A Picture and a Thousand Words ~ Pioneer Women of the Big Fork Valley


I was intrigued by this photograph taken in 1908, and challenged myself to see what I could find out about the seven women whose names are listed across the bottom. Jennie Shultis, Alma Larson, Linnea Nordlin, Ada Swanson, Edith Swanson, Minnie Gasper and Aminta Nordlin.

In 1908, when the photograph was supposedly taken, most of the young women were twelve to fifteen years of age.  The exceptions were Aminta, who was about eighteen and Minnie who was twenty-eight. The Swanson sisters, Ada and Edith, lived with their parents on Chase Lake, north of Deer River, and the others all resided in and around Bigfork.  In fact, Jennie, Alma, Linnea, and Aminta participated together in a play, “The Christmas Fairy,” in the first Christmas program, in 1903 for the community of Bigfork, under the direction of their teacher, Miss Katherine Costello.

Jennie Shultis

Jennie Shultis was born in February 1896 to Edward and Martha.  Her mother immigrated from Germany in about 1884, married Edward, and they filed on a homestead in the Big Fork Valley.  Jennie was their only child, and when she was nineteen, she married Lewis Becker, a teamster working in the woods.  The Beckers moved to Beltrami County, where daughters Corene and Irene were born.  By the 1930 United States census, the family had moved to Santa Rosa, Florida, where Lewis was the president of the Egg Association, and Jennie was secretary.  Jennie remained in Florida until her death in 1972 at the age of 76.

Alma Larson

Alma Larson’s mother, Marie, was born in Norway, immigrating as a young woman.  She married and had Alma in Minneapolis.  Marie remarried John Larson in about 1903 and settled with him at his homestead at Bigfork.  Alma was born on July 8, 1891. After finishing the 8th grade, Alma had the opportunity to attend high school in Minneapolis, perhaps living with relatives.  Eventually, she returned to Bigfork and in 1922 married Jacob Egerdahl.  Two children, Anton and Caroline, were born to them.  Alma lived to be 95 years of age and died in Bigfork in 1986.

Linnea Nordlin

Based on the 1895 state census, Gjerda Linnea was born in Hennepin County.  Her parents, Carl and Hannah, were Swedish immigrants who married in Sweden and came traveled to the United States in about 1886.  In about 1902, when land was available in the northern part of the state, Carl filed on a homestead of 143 acres in the Big Fork Valley.   Linnea and her siblings, Aminta and Victor, all attended school when it opened the following year.  When she was 19, Linnea married Carl Holsman, a widower with two young daughters.  Carl was ambitious and established a dry goods store in the growing village of Bigfork.  The family grew to include five sons. 

Carl died unexpectedly in the fall of 1929, leaving seven children, and his pregnant widow.  Daughter Evenell Aminta, named after Linnea’s sister, was born two months following his death.  The 1940 US census documents a boarder, Carl Holmberg residing with the Holsman family. Several years later, Carl and Linnea married.  Linnea died at the age of 86 in Bigfork.

Ada Swanson

Ada (some records state her name was Ardeana) was one of fourteen children born to Louis and Hannah Swanson.  They were both born in Finland, immigrated to the United States. Louis and Hannah married in Duluth and in about 1894, when Ada was a baby, the family moved to Chase Lake, near Deer River and homesteaded on 160 acres. 

After finishing at Wabasse country school, Ada began working in the Woodland Hotel in Bigfork.  The hotel was owned by Arthur Gilbert in 1910, and shortly before her 19th birthday, Ada and Arthur married.  Following the birth of their daughter in 1921, the Gilberts moved to Chisolm.  By the 1930 US census, they were living in Hibbing with three sons, having lost their daughter in 1924. Ada lived in Hibbing at the time of her death at the age of 83.

Edith Swanson

The younger sister of Ada, Edith was born in October 1895, and according to the Grand Rapids Herald-Review 7-1962, “was the first white child born in Deer River.” Indeed, she was the first child her parents had once they had moved to their homestead.  At the tender of age of sixteen, Edith married Zade Cochran, a successful young man from Bigfork.  Perhaps she met him while visiting her sister Ada, or maybe one of her brothers worked in the logging camp where Zade was the bookkeeper. 

Zade Cochran came to northern Minnesota with his parents when they took a homestead in 1903 and later settled on one himself.  It is here where the couple set up housekeeping, and by the 1920 federal census, they had five children.  Their next child, a daughter, died when she was just a baby. In 1927, they and all eight children moved to Grand Rapids where Zade was employed as a deputy sheriff.  Edith may have married young, but she must have known ‘he was the one’ as the Cochran’s celebrated their golden anniversary in 1962!  They shared eleven more anniversaries before Zade’s passing.  Edith died at the age of 81.

Minnie Gasper

Finding had lived in Fillmore County, on the southern border of the state.  In 1910 she is employed by and residing with the Alfred Peloquin family in Bigfork. In 1912 Minnie marries Jacob “Jack” Steele. According to the WWI registration document, in 1918 they are living in Bigfork, where he is a barber, with one child.  I found nothing on the family until1930.  The federal census documents Jack and Minnie living and farming in Powder River County, Montana.  Minnie was 74 years of age when she passed away in Custer County, Montana.

Aminta Nordlin

Helga Aminta is four years older than Linnea.  By1910 she was employed by the local milliner and learned the art of making and dressing hats.  She married Axel Skallman ten years after he immigrated from Sweden.  By 1920 they had established a dairy farm and had five young children. The last of the twelve offspring was born about twenty-five years after the first.  The Skallman’s certainly had enough farm hands to grow the farm.  Axel died in 1947, but Aminta lived in the area until her death at age 93.

I was truly impressed.  These seven women were strong and sturdy stock. They were real helpmates to their spouses and dealt with more than their share of losing loved ones.  Most had at least one parent who had been born outside of the United States and more than half came from families who homesteaded in the Big Fork Valley. Four remained in Itasca County; two moved out of state.  All had children, and between them bore three dozen.  All stayed married and outlived their husbands.  All lived past the age of 74, and on the average exceeded that by another ten years. Given a chance, I would be proud to call any a friend.

1 Comment

  1. Vickie says:

    This is such a cool post. You’ve given all of these women a moment to live on beyond there years! I was amazed when I read this: Carl died unexpectedly in the fall of 1929, leaving seven children, and his pregnant widow. Daughter Evenell Aminta, named after Linnea’s sister, was born two months following his death.

    Because this happened in my nana’s family. Her father died when she was seven, and left behind seven children and a pregnant wife, who gave birth about two or three months later.


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