“Cold Blast” Equals Winter Fun 

1.15.2023 [archived ~ originally published 1.18.2018]

Deer River News Jan 10, 1929

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

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

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

The Ice Path

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

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

Sleigh Rides and Parties

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

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

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

Skates and Snowshoes

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

“Orin Patrow of Evergreen made a flying trip to Bigfork early Friday morning, coming all the way from his home on skates.” [Bigfork Settler 2-23-1911]

“HD Horton and Ed Carlson skated up the river to town a distance of about twenty miles and report this as being the quickest way they have ever made the trip, making it in one and a half hours.” [Bigfork Settler 12-18-1913]

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

Sleds, Toboggans and Barrel Staves

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

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

Ski Tournament in Coleraine

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

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

On the Banks of the Bigfork

1.8.2023 [archived ~ originally posted 1.18.2016]

*Apparently the poet did not know that although the name of the town is one word, when referring to the river it is spelled Big Fork.

On the Banks of the Bigfork is a poem and song that has been included in several books about Bigfork.  The first time I read it I was a kid at my grandparent’s cabin on Batson Lake.  It was a cold rainy day, and I was looking for something to read.  Over the years I had read and re-read old Boys Life and Science Digest magazines stored on the porch, so I was pleased to have found a thin booklet entitled “On the Banks of the Bigfork”.  There was a photograph of Scenic State Park’s Chase Point on the cover and the notation that it was produced in celebration of Bigfork’s Golden Jubilee. On the inside cover was the poem.

On The Banks of the Bigfork Far Away

Round my Minnesota homestead waves the forests,

With its mighty wealth of cedar, pine and spruce,

Far remote from the haunts of civilization,

Where my neighbors are the bear, the deer and moose.


Oh, the moon is fair tonight, along the Bigfork;

From the marshes comes the breath of new-mown hay;

Through the timbers tall the settlers fires are gleaming,

On the banks of the Bigfork far away.

In the foreground runs the roaring Bigfork River,

Just past my little shanty built of logs.

Here contented I could live on forever,

With my wife and babies and my dog.


It is here we relish fish and venison gravy,

And we bid all strife and envy to depart;

For the glorious peace that passeth understanding

Can be found only here at Nature’s heart.


You may talk about the pleasures of the city,

And the comforts to be had on every hand;

But I wouldn’t trade away my little homestead

For all the gold and silver in the land.


Last winter I was amazed when I found this poem in the April 26, 1906, issue of the Bigfork Settler newspaper.  The editor prefaced it with: “The following verses will give the home seekers some idea of what the settlers here think of the Bigfork country.”  The original title was “On the Banks of the Bigfork” and at the end of the poem credit was given – “By Geo Rahier.”  I knew that name!

On my mother’s side I am related to some of the Knotts, who are related to the Rahier’s. In fact, it used to be said that almost anyone living in the Effie area could say they were somehow related to this prolific family.  I knew the Rahiers had come from Wright County not long after the Scheers, Cochrans and a handful of others when land opened for homesteading at the turn of the century.  I knew George Rahier had been murdered in 1911. But I didn’t know he was a poet, which is what intrigued me most about my 1906 discovery.

I looked again at the 1956 Bigfork Golden Jubilee booklet, also an updated book printed in 1976 and the Bigfork Centennial book done in 2007.  All had the poem, but none had George Rahier’s name attached or any explanation of where it had come from.  The original poem was changed in 1956 and this became the accepted version. Some words were updated, the verses rearranged and grammar corrected.  The Centennial even included music, though no credit is given for the composition.

Before I got very far in my research, l realized that when the poem was presumably written, it was possible there were four George Rahier living in the Effie community.  With my history detective persona could I figure out which George was the poet?  I decided to give it a try and admit I spent a lot of time on the research – but loved every minute.

The Rahier name first hit the papers in January 1903 when John, his second wife Celina and children arrived in Deer River.

A Large Family ~ Itasca News 1-24-1903

“Speaking of coming west, etc., there was a family who got off from the train Thursday that created a gaze of curiosity owing to the great number of children in it.  At a glance everybody knew they were going up into the woods to make a home, and, as there were some good-sized girls among them, naturally some of homesteaders’ boys were immediately interested (amongst whom we noticed Charlie Dickson) thinking they might be lucky enough to have the newcomers for near neighbors.  The family went over to the Northern Hotel, and to save time and space, the clerk Joe Bond, put only the name of the head of the family on the register, and someone came along and wrote after the name ‘and 22.’

Mr. J.B. Rahier is head of this family, which by the way is not so large as reported.  He has twenty-two children, but only seven are here.  Mr. Rahier is from Annandale and is on his way to township 62-26.  He has a dozen head of livestock and intends to do farming on a large scale.”

I used different colors in my notes to follow the lives of the Georges as they were often intertwined and have summarized the information as follows, starting with the most senior.  

George Rahier #1 was born in 1851.  The 1870 census was the oldest document on Ancestry.com where his name was listed.  At that time he was single and farming with his parents Joseph and Ann in Albion, Wright County.  By 1875 he was married and living on his own.  In about 1890 George moves to Morrison County where he homesteads 160 acres and in 1905 is still living there with his wife and children.  By 1910 George is residing in township 62-26 near Effie and died in August 1912.

George Herbert Rahier #2 was born in 1875 and is the son George #1.  He is often referred to as Jr. but I have not yet found a middle name for his father so assume the junior was just to keep them separate.  In 1900 George Jr. and his young wife Hattie were living with his parents in Morrison County and according to the Minnesota Birth Index their second child was born there in November 1904.  I could not locate George Jr. in 1905, but their daughter was born in Itasca County in December 1906.  Based on the date of his homestead patent, George Jr. probably resided in township 62-25 sometime in 1905.  George Jr. was murdered near his home in July 1911.

George William Rahier #3 was born in 1876 and is the son John and Mary.  The 1880 census shows him living with his parents in Albion, Wright County.  He was also living with them there in 1900 and in 1905 they were all in township 62-26.  George W. homesteaded his own place in 1906 and may have gotten married based on this notice in the Bigfork Settler12-2-1909 “My wife Nancy Rahier, has left my bed and board without any cause or provocation whatever, therefore I will not be responsible for any bills that she may contract on and after this 2nd day of December 1909.  George Rahier.”  George was living on his homestead in 1910 and died in Itasca County in 1948.

George Alvin Rahier #4 was born in 1904 was the son of George #2.  Obviously he was not old enough to have written the poem, but may have been part of the inspiration.  So he is ruled out.

1 am going to  rule out George #1 because although 1 don’t know for sure when he moved up north, 1 do know that his wife Polly died in late 1907 in Morrison County and he most likely didn’t move until after her death.  That leaves George H. or Jr. and George W.

