.  Deer and hares and other smaller animals had gravitated to the town to escape the ice cold waters of the raging river.  They stood, frightened sentinels, in the white light of the ghost town. 
A remarkable crew made up of town employees, a detachment of troops from the Canadian Forces and local Mounties kept the town of Emerson itself dry and secure.  As the river rose to a critical level in late April, with no firm prediction on how high it would get, the struggle to maintain the wall around the town was in deadly earnest.  Coordinated out of the Emerson Town Hall, the beleaguered warriors filled sandbags and directed them to potential weak points on the perimeter.  So close is Emerson to the U.S. border, that a portion of the dike actually crossed into the small neighboring community of Noyes, Minnesota, protecting a U.S. Customs office and several nearby homes on U.S. soil.  As residents noted at the time, what they were calling the "Red Sea" did not make distinctions between one side of the border and the other.
[The writer returns five years later, and talks to survivors in both Emerson and Pembina of their ordeal during the 1997 flood, then goes to the border to travel to Grand Forks to interview survivors there...]
In the large new Canada Customs post at the border- built since the flood of '97 - I meet two tall, muscular customs officers who have recollections of the mayhem...When asked about the purpose of my trip to North Dakota by a U.S. Customs official with grey hair, I tell him I am going to Grand Forks to talk to people on the fifth anniversary of the flood of '97.  Not bothering to ask me for ID, he comments sardonically, "Why not go to Pembina?  They know at least as much about the flood as anyone in Grand Forks." 
I follow his advice and drive into the little town of Pembina, two minutes south of the border.  The town had been British territory before it was handed over the U.S. with the adoption of the forty-ninth parallel as the border across the Prairies in 1818.  On the east side of Pembina, there is a high earthen dike to protect the town from the Red River.  It is the same on the other side of the river in the tiny hamlet of St. Vincent Minnesota.  This April the Red is tame, but the dike is there for protection against future floods. 
On the main street of Pembina, I find an old preacher and his young disciple out trying to win converts.  I ask them if they were in town for the great flood of '97.  In reply, the old man hands me a pocket-sized pamphlet titled, "A Preacher of the Old School."  In our conversation, Mr. W. Seed and I are at cross-purposes.  He is trying to save my soul from a flood of biblical proportions while I am in search of memories of a mere earthly flood.  I manager to get Mr. Seed onto my line of inquiry, and he tells me of the long series of floods that have afflicted this community - in 1897, 1950, 1966, and 1979.  In 1997, he says, the dike held and the town was saved.
From:  The Border: Canada, the US and Dispatches From the 49th Parallel

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

St. Vincent Business Listing, 1879

Despite the seeming title discrepancy, 
this is the same, correct gazetteer...

ST. VINCENT [From Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Montana gazetteer and business directory (1879)]

This growing town of 500 inhabitants is the state terminus of the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway, and also of the St. Vincent branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It is situated in the extreme northwestern point of Kittson county and of the State alike. The Red River of the North, is 390 miles from St. Paul, and the seat of the county of Kittson. A regular line of steamers make daily trips on the Red river from St. Vincent to Winnipeg, Manitoba, carrying passengers and freight and making connection with the arrival and departure of trains. St. Vincent has a steam elevator of 90,000 bushels capacity, a bank, a brewery, a brickyard, a hotel, a newspaper named the Herald, three general stores and a district school, while a church is being erected...Daily mail over the St. P., M. & M. and Canadian Pacific railways. D. F. Brawley, postmaster.


Brawley D F, brickmaker.
John A. Vanstrum
First Sheriff of Kittson County
Buie John, livery and sale stable.
Flynn & O'Keefe, General Store.
Gooding C J, railroad agent.
Head Felix G, justice of the peace.
Head Felix G, Publisher St Vincent Herald.
Lowery Robert W, general store.
Nobles L, express agent.
O'Keefe Wm M, register of deeds.
Provouchoe John, saloon.
Raywood George & Co, St Vincent Brewery1.
Red Wing Mill Co, grain elevator.
Rich J H, cashier St. Vincent Bank and manager, Elevator Co.
St Vincent Bank, J H Rich cashier.
Shepard J W, lumber and building material.
Stewart John W, proprietor Pacific Hotel.
Vanstrum John A, Sheriff Kittson County.
Vanstrum John A, real estate agent.
Winter J B, general store.


1 - Later, George Raywood and Charles Thorson opened the North Arm Brewery in South Vancouver; after that, in 1900, George built the Cedar Cottage Brewery on Gibson Creek in Southeast Vancouver.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ghosts of Minnesota: St. Vincent

St. Vincent School and grounds
[August 2013]

"A visitor on our Facebook page has kept after us to visit St. Vincent..."
That would be me.

