Mad Hatters ~ Millineries of Deer River

4.10.2022 [archived ~ originally published 5.3.2018]

Wedding Party ~ All but the bride is wearing a hat [circa 1920]

In the early years, there were considerably more men than women living in the Deer River area. But once the village was established, more families moved in, and by the spring of 1903, there was welcome news for fashion-conscious women. “The ladies of Deer River and vicinity will be pleased to learn that a long felt want, a millinery store is about to be established here.   Mrs. W.J. Phifer, formerly of Duluth, an experienced ladies’ hatter, is proprietress.” [Itasca News 3-7-1903]

Until the arrival of Mrs. Garnett Phifer, for women wanting a hat, their choices were to send for it through a mail order catalog; makeover their existing hat with new ribbons and fresh feathers; or take the train from Deer River to Mrs. Katherine Lent’s millinery parlor in Grand Rapids.

“Milliners create hats for women; hat makers make hats for men. This is the nineteenth- and twentieth-century differentiation of the two trades, which, although related, require very different technical skills and working practices.” [Wikipedia] 

During about a twenty-year period when it was the fashion to update women’s hats every season, there were four women who tried their hand as a milliner in Deer River: Garnett Phifer, Helen Ryan, Minnie Tollefson and Mae Swanson. Their shops carried adorned and unadorned hats, ribbons, beads, feathers and silk flowers. Some also specialized in other clothing items exclusively for women.

Mrs. Garnett Phifer 1903 to 1909

Garnett married William Phifer, a barber in Iowa in 1902.  They moved to Duluth for a brief time before settling in Deer River.  Mrs. Phifer brought with her a stock of goods, upon arrival rented space, and established her business. 

Phifer’s first advertisement stated: “Announcement!  Having received my full stock of up-to-date millinery, I am now prepared to deliver at a cost not greater than is common in the cities, hats of the latest shapes and trimmings to suit the most fastidious of ladies.  In cheap hats, I have an abundant assortment.  They are durable, and I am sure you will be pleased with the assortment. I also take orders for tailor-made suits, made by the Edward B Grossman Co., Chicago.  Their make is the best. The ladies of Deer River and vicinity are respectfully invited to call. Yours to please, Mrs. W.J. Phifer” [Itasca News 3-28-1903]

Mrs. Phifer did a fine trade until January 1908 when a fire damaged several village businesses, including hers.  Within a week she had moved into the old Methodist Church building wear the remainder of her hats were sold for half price. By mid-April, the News noted, “Judging from the large sample trunks stacked almost every day in front of the local millinery the style of the ladies hats this spring will be wide, long and high.”

When the M.J. Baker store ran an ad announcing the opening of their new department of millinery in August, Mrs. Phifer countered with one stating, “At the only millinery store in the city.  Early fall hats.   Also, untrimmed shapes.  New styles received every week during the season.  Old hats made over to look like new.” This last item was important because M.J. Baker only had a limited number of ready-made hats from which to choose.

In January 1909 Mrs. Phifer filed for separation from her husband, alleging cruel and inhuman treatment, nonsupport, and drunkenness.  She also asked for the complete title to all the property holding in her name, an order to restrain the defendant from entering her house or interfering with her or her business pursuits.  After the fire, Mrs. Phifer had purchased her own building. When the divorce was final in September, she decided to move her millinery business out of the area.

Mrs. Helen Ryan 11-1909 to 10-1916

Shortly after Mrs. Phifer left, Helen Ryan, with the backing of her husband William, decided to open a millinery next to the post office.  Most of her advertisements included enticements of current trends, ostrich feathers and turbans, as well as waists, skirts, corsets, hose and ‘hair puffs.’

By 1911 Mrs. Ryan secured a better location and had a second store in Marble. I could not determine if she split her time between the two stores or had an assistant running one.  One possibility is that Garnett Phifer, who had returned to Deer River by 1910 according to the United States census, was managing one of the stores.  Garnett is shown living on her own, next to the Ryan family.  Her occupation, as well as Helen Ryan’s, is listed as a milliner in a store.

In late summer 1916, Helen and William Ryan made plans to move to Michigan. Mrs. Ryan consolidated her millinery and other stock at the Deer River store and sold it to George Herreid and Minnie Tollefson.  George, a well-known businessman, was a silent partner in the millinery establishment named the Style Shop.

Minnie E. Tollefson & George Herreid 10-1916 to 11-1917

George Herreid, along with his brother William, and their wives Agnes and Anna, were owners of a large general store and mortuary, and agents for the Ford Motor Company at this time.  I could find very little information on Miss Tollefson.  According to, no one by that name resided in Deer River in 1910 or 1920. There was a Minnie Tollefson living in Blackduck in 1910.  She was born in Norway in 1888 and immigrated in 1906. She was a waitress at the Olson’s Hotel.  It is possible she was in Deer River by 1916 (and maybe even working for Helen Ryan), or perhaps answered an advertisement for the business that I did not locate.

At any rate, I believe the arrangement was tentative and based on profitability.  On 9-29-1917, less than a year after the shop opened, a Notice of Dissolution appeared in the paper: “Notice is hereby given that the partnership lately existing between the undersigned, George H. Herreid and Minnie E. Tollefson, carrying on business of ladies’ wearing apparel and millinery store at Deer River, Minn., under the style of firm as the “Style Shop,” was on the 1st day of August, 1917, dissolved in the future will be carried on by the said George H. Herreid, who will pay and discharge all debts and liabilities of and receive all moneys due to said late firm.”

A ten-day ‘Quitting Business Sale’ including full-page advertisements was held in early November 1917. I found nothing more to indicate where Minnie Tollefson had gone.

End of an Era

Records are a bit sketchy after the Style Shop sold out.  Garnett Phifer apparently did start a millinery parlor again, but when an Airtight stove exploded, starting a fire in the store in April 1918, and she lost everything, she decided that was enough.

The last mention I found of a millinery in Deer River was an advertisement for the opening of Swanson’s Millinery Parlors ~ Opening March 21, 1919.  Mrs. Mae Swanson, the owner, was a widow with small children.  She married again and moved to Canada. During the twentieth century, women’s lives changed drastically and imposed a lifestyle not compatible with the beautiful hat creations. The twenty-first century has become a bare-headed era, and glamorous hats have become “special occasion wear,” only worn for weddings and high-society horse races.

“Talkies” Come to Deer River Lyceum

4.3.2022 archived [originally published 4.6.1915]

There was a packed house for the film “Weary River” shown at the Lyceum Theater in Deer River on Tuesday May 28, 1929.  It was not the actors, Richard Barthelmess or Betty Compson that drew the crowd in the middle of the week. It was the first talking film to be shown in Deer River, or anywhere in Itasca County for that matter!  Up until then all of the films were silent, though often the management hired a piano player to play what they thought was appropriate music for the sad, romantic, scary or dangerous scenes. 

