“Moon in a Privy” ~ Itasca County During Prohibition ~ part 1 of 8

3.3.2021 [ archived ~ previously published 7.12.2020]

This still and other supplies were confiscated from a bootlegger in Deer River in 1922 by Ed Jess.  Also pictured are Ed Carson, Jack Jones and George Galbreath.

My grandfather, Clarence ‘Conny’ Scheer, began writing the stories of his life when he was in his seventies.  By then, he had adopted a block style printing on unlined paper.  He intended to write chronologically, but he often veered off a little.  In one chapter he focused on the family homestead a mile from Bigfork, but then remembered when he was fifteen and wanted to visit his maternal grandparents in Randall, Minnesota. “I got a free ride there with a man I had known from Randall that hauled bootleg booze up from where he distilled it.  Anyhow, he gave me a ride to Randall Swede Hall.  He was a good sort of fellow, though.” I wondered if Gramps had ever traveled north to Bigfork when a delivery was made, and if the bootlegger he referred to could have been E.J. Stoutenberg or John Hart who was arrested in Itasca County. 

Since 2014, when I started the Reminisce column, I have had a couple of articles referencing the prohibition years.  The ingenuity of the men and women willing to manufacture and sell illegal liquor in our Northwoods rivals some big-time producers’ operations. I expanded my research to include articles from the Grand Rapids Herald-Review. I found that liquor-related arrests were more prevalent in the eastern part of the county than in the northern and western communities. For the rest of this summer and into early fall, Reminisce will feature some of the most interesting stories I found.

But first, a few basic facts about the fourteen-year National Prohibition.

Timeline

~ January 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which established the prohibition of alcohol in the United States, went into effect.  It is also referred to as the Volstead Act, because the amendment was drafted by Minnesota Congressman Andrew Volstead, from Granite Falls.

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

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

Terminology

~ Moonshine is illicitly distilled or smuggled liquor.  Other names for moonshine include Moon, White Lightning, Hooch, Dew, or Homebrew.  

~ Bootlegging is the illegal production, transportation, or sale of liquor.

~ Bootleggers were individuals who made, distributed, or sold the moonshine. 

Crimes and Charges

~ Manufacturing of illicit liquor

~ Transporting illicit liquor

~ Liquor Nuisance which meant conducting business, or the place of business selling intoxicating liquors

~ Possession of illicit liquor

~ Lesser offenses were drunk and disorderly conduct and drunk driving

It wasn’t long before Prohibition lost advocates as ignoring the law gained increasing social acceptance. Moonshine was being manufactured on the sly, with any combination of grain and fruit that could be procured.  Depending on the operation’s size, it was for personal consumption, sold to locals, or shipped.  All were crimes that could land a person in jail.

I have perused the front page of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review and the Deer River Itasca News to obtain a sample of the arrests made for illicit alcohol-related crimes during Prohibition.  This amounted to nearly 400 articles and about 600 unduplicated names.  The offenses listed above generally had fines ranging from $10 to $300, with or without jail time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, a typical fine of $30 in 1926 (middle of prohibition years) is equivalent to $435 today.

If federal agents made the arrests, the hearing would be before a federal judge.  Most sentences issued by the federal court included jail time in a county where the crime did not occur and a hefty fine.  There are some occasions where the incarceration was in Leavenworth or another federal penitentiary.

As an introduction to this series, I have selected four articles for each of the significant prohibition crimes, to illustrate what was happening in Itasca County.  The very first article I found in the local papers succinctly explained the process of making moonshine.

Manufacturing

Find Moonshiners and Seize Still ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 4-14-1920

“Acting on information secured from men who had evidence of an illicit still that was being operated in Balsam township north of Taconite, Sheriff Carson and Deputy Jesse Harry raided the place last Saturday.  They found two stills in active operation, secured the stills, some of the product, material used in manufacturing the illicit moonshine liquor, and arrested the three men most involved.  The raid was planned so carefully that the suspected men were not aware of the intentions of the sheriff and his deputy till they opened the door of the cabin where the stills were being operated.  Moonshine making was in full blast when the officers entered, and they watched it for some time before shutting down operations and arresting the proprietors.