Re-reading the poem, there are several lines that provide a few more clues:

“Round my Minnesota homestead waves the forests” I looked on the Bureau of Land Management site to verify if each filed on a homestead.  They both had.

“In the foreground runs the roaring Bigfork River,” I located the homestead claims owned by George H. and George W. on the plat map.  Much to my dismay neither was on the Bigfork River!  As the crow flies, George H. was about two miles away and George W. quite a bit further.  Of course, the river was used extensively for transportation, fishing and recreation, and a few miles was just a hop, skip and a jump for settlers used to traveling a good distance for supplies.

“With my wife and babies and my dog.”  This was one of the lines that had been re-written.  The 1906 version was actually “With my wife and baby and dogs.” Since I knew George H. had two children by the time he had homesteaded, I wondered if perhaps George W. and the mysterious wife might have had a child.  But that remains unknown as I have found nothing more about Nancy Rahier.

Another possible clue comes from Ancestry.com where I found this notation “George Rahier Jr. who homesteaded in Effie, MN in 1904” attached to a photograph of the George H. family.  The photograph is the same as the one I shared from the collection of Len Knotts.  If George H. was in fact in Effie in 1904 before the birth of his second child (it is possible Hattie returned to Wright County to have her baby) and wrote the poem at that time, then the original line “With my wife and baby and dogs” would have been accurate. 

So, I guess unless new information comes to light, I will leave you to decide who wrote this poem.  As always, I welcome your thoughts! 

New Year’s Fortune

1.1.2023 [archived ~ originally published 1.1.2015]

Example of a Finnish casting and its shadow

Most of us are familiar with New Year’s traditions of resolutions, the countdown, “Auld Lange Syne” and fireworks. There are televised broadcasts that show celebrations as they are happening around the world. One tradition in the family I married into is that if you find living flies in your home on New Year’s Day it will be a prosperous new year. And even in wintery Minnesota, we sometimes do.

I have learned that certain foods are eaten for luck on New Year’s Eve or day such as black-eyed peas. In Spain one grape is eaten for each toll of the bell at midnight. In Italy it is one spoonful of lentil soup for the twelve chimes. Either brings good fortune as the round shape of the grapes and lentils represents coins. Incidentally black-eyed peas also symbolize prosperity because they swell so much when cooked.

In Greece it is tradition to eat vassilopita or King’s pie which contains a coin. Of course, whoever gets the coin in their piece of pie is sure to have good luck in the coming year. The person who finds a small China doll in their la galette des rois, a puff pastry filled with almond paste, in France becomes king or queen and gets to wear a gold crown for two whole weeks.

Wearing red underwear is a New Year’s tradition in Spain and Italy. Hmm, I wonder if that is why the original union suits were red…a future article, I think!  A Russian tradition is to keep silent for the last twelve seconds of the year and make your secret wishes for the next year.

One of the most intriguing traditions I have come across is from an interview with 70-year-old Cliff Niemala in 1996 when he talks briefly of casting metal fortunes. The interviewer, Elmer Mattila was one of several local historians interested in capturing the memories of folks that had settled in the communities north of Deer River. In January of that year, Elmer turned on his tape recorder and began asking Cliff questions about many aspects of his life. (The taped interview and transcription are at the Itasca County Historical Society as part of an extensive collection of oral histories.)

“They used to melt lead or silver of some kind. I suppose it was lead” Cliff said in response to Elmer’s question about traditions brought from the old country. Cliff explained that his father, Charlie came from Finland to Minnesota when he was only 6 years old. His mother Anna, also from Finland, was not much older when her family made the voyage. Charlie and Anna met, married and started a family in Menahga, Minnesota and then moved in the Otenagen area in 1925.

Cliff recalled that the lead came in bars and on New Year’s Eve under the supervision of adults, they would melt it and then toss it in cold water. The hardened metal would be examined, and fortunes told based on the figure. I have asked around but have not found anyone who still does this.

An online search provided the following information: Uudenvuodentina or the casting of metal is still done in Finland on New Year’s Eve. Everyone gets a small piece of lead, cast in the figure of a miniature horseshoe. The horseshoe is melted, and the liquid metal poured quickly in a bucket of cold water, making it harden into a more or less irregular-shaped, solid clump.

The shape and shadow of the resulting cast are examined and interpreted to predict the various future events of the coming year. The figures are often interpreted not only literally, but also symbolically: a bubbly surface refers to money, a fragile or broken shape misfortune. Ships refer to travel, keys to career advancement, a basket means a good mushroom year, and a horse means a new car.

Several years ago, I bought a cast iron ladle at an estate sale, and it will work perfectly for me to melt some old sinkers or wheel weights. I am eager to see what I learn. As for the flies, I did have some dancing against the window just before Christmas, so I hope a few more hatch out this week!

Vintage Toy Story


With the deluge of Christmas advertising upon us, it’s hard to imagine that back in the early 1900s there were very few manufactured toys.  In fact, less than a dozen are listed on an advertisement from the Brooks’ store in Deer River.  The Grandest Line of X-Mas Toys ~ Little Dolls, Big Dolls, Everything for the children…toy sheep, horns, blocks, horses, whistles, sleds, books, balls, games.” 

The limited selection prompted me to explore the history of toys that are still popular today. I have chosen eight that were created prior to 1920.

Jigsaw Puzzle (1767) ~ Surprisingly, the first jigsaw puzzle was made as an educational tool for children to learn geography. It was produced by John Spilsbury, a London engraver and mapmaker. He came up with the idea to mount a map onto hardwood and, using a fine saw, cut around the borders of each country. By the 1850s jigsaw puzzles of picturesque scenes had become entertainment.

Even during the financial downswings, puzzles were viewed as a good investment because they provided a good deal of fun for a small price. The jigsaw puzzle could be a solitary or group activity and would occupy one’s time for hours. And, of course, a jigsaw puzzle was “recyclable,” in that it could be broken up once it was completed and passed on to another family member or friend

Lionel Trains (1901) ~ Joshua Lionel Cowan, designed his first train, the Electric Express, not as a toy, but to attract window-shopping New Yorkers using the power of animated displays.  Cowan was walking through lower Manhattan when he stopped at a toy store window where he saw, among the toys, a push train. He then had the vision of it going around a circle of track without needing attention and that was the image which started the Lionel train and brought it from store windows to households.

Cowan married Cecelia Liberman in1904, and their son, Lawrence, became the company’s emblem on their boxes and in catalogs. Years later he was the president of the company.  Since its humble beginning, Lionel has sold more than 50 million train sets and today produces more than 300 miles of track each year.