While billed as a talkie “Weary River” is actually classified as a part-talkie, part-silent hybrid made at the changeover from silent movies to sound movies.  No one in the audience complained however, as it was such a remarkable development to hear what the actors were saying.  By 1929 when this was produced, most films were made with the Vitaphone, which was at the time the leading brand of sound-on-disc technology.

John Johnson manager of the Lyceum knew that he had to invest in sound equipment at his theater or his patrons were likely to go elsewhere.  Johnson and Charles Perrizo, manager of the theater in Grand Rapids traveled together in early April 1929, to Oconto, Wisconsin for a demonstration of the Merritone Machine which would project the sound of the vitaphone films.  Both men purchased them on the spot, and arrangements were made to have the machines installed at the beginning of May.  Of course a few complications delayed the installation, but by the end of May all the kinks were worked out and the citizens of Deer River were ready and waiting to see and HEAR whatever film was to be showing.

The April 11th issue of the Deer River News explained a little about the upgrade: “The Merrittone is designed to meet the special needs of the small town theater, though it is used with equal success in the larger places.  The equipment provides everything necessary to satisfy the movie patron, including synchronizing devices, amplifier and auditorium speakers.  The synchronization is assured to be perfect, and the sturdiness, compactness, simplicity of construction, quality of material used, ease of operation and the lack of complicated mechanism, make the Merrittone of superior desirability for any theater.

Mr. Johnson’s purchase confirms confidence in Deer River, and is found to add greatly to the popularity of the Lyceum, which has already attained a high degree.  Local movie patrons will strongly commend this advanced step on the part of the Lyceum management and its apparent desire to afford Deer River the best that can be given.”

Indeed, the business community rallied their support by taking out an advertisement that helped pay for a full page ad for the film in the May 23rd issue of the paper.  Thirty-two businesses congratulated Johnson and the Lyceum with messages such as “Welcome vitaphone as another step in the development of our community”, “Congratulations Mr. Johnson and welcome everything that will make Deer River a bigger and better town”, “Extends congratulations and welcomes Vitaphone as another of the big boosts of the year for this community’, “Appreciate Mr. Johnson’s enterprise in giving Deer River better pictures.”

Deer River was not too far behind the times with this advancement.  The first feature length film originally presented as a talkie was the “Jazz Singer,” released October 1, 1927.  It actually had very few spoken parts, but a lot of music.  By the end of 1927, most films being produced were talking/silent hybrids. By the early 1930s, the talkies were a global phenomenon. In the United States, they helped secure Hollywood’s position as one of the world’s most powerful cultural and entertainment venues.

According to Internet Movie Database  (IMDb) “Weary River” is a 1929 American romantic drama film directed by Frank Lloyd and starring Richard Barthelmess, Betty Compson, and William Holden. Produced by First National Pictures and distributed through Warner Brothers, the film is a part-talkie, part-silent hybrid made at the changeover from silent movies to sound movies. Based on a story by Courtney Riley Cooper, the film is about a gangster who goes to prison and finds salvation through music while serving his time. After he is released and falls back into a life of temptation, he is saved by the love of a woman and the warden who befriended him. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director in 1930.

“A bullet whizzed through his bushy eyebrow” Law & Order in Itasca County

3.27.2022 [archived ~ originally published 10.8.2015]

Advertisement for Moose Brand Beer ~ Itasca News circa 1900

We have all heard that Deer River was a very rough and tumble town at the turn of the century.  Main Street referred to as Whiskey Row had nearly twenty saloons and there was at least one house of “ill repute” in the vicinity. 

The story of the murder of Charley Grant reads more like a dime novel than a newspaper article, but based on the subsequent trial testimony appears to have been true. The headline I used for the column comes from the testimony of the bartender, Alexander “Sandy” Phair.  He stated there were four shots fired in all and “that the third one passed close to Tom Murray’s head who was reclining against the bar asleep.  The whiz of the ball through his bushy eye brow awoke him.”  Murray was not the intended target and is lucky he did not become a casualty in the saloon skirmish.

The articles are rather lengthy so here is the abbreviated version with enough excerpts to give you an idea of what happened on November 30, 1900 through the trial verdict on January 18, 1901.

After folks had eaten their Thanksgiving dinner, many of the young people or those without families, went to Deer River.  It was rumored that there was a clandestine boxing match, where bets were readily made by all men present.  In the early evening there was a dance at the Hotel Deer River.  Most of the saloons were open, and laughter or conversation could be heard spilling out of the doors and windows.

Sandy, the bartender of the saloon in the Northern Hotel said that the men were a bit more rowdy than usual, in part because the band at the Hotel Deer River next door was quite loud. The city marshal, Mike McClusky had been making the rounds, or perhaps had been summoned and was present at the time the melee began.   The main characters were Patrick Burke, a 40- year-old single man from Grand Rapids; and recently married 35-year-old Charley Grant.  Both men were known in the Deer River community and neither had a honorable past..  Burke had been in prison for manslaughter and Grant had just gotten off parole following a sentence at the Stillwater Prison for robbing a woman.

The men were acquainted with each other and though it is not clear if they were together that night, all agreed that Grant and Burke were drinking and began arguing.  Grant succeeded in knocking Burke to the floor and was leaning against the bar and smiling in victory.  Suddenly Burke stood up and “whipped a revolver out of his hip pocket and aiming at Grant exclaimed: ‘Grant I won’t take a licking from you!’

With these words he fired, and though he was only ten feet away the ball missed Grant, and whizzing past the bar tender’s ear, bored into the lower part of the mirror frame behind the bar.  Mike McClusky, the village marshal, then jumped in and tried to wrest the weapon from Burke.  While in this tussle McClusky says he pleaded to the ten or twelve men present to take the gun away, but none attempted to do so. 

Grant, it appears, was too drunk to know enough to move out of the room, and Burke in the hands of the marshal, got a second shot at him and Grant began moving toward the back door when a third shot came.  It was then thought the second shot killed Grant because he suddenly scrunched his shoulders and moved sidewise toward the back door, but as he was still facing the gun it may be that it was the third shot which hit him.  The bullet entered the left breast about two inches above the heart, and passed out of his back under the right shoulder.  As Grant was nearing the door the fourth shot came but went wild and the ball went in the wall over the door. [Itasca News 12-1-1900]

Grant fell through the side door into the washroom and died within a few minutes.  Burke was arrested and spent the remainder of the night behind the bars.  Sheriff Tyndall arrived and took the prisoner to Grand Rapids on the afternoon train.  The county coroner was also in town and removed the remains to Grand Rapids. 

The jury in the coroner’s inquest over the remains of Charles Grant returned the verdict Tuesday that Grant was killed by a bullet from a gun discharged by Patrick Burke.

Burke’s preliminary hearing in justice court was set for Thursday December 6th, but he waived examination and his case came before the grand jury in January.  He was indicted for first degree murder by the grand jury, and trial was set to begin on January 11, 1901.

