Law & Order ~ The Hanging of William Chounard

3.19.2023 [archived ~ originally published 3.3.2016]

Cass County Jail 1904

On Tuesday January 26th, 1904, William Chounard returned to his home in Cass Lake under the influence of alcohol and shot his wife three times. The first bullet struck Dora in the abdomen and when she ran from him, he fired and hit her twice more. Badly injured, Dora was taken the following day by train to the hospital in Duluth. On Thursday she died. Seven months later William was hung for the murder of his wife, leaving their young daughter Beatrice an orphan.

Although neither the murder nor trial occurred in Itasca County, when the sentence was decided, residents of the area were just as interested in the news as everyone else in northern Minnesota. This was the first death sentence in this part of the state. Our county papers didn’t even carry the news story of the trial. Here are the lengthy headlines from the Bemidji Daily Pioneer on April 30, 1904:

Death Penalty Imposed

Wm. Chounard Must Hang for the Murder of His Wife at Cass Lake
Judge Spooner Passes Death Sentence Last Night
Court Room Crowded to the Capacity During Impressive Scene

William Chounard was born in 1877. His parents died before he was ten and his grandmother raised him and a sister. He attended high school in Little Falls, and then started at St John’s College Before William finished the first year he headed north and was living in Bemidji between 1898 and 1900. He was a professional piano player, playing mostly in the saloons and houses of ‘ill-fame’.

It was in Bemidji that William met Dora and they eventually moved to Cass Lake. They had a child together and were considered married by common law standards. He continued to furnish music for the saloons, and Dora worked when she could. The Chounard’s eventually purchased an establishment and ran it until the time of the murder. Dora was a beautiful woman and William a jealous man. He had no recollection of the night of the shooting, but many witnesses during the trial told of the arguments the couple had the months preceding the incident.

William’s sister Marie and an aunt, Mrs. Young were diligent about getting a petition with over three thousand signatures submitted to the clemency board in hopes of commuting the sentence to life imprisonment. The petition included signatures of eight of the ten jurymen whose findings resulted in the death penalty. The state board of pardons denied the request. The date of the execution set by Governor Van Sant would remain – Tuesday August 30th, 1904.

Chounard’s attorney submitted an appeal with the Minnesota Supreme Court and their decision was filed at 3 o’clock p.m. on August 29th. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the lower court. There would be no stay of execution. William would die within twelve hours. Marie was at the State Capitol with her brother’s attorney when the decision was announced. She was devastated. By William’s request, she had not seen him for months and would not see him before the execution. He had written her that he preferred she not add her own sorrow and grief, and possibly unnerve him, by a visit.

Meets Death Like A Man ~ Bemidji Daily Pioneer 8-30-1904

“At 1:07 o’clock this morning Wm. Chounard was executed at Walker for the murder of his wife at Cass Lake last January. He walked to the gallows unassisted, repeated the Lord’s Prayer, allowed the noose to be fastened around his neck and was swung to eternity, the law fully satisfied. The murderer was a little pale but held up throughout the affair without the slightest emotion being manifested.

He did not flinch, had nothing to say before death, but died without so much as a word on his behalf.
Twenty deputies were in his cell when the prisoner was led out at 1:05. Father Murphy told him to be brave, and Chounard promised that he would. Sheriff Hardy led the procession to the steps of the scaffold; two priests came next, the prisoner and two deputies following them. They walked up the steps to the platform, no hand of assistance being tendered to Chounard.

When they reached the scaffold Father Murphy knelt and repeated the Lord’s Prayer, Chounard repeated it with him. Father Murphy spoke for the condemned man and said that he had nothing to say. The hood was put over the body and the arms and legs of the condemned man were tightly strapped to his side. The noose was then put around his neck by a deputy, Chounard looking around at him as he fastened the rope.

The hood was then pulled over his head, and as soon as it was fastened the trap fell, being exactly seven minutes past one o’clock, and two minutes after the condemned man was led from the cell.
The body hung there until 1:13 when Dr. Wilcox made an examination to see whether or not life was extinct. After a short examination, he said, ‘There is no pulse, gentlemen.’ He found that the neck was broken instantly.”

As far as I know, this was the only death sentence that ever occurred in northern Minnesota. From soon after statehood in 1858 until 1906, Minnesota law authorized the death penalty for murder. In that time twenty-seven convicts were hanged by order of state courts.

The very last person to be hung in Minnesota was William Williams in 1906. When his hanging went awry, newspapers broke state law to report the graphic story. The botched Williams execution caused renewed fervor against the death penalty. Williams was the last person legally executed by the state, and capital punishment was formally repealed in 1911.

I could not find out what happened to Beatrice Chounard, the daughter of Dora and William. She was said to be living with her aunt, Marie Hitts in Brainerd at the time of the trial but Marie’s husband had died by 1905 and she had a young son to care for. Marie was the only sibling I found documentation of, so perhaps the young girl was adopted by someone with the financial means to support her. Beatrice was not listed as residing with Marie on the 1905 state census. The 1910 United States census shows Marie and her son Elmer living in St. Paul where she is working as a dress maker.

Moonshine Long After Prohibition


Sheriff Marvin Mitchell and deputy Darwin Holsman, right, inspect the home-made still which Holsman uncovered in the Bigfork area. The blowtorch was used to provide additional heat for the mash in the copper boiler.

As I mentioned previously, many of the articles for 2023 are based on stories I found intriguing from the six-part Diamond Jubilee issues of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review (June 16-July18, 1966).

In August 1954, Bigfork deputy Darwin Holsman found a moonshine operation in full swing at the cabin of Abel Kinnunan. Prohibition had been repealed in 1933 meaning that alcohol could be sold and consumed, but it was still illegal to manufacture it.  I recalled another incident of post-prohibition moonshine, so there is enough for a column.

I wrote an eight-part series Itasca County During Prohibition in 2020. The articles contain many interesting tactics used by moonshiners of all ages, male and female. There are quite a few names of those arrested and convicted which make for interesting reading. The columns are archived and can be found on my blog

Here is a quick review of the fourteen-year National Prohibition.

January 1920 ~ The Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which established the prohibition of alcohol, went into effect.  It is also referred to as the Volstead Act, because the amendment was drafted by Minnesota Congressman Andrew Volstead from Granite Falls. In essence, it was illegal to manufacture, transport, sell or have possession of illicit liquor.

March 1933 ~ Congress passed the Cullen-Harrison Act which legalized 3.2 beer and wines of similarly low alcohol content.

December 1933 ~ The Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution is ratified. The legal sale of alcoholic beverages, except in those states that have voted to remain dry, is no longer prohibited.

