In Honor of Mothers Who Left Us Too Soon

Two years ago, I wrote about my grandmother Hellen Scheer’s first Mother’s Day in 1939, after the birth of her daughter, my mother Marie. Last year, Mom died just days before Mother’s Day. It was unexpected and sent my siblings and myself reeling. She left us too soon.

Since 2014, when I started writing Reminisce, I have been intrigued by newspaper articles about families where the mother died leaving young children. What happened to them? Was an aunt, grandmother, or young neighbor able to step in and care for them? Were the siblings divided among various extended family or neighbors? Or, was there no option but to relinquish them to a state-run facility? After a brief look at the history of this holiday, I’ll share what I have learned.

Mother’s Day History

Celebrations of mothers and motherhood are traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. Mother’s Day became an official U.S. holiday through the efforts of Anna M. Jarvis.

When Jarvis was a young child, her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis had cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the field during the Civil War. In 1868, Ann Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” the goal of which was to foster reconciliation between former Union and Confederate soldiers by having them come together along with mothers from both sides.

Jarvis was proud of her mom and, after her death in 1906, wanted to celebrate all mothers and the sacrifices they made for their children.  She organized the first celebration of this holiday in 1908 in their hometown of Grafton, West Virginia. Over the next few years, Jarvis pushed to have the holiday officially recognized, and it was celebrated increasingly in more and more states around the U.S.   In fact, it was celebrated in Deer River. “In honor of dear old mother, the state of Minnesota has set aside a day when the nation can sing and speak praises to her loving life and revered soul. The day is tomorrow May 14.”  [Itasca News 5-13-1911]

Finally in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day an official holiday to take place the second Sunday of May. In it Wilson declared the first national Mother’s Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.” [Mother’s Day: Topics in Chronicling America, Library of Congress]

For those of you wondering why Mother’s Day has the apostrophe where it does, Grammarly, the grammar application I use, has the answer. “Anna Jarvis put Mother’s Day on the calendar as a day dedicated to expressing love and gratitude to mothers, acknowledging the sacrifices women make for their children. That’s why Ann Jarvis was determined to keep ‘Mother’s’ a singular possessive, as marked by the apostrophe before ‘s.’ Each family should celebrate its own mother, so that individual women across the country could feel the love, even in the midst of a broad celebration of motherhood.” [grammarlyblog]

Jarvis was pleased with her efforts until Mother’s Day became more commercialized.  She had envisioned it as a day of celebration between mothers and families. “Her personal version of the day involved wearing a white carnation as a badge and visiting one’s mother or attending church services. But once Mother’s Day became a national holiday, it was not long before florists, card companies and other merchants capitalized on its popularity. Jarvis, who died in 1948, had since the 1930s actively lobbied the government to remove it from the U.S. holiday calendar.”  [History.com]

A Dozen White Carnations

“Tomorrow, May 11th is Mother’s Day.  A pink carnation in respect to the living mothers, and a white carnation for the memory of those departed.” [Itasca News 5-10-1919]

The file I began in 2014 now contains exactly a dozen local stories about children who lost their mothers when they were young. This is what I know of each situation.

1902 ~ Mrs. John (Anna) Nyberg died. It is hard to determine who raised the six daughters, Hulda 13, Anna 11, Jennie 9, Agnes 9, Helmar 5, and Selma 2. It appears they remained in the community.

1903 ~ Mrs. Charles (Mary Olson) Sterling died and left behind a 15-month-old child. Charlie Sterling married a widow with two children 2½ months later.

1909 ~ Mrs. John (Rosina) Tremain died from blood poisoning that she had suffered since the birth of her last baby two months earlier. Sons are Valentine, John, William, L.J. and Arthur. Daughters are Evaline and Goldie. [These names were found in their father’s 1929 obituary.] Shortly after Rosina’s death, the three youngest were taken to Minneapolis by Agent E.P. Savage of the State Children’s Home Society.

1910 ~ Mrs. John (Karolina Nyberg) Hedquist died of typhoid fever. Her four children, Emma 6, Alton 4, Della 2, and Myrtle, an infant were raised by their father.

1911 ~ Mrs. Sereno (Ina) White died giving birth to her seventh child, Rueben Asa.  The other children were, Lesley 12, Lloyd 11, Gladys 9, Alice 7, Clifford 3, and Earl 2. The baby and Earl were raised by relatives. The five other children were placed in state run facilities.

1912 ~ Mrs. Charles (Mary Olsen) Lind died of tuberculosis. She is the mother of six children, Ida 17, Elmer 15, Frank 12, Clara 12, Ellen 5, and Emma 5.  The two sets of twins were placed in state run facilities.

1916 ~ Mrs. Hilmer (Karen Nelson) Hanson died during the birth of twin daughters Hildur and Karen Marie. Hilmer and daughter Clara 14, raised them and the boys, Guy 5 and Perry 2.

1921 ~ Mrs. Simon (Marian Root) Pettit died of tuberculosis, leaving James 16, Ethel 15, Dora 10 and Myrtle 9. It appears that the children moved to Todd County where their Root relatives lived.

1922 ~ Mrs. Carl (Signa) Carlsberg died of heart disease.  Ray 15, Freida 13, Alford 10, Gustav 9, Elvin 6, Glen 5, Earl 4, and Eunice 2. The family remained together with Freida taking responsibility for the children.

1922 ~ Mrs. Ed (Irene Vance) Voigt is believed to have died from heart disease.  Ed’s sister Rose took the baby, Grace, to raise as her own. Margaret 5, and Alice 3, went with their father and his family to Polson, Montana.

1927 ~ Mrs. William (Mary Peterson) Murphy died of peritonitis. Her children were Vera 17, William 9, James 6, Della 3, and George 21 months.  The four youngest lived with neighbors Ed and Hattie Sargent until they were old enough to return to their father.

1927 ~ Mrs. Thomas Jones died of diphtheria, leaving eight children. Because her husband was in prison, the care of the children’s welfare was placed in the hands of the Judge of Probate, Mrs. Rhoda McCullough. All of the children were placed in the state school at Owatonna.

There were sixty-six children in the dozen families. About a third, those who were sent to state facilities such as the Minnesota State Public School for Neglected and Dependent Children in Owatonna, never had the love of a mother figure again and in many cases, they were the youngest children. I do hope they were able to form relationships with some caregivers and were able to provide a nurturing home for their own children. 

I do know that the White siblings, whose mother died in 1911, did reunite in the 1940s. I posted their story, first published in April 2017, on my blog last Sunday. If you know the “rest of the story,” for any of the other individuals, please share ~ reminiscewithchris@gmail.com 218-244-2127 or leave a message on my blog chrismarcottewrites. 

We grieve in many ways.  This past year, when I finally could write again, I wrote about Mom.  Mostly for myself, but occasionally I’d share a piece with a friend.  My sisters are not quite ready yet to read anything about Mom, and I understand that.  I found out just last week that Talking Stick, a respected Minnesota literary journal has selected an essay I wrote about my mom for publication in September. On Mother’s Day I will share a bouquet of white carnations with grieving sons and daughters.

5.2.2021 ~ archived

[previously published 4.13.17 Western Itasca Review

White House of the North

Leslie, Lloyd, Gladys, Cliff, Earl, and Donald White standing in front of the homeplace ~ 1940

About ten years ago, we drove in the northern part of the county when I saw what looked to be an abandoned boarding house or a large family home down a long gravel driveway off County Road 29. I photograph old buildings, schools mostly whenever I get a chance. I take them partly because I love how they look and also because someday they will be gone. It was a sunny day, so I grabbed my camera and photographed it from all sides.

I had no idea who owned the structure or the story behind it until I started visiting the Itasca County Historical Society. I found a small booklet in the research library with a hand-drawn illustration of that very building on the cover!  The title was “The Log White House,” a compilation of history and stories about the Sereno and Ina (Delap) White family from Alvwood. Mabel White, the compiler, was the wife of Earl. Earl was one of seven children born to Sereno and Ina.

Mabel dedicated the history of the Sereno White family, as follows: “Earl Delap White who at this time September 1, 1985, is the only living member of the original S.C. White family and to a herd of relatives and to Margie (Donald White’s wife) who asked me to write up a White Report.”  Mabel collected stories and information from various family members. I have filled in the blanks of a few details by looking at state and federal census records. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from “The Log White House.”

Sereno Centennial White

Sereno and Ina were both born and raised in Waushara County in central Wisconsin. Sereno’s middle name is Centennial, and he was born on September 30, 1876. His father, Asa, chose his name. “Asa Bradley White, being a proper person and aware of historical events, named that baby boy born to them on September 30, 1876, Sereno ‘Centennial.’  He was born in Waushara County, Wisconsin. The country was 100 years old then, and what better way to commemorate it than to name a son in its honor.”