About ninety jurors were subpoenaed before the following jury of twelve men was secured: Edward Bergin, H.E. Graffam, R.A. McAllister, E. Keabie, M. Hagen, Jas. Patterson, David Cochran, George Lemrod, A.M. Sisler, Frank Voight, Irving A Martin and James Affleck.  Other names you might recognize from your own family history include these witnesses: Sandy Phair, W.C. Robbyn; C.W. Robinson, Frank Caldwell, Tom Murray, John Hawley, John O’Reilly, Harry Oakes, Charles Porter, and Joseph Girard.

Burke’s defense was that he considered his life was in danger and drew the revolver in self-defense when he saw Grant’s hand in his hip pocket.  The jury was out about twenty-four hours.  “Yesterday forenoon at 9 o’clock the jury reported that they were unable to agree and it was understood that eight voted not guilty while four favoured a verdict of manslaughter in the first degree.  Judge McClanahan asked them to try again and at 3:30 the foreman announced to the bailiff that an agreement had been reached. 

The word soon spread through the village and the court room was well filled when the twelve men filed in and handed their findings to Clerk King.  In just one week to the hour from the time the case was opened and the work of securing a jury begun Patrick Burke was pronounced ‘not guilty’ of the crime of murdering Charles Grant.” [Grand Rapids Herald Review 1-19-1901]

Diapers on the Clothesline

3.20.2022 [archived ~ previously published 4.12.2018]

In the March 21, 1908, issue the Itasca News reported that the “population was increased to the village this week by four. On Saturday, last, a daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Collard. On Tuesday, the 17th to Mr. and Mrs. Sam Lance, Mill Division, a son.  On the same day to Mr. and Mrs. A.G. Hachey, daughter.  On Monday the 16th, to Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Obert, a son.”

Twenty-five years later, a very similar story was published about four more children.  I decided to follow the lives of these eight individuals using It was easier to find information on the 1908 babies because the census records go through 1940, but I found some on those born in 1933 as well. All were too young or too old to be drafted into WWI or WWII. One of the eight did not live to adulthood. Most moved from the area.  At least two are buried in local cemeteries.  And only one is still living in Deer River.

Born March 14th, 16th, & 17th, 1908

Fernandel Ida Collard was the second child born to Joe and Mary.  She was named after her paternal grandmother, though everyone called her Fern.   Joe was the proprietor of a temperance (alcohol-free) pool hall in Deer River, which he established shortly before Fern’s birth.  Her mother, Mary (Wallace) Lozway, was widowed and pregnant with her 10th child in 1905 when she and Joe married. In addition to Fern, the Collards had two other children, Joseph Jr. and Helen.  In 1921 Joe died of an accidental gunshot, and the siblings were split into several homes. 

When Fern was 17, she married Claude Couillard, who quite possibly might have been a distant cousin on her father’s side.  She and Claude resided in Duluth and had three children, later they moved to Moose Lake for the remainder of their lives.  Fern lived to be 90 years old.

Vernon Cedric Lance was the first of ten children born to Samuel and Alma (Christopherson). Sometime after 1910, the Lance family moved to Wisconsin.  As a young man, Vernon returned to Minnesota, settling in Olmsted County.  He married Irene Luhmann, and they had four children.  Vernon had a dairy farm which supplied milk and butter to the St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, MN.  He died in 1961 at the age of 53.

The baby born to Albert and Mabel (McAlpine) Hachey died just two short weeks after her birth.  The Hachey’s moved to Grand Rapids, and according to the 1910 United States census, Albert was a deputy sheriff, and there was a son, Ronald several months old.

Lincoln Eugene Obert was the fifth child and only son born to William and Thalia (Post). The Oberts had moved from Fergus Falls, and Lincoln was the first child born in Deer River.  It was his uncle Arthur Obert whose murder was the subject of two recent Reminisce columns.

Lincoln enlisted in the Navy and spent four years at the Panama Canal Zone.  After discharge, he married Hazel Krumholz.  They lived in St. Paul where Lincoln was employed as a streetcar motorman for the Twin Cities Transit Company. The Oberts had three children, LaVaughn, Rosemarie, and Michael.  It appears that Lincoln moved back to Deer River as he died at the age of 63 years in Grand Rapids and is buried at the Pine Ridge Cemetery.

Born November 28th, 1933

Four New Boys ~ Deer River News 11-30-1933

“Four brand new boys came to town this week.  Sons were born Tuesday to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jurvelin, Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Garner, and Mr. and Mrs. George Hawkins, and on Wednesday to Mr. and Mrs. Fred Tripp.”

According to the Minnesota Birth Index, the Tripp baby was also born on 11-28-1933, which meant the four Deer River boys were born on the same day.  I wondered if this was unusual, so I looked a little further.  In all, there were seven children born in Itasca County on November 28, 1933, and statewide there were 136 births. (For those of you with a curious, analytical mind, the day before there were 102 Minnesota, and two Itasca births.  The day after there were three County and 116 state births. I checked the full moon was December 1st.)

John Robert Gardner was born to ambitious parents.  William, his father was an attorney and his mother Bessie (Milne), a teacher at the high school. When they married, they were 45 and 31 years of age, respectively.  John’s brother George was born two years later.  The 1940 census shows that William was the probate judge for Itasca County, and the family lived in Grand Rapids.  I could find nothing more on John, except that he died at the age of 39 years in Los Angeles, CA.

Ruth Hill’s father was a road building contractor at the time she met and married George Hawkins, who might have been working on the roads as well.  Their first child, Ronald George Hawkins, was born on November 28. Not long after his birth, the Hawkins family moved to St. Paul.  In 1940 they were living in Cedar Rapids, IA, where George was employed as a mechanical engineer for a road machine manufacturing company.  As with John Gardner, I could find no additional information on Ronald Hawkins, other than his death in 1998 in Cass County, Texas.

Harvey Tripp was the sixth child born to Fred and Wilma (Sharp) Tripp. In 1940 the Tripp family was in Kinghurst where Fred is a truck driver for a logging camp.  The 1958 voter registration for Los Angeles documents Harvey as a Republican.  He has lived in Kettle Falls, Washington for quite a few years, and is living there now.  The internet is amazing; I even found his phone number!

And last, but not least is Richard Henry Jurvelin.  We all know him as Dick, the guy who early each morning places seasonal merchandise out in front of the family hardware store.  He is the only child of Henry “Hank” and Olga (Sjolund). Hank and Olga worked for Deer River merchants for many years and secretly married on April 27, 1930. 

Frogs in February & Other Signs of Spring in Itasca County


Many people consider the official start of spring to be the equinox in mid-March. Because I crave green growing things, I made an executive decision to call March 1st the first day of spring as the meteorologists do. My young grandson and I exchanged the crystal snowflakes that had hung on the patio door since November, for the bright pink crystal flowers. Both cast rainbows when the sun is shining, however, the flowers signify to us that the garden will soon be full of blooms.

Minnesotans are hearty souls, but still it seems that by the time we have had even two months of snow and cold weather, we look for signs of spring. Of course, we always have at least six more weeks of winter, no matter what the groundhog predicts. But little signs, like crows in early January 1929 (now they stay for the winter) and frogs in February 1907, give us hope.

