In the early 1900s the cold temperatures weren’t considered newsworthy unless the thermometer read at least 40 below. Three exceptionally cold winters that did rate a spot in the news were January 1904 – 40 below, January 1909 – 44 below, and January 1912 – 48 below. Side comments included, “Good weather for the ice crop but h— on Sam Torgerson’s nose,” and “this 48 below weather has to be experienced, to be appreciated.” [Itasca News 1-7-1909 and Deer River Times 1-25-1912]
Ice and Snow
No matter what the temperature, livestock needed to be cared for and work needed to be done. Logging was the primary industry in northern Itasca County in the early years, and winter was the time that trees were cut and skidded out of the woods. The waterways needed to be frozen over for logging to be done. In years when there was more ice than snow, the frozen waters provided transportation and entertainment.
“Orin Patrow of Evergreen made a flying trip to Bigfork early Friday morning, coming all the way from his home on skates.” [Bigfork Settler 2-23-1911]
“Harry Horton and Ed Carlson skated up the river to town a distance of about twenty miles and reports this as being the quickest way they have ever made the trip, making it in one and a half hours.” [Bigfork Settler 12-18-1913]
“Skating for the week has been fine and many youngsters have put in happy hours on safe ponds and the river, but owing to no moon, not many larger people have been out nights on the ice.” [Itasca News 11-18-1916]
In the winter of 1918 and 1919, the cold temperatures were noted as a good thing for the economy. In February 1918, orders for ice to be sent to the west coast topped 230,000 tons! “Northern Minnesota ice is in strong demand this year, and this crop, which is never a failure in this section, is a very large income producer. The failure of the ice crop in the western states has led to a last demand from this section, and at Detroit 3000 carloads are being removed for shipment to Spokane and from there for distribution to the ice stations of the Northern Pacific railroad. If all orders are filled Detroit will ship out 230,000 tons of ice this winter and this section of the state is the nearest point where good ice may be secured for western purpose.” [2-13-1918 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]
The following month, after a bit of a warm-up, “The hearts of loggers and forest product operators were gladdened on Monday by a prediction of colder weather and snow. A few more days of sleighing will mean a great deal to several men. It is important to the Itasca Cooperage Company that the largest amount of logs to be used for staves and heading will be secured. Several forest products operators have a large quantity of posts and poles in the woods and if brought out, these will tend to eliminate a shortage which some consider inevitable.” [3-6-1918 Grand Rapids Herald-Review] The Itasca Cooperage Company was incorporated in January 1918 to make headings (barrel tops), staves and other wood products. In 1921, the company expanded to Grand Rapids.
I remember wearing rubber boots over my shoes when I was in grade school and wonder to this day why I never experienced more than a little frost bite. Thank goodness the winter weather gear has improved tremendously since then. I imagine there were many situations involving the careful thawing out of toes and fingertips. Hands and feet did not always fair as well, and amputation was sometimes necessary.
S.J. Ness met with a painful accident last week by burning his hands. He had frozen his hands and for a remedy had bathed them in turpentine and afterwards while lighting his pipe the turpentine caught fire, burning his hands very badly. [Bigfork Settler 1-31-1907]
Feet and Hands Frozen ~ Itasca News 1-4-198
“On Wednesday morning about eight o’clock the section crew on the Minneapolis & Rainy River [rail]road discovered by the track near Jessie Junction the body of a man lying in the snow and apparently lifeless. Investigation, however, showed that he was alive, but his feet and hands were badly frozen. The man was brought to Deer River, and Dr. Fairall found that both hands and feet would have to be amputated. The man was sent to the hospital at Grand Rapids and he died the same night.”
Frozen Feet Riding Freight ~ Itasca News 1-6-1912
“Ed Stewart, aged about thirty, who says he is from Minneapolis, rode between cars on a freight train from Cass Lake Monday night, and when he jumped off and discovered he had both feet frozen. He was assisted to Dr. Hanley’s office and after having care was sent next day to the hospital in Grand Rapids. It is not known here yet whether his feet will have to be amputated.”
