Bigfork’s First Thanksgiving

12.5.2021 [archived ~ originally published 11.27.2014]

Bigfork Settler 11-19-1903

School Program

The Thanksgiving program opened with a recitation of “The First Thanksgiving” by Bertha Rossing. Her mother Annie silently mouthed the words she had heard her eight-old-daughter practice for weeks.  Annie and her husband Ralph breathed a sigh of relief when Bertha successfully finished. 

It was November 25, 1903 and Miss Katherine Costello, teacher of the newly built school in the village of Bigfork had organized a Thanksgiving Program.  In all there were twelve recitations from the older students.  (Recitations are poems and short stories which are memorized.) The most challenging were “Tommy’s Thanksgiving” by Cleve Larson and Linnea Nordlin’s selection from “Hiawatha”.  In between the recitations were songs by the entire school of about twenty.  Thirteen-year-old Aminta Nordlin soloed with “Mother Goose”, and she along with several others sang “Five Little Gooses”.

The rough hewn school house was filled with parents juggling children too young to be in the front with the students.  The many lumberjacks and other bachelor homesteaders leaned against the back wall, watching the few eligible women as much as they did the performers.  It had been a cold early winter, but for once the building was toasty warm with so many bodies close together.

The program ended with all students joining together on the hymn “Song of Gladness.  After well deserved applause, the children scattered to their parents for additional praise.  Coffee brewing on the wood stove and metal washtubs of fresh donuts were set out on the desks.  Each family brought their own cups, plus an extra if they had one for the men who would inevitably forget.

Before long, the youngsters were bundled against the cold and snow.  Each single woman had at least a couple men to escort her if she so desired.  Many folks would gather in small clusters for a Thanksgiving meal the next day.  No one would be alone.  Children looked forward to an extra person or two at the table because the men were like uncles.  They had an easy way about them and loved to entertain with a harmonica or a whittled toy.

It was definitely a time to be thankful.  Permission had been granted to build a school and it was completed in March of 1903 by Frank Larson, Carl Pearson and others.  Katherine Costello was glad to have students again, and the children were eager to learn. 

Katherine was one of five teachers who had come from Red Lake Falls the previous year to homestead north of Bigfork.  At the close of the school year, she moved back to her land when a contester threatened the rights to her claim, so William Brown taught until spring.  Forrest Cochran, another woman teacher turned homesteader, was in charge of the school the following year.

All of the students listed on the Thanksgiving Program were born in Minnesota.  Roughly one half of their parents were immigrants from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany.  The Nordlin children were siblings, but the three Larson children weren’t even cousins!

Many of the students remained in the area and raised families of their own.  The ones I could verify are: Aminta (Nordlin) Skallman, Linnea (Nordlin) Holsman, Victor Nordlin, Alma Larson, Harry Larson, Cleve Larson and Robert Pederson/Peterson. 


  1. Vickie says:

    Interesting about how Katherine had to move back to her land to keep it from being taken over.


  2. Heidi says:

    Good researching! Love how the people came together to celebrate and fellowship, even the eligible bachelor’s.


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