Teddy Bear (1902) ~ According to history.com, “the story behind this timeless toy goes back to 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a tied-up, defenseless black bear during a hunting trip in Mississippi. After Brooklyn shopkeeper Morris Mictom saw a political cartoon about the incident, he and his wife made a stuffed fabric ‘Teddy’s bear’ and put it in their shop window, sparking immediate customer interest.” About the same time, the Stieff family-owned toy company in Germany began making stuffed bears of its own.

Crayons (1903) ~ The (Edward) Binney and (C. Harold) Smith Company had made industrial coloring products for a long time.  It was shortly after they developed the Staonal marking crayons, that Binney, working with his wife, Alice, came up with their famous Crayola brand of crayons. Alice created the name Crayola by combining the French word for chalk, craie, with the first part of oleaginous, the oily paraffin wax used to make the crayon.

The Crayola line started in 1903 with The Rubens targeted towards artists and designed to compete with the Raphael brand of crayons from Europe.  In 1904 Crayola won the coveted Gold Medal at the St. Louis World’s Fair for their An-du-Septic dustless chalk and soon changed the packaging of all their products to the Gold Medal design which was used for over fifty years.

Erector Set (1913) ~ Alfred C. Gilbert was a talented athlete (he won a gold medal in the pole vault in the 1908 Olympics), brilliant student, and an inventor. He frequently took the train to New York City, and on one trip in 1911 he was inspired by what would be the most popular of his dozens of inventions.

Wikipedia stated that “watching out the train window as some workmen positioned and riveted the steel beams of an electrical power-line tower, Gilbert decided to create a children’s construction kit; not just a toy, but an assemblage of metal beams with evenly spaced holes for bolts to pass through, screws, bolts, pulleys, gears and eventually even engines. A British toy manufacturer, Meccano Company was then selling a similar kit, but

Gilbert’s Erector set was more realistic and had a number of technical advantages – most notably, steel beams that were not flat but bent lengthwise at a 90-degree angle, so that four of them nested side-to-side formed a very sturdy, square, hollow support beam…

…Gilbert began selling the ‘Mysto Erector Structural Steel Builder’ in 1913, backed by the first major American ad campaign for a toy.  By the time of his death in 1962, he was credited with 150 patents for the inventions that went into his products, which were really much more than just toys.”

Tinkertoy (1914) ~ Charles Pajeau, a stonemason, designed the toy after seeing children play with sticks and empty spools of thread. He partnered with Robert Pettit and Gordon Tinker and marketed a product that would allow and inspire children to use their imaginations. The sets were introduced to the public through displays in and around Chicago which included model Ferris wheels.

The cornerstone of the set is a wooden spool roughly two inches in diameter with holes drilled every 45 degrees around the perimeter and one through the center. Unlike the center, the perimeter holes do not go all the way through. Sticks of varying lengths could be inserted in the holes and umpteen three-dimensional designs created. 

One of Tinker Toy’s most distinctive features is the packaging. Initially, the mailing tube design was chosen to reduce shipping costs. Early versions of the packaging even included an address label on the tube with space for postage.

Lincoln Logs (1916) ~ John Lloyd Wright was a son of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  John worked with his father on the design of Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel.  Faced with the challenge of building a structure that could withstand the powerful earthquakes that regularly shook Japan, Frank Lloyd Wright sketched an ingenious design that relied on a system of interlocking timber beams that would allow the hotel to sway but not collapse in case of a tremor.

John and his father parted ways during this project and using the blueprint for the Imperial Hotel as a model, John created a toy construction set that consisted of notched pieces of wood that children could stack to build log cabins, forts, and other rustic buildings. The interlocking system of miniature logs could withstand rowdy play and would not topple like blocks.

Lincoln Logs came with instructions to build not only Abraham Lincoln’s Kentucky boyhood home, but a famous log structure from the pages of American literature, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Raggedy Ann (1918) ~ Raggedy Ann is a character created by American writer Johnny Gruelle in 1915 in a series of books he wrote and illustrated for young children.  Raggedy Ann was introduced to the public in the 1918 book Raggedy Ann Stories. When the doll was marketed with the book, the concept had great success. A sequel, Raggedy Andy Stories (1920), presented the character of her brother, Raggedy Andy.

So, now you know the story behind some of the toys you played with as a child, or those you might see your children, grandchildren or great grandchildren playing with this holiday season.  And remember, you’re never too old to color, hug a teddy bear or Raggedy Ann, or build with Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, or an Erector Set!

Christmas Memories Part I ~ Homestead Nursing Home

12.18.2022 [archived ~ originally published 12.11.2014]

I published this series over three consecutive weeks eight years ago! I will publish every couple days during this week.

Christmas for Sally, Erick, Eleanor, and Esther is a time of special memories.  Like most children who grew up on rural farms in the 1920s and 1930s, the emphasis was on family, community, and church.  I had a chance to visit with folks at Homestead Nursing Home and am sharing some of their memories in this column and the next two.

On the farm in Mott, North Dakota, where Sally was born in 1924, the Christmas tree was artificial because there were very few evergreens.  “We had real candles, but only on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning” she explained.  “My sisters and I had to sit and play very quietly, and the folks kept watch on the candles.”  They had popcorn on the tree, but Sally didn’t remember any other ornaments. 

“My mother had a beautiful fold out garland that was tacked to the ceiling and went to all four corners of the room.  It had a bell that hung down from the middle.”  Sally’s parents were both from Norway, so their Christmas included krumkake which was made using a pan similar to a waffle iron, on the wood cook stove.  Krumkake is quite thin and before it cools, it is rolled up.  The main meal was krub, also called blood sausage.  It was made in a loaf pan, sliced, fried, and served with melted butter. 

“Our Sunday school always had a Christmas program at the church.  We sang some songs together, and then took turns reciting a piece that we had each learned.  One year my older sister and I sang together, and our father accompanied us on the violin.  Dad played the introduction, and we started singing.  For some reason my sister quit singing, so I quit singing and hid behind my sister.  My dad said he might as well quit too, but they talked him into playing, which he did.”  

“It was all girls in our family so mom tried to make each of the four of us a new dress for Christmas, I don’t remember much about toys for presents.”  Sally does recall a favorite gift was a pair of green handknit mittens.

Erick remembers mittens too. “Nellie Wadman was a really nice neighbor lady whose children were grown, and she always knit socks and mittens for us a Christmas.”  Erick was born in Spring Lake in 1930.  His parents and older brother emigrated from Sweden in 1923, settling in the area because Erick’s uncle was living there. 

“Oh, Christmas was special.  There would be a big program at Little Sand Lake School which included a visit from Santa.  He would also come to our house on Christmas Day.”  Erick admits he was a little afraid of him and for many years did not know who it was.  “We had a Christmas tree with candles both at school and at home.  My mom made cookies, though I can’t remember the names of them, I know I ate plenty.  We usually went to my aunt and uncles for Christmas dinner and always had Swedish meatballs.”  His face lights up and he says, “They were my favorite then and they still are now.” 

