Friday, July 27, 2018

Frank "Chicken Stalker" Dickens & Fort Dufferin

Francis J. Dickens, second from the right
From Wayne Arseny, former mayor of Emerson:
I think of the latrine at Fort Dufferin and once read something about it being a 3-hole toilet. To me that was a rare oddity, and kooky as it sounds to write about, something people would want to see inside for themselves after reading it on a sign. 
As a kid we only had an outdoor biffy (one hole style) but when you went to community halls or schools you often saw 4-hole ones. So why was Fort Dufferin only three? So many reasons to guess on why they had to make them that way. I also read in the diary from Francis Dickens, one of the first NWMP officers - and son of the famous writer, Charles Dickens - of men going out to use the biffy in the night with their primitive lanterns on a windy night. The toilets were made from recycled lumber which often had poor fitting boards leaving gaping holes. 
As the wind swirled around the building he said it was often so windy inside the biffy that the lamp blew out. Sitting there in their long underwear with no pockets and no match to relight the lantern, making their way back to the sleeping quarters was difficult in total darkness. No yard lights or lanterns left burning in the building as a guide. So he said they strung a rope on short posts from the biffy to the main house.  A man would just follow the rope back to not get lost.
From Dufferin: Then and Now (Manitoba History, Spring 1992):
In 1874, when Northwest Mounted Police Inspector Francis Dickens arrived at Dufferin, an outpost along the west side of the Red River near the Manitoba-U.S. Border, he was angry and upset, first because he had arrived too late to take part in the original trek west, and second because he would have to remain at what he considered one of the most unpleasant places in the entire British Empire. [1] George A. French, the first commissioner of the North West Mounted Police, described the site [Fort Dufferin/Emerson area], where he would assemble nearly 300 people in preparation for a march into Canada’s far west, as a “small shanty town surrounded by a few brothels and grog shops.” [2] 
1.  E. Nicol, (ed), Dickens of the Mounted (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989). A series of letters written by Francis Dickens during his stay in the North West Mounted Police. Although often full of disdain for the physical situation he was placed in, these letters provide an insight into the conditions of the time as well as the character and personality of the writer.  
2.  G. A. French, Diary, July 8 - November 7, 1874.
From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:
His superiors consistently rated him as lazy, alcoholic, and unfit to be an officer in the NWMP.
From Lesser Expectations:  Charles Dickens' Son in North America - Amusing anecdotes:
Calculating that the free time he would have in Toronto would be the last until he was subject to the rigours of military service and a prairie winter that was still beyond his imagination, Dickens indulged in more than his share of intoxicants. Two days behind schedule, he caught the train for Chicago. He chastised himself for his foolishness and took no more alcohol until he reached Pembina. He arrived in a cold spell in late October and Dickens had never felt a chill as bitter as that of the prairies. Like all frontier towns, Pembina contained more than its share of rogues, swells, and desperadoes, wonderful characters whom Dickens found enchanting. He again succumbed to temptation, easily taken in by new-found friends and took what he considered to be a modest amount of brandy to ward off the frigid winds of late fall. This was a momentary lapse, but it launched him into a wave of comradeship with the peculiar people who populated the local saloons. It was three days before he realized with alarm that he would be unable to make the planned rendezvous...

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Water Cooler VII: School Memories - Bullying

Humboldt-St. Vincent School, like any other school, had its share of bullying and bullies...

Michael Rustad: I remember when Dave Boatz sang the Beatle's song, "He is a real nowhere man." He adapted it to Walter Petruska. "He's a real no-hair man!" Dave was a comedic genius. When we were altar boys together, he did his best to get me to laugh at the most inopportune times. He would have a running commentary on the qualities of the tongues at communion time. When Mrs. Friebohl (Grandma) and Toots Ryan went for communion, he had me in stitches with his descriptions!

Dave was never mean-spirited but did these pranks always in a spirit of fun. Ok, he went a step too far in dropping cherry bombs in the boy's toilet or putting Elmer's Glue in Martha Roberts lotion bottle. Martha would often use moisturizing cream and then wipe with her hanky She did this by habit not realizing that Dave had substituted glue for lotion! The class did not dare laugh, but did after class. He would also pick vegetables and flowers from neighbor's gardens and then with his angelic smile try to sell them back! I can tell you so many stories about Dave. Dave had a moral compass in always sticking up for any person with a handicap,. His brother Stevie was profoundly developmentally undeveloped and I think that his love for his brother was key in being empathetic. Randy Younggren, who as deaf and had difficulty speaking, was a case in point. Dave was so good to Randy and he had Randy drive out to our farm on his motorcycle nearly every evening. He was just happy to see us and it did not matter whether he could not speak many words.