I had been encouraging the guys from Ghosts of Minnesota to visit my hometown, and recommended that they look at posts from this blog to give them an idea of what it once was, what it meant to people (and still does), and that it was a perfect candidate for their project.

I am very happy they finally made it up to St. Vincent on August 20, 2013.  They missed a few things in town that I wished they had documented, but in the end, I'm pleased for St. Vincent to be acknowledged, however humble.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

"Hell on Wheels" - St. Vincent Style

The early spur track into St. Vincent went down to the river,
then followed it some ways north.  In this stereoview, you
can see Pembina in the background looking west, and the
Pembina River tributary  (Date Unknown)1
[Click to Enlarge...]

Three things defined St. Vincent from its beginning:  The river that ran by it, the land that surrounded it, and later, the railroad that was built through (and by) it.

I wanted to share the story of how the railroad came to St. Vincent.  No one that lived during that time is left to share that story with us, so we must go to the records of history and pull the story out, to shed light on it, to let it tell us why it happened, how it affected us, and what the legacy of it once being here is.

Please, dear Reader, read on!  This is just the tip of a much larger iceberg, a tiny paragraph of a much larger story of how the iron horse not only changed St. Vincent, but our entire country! be technically known as the St. Vincent Extension of the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, from St. Cloud, 375 miles, to Pembina, near the northwestern corner of Minnesota, and on the border of the British Province of Manitoba. This is to be completed before the close of 1872. It will drain the richest portion of the Red River valley and open direct communication with the British settlements of Winnipeg and the productive valley of the Saskatchewan. It will also serve as the southeastern arm of the Northern Pacific road, reaching to St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Source: Scientific American, Volume XXVI, Number 13, New York, 23 March 1872
Just as construction crews completed the line to St. Vincent, and the Associates eliminated the NPR as a competitor for the CPR contract, the Canadian government slapped up a tariff wall that virtually halted business between St. Paul and Winnipeg.
Source: Boosters Hustlers and Speculators: Entreprenurial Culture and the Rise of Minneapolis and St Paul, 1849-1883, by Jocelyn Wills
In 1857, the Minnesota and Pacific Railway Company was formed with the goal of constructing a mainline from Stillwater to Breckenridge...and a branch line to St. Vincent near the mouth of the Pembina River

After the mainline was completed, the Northern Pacific began construction on the St. Paul and Pacific branch line to St. Vincent, but 1872 witnessed a sluggish market for securities.  This decline was compounded by the Panic of 1873, and the NP was forced to relinquish control of the St. Paul and Pacific.  It went into receivership in August 1873 to a Jesse P. Farley.2

NOTE:  During this time, there was much economic instability in the country, and deep concerns by investors, resulting in the Minnesota legislature enforcing conditions of repayment and investor lawsuits.  This resulted in the Associates stepping in...

The Associates2 raised finances, rights to routes, and secured Dutch bonds, thus making it possible to lease the St. Vincent Extension from Farley [in September 1876], and the contract for completing the line to the Red River and Manitoba.  The St. Vincent Extension [into St. Vincent itself] wasn't constructed until 1878, and was required to be finished by the end of that year.  December 2, 1878 saw the final spike driven in the Extension, and four days later first train of the St. Paul & Pacific travel from St. Paul to Winnipeg via the St. Vincent Extension.
Source: Railroad Development in Minnesota, 1862-1956
The first Minnesota railways going east to west, south to north...
[Click to Enlarge]
To expedite construction, Hill had John S. Kennedy try to convince Farley to lease the St. Vincent Extension to the Red River & Manitoba Railway and to grant Hill and Kittson the contract for laying rails on the unfinished portions of that line.  "The lease would give the Associates control of all operations on the Extension, free them to run it in such way as to facilitate construction, and enable them to channel earnings into the corporation they managed."

But, Farley initially resisted.  The Associates worried because they perceived Farley as being slow in getting the work done.  "Alert to the possibility of losing the land grant, Hill traveled often to the end-of-the-track with Farley, whom he regarded as dilatory and inefficient.  Under stern pressure from the Associates, Farley finally agreed to let Hill and Kittson take over responsibility for construction of the St. Vincent Extension in September 1878."

Yet, rather than being controlled, the work seemed to do the controlling.  Suppliers lagged in delivering materials; October floods covered land and track; construction trains were delayed when locomotives were deprived of water because balky windmills failed; workmen drifted off the job; and snow, with extreme cold, came early.