Both of my maternal great-grandfathers were born in 1876, and neither one of them had that patriotic middle name, but I suspected Asa wasn’t the only one in the country to name their child Centennial. I checked the 1880 federal census and found 89 children born in 1876 with the first name of Centennial. There were 49 girls and 40 boys from 25 of the 38 states that were part of the United States. The top four states were Indiana -7, Ohio – 6, Illinois – 5, and tied for fourth place were Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, and Louisiana.


Sereno and Ina married when she was fifteen, and their first child was born with a year. By 1910 they had six healthy children but needed more space. In April of that year, the Whites and a few other families from Wisconsin moved to Alvwood, Itasca County.

The group traveled as far as Blackduck by train. “Dad said Grampa (Otis Vandervort) and Uncle Reno (Sereno White) rode in the boxcar with the livestock – a horse, a cow and a dog.”

The Whites occupied a building too small for them while a new home was being constructed and was very excited to move in before winter. “The new 24×24 house was built of hewed logs, with walls high enough for three bedrooms upstairs. It was built by ‘Scandinavian and expert builder and hewer, Pete Berg.’  When the family of eight moved into the new house, the old one became the chicken coop.”

Separation of the Family

In March 1911, Ina delivered her seventh child, and although a doctor was sent for, she died before anything could be done. With the help of neighbors, Sereno managed for a couple of months. The baby was healthy, and Ina’s brother Lugene and new wife Goldie took the child, who they called Donald, back to live with them in Wisconsin. His actual, registered name was Ruben Asa, but he only used that name when he enlisted in the Navy during WWII.

Two-year-old Earl “was given a home and loving care by Charlie Bedore and his wife, Mathilda. He lived with them until he was nine years old and then went back to the family.”

By about Christmas, it was evident to Sereno he could not care for the other five children himself, so he placed them in the temporary custody of the state. The boys were placed in an orphanage in Owatonna and the girls in Sauk Center. Sereno wanted them to return home as soon as his situation changed, but it ended up being three years, and for some too long.

Leslie and Lloyd, the two oldest boys, ran away within a year and Clifford felt abandoned because he was only six and couldn’t accompany them. “He was later put on a farm in Waseca. The boy of this farmer always blamed Cliff for all his wrongdoings, and Cliff got punished for it. He got tired of this and ran away to a neighbor’s farm, where they gave Cliff money to help him leave. He came to Horicon, Wisconsin, and found himself a job on a farm. When he ran away, he changed his name to Weise. He was married in that name. Later he changed it back to White.”


The 1920 U.S. census shows the five oldest children, Leslie, Lloyd, Gladys, Alice, and Earl, were living in the family home with their father. Donald was still with his aunt and uncle Delap. No one knew what had become of Clifford after he left the farm in Waseca. It wasn’t long before Gladys married, which meant Alice was the only female at home. She was in charge of the household and missed her sister. Her mental health and general thought processes began to deteriorate when she was about 25. Eventually, her father had no choice but to have her committed to the Fergus Falls Hospital for the Insane, where she died of pneumonia in 1932.

One by one, the White brothers married and established a farm in Alvwood. Imagine their surprise when Clifford came up to visit! He had married and with a family of his own realized he wanted to find his brothers and sisters. Cliff was only five when he and his brothers went to the orphanage. He didn’t remember where his family was from, so he sought the answers at Owatonna and ventured north.

By 1930, Cliff had returned with his family to the community where his mother and father had settled. Donald had always maintained a relationship with his brothers and sisters and was glad to meet the brother he had never known.

At the time of his death in 1941, four of Sereno Centennial White’s children were within walking distance of his home place, and he had over a dozen grandchildren whom he saw daily. Donald remained in Wisconsin, and Gladys was near Crookston. And at least sixty-six years after his death, the house stood for me to photograph. I expect it is still standing, and perhaps it is time for another photo-shoot.


“The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread”

My grandpa, Clarence “Conny” Scheer, drove a route for Bishoff Bakery of Bigfork in the mid-1930s.  One of his favorite stories to tell about that job was that’s how he started courting Hellen McQuillen, my grandma. He made a delivery to the tavern owned by Len and Irene Knotts in Effie. Hellen was staying there for the summer, following her first year of teaching, to help her sister. 

The Taggert Baking Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, introduced Wonder Bread in May 1921.  Weighing a pound and a half, Wonder Bread boasted an even texture, and soft crusts. It was sold only in Indianapolis until 1924 when the company was purchased by Continental Baking.  In 1930, Wonder Bread became America’s first sliced bread, hence the phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

Slow Start in Deer River

When there are enough patrons to make it profitable, a bakery is established in a town. Or. maybe in the case of Deer River, attempted. The first mention of a bakery in Deer River was in 1908 when the Itasca News stated that “Mrs. Hanna Gray, who was to open a bakery in the Bond house, has given up the proposition, being unable to make a satisfactory deal for the property with Mr. Ingersoll, who now owns the place.” Obviously, the villagers were interested and were pleased when Mr. Jackson arrived in September of the same year. Mr. Jackson claims to be a first-class baker and seeing the amount of trade awaiting him, he is anxious for the moving of Tellin Brothers from the market building, as he will occupy that space.  He expects to open his shop in a week or ten days.”

Small retail businesses didn’t need to advertise unless there was competition, so it is not clear how long Mr. Jackson was in business.  The 1910 United States Census lists Herbert J. Jackson as age 30 and employed at the cedar mill. If it is the same person, perhaps the position at the mill was more lucrative or the hours more to his liking. Or maybe he was still in business and the bakery, detailed below, was a second one in the village with a very short life.

“The Misses Rose Voigt and Emily LaFreniere have opened a bakery of the ‘home’ kind in the laundry building near the Everton Hotel.  They have been turning out good baking for several days and the patrons say their work is very nice.  The girls are receiving a good patronage and say they cannot keep up with their orders.” [Itasca News 9-17-1910]

“Evidently, bearing out the rule that young people cannot withstand success or much prosperity, Misses Emily LaFreniere and Rose Voigt have given up their undertaking of conducting a bakery.  The girls were in business about two weeks and were receiving orders for more goods than they could make.  They have simply quit and any other reason for doing so is not given out.” [Itasca News 10-8-1910]

City Bakery 1911~1928

In 1911, Andrew and Julia Binder moved from Duluth where they had owned and managed a successful bakery.  It isn’t clear what brought them to Deer River, but the village and surrounding community were glad they came.  When Mr. and Mrs. Binder opened City Bakery, they planned to stay.

Andrew immigrated from Germany in about 1890. Two years later Julia followed him from Germany, and they married.  Their only child, Florence, was born in Duluth in 1899. Florence helped her parents in the bakery from a young age.

When the United States entered the First World War, bakeries were greatly impacted. The main ingredients flour and sugar were restricted to ensure the soldiers were properly fed.  The Federal Food Administration encouraged bakeries to advertise their product as Victory Bread if it contained not more than 80 per cent wheat flour.  No stipulation was made as to what ingredients should compose the other 20 per cent so long as they are selected from a list which included corn flour and corn meal, barley flour, graham, buckwheat, oatmeal, rice and rice flour, potato flour, etc.

City Bakery’s First War Bread ~ Itasca News 1-26-1918

“War Bread, or what is called Deer River’s first sample of war bread, has been on sale at the City Bakery for the past week, and the public is in ecstasy over it.  The bread is made in the shape of twin loaves, weighing two pounds each and sells for 15 cents.  The local shop makes it in two forms, in pans and on brick bottoms.  The patrons seem to prefer the brick baked style. 

“Baker A.J. Binder admits this is not the real thing in the war bread brand, as it is made of baker’s flour, not the real war flour, however the ingredients are on the conservation order as no lard nor milk is used, but instead of these, potatoes are use in the recipe.  The bread is lasting and slightly a heavier food than the regular baker’s bread. When the present supply of white flour is exhausted, which will be in but a few months, the new war flour will be the best flour on the American market and then we will get the real war bread.”

Families were also encouraged to prepare at home, foods that they had previously bought at a bakery. An advertisement for Royal Baking Powder gave the following recipe for Oatmeal Bread.  It appeared in the March 23, 1918 Itasca News.

Oatmeal Bread

1 cup flour

2 ½ cups corn meal

1 tsp salt

5 tsp Royal Baking Powder

2 T sugar

1 cup cooked oatmeal or rolled oats

2 T shortening

2½ cups milk

No eggs

Mix together flour, corn meal, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Add oatmeal, melted shortening, and milk.  Bake in round shallow pan in moderate oven 40-45 minutes.

If used three times a week in place of white bread by the 22 million families in the United States, it would save more than 900,000 barrels of flour a month.

The Royal Baking Company published a pamphlet, “Best War Time Recipes” available by request, which contained four dozen recipes like the Oatmeal Bread, to encourage families to save wheat for the soldiers. 

City Bakery weathered the restrictions and, after the war, supported the community that had become their home. The Binders advertised in the Deer River newspapers, first for occasional specials and then a general weekly ad. It seems they always had butter rolls, cookies, pies and cakes.  Some of the specialty items were cream puffs, rocks, raised doughnuts, bismarks, coffee cake, honey cream cake, angel food cake and loaf silver cake.  One year during the Itasca County Fair, they featured turnovers, butterflies, cinnamon rolls, and sunshine cakes.