“The men arrested are all residents of Bovey.  Their names are William Bows, Peter Snyder, and Victor Loungrie.  When arraigned on Monday before Justice of the Peace Keo Leroux, all waived examination and stated that it was their desire to appear before the district judge and plead guilty without waiting for a trial.  According to their wish, they were arraigned before Judge McClenahan on Tuesday morning.  They pleaded guilty and were told that their sentences would be made known later in the week.

“The stills are models of ingenuity and remarkably efficient, according to the evidence given by the sheriff and deputy who saw them in action.  One was made of a five-gallon milk can, which had a pipe soldered into the cover.  The fermented mash was placed in the milk can, the can then put on the stove and the steam-driven off through the pipe.  This pipe was made from a coil that had at some time been part of a beer pumping outfit, and part of the coil was placed in a pail of ice.  The condensed steam, containing the alcohol, dripped from the end of the pipe into a bottle placed in readiness. The second still was of somewhat similar manufacture but was made out of a large copper wash boiler.  A larger and higher cover than such as are ordinarily used had been made and the pipe vented from the top of this cover.  The cooling pipe was led through a barrel of water and ice, which caused the alcohol in the steam to condense and drip into the bottle or jar placed in readiness,

“The liquor resulting from this treatment is perfectly clear but strong with alcohol and burns as readily as kerosene.  It is reported that the moonshiners were selling it at $25 or $30 a gallon and disposing of large quantities of it.  According to the best information that Sheriff Carson could obtain, the mash from which the liquor was distilled was made from stock food and molasses.  The purchase of large quantities of these materials by the men under arrest, none of whom owned any amount of livestock, first led to suspicion being directed toward them.”

Transporting

Find Big Plant in Spang Town ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 8-13-1924

“One man, one still, one Ford automobile, one coil stove and 23 gals of moonshine was the net result of a raid conducted by Sheriff O’Brien and his deputies in Spang township last Saturday night.  The man who is charged with transporting liquor is John Arends of Hill City.  The officers located the plant earlier in the brush Saturday night and waited for the owner to come.  When Arends had some of the jugs of moonshine loaded in the car, the officers stepped out and caught him.  He is charged with transporting liquor and is ready to plead guilty and take his sentence.  Judge McClenahan is expected here next week when Arends and several others now in the county jail will be sentenced.”

Liquor Nuisance

Bad Moon Brings Four to Court ~ Itasca News 5-28-1925

“Friday was a bad day for a few local fellows who are not in sympathy with the 18th amendment to the constitution of the United States.

“Deputy Sheriff Dunn picked up Otto Salinen, and Marshal Ruby apprehended John Hendricks and John Okars.  Mr. Dunn took all three men to Grand Rapids for hearing before Justice Leroux.  They were charged with being drunk and disorderly.  Salinen was fined $20 and costs; a total of $31.  Hendricks drew a $20 fine or 15 days in jail, and Okara was given a choice of $30 or 30 days with costs included.  None had paid the fine at our last report.

“Saturday morning Deputy Dunn uncovered a big cache of moon in a privy on the south side of the alley on block 6.  Two 5-gallon jugs of liquor had been left there, but there was evidently a mix up in the timetables.  Samples were taken, the liquor poured out, and the jugs broken.  Tuesday morning Peter Dedrick was taken before Justice Leroux in a liquor nuisance charge.  He pleaded guilty and was fined $100 and costs, which he paid.” 

Possession

Moonshiners Find Little Peace Here ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 2-6-1924

“Continued and successful efforts are being made to make Itasca County unsafe for moonshiners.  Sheriff O’Brien and deputy Dickie went to Calumet on Sunday and arrested Mike Barovich, an old offender, who is now awaiting trial at the spring term of the court for possession of liquor.  When the officers entered his place last Sunday evening, his wife attempted to destroy the evidence by spilling the moonshine, but made the mistake of spilling it into the bread box in the kitchen cabinet, just as the officers were in the room.  The bread box had a tin lining, and the officers strained out several quarts of moonshine from the crumbs.  Bail was fixed at $1000, which was not furnished, and Barovich will face trial in March.”