It may have been illegal to make alcohol, but there were plenty of homemade stills of various sizes throughout Itasca County. Moonshine was the most common name for the illicitly distilled liquor. Other names for moonshine include Moon, White Lightning, Hooch, Dew, or Homebrew.  

This is the article featured in the July 18, 1966, Diamond Jubilee edition of the Grand Rapids Herald Review.

Bigfork Deputy Finds Moonshine Still ~ 8-19-1954

“Deputy sheriff Darwin Holsman of Bigfork, making a routine trip to serve papers, uncovered an old-fashioned moonshine still in operation in the Bigfork area Wednesday. Holsman stopped at the cabin of Abel Kinnunan of Hibbing to ask directions to another man’s home.  He noticed an old copper boiler heating on a two-burner kerosene stove and spotted a blow torch nearby. But Holsman drove away before he realized that he walked in on a moonshiner.

Deputy Holsman said that the man heated the mash with the kerosene stove and used the blow torch for extra heat against the side of the boiler. As the mash evaporated it went into a copper pipe and a series of coils in a barrel of water.  The steam became liquid and ran out a hose at the bottom of the coils into a jug.

Sheriff Marvin Mitchell notified the federal alcohol tax unit of the case.  The unit is expected to bring action against Kinnunan.”

I could not find anything more in the newspaper.

Another post-prohibition story happened during the time that the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) had a camp on Deer Lake near Scenic State Park. In 1934, Rayner and Sally Broberg moved their family from Chicago to northern Itasca County.  The Brobergs built and operated a small resort called Green Wing, southeast of Bigfork. John G. Broberg (1929-1993) was five years old when they left Chicago. In 1991, he put together a booklet of stories he had written about life at the resort. It includes everything from harvesting ice, dealing with wolves, porcupines, bears, moose, and the Feds. This story comes from his collection.

CCC Raid

“We had at least two moonshiners in our general area who evidently enjoyed their trade and continued to produce white lightning after the prohibition law ended. Neither of the moonshiners could have made or sold a lot of whiskey. One of them would never have been caught except for a bizarre set of circumstances, since he was a low-profile individual.

The CCC camps were built in the 1930s in the area of Green Wing.  One camp was on a lake four miles south of us and the other was situated on a lake five miles north of Green Wing.  I would estimate there were several hundred young, single males from about eighteen to perhaps thirty years of age in these two camps. They were supplied uniforms and given their food, lodging, limited medical care, and thirty dollars a month.

The camps appeared to be run by Army personnel.  The CCCs job was to build parks and roads.  They were also used as forest fire fighters when the need arose. They helped build Scenic State Park, which is located seven miles north of Green Wing.

These young men could quit and walk away from the CCCs if they chose to do so, and some did. It was undoubtedly a very confining atmosphere for restless men. The isolation, lack of female companionship, general boredom, and shortage of other things to do other than eat, sleep, and work made them mischievous.

The camps did not have liquor and the men couldn’t readily get it without going thirty miles to Bovey or Coleraine.  None of them owned cars, so it was likely their alcoholic consumption was limited.  The CCC boys knew at least one of the local moonshiners.  They undoubtedly had walked to his house and made small purchases prior to the night of their big caper.

Frenchy (not his real name), the moonshiner, lived on a lake back in the woods.  His house was surrounded by dense trees and brush.  The clearing around his house extended only about fifty feet in any direction.  One night the CCC boys hatched a scheme to steal Frenchy’s entire supply of white lightning.

A group of them headed for Frenchy’s place.  They scattered themselves all over the woods and hid. One young man knocked on Frenchy’s door and asked if he could buy a pint. Frenchy told him to sit down and wait since he never kept the liquor in or close to his house. Frenchy disappeared into the woods.  He returned about fifteen minutes later with a pint. The young man paid for his bottle and departed.

The CCC boys located Frenchy’s barrel of booze that night by watching his movements. They carried the barrel back to their camp. As one might expect, the entire camp got drunk, sick, and hung over.

Unfortunately for Frenchy, the county sheriff heard about the mess and had to take action. Frenchy was arrested and incarcerated.” [The Green Wing Story by John G. Broberg 1991 ~ Itasca County Historical Society archives]

If you happen to have an idea about who “Frenchy” is, I would love to know!

The April column is about gold fever in Itasca County.

On Thin Ice

3.5.2023 [archived ~ originally published 3.1.2018]

Through Ice in Sand Lake was the headline in the 12-12-1914 issue of the Itasca News. Sadly, a century ago, a local headline such as this appeared far too often, followed by a story detailing the incident.

“At Bowstring on Friday evening of last week Nick Aebli, a settler, fell into Sand Lake through a rift in the ice while coming home in the dark and perished before help could reach him.  The accident happened only about forty rods from Aebli’s home and his cries for help were heard by his family and a number of them went to his rescue, but he sank before they could reach him and as it was dark, they could not locate him.  The body was found on Wednesday and Undertaker Will Herreid was called to take care of the body.  Interment was made at Bowstring yesterday. Mr. Aebli had been married twice and he leaves a widow and thirteen children.  He was fifty-two years old and a native of Switzerland.  He settled at Bowstring a little over a year ago and had one of the best improved farms of that section.”

As we all know, winter in northern Minnesota varies from year to year regarding the amount of snow, the below zero temperatures and the length of time the season lasts.  We also know the importance of carrying a winter survival kit in vehicles, wearing appropriate clothing for outside activities and being aware of winter storm warnings and alerts.

One of the biggest differences between now and one hundred years ago, is technology.  Weather predictions are only a google or app away.  Lightweight, but exceedingly warm outwear is available from head to toe. And cell phones provide immediate response when help is needed. 

These incidents occurred during a time when warm clothing meant cumbersome layers of wool and animal furs. Thick wool or cotton long underwear was sold for men or women and though harder for women to walk in the snow in long dresses, the extra material did provide added warmth when traveling by sleigh. Boys wore extra socks and girls ‘those ugly brown tights.’

Oscar Pearson’s story was similar to Aebli, but he made it home safely. “Oscar Pearson returned from Duluth last Thursday where he had been employed during the summer and is now with his family (cats and dog) at his residence on the shores of Rice Lake.  While making a trip to town Saturday after provision Oscar ventured to cross the lake on the ice and thus shorten his journey but as the ice was rather weak, he came near taking a longer journey than he cared to. When about halfway across the lake the ice broke and he had a hard struggle to save himself from a watery grave.” Bigfork Settler 11-26-1909

Curious children are drawn to ice for stomping, sliding and skating. Parental warnings mean very little until a tragedy occurs close to home.  How very sad the community of Ball Club must have been in the early winter of 1916.