In 1926, Deer River had a huge 4th of July celebration and the Binders worked long hours to ensure everyone was well-fed.

The Bakery was Busy ~ Deer River News7-8-1926

“The big celebration Monday brought a lot of people here to be fed, and for several days the latter part of the week the City Bakery was the busiest place in Deer River.  In addition to the regular trade with greatly increased baking of bread, the proprietors and help made 343 dozen buns, 160 dozen doughnuts and 194 Pullman sandwich loaves.  That’s 6,230 extra pieces, a good index to what it took to feed the crowd.

“Mr. and Mrs. Binder showed a fine spirit by selling to public concessions at wholesale as a contribution to the community effort.  We didn’t hear of any outside bakery doing anything like that, which proves again that we should boost the hometown product, the one that helps boost us.”

Two years later, Andrew and Julia having both celebrated their 60th birthday, decided they were ready to turn the business over to another baker.  Their daughter Florence, a music teacher in the community, wanted to be in a more populated setting.  The 1930 U.S. Census shows the Binder family living in Minneapolis.

City Bakery Sold to Hibbing Man ~ Itasca News 6-21-1928

“A deal was closed yesterday whereby one of Deer River’s oldest business institutions becomes the property of a new proprietor.  The City Bakery was sold by Mr. and Mrs. Binder to Anton Suomalainen of Hibbing.  Possession will be given the 1st of July.

“Mr. Suomalainen is not a stranger to Deer River.  For several years he conducted a bakery in Grand Rapids, selling out there last winter.  While in business at the county seat, Mr. Suomalainen supplied regular customers here, and his entry into the local field will find an established reputation.

“Mr. and Mrs. Binder have been in business here for the past seventeen years.  They came here from Duluth.  Under their management, the City Bakery built up a most enviable reputation for the excellence of its products, always clean and wholesome.  The host of friends who are numbered by their acquaintances, will regret to learn that the Binders have sold, and also regret to have this most estimable family leave Deer River, but will wish them many years of health, wealth and happiness.”

Other Owners

Mr. Suomalainen renamed the business, New Home Bakery, and all was well until he was injured the following spring.  “Anton Suomalainen, proprietor of the New Home Bakery, last Friday received a serious injury to one of his hands, which became caught in the machinery of the bread mixer.  The fingers were badly lacerated, and amputation of portions may be necessary.  Mr. Suomalainen went to Duluth for an X-ray examination and surgical treatment and is reported as getting along nicely.” [Deer River News 5-16-1929]

New Home Bakery struggled during the time Mr. Suomalainen was healing, and by August, he had no choice but to close. Within several weeks of that decision, a new owner was found. “R.W. Ziebell of Duluth has taken over the plant and announces that he will be open, ready for business next Wednesday, Sept 25.  Mr. and Mrs. Ziebell were in Deer River yesterday with Mr. and Mrs. Suomalainen, who have operated the bakery for the past year. Mr Ziebell stated that he has spent all his life in the bakery business, working for years in large baking plants of Minneapolis and Duluth.  He has frequently visited Deer River and is a great booster for this region.

“The reopening of the bakery will be welcome news to all local people.  During the time it has been closed the past fortnight, local residents have suffered a great inconvenience.  Mr. Ziebell was looking for a residence yesterday and hoped to be able to move his family here the latter part of the week.” [Deer River News 9-19-1929]

I am not sure how long the Ziebells had the bakery, but I do know that the name, New Home Bakery, was still being used in 1938. A receipt (see inset) indicates the Skottegard’s were owners, and had filled an order for

Williams Narrows Resort. According to the 1930 and 1940 U.S. censuses, the Skottegards were proprietors of a bakery in Grand Rapids but obviously had the one in Deer River as well.

The final notes I have on the local bakery are sketchy, as most of my research ends before WWII, but I do know there was a bakery owned by Tom Abbott for several years, which he sold to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hallgren of Chicago.  “Mr. and Mrs. Hallgren have operated bakeries for the past seven years and know their business thoroughly.  They plan to conduct the business on a basis of the best bakery products and the best service they can give.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hallgren are not entirely strangers in Deer River.  They have a summer home on Moose Lake, and for the past three years have been spending their summers here.  Associated with them will be Mrs. Carl Jette and Mrs. Erika Jette of the Moose Lake territory.” [Deer River News 2-10-1944]


“Spring is on the Way”

[originally published 3.19.2016 in the Western Itasca Review]

Postcard sent to Opal Fyfe (age 11) from her cousin Ethel Barrett in 1914
[Opal is Grandmother of Jim, Don and Chuck Root]

It appears we made it through another winter and a mild one at that! Not a lot of shoveling and only a handful of days with below zero temperatures.

According to the Minnesota Phenology Network, spring officially begins in Minnesota on Saturday March 19 at 11:31 p.m. Of course, we will still have snow in the woods and ice on the lakes on Sunday morning and certainly on Easter, but there will also be a tingle of green in the grass and perhaps a tulip or jonquil emerging on the south side of the house. And any snow we might have in the coming weeks (or months) will not last.

The following news articles highlight signs of spring in the late 1920s and early 1930s. 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. Now though, the crows are here all winter.

For this column I have arranged the news tidbits by month rather than year and as always, I have left the spelling as it was originally published.

Jan 3, 1929 ~ 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]

Jan 12, 1928 ~ 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]

Feb. 16, 1929 ~ Notes

“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]

Feb. 20, 1930 ~ 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]

Feb. 25, 1926 ~ 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]

Mar. 23, 1928 ~ Notes

“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]

Mar. 26, 1926 ~ Notes

“The crows and robbins have returned t 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 misquittoes will soon be heard. With all the necessities to add to the pleasures of life what chance is there for say complaints in these parts?” [Bigfork Settler]

Apr. 1, 1927 ~ Notes

“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]

May 2, 1928 ~ 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 wild flower of spring, as well as one of the most fragrant and pleasing of the entire season.” [Grand Rapids Herald Review]

May 30, 1934 ~ Albino Robin

“Red Lake Falls folks are interested this week in a white robin which has selected this city in which to establish its home in a tree on the Wm. Nieland farm. Aside from its color, which is white with black markings, the bird is of the same size and habits of the other robins, even to its chirping voice. Mrs. Nieland and others who have viewed the bird from close range state that it does not have “pink” eyes as white mice do. Local folks are speculating on the color of the new arrivals which are expected in this distinctive robin family in the near future. – Red Lake Falls Gazette.” [Grand Rapids Herald Review]

I encourage you to check out the Minnesota Phenology Network www.usanpn.org. It is a wonderful resource for those who like to monitor phenology and share their observations.

Another sure sign of spring is St. Patrick’s Day, so a happy day to those of you with Irish roots and a Happy Birthday to my great-great-great grandfather William Thomas Boxell born on March 17, 1830.


“Hunkidori” ~ We’ve Got Talent ~ Part III

I think writing is one of the harder ‘talents’ to document as it is hit and miss as to what gets published in the newspaper.  So, consider this just a smattering of our local writers.

Essays Written in School

In 1904, the Deer River School consisted of about three dozen students.  In February, the sixth graders were assigned to write an essay about President Lincoln. Two were selected to be printed in the newspaper.

Roy Belcher’s essay was about a half a column and here is the first paragraph. “Not long after the Boones crossed the mountains to Kentucky, a man by the name of Abraham Lincoln followed their example and brought his wife and children with him.  The Lincolns and Boones were of the same class of people.  They were hardy pioneers always seeking a new country. This Abraham Lincoln was grandfather of President Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a log-cabin in Kentucky, February 12, 1809.”

Martha McDonald, daughter of John and Maria wrote a lengthy and detailed essay which was three and a half full columns! Martha started her essay as follows: “Not far from Hodgenville in Kentucky there lived a man named Thomas Lincoln.  This man had built for himself a little log house by a brook.  There was one room in the cabin.  The chimney was broad at the bottom and narrow at the top.  In the wall at one side of the fireplace was a square hole for a window. In the summer it was left open all the time.  In the winter a deerskin or piece of coarse cloth was hung over it to keep out the cold.  There was no door nor hinges to the house.  There was no ceiling to the room.  There was no floor but the bare ground.  And the people could look up and see the bare rafters and the rough roofboards, which Mr. Lincoln had himself split and hewn.  For chairs there were only blocks of wood and a crude bench on one side of the fireplace.  The bed was a platform of poles on which were spread the furry skins of animals and a patchwork quilt of homespun goods.  In this poor cabin, on the 12th of February 1809, a baby boy was born.” [Itasca News 2-10-1904]

In March 1925, Mary Mitchell, an eighth-grade student from Bigfork, and daughter of Bessie and William Kanz (Rufus Mitchell is her stepfather), wrote an essay entitled Three Characteristics of a Good Citizen. The three points she made and supported were [1] be patriotic to his country and to his country’s flag, [2] be kind to everyone, and [3] obey the laws of the United States.