“25 to 30 foot high snowdrifts”

2.28.2021

I remember being told by well-meaning adults not to stand near the icicles that hung along the edge roofs.  One might fall and stab you, they said.  Many kids scoffed at these warnings and actually broke off the icicles as high as they could reach, so that they could be used as swords while playing King of the Hill. I never heard of anyone being struck by a falling icicle, that is until I found the following article.

Hit by Icicle Falling from Tank ~ Deer River News 12-24-1936

“John Martin, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Marsh Martin and a junior in the local high school, had a narrow escape last Saturday that he will remember for a long time.

“John was going to the high school manual training room for some work.  He was walking up North Street past the water tank, when he was struck upon the head by an icicle which dropped from the water tank. A high wind was blowing, and it is believed this broke the chunk off and carried it to the east 15 or 20 feet to the sidewalk.

Though badly stunned, John kept going until he reached the school building, when Stanley Gibbs took him to a doctor’s office.  Three stitches were required, to close the wound, but John, with his usual pluck, was around Monday night distributing the Duluth Herald as usual.

“Because of the conditions of the tank and the danger of falling ice, the village council had decided to close the sidewalk on the west side of North Street for the remainder of the winter.”

Weather

Some winters are snowy, some are bitter cold, and some are unusually warm. Below is a sampling of all conditions. My grandfather, Conny Scheer, remembers the February storm of 1921 because he had just turned six-years-old and was disappointed that school in Bigfork was canceled.

North Country was Snowbound ~ Itasca News 2-25-1921

“What was generally accredited as being the worst snowfall of the northwest in years was the northeast storm of Tuesday and Wednesday.  There was a driving wind during the forty-eight-hour snowstorm, and this made piles, together with the fresh fall, 25 to 30 feet high snowdrifts, according to Duluth newspaper reports

“While four feet of snow winter after winter was common in the inland area a quarter of a century ago, the present drifts of 2 to 4 feet were not equaled in the memory of the older inhabitants. Unlike a northwester, there was no time during the storm period that the temperature was cold. For the first time since this line of the Great Northern road was built in 1898, trains were abandoned for two days.

“In Deer River all vehicle traffic and the M&R road was tied up most of the time until yesterday morning.  The railroads had cars in snowbanks at different times notwithstanding it had two engines working the snowplow.  As the county snowplow has not yet reached Deer River, the bus runs and all auto vehicles over roads leading to this village are still hung up.”

In February 1927, John Duncan, the caretaker at Winnibigoshish Dam reported that the official total of snowfall at the dam to date is 44 and a fraction inches, but that settling due to its own weight and thawing days have brought the depth down to approximately 32 inches.  The newspaper editor explained, “A more understandable statement of what the snowfall means in precipitation can be gotten from the fact that the season’s fall to date is equivalent to nearly four inches of rainfall.  Such an amount of precipitation coming at one time would flood the country. When the snow melts in the spring it will have a material effect on the lake levels of this region.” [Itasca News2-17-1927]

Two years later, Guy Bilyeu, the tender at the Pokegama Dam shared data about November temperatures there.

Friday, November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, the recorded temperature was 19 degrees below zero. It was the lowest November temperature recorded since 1919. Other unusually cold temperatures were: 11-24-1903 ~ 37 below, 11-26-1919 ~ 26 below, and 11-30-1927 ~ 16 below.

Spider Spins December Webs ~ Itasca News 12-22-1923

Sure sign of warm winter on shortest day of year

John Yuill, superintendent at the lumber yard sat on a log. 

There wasn’t anything strange about that, or John, or the log.