Froze to Death
In the early newspapers there was at least an article every winter about someone freezing to death.
“Report reached here from Bena, Sunday that the body of a man frozen to death, later identified as Arnold Petro, a German who until recently, was employed in tailor shops at Grand Rapids, was found by the railroad track early Sunday morning near Bena. The body was held at the freight house at Bena by railroad hands there to obtain identification. The coroner of Cass County took charge of the remains and found in the pocket of the dead man a union card which bore his name. Petro had no money on his person and as he had not been working for some time, it is supposed he was stealing a ride on the ‘blind’ baggage and fell off after freezing to death. George Burger saw the dead body a short time after it was found and says it was frozen stiff and showed no marks of violence.” [Itasca News 1-2-1904] The definition of blind baggage – railway baggage, express or postal car that has no door or opening at one end especially immediately behind a tender.
Frozen Body Chopped Out of Lake ~ Itasca News 1-8-1916
“On Monday of last week Ole Lindstrom of Jesse Lake, who lived on forty acres which he bought, on the new road between Jesse Lake and Spring Lake, went hunting dressed in rather light clothing. He wounded a deer and in following it, lost his way in the woods and being missed by neighbors, a search was made for him. The deer he wounded was found and in tracks covering about twenty-five miles the party found the body of Lindstrom in the frozen slush ice of a small lake. He had thrown his gun away some distance back and in his pocket was found a small empty match book. The body was found on Friday of last week.
“Lindstrom was about 21 years of age and single. He leaves two sisters who reside in Denver, Colorado. Undertaker George Herreid was summoned and went up, also in the capacity of deputy coroner and took charge of the remains which he brought here Monday. The remains were shipped Friday morning to Denver, Colorado, for burial.”
There were often more house fires during the cold weather of winter, in part because many homes had a stovepipe going through the roof, with no chimney. In the following examples, each family suffers the loss of their home and most of their belongings. Fortunately, no lives were lost and in both cases the community of Deer River provided a helping hand to the families.
Hot Stove Pipe, Sad, Poor Family ~ Itasca News 12-19-1914
“A sad case is that of last week at Jesse Lake when at 5 o’clock in the morning, fire caught in the roof near the pipe of the cookstove of Albin Kekkonen’s house, and in a few minutes the family was without a home and the parents escaped with but the rough clothes they had on and the children in their night robes.
“Mr. Kekkonen was in town yesterday, and he said it is a mystery why he and his wife could not put the fire out. He said there was fire in the cook stove only, the pipe was not overheated, there was no wind, and he had plenty of water on hand which he used lavishly on the blaze from the start.
“Kekkonen has already rolled up the body of a log home, but is without means, and the women’s clubs of Deer River will try to raise aid for the family.” Regarding the log home, my guess is that Kekkonen had logs that he could use or that he had moved a log structure onto his property.
Family Suffers Fire ~ Itasca News 2-3-1917
“Monday morning at about nine o’clock fire, which had gained full headway, was discovered by Mrs. Harry Kentfield in the garret of her house, the Martin log [home] at the top of the hill on the county road, about two miles from town. Settlers happened along at the time, helped the woman save a few household articles, but nearly all was lost. Going to the back door, Mrs. Kentfield noticed smoke and at once it became so thick from the tar paper which largely made up the composition of the log structure, that she barely had time to carry out the baby. Mr. Kentfield was cutting wood in the timber a short way from the house, and Frank Voigt, who happened along the road, went down and notified him of the fire.
“The family moved into town in one of the Ingersoll houses, and with goods, furniture and clothing given them by villagers they have been able to get along. Mr. Kentfield works as night watchman at the Deer River sawmill and is a steady worker the year round. Mrs. Kentfield has been in a hospital most of the time for the past year, and there has also been sickness among the children of the family. If there ever was a need of public help, this probably is a case where charity is deserving, and we believe the family would not be averse to receiving any aid offered.”