Erick also remembers his mom making a Christmas pudding and sewing shirts for him and his brother.  The most memorable present he received was a top from Santa when he came to the house.  “It was the metal kind that you push down on the top a few times and watched it whiz around on the floor.”

For 84-year-old Eleanor, her childhood Christmas’ were a time of mixed memories.  When she was about nine years old, two family members were killed in a vehicle-train accident.  “My parents were Polish, and dad was taking his mother, my grandmother, to the Catholic Church in Ball Club for the Christmas service.  Two of my sisters and I were to go with, but I couldn’t find my white socks.  It was very important that we wear white socks to church at that time.  Anyway, my mom was working in the barn, and I couldn’t find my socks, so I just stayed home.  As it turned out it was a blessing, as who knows what might have happened.  The train didn’t blow its whistle, and the car was struck.  Dad and my grandmother died, and my sisters were taken to the hospital in Grand Rapids as there wasn’t one in Deer River.”

After that, Eleanor’s mother raised the rest of the family on her own.  She did what she could on their meager income to make the holiday fun.  Usually there were homemade clothes and maybe a small toy for presents.  Her mom always hid the presents in the house for them on Christmas day.  Eleanor and her sisters and brothers put out a clean sock on Christmas Eve and found it filled with goodies in the morning.  “My mom was a real good woman.  We didn’t have much but she took care of us kids real good, and she loved to laugh while we searched for those presents!”

Esther was born in Denmark, New York in 1934.  She was the oldest of eight and helped her mother care for her younger sisters and brothers.  “At Christmas we had a real tree that dad cut and brought in the house.  We decorated it with popcorn, though we ate a lot of it, and ornaments.  Some of them were my grandmother’s and very fancy.  We did not have candles on the tree as there were too many children running around in our house.” 

The food Esther remembers included pumpkin pie and carrot pie, which was her father’s favorite. Most of their presents were homemade.  Her mother made clothes for them from the bright and cheerful feed sacks, and dolls from mens socks.

“I remember one year I was in town with my mother, and I saw a beautiful doll in the store window.  I told her that was what I wanted for Christmas.  I was so surprised to see it under the tree, and so disappointed when I saw that it had my younger sister’s name on it!” 

One of Esther’s favorite gifts was a scaled down ironing board that her father made for her.  “I used the same iron as my mom, heating it up on the stove, and ironing my own clothes.”  With a smile and a nod, she added, “I have always been very particular about my clothes.”

Sally, Erick, Eleanor, and Esther all remember getting an orange or an apple and nuts, along with a little hard candy.  Their overall favorite seems to be the colorful Christmas ribbon candy.

Sportsman’s Cafe ~ 50 cent coffee for 40 years!

12.11.2022 [archived ~ originally published 11.19.2018]

To tell the history of the Sportsman’s Cafe means starting a little further back in history, but first, an explanation as to the spelling of the name. The original spelling, decided in 1949 was Sportsmen’s, but over time and apparently with nothing deliberate on any one individuals’ part, it there has been changes. Newspaper articles through the 1960s spelled it Sportsmen’s and so did the local phone book. During the 1960s the phone book spelling was Sportsman or Sportsmans.  It appears that by the mid-1970s the phone book and newspaper advertising was Sportsman’s Cafe, as it is today.

Three other Deer River restaurants of the past are intertwined, to create what we all know as the only place in town to get a homemade caramel roll and a bottomless cup of coffee for under a $1.50!  They are Harmond’s, Campbells, and Arrowhead cafes.

Deer River Restaurants Through the 1930s

There have been many restaurants in the village of Deer River through the years.  Some of the oldest listed in order of advertisements beginning in 1897 are: Little Harry’s, Willis Block Cafe, Globe Cafe, Itasca Hotel Cafe, Ideal Restaurant, Lou’s Place, Liberty Hotel Cafe, Pete’s Corner, Miller Hotel Restaurant, Finley’s Hot Lunch, Itasca Cafe, Brownie’s Snak Shack and St. Peter Delicatessen Lunch Room.

It doesn’t appear that there were ever more than three or four operating at once and I suspect new owners changed the name at least some of the time.  For instance, I do know that the Itasca Hotel Cafe was bought by Thomas Finley and became Finley’s Hot Lunch.  In 1931 Finley sold to Howard and Ellen Harmond, who renamed the business Harmond Cafe. 

Changes in 1935

Prohibition had ended, and the village of Deer River decided to establish a municipal liquor store.  The location they had in mind required a few businesses to shuffle around.  Campbell Lunch, which was started by Malcolm and Phoebe Campbell in the early 1930s was pivotal to these changes.

In mid-January, a jewelry store moved – “As soon as Mr. Scharfenberg had vacated his former store, M. Campbell began the work of remodeling it for occupancy by his restaurant and beer parlor.  As soon as the building can be made ready, Mr. Campbell will move out of his present quarters which have been leased by the village for the municipal liquor store.” [Itasca News 1-24]

A couple of days later the second move was made “The new Harmond Cafe opens in the former Henry Herreid Clothing store building.” [Itasca News 1-24]

And finally, the following week – “What is probably the last of the shifts to accommodate changes in the business section of the village was made Tuesday night, when the Campbell lunch was moved into the building formerly occupied by the Harmond Cafe but purchase by Mr. Campbell last month. This shift paves the way for opening the municipal liquor here, which will be conducted in the building just vacated by the Campbell Lunch.  The work of preparation was started yesterday, and it is expected the store will be open for business next Monday…” [Itasca News 2-7]

In 1940, Howard Harmond died unexpectedly, and I am not sure how much longer the Harmond Cafe was open, but I assume it became the Arrowhead Cafe because they also occupied the Henry Herreid Clothing building.  The Campbell Cafe changed hands at some point and by the late 1940s was owned by Bill Brewster.

Sportsmen’s Cafe 1949-1998

Albert “Al” Wohlenhaus bought the Campbell Cafe from Brewster in November 1949. The cafe was the 1st or 2nd building to the east of the Neville corner (what is now Cinderella’s Closet). Wohlenhaus wanted to do a complete remodel and name change for the restaurant.  The remodeling began in December and was completed in April, with very little time lost serving meals.

In December, he also advertised a contest for a new name for the cafe and the winner was Mrs. Gerald Swanson. Her suggestion was Sportsmen’s Cafe.  And as the winner, she was presented with a $5 meal ticket equal to over $50 today.  Chances are a cup of coffee was not much over a nickel.

Wohlenhaus had acquired quite a collection of animal mounts and proudly displayed them on the east and west walls of the cafe above the high wooden booths. He had the front of the building redone in log siding in 1953 to enhance the theme, and an advertisement in the 1956 Deer River phone book proclaimed the cafe had “Northwest’s Largest Collection of Wildlife.”