Prizes for Student Essays

Miss Betty Brandes took first place in the state of Minnesota in the Grand Third National Meat Story Contest instituted by the National Livestock and Meat Board.  Betty, a junior in the Grand Rapids High School, “has won national recognition, as well as a substantial cash prize.  One winner was determined for each state, and a national winner selected as best from the nation.  The national winner was from El Paso, Texas.

According to the report sent here, there was a very large response to the contest, which was instigated some months ago.  Over 10,000 essays or stories were submitted, and to win a state championship in such keen competition as obtained, is an honor of which Miss Brandes and instructors here may be proud.” [6-2-1926 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]

Several months later, another article, including the essay was printed on the front page of the October 6, 1926 Grand Rapids Herald-Review.  Ann Foreseen, 14 years of age (immigrated from Sweden with her parents Johan and Anna just eleven years ago) and an eighth-grade student in the Dunbar School, won a valuable prize at the Minnesota State Fair. Miss Foreseen wrote an essay entitled, “The Training of a Forester and Preserving our National Forests.” This essay was collected with other good essays and exhibited in the rural school display of the Itasca County Fair, where she was given first place.  At the state fair, the essay again received a first-place ribbon and a valuable cash prize, as well as the satisfaction of taking the highest place in that class of exhibits. 

Her introductory paragraph begins, “A forest is not a mere collection of trees.  A forest like a city is a complex community, with a life of its own.”

Local Student Winner in State-Wide Contest ~Deer River News 3-21-1929

“Miss Mable Backlund, a member of the senior class of the local high school has been declared winner of first place in a state-wide essay contest sponsored by the Minnesota Federation of Women’s Clubs, and will represent Minnesota in the national contest which will be judged later at Washington D.C.

“Some months ago, high school students throughout the nation were asked to compete in an essay contest on the subject, ‘Why I Should Vote.’  The local Women’s Club offered $5 in prizes and five students entered. Local judges awarded Miss Backlund first place and Miss Helen Foresman second.  First place winners in local contests entered the state contest, in which Miss Backlund has again been awarded first place.  Second honors went to a Luverne entry and third to one from St. Paul.

“Miss Backlund deserves great credit for the distinctive honor she has won, in representing the state in the national contest, and is being showered with congratulations by her many friends.  At the regular meeting of the Women’s Club Tuesday evening, Miss Backlund read her prize essay, much to the enjoyment of the members present.”

I was unable to find a follow-up article regarding the outcome of the national contest, so I assume Mabel Backlund’s essay was not a front-runner in that competition.

The final story about winning a cash prize is from 1935. “Eleven-year-old Dorothy and ten-year-old Donald Stangeland were named two of the winners in a nationwide school essay contest staged by Butler Bros., St Paul.  Thousands of pupils from 3600 communities competed.  Donald and Dorothy, children of George and Esther of Sand Lake, are among those awarded a crisp, new one-dollar bill.” [Deer River News 11-14-1935]

Poetry and a Novel

Godfrey Knight was a lumberjack and a poet.  He was born in January 1891, in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota to Victor and Amelia.  The Knights moved to the Big Fork Valley in about 1900.  By the time Godfrey was nineteen years of age, he was employed as a lumberjack at the Caldwell camp north of Effie.

In 1912, he won a contest sponsored by the Hand Made Boot and Shoe Company for a poem he wrote about one of their products, Hunkidori boots.  The Bigfork Mercantile sold many things needed by the lumberjacks, including Hunkidori boots.  In the fall of 1911, as new and old “jacks” were getting outfitted, the store posted a flyer sent out by the company which announced a free pair of boots for the winning entry in their poetry contest. 

Godfrey found inspiration in the late evenings and most likely entrusted his poetic entry to be mailed by the camp cook who made monthly trips to town for supplies.  Like any of us waiting for a response from a contest he eagerly awaited the dispersal of letters from the weekly mail bag. As weeks turned to months, he quit looking for a legal sized envelope.  Finally, one day in April 1912, Godfrey received word that his piece was selected.

Imagine the satisfaction he got of seeing his poem on the front page of the April 25th issue of the Bigfork Times.  And of course, for the rest of the year, distributers of the boots could include the poem in their advertisement for the Hunkidori brand if they wanted to.

Local Girl Wins First Place in Poetry Contest ~ Bigfork Times 11-13-1932

“It may be news to many of our readers, as it was to us, to know that we have a young poetess of exceptional ability in the person of Agnes Peloquin, aged 14.

“The following poem which was awarded first prize in the weekly contest of the Fair Play Club conducted by the Duluth Herald reveals a great deal more than just ordinary ability and we hope that this is the forerunner of many other products of her pen.”   The poem is printed in the inset.

Books written by local authors prior to 1960, are a bit harder to find.  Therefore, I was thrilled to discover information about a novel written by local author Mary (Gray) Mooers, in the Itasca County Historical Society archives.  The book, “Westward Wagon Wheels,” was published in 1955 by Meador Publishing Company of Boston. The description on the back of the book jacket details the problems of traveling west in 1864, but weaves in a story of love and success.

“In this novel, the author portrays with invincible reality the life of our forefathers, their pioneering spirit, their hardships, trials and sorrows endured as they settled our western frontiers. Susan Carter a lovely young girl from Wisconsin traveling west with her parents by wagon train, falls in love with Alan Wilson, a handsome young man, also traveling west in the same caravan.”

Mary Verona Gray was born in Iowa in about 1898.  On March 5, 1922 she married George Mooers.  George was born in 1896, and by 1910, his parents George and Nellie had moved the family to Deer River.  After serving in WWI, George was a civil engineer for Itasca County and then one of the iron mines.  Mary and George lived in Coleraine, and later on Pokegama Lake.  Notes from the author’s great nephew, Wayne Mooers state, “Uncle George died in 1955…Mary’s book was copyrighted the same year–George watched her write and listened to drafts for many hours.”

The Grand Rapids Library has one copy of “Westward Wagon Wheels,” and I found another on ebay for $50!

In 2019, I wrote about a book, “Little Woodsman of the North,” written by prestigious author, Bernadine Freeman Bailey, while she was staying at the Hide-Away Inn resort in Itasca County in the late 1930s.  Since then, I have learned of another book, “The Cloth Wagon,” set in Itasca County in about 1915.  It is said to be based in part on Orin Patrow of the Big Fork Valley.  The author, Antoinette (Van Hoesen) Wakeman, was probably visiting her brother F.B. Van Housen, a Minnesota State Senator, when she came to northern Itasca County.  I have found mention of her visit and her book in the “Last Frontier” by Bergit Anderson, (published in 1941).

We’ve Got Talent will appear again in the fall with Song writing, Spelling, Farming Endeavors and Professional Success.  To share your stories, call 218-244-2127, email reminiscewithchris@gmail.com, or leave a message here. 

4.4.2021 ~ archived

[previously published 3.29.2018 ~ **Easter was on April 1 in 2018]

Easter Bits and Pieces

Vintage Easter Postcard ~ circa 1900

Easter and April Fool’s Day

Easter and April Fool’s day has not fallen on the same day in my lifetime.  In fact, it has been 62 years since this has occurred.  Just a quick reminder, “The basic rule for determining the date for Easter is that it is on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21st.”

My google search shows that this is the 12th time Easter has fallen on April 1st since 1700.  A few quick calculations and I discovered that seven of the twelve times, there was eleven years between the years when this occurred, for instance, 1934, 1945 and 1956. I wasn’t going to try and figure out why this happened, but I did find it very interesting.

Easter Sunday School Program

In the 1920s the Deer River paper, called the Itasca News, was distributed on Saturday.  The publisher and editor, Murray James Taylor reminded readers to attend the Easter program the following evening. “Miss Velma Taylor who is one of the leading directors of the work, declares the features are of a nature to appeal to human interest and the most elaborate the church has ever had.  Admission is free and the public is earnestly entreated to attend.”

Full disclosure, Velma is the 14-year-old daughter of the newspaper publisher.

Easter Program was Splendid ~ Itasca News 4-10-1920

“That there is talent in the youth of Deer River is a fact proven and nailed down solider every time they are called on by the public, and the way they went ‘over the top’ in the Easter program was no exception to the high standard.  From cradlings to the young ladies every number was a winner and the entire program was keenly appreciated by the audience, which as usual, packed the church.

The opening number was a surprise to the little actor and the audience.  The name of Grace Johnson for a song was called, and the little lady of six summers who had just entered the door, sauntered up the aisle, hastily removing her wraps and with cheeks flushed by the chilly wind gracefully took her place on the platform and soon ‘warmed up’ in a pretty and lengthy Easter song, sweetly delivered and true to every note.

The vocal duet by Velma Taylor and Ova St. Peter was generally pronounced as excellent and the young ladies warmly applauded.

Norma Reid, one of those little angels, just learning to talk, did her part just like the big ones but much cuter, and spoke about four words.

Little Betty Bartholomew, always a favorite, sang charmingly.