Three Children Perish Through Ice at Ballclub ~ Itasca News 11-18-1916

“From the schoolhouse at Ballclub it is but a few rods to the shore of Ball Club Lake, and though, it is said, the children had been forbidden to go on the ice, half a dozen of them ventured out sliding during recess Wednesday morning, and suddenly two of the leaders broke through, and the third in trying to rescue them perished with them.  Children on shore seeing the accident at once ran to the school and the village with the alarm, and in a few minutes men with boards and poles reached the break and all three of the bodies were at once recovered.

Within one hour after the accident doctors from Deer River were at the side of the little dead bodied, but no attempt at resuscitation was made has it was claimed by the doctors that the coldness of the water caused the death of the little ones almost instantly.

Then water was ten feet deep where the accident happened and owing to springy nature of the shore there the ice is never safe until late in the season.

The dead are Mark, aged 8 years and William, aged 10, the sons of Mr. and Mrs. George Wilson; and Ben Tibbits, aged 10 years, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Tibbits. Funeral for all three was held at Ballclub Thursday and internment was made there.” 

Another November incident occurred in 1929. Algot Johnson, who lived on the south side on Bowstring Lake, broke through the ice near a muskrat house.  By the time he reached home, “both feet were quite badly frozen.  He was brought to the Miller [Hotel], where he has been improving steadily, though it is reported the amputation of one toe may be necessary.” Deer River News 11-28-1929

And then of course, there are stories of the lumberjacks. Some were found in time to thaw out, as described in 1905 – “A lumberjack, reported frozen to death was found at Churchill’s Spur and brought to town.  He was housed, fed and “watered” by officer Bond and came out all right.”  Others, like Edward Walters were not so lucky.

Froze to Death ~ Itasca News 3-22-1902

“Edwards Walters, about forty years of age, clerk in one of D. Dumas’ cedar camps on Leech River, froze to death about three miles south of town last Sunday.  He was returning from town and was grossly intoxicated.  Different men overtook him and offered assistance and advice, but he only answered surly and abused those who were trying to befriend him, so he was left wandering around on the open stretch of Mississippi meadow in a foot or two of cold water with his rack of whisky on his back. 

The next morning, he was found near the road in a wet slough just across the Mississippi about a quarter of a mile from Mickleby & Chandler’s camp.  His stiff lifeless body was frozen into about a foot of water and bottles of whisky and crackers and cheese were scattered on the ice around him.  The Coroner of Cass County was notified, and he arrived Wednesday and had the body chopped out of the ice and buried near the camp where he worked.  The News has been unable to procure information as to the man’s home or relatives.”

Rural Schools ~ Bass Lake, Whitefish Lake, Little Sand Lake and Wirt

2.26.2023 [archived ~ originally published 1.16.2017

It appears there were four rural schools in the Bass Lake area of Wirt township before North Elementary school opened in 1955. All of them were in the Deer River School District, but one. According to Don Rydrych, author of The Farm Homesteads of Bass Lake, Minnesota, the Bass Lake school was on the corner of Bass Lake Road and highway 27.  This 160-page book is filled with delightful stories about Don’s personal memories, as well those of others who grew up in the area spanning several generations.  The book is in the reference library at the Itasca County Historical Society (ICHS). 

Whitefish school was established six years later, on the northeast end of Whitefish Lake, to accommodate more school age children in that neighborhood.  When it closed, students were transported to Little Sand Lake.  Eventually students from the area were bussed to the two-room school at Wirt which was in the Grand Rapids School District.

Bass Lake School 1919-1928

The school was located on land owned by Vaclav and Anastasia Komarek, and the first teacher was their

youngest daughter, Anna.  The Komarek’s had immigrated from Austria in 1907 and were in Chicago in 1910, where, according to the census enumerator, several of the adult children were employed as “buttonhole makers” for a tailor.

Imagine how proud Anna’s parents were ten years later when she had a teaching certificate! Miss Komarek was at Bass Lake when Stan Hynek started school and he remembered her well.  Stan was born to Vaclav and Antonia, but like many in the area didn’t speak English.   He explained, “A lot of them couldn’t hardly talk English at all.  In fact, when I started school, if it wouldn’t have been for the teacher being Bohemian, I’d probably had a tough time.” [Interview conducted by Elmer Mattila in 1996]

Don Rydrych explained that his mother and her brother had morning farm chores and were sometimes late for school, but that “Ann Komarek was an understanding and well liked teacher who made allowances for farm life.” 

The surnames of children who attended Bass Lake include: Bartos, Ciskovsky, Dtrina, Dubsky, Hruby, Hynek, Jirik, Johnson, Kaiser, Marsik, Onracek, Rydrych, Smolik, and Stejskal.  The school was closed in about 1928 and students were sent to Whitefish school a couple miles south.

Bass Lake school was a community center when it was a school and remained so when the school had closed. There were picnics and meetings, as well as frequent dances in which traditional music and costume were encouraged.

Whitefish Lake School 1925-1932

The Whitefish Lake building was somewhat smaller than Bass Lake and there were fewer students, but it was nearly filled when those from Bass Lake community joined them.  The school was on the homestead of the Ondracek family, and that is where teachers boarded.  Elsie, the youngest Ondracek child, enjoyed walking to and from school with the teacher, and no doubt her older brothers lent a hand in getting a morning fire started.

Stan Hynek also attended Whitefish Lake and when prodded by Elmer Mattila, recalls some mischief he and other boys got into. “When we were in Whitefish school, Ondracek’s had sheep.  The kids got the ram in this closet to ‘treat’ the teacher.  It ended up on her on the desk!  I can remember some of the bigger boys bringing snakes in there, putting snakes in the desk drawers.  Junk like that.”

Besides the Onracek and Hynek children, other students who attended were from the Hruby, Jirik, Smolik, and Town families. In 1932 the Whitefish Lake school closed, and the students were transferred to Little Sand Lake school.

Little Sand Lake School 1910-1940

Little Sand Lake school was actually the first of these four schools to open.  Don Rydrych, son of Jerry and Stephanie (Dubsky) was a second-generation Bass Lake area student.  He started first grade in 1936 when Miss Julia Haataja was the teacher.  Don remembers that the spring weather was sometimes made getting to school a real adventure.

“The school was seldom closed for bad weather, but the bus route was sometimes blocked in the spring by high water.  My dad would haul the students to the George Stangland farm and when high water covered the road we would transfer to a wagon and horse team driven by George who would take us to school the last three miles.  He would then be waiting with the horse team and wagon after school to meet the bus.  We loved the horse rides which only lasted about a week each spring and we would sometimes be late for school.”