Beryl (Rasley) Lee, 99 years of age, was a waitress at this time. “Those animals,” she said, “we girls had to dust them.  One time this other waitress was with me, and it was a slow time of the day.  She was polishing the eye on the moose.  I was standing behind her and said moo and boy did she ever jump.” Beryl chuckled and with a twinkle in her eye added, “You had to have fun once in a while!”

Sadly, this collection of wildlife mounts was destroyed in a late night fire in January1960 which burned the cafe and the adjacent bakery to the ground. No one was hurt in the fire, and the affected businesses had insurance. Wohlenhaus was undeterred and immediately started over in the vacant building in the same block, which had housed both the Harmond and Arrowhead Cafes. 

He and his wife Jeanette were well known for their friendly and courteous service and excellent food.  They were civic-minded, and he was the mayor of Deer River for a number of years.  The restaurant prospered even without all the animal mounts.  Wohlenhaus died in 1969, and the Sportsmen’s continued under the watchful management of Jeanette, though the price of coffee steadily increased, as it did everywhere.

Charlene (Stangland) Benson began working at the Sportsmen’s after in 1985, and she recalls that a cup of coffee was fifty cents.  In late 1992 when Jeanette was ready to retire (at age 76), Charlene bought the restaurant from her.  She changed a few things, got a new sign for out front, but she didn’t increase the price of the coffee! 

Sportsman’s Cafe 1998-2018

Heather Howsen had been working in local restaurants since she was fourteen years old, so when she heard there was an opportunity to own one, she made it happen. In May 1998, Heather became the owner of the Sportsman’s Cafe.  Her son was only two years old, and there were many long days and short nights, but over the last 30 years, the hours have become not manageable, Heather says “But I can take a vacation.” 

She built up the business and put what she could back into it. Little by little most everything mechanical has been upgraded, and the dining area reconfigured for better seating (remember the old orange booths?) Basically, the only thing that hasn’t changed is the location of the bathroom.  Or so Heather thought.

Part of my research for this article led me to Peg Huotari. She was a waitress at the Arrowhead Cafe in 1956 when it was in the same place that Sportsman’s now occupies.  Peg explained that the counter and stools are the same as they were when she worked there.  Heather has no reason to disagree, “They were here, she said. “But I have painted and recovered them.”

Since it has been determined that a restaurant has occupied the location since Harmond’s moved into the building in 1935, there is a possibility that the stools could be over eighty years old! 

Heather proudly admits that one of the most notable successes of the Sportsman’s is the dedicated staff.  There is about half a dozen that that been working with her for 10-15 years.  That kind of longevity is a goal in any business, but in restaurants, it means not just repeat customers, but those that come in a couple times a week.  Customers who know the names of the staff and who are greeted by name. Customers who know that the item they order from the menu with taste pretty much the same as the last time they had it, no matter who is cooking.

The Sportsman’s has become a community center.  It is where the meals for seniors are served, where you can get a cup of coffee before the lights are turned on or where you can learn the latest news of an ill neighbor.  Heather and the staff help give back the people of Deer River with communitywide and single person fund-raisers. It seems there is always something on the end of the counter encouraging a lending hand. 

Heather is pleased with all she has done with Sportsman’s.  She and her dedicated staff look forward to many more years of being a gathering place in Deer River.  Heather assured me her mother’s caramel roll recipe will not change, and neither will the price of coffee! 

Waitressing In the 1950s During the 1950s and early 1960s, Beryl (Rasley) Lee worked at several of the Deer River restaurants. “We wore uniforms, green at Campbells and white at Sportsmen’s.  I can’t remember what color at Arrowhead, but always an apron or a smock over it.”   Beryl remembers a schoolteacher who came into Sportsman’s for breakfast every day and requested a sandwich that wasn’t on the menu.  “She always had toasted peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwich.”  This sounded familiar to me, so I asked Beryl if the was the sandwich Elvis Presley was famous for. She thought it might have been.   Peg (Cronkhite) Huotari began waitressing at Arrowhead Cafe in May 1956 at the age of fifteen. “I started at 11:00 p.m.,” she said. “The night before the opening of fishing. I wasn’t familiar with Deer River as we lived in Cohasset.  My mom just dropped me off out front, and right behind us was a carload of guys that were stopping at the restaurant.  Katie, the owner, told me to put my apron on and start with the booth where the young men had sat down.  They’ll just order coffee.” It was a busy night, but Peg made it through and was later trained in by Beryl.   Though Peg’s waitressing was only for the summer between her junior and senior year, she really enjoyed it. “The tips were good,” she said, and that’s where I met my husband!”  Peg told me about a prune pie that is a favorite in the family.  “You take the pits out of the prunes and put a walnut in its place. Then cover the crust with the prunes, and then cover with a thickened sauce made from the juice.” Her mother was a neighbor, and good friends with the Arrowhead cook, the recipe was passed on and became favorite at the cafe as well.

Wolf Tails

12.4.2022 [archived ~ originally published 12.7.2017]

When my grandparents were in their eighties, they still liked to travel the gravel roads between Bigfork, their log cabin, and Marcell.  Always within easy reach, was a camera perched on the dashboard ready to capture a rainbow, sunset or wildlife.  One summer afternoon they rounded a corner just as a pair of wolves crossed the road. 

Gramps slowed to a stop as Gram reached for the camera.  Both watched in amazement as three more wolves filed out. Gram snapped as many pictures as she could before the pack slipped silently through the woods.  In one photo she had five of the wolves, which were considered an endangered species in Minnesota. 

At the turn of the century, the wolves were quite a nuisance in northern Itasca County.  It seems that the logging which changed the landscape brought deer in, and also their prey,  wolves.   The January 3, 1903, Itasca News explains: “It is a truth being proven in this new section of country that as a country develops wolves begin making their appearance.  A few years ago wolves were unheard of between Deer River and Canada, a distance of 100 miles.  Now the hideous yelp of the brutes are common in the Big Fork region, and Henry Denny, a local fur dealer is trapping them on the outskirts of the village.”

The bounty at that time was $7 for a carcass of a full-grown wolf anytime from January through May and $5 in the other months.  A cub was worth $3 at any time of the year. Some settlers and farmers did trap and hunt the wolf, and others had close encounters.

Below are accounts of some of their experiences.

Run for Their Lives ~ Bigfork Settler 12-1-1903

“Bert Hall and Stephen Black, two loaders in the employ of Sam Simpson, a logger operating in the territory came near being killed by wolves last Friday.

They were a mile from camp and on their way in from work when the howl of a wolf half a mile off the road attracted their attention.  The men hastened toward camp, but did not apprehend any real danger.  In a few minutes a wolf was heard at a much closer range.  Then several were heard at various points.