Velma Taylor’s recitation on the ‘Easter Return of the Federal in Blue,’ captivated the audience and brought forth applause of feeling.

The six young boys in recitation each carrying a large letter which in line were to spell ‘Easter,’ did well, and more amusing than calculated as their letters in line read ‘Eatster.’

One of the best hits was the song by Gladys Hawkins’ class of fifteen girls. ‘Ring, Joy Bells, Ring,’ with Gladys doing creditable execution at the piano.

The booby prize must be yielded to baby Margurite Carlson, who, with her aunt near her side stood barely peeping above the railing and spoke some words, what they were, only her aunt Carrie knew, but the expressions and serious gestures of the little lady told more than words that her message was indeed grave.

Blanche Collard, soprano and Velma Taylor, alto, in duo gave the closing number.”

From the 1920 United States census, I learned the following about the talent named above.  I found it especially interesting that the two young ladies in charge, Velma, and Gladys were still in high school.  

~ Grace Johnson, daughter of Harry and Lillian (Metke), was born on December 12, 1912. She attended several years of college and married John Lynch. Later they moved to Hibbing where he was a member of law enforcement.

~ Velma Taylor’s parents came to Deer River from Nebraska in about 1896. He started the first newspaper, the Itasca News, which he was publisher and editor of until 1923 when he sold it to H.E. Wolfe, who changes the name to the Deer River News. Velma married Harvey Giles in 1924.  After the birth of their first two sons, they moved to Blackduck.

~ Ova St. Peter, daughter of Napoleon and Lucille, was born in 1905. The St. Peter family owned a confectionery store in town.  For many years Olga Sjolund, who was a few years older than Ova, lived with the family and worked at the store.

~ Norma Reid’s father, Hugh, is the minister at the Methodist church, and her mother Elizabeth, his helpmate. By 1930, the Reid’s had moved to Missouri.

~ Betty Bartholomew is the daughter Sam and Ella. Sam was in charge of the new telephone system. 

He bought it from the first proprietor M.L. Smith in 1915 and had it until 1926 when he sold it to J.L. Tucker. 

~ Gladys Hawkins’ mother is Nellie (Tellin). Her father, Milan died when she was quite young.  Her mother worked very hard to provide for her daughters on her own.

~ Margaret Ann Carlson was born in New York on October 2, 1917.  Her father, Albert, was in the service and stationed in New York.  After the war, Albert returned to Deer River with his wife Ethel and young daughter.  Ethel did not like the rural life and left when Margaret was still a young child.  She is raised by William and Anna Herreid. Anna was sister to Albert. 

~ Blanche Collard is the daughter of Joe and Mary. Her father’s occupation is listed as the proprietor of a railroad parlor.  So, does that mean he maintained the Deer River Depot or a recently defunct saloon? 

I wish I could have provided information about the six boys who inadvertently misspelled Easter!  Perhaps some of them were brothers of the girls whose talents are highlighted by the editor. 

Easter Baskets

By the mid-1920s advertisements for Easter candy and flowers appeared in the local confectionery and drugstores.  The candy available was not specified, but the plants included Easter Lilies, Rambler Rose Bushes, Hydrangeas, Cinerias, Begonias, Hyacinths, Tulips, and Ferns.

It wasn’t until near the end of the decade that I found mention of a local Easter egg hunt.

Hunted Easter Eggs ~ Deer River News 4-12-1928

“Mr. and Mrs. Robinson delightfully entertained fifteen little folks last Sunday afternoon at an Easter egg hunt.  Fifteen baskets of eggs were hidden in the fields adjacent to the Robinson home and there was a merry scramble to find them.  Prizes were offered for finding the largest number of baskets and the last basket.  Kathryn Wolfe found the largest number, four, and Alicemary Robinson the last one.  It was a delightful sport.”


“Percy has become quite an expert fiend of photography” ~ We’ve Got Talent ~ Part II

I knew that my grandmother, Hellen (McQuillen) Scheer liked to paint. When she and Gramps moved from Bigfork to Colorado in the late 1960s, she began taking classes and painting in earnest.  What I didn’t know was that she first held a brush to hand-color a black and white photograph of my gramps when they were courting.  This was in the mid-1930s when film for colored photos, was still ­a dozen years in the future.

I have collected stories about artists from the old newspapers since I started the Reminisce project.  I know there are many more artists than those I am sharing, so please let me know who the artist in your family is. Today’s column is about visual art. The final segment, next month, will be on writing.


In 1908, the Bigfork Settler reported that William Lake had received two beautiful oil paintings last week of sceneries on the Bigfork River painted by his brother at Hoffman.” William and his brother Leonard, a house painter, were from a small town in west central Minnesota. William filed on a homestead in the Big Fork Valley in about 1905.  It would be interesting to know if Leonard sketched the scenes while visiting his brother, or if he had painted from memory or a black and white photograph.  Also, wouldn’t it be fun to know where these paintings are hanging now?

Ida May (Williamson) Martin was another painter identified by the Bigfork Settler. “Mrs. J. R. Martin shipped 4 paintings to Duluth Saturday.  She has shipped several paintings there in the past few months, where she has found a ready sale for them.  Many of these pictures are of different sceneries about Bigfork and the recipients of the same are loud in their praise of the beauty of the same.  What a treat it would be to some of the city folks to visit these parts and have the chance of seeing and enjoying all the real beauty that nature produces here at different periods of the year.  Beautiful sceneries that the majority of us, who live here, have become so accustomed to that we pass them by without even giving them a second thought.” In May 1925, when the article was written, Ida was 67 years of age and raising four grandchildren.

In the archives of the Itasca County Historical Society, I found a lovely pastel painting that was created by Mrs. Amy Porter.  She lived and farmed with her husband Charles near Rabey, MN in northwest Aitkin County. One of the small painting she made was for a dear friend, Josephine (Burt) Crowe who lived in Grand Rapids. Amy painted many pictures, Christmas cards and birthday cards with pastel paints. The painting she did for Josephine Crowe was created on a 1953 tax receipt!


In 1898, Percy Brooks purchased the interest of C.H. Marr, the joint owner on his father’s store, so that Percy and his father Asa were co-owners. The A.D. Brooks & C.H. Marr General Store was the first merchant in Deer River.  Percy enjoyed new-fangled merchandise and in 1901 he was busy with a camera. “Percy Brooks is making an album of large photographs of scenery and other things in and about Deer River when examined will already furnish amusement for several hours.  Percy is becoming quite an expert fiend of photography and he lets nothing pass that is worth ‘shooting’ at. He has one picture of a smallpox patient which looks so natural that it has actually given people the itch by looking at it.” [Itasca News 5-4-1901]

On the 1905 Minnesota State Census, Eric Enstrom is living in Milaca and his occupation is stated as photographer. By 1910, he and his wife Esther and son Roger are living in Bovey where he has his photography studio. Enstrom is best known for the photo “Grace” which he took in about 1920. It depicts an elderly man bowing his head and giving thanks. “Grace” was adopted as the official state photograph in 2002.  Before that photo received notoriety, Enstrom was recognized for his ability to capture subjects in a unique way.

Local Girl Model for Prize Photo ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 8-11-1926

“The Enstrom Photograph Studio of Bovey was awarded a silver loving cup offered to the best photographer on the Mesaba Range.  The contest, arranged by the Range Association of Photographers, was for the best photograph taken of the same model, and John R. Snow of Mankato acknowledged as one of the best photographers in the state, was the judge.

“Miss Peggy Wells of Grand Rapids was the model.  Miss Wells went from one gallery to the next and was posed and photographed by the different artists.  Each gallery was given a number, and the numbered pictures sent to the judge in Mankato.

“The prize of a large silver cup will be displayed in the windows of Enstrom studio.  The Larson Studio of Virginia won second prize. The Range Association is affiliated with the National Association of Commercial Photographers. The winning photograph of Miss Wells will likely be entered in other contests in the state and elsewhere.”

As this article was written between censuses, I am not able to provide much information about Peggy Wells.  In fact, the only document I could find for a Margaret Wells was through the Minnesota Marriage records.  It states Margaret Wells and Matt A.H. Gielen were married on Jan 26, 1935 in Itasca County.  On the 1940 U.S. Census, Gielen is listed as married and living with his brother-in-law in Grand Rapids.  I could not find Margaret or Peggy Gielen.

The next article is also about the subject of a photograph. Walter Olson is the eighteen-year-old son of Peter and Olga Olson. I searched through an online newspaper site but was unable to track down the pictures. Perhaps the name of the newspaper was incorrect, but the information is still interesting.

Local Young Man is Shown in Picture ~ Deer River News 7-25-1929

“Walter G. Olson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Olson of Deer Lake, is one of several workmen shown in pictures taken recently at the hangars of the Universal Air Lines in Chicago.

In a series of photos published in the Chicago Daily News last Friday, Walter is shown working on a Fokker plane being prepared for a passenger run to Cleveland. He is shown placing radio shielding, for the use of the radio while flying.