My grandmother, Hellen McQuillen Scheer, proclaimed spring was really here when she could smell, and then locate, the trailing arbutus (also called mayflower and ground laurel) in the woods near their Marcell cabin. Grandma introduced me to this lovely flower when I was a kid, and I have never forgotten the scent. Another place I found trailing arbutus is at the Lost Forty. []

If you go in search of these flowers, you need to look down, as it is low growing. “Tight clusters of up to eight, short-stalked, tubular flowers in the upper leaf axils and the tips of branches. Flowers are ½ inch across with five pink to white petals that are fused forming a tube about ½ inch long. The inside of the tube is densely covered in white hairs.” [https://www.minnesotawildflowers]

The following news articles highlight signs of spring in the early years.  In addition to the blackbirds and robins that we consider the first birds to return to our region, eighty years ago crows were also harbingers of spring. 

For this column I have arranged the news tidbits by month rather than year.


3rd ~ Sober and Saw Crows

“Additional comment on the weather!  Frank Miller called The News office last Friday morning and said, ‘Mike Guthrie saw three crows this morning, and Mike was perfectly sober!’ We’ll take their word for it, but if those crows didn’t get out of the country before 1929 arrived, they didn’t have a happy New Year.” [Deer River News 1929]

12th ~ Stays All Winter

“It was a wise out blackbird that knew months ago that we were going to have a January thaw. To see a blackbird in Deer River in mid-winter is something unusual, but there is one right here.  He can be seen daily feeding in the alley back of the F.W. Miller residence.

Mr. Blackbird didn’t go south when cold weather came.  He found a gracious hostess in Mrs. Millie Hickthier, mother of Mrs. Miller, who feeds him daily.  If there is no lunch out when he appears, he scolds in no uncertain terms. Mebbe you can fool the wise guys, but you can’t fool the birds on northern Minnesota winters.  Our January thaw this week is a sample.” [Deer River News 1928]

22nd ~ Pussy Willows, Skunks are Signs of Spring

“With seed catalogs arriving daily and small boys getting out their marbles, folks are beginning to think spring is on the way. Our friend, Old Timer, pooh-poohed such things yesterday, but we stuck him with two others that made him scratch his head.

Last Tuesday morning David Robinson brought to the News office a willow twig on which there were two as fine Pussies in full bloom, as you ever saw in April. ‘Ike’ broke that twig off to chastise his unruly pup, and when he saw those Pussies, they reminded him of spring and baseball, and he forgot all about ‘Spud.’

Henry Jurvelin adds another. Last Friday evening, while going north on 61, within the village limits, a full-grown skunk crossed the road in front of him. It was one of the four-legged species, and Henry, as he always is, was perfectly sober. Seeing these animals early in February is not unusual, but when they’re out a month ahead, it means something.  Nature knows, and these are sure signs of spring.” [Deer River News 1931]


11th ~ Spring Goods have Arrived

“Already the express and freight are bringing fresh supplies of spring merchandise.  Among the goods already on the counters and in transit are the following:

~ Motor Coats –Long tweed, caravanette garments in size 18 to 44.  Price range in this lot is $29.90 to $49.50.

~ Dresses—This shipment left New York Jan. 28 by express, and will no doubt be here when you read this.  It contains silk and wool dresses in black and colors; sizes 16 to 42.  Prices from $19.75 to $67.50.

~ Shoes—Ladies “Aunt Polly” large ankle shoes, Selby fine shoes in military or Louis heels, children’s shoes in sizes infants’ 1 to misses’ 11.

~ Underwear—Groundhog says six weeks cold, but we have little faith in him and have the summer underwear ready.” [Grand Rapids Herald-Review 1920]

10th ~ Sees His Shadow—Six Weeks Cold

“Saturday was ground hog day and according to the ancient sign there will be six weeks more of cold weather in Itasca County.  The day was cloudy, except at noon, but on the night before it was 33 below at the dam, near Mr. Groundhog’s home, and so he stayed in until at noon, when he ventured out.  He saw his shadow and went back to sleep. However, the people of this section are not paying much attention to signs and omens.  We are going to have six weeks of cold weather, anyhow.” [Grand Rapids Herald-Review 1918]

13th ~ Another Week for Loggers to Work

This week will probably bring to a close what has been one of the most prosperous winters for logging and forest products operators ever in the history of northern Minnesota. A week or ten days ago most men were not prepared for a thaw and the destruction of the roads.  By today, however, most of them have finished their work and only those with an unlimited amount to do will suffer by the break up. The sleighing was pretty well gone last week when the sudden cold snap and two inches of snow brought as good roads as have been found in the woods any time during the past three months. [Grand Rapids Herald-Review 1918]

16th ~ Frogs Coming Soon

“Indications point strongly towards a free open air concert on the banks of the Bigfork River at Bigfork in about three weeks time.  The concert will be given by an assembly of frogs that will pour forth all those vocal spring selections that are so welcomed in these parts after a period of several months of 30 below zero weather.” [Bigfork Times 1928]

19th ~ Saw Crow Sunday

“Donald Wagoner and Reynold Corwin claim the record of seeing the first crow of the season, spying one of the black fellows near County Road last Sunday.  Others report seeing crows Tuesday.  These dates for seeing the caw-caws in this region are unusually early and will probably stand for some years. This is deemed a pretty sure sign of the approach of spring, for Old Black Crow is a wise old bird.” [Deer River News 1931]

20th ~ Spring is on the Way

“Emory Hadley called up yesterday afternoon and reported the first crow of the season, seen near County Road station.  A few moments later Mrs. Henry Truempler reported seeing three of them.  Here’s hoping these harbingers of Spring won’t get their toes frosted before the Mayflowers begin to bloom!” [Deer River News 1930]

25th ~ Find Pussy Willows

“On Friday, Feb. 12th, Wm. Mastellar and John Yuill, while working near the new state fish hatchery at Cutfoot Sioux, found a most unusual token of our fine winter weather.  Popple buds were found that were opening, and fully developed “pussies” were waving in the breeze.  The circumstance is most unusual, indicating that the weather has not been severe enough to entirely freeze the tree and stop the sap from running.  That’s another boost for our fine Northern Minnesota winter weather.” [Itasca News 1926]

29th ~ First Crow

“Melvin Olson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Olson of Chase Lake, sees first crow.” [Itasca News 1936]


22nd ~ Officially Spring

“Today is officially spring, and sleighing petered out on Thursday in open places.  In the village very little snow is to be seen and where for the week water and slush has been, is now some dry ground.” [Itasca News 1919]

23rd ~ Crows

“Since the crows have made their appearance, we feel satisfied that spring is at hand, and it is a good time to prepare the farm machinery for the spring work.” [Bigfork Times 1928]

26th ~ Crows and Robins

“The crows and robins have returned to Bigfork after spending the winter in the south and their return here receives a cordial welcome.  This nice spring weather, which has taken away that great white blanket that has covered mother earth for the past few months, gives us the assurance that the croaking of the frogs and the buzz of the mosquitoes will soon be heard.  With all the necessities to add to the pleasures of life what chance is there for any complaints in these parts?” [Bigfork Settler 1926]