They could think of nobody that the wolves had in view for supper but themselves and they broke into a run.  It was half a mile to camp and as they ran as fast as they could crying out at short intervals to attract the attention of the men at camp if possible.  Hall stopped long enough to pick up a stake from beside the road, to use in case of emergency.  Three wolves were running cautiously behind the men when they were a short distance from camp, and the howls of others indicated that a large pack was gathering.

The men arrived breathless at the camp, the three wolves following them to within 150 feet of the cabin door.  Ten minutes later the howls of the wolves in the vicinity indicated that a great pack had assembled.”

A Fight with Wolves ~ Itasca News 8-29-1903

“Frank Caldwell of the Big Fork was in town Wednesday and had an interesting story to relate of experience with a pack of five wolves near Virginia Lake.  He was on his way home in the afternoon when he suddenly came upon a bunch of the ‘varmits.’  They immediately showed fight and there was nothing left for Frank to do but fought back.  He was armed with a large Colt’s revolver which he used with deadly effect on three, when the other two circled around and made their escape.  As evidence of the exciting encounter, he brought a scalp to town.” Frank Caldwell was born in NY in 1869.  The 1910 United States census documents him living and farming in Popple Township with his wife and eight children.

Wolves ~ Itasca News 3-31-1905

“Bass Lake settler Henry Mattson gets lost while walking home from terminus of Itasca Company railroad, is followed by wolves and saved when he lights candles to hold them off until daylight.  Mattson then shouldered his sack of provisions and trudged on home.”

The topic of wolves was covered in the Up in This Neck of the Woods column of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review, April 8, 1948, and included another hair-raising story.  “George Scott, whose farm is just inside the Cass county border on Mud lake, tells another story of wolves.  He was walking along a trail in deep woods one moonlit night.  The moon was so bright that on wider stretches of the path it was almost as bright as day. 

The howl of wolves reached his ears, and he hastened his steps automatically, although he was certain wolves would not threaten him.  The savage sounds came nearer and nearer, and by this time he admits he was alarmed.  George Scott hastily climbed a tree and watched the path below.

Three large wolves came bounding along the trail just as he settled himself in the branches.  The wolves were on the hunt, all right, but they were after a deer which was racing along a few feet ahead of them.  Mr. Scott descended and continued his journey.”

Although Gram and Gramps looked for the wolves on every outing, they never saw another one.  Gram had wanted to paint what they had seen, but time got away from her.  Gramps secreted one of the photos away, had it painted and framed as a surprise for her.  Married for sixty-six years, they had shared many experiences together, but this was one that left them both momentarily speechless.

Answers to the 1924 Thanksgiving Word Scramble

11.24.2022 Thanksgiving Special Part 2

[1] TRSIFU                                         FRUIT

[2] TSEWE SOOAETTP                    SWEET POTATOES

[3] SNTS                                             NUTS

[4] EEYLCR                                       CELERY

[5] EPKPPMNUII                              PUMPKIN PIE

[6] KCNCIEH UPOS                         CHICKEN SOUP                  

[7] RLEAY CKEA                             LAYER CAKE

[8] EANIRRREBSC                           CRANBERRIES

[9] YUTEKR                                      TURKEY

[11] EOSLVI                                      OLIVES

[10] LPMUDGNDUIP                       PLUM PUDDING

[12] RDABE                                       BREAD

[13] CILSEPK                                    PICKLES

[14] DCISEAN                                   CANDIES

[15] PIPEPLAE                                  APPLE PIE

“Milk Fed Turkeys for Sale” Thanksgiving 1921-1940

11.24.2022 Thanksgiving Special

Last November the Reminisce column focused on local events taking place around the Thanksgiving holiday between the years of 1898 to 1920. At that time, domesticated birds were shipped in from southern Minnesota, but by the mid-1920s the domesticated birds were being raised in Itasca County.

For the numerous farm households of the area, Thanksgiving also signified the end of the fall harvest and beginning of the cold and snowy months. Everything that could be canned was, and the root cellar contained any vegetables and fruits which would survive the elements in a banked shelter.

The following snippets are gathered from newspaper articles and advertisements published in local papers from 1921-1940.


The communities of Deer River and Grand Rapids were growing, as were the number of grocery stores. These are two unique ways proprietors enticed shoppers to make purchases. The first is an advertisement that was done jointly by fifteen businesses in Grand Rapids. A prize of two dollars was awarded to the first correct set of answers reaching the Herald Review office. The second prize of one dollar, aimed at readers living outside Grand Rapids, was awarded for the most attractively arranged and correct answers received by a specified date.

Items for Your Thanksgiving Table! What Will They be? ~ Grand Rapids Herald Review 11-19-1924

“Remember ‘way back when as youngsters you used to wonder ‘what all’ was going to be on that Thanksgiving Dinner table? Perhaps even now, you’re anticipating sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner that will include every item that Mother or Grandmother never forgot!

What do you hope or think those food items will be?  The answers set in ‘shuffled’ type appear at the top of each advertisement on this page [see collage]. Can you figure out what they are by rearranging the letters so that they form the name of some part of the complete Thanksgiving Dinner? Write your answers on a separate sheet of paper, giving the corresponding advertisement with each item named.”

[1] TRSIFU                                        

[2] TSEWE SOOAETTP                   

[3] SNTU                                           

[4] EEYLCR                                      

[5] EPKPPMNUII                             

[6] KCNCIEH UPOS                                                

[7] RLEAY CKEA                            

[8] EANIRRREBSC                          

[9] YUTEKR                                     

[11] EOSLVI                                     

[10] LPMUDGNDUIP                      

[12] RDABE                                      

[13] CILSEPK                                   

[14] DCISEAN                                  


NOTE: The answers will be available on my blog: chrismarcottewrites.com on Thursday November 24th.

FREE Thanksgiving Turkey Passard’s Market – Deer River ~ Itasca News 11-3-1927

“Beginning Friday Nov. 4th, and continuing until we lock up on Saturday evening, Nov. 19th, we will give each customer a coupon for every 25-cent cash purchase or for every similar amount paid on account.

Every coupon gives you a chance to win.  Three prizes will be offered, as follows:

FIRST PRIZE  – 30-Pound Turkey

SECOND PRIZE – 12-Pound Turkey

THIRD PRIZE – 5-Pound Chicken

A coupon will also be given for every 25-cent admission ticket purchased at the Lyceum Theater between the above dates.”