Wirt School 1914-1957

Wirt was in the Grand Rapids School District.  The school opened in fall of 1914 with Miss Gertrude Shook as the teacher, but it wasn’t until 1941 that the children from the Bass Lake area were bussed to Wirt.  When they arrived, Mrs. Ida Carver was the teacher for the older grades, a position she had already held for nearly ten years. 

Mrs. Carver loved to relay the story of her first year at the school.  She rang the school bell, and was quite surprised to count 45 students filing into the building!  The then, twenty-two-year-old Miss Ida Fitzsimmons was just a bit overwhelmed and requested help.  Finally, in November, the school district sent Zona Knutson, another young teacher to instruct the younger grades.  Miss Fitzsimmons taught in the front of the schoolroom, and Miss Knutson used the entry hall.

A much needed two-room school was finally built in 1934.  Ida married Arthur Carver in 1939 and continued teaching at Wirt until 1957 when North Elementary School opened, and the Wirt school closed.  Mrs. Carver moved with the students to the new building where she taught and served as principal.  She retired in 1975 after forty-two years of teaching.

In 1994, WIR staff Sandy Gunther visited with Ida Carver and wrote the following about her long teaching experience.

“…During the winter, she had to keep the school warm with wood heat and clean the school herself.  Lessons were given in 10 minute sessions.  Having all the grades in one room had its advantages.  If students had trouble learning they could listen in on the younger grades’ lessons.  If a child learned quickly, they would listen in on the older children’s lesson.  The older children were also able to help the younger ones if they were having problem with their assignments.” 

First Comes Love ~ Erick & Viola Carlson

2.19.2023 [archived ~ originally published 2.12.2015]

It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight, but almost.  Erick Carlson and Viola Wass met at the infamous VFW roller rink at Talmoon in 1951. Erick was twenty-one, and had dated a little, but thoughts of other girls were gone from his mind once he got the shy gal from Bigfork talking and laughing.  Their long distance (it was 25 miles of mostly dirt road) relationship continued while Erick farmed, logged and worked in the commercial fishing operation at Cutfoot; and Viola helped her mother with four younger children at home. 

About two years later, Erick sauntered into the jewelry store in Deer River with his hard-earned cash.  He took Mr. Samela’s advice on his selection, and while dining at the Sportsman restaurant, Erick pulled a small jewelry box from his pocket.  He extended it towards Viola and said four very special words, “Will you marry me?”   Viola’s heart was all aflutter and she nodded affirmatively before the word “yes” came out of her mouth. 

Erick is the younger of two sons.  His birth was uneventful, but the journey from the hospital in Grand Rapids to the family home in Sand Lake took a week. “Doctor Hursh, who cared for Agda and delivered Erick, brought them by car as far as Ted Alzen’s home in Jessie Lake.  The roads were blocked by a snowstorm, so they remained there for one week.  A. D. Grant, a missionary pastor who lived at Jessie Lake started out and got as far as 4½ miles west of Spring Lake.  Travel by car became difficult and the mailman, Pete Ostlund came along with a team of ponies and small cutter with a small shelter on it and brought them the next 4½ miles by US Postal Delivery.” Excerpt from Erick’s memoir written in 1995.

Erick had lived and worked with his father and brother on the 80 acres farm on Little Sand Lake for as long as he could handle the tools needed for the job.  His parents, John and Agda, had emigrated from Sweden in 1923 and were pleased with his decision to marry Viola, for they knew she was a farm girl and understood what it meant to keep a farm going.

Viola was one of nine children.  She was born in Long Prairie, but her family moved to Bigfork when she was 8 years old.  Yes, Erick’s parents were correct, as Viola’s father had farmed, and she was used to helping him with chores along with her older brothers.  In fact, she admits that she was quite a tomboy, and loved summer when she didn’t have to wear shoes.  She had a great fondness for farm animals, especially cats and would spend many hours in the barn with them as a youngest. 

Viola’s mother and sisters helped her plan her and Erick’s wedding.  The date of August 11, 1953 was set with Reverend Dean Carlson (no relation) officiating at the parsonage in Bigfork.  Rusty Wass was the best man and Carol Hansen the maid of honor.  After the wedding Erick spirited Viola away for a trip up the North Shore in his 1946 Chevrolet.

Upon their return, they lived with Erick’s folks while Erick and his father built a second house on the property.  The following year, John and Agda moved into the new home.  Erick and Viola settled into the “big house” as it was now called and started a family.  By the end of 1960 they had two daughters and a son.  Erick always maintained a day job, but also worked on the farm with his father.  He and Viola had a large garden which they supplemented with woodland products of wild rice, maple syrup and game as time and the seasons allowed.

From the beginning of their life in the big house Erick and Viola worked well together.  Viola was resourceful and organized.  She used what she had on hand to make good home style meals (frequently meat and potatoes as that is what her family preferred) and always had cookies or cake and coffee like every other Swedish family in our county.  She was proficient on the sewing machine and sewed dresses for herself and daughters Cindy and Sherry, and shirts for Erick and son Curtis. 

When the children started school, both Erick and Viola took an active role, and soon became a part of the Parent Teacher Organization.  It didn’t take long for others in the area to see the leadership of the Carlson’s and between them, during the past fifty years Viola and Erick have represented the communities of Sand Lake and Squaw Lake in just about every capacity possible.  “Finally,” Viola says with a relieved sigh, “I think I am done volunteering.”

Always ready to try something different Erick and Viola took square dance lessons and were a part of the North Country Swingers club for many, many years.  “I made all our outfits,” Viola said, “They had to match, and we had to look good when we gave exhibitions.  She and Erick laughed recalling the time an exhibition at Showboat required them to step lively and NOT get too close to the end of the platform or they’d land in the Mississippi River!

Erick has played the accordion since he was six years old.  He loves music and enjoys performing with others.  In 1983, he and Viola thought it would be fun to have a big music jamboree with all the musicians in the community and held the first Pick’n’Post event in a pole barn on their property on that 4th of July.  “We didn’t advertise, except for a cardboard sign at the end of the driveway, but always had close to 100 people who attended,” Erick explained, and Viola added, “It started right after supper and went on late into the night.  We’d clean out the pole building, stack hay bales for seats and we even bought a sound system.”  This much anticipated musical endeavor became an annual event for 17 years!

Viola and Erick agree that their marriage has been a good one.  Viola believes that it this is in part because they have tried to live by the Ten Commandments.  “We give and we take,” Erick says.  “We talk things through, and we listen to each other.”  He looks at Viola, she nods in agreement, so he continues, “She is the organized one and I rely on her to keep me on the right page.”  