1st ~ Fish Tales

“Foster Root, who lives out on the Scenic Highway, was in town this week with some more of his big fish yarns which is another sign of spring.  His latest is that the lakes weren’t safe for travel this winter on account of the many holes caused by the bass poking their noses out to look at the sun.” [Bigfork Times 1927]

10th ~ Long Winter and Cold Spring

“The weather, notwithstanding the early melting snow, has now every indication of a late spring.  For ten days up to yesterday morning the wind remained strong and steady in the northwest and the ground has been freezing all of that time.  With soft weather and warm rain, it will take more time than is left for conditions to make early grain seeding this year, it is feared.  The country never saw such a long winter and cold spring.” [Itasca News 1920]


2nd ~ First Arbutus Blossoms

“Trailing arbutus is in blossom.  The first blooms were brought into town last Friday, although some were reported on Thursday.  The time is long past when this beautiful flower could be gathered in the vacant lot in the village, although there are people living in Grand Rapids who remember gathering it where the Central school now stands.  It is fund in abundance, however, within two or three miles of the village, and is always eagerly welcomed as the first wildflower of spring, as well as one of the most fragrant and pleasing of the entire season.” [Grand Rapids Herald Review 1928]

16th ~ The Frogs are Back

“The frogs have commenced to croak, and what an awful croak it is.” [Bigfork Settler 1907]

23rd ~ Four Inches of Snow

“A heavy snowstorm Tuesday afternoon and evening covered the ground with four inches of the beautiful white and on Wednesday afternoon the haymaker spread his hot rays upon the earth which now leaves our rich soil in splendid condition for rubber boots.” [Bigfork Settler 1907]

Let’s hope we don’t get four inches of snow in May, but even if we do, perhaps the trailing arbutus will appear the next day when the snow melts!

Young Writers from the Northwoods 1929

3.6.2022 [archived ~ previously published 3.5.2015]

School assignments for middle grade students of yesteryear, just as today encourage creative writing.  Not only does a child work on their penmanship, but also on grammar and most importantly imaginative thinking.  The latter being something we have as children but tend to lose as we age. 

For whatever reason, the 1929 local newspapers covered the writing endeavors of a few students which I will share.  The March 15th issue of the Bigfork Times published a story by sixteen-year-old Earl Peloquin, son of Alfred and Hulda.  His story How the Fawn Got its Spots was written for an assignment in English class.

“Long, long ago, when the earth was young, Old Mother Nature told all the animals to clean up their babies because she was coming around to vaccinate them for there was an epidemic going around that killed young animals.  Now Old Mother Deer was afraid that the vaccination would kill her precious little baby, so she gathered some herbs and mixed them with water, making a very sticky glue.

When the morning inspection for the young animals came, Old Mother Deer dipped many flowers in glue and stuck them on her baby and told him to lie in the grass to hide. So when old Mother Nature came around Mother Deer was weeping bitter tears, or maybe salty ones, whichever deer weep.  She said that her baby had died, and she pointed to an ant hill saying, ‘that is his grave.’ So Old Mother Nature, on seeing the grave believed her and went her way.

When she was out of sight, Mother Deer called her young to her and began to pull the flowers from his hide.  This caused so much whining and groaning on the little one’s part, that Old Mother Nature, who was by no means deaf, heard and came back to see what the trouble was.

When she saw how Mother Deer had deceived her, she said ‘From now on, at this time of the year, every baby deer will have spots on his hide.’ And from that day every fawn has a spotted coat.”

When school started in the fall, students had to get back in the practice of wearing shoes and using a pencil.  Reading, writing, and arithmetic were only three of the many subjects that the school day entailed.  Before long, most kids got back into the swing of things.

In particular, the Luko sisters from Deer River were doing well and must have made their Finnish immigrant parents John and Ilona very proud when they both had stories published in the Duluth Herald newspaper during the same month.  In October 1929, eleven-year-old Mayme Luko had a story she wrote entitled The Doll Party printed in the Fair Play section of the Duluth Herald.  The Deer River News reprinted the story.

“Susan Brown was to give a doll party and Mary Jane and her doll were invited, but her mother would not let her go. So Mary Jane decided to run away to the party.  She dresses herself and then her doll and started off to the party.  She did not have a very pleasant time at the party. On the way home it started to rain.  She stumbled on a stone and broke her doll into a thousand pieces.

She was awakened by her big sister, Polly Ann, who was sprinkling water on her face to wake her up. When she opened her eyes she found her doll lying on the floor which had rolled off the bed during the night. She had planned on running away to the doll party, but she thought she would have the same trouble as she had in her dream so she stayed at home, which was the best thing for her to do.”

The following week, Mayme’s oldest sister Eileen won a literary credit in Fair Play with her story called The Burglar Alarm.  Unfortunately this story was not printed in the paper.  In fact, after the October issue and through the 1930 papers, I have found no mention of the talents of any young writers.  But for the last two weeks of October, a total of four scribes were recognized.

The rival Duluth newspaper, the News-Tribune published a poem written by 13-year-old Geneva Martindale, daughter of Harvey and Eva in the Kiddie Club Corner at the same time Mayme’s story was printed. The Deer River News reprinted the poem.

The June Berry Tree

Have you ever noticed me?

I’m the June berry tree.

The children shout with glee

When they look at the pretty colors on me.

It is autumn, you know,

Everything is all aglow,

One of these days the wind will say,

“You have been pretty many a day.”

So the wind did blow

And then came the snow,

But the June berry tree

Was still happy you see.

A week later, Evelyn Houser, 13-year-old daughter of Sherman and Mary, received honors for two poems published in the Kiddie Club Corner of the Duluth News-Tribune.  The poem entitled “Nursery Rhymes” was awarded a first-place prize and her poem “How Charley Minded” received an honorable mention.

I do hope there is time during the school year for students of all ages to indulge their imagination without looking online for inspiration.  And I do hope that parents, teachers, grandparents and great-grandparents nurture any inkling in the desire to create in any medium.  And of course, it’s never too late for anyone to paint, write, sing, play an instrument, dance or dream!

George Washington Pancake and Other Stories

2.27.2022 [archived ~ previously published 2.23.2017]

Image of George Washington made from two pancakes, two grape halves, and a little whipped cream. 

George Washington Pancake was well-known in Deer River in the 1890s because he was one of the fastest railroad tie makers for the Itasca Lumber Company.  George was born in about 1855, during an era when many families named a son after the first president of the United States.

History Lesson

On the 1850 census, (which only gave the name of the head of household), there were 70 men in the nation with the first and middle name of “George Washington.” By 1860, when children were listed too, there were over sixteen hundred men and boys bearing that name! 

For those of you needing the rest of the story, the number was about the same in 1900, which given the shorter life span. meant there were probably George Washington juniors as well.  By 1940, the last census available for public review, this number dropped to eight hundred.  Therefor it is hard to say if the name was carried to a third generation, or if it was no longer vogue to name children George Washington.