Raising Turkeys

“In 1925 Mr. and Mrs. John Henrikson of Busti purchased three white turkey hens and one gobbler. The birds were evidently frightened by their surroundings as they immediately sought security in the highest trees. It was some days before they were convinced that it was safe nearer the ground. The following fall the Henriksons had a total of seventeen turkeys to market.” [On the Banks of the Bigfork 1956 page 27]

A couple years later, Mammoth Bronze turkeys for breeding were being sold by Mrs. Maude Blythe of Inger, MN. They were priced at $10 for toms and $7 for hens. The advertisement from early November also stated she had “fine, fat turkeys for your Thanksgiving dinner at prices that are right.” [Itasca News 11-3-1927]

During the next few years farmers purchased eggs and hatched them in incubators for their small flocks. This must have been considered a lucrative enterprise at the time, as Tom Erickson of Effie invested in 1,000 young turkey chicks for his flock in 1932.

The Henriksons stayed in the turkey business for at least fifteen years as Mrs. Henrikson had an advertisement for dressed (pluck and cleaned) turkeys. “Orders taken now for Milk Fed Turkeys for delivery anytime from now until November 9th. Young Hens 10-12 lbs. 24 cents/lb. Young Toms 16-20 lbs. 20 cents/lb. Will hold turkeys on which a deposit has been paid for Thanksgiving delivery.” [Progressive Times 10-17-1940]

School Activities

Thanksgiving Program Marks School Closing in Deer River ~ Itasca News 11-25-1926

“A very much enjoyed Thanksgiving program was given by the grade pupils in the school auditorium.  Every grade was represented in the program and the parts were well given.  The program follows:

1st grade Thanksgiving Greeting

2nd grade Finger play

3rd grade song ‘Over the River and Through the Woods’

4th grade dialogue ‘Thank You’

5th grade song ‘Pilgrim Maidens’

6th grade playlet ‘The Newlyweds’ Thanksgiving’ & song ‘Gobble, Gobble’

7th grade play ‘The Courtship of Myles Standish’

Recitations by Myrtle Kinder, Viola Allen, Richard Betsinger, Kathryn Wolfe, Ruby Palmer, Winifred Jones, Frances Wicklund, Margaret Venne, Albert Dezutter, and Beulah Hill.”

A Thanksgiving Dinner ~ Bigfork Times 11-28-1930

“The fourth graders wrote poems last week. The following was written by Lillian Peterson.

A Thanksgiving Dinner

Oh, we won’t be shy

I’ll have some turkey

And some pumpkin pie.

We also are thankful

That we are all here

And not in England

But in our land so dear.”

I believe the Lillian Peterson who wrote this is the daughter of John and Emma.  She was born in 1922, her middle name was Corrine, and she later married Chester Holt.


In the 1920s most people shared their holiday meal with relatives and friends who lived close. By the 1930s though, trains and busses offered discounted rates to encourage people to travel for the November holiday. Northland Greyhound ran a special in 1932 – “One way ticket price plus just 25 cents for round trip fare,” and the Great Northern Railway offered low round trip fares for two days on either side of the Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving is Festal Day Here ~ Itasca News 11-26-1925

“Deer River people are observing the Thanksgiving feast in the real spirit of the day. Local housewives have been busy attempting to excel each other in the preparation of delicacies that are guaranteed to tempt the most stubborn palate.  Family reunions are being held in large numbers.  Many are entertaining friends in addition.  Others has traveled to other points as guests.  Our ‘curious reporter’ has been ‘listening in’ and picked up the following:

Mr. and Mrs. C.M. Hanson have as their guests the Henry Herreid and William Herreid families, Mrs. George Herreid, Miss Frances Unger, and Miss Georgia Redpath of International Falls.

Mr. and Mrs. Alva A. Baker are entertaining Mr. and Mrs. MJ Baker, Miss Eileen Baker, Harold Baker, and Mr. and Mrs. O.G. Larson and children.

Mr. and Mrs. W.R. Giberson are guests today of Mr. and Mrs. W.F. Becker at Grand Rapids.

Mr. and Mrs. William Scott are eating turkey at the home of the latter’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gust Gustafson, near Bigfork.

At the O.H. Sweum home, guests include Mr. and Mrs. Hans Sweum, the Arnold Wright family, and Mr. and Mrs. P.K. Vickjord.

Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Hannula and family drove to Floodwood this morning to share the Thanksgiving feast at the August Wuotila home.”

I hope you have a chance to share memories, laughter, and hugs with those you love over the Thanksgiving Holiday!

“Turkey Shoot and Raffle” Thanksgiving 1898-1920

11.20.2022 [archived ~ originally published 11.28.2021]

Thanksgiving is an American holiday which has traditionally centered on food, family, and friendship. Years ago, it also signified the end of the fall harvest and beginning of the cold and snowy months. This was especially so for those living in northern Minnesota. Everything that could be canned was, and the root cellar contained any vegetables and fruits which would survive the elements in a banked shelter. Fingers were crossed that there was enough in the pantry and cellar until the greens came up in the spring.

Over one-hundred years ago, Thanksgiving was often a time for an extended visit. LeRoy Gustaf “Roy” Olafson, shares a Thanksgiving story from 1918. His recollections were put together in a family booklet titled “Memories of Minnesota and Years Gone By,” in 1972 when he was about 76 years of age. Roy was one of ten children born to Swedish immigrants Johan and Augusta in Morrison County. Several members of the Olafson family homesteaded in northwestern Itasca (Moose Park Township) and northeastern Beltrami (Blackduck) Counties.

When he registered for the draft in 1917, Roy learned that he had a ruptured blood vessel going to his heart, thus he did not pass the physical examination. The following spring, he went to look for work in the wheatfields of North Dakota. He was hired by a man who needed help managing his half section farm and to help run the threshing machine he had. The pay was to be $75 a month and board if he was a good man and could do farm work.

After a prosperous harvest, Roy wanted to go home for a visit. “It was getting late to be in North Dakota so I told my boss I would like to be here at Blackduck for Thanksgiving. Ruth [a sister] had gone to Chicago and Pa was all alone cutting timber. He had bought a cow and a heifer, 25 chickens, and had his horse, Big Frank. We had Thanksgiving dinner at Alma’s and Fred’s [a sister and brother-in-law]. We had a nice venison roast and all the trimmings. It was plain good. Things weren’t so rosy up here.

My boss had figured up my wages and he gave me more than I had coming. The check was for one thousand dollars! I kissed the kids, kissed his wife, and even kissed Archie, my boss! He wasn’t as hard boiled as he tried to act.

After Thanksgiving dinner, me and Pa went home to our place where father and son made up for lost time. We hadn’t been together for five years. We got to work getting things ready for winter. We hauled home tamarack wood and cut it up. We hauled some hay that I had bought from a homesteader. We started to clear some land around the house.

I stayed with dad for about a month. We had everything done for winter. I helped dad set mink and weasel traps on the Moose Creek that ran through our farm. We killed a big buck. My vacation soon came to an end.”

The following snippets are gathered from newspaper articles and advertisements published in local papers from about the turn of the century until 1920 and fit into those three traditional categories referenced above: food, family, and friendship.