Steve Ritter: No Way! Dave never did any of those things! Lol! Dave is one of the best...He has a heart of Gold!

Michael Rustad: I also think that Velma Isely did a great deal to stand up for those being bullied. There was bullying in Humboldt. When we moved to the farm when I was 7, I had to ride the bus and it was an ordeal. They took my stocking hat, did not leave a seat open, etc. It was relentless until around 6th grade. I could name each of the bullies and some were older girls with no moral compass.

Trish Short Lewis: You are so right, Mike. I was bullied a LOT by both peers and older kids, when I was little and up until junior high. My mom went to bat for me, but she also told me to ignore them, which was very hard but I did it so they had no satisfaction. To cope, I withdrew into myself, humming tunes, saying words or phrases over and over, closed my eyes, plugged my ears, read books, etc.

Michael Rustad: Our school bus was parked outside the Post Office and everyone was picking on Barbara Norberg. Mrs. Isely boarded the bus and essentially told everyone how ashamed she was and gave a long speech about compassion. She eluded authority and people stopped bullying her after she deboarded the bus and were off to Lake Bronson. I remember well how I dreaded the bus because Tony and I were bullied.

Steve Ritter: I think when we're young we all say things a little quickly. I am certainly not innocent. Sometimes it's a misunderstanding between young kids. Sometimes the physical side is how many of us have learned to deal with issues. I know that some of the meanest things I've heard came out of the mouth. I remember recesses when I was young being tormented by older kids. Being dogpiled and being on the bottom of several. It was not as much fun as people would think. I finally stood up and took on one of these people. I knew it would let my parents down if I got into a fight because my father and mother didn't believe in physical violence of any kind. But I'd had enough. I did get in trouble and was grounded for a period of time. but no one bothered me again. No one dogpiled me again. It's too bad people treat others in a negative fashion but sometimes and for whatever reason it happens. Most of the time it happens just straight out of ignorance and sometimes pain. Mrs Isley was a wonderful person!!

Trish Short Lewis: I agree with *most* of what you say, but I also think some people are just plain mean. Many who are mean got it from their role models, i.e., their parents. Either their parents are authoritarian, or abusive, or both. I wasn't perfect - I was a chatty girl who never knew enough to keep her mouth shut sometimes (not always) and that would get me in 'trouble' - it wasn't being mean, it was being inappropriate, interruptive, and/or loud. I definitely feel that is a LOT different than saying unkind and downright mean things to someone, or physically hurting someone, etc. That's a horse of another color entirely. So the bullying I and others suffered was mean and wrong. Period.

Monday, July 09, 2018

PROFILE: Captain John A. Vanstrum

I present to you, one of St. Vincent's early pioneers - John A. Vanstrum. A veteran of the Civil War, he became very civic-minded, serving the town and later Kittson County, in many positions. One of his longest-held was as Sheriff.  Serving at roughly the same time, he was Sheriff Charley Brown's counterpart across the river!

Captain John A. Vanstrum, register of deeds for Kittson county for the past decade, a pioneer citizen of the great northwest and a valiant soldier of the Civil War, is now a resident of Hallock, Minnesota, where he enjoys the esteem and confidence of a wide circle of friends and admirers. His portrait [seen here on right], will be appreciated by his host of friends. Captain Vanstrum was born in the province Gustaf and Elizabeth Vanstrum. The parents died in Sweden, their native land. Captain Vanstrum received but a limited education in his boyhood, having to assist his father in a paper mill from his tenth to his sixteenth year. On June 22, 1855, in company with about two hundred emigrants, he left his native land, sailing from Gutenberg on the vessel Ann Washburn, commanded by Captain Winchell. The vessel was heavily laden with Swedish iron for Boston merchants. He arrived in Boston harbor August 6, 1855, and proceeded to Chicago, thence to Batavia, Illinois, where he spent the winter of 1855-6, working for his board and attending school. In September, 1856, he went to Minnesota, via Dunleith, now East Dubuque, Illinois, thence up the Mississippi river, and located at Redwing. Minnesota, where he engaged as clerk in a store.