Construction crews of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba
(predecessor of the Great Northern Railway), moving up to the
rail-head; accompanied by soldiers who are on the lookout for
hostile Indians. The 3-story cars were dormitories for men.

[Source:  NDSU Institute for Regional Studies]

Despite frustrating delays, the First Division met the legislative deadlines in 1878.  The nearly 105 miles added in one year was more new track than had been laid by the St. Paul & Pacific companies for some seasons...Soon track-laying was completed from Warren to St. Vincent...and on November 10, 1878, the first train from St. Vincent pulled in to St. Paul.
Source:  The Great Northern Railway: A History
The line from St. Vincent to the St. Vincent Junction was removed in 1952. Railway Service to St. Vincent was over...

1 - The photograph that was used to create this stereoview was taken by Jacob Skrivseth. In the fall of 1879, Skrivseth became a partner of O. E. Flaten in Moorhead, Minnesota. The two men built a traveling wagon with a built-in darkroom. Flaten stayed in Moorhead, and Skrivseth traveled throughout the Red River Valley shooting town and farm scenes. Flaten & Skrivseth also were the official photographers for the St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Manitoba Railroad (which later became the Great Northern Railway...)

2 - Jesse Farley had two decades of experience in railroading, but he also had liabilities...He had next to no political influence in Minnesota,...he was nervous, jealous, and often tactless.  Farley nevertheless worked hard to carry out an almost impossible task.  The northern 104 miles of the St. Vincent Extension were a great worry.  Earlier, the First Division had laid track from south of Glyndon, where it crossed the NP, to north of Crookston, ending there in " uninhabited prairie with no human habitation in sight." [Source:  The Great Northern Railway, by Muriel E. Hidy]

3 - The Associates were Donald Smith (Hudson Bay Company), James J. Hill, John S. Kennedy, Norman Kittson, and George Stephen (Bank of Montreal), formed in 1877. They made sure the Dutch investors got paid, the St. Paul & Pacific got good management, and remained solvent.  Later, the CPR Syndicate was formed in 1881 by Hill with Stephen, Smith, and Richard Angus; their original investment of $100,000 yielded an eventual 17 million dollars after 4 years.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Burton Cummings played in Hallock

Burton Cummings, Edd Smith, Ronn Savoie,
 Derek Bylyk (Blake), and  Bruce Decker.

Release day, November 1965.
of "Blue Is The Night" (Deverons)

[Burton Cummings in his living 
room, Photo taken by his mother...]
Burton Cummings (eventually of the Guess Who) played in Hallock shortly after high school at a dance organized by Donnie Hunt. They had a number of bands from Winnipeg and the City Hall was packed... Hallock really rocked in those days. - Mike Rustad

By this time [1963] the band had become one of the hottest commodities in Winnipeg, and had toured sporadically throughout Manitoba,  Saskatchewan, and into Minnesota, even though they were all still 17.  - Canadian Bands

Circa 1966-67, shortly after Cummings
The Guess Who...
In early 1966, The Guess Who approached Burton to join their band, despite their already having a lead singer.  At first he shared lead singing, but soon became the sole lead singer.  He had a rich, powerful voice, and became a strong half, together with Randy Bachman, of a songwriting duo.  In the late 60s, The Guess Who came to Hallock to play, right before they took off to international fame!

Additional Sources:

Friday, August 02, 2013

Guest Post: Gopher v. Man

I'm pretty sure you can trace the historic failings of the University of Minnesota sports teams to their choice of name:  Gophers.  In Minnesota lingo, at some point the teams started being called the "Goofers".  I think the football team last won the Big 10 championship and got to go to the Rose Bowl in about 1963, and I'm pretty sure they lost.  Basketball, baseball, wrestling, swimming, soccer -- quick, name me one national title the U of M teams have won in the last fifty or sixty years, even when they had Dave Winfield on both the basketball team and the football team ... .  
I thought so.
I'm pretty sure the Goofers could win a Foosball championship if the NCAA sanctioned it.  Those long winter nights, indoor activities fueled by camaraderie and beer, have definitely produced some bad-ass Foosball players.  Hit me with your best shot.
Gophers are not really vermin, but they are pests. They don't spread disease to humans, but they still wreak havoc.  They build these complex subterranean family homes, and spread the dirt in piles all over fields, gardens, and lawns.  They're kinda small, have nubby little tails, front feet with nails on the paws for scratching and digging, and goofy little curved yellow teeth that curl out of their lips -- also, I guess, for digging holes and tunnels and tearing up roots and destroying gardens.  One of their admirable qualities is industriousness, which is why they are also a bane.
Cute?  Do not be fooled!
Here is a picture of a gopher, in case you've never seen one up close. Notice the whiskers, the little beady eyes, the small pinned-back ears, and the yellow teeth.  Ugh.  Somebody ought to teach this guy some dental hygiene.  I've seen meth addicts with better teeth than that.