The settlers living in and around Deer River and Grand Rapids had the added luxury of enjoying Thanksgiving food they hadn’t grown themselves. This was because both villages were located along the Great Northern Railway line.

Food not found in the north woods (beef was not even raised here yet) could therefore be procured from Minneapolis or Chicago. In 1898, the Metzer’s Market had quite a selection of poultry and meat [*spelling and wording exactly as they had it] in their advertisement.

Good things for Thanksgiving

~ Turkeys. Geese, Ducks, Chickens; Choice Cuts, Steer Beef, Legs Lamb Veal, Lions Pig Pork; Sausages Strictly Home-Made

~ Green Stuffs – Green onions, Lettuce, Radishes, Cucumbers, Parsnips, Celery, Sweet potatoes, Cranberries

~ Delicacies – Oysters, Clams, Lobsters, Blue-points, Mince-meat, Sour Krauts, Bulk & Bottle Pickles and Olives

~ Salad Dressing, Horseradish, Catsup, Mustard, Clam Chowder, Full Line New-Packed Can Goods, Game, Fresh, salt and Smoked Fish

The following year the BoDega Restaurant in Deer River,owned by C.T. Alexander offered a Thanksgiving Dinner with fourteen items and four different kinds of pie for dessert!

It wasn’t long before enterprising businessmen thought of ways they could be a part of the festivities. Throughout the years, several communities held turkey raffles.

G.T. Robinson combined a game of chance with a discounted price on poultry in 1901. “A turkey raffle will be given next Wednesday evening, Nov. 27 at G.T. Robinson’s saloon. Turkeys, ducks and chickens will go cheap to the best card players or lucky dice throwers. ‘Old George’ thinks he can play seven-up himself, but he is a snap for anybody in a four-hand game.” [Itasca News 11-23-1901]

Thanksgiving Raffle ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 11-21-1903

“A. M. Johnson, of the Boston Grand sample room and restaurant, has the reputation of holding the most successful and satisfactory raffles in Grand Rapids. Every year he is first in the field with a choice lot of fowls, including turkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens. He buys only the very best in the market, and if he hears of a choice lot he makes it a point to get them regardless of cost. His raffles are always conducted in a manner to avoid any complaint and those who participate are always satisfied. This year he has secured an unusually fine lot that was offered alive and dressed. He will hold his raffle on the evening of the 24th, so that all who wish to participate may secure their Thanksgiving dinner for a few cents. Mr. Johnson wishes to announce that no schoolboys will be permitted to take part in the raffle, and they will not be allowed in the room.”

Pete Peterson, owner of a hotel and saloon in Bigfork offered a similar event a few years later, but his was earlier, so the birds could be eaten on Thanksgiving. “Turkey Shoot and Raffle – at Bigfork Wednesday afternoon Nov 24th. On this date, I will have 50 fine turkeys shipped in and am furnishing you this opportunity of getting turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. Remember the date and come and get a turkey. Pete Peterson” [Bigfork Settler 11-11-1909]

Family ~ School Programs

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

The students were: Alma Larson, Cleve Larson, Harry Larson, Theresa McDonald, Aminta, Linnea, and Victor Nordlin, Robert Pedersen, Julia, Walter, and Alma Petersen, Bertha Rossing, and Jenny Shultis. They were all born in Minnesota, though about half their parents had emigrated from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Germany.

In 1915, Kathleen Keenan, a nine-year-old from Deer River, had a story she wrote published in the Itasca News. Titled “Bessie’s Thanksgiving,” it was about a girl named Bessie who lived in a large city with her parents. Bessie befriended Mary, a child her own age who had to work to take care of her sick mother. Bessie wanted to bring them a hot meal at Thanksgiving and figured out a way to do just that.

Kathleen was the daughter of George and Celia Keenan and always had a desire to help others. The 1930 U.S. Census indicates she is a nurse in Rochester, Minnesota.

Friendship ~ Entertainment

If someone is available to play the harmonica or fiddle, folks will dance. Thanksgiving Day was no exception. In Bigfork, one of the places dances were held was at the Pinette Hall. Although the musicians weren’t named, there was probably a full house on Thanksgiving Day, November 29, 1906. The advertisement in the Bigfork Settler stated, Everybody is cordially invited. Good music will be furnished, and a good time promised to all who attend. Supper will be served in the hall.”

As the communities in the area grew, so did the variety of activities that were offered for entertainment on Thanksgiving Day. Examples I found include a wartime meal in 1917, and a boxing match in 1920.

Thanksgiving Festival ~ Itasca News 11-24-1917

A community Thanksgiving festival has been planned. It is to be held at the M.E. [Methodist Episcopal] Church, Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 5 p.m.

The festival is to consist of a program and a wartime supper. The supper is to be donated by the community and served in the basement of the church, free of charge. The supper committee consists of Mrs. Keenan, Mrs. H. Seaman, Mrs. Mawhinney, Mrs. Bartholomew, W.B. Taylor and Mr. Shaad. Please help them to make it meatless and wheatless by donating your poultry, fish, venison, and best war breads. **

The program committee is Mrs. Wallace, Miss Moen and Miss Tabor, and they would be thankful if you would volunteer to assist them. A collection is to be taken for the starving Armenians and Syrians who are less fortunate than we. So, plan to make this a real Thanksgiving festival for in doing so you prove that you, too are thankful for your many blessings.

Fight Card on Thanksgiving ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 11-24-1920

“A boxing bout that promises to attract a large number of fans from all over Itasca County and from points even farther away will be staged in Bovey on the evening of Thanksgiving Day. The Bovey post of the American Legion is sponsoring the boxing exhibition and will have it in the Legion Hall in Bovey.

The curtain raiser will be a four-round exhibition between the Pelky brothers of Bovey. These boys, while light, are fast, and always get a good hand. Following them will be a six-round go between Bartholomew of St Paul and Swede Johnson of Grand Rapids. Johnson is rapidly securing a reputation as a fast and clever boxer and has a number of friends in Grand Rapids who will go to watch him in Bovey.

The principal match of the evening will be between Ed Franti of Bovey and Harry Boyle of Duluth. This bout is scheduled to go for ten rounds and will be a fast one. Both men are full of confidence and will enter the ring expecting to secure a decision. Bovey men are backing Franti to win and expect to see some exciting situations during this mill.”

In recent years, the time spent following the Thanksgiving meal seems to have focused on the shopping bargains the day after Thanksgiving. “The term ‘Black Friday’ (in the retail sense) was coined in the 1960s to mark the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. ‘Black’ refers to stores moving from the ‘red’ to the ‘black,’ back when accounting records were kept by hand, and red ink indicated a loss, and black a profit.” [blackfriday.com/news/black-friday-history]