Walter has been with the Universal Lines since last fall and is rapidly advancing in his chosen work.  Betcha some day he’ll fly back to Deer River.  And when he does, this paper hopes we’ll have a landing field that will permit a safe welcome home!”


In August of 1927, Williams Narrows Resort on Big Cutfoot Sioux Lake was in the movies.  Charles E. Belle, a photographer for Paramount Pictures came to the resort for the express purpose of capturing the Northwoods on film. “While here Mr. Bell took nearly five thousand feet of film for his company, much of it of animals at the Narrows’ zoo.  It is hoped the films may be brought here for showing.  They will prove splendid advertising for this region.”

According to the Apr 7, 1927 Deer River News, “Mr. Williams reports the purchase of the following additions to the zoo: two each of leopards, Canada lynx, coati mundi, cougar, opossum, peccary, timber wolves, sphinx baboon, badger, black-faced ape. Angora goats. Black fox, Wanderoo monkey, Java Monkey, Capuchin ringtail monkey, smoky mangabey, white-face ringtail, African geese, pea fowl, cayuga black duck and Egyptian pelican, and four alligators. These additions will make this one of the largest zoos in the state.”

The final article I have to share was also filmed at a resort.  The local film star, Marvel Clarice Cleveland, is the daughter of Oscar and Jennie. 

Local Girl in Minnesota Movie Show ~ Deer River News 6-21-1945

“After seeing the Minnesota State Tourist Bureau movie ‘short’ at two theatres while on a recent vacation, the news editor had to come back to Deer River and see the same short at the Lyceum Wednesday night to learn that Miss Marvel Cleveland of Talmoon was featured in three scenes of a fishing excursion shown as part of the film advertising Minnesota.  The scenes showed Miss Cleveland catching a fish, a closeup displaying a string of fish and then one of the fishing party cooking and eating the fish caught.  The fishing excursion, it is understood, was filmed at Camp Idlewild, Marcell, not far from Miss Cleveland’s home.  Miss Cleveland graduated from the Deer River high school with the class of 1945 on May 30.”

Walter Stickler established the Idlewild resort in about 1912.  He was a staunch supporter of the resort trade of northern Minnesota, and on the 1940 U.S. census his occupation is listed as ‘lecturer’ and the industry ‘resorts.’ In August 1929, he invited Dusty Rhodes, a pilot from Hibbing to land his plane, a sister ship of the famous “Spirit of St. Louis.” During the afternoon, he took 78 lucky passengers, four at a time, for a ride.

To share your stories, email reminiscewithchris@gmail.com, call 218-244-2127, or leave a message on my blog chrismarcottewrites.  Just enter the following address in the browser and you should be good to go: https://chrismarcottewrites.com

3.21.2021 ~ archived

[originally published 3.9.2015]

Women on the Farm in Ardenhurst Township, Itasca County

During the past four months, I have spent at least twelve hours a week at the Itasca County Historical Society in Grand Rapids.  For the most part, I have been looking at Deer River and Bigfork newspapers’ old issues.  The staff and volunteers are a close-knit group and very helpful to amateur genealogists or historians.  The research area is one large room with several workstations as well as computers for community use. I love being there on quiet days, but I also like the excitement of some of the busy days. 

Recently I was perusing the microfilm while the historical society director Lilah Crow was organizing books in a new shelving unit.   Well aware of the research and writing I have been doing, she said, “Chris, you might want to take a look at this.”  She held a non-descript book entitled Woman on the Farm.  “This has a very interesting story behind it,” she added and went on to explain that it belonged to Alma Anderson, a woman who lived in Ardenhurst.  This township is in the northwest section of Itasca and borders Koochiching County.  It is up Hwy. 46 about thirty-five miles north of Deer River. Alma had received the book as a gift from her daughter Ruth.  On the first page, Ruth had written, “With Love To Mamma from Ruth – An appreciation of a mother on the farm.”

Woman on the Farm was written by Mary Meeks Atkeson and published in 1924.  Atkeson explains her intent in the foreword.  “Introducing the woman on the farm – her work, her problems, and her point of view of life – is the purpose of the present volume.  In its preparation, the farm woman herself has given much assistance to the writer.  Nearly a thousand special correspondents, representing every State in the Union, have taken time in their busy lives to write their views upon one or more of the subjects here discussed.”  The fourteen chapters cover everything from the farm home, grounds and gardens, to home business, politics, and national organizations, with a liberal sprinkling of children, school, church, and community.

Alma enjoyed the book and decided to share it with her dear friends and neighbors.  As it was passed around, each reader signed the page below Ruth’s inscription.  In addition to Alma Anderson’s signature, it was signed by Mrs. A.W. Nelson, Mrs. J.E. Guptill, Mrs. J.D. Brandon, and Mrs. R.J. Field.  I eagerly took the book and spent a couple of hours reading chapters that caught my eye. 

I decided to see what I could learn about the five women who had also turned the pages.  I wanted to know when the women might have read the book and wondered, too, if the book was given as a gift on a birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day, perhaps.  The volume I found online had a jacket cover to protect it.  This copy no longer did.

Alma was born in Sweden in 1870 and immigrated when she was twenty-years-old.  I spent hours searching ancestry but could not definitively find her maiden name. She married Albert Anderson, a man from Norway, in 1898.  The Andersons lived in Polk County, Minnesota, in 1900, but by 1910 they were settled in Ardenhurst. Alma and Albert had seven children, Esther, Bertha, Hilda, Ruth, Andrew, Melvin, and one baby who died in infancy.

Mrs. A.W. Nelson, otherwise known as Emma Nesseth, was born in Wisconsin to recently immigrated Norwegian parents.  Her mother died by the time she married Andrew in 1899.  He emigrated from Sweden at age fifteen.  Andrew and Emma were married and raised their family on a farm in Washington County, Minnesota.  They moved to Ardenhurst between 1920 and 1930.  There were other Nesseth’s in the area who may have been Emma’s brothers or cousins, which might have been why the Nelson family moved north.  I found documentation that in November 1908, Edward Nesseth married Hilda Berg in Ardenhurst.  Martin Nesseth was a witness, and Rev G.P. Nesseth performed the ceremony.

Mrs. J.E. Guptill is actually Sophia Rose.  She was born in 1882 in Scotland and immigrated as a small child with her parents David and Mary.  Sophia’s obituary states that “her parents homesteaded at Island Lake in 1898. She and her sister Jesse were the first young woman at Island Lake.  They took out their own homesteads in 1903.  Sophia Lake and Jessie Lake were named for them, and Muggins Lake is named for their dog.” 

Eventually, the Rose family settled in Ardenhurst.  The Guptill’s lived down the road, and as often happened, the two young neighbors married. John and Sophia set up housekeeping near their parents, and soon, daughters Mary and Edna came along.  Their farm on Island Lake was often the site of community picnics and was said to be a very picturesque spot as some of the white pines were left standing when the area was logged.

Mrs. J.D. Brandon’s birth name was Isabelle “Belle” MacDonald.  She was born in Canada in 1839 and immigrated in 1870.  She and Jesse Brandon married and started their family in Wright County, Minnesota.  In 1900 they were in Morrison County, in 1910 Koochiching County, and finally, by 1920, they resided in Ardenhurst.  Four of their seven children Earlie, Pearl, Roland, and Norman, lived to adulthood. 

Mrs. R.J. Field was born in Beltrami County in 1908. The name her parents, George and Frances, gave her was Cecelia Nina Horton.  Cecelia and Ralph Field’s parents were born in the United States, so this couple is the only second-generation family of the five.  Ralph’s father was a postmaster, and Ralph was the proprietor of a confectionary store in Northome when they married in 1926.  Shortly after 1935, the Field family with sons Charles and Lyle moved to the state of Washington.  As far as I can tell, this family never lived in Ardenhurst Township, but it is probably the Cecelia was friends with Belle Brandon as they both had connections with Koochiching County.  Also, it was much closer to shop in Northome, which is in Koochiching County, than it was to go to Deer River.

Ruth Anderson was about twenty-years-old when Woman on the Farm was published.  According to the 1940 census, she had attended college for four years, so she certainly had a good education and may have taught before she married Carl Peterson.  Alma and her daughter Ruth were both widows and living together in Ardenhurst by 1940.  Cecelia Field was the last person to sign the book, and her family had moved out of the area about 1936.  It can be assumed then that Ruth gave her mother the book sometime between 1924 and 1934 and that it was carefully read and passed from Alma to Emma to Sophia to Belle and finally to Cecelia by 1936.  As far as the occasion for the gift, we can only imagine.

3.18.2021 ~ archived

“See America First ~ and Don’t Forget Craigville!” ~  Itasca County during Prohibition ~ part 8 of 8

[previously published 10.25.2020]

“Saturday Night in a Saloon” is one of the most famous photographs taken by photographer Russell Lee. It was shot in a bar that were still operating in Craigville in 1937. Lee was employed by the Farm Bureau Administration and traveled throughout the United States between 1936 and 1943 documenting American classes and cultures. The popularity of the photograph is the result of the producers of the television show ‘Cheers’ (1982-1993) using it in a montage with the theme song at the beginning of the show. [Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Access permitted reproduction number LC-USF34-030584]

Craigville is an unincorporated village located in section 36 of township 63-26, in Koochiching County.  Effie is four miles from the northern boundary of Itasca County, and Craigville is just over the county line (although locals know that at times Craigville has extended south into Itasca County).