At the breaking out of the Civil war Captain Vanstrum was residing at Redwing, Minnesota. He immediately offered his services and assisted the late Colonel H. Mattson in recruiting Company D, Third Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, and was mustered into service in October, 1861 at Fort Snelling. The Captain went to Chisago county, Minnesota. where he raised some thirty volunteers (Swedish) for Company D. These men he transported in wagons all the way from what was then known as Center City via Taylor's Falls, Marine Mills and Stillwater, through St. Paul to Fort Snelling, where they arrived October 18, 1861, and on the following day were mustered into service. Captain Vanstrum was appointed sergeant of Company D in October 1861, was promoted to second lieutenant March 30, 1862, first lieutenant May 30. 1862, and Captain of Company D August 2. 1862. He re-enlisted with the same company as a veteran, under the veteran enlistment act, at Little Rock, Arkansas, early in January, 1864. He was honorably discharged with his regiment at Fort Snelling September 17, 1865. His record in war, as it has continued to be, is that of a brave and fearless defender of the Union and the old flag. In 1879 Captain Vanstrum went to Kittson county, Minnesota, and located at St. Vincent, where he was postmaster from 1879 until 1885. In the latter year he resigned his office and during that period the post office at St. Vincent was of more than ordinary importance. It was the international exchange office for all registered mail matter passing between the United States and the northwest Canadian provinces. All registered letters are re-registered at the St. Vincent office. From 1879 to 1885 this office ranked third in volume of registered mail from Minnesota.

Captain Vanstrum was sheriff of Kittson county from the date of its organization, April 8, 1879, to January, 1889, and is at present register of deeds of said county, having held that position continuously since the fall of 1891. Politically the Captain is an uncompromising Republican. He is a member of the I.O.O.F., and is one of the representative men and pioneers of the northwest. (International Order of Odd Fellows)

Source:  Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Vol. IV (1913)

Thursday, July 05, 2018

History of the Kittson County Bench & Bar

"The term was finished in two and a half days, and the balance of last day, awaiting the arrival of the train south, was spent fishing by the court and attorneys, after each catching his own frogs for bait. To the younger members of the bar it was rather an amusing circumstance to see Judge Stearns, then well up in years and of a very dignified and patriarchal appearance, lay aside his judicial dignity and pursue the diminutive amphibians with an agility which surprised them all."
And such were the salad days of early Kittson County law!

To learn more about it, read on...

Bench and Bar of Kittson County
By Peter H. Konzen

Foreword by
Douglas A. Hedin, Editor
Minnesota Legal History Project (April 2008)

The article that follows is a highly personalized history of the bench and bar of Kittson County written by Peter Henry Konzen, a prominent attorney. After devoting two pages to early terms of the district court, Konzen announces that he will avoid “the monotony of legal routine” by describing two amusing trials—the prosecution of Kate Rafferty before Ozora P. Stearns, a legendary judge of northern Minnesota, in 1883, and a civil suit for damages for the killing of a dog, in which he represented the plaintiff, in 1888. Konzen’s client was awarded an amount somewhat less than he sought.

In the style of most county legal histories of this period (it was published in 1909), Konzen includes biographical sketches of eight lawyers who practiced in the county, the longest being of himself. Apparently finding the opportunity irresistible, he wrote, Mr. Konzen is recognized as one of the ablest and most prominent attorneys north of Crookston, and during his residence at Hallock has amassed a snug little fortune, besides building up a professional and business reputation of which he may well be proud. He has helped in an eminent degree to shape the destiny of his city, and when the history of Kittson shall be written he will appear as one of its most conspicuous figures.

There is an ironical footnote to this flattering self-portrait. Konzen died on July 15, 1935, twenty-six years after the publication of his article on the county bench and bar. His death was headlined on the front page of the Kittson County Enterprise on July 17, 1935. The newspaper described not only Konzen’s final days but also, under the subheading “Biography,” his youth, education and early years in the county. Almost all of that “biography” was taken verbatim from Konzen’s earlier self-portrait. Thus Peter Henry Konzen was placed in the unusual position of writing much of his own obituary.

Passes To His Eternal Reward
Peter Konzen, Pioneer and Highly
Respected Citizen Passes Away
After Long and Useful Service
to City and Community

Peter H. Konzen
Today Hallock mourns the passing of one of her most outstanding venerable citizens and townsmen. Peter H. Konzen, who died at his home in this city on Monday, July 15th at the age of 78 years, one month and 18 days—he has gone his reward. Hallock never had a finer citizen and more devoted father.

Quiet, unpretentious, wonderfully human and amazingly competent, he represented the best that a city can expect from its citizens. His more than half a century of life in our city was a precious gift to his fellows. He had done much good and was ready day or night to serve the needs of anyone who called on him. He never made any fuss about living—he just lived, which is a priceless legacy to those of us who are inclined to philosophize.