Back to Mr. Pancake

Though born in Ohio, George Washington Pancake was a lumberjack living in northern Minnesota by the time he was thirty.  Eventually, he became a camp cook and was given the nickname of, [G1] “Pancake Bill.” He married a widow with several young sons. George and Minnie had a daughter, Josephine and the family moved to the eastern part of Itasca County.  It was here that George made the headlines of the Duluth, Bigfork and Deer River newspapers.

The First Accident – George Washington Pancake the Victim ~ Itasca News 11-21-1903

“The first accident in this section in the wild fray of deer hunting was that at Swan River last Sunday in which George Washington Pancake was the victim. The report written in the Duluth News Tribune is as follows:          

‘While hunting with a party at Beauty lake eleven miles from this place, yesterday morning, George Washington Pancake, an old hunter and tie maker, who is better known in this vicinity as “Pancake Bill,” was shot either by a set gun or by some unknown person, receiving injuries that may prove fatal.  This is the first casualty among deer hunters in northern Minnesota.

Mr. Pancake, in company with William Carlin and Ed Clarke, both prominent citizens of Floodwood, went to Beauty lake to hunt deer.  This morning, when commencing the day’s chase, the party separated.  A short time after the injured man had left his companions Mr. Carlin heard a shot, which was followed by a cry for help.

He immediately ran in the direction from which the shot came and found Pancake lying on the ground.  On examination is was found that a full charge of buckshot had entered the man’s body in the vicinity of the abdomen.  He was taken to Swan River station and sent from there to Grand Rapids.  His injuries are such that it is thought he cannot survive.’

It is supposed that either Mr. Pancake stumbled across the trap of a set gun, discharging it, or the charge was fired by some hunter who was in the vicinity of deer trails.

Usually, the guns are set very near the trail, but no indication of such a trap has been reported.  It is a violation of the law to attempt to kill deer in this manner, but set guns are known to have been placed.[G2] 

George did live through that life-threatening accident and the owner of the weapon was never discovered.  Apparently, George remained in good physical condition because the Pancake family moved to Seattle, Washington, and in 1910 he was still listed as a woodsman making railroad ties. 

More Pancake Stories

Lumberjack Stealing Pancakes – Lucy Gill and William “Will” Buentenmeire got married in St. Paul in March 1902.  The couple then set off for their honeymoon to the homestead Will had near Bridgie (now in Koochiching County).  Years later, Lucy was interviewed during a WPA project, “I will never forget the first morning we ate breakfast in our new home.  It was only a lean-to open on the south side.  The stove sat just inside this lean-to.  I baked pancakes for Mr. Buentenmeire while he ate.

After he finished, he started to bake cakes for me.  He said, ‘well, you can have this one in about a minute.’ I was sure I saw him take it off the griddle and put it on a plate on the back of the stove, but when I went to get it there was no pancake there.  I asked him where it was and he said, ‘Oh, you were too slow, a lumberjack just got it!’ I looked at him to see if he was trying to make fun of me, as the only lumberjacks I had ever seen or heard of were men who worked in the woods.  I was sure no man had taken that pancake.

Will said, ‘You just watch this one,’ So he put another one on the back of the stove.  It hadn’t been there long enough to cool off when a gray and white bird flew in and took the whole thing.  I’ll bet my eyes bugged out!  Will said, ‘well, that is your first lumberjack.’  I afterward found out they would steal a person blind unless you kept everything covered up.[Work Projects Administration, Interviews and Biographical Sketches, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota.]

Pancake Eating Contest ­– in her book The Last Frontier, Bergit L. Anderson recalls hearing of an incident that happened in the summer of 1902. “…one of the most outstanding parties took place at the Wetzel and Lusby cabins.  The girls invited the whole community to a pancake-eating contest and offered a prize to the person who could eat the most.  Hugo Zaiser won the prize.  He was a boy in his early teens, visiting his brother, Art, on his claim.” 

Bachelors and Pancakes – I have found numerous references to northern bachelors eating pancakes three times a day, so I was surprised to see this mentioned in the Bigfork Settler in February 1907: “Ben Rahier was down on his claim last week enjoying a feast of pancakes.” Perhaps Ben was tired of his own cooking or had designs on a gal that worked at the cafe.

President Washington’s Hoecakes

Nelly Custis Lewis, Washington’s step-granddaughter, who was raised at Mount Vernon, recorded her grandfather’s habit of eating hoecakes for breakfast.  Nelly wrote “He rose before sunrise, always wrote or read until 7 in summer or half past seven in winter. His breakfast was then ready – he ate three small mush cakes (Indian meal) swimming in butter and honey, and drank three cups of tea without cream.”

And finally, to tie it all together I found this image of George Washington made from two pancakes, two grape halves, and a little whipped cream.  This was on a blog called Kitchen Fun with my Three Sons, February 2012.

Hamalainen Brothers Murder ~ Law & Order in Itasca County

2.2.2022 archived [originally published 2.4.2016]

Max Store ~ circa 1930. Following the murder of Victor Hamalainen, Walter walked to the Wuori Store. Frank Wuori then called Albert Anderson at the Max store and post office. Albert notified the authorities.
Quarrel Ends with Murder ~ Grand Rapids Herald Review 6-9-1926

“Walter Hamalainen of Squaw Lake, thirty-two miles northwest of Deer River, shot and instantly killed his brother, Victor, last Saturday evening, as the final act of a quarrel and disagreement which had been long continued.  The killing was done in the presence of the murdered man’s wife and small son, and the wife’s brother and sister.

The two men had disagreed for some months over division of property.  Their mother, before she was committed to Fergus Falls several years ago, deeded the homestead to Walter.  The two brothers divided the large house, which stands at the outlet of Round Lake, into two parts with a partition and Walter, who is single lived on one side, while Victor and his family lived in the other part of the house.  The quarrel became more heated recently and Victor went to Grand Rapids last week to consult an attorney, who advised him to move his family to some other place.  He was preparing to do so and had moved part of his property before the fatal climax of Saturday evening.

Walter came down the stairs in the part of the house occupied by Victor and his family.  The two men resumed their disagreement, and Victor is said to have started toward his brother, who warned him to keep back.  Disregarding the warning, Victor went to the foot of the stairs, whereupon Walter fired the twelve-gauge shotgun striking Victor in the eye and tearing out the back of his head.  Victor fell to the floor, killed instantly.”

Walter immediately left the house, walked to Frank Wuori’s store a quarter mile away and told him what happened.  Wuori called Albert Anderson, the postmaster at Max, who then called the sheriff, Dr. Miners, and the coroner at Deer River.  Within a half hour of the crime, officials were on the way to the scene.  Walter remained at Wuori’s until deputy sheriff Dunn arrested him. 