This is certainly true as I listened to both of them.  Viola has kept a journal for 56 years.  She began it in 1959 and has written in it nearly every day.  When they started Carlson Excavating in 1974, Viola was in charge of the bookkeeping.  They ran this business together, though Viola also worked outside the home.  The excavating company is now in the capable hands of their son Curt.

They learned at the time of Viola’s cancer diagnosis in the early 1990s just how much they depended on each other.  Thankfully, Viola was part of a clinical trial that worked very well, and she has been cancer free for 24 years.  In 1995 Erick experienced several health problems, but her support and his determination brought them over that hurdle together.   They began taking things a little slower about this time and did some traveling.  The Carlson’s have been to Sweden for three extended vacations, meeting more relatives with each visit.  A few winters in Arizona was a relief from the Minnesota cold, but as of late, winter or not, Minnesota is home and that is where they are.

Erick had a stroke in the spring of 2013 and though they managed at home for a while, by the end of the year he was moved to Homestead.  Viola talks to Erick every day and visits several times a week with their little dog Duke, who has become a favorite four-legged creature of all the residents.  Each Sunday Erick spends time back at Sand Lake, attending the Northwoods Chapel where Chris Reed is pastor, and eating one of Viola’s home cooked meals.

One of the wonderful things about the Carlson marriage is that that have celebrated the milestones in style.  On the 25th anniversary they dressed up in the square-dancing outfits Viola had made and had a party with family and friends. In 1993, on the 40th anniversary they renewed their vows with Reverend Dean Carlson once again officiating and had a garden party at the lake on a beautiful summer day.  Erick looked good in a new suit, but he says that Viola was stunning in her 40-year-old wedding dress and said that no alternations had to be made!

Their children and grandchildren planned, organized and honored them for the 50th anniversary in 2003.  There were poignant and humorous memories shared by Cindy, Sherry, Curt, the spouses and children.  There was music (of course), friends and plenty of food. The Carlson’s have four grandchildren Andrew, Elizabeth, Ashley and Travis.  Last November, the first great grandchild, Adeline Rose was born.  On August 11th of this year, Viola and Erick will have been married for 62 incredible years.  That is almost the same as a fancy box of Crayola color crayons!

Hometown Heroes ~ From Thank Yous to Carnegie Medals


Last summer, Nancy Nordin, a loyal reader of Reminisce, gave me her copy of the six-part Diamond Jubilee issues of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review (June 16-July18, 1966). The supplements contained newspaper articles from 1891, when the village of Grand Rapids was established, through the early1960s.

January’s column, “I just needed twenty-four hours out” Escaped Prisoners, as well as most of the others for 2023, are based on an article that intrigued me from the Diamond Jubilee issues.  What caught my eye this month was a piece about Wanda Gail “Wendy” Schickling (1924-1994), a Grand Rapids woman who was the recipient of a Carnegie Medal for Heroism in 1948. The medal is given to individuals in the United States and Canada who risk death or serious physical injury to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.

Carnegie Medals

Schickling, the daughter of Leonard and Edna (Bentz), was a twenty-two-year-old student at Wheaton College (Illinois) when she saved five-year-old Richard Johnson and thirteen other children from a burning bus. Schickling, a Sunday school teacher at Calvary Temple in Minneapolis, was accompanying twenty-eight children on an outing when a car collided with the bus which burst into flames. Some of the children escaped out the door with the bus driver, and others through windows broken by passersby. “Flames suddenly rose 10 feet above the pool, and some extended a foot and a half inside the doorway. Dense smoke issued into the bus, and heat was intense. Men broke in two windows in the bus, and six children escaped through them. Miss Schickling kicked out a third window and handed six more children through it to a man. She felt heat searing her face and wrists; kept her eyes, which smarted, closed part of the time; and had difficulty breathing. She tried but was too weak to pull another child away from the seat to which he clung; but the man by reaching through the window did so; and he and Miss Schickling lifted the child out. She then thrust out the last remaining child; and she got her head and shoulders through the window, lost consciousness, and hung over the sill, from which she was removed. Firemen soon extinguished the flames; no explosion having occurred. Eight of the children were burned, two of them seriously; but all recovered. Miss Schickling was seriously burned, suffered severe shock, and was disabled for three months.” [Carnegie Hero Fund Commission]

After returning to school, and finishing her degree, Schickling taught at Wheaton College. In 1954 she married Aswath Maddagiri, and in 1960 the family resided in Koochiching County, where their daughter was born.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission maintains a searchable directory, so I looked for other recipients from our area and found one more. Forest L. Willey, the director of secondary education for the Grand Rapids School District was awarded the medal when he died attempting to save an indeterminate number of persons from being shot on October 5, 1966. “A 15-year-old boy armed with a pistol went to the parking area of a high school and there shot another boy, who fled to a nearby building. Learning of the incident, Willey, 58, emerged from his office into the parking area. The armed boy was pointed out to him. Willey remarked that he was going to try to get the gun before someone was killed. He walked toward the armed boy, who turned and faced him. Urging him to hand over the gun, Willey moved nearer. The boy fired the pistol. The bullet missed Willey, who continued forward. The boy fired two more shots. One of the bullets struck Willey, and he fell to the ground. Police arrived, and the armed boy fired the remaining bullets at them before surrendering. The boy who had been shot recovered, but Willey died.” [Carnegie Hero Fund Commission] It is my understanding that this is one of the first documented school shootings.

Leo Julien

Leo Julien, son of Joseph and Maude (LeSarge), was lauded twice in seven months for saving someone from drowning in area lakes.

The first instance was in December 1928 when Leo, aged 13, and his brother Ernest, aged 8, and his cousin Irwin LeSarge were ice skating on Hale Lake.

“The two older boys were ahead and Ernest, following them, broke through in a weak spot of the ice where the water is very deep.  His cry as he broke through attracted the attention of the other boys and Leo, kicking off his skates, went to the hole and dove in under the ice after Ernest, who had disappeared. Two attempts were necessary before he reached his brother and swam back to the hole through which he had broken.  In the meantime, young LeSarge had gone for help and another boy on the lake had secured a plank and shoved it out on the ice to the two boys in the hole.  Leo held up his brother and clung to the ice and the plank for more than 20 minutes before enough help could be summoned to get them out.

Women at the Julien home telephoned to the local exchange that the boys were in the lake and asked for help. The fire alarm was sounded and a truck load of firemen with ladders and ropes were rushed to the scene.  Many men also went out as quickly as possible.  The ice was so thin that it would scarcely bear the weight of a man, so a boat was shoved over the ice until it was beside the boys, and they were pulled into the boat.  Planks were then carried out for the men to walk on so they could haul the boat out of the hole in the ice and reach the boys and carry them ashore.