My dad hated Gophers.  Not as much as he hated Dick Cheney, but still, when he was creating his picture of the perfect hell for Dick Cheney I'm pretty sure there were gophers in there to torment the guy.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Last Hurrah for a Rural School

Controlled Burn:  Older section of school
There were no girls in the senior class of 1987, forcing Humboldt-St. Vincent to do without a homecoming queen. Things improved this year, when all three girls in the class vied for the honor.

Classes don't come any smaller than in Humboldt-St. Vincent. It's a school with 65 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, including one fourth-grader. The average grade has five students.

That's too small for state officials, who see nothing romantic about the arrangements and are happy that the school district is finally ready to close shop. For Education Commissioner Gene Mammenga, the tiny school in Kittson County is a prime example of public education gone awry.

Humboldt-St. Vincent, 410 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, ranks as the state's smallest K-12 school district and spends $11,381 each year to educate a single student. That's the highest of any K-12 district in Minnesota and more than twice the state average. A state study called the spending astronomical.

Moreover, the district holds classes in an 85-year-old school that violates state codes and is faced with a financial crisis after piling up debt for four years. A lack of money and students makes it difficult to offer many electives.

"It's a waste of money, but more important than that, it's a waste of human potential, with young people who had a limited academic experience," Mammenga said.

Those are fighting words for those who farm the flat, rich land of the Red River Valley.

"Typical bureaucrat sitting in the white ivory towers, totally removed from the realities of rural America," said Humboldt Mayor Curtis Miller, who grows wheat, barley and sugar beets on 2,100 acres. "The way of life in rural America is very sacred to us."

That's why these are sad days in Humboldt, where farmers need rain and school ends for good on May 30. It's the end of a long era that began in 1882, when the district was created.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Friday, June 30th [1893]. Pembina, N. D., N. P. R. R., 90 miles. Hotel, Winchester. Pop. 1,000. Rained nearly all day. Business good. Large excursion from the Queen’s Domain, many pleasure-seekers coming from Winnipeg to view the wonders of the Big Show. At night a heavy wind-storm frightened the audience, and they left the canvas before the conclusion of show.

Source: Official Route Book of Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Railroad Shows, Season of 1893, Buffalo, NY: Courier Co., 1893. Circus Historical Society

Bud E. Anderson's Jungle Oddities
visited Pembina in 1939

[Click to Enlarge]

There were other circuses that came by in other years, of course:

  • Great Wallace Show (Pembina on Sunday, July 15 1896)
  • Forepaugh Circus (Pembina on Sunday, June 27, 1900)
  • Bud E. Anderson's Jungle Oddities & 3-Ring Circus (Pembina on August 6, 1939, and Hallock on August 4, 1939)
  • Carson & Barnes Circus (Pembina on June 5, 1960)
...One of the active workers is a "reformed circus man," McFarland of Pembina county, who was a performer with Van Amberg, and later a saloonkeeper. He is now radical in temperance and religion... [Source: St. Paul Daily Globe, January 31, 1887]

Evidently, going by the above quote, it wasn't considered proper work to be a circus performer, at least by some.  I always thought it was amusing that people can look down on certain other people, yet be perfectly willing to have those people entertain them.  Then again, it was a different time, and even then, not everyone agreed about these issues.

If anyone reading this have old family photos or oral history about the circus visits to our area, I'd love to hear them. You can always contact me privately through my profile on the sidebar, or leave a comment!
Trick Cycling would have been very popular with audiences
during the Bicycle craze of the 'Gay 90s
' [Click to Enlarge]

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What Could Have Been

From the 1893 Plat Atlas - Click to Enlarge
[Map Credit:  Library of Congress]

In the section of Pembina shown above - part of the 1893 Plat Map of Pembina County - you can see how the railroad was set up to come in north/south, but had a spur going southeast towards St. Vincent. In a stereoview of St. Vincent, it shows a spur coming up from the main track into town from the east, that then turn north and goes along the river to the exact point across the Red from the Pembina spur. At that time, the only thing needed was a railway bridge over the river, but that never happened, and that was one reason of many that discouraged more growth in St. Vincent. There was some serious missed opportunities, poorly thought-out politicking, etc. that went into it all. The nail in the coffin came around the infamous 1897 flood, after which J.J. Hill wanted to move the town out to the wye, aka the Junction and higher ground.  But Mayor Deacon said no to the offer, without discussing it with any other city council member, let alone the towns people.  We can only speculate as to his reasons.