The community is named for John Craig who was a woodsman who emigrated from Canada in 1883. John Craig (1941-2015) explained, “My grandfather came to Grand Rapids as a lumberjack for the Itasca Logging Company and he was the foreman in charge of all the camps.  His job was to hire lumberjacks and make sure the camps were running.  In the spring when they took the logs away, his job was to set up new camps for the next year.  Usually they built five camps every year and that was his perpetual job, keeping the places running.  That’s really how the town of Craigville got started. It was when they hired them [his crew] up at Craig.” [2010 interview, Itasca County Historical Society (ICHS)]

It is not clear exactly where the last camp that Craig built was located.  He died in January 1912.  John Reid of the lumber company Blake, Hawkins and Reid, stated in a 1960 lecture. “We built the first structure there [at Craig], a log camp, in 1912.”  [ICHS]  Reid bought out his partners in 1914 and operated a successful saw mill and lathe mill in Craigville until the Depression curtailed the need for the product in 1929.

Craigville Snapshot

The site had such extensive logging around it that during logging season thousands of loggers might be found in the local taverns. For most of the fourteen years that Prohibition was in place, the taverns of Craigville remained active. There were no lawmen in Craigville and it was a full day of travel from International Falls where the county jail was located.  Plenty of moonshine was made in the area, and it was rare that a tavern didn’t have what was needed to supply their patrons. Thus, Craigville was visited by folks from Itasca County as well as hordes of loggers.

Marion Brown (1902-1999) was a brakeman on the Minneapolis & Rainy River Railway between Deer River and Craigville during the latter part of Prohibition.  He commented on the way some situations were handled by the federal agents. “They [saloon owners] had an agreement with the bartenders in the event that the federal men would come down and close the joints up.  And they would put an official sign on the door.  But they had a standing agreement, the owners, and the bartenders, that the bartender would say that he was the owner.

“Well naturally, they would arrest him and take him to Duluth, and they had a standing agreement that he got five dollars a day for tending bar, and he also got five dollars a day for sitting in jail in Duluth.  And those feds wouldn’t be at the top of the hill about two miles out of Craig, and there would be another bartender in these joints.  The signs on the door didn’t mean a thing.” [Interview with Marion Brown conducted by John Esse 1975 ICHS]

In February1926, Frank Miller, the proprietor of a hotel in Deer River, reported to the Itasca News that he had seen the sights and sounds of Craigville and recommended that others do too. Miller had been to one of the logging camps with a local physician to check on a family member and they stopped on the way home at a saloon. “‘We saw seven fights [bar brawls] in fifty-two minutes,’ said Mr. Miller. ‘And believe me, they were no petting parties.  It was just zip-bang-whang from start to finish.’

“Entering a refreshment establishment with one of the proprietors, the bartender was found prostrate across the counter.  The owner shook him savagely.  An argument followed, ‘Come out doors and tell me that,’ yelled the barkeep.  Out they went. Bim-Bam-Flooie! And it was all over.  The other partner appeared.  ‘Hey! What you doing’ with that fellow? I hired him.’ ‘And I fired him,’ was the reply.  ‘What you goin’ to do about it?’

‘You would have thought it was the month of June,’ said Miller.  ‘They sat around on ice cakes, piles of timber, just anywhere, at midnight.’ Mr. Miller insists that the management of the Great Northern railway has overlooked a good bet.  On the side of every box car put out by the company, is painted in large letters: See America First!  He says the slogan is incomplete, and at the next meeting of the commercial club will ask for a committee to appear before Great Northern officials and ask them to add at the bottom: And Don’t Forget Craigville!” [2-11-1926 Itasca News]

Two months after Miller’s visit to Craigville, the infamous gunfight between Dan McGinty and Mike Cunningham took place in the Gem Cafe.  Although Cunningham was seriously injured, he shot McGinty through the heart, killing him instantly.  Cunningham survived, but did not return to Craigville. My guest contributor, Mark Anderson wrote about this in a 2016 Reminisce column. Email me to request a copy.

Howard Park was born in 1922 in Internationals Falls.  In about 1925, the family moved to Craigville where his father, Mike, built a saloon, poker parlor, lunchroom and sauna.  Many of the lumberjacks were Finnish and patronized all facets of the business built by a fellow Finn. The Eagle Bath House was a busy and lucrative place.  Howard described it as one of the nicest businesses in town. Practically all the buildings were tarpaper sided shacks and saloons.  Ours had siding that was blue-gray mineral surface roofing with battens.  It was about 32 x 60 with the rear 15 feet devoted to a sauna and dressing room.  An adjoining shop allowed feeding the sauna heating stove.  We also had the only electric lights in Craig via a generator and several banks of large glass batteries.

“My father served moonshine, Canadian liquor, and a home brew to the jacks as did the other saloons.  He also served as mediator during fights, loaned money, and kept a ‘tab’ for the jacks which they paid when payday came again.  I can remember seeing him coloring moonshine with caramel to look like bourbon.  Also using charred wood kegs to ‘age’ some of the harsher booze.”  [Correspondence Howard Parks and Bill Marshall 1995-2000, ICHS]

Howard was about six years old when he had a bit of a run in with a lumberjack he refers to as Pillicuffie. This may be Billy Coffie, a man I have found mentioned elsewhere. I have a vivid memories of Pillicuffie.  For some reason, probably on a weekday, only a few jacks were in the saloon, my father must have been out temporarily, and I was sort of babysitting the store.  My memory is faint but Pillicuffie started to tease me or something and I became angry.  I ran into a side room where my father kept his only gun, a single shot 410 shotgun, and grabbed it to chase Pillicuffie. 

“Well, I knew I would not shoot him for such a small reason, and he realized it soon also.  So he, in turn chased me around the bar with me threatening him with the gun. (He had more guts than sense to provoke a 6-year-old with a loaded gun.) Anyway, it was resolved, probably with my father’s returning to the saloon.” 

Sadly, in January 1929, Howard’s father Mike committed suicide.  Howard, his younger brother, and their mother Lydia were devastated. Lydia, with the help of her sons, kept the business running for a few more years before selling it.  The steam bath was the only place to get clean other than the river, so it remained a viable business into the 1950s.  

Seclusion Made it Easy

It seems hard to believe that there wasn’t more of an effort made to follow shipments of supplies that could be used for making moonshine.  Maybe northern Minnesota was just not a place to worry about compared to the large cities where organized crime and moonshine went hand in hand.  Marion Brown recalled: “We used to haul practically by the carload, it wasn’t brown sugar, but it was some type of hard sugar that felt and handled more like a bale than a sack of sugar, and raisins.  That’s what they made the moonshine out of, and the going price for moonshine I know at that time to these joints, from the moonshiner was four dollars, four and a half dollars a gallon.  We had one moonshiner up there that was better than the rest of them, and he would get five and a half, six dollars for his, but his clientele were more or less the business people, the loggers and people like that around the area. [Marion Brown Interview 1975, ICHS]

Alcohol arrests in the far north were minimal.  These are the only records I found in the local papers. 

~ “Frank Flint was arrested in the northern part of Itasca County, near Craig, by Deputies Dickie, Dunn and Tupper.  He pleaded guilty to operating a liquor nuisance and paid a fine of $100.” [12-17-1924 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]

~ “John Quinn and Ethel Hines, formerly located at Craig, moved to an old logging camp west of Bigfork, where they were in Itasca County instead of Koochiching, in order to be handy to sell liquor to the road crews operating in that vicinity.  Quinn paid a fine of $100 and costs, while his consort paid $50 and costs, and it was intimated to both of them that Itasca County was not a place for them.” [8-3-1927 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]

~ “Cornelius B. Francisco of Craig was arrested last Saturday by a deputy sheriff and charged with maintaining a liquor nuisance at the Effie Fair.  Francisco pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a fine of $100 and costs or serve 60 days in jail.” [9-10-1930 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]

~ “Victor Parsons of Craig was arrested at a dance near Effie by Harry Lamson, special dance deputy.  Parsons was charged with selling liquor at the dance, and when arraigned before Judge Keo Leroux pleaded guilty. As this is a matter for determination by a district judge, Parsons was remanded in jail until he could be brought up in district court.” [3-2-1932 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]

Why Quit a Good Thing

Gene Rajala was born three years after Prohibition was repealed, but he told me that anyone who made good moonshine always had buyers. “We had a moonshiner who made moonshine way later.  He lived about two miles from us and when he’d come by, he always brought my dad a pint or half pint. His name was Archie Loven, but you won’t find his name [in the newspapers] because he was too smart.  He always had a nice big shiny car and wore a bow tie.  His wife, Lizzie had really nice clothes compared to the farmwives and homesteaders around here. He wasn’t employed. He had a homestead but never cleared land or farmed it or had livestock.  He was just kind of a ‘fancy Dan’ moonshiner.