It was Thursday, December 20, 1923, the shortest day of the year. John had a friend sitting beside him and they were lost in wonderment.

They weren’t holding hands.  There was no chance for a scandal, no grounds for a divorce suit.

John and his friend, Jacobson, just sat there watching a spider spinning its web on the sunny side of a nearby balsam.

Two other warm days warranted mention in the Deer River News.  The first was December 26, 1928 when the low for the day was 27 degrees above zero and the high was 35.  The second was December 30, 1931. “Mrs. Edwin Johnson of Zempel brought to the News office root vegetables pulled from her garden that morning.  They were in splendid condition, unharmed by any condition of the weather.  Mrs Johnson also reported that she has strawberry plants in bloom under their light covering.  What a winter! And yet people go to Florida!”

Catastrophes

It appears that there are fewer news stories reporting deaths caused by winter calamities during the 1920s and 1930s, but there are certainly some close calls.

The oldest house in Deer River, built by P.R. Brooks in 1893, was destroyed by a fire on January 22, 1923. The home was owned by Claude Merritt and occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lasher. Mrs. Lasher heard the roar of the fire, grabbed her small granddaughter off the floor, and had to duck under flames at the top of the stairs to get out the back door. No one was seriously burned, but the Lashers lost everything they owned and there was no insurance on the building.

“The house was first erected on what is now Creamery Hill. The body [framework] only had been made and Mr. Brooks bought it and moved the logs. From the house to the Brooks store, forty rods south, about ten rods west of where the City Blacksmith shop now stands, a walk of double railroad ties were laid over what was then a wet swamp.” [Itasca News 1-24-1923]

Sought Wild West but Nearly Froze ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 2-21-1928

“Raymond Somerville and George F. Tuttle, two 14-year-old boys from Superior, started out to see the wild west last Friday night but got no farther than Grand Rapids.  At this place they were rescued from their precarious position on the blind baggage [railway baggage, express or postal car that has no door or opening at one end] of the midnight train by officer Carno and placed in safe keeping until relatives in Superior could be reached.

“When discovered on the back end of the tender of the night passenger train, the boys were so nearly frozen that one of them could not speak and neither of them was able to walk without great difficulty.  They had left Superior early in the evening and ridden in the below zero temperatures and high wind which prevailed. It was considered by those who learned the circumstances that the officer probably saved the lives of the boys as a comparatively short distance more would have sufficed to chill them so they would have tumbled from their perch while the train was moving.

F.J. McGibbon, a deputy sheriff from Douglas County, came up on Sunday and took the two boys to their homes in Superior.  The two young lads expressed repentance and said they had had enough of adventuring to the far west at least until warmer days would make travel easier for those who had little money.”

In January 1929, Mrs. John Lehto, walked three miles to the Mack Post Office. When she arrived both her legs were frozen from her knee to her ankle.  She was immediately brought to Deer River and placed under a physician’s care at the Miller Hotel.  Three days later she had recovered enough to return home. I could not find anything more about Mrs. Lehto, but imagine that no matter her age, she was wearing layers of skirts and stockings under a knee length coat rather than woolen pants. I shudder just thinking about walking three miles in the cold wearing a skirt and stockings. The extreme cold weather was blamed for three fires in January 1930. The Cut Foot Sioux Ranger Station garage caught fire and the building was destroyed. The home of Ed Minton, a few miles west of the Itasca County line caught fire and was destroyed. Some household furnishings were saved. Julius Van Overschelde of Bass Lake Township credits the local telephone system for saving part of his home. “The upper story of the home was burning fiercely when the first neighbors reached there, but with plenty of help called by the telephone the fire was put under control and extinguished before the contents of the lower floor were seriously damaged.” [1-22-1930 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]

Fun

There were more stories about organized and ongoing outside winter activities in the 1920s and 1930s than in previous decades. Here is one in Grand Rapids and another in Deer River.

Skating Rink is Nearly Completed ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 12-18-1929

“Young people, and older ones as well who like to skate, will soon have an opportunity to indulge in this sport.  Work was started this week on a skating rink, at a convenient place, and within a few days the ice will be ready for the pleasure of those who go skating.