St. Vincent Spur that once went round north to opposite bank
from Pembina's spur, meant to cross river via bridge never
built, every likely thanks to William Deacon's fateful decision

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Historical Home: Up in Flames

June 6/7, 2013 Fire:  All that is left of a once stately home...
[Photo Credit:  Jamie Rustad Meagher]

All that is left now is a pile of bricks, supplied to the home's original builder by the Pembina Brick Company.  Made from Red River Valley clay, the bricks were a distinctive yellow, part of what made this once stately home so striking and special.

Charles & Isabella Cavileer sold the land the house was built on to James & Barbara Webb in May 1880.  The Webbs built the house, but the date it was completed is unknown.  It became the home to many families down through the years - Judge Edward Conmy & his family among them.

Another early image of the J.G. Webb home
[Photo Credit:  State Historical Society of North Dakota]

The photograph above was taken in the late 1800s. It shows the house's west side, facing Cavileer Street.  Not too far to the east (back) is the tree line and bank down to the Pembina River.

Pembina Cycling Club pose in front of James G. Webb Home, 
This photo shows the house from the north side.  In the mid 1890s, a bicycle craze swept the nation.  Around 1895/96, Pembina formed a cycling club1, whose members pose in this photo in front of the home.  The small building in the right rear of the house is likely a carriage house where a buggy was kept along with the horse that pulled it. A carriage house was the garage of the 19th century for those that could afford such things.

The only references I could find thus far, to James G. Webb - the likely original owner of the home - was one where he was once up for Postmaster in Pembina, but in less than a month, the position was rescinded.2 The Cavileer family continued in that role instead. The other reference was from a few years earlier in the 1880 U.S. Census, which listed him and his family living at the Winchester Hotel as 'boarders' at the time, and his profession as 'Merchant'. They bought the land that same year. By the time the house was built, the Webb family were evidently prosperous enough to not only build their own home, but to build one that made quite a statement.  It continued to be a point of pride in the town, to the day it burned down...

[Images Courtesy of Jamie Rustad Meagher]


1 - Cycling clubs sprang up in valley communities including St. Thomas, Forest River, Jamestown, Fargo, Elbow Lake (where women organized a “Bloomers Cycling Club”), Drayton, Larimore, Minto, Towner, Hillsboro, Pembina, Dickinson, Church’s Ferry, Park River, Grafton, Gilby, Epworth, Neche, Lakota, and Buffalo, North Dakota, as well as Crookston, Moorhead, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, where members also ordered uniforms. [From The 1890s Bicycling Craze in the Red River Valley, by Dr. Ron Spreng, Minnesota Historical Society Minnesota History Quarterly, Summer 1995]

2 - See
James G. Webb's appointment as U.S. Postmaster at Pembina,
as well as the rescinding of that appointment a month later...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bobby Stewart Update: "Fearless"

Bobby Stewart aboard "Ocean Roar" in 1969 Kentucky Derby
[Credit: Assiniboia Downs Archives]
Bobby Stewart would be my pick for the best jockey to ever ride at Assiniboia Downs. - ASD History
High praise, but well deserved.

A recent blog post talks about Bobby Stewart's career, and it's amazing to realize he came from our area. But you never know who will rise above the rest, or where they may hail from.

Be sure to check out an earlier blog post about Bobby, and the honor bestowed in remembrance of him at the inauguration of the Bobby Stewart Memorial Stakes in 2010.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Tale of Two School Buildings

St. Vincent (left) & Orleans (right):  Built using same plans...?
School districts were especially numerous in the early history of Minnesota, and were much smaller than the township - often within the 26 square miles there would often be a half dozen or more.

Such was not the case in sparsely-populated Kittson County, however.

Stats for St. Vincent:
  • St. Vincent's first school board was organized on January 7, 1880.
  • The first schools in the county were on or near the St.Vincent village. 
  • One of the first teachers was Eliza Moore, who taught all eight grades in a little one room school on the west end of St. Vincent. 
  • The final St. Vincent school - located conveniently in the center of town - was built in 1903 (Orleans school was built in 1905).
[Click to enlarge & read details]

From my research it appears that schools like these were very common in smaller communities, and many were built across the country in the early 1900s.  Some were two-story, two-room, while others like those above were two-story, four-room.  You could buy standard plans, and have local carpenters, like St. Vincent's Ed Cameron and Al Fitzpatrick, build it for you.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mike Rustad: County Fair Memories

Ah, the perceptions of youth!  In this reminiscence, Mike Rustad takes us back to the Kittson County Fair of a generation ago.  If you're like me, it will resonate strongly with your own memories of that time and place...