“Coroner W.A. Herreid called an inquest Monday morning at 9:30. County attorney R.A. Stone conducted the examination of witnesses.  Those called upon to testify were Mrs. Victor Hamalainen, wife of the deceased, her sister, Miss Mary Wentworth, her brother, Wm Wentworth, and deputy sheriff S.A. Dunn.  The jury, composed of Rev J.W. Schenck, Fred Breid, J.T. Miller, Wm Bahr, Andrew Hannula and P.J. Daley, brought in a verdict that ‘Victor Hamalainen came to his death as a result of being shot with a shotgun held and fired by his brother, Walter Hamalainen, and that said Walter Hamalainen was at the time insane.’

The verdict means that a commission will be appointed to examine Walter Hamalainen as to his sanity.  If he is declared insane, he will be committed to the hospital for criminal insane at St. Peter, Minn.  Should the examiners declare him sane, he will be held on a charge of first-degree murder.” [Itasca News 6-10-1926]

The first commission ruled that Hamalainen was sane, but Judge Rhoda McCullough wanted to be sure, so she set a second insanity hearing.  This included two more local physicians and Dr. Charles Ball, alienist from St. Paul.  (Alienist is an old term used for psychiatrist or psychologist.) All three physicians declared that Hamalainen was sane. He appeared before a grand jury in September and was indicted for murder in the first degree. 

Family History

Victor Hamalainen was born in February 1898.  His brother Walter came along two years later.  It was about this time that their parents, John and Minnie decided to travel from Finland to the United States.  They settled in what is now Max Township, Itasca County and on January 24, 1906, John was appointed postmaster. [United States Postmaster Appointments 1892-1930] In fact according to an interview done with Bud Anderson in January 1996, John may have named the community.  Bud explained, “The first post office was over at Squaw Lake where the Harbor is now.  In those days there were a lot of Finnish people that came from Finland and settled around Squaw Lake and Round Lake.  The first postmaster was a Finnish man by the name of Hamalainen.  The story is that he couldn’t talk English very well and he just picked a real short name and it happened to be Max. That is one story.” [Itasca County Historical Society Archives – Anderson, Robert]

Minnie had two daughters Hilda and Embi after her sons.  The Hamalainens were all together according to the 1910 United States census, but shortly thereafter things changed. By the end of the year John went to California, leaving Minnie with two adolescent boys, a toddler, and an infant.  It is unknown why he left, or if the intent was for the family to follow.  Nevertheless, Minnie filed on a homestead.  I suppose she was considered head of household if he had been gone for a certain amount of time or wasn’t sending money to support them. 

Victor was in WWI and Walter stayed to help his mother manage the farm.  The 1920 US census shows Minnie, Walter, Hilda and Embi living in the house with Victor, his wife Ruth, and their son Harold.  I did find John Hamalainen living in San Francisco, California on the 1920 US census.  He was listed as a liquor distributor and a widower.

In the early 1920s, Minnie deeded the house and property to Walter. It should be noted that Walter was the second son and did not yet have a wife or family, but Minnie had her reasons for choosing to deed it as she did. In 1923 Minnie was committed to the Fergus Fall Asylum for the insane.  I do not know where the girls (ages 17 and 13) were living at this time, but there is no mention of them. The discord between Victor and Walter continued, leading to the death of one, and imprisonment of the other for nearly a year.

Not Guilty Was Verdict ~ Grand Rapids Herald Review 12-8-1926

“It took members of the jury which heard the evidence in the Hamalainen murder case but a few moments to decide on a verdict when the evidence was all in and the attorneys had made their plea, and the judge had given his charge.  That verdict was not guilty, and it was reached, so it is said, on the first ballot.

The trial of Walter Hamalainen, charged with killing his brother Victor at their home near Squaw Lake on June 5, was commenced Tuesday of last week and continued without interruption, until Saturday, the verdict being reached early Saturday evening.

No attempt was made by the defense to deny the killing of Victor by Walter, but the plea of self-defense was entered and the witnesses for the defense assisted in bringing out this point at the trial.  Testimony was introduced to show that some six years earlier Walter had been the victim of his brother’s anger when he had been pounded on the head and left unconscious and a pitchfork thrust into his arm.

Testimony was also brought out to show that Walter had since that time lived in constant fear of his brother and also to show that he was a quiet, inoffensive man to his neighbors and relatives.

Apparently, the quarrel which resulted in the death of the elder brother was brought about through ownership of the family homestead.  Walter had received the land from his mother, and had permitted Victor and his family to occupy it for some years, but had of late insisted that the control should pass to himself…

…The jury included six men and six women.   Its personnel were made up of Chas. Olson, Mrs. Peter Wilvert, John McCaffrey, Mrs. Ed Johnson, Howard Helm, A.F. Williams, Mrs. W.W. Fletcher, Chas. Lawson, Mrs. Joe Palmer, Mrs. Gertrude Gates, Mrs. Myrtle Hendrickson and Ewald Younggren.”  [*As you can see by this list, the women are or were, married. Women who were married are referred to by their husband’s name, ex. Mrs. Peter Wilvert. Widows are referred to by their first name and their husband’s name, ex. Mrs. Gertrude Gates. I do not know if a divorced woman who be selected for jury duty at this time.]

“Battling” Buddy Cochrane & “Knockout” Harvey Saunders ~ Boxing in Itasca County


In 1923, Joe Poliquin from Effie traveled to Shelby, Montana to attend the highly promoted boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Tommy Gibbons. In his book, Tim-BERRR, (1991) Benhart Rajala wrote that Poliquin and Dempsey were on the same train. “Joe happened to meet Jack Dempsey in the aisle.  Joe tossed his turkey on a seat, pinched Dempsey in the belly, and stepped back quickly, ‘Haw-haw-haw!’ he said. ‘I just wanted to see what it felt like to sock a world’s champion!’ For a second, he was ready when he saw at the killer expression that crossed Dempsey’s face, but he kept his own broad grin in place.  Dempsey relaxed, and they shook hands.  It gave Joe a story he was fond of telling again and again.  ‘Dempsey’s belly was as hard as a rock,’ he would say.”

Gene Rajala confirmed the story his Uncle Ben related and added his own. “Joe owned a tavern in Effie, and he believed himself to be the authority on fights.  He always had the radio tuned in to listen on fight nights. Joe was a husky man with a big stomach but was pretty agile. One evening an old lumberjack was arguing with Joe about the Dempsey-Gibbons match and things got out of hand. The ‘jack’ got in front of Joe, ready to throw a punch, but Joe was quick.  He knocked him across the floor, and he laid there. Joe thought he killed the 150-pound man. Fortunately for all, he lived.”

Boxing in 1898

The following article was the oldest I have found about boxing matches in our local history. The writing of the newspaper editor, Murry James Taylor is so colorful that I’m sharing a good portion of it.

Was a Hot Bout ~ Itasca News 11-26-1898

“The sporting fraternity of Deer River was last Wednesday night treated to one of the most entertaining and genuine of any pugilistic ring bouts that ever took place in the county.  The contestants were Tom Murray of Grand Rapids, and Jack Cross of Montana.  Murray has been a resident of this section for a number of years and has had several hot contests with known men of the Northwest.