He was a man of quiet, retiring disposition and minded his own business, both with reference to himself and others. In his youth, he was of good physique, but of late years had suffered afflictions incidental to advanced years, which at times confined him to his bed and home. About a week before his death he again became afflicted and gradually and slowly sank, growing weaker and weaker, with but little pain until about three days before his death when he became overcome with chills. At the last, however, death came peacefully and quietly, and while apparently in sleep, his breath came slower and slower, until the last. All of his family were at his bedside excepting a daughter, Mrs. F. V. King, who in a race with death across the continent failed to arrive in time to see her father alive. During his final illness he was watched over by members of his family and friends and a special nurse.

The funeral services were held from St. John’s Episcopal church Wednesday afternoon with Rev. S. J. Hedlund officiating. The cortege was the largest ever gathered in Hallock, which testified to the high esteem in which the deceased was held in the community. The active pallbearers were members of the Kittson County Bar Association of which the deceased, was a member. They were: A. D. Bornemann, Wm. L. Peterson, J. E. Sundberg, C. J. Hemmingson, John Matt Brendal, Lyman Brink. The honorary bearers were twenty pioneer citizens of the town. The district bar association also sent delegates to attend the funeral. These were: L. S. Miller, Martin O’Brien, Wm. P. Murphy, W. E. Rowe, F. A. Grady, Crookston; H. O. Chommie, C. M. Bishop, Theodore Quale, Thief River Falls; Judge B. B. Brett, W. O. Braggans, Oscar Knutson and Rasmus Hage, Warren.

The remains were laid to rest in the family lot at Greenwood cemetery, beside those of his wife who preceded him in death several years ago, and thus has passed away another of our old timers—they are passing away and soon only their memories will be left. May they all leave as pleasant recollections as does our friend and venerable townsman—God rest his gallant soul.


Peter H. Konzen was one of the pioneers of Kittson county, having located here in the spring of 1881, when a young man of 24 years. He was born on the 27th of May, 1857, in Chickasaw county, Iowa, on a farm now embracing the site of the village of Lowler. His parents emigrated from Germany in 1852 and the following year located on the farm upon which deceased was born. He was the third child of a family of five, all of whom have since passed away, excepting one, Mrs. Kate Buchholz living at Forest City, Ia. He was educated in the public schools of Lawler, afterwards attending an academy at Bradford in that county and completing his education at the University of Iowa City and at Boyleer’s Mercantile College at Keokuk, Iowa. His boyhood life was spent upon the farm until the age of 17 when he began teaching while completing his education.

In 1878 he began the study of law, first in the office of Judge H. H. Potter at New Hampton and afterwards under the direction of John R. Geeting, a gentlemen who later rose to considerable distinction as a criminal lawyer in the city of Chicago. Mr. Konzen first came to Minnesota in 1879 and entered the law office of a Mr. Parker at Sleepy Eye, where he remained until the fall of that year when he again returned to Iowa to enter the newspaper business, editing the Lowler Herald until the spring of 1881, when he sold out and returned to Minnesota and locating at Hallock, then a hamlet numbering not more than half a dozen buildings, where he opened a law office, and in the words of the immortal Horace Greely, “grew up with the country.”

In the fall of 1881 Mr. Konzen was elected superintendent of schools for Kittson County which position he held for several years, having been three times re-elected. He had since held various public offices, as County Attorney, president of the Kittson County Agriculture Society and in 1898 was the Republican nominee for member of the state legislature. Although defeated by the tide of populism at that time, he received a creditable vote and conducted a model campaign. In 1916 he was again the nominee for his party for member of the state legislature and this time was elected by a comfortable majority. Mr. Konzen was one of the most progressive and public-spirited citizens in Kittson county. He was for many years a member of the Hallock school board, and it was chiefly owing to his push and perseverance that this thriving little city can now boast of a high school second to none in the state. Mr. Konzen was elected mayor of Hallock in 1897 and held the office for a dozen or more consecutive years to the eminent satisfaction of her people. He had also served as a member of the state drainage board, probate judge and in his time had filled various town and village offices, so that he had helped in an eminent degree to shape the destiny of his beloved city and community.

During his early career in Hallock, he was associated in the law business with W. H. Alley, now deceased, and in 1901 Mr. Konzen and J. D. Henry formed a co-partnership for the purpose of conducting a real estate, loans, insurance and collection business in connection with the law business. Mr. Henry is not a lawyer but handled the insurance, loans, collection and real estate business of the firm and was very successful, especially in the sale of real estate. Konzen’s article appeared first on pages 944 to 951 of the second volume of History of the Red River Valley. It has been reformatted. Page breaks have been added. His spelling and punctuation have not been changed.

Bench and Bar of Kittson County


Including an Account of the Counties, Cities, Towns
Villages of the Valley from the Time
of Their First Settlement and



Bench and Bar of Kittson County.
By P. H. Konzen.