I looked forward to the the Kittson County Fair each summer. I enjoyed the rides as well as the carnival. My brother Tony and I collected pop bottles to save for the Fair. We would frequently have 4-H exhibits at the Fair. I remember once we were on a Tilt-a-Whirl (or similar ride) and Tony got sick on the ride. The operator of the ride was a crude man with a number of tattoos including something like "Born Loser." In any case, he would not let us leave until we cleaned up the ride. Since Tony was in no condition to help, it was left up to me. As farm boys, we were somewhat intimidated by the carnival workers. It was quite common for the carnival games to be rigged. I think that we would lose only a $1 or so on these games but they were cheap tuition. I think that the Fair illustrated the seedy side of society as well as the best.

The Fair was like the Tale of Two Cities: the best of times and the worst of times. One of the worst moments was experienced by my Mother. In an essay she wrote for the Scribe Tribe1, she recounted how she placed her glasses case dutifully beside the hole.The case was cylinder shape and began rolling toward the hole because apparently the toilet was not level. In her haste to grab it, the clasp came open. Her glasses and keys went down the the dark smelly abyss. She was embarrassed but decided to take action. She found the Fair Manager and asked him for a flashlight and a shovel. The Manager asked her what she wanted them for. She was stopped numerous times by friends asking what she was doing with the shovel and flashlight. She dragged the odorous privy for a long time without success. For years after the episode, she was asked about how she got home without her glasses and car keys. For my Mother, this was the worst of times. 
The Fair was also the best of times. The lights of the rides were beautiful. For many years the Fair was not complete without a tremendous thunder storm and sometimes funnel clouds in the area. Later, a tornado destroyed the Fair Grandstand only a short time after it was filled to capacity. The severe weather conditions and the lights brought an indescribable excitement to the Fair. The 4-H exhibit hall was a favorite place. I always took time to look at every exhibit. I always wondered how I could never get beyond a red ribbon for my vegetables and insect collection. There were a number of local merchants who had exhibits. One of the highlights of the Fair was when the car dealer would give away a car and also bicycles. I never won but the anticipation of winning such a prize was greater than Publisher's Clearing House. 
My favorite place to eat at the fair was the Larson Family Stand which made the best hamburgers and generally had the best food at the Fair. Joyce Baldwin from Humboldt was a Larson and so many of the Baldwin kids helped out at the "Larson" food stand. Each of the 4-H clubs had special exhibits which depicted our activities for the year. I belonged to the "Stick-To-It" Club which was one of the oldest Kittson County Clubs. We had very good adult supervision. The Gatheridges, Baldwins, Bahrs, Wieses, Diamonds, Clows and many other families were active in the club. I remember that the older kids in the club were very helpful to the younger ones in exhibiting their products. Dennis Diamond was one of those older kids who was always helpful to Scott Clow and I who also showed sheep. Another memory I have is a 4-H parade through Hallock. A very pretty young lady asked me to help control her very large and unruly 4-H calf. I managed to keep the calf from stampeding through the streets of Hallock, but still received only a white ribbon. I can still remember the smell of those hamburgers at the Larson family stand. I hope that other former Kittson County residents will contribute their memories of the Fair and of their "Wonder Years." 
1 - The Scribe Tribe began as a continuing education course in 1966.  The writing class morphed into a club with meetings in homes. These were more than social events - everyone in the club felt a great social pressure to produce writing. It was Dotty Boatz who first suggested that a writing course taught at Humboldt-St. Vincent High School continue on as a club and she was one of the most active members. The Scribe Tribe proved to be a huge success, and Gloria Swanson and Virginia Ott ended up writing a very interesting book on Fred Jones, who was an innovative handyman and inventor who lived in Hallock for many years. The title of the book was Man With a Million Ideas: Fred Jones, Genius/Inventor.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Mystery: Progress...!

Although I have not obtained a photograph of the mysterious
Mrs. Rasche yet, I did come across one of her children in a
Maryland history book; The two young ladies sitting were born
in Kittson County.  
 [Source: Western Maryland Historical Library]

Recently, I challenged the readers of this blog to help solve a mystery.