Both boys were thoroughly chilled and were rushed at once to the Itasca Hospital, where they were given first aid treatment.  They are both apparently well recovered from their experience and no worse for their long immersion in the icy water.” [12-5-1928 Grand Rapids Herald Review]

The second instance was in July 1929 at the McKinney Lake bathing beach. Seventeen-year-old Helen Rodberg was attempting to swim out to the raft, which was anchored in deep water, and began to flounder. “She was unable to make the distance and sank from sight.  Leo saw her in danger and swam out as quickly as possible.  He found it necessary to dive for the girl, then brought her to shore, where first aid was administered, and she was soon revived.

There is a real danger at McKinney bathing beach.  It is generally used on these hot days and evenings, and more than a hundred people, young and old, are frequently in the water at one time. An appeal was made to the village council this morning, and it is expected to bring immediate results.  A guard, who will have supervision over the beach, to preserve order, and to save life in case of emergency, is expected to be engaged today, and to be on duty from noon until sometime in the evening, during the time the beach is used this season.  There have been two other instances of close escapes from drowning at the beach within the past week.  No boat is kept at the beach, and no means of saving a drowning person except to have a good swimmer go into action.” [7-17-1929 Grand Rapids Herald Review]

Leo married Loretta Catherine Blaszak in 1937, and in 1950 they lived in Great Falls, Montana with their three children.

Julia Vann

Another story of heroism occurred on Wabana Lake.

Young Girl is a Real Heroine ~ 6-2-1926 Grand Rapids Herald Review

“Little Miss Julia Vann, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Chris Vann, of Coleraine, is made of the stuff that produces heroines, as shown by her actions on Sunday, when she rescued from drowning, Dorothy, the four-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Brannan of Bovey.

Both families were out at Wabana Lake, and little Dorothy went out on the boat dock and promptly fell off in about six feet of water.  Her screams attracted the attention of her eleven-year-old brother, Donald, who jumped in after her. Donald was unable to hold to the supports of the landing and reach his sister and had hard work to reach shore himself.  Julia Vann, who says she can ‘only swim a little.’ Did not hesitate but leaped in and caught the little girl as she was sinking and managed to hold her up until older people came and pulled both from the water. None of the children were any worse for their bath, except for their fright.”

In March, I will explore a moonshine manufacturing site in the woods that was active twenty years after prohibition ended.

Forgotten Postmarks ~ Jesse Lake

2.5.2023 [archived ~ originally published 2.10.2018]

Jesse Lake Post Office ~ Courtesy of Itasca County Historical Society

Which came first, the naming of the lake or the naming of the post office?  The answer is explained in the April 10, 1909, issue of the Itasca News.

“The woods of the north is of later years becoming well sprinkled with post offices.  The latest is at the north end of Jessie Lake and is called Jesse Lake (note the spelling.)  Peter Peterson is the postmaster, and service begins as soon as Mr. Peterson arranges for the carrying of the mail, which must be done at his own expense until he can induce the government to do so.  This will make the eighth star route office to be supplied by the Deer River office.”

According to the document Journey into the Past, “Lake Jessie Township – as well as the name of the lake probably commemorate the wife or daughter of one of the early lumbermen.” [pg 11.  Journey into the Past – An Initial Inventory of Itasca County, Minnesota Historic Sites and Treasures; July 1966]

Postmaster Peterson 1909-1912

Peter Peterson immigrated to Minnesota from Sweden at the age of 26 and worked on the railroad in Warren, Minnesota.  Later he and Anna, his wife lived in Superior, and in 1903 they bought land at the north end of Jessie Lake. The family household goods were shipped by railroad to Spring Lake, hauled by horse and dray to Jessie Lake and transported by boat to the homestead. 

There were a few homesteaders before the Petersons, including Louis and Julia Sjolund, and Olaf Lind, who was here before the township organized in 1901.  Others that arrived at about the same time were the Alzens, Ingstads, Mortensons, Nelsons, Sandbergs, and Westerlunds.  The first school, called Sjolunds, opened in the fall of 1903 with Alice Poupore as the teacher of seven students.

By 1909, when the application for a post office for the community was granted, the township was platted, the Minneapolis & Rainy River railroad had established a station, a new school had been built. In addition to dispensing the mail and freight, Mr. Peterson maintained the records for the Greenwood Cemetery, and Mrs. Peterson served as midwife to the local families.

Peterson ran the Jesse Lake post office until October 1912, when his son-in-law Henry Johnson was appointed.

Postmaster Johnson 1912-1954

Henry was two years old when his parents brought the family to Wisconsin from Norway.  His father worked on the ore boats in Superior. It was probably here that Henry made his acquaintance with the Petersons and their daughter, Anna.

The 1910 census states they had been married four years and had two sons.  Johnson operated a small grocery store in their home. With the store established, it made sense to have the post office in the same location.  By 1920, the store had expanded to include other items of convenience for the growing community.  When telephone lines linked Jesse Lake to other areas, Mrs. Johnson operated the switchboard from their home as well.

The Johnson’s were fun-loving family and enjoyed the camaraderie of others.  Olga (Lindgren) Wise grew up in Jesse Lake during the 1930s and 1940s and recalls.  “Henry Johnson ran the PO and the telephone switchboard.  He was also the local Santa.  He had a neat suit and used to come on Christmas Eve and peek in our window.  He was a very good ice skater and as soon as he tested the ice on Jesse it was safe for all of the young kids to skate.  Many a Saturday were spent cleaning off the snow to have skating on Sunday.  Johnson furnished the hockey sticks and pucks.  Usually by Christmas there was too much snow, so we would go sledding.

Jesse Lake community fair.  It was held in the depot and Henry was the Chairman.  After the judging he and others packed up the best produce and hauled it to the county fair in Grand Rapids.  He would stay all week and so mom ran the Post Office and store.” Wise’s mother was Martha (Edwardson) Lindgren

In later years Wise wrote From Jessie Lake the First Fifty Years, compiling her memories and those of others. A letter shared by the Benson family is especially interesting, because the writer, Omrah “William” Benson expounds on the virtues of plentiful food in the Jesse Lake area.  Benson was born in Iowa and later moved to Missouri.  The large family moved to northern Minnesota in the spring of 1917.

This excerpt, written to Benson’s mother back in Iowa, is dated December 3, 1918.

“We think Minn. the garden spot of the earth.  Of course, we can’t raise everything here and neither can you any place else that I have ever heard of.  But we can raise all the potatoes and other roots.  We had 175 bu potatoes, 30 bu rutabagas & turnips, 15 bu parsnips, 10 bu carrots, 5 bu onions, some beets and 100 head of cabbage.  We canned 75 qt green beans, about 20 qt peas, 60 qt raspberries, about 15 qt strawberries; all total 220 qt.