Jack Cross, who claims to be of Montana, is a total stranger here, having drifted in a week before the scrap, and is likely ‘on the rods’—judging from his personal appearance. He is a young man, under thirty, is smooth shaven, and looks like a hayseed.  In fact, when it was known about town that he was to meet Murray, pity was felt for him, and he was dubbed ‘The Reuben.’ Going about in clothes that bespoke better days past, and a gait indicative of slowness, he was immediately put down as a licked man, notwithstanding Murray’s ill condition.

The fight took place in the table room of Kelly’s saloon and began at 10:45 in the evening.  It was for an equal divide of the gate receipts.  The admission price was one dollar, and about fifty tickets were sold.  There were about seventy-five spectators present, including a dozen women.

Owing to Murray’s ill condition, and the fact that his opponent was a total stranger, there was no betting done whatsoever.

When the fighters came out of their rooms into the ring, stripped, there was immediately a lull and in many minds a change of opinion as to the outcome of the fight; or at least a doubt shadowed the minds of some of Murray’s admirers.  The young man’s massive shoulders and long arms, and the surprising amount of weight he had stowed away in the recesses of his flimsy garments caused a look of wonderment to spread over the countenances of the spectators.

Murray, like an old-timer, took the seat in his corner with perfect composure and seemed to have plenty of confidence.  He had two active rubbers attending him with all kinds of bottles, cloths, and fans.  Cross took his seat with an old pair of apron overalls on, and they were removed by his sole attendant, a young fat lively lad who had all the appearance of a typical hobo.  He had one bottle of water and a towel, which constituted all his apparatus for the rubbing down act.  Long before the fight and until he stepped to the center of the ring, Cross felt uneasy, never sitting, or standing still nor engaging in conversation.

The bout was advertised to be ten rounds; but when the fighters took their corners and Frank Hart was chosen as the referee, Murray called the referee to him and in an undertone, they talked about a minute.  Hart then had a few words with Cross, and after this the referee turned to the audience, and after introducing the contestants he explained that owing to the smallness of the ring, and the ill condition of Mr. Murray, the men would prefer to go six rounds real hard fighting, and if there was any indication of fake the people would get their money back. ‘But,’ said Mr. Hart, ‘If you want ten rounds you can have it.’ At this several voices answered that six would do; and ‘Go ahead,’ and ‘Fight hard.’

By the end of round six both men were weak and breathing heavy. Murray was spitting blood and Cross had a bloody nose.  Referee Hart declared the bout a draw and the decision met with the approval of the fans. Boxing either in Deer River or Grand Rapids continued through the turn of the century, often with a local boxer and a contender from out of the area.

After WWI

It seems that after the war, there were more newspaper advertisements for local boxing and wrestling competitions.  Frequently the events were billed as fundraisers for the American Legions and other civic organizations.  Some of the nicknames I found for boxers in the1920s were Coast-to-Coast McIaney of Grand Rapids, “Battling” Buddy Cochrane and “Knockout” Harvey Saunders, both of Big Fork, Battling Knotts of Effie, and Kid Greeley of Big Falls.

The William and Nettie Tibbett family had at least three sons who were talented pugilists – Jesse James, Tommy Phillips and William Burnham, Jr.

Archie Bolduc, one of sixteen children of Majoric and Georgianna, enlisted in the army at the same time as his twin brother Theodore.  According to a 1924 advertisement, Archie was a Bantamweight Champion of the 50th Engineers. In this same ad there is a photograph of Tommy Tibbetts in a boxing pose.

Brothers Godfrey and Jim Knight of Bustitown were not only boxers, but also coaches and referees.  Lew Brownlow wrote about his father-in-law. “Jim was also an enthusiastic boxing fan in those years and with his usual drive, he coached many of the local youth in the art of fisticuffs.  The training ring for these amateur boxers was in the hay mow of the Knight’s dairy barn.  His contented cows must have known many evenings of disturbances as the barn echoes with the clap, clap, clap of jump ropes against the floor and shuffling of feet as the sparring athletes perfected their techniques with the gloves.  Boxing bouts were promoted with contestants coming from neighboring communities.  These bouts were held in the Ward Johnson community hall in Effie, and after the last round, the ropes were removed, and the floor cleared for a dance.” [from Toward a Good Life by Lewis Brownlow, 1976]

Lew and Jean (Knight) Brownlow are enthusiastic Reminisce readers and contributed two photographs to this article. It is believed that the Amateur Boxing poster dated November 16th is from 1935.  Brownlow explained that Godfrey and Jim Knight were instructors in the use of tools and equipment at the Deer Lake CCC Camp southeast of Effie. “The photo was a for-real-suit-up. The pose was for show. Jean says the photo was taken by her dad back of their house. Some of the ‘boys’ were coming over to spar and workout in the barn. As trainer, old-man Godfrey sparred with the boys.”

Dempsey-Gibbons 1923

My husband’s family owns an unused ringside ticket to the July 4, 1923, Dempsey-Gibbons heavyweight title boxing bout. This is the match that Joe Poliquin probably paid thirty dollars for a ticket in the “outer ring.”

This might seem like an unbelievable find, until you realize there were at least 32,000 unsold tickets! The town of Shelby, with a population of about 1000, thought that by hosting the event they could put their municipality on the map. After the details were worked out, an outdoor arena, at a cost of $82,000, was constructed and loans were secured for upfront capital.

“This fight is often referred to as the ‘fight that broke Shelby,’ because the small Montana town almost went bankrupt in order to meet Dempsey’s purse of $300,000. That fee, which was to be paid in three installments, was negotiated by Dempsey’s manager, Jake Kearns, who made sure that the champ was well compensated for his efforts. Incredibly, raising that amount proved so onerous to the town of Shelby that challenger Tom Gibbons received no money for the fight. His only remuneration was a chance at the title. That was obviously incentive enough for him, as he shocked most pundits by lasting the entire fifteen rounds with Dempsey in a losing effort.

Only 7,000 tickets were sold for the fight, and the town eventually opened the gates to allow 13,000 fans in for free just to fill the arena. Needless to say, it was the first and last heavyweight title fight ever held in Shelby, Montana. That low attendance figure is the reason for the survival of full tickets today.”

In the end, Dempsey retained the title with a 15-round unanimous decision. William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey (June 24, 1895 – May 31, 1983) reigned as the world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926, retiring from boxing in 1927.

Thomas Joseph Gibbons (March 22, 1891 – November 19, 1960), was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and was a professional boxer from 1911 to 1925. After he retired, Gibbons was elected four times as the Sheriff of Ramsey County. He won six consecutive four-year terms before retiring at the age of 68.

Boxing has been a Summer Olympic sport since its introduction in 1904. Beginning with the 2012 Summer Olympics, women’s boxing has also been part of the program.

“Cold Blast” Equals Winter Fun 

2.6.2022 [originally published 1.18.2018]

Union suits ad 10-15-1921 Itasca News

“The extreme cold blast of Monday and Tuesday did not injure the feelings of the average school boy 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 school house.  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 the 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 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