While I waited for responses, I dug around online.  First I learned that a  Henry and Katherine Rasche -  mentioned in an old newspaper article as attending a Kittson County funeral - were not just visiting.  Although from Maryland, they had moved for a time and had lived in Kennedy, Minnesota.   I then found a name attached to some genealogy records, and contacted that person, only to learn that he was their grandson.  William Owen Treacy  shared that "...My grandmother, Katherine Rowan Rasche, did indeed live in Kittson County, Minnesota in the 1890s and she was a prolific music composer, poet and artist. I have a number of her compositions but sadly, no St.  Vincent March. She had a number of her compositions copyrighted and were published and sold nationally, so you may wish to try searching that avenue.  Also, you may wish to explore the local newspaper archives as i know that the local paper(s) frequently published articles about her and her works.  Lots of luck. Let me know if you meet with any success."

I had not received any responses to my solicitation on this blog, so my next step was to take my new information and post it on the St. Vincent Memories Facebook group page.  Marcy Johnson, responded, saying, "There was an Oakland Hotel in Kennedy with Mrs. McKee as the manager listed as one of the businesses in 1900. I found this in the Kennedy Centennial History book from 1989..."

Shortly after Marcy responded, William Treacy send me more information concerning his grandmother, including a biography he had written about her.  Within that biography, it mentions why they moved to Minnesota in the first place, and why they eventually returned:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I am truly honored to have been selected today as one of 2013's Top 40 Genealogy Blogs by Family Tree Magazine.

St. Vincent Memories was chosen in the "Story Time" category, which is most appropriate.  I loved how they had "...looked for those sites that deliver a dividend to readers...of sharing a quest to part the curtains of the past."  One of the main reasons I write this blog is to impart forgotten history to those that have roots here, and to share our little corner of the world with those that don't.

Thank you, Family Tree Magazine, for recognizing the special place (and special people) that St. Vincent was, and is.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Mrs. Rasche & the St. Vincent March

Example of another March
written by Mrs. Rasche

[Source:  Library of Congress]

I put to you, dear Reader, a St. Vincent MYSTERY to solve!

Published in the St. Vincent New Era in 1890, is the following news:
Mrs. Rasche, the celebrated Musical composer done St. Vincent the honor of composing a march, entitled "The St. Vincent March" as a souvenir of the Fair of 18901, and done the editor of the ERA the honor of dedicating it to him for which favors St. Vincent and us are enthusiastically grateful.
As you can imagine, to read that an actual musical composition was written for and about St. Vincent is an exciting and unexpected discovery in my ongoing research about my hometown.  Who was this Mrs. Rasche?  Why did she feel compelled to write the piece for this event?  Was the 'Fair of 1890' a special fair moreso than other years?  It is possible that she was just helping the town by being so civic-minded.  It was still trying to grow.  All we have is speculation - I would like to find out the story behind the story!2

What we have found out so far:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

1857 Incorporation

As I have earlier hypothesized when discussing St. Vincent's earlier incorporation (the first of two), it appears I was right -  it was most definitely linked to Minnesota's "impending statehood"...
Impending statehood stirred speculative interest in the future of the area's northwestern reaches. That interest was reflected in the 1857 sessions of the legislature, where a remarkable number of acts benefiting the Red River area were passed.

Among the 49 towns incorporated during the extra session alone, seven were located in the valley. One of them, St. Vincent, was situated on the Red River just south of the international border. For it the legislature chartered a ferry and authorized the construction of a branch railroad1 as well as telegraph lines to terminate there. Although it was located on land that still belonged to the Ojibwe, a St. Paul firm sent Charles W. Iddings2 to St. Vincent in the summer of 1857 to survey the new town site along with that of Pembina on the opposite shore of the Red. By February 1858, the two towns had been platted with streets named for well-known fur traders and legislators.

- Minnesota's Boundary With Canada: Its Evolution Since 1783, by William E. Lass
Sewall & Iddings 1860 Map
[Copyrighted 1857]

1 - May 22, 1857, the Territory accepted the grant and conferred it upon the Minnesota and Pacific Railroad Company.  Breckenridge, at the mouth of the Sioux Wood River, and St. Vincent, on the Red River of the North, were designated as the western termini of the main and branch lines respectively (Law of Minnesota, Minnesota Territorial Legislature extra session 1857, p.3)  The Minnesota & Pacific Railroad Company was one of four such companies created to take advantage of the eventual  federal land grant act. It eventually reorganized as the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Company, which in turn became part of James J. Hill's Great Northern Railway Company. 