In May the black suckers come up in the creek to spawn and so plentiful that the girls caught them with their hands. Verlan and Donald caught 61 one day with pitchforks. We want to fix a smokehouse and smoke 1000 pounds so we can have fish anytime.  They are one of the kind we can ship out of state, if we can get barrels. I can catch them (with spear) faster than a man can clean them.  They are fine wither smoked or baked.  Smoke them 24 hours with birchwood and they will keep for a year, it both cooks and cures them.  We like baked fish better than fried & bake them all day and then the bones are soft, and you can eat even the backbone.

Jesse Lake has a post office, 2 stores, 5 or 6 families and a sawmill.  Mack has a PO, store and one family – both four miles. Marcell, 5 miles away, has a PO, store hotel, and 5 or 6 families.  They have Memorial & 4th of July programs and that is about all.  Deer River is 20 miles south.  We trade there some by mail.  I have not been there since coming here.”

The book, From Jessie Lake the First Fifty Years is available for review in the research center at the Itasca County Historical Society.  I tracked down the author, who goes by “Lindy” in Florida. She told me “My brother lives in Grand Rapids and am related to the Kongsjords in Talmoon, Snells in Marcell and Lindgrens in Jessie Lake” and that “the books will be available as long as I am around!” 

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.

“I just needed twenty-four hours out” ~ Escaped Prisoners


As long as there have been jails and prisons, there have been jail breaks. Modern technology makes it much harder, but still an average of over 2000 inmates escape from state and federal prisons each year. The following incidents are from before 1933 and are mostly about men who were in northern Minnesota at the time of their escape and/or recapture.

Carl Knutson escaped from the Polk County Jail on June 18, 1921, where he was held on a charge of first-degree murder in connection with his wife’s death. He was found hiding in the woods seven miles north of Crookston. A posse of 150 men had spent the day searching for him. When he was apprehended, Knutson told officials “I just needed twenty-four hours out, to get the man.” Knutson’s thwarted plan was to find and kill the man he believed was cavorting with his wife. [6-21-1921 Bemidji Daily Pioneer]

Using Tools on Site

On January 11, 1883, two men in the same cell were caught just before they could make their escape. “Henry Wilson, a ‘professional burglar,’ and his pal Frank Wilmar, a horse thief, are caught by an alert janitor and the sheriff as they attempt to escape from the Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul. They had stolen a sledgehammer from workmen and nearly managed to pound a hole through the stone floor of a cell into the basement.” [This Day in Minnesota History | MNopedia]

A bit closer to home, three men in the Itasca County Jail got their hands on tools from a toolbox when a plumber was at the jail working on the radiators.

Three Prisoners Escaped from Jail ~ 9-6-1933 Grand Rapids Herald Review

“Three prisoners in the Itasca County Jail, who were awaiting trial, escaped during the early morning hours last Saturday. Two of the men from Ball Club, Bert Bobolink and Robert Hunter, were recaptured the next day.  The third man, Wallace Stockwell, who was arrested early in the summer after an intensive search, in the woods north of Deer Lake, is still at large.

Somehow the men gained possession of a hack saw blade. This blade was used to cut through two bars in a window near the southeast corner of the building, and the three men went out of the window.  All the prisoners were in their cells when the night jailer made the rounds at midnight, and the escape was not noted until a short time afterward.

Stackwell, who was being held on a charge of rape, was wanted in Massachusetts as well as elsewhere.  He is thought to have engineered the plans for escape.  It is possible that one of the men stole a hacksaw blade from one of the plumbers who were repairing radiators and connections in the jail a few days ago.  The plumbers had their tool kits with them, and it is thought had hacksaw blades in the toolboxes. Soap was used while the bars were being sawed to deaden the sound of the operations.

Deputy Litchke went to Cass Lake on Friday to overtake the freight train on which the men from Ball Club might have taken. On his way back, Litchke stopped at Bena for gasoline, and saw Bobolink and Hunter walk past the station, so he brought them back to jail.  Both are being held on charges of robbery, said to have been committed near Ball Club some weeks ago.”

Otto Emil Litchke (1896-1973) was a deputy sheriff in Itasca County for 18 years. He married Pearl Waisenan and was the father of eleven children. Gordon, Raymond, Donald, Terrence, Wallace, Elaine, Elizabeth, Joyce, Carol, Darlene, and Pat.

A Little Help from Friends

According to journalist Jesse Rhodes, “Jailbirds really have tried to fly the coop by way of contraband—files, handsaws and even guns—hidden inside baked goods…As reported in the January 14, 1909, edition of the Los Angeles Times, Mr. F. J. Humely was jailed for passing a forged check. While incarcerated and awaiting trial, he was sent two cakes—one with chocolate icing, one with white icing.

Sheriff Hammel, who intercepted the package, thought the baked goods were unusually heavy and upon investigation found half of a 38-caliber revolver in each cake. Humely apparently planned to wait until only two guards were on duty and either threaten or kill one of them with the gun in order to get the set of keys. The cakes were sent by one of Humely’s friends, a Mr. R. E. Watson, and the pair had planned to sail to Mexico, where they hoped to make money in the opium trade. Humely was ultimately sentenced to seven years at Folsom Prison.” [The File Inside the Cake: True Tales of Prison Escapes | Arts & Culture| Smithsonian Magazine]

Frank Tardy successfully escaped from the Itasca County Jail after his wife and a friend visited him, and at least one of them had concealed a blade or file which he used to make his escape several days later.  Tardy was awaiting sentencing and placement in Stillwater Prison. He was eventually captured. According to the United States census, he was at the Leavenworth Penitentiary in 1935 and at Stillwater Prison in 1940.

Prisoner Escapes from County Jail ~ 10-24-1928 Grand Rapids Herald Review

“Frank A. Tardy, who had been confined in the Itasca County Jail for about two weeks, being held for Cass County authorities, escaped from the jail last Saturday evening and is still at large. All efforts to locate him since his escape have been without success and it is feared by the authorities that he has reached shelter in the woods of Canada.

Tardy was confined in a cell on the second floor of the jail and during the day, in common with other prisoners there, was given the liberty of the corridor so he could take needed exercise.  In the extreme east end of the jail there is a window which is somewhat removed from the cells on that floor.  This window was guarded with heavy steel bars but these bars were so arranged that by cutting two half inch bolts, the bars would swing as though on hinges. 