“He took his product to the dances at all the town halls.  He’d park in the parking lot and sell half pints from the trunk of his car.  You never got rid of a half pint bottle (slender, easy to fit in shirt pocket) – it was worth more than the whiskey in it! Archie had contacts with the town hall supervisors and maybe some of the bands. They were here making and selling moonshine up until the 1950s.” [Interview 10-10-2020]

I verified the facts on the Lovens, but have not (yet) on another moonshiner Gene remembers.  “Tryanoski’shad made booze in Chicago and then set up an operation on Holstrum’s Spur which was in Koochiching County.  They brought all their equipment with them and also some folks who had been making it for them. One of them was named Joe Hammond.”  [Interview 10-10-2020]

Final Words

I wrote the first of this series in July, encouraged in part by the memories of my grandfather, Clarence Scheer.  I’m sure if he was still alive Gramps would chuckle as you did at the names he recognized and the ingenuity of the moonshiners.  Regarding Craigville, there are many more stories to be told, some of which I will highlight in this column in the future.    

3.16.2021 ~ archived

“Peddling Booze on the Side” ~ Itasca County During Prohibition ~ part 7 of 8

[originally published 10.11.2020]

In 1925 Dr. Dumas was manager of the Deer River Baseball Team.  He is pictured here with the three Guertin brothers.  All were indicted as part of the Bootleg Ring in 1928. The players are left to right, front row: L. Guertin, Fleming, Grimes, H. GuertinP. Guertin. Back row: Dr. DF Dumas, manager; Kester, Jake Reigel, coach and utility, Zackariasen, Schouweiler, Lavoy, and Geo. H Herreid.

Six months ago, I wrote about the dedication of Dr. Delbert F. Dumas, the primary physician for Deer River, during the 1918-1920 Spanish Influenza epidemic.  Ten years later, he was arrested as part of a bootlegging ring and eventually sentenced to Leavenworth Penitentiary.

I first came across the name Dumas and the words booze and prison years ago when reading the transcripts of an interview done with Isabelle (Wagner) Lekander from Deer River.  Born in 1914, Isabelle would have been about the same age as Dr. Dumas’ children, and her most likely was a patient at one time or another.  She said, “Dr. Dumas was peddling booze on the side and got sent to some prison. He is in with these big deals.  Then he moved from here to Bemidji.”

Delbert Frederick Dumas graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at the University of Illinois. He had been a practicing physician for five years before opening an office in Cass Lake in 1907.  Nine years later, he and his wife Hazel settled in Deer River with their two children, Fred and Julia. Their last child, Delbert Jr. “Buster,” was born in 1917.   

Dr. Dumas seemed to have a lucrative practice and was a community leader.  In 1925, he was the manager for the Deer River baseball team and expanded his time to include the northern communities.  “In order to give better service to patients, Dr. Dumas has changed the day of making visits to Bigfork, and in the future, he will be at the Woodland Hotel every Tuesday instead of Saturday. This change is made for the reason that in case medicine needs to be mailed to the patients, it will reach them much earlier than if he made his visits here on Saturday.” [ Bigfork Times 6-19-1925]

In 1927, he was lauded for investing in an ultra-violet ray lamp for the treatment of tuberculosis, eczema, anemia, and various skin diseases.  “When installed, the doctor will be the possessor of equipment most uncommon in villages the size of Deer River. This is a most expensive piece of equipment, and the doctor is to be commended for bringing one to this section.” [Itasca News 1-27-1927]

What Happened?

I’m not sure why Dumas was involved in illegal liquor activities.  I have a few sketchy newspaper articles, but because the trial took place in Federal Court in Duluth very little information was available in the local newspapers.  The initial arrests were made in the fall of 1928, but Dr. Dumas and others involved were not convicted until December 1931.  The only mention that might be about this case was in the last paragraph of an article about Prohibition. “Several other arrests were made by members of the sheriff’s force during the week, but trials or hearings are yet to be conducted after thorough investigations have been made.” [Grand Rapids Herald-Review 11-21-1928]

Liquor Ring is Broken Up Now ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 12-16-1931

“Several Itasca County citizens are concerned in a liquor ring which it is alleged operated in two counties last spring.  Seven men were sentenced to the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas and one is to be confined in the Itasca County Jail. The man who federal operators claim is the leader is to be tried this week in Federal Court in Duluth.

“Dr. Delbert F. Dumas who practiced for many years at Deer River but who moved to Bemidji some months ago, pleaded not guilty when brought up in Federal Court and is to be tried this week.  In the same case, Leo Guertin of White Oak Point was sentenced to three years in federal prison but placed on probation. Paul Guertin, Jr. was sentenced to six months in the Itasca County Jail.  Andy Walker and Ben Peterson, who live west of Deer River, pleaded guilty but will not be sentenced until after Dr. Dumas has been tried.  Charges against Henry Guertin, Arthur Haglund, and Oliver DePalma were dismissed.

“Seven men who live in and near Hibbing must go to Leavenworth or some other federal prison for their connection in this alleged liquor ring.  They are Mike DePalma, one year and a day; Joe Venni, two years; Louie Schiclich, one year and a half; George Potvin, one year and a day; Frank Sikich, two years; Louis Salata and Jack Green, each a year and a day.

“This case has been under investigation by federal operators for about half a year.  It is claimed that the still which was finally seized at a location north of Hibbing, had been operated at one time west of Deer River and again in the vicinity of White Oak Point.  There has been a great deal of speculation locally as to the identity of all parties involved, and this statement coming from the federal court will clear up that matter.”

Leo, Henry, and Paul Guertin were brothers.  At the time of the arrests, they lived with their parents, Paul Sr. and Mary, on a farm at White Oak Point about six miles south of Deer River.  Andy Walker’s farm was four miles northwest of Deer River on what is now County Road 46, and Ben Peterson lived nearby.  Dr. Dumas lived in the village of Deer River.  The other men involved in the moonshine operation were located in St. Louis County. 

Of course, my interest was piqued by the last statement in the article, “there has been a great deal of speculation locally as to the identity of all parties involved and this statement coming from the federal court will clear up that matter.” Therefore, I was disappointed when none of the trial details were available in later local newspapers.

Dumas Convicted on Liquor Count ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 12-23-1931

“In a verdict handed down by a jury in Federal Court in Duluth Friday morning, Dr. Delbert F. Dumas, Bemidji physician, was found guilty on manufacturing liquor.  A sealed verdict had been returned in the case the night before after the jury had deliberated three and one-half hours.  Sentencing was continued by Judge William Cant to 10 a.m. Monday, Dec 28.  A.M. Carey of Minneapolis, attorney for Dr. Dumas, asked for a stay, claiming that Dr. Dumas is in a serious condition physically.  Pending an examination, Dr. Dumas is out on a $10,000 bond.

“Dr. Dumas faces a maximum sentence under the Jones act of five years in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth and $10,000 fine.  Although indicted on three counts involved in connection with the operation of a still on a farm four miles from Deer River in the fall of 1928, possession of mash and manufacturing of liquor, the first two charges were dismissed at the opening of the trial, and the defendant tried in the manufacturing count.

“Arthur Haglund of Hibbing, a partner in the truck firm who testified for the government that he hauled sugar and supplies to the farm and was indicted with Dr. Dumas, was released yesterday.  Mike Knozovich of Hibbing, another defendant, was also released.  Ben Peterson and Andy Walker, owner of the farm, also indicted with Dr. Dumas, who had pleaded guilty earlier in the week, were placed on probation.  Peterson was given a year and a day at Leavenworth and paroled for two years.  Walker’s sentence was continued to December 1933, with a two-year parole clause included. Five other men indicted with Dr. Dumas have not been apprehended.”

On Monday, Dec 28, Judge William Cant sentenced Dr. Dumas to serve 3½ years in the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, and that he also pay a fine of $2500.  Dumas’ attorney, A. M. Cary, indicated he would ask the circuit court of appeals for a new trial.  I could find no further mention of this and had to search before I eventually located brief notes about the case in the Iron Range Magnet News of the Week column.

Jan 29, 1932 ~ “Dumas has been granted an additional stay until Feb 17, according to an Associated Press dispatch from Duluth, which stated there was no federal judge in Duluth at the present time. At the time of sentencing, counsel for Dr. Dumas intimated an appeal would be made.”

Feb 26, 1932 ~ “Dr. D.F. Dumas’ sentence has again been extended until Mar 1, as Judge Cant is ill.”

I could find no more information on Dumas until 1934 when he is listed in the Bemidji City Directory as a physician!  He died in 1939 and was interred beside his parents in the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.  I believe there is much more to Delbert Frederick Dumas. When the Gale Library at the Minnesota Historical Society is open once again, I will pursue my research there.  If Cary appealed his case, the court documents should be on file.