2 - Charles W. Iddings was a surveyor living over the post office in St. Paul in 1856. After the Densmore expedition he was associated with Joseph S. Sewall of St. Paul, the engineer who built the Wabasha Street bridge. During this connection the two men published a map of Minnesota which is known as the Sewall and Iddings map of 1860.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mystery Woman

These two photos were taken in the same general area of St. Vincent, around the same general time period (early 1900s). There appears to be one or more areas used for pasture and/or gardening/orchards in the central part of town just off of the main road. In both photographs, you can see the St. Vincent School in the background. The photo below features my grandmother and great grandmother (both Fitzpatrick). The photo above is a mystery on who it is. I have scanned it large, so if you want to try identifying the woman, click on it to see it full-screen. I'd appreciate any assistance you can give on who she is - even guesses are welcome!

NOTE: A working theory I have about these is, they may have been taken on the same day, by the same person. They both feature women working, and both feature a bit of humour. The mystery woman looks like she was trying to say don't take my picture by leaning back with her hand in front. Regarding the broom - one thing they sometimes used old, worn-down brooms like this one appears to be, was to use outdoors for things like brushing dirt off shoes and boots. Maybe she was trying to do that when the paparazzi caught her!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

River Cities in Cahoots

Having had its own County Seat stolen - and for other more practical
reasons - St. Vincent came to the support of its neighbor across the river

St. Vincent Saloons To Help Pembina Fight

Red river bridges and St. Vincent beer couldn't 
stop the court house from coming to Cavalier...

Some time since, rumor was set afloat that the saloons of St. Vincent, Minn. -  which have for many years been receiving large profit on account of the Pembina county seat being located in Pembina -  would put up the money needed to aid Pembina in making her fight against county seat removal. Not much evidence was given this rumor at the outset, but later developments would seem to indicate that there is probably truth in the same.

In its issue of last Friday (June 3rd) the St. Vincent New Era says:
That excellent daily journal, the Grand Forks Herald, has printed lately some very interesting articles about the county seat fight now on between Cavalier and Pembina which are read and pondered over here.
In another place in the same issue of the New Era, the editor of that paper jumps into the county seat fight in Pembina’s interest as follows:
The county seat battle among our neighbors across the river, is not only interesting, but also something fierce. The Cavalier crowd have let it be known that they are long in finances, having, it is reported, 1,500 dollars subscribed, to be spent where it will do the most good, and have also let it be known that they are ridiculously short in common sense, by committing a blunder which in a county seat scrap as well as in politics, is worse than a crime, by bragging that three towns, settled almost exclusively by Icelanders, they are sure of 96 percent of the votes, and in another township, similarly settled every voter signed their petition except one, an absentee.
In gazing enraptured and abstractly at those four townships, the Cavalier blunderbuss schemers have overlooked a fact, that a majority of the citizens of Pembina county are either of French, German, Canadian, Scotch, Irish, English or U.S. birth, and when the Cavalier bunglers have rubbed it into the people of Pembina county, that they propose to rule that county by the vote of four Icelandic towns they may afterward mortgage their city for what it will being, add the proceeds to their “reptile fund, blow it all in, and then would not be within a rifle shot distance of beating Pembina, at the show down”.
Now what do you think of that for an exhibition of pure, unadulterated newspaper gall?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Past Resident Memories: John Stranger

John Stranger - Back row, middle
By John A. Stranger


This all begins in a small town in Minnesota during the 40's when growing up was a struggle without all the things a boy wants and dreams about. Outdoor toilets and dressing behind the oil burner turned up full blast where my brother (4 yrs. Younger) and I learned to dress very fast during the cold Minnesota winters.

My brother was a great kid even though we would have our brotherly confrontations. We had a younger sister too and she learned to hold her own with us boys. Our parents were very strict on almost everything that they thought was for our best interests even though we tried to disagree with our parents at times but trying to obey seemed better than a beating, (most we probably had coming).

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Emerson Minister Goes to War

The article below shares a typical yet extraordinary story of one WWI veteran.  His name was Amos Mayse, and among the many things he did in his life, it included being a Minister of God in Emerson, Manitoba.  Read about his story below...
The last veterans of the First World War — friend and foe alike — have now joined their slain comrades from the Ypres Salient, Regina Trench, Vimy Ridge, Polygon Wood and Coronel and a thousand other far-flung battlefields. 
And increasingly, the grey-headed ranks of the Second World War also depart to join the fading divisions that preceded them. 
So Remembrance Day becomes increasingly important. It keeps us from forgetting who we are — and why. 
Yet one of the things that is sometimes easy to overlook amid the stirring music, the flights of warplanes, the firing of volleys, the spit-and-polish drill and the official laying of wreaths is that among all the things that war entails, all war is always about families. 
It is from families that the warriors come. It is families that bear their loss, or worse, that carry the wreckage when broken warriors return. It is families that suffer and it is in families that the most important and intimate remembrances are cherished. 
So here’s one family’s war story.