In some manner unknown to the authorities, Tardy had evidently obtained hacksaw blades or files.  He must have taken some time to cut through these bolts and must have made some noise which would have been noted by other prisoners on the floor with him. The bolts once cut through, no difficulty was encountered in making his escape as a large drainpipe which led down from the roof to the ground showed plainly upon examination that Tardy had slid down that pipe.  He had prepared to escape by means of a blanket as a long cotton blanket was found tied to an iron brace at the side of the window but had not been unfolded.

Tardy had visitors on Thursday when his attorney, his wife and another person visited him. The gifts they carried were examined but the persons themselves were not searched for such contraband as saws or files as it was not thought likely he would attempt to escape.  The second floor had been visited by Joe Durand, night watchman in the jail, at seven o’clock Saturday evening and Tardy was walking in the corridor at that time.  At quarter past seven one of the prisoners gave an alarm and when Mr. Durand responded, said that Tardy had escaped.  The alarm was immediately given, and a large number of men responded, and every available hiding place searched for several hours.  The description of the escaped man was broadcast from several radio stations both Saturday evening and Sunday evening from points as far distant as Minneapolis and Chicago.”

The final story is about Joe Jetland, from Polk County. He had escaped from the county jail at Crookston in August 1924, and was apprehended in Craig, seven months later. On the train bound for Crookston, the deputy removed the handcuffs so Jetland could go to the toilet.  Jetland opened the window in the bathroom and jumped from the train. He was captured again the following day.

I found an article in a 1931 Roseau newspaper which stated Jetland was “veteran of seven jail breaks and sentenced to 3 years [in the Roseau County Jail] … then he will be taken to Bismarck, North Dakota where he is wanted for breaking out of the State Penitentiary there.

“Cold Blast” Equals Winter Fun 

1.15.2023 [archived ~ originally published 1.18.2018]

Deer River News Jan 10, 1929

“The extreme cold blast of Monday and Tuesday did not injure the feelings of the average schoolboy in Deer River for on those two days it was too cold to keep school.”

This statement was printed in the February 21st, 1903, issue of the Itasca News.  The article went on to explain that the furnace was kept going night and day, but that it was Wednesday before the temperature could be raised to an acceptable level for the students to return to the schoolhouse.

The following items highlight the fun of outside winter activities of years ago.  The first is written by John Broberg in his memoir, The Green Wing Story. John was a student at Scenic Park School in the late 1930s through early1940s.  His teacher, Mr. John Jarvela, taught at several rural schools in the northern part of Itasca County. 

The Ice Path

“One winter morning, the older boys had taken buckets of water from the pump and made an ice path completely around the schoolhouse.  The water froze in minutes when it was splashed on the ground.  We would line up and run to the ice path.  The person who could slide the longest distance was the champion.  We slid around and around the school.  Making the turn at the corners without falling down was the tricky part for all of us. 

I made one slide, tried to navigate around the corner, slipped, and fell on my face.  Just as I started to get up, a big boy came whipping around the corner and tromped down on my right arm above the wrist. The pain was excruciating.  My arm below the elbow was bent like a bow. I rolled on the ice and cried until the initial shock passed. Mr. Jarvela looked at the arm and thought it might just be a bad sprain.  There wasn’t much he could do about it.  He couldn’t call a doctor or my mother.  He couldn’t close the school since there was no way the students could get home without very long hikes.  He didn’t have his car at school and, even if he had it, he couldn’t leave the kids.  I was stuck at school all day until it ended at four o’clock and the bus picked us up.  Skip and I got home that afternoon and Mom took one look at the arm and cranked the phone for the doctor in Big Fork.”

Sleigh Rides and Parties

Sleigh rides to winter gatherings were half the fun. It afforded small groups of young people an opportunity to visit with others they hadn’t seen since the busy planting and harvesting. The horses could travel more easily over snow and frozen water.  And the dances often lasted until daylight.

“A sleigh-load of young folk took in the dance at Turtle Lake last Friday evening, given in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Emil Krantz who were married Monday, Dec. 4. The boys presented them with a set of silver knives and forks and received in return each a piece of the wedding cake.  A bounteous supper was served after a most enjoyable time the young folks departed for Bigfork, wishing the newly married couple a successful journey along life’s pathway. – Mr. and Mrs. Krantz have accepted positions about three miles from Bigfork in one of the Pillsbury logging camps.” [Bigfork Settler 12-14-1905]

“A sleigh party will be given by the Caesar Club next Saturday night, each member to invite one friend.  Sauerkraut and wieners will be served after the ride.  All the members of the club are anticipating a good time.  We hope the weatherman will be good to them.” [Bigfork Settler 1-25-1929]

Skates and Snowshoes

For a few years there was an ice-skating rink in Deer River, but with no funds for the upkeep, it was a short-lived endeavor.  As modes of transportation, skates and snowshoes were essential for those living in the wilds of the Big Fork Valley. 

“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]

“HD Horton and Ed Carlson skated up the river to town a distance of about twenty miles and report 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]

“Another nonstop record broken: Archie Randall snowshoed from Lunde’s camp near Togo to Bustitown in seven hours, a distance of 29 miles. (What is the attraction, Archie?)” [Bigfork Settler 2-21-1930]

Sleds, Toboggans and Barrel Staves

Snow, a hill and something to put between yourself and the ground is all you need for this age-old bit of frosty fun.  I remember how thrilled my siblings and I were to slide down a section of Mt. Baker, a glaciated volcano in the Cascades on pieces of cardboard in July of 1974.

“The ‘Rough and Tumble’ club (ladies), after an hour’s burlesque with bobsleds. Barrel staves (and one had a clothes pin) on Creamery hill Saturday night, ‘tore’ over to the Erik Johnson home nearby where by previous arrangement Mrs. Johnson had the coffee hot and a swell lunch in waiting, which they devoured and making the welkin ring, ‘hollered’ good night so we could all hear it.  The late Mrs. Wicklund, who passed away this week was also a hostess, having helped furnish the lunch.” [Itasca News 2-10-1923]

Ski Tournament in Coleraine

The first ski jumping hill of Coleraine was built up in 1906 out of wooden battens and plates from a sawmill on the banks of Lake Trout. A Ski Jump Club was formed in 1907.It only took a few more years before the ski jump achieved notoriety. Arrangements could sometimes be made for trains to make limited trips to special events or have reduced fares for excursions to Duluth or Crookston.

“A special train has been secured by Agent Beall to run an excursion to Coleraine and return to accommodate Deer River people who wish to witness the National Ski (skee) tournament tomorrow.  The fare for a round trip is one dollar.  The train will leave Deer River at 12 noon, and returning leave Coleraine at 7, arriving home at 8.  Some who cannot leave at 12 o’clock will take the regular passenger train at 2:10 and drive to Coleraine from Grand Rapids.” [Itasca News 2-19-1910]