“The rink is located on Crystal Lake, at the north end of Leland Avenue, just a block from the high school campus.  The snow was removed from the ice and banked at the sides.  The surface is being scraped smooth, and water will be pumped over the ice, so that all cracks and crevices will be filled, and a smooth surface obtained.  The work will all be completed this week, and the rink made available for the young people during the school vacation.

“The skating rink is being sponsored by the Grand Rapids Lions’ Club, assisted by the village council, and the Boy Scouts.  James Duffy has been engaged as caretaker and watchman, to see that order is maintained, and all comers given equal privileges on the ice.”

Blueberry Slide Work Progressing ~ Deer River News 12-2-1939

“Taking advantage of the fine weather, the large crew of men working on the WPA project repairing the road into Blueberry Hills and constructing a ski and toboggan slide west of the tower, have made fine progress this week.  Forty-three men are employed on the work. Milton Rhodes, area supervisor for the State Forestry Department in Hibbing, was here and visited the project and predicted the new slide would be a popular spot for outdoor sports this winter.

“The slide is located a little southwest of the [fire] tower.  Slides are being arranged for persons of all ages, the kiddies and the grownups.  The main slide is on a long, steep, hill, at the bottom of which is a bog about two hundred feet long, and on the opposite side is another and smaller hill, to stop the sliders.  A track about twenty feet wide is cleared for the entire distance.  From the stopping place a path has been brushed and cleared along an easy route to travel back to the starting point.  A large parking place will be cleared at the top of the hill, and a warming house built and furnished.”

“Turpentine on a Sugar Lump”

2.21.2021 [archived ~ previously published 3.9.2017]

If you haven’t had a cold yet this winter, you are one of the lucky ones. As we all know, there is no cure for the common cold, but there have always been remedies for the symptoms. Turpentine on a sugar lump is just one old time remedy. Remedies that were available at the drug store one hundred years ago and are still sold today include Luden’s Cough Drops, Vicks VapoRub, Bayer Aspirin and Kleenex tissues.

Home Remedies

No doubt anyone over the age of sixty-five can remember hearing about the home remedies used for cold symptoms by their own parents.  Below are just a few of the remedies I have extracted from local histories.  Each of the sources cited are available at the Karjala Research Center at the Itasca County Historical Society.

Delia Westrom ~ Alvwood Township

Delia recalls the home remedies of her childhood: “Colds, grippe and the flu were the most common ailments.  They used turpentine and lard for a chest plaster (bless your hide), quinine, cough medicine, sulfur, laxatives, and horse liniment, commonly known as quack medicines.” [Squaw Lake Consolidated Schools by M. Kreuger]

Delia was the daughter of John and Augusta. Bloomquist.  She married Emil Johnson in 1903 and was appointed postmistress at Alvwood from 1914 until it closed during WWI.  When Emil died unexpectedly, she married John Westrom.

Esther Connell ~ Rosy Township

“Mama concocted a cough syrup for us by using the buds of the balm of gilia [gilead] herb and a syrup.  It worked pretty good.  But when we came down with a really bad cold, we got a dose of castor oil and a plaster of turpentine and lard on our chest.  (Uff da!) But it really worked.” [Remembering Rosy by Esther Connell]

Esther Amelia Johnson was born in Minnesota to Swedish immigrants Gust and Carrie.  She married Raphael Connell and lived to the age of 96!

Emil Johnson ~ Good Hope Township

“For cough medications mother cooked up a concoction with syrup, molasses and some spices when cooled and hardened became a very good tasting cough drop.  A supply of this didn’t last long as it was snitched for candy.  Known in Swedish as Kneck. Other home remedies were not as welcome.  Turpentine on a sugar lump, sugar lump yes, but not with turpentine.  For a bad chest cold how would you like to get plastered down with hot melted lard and wrapped up in wool rags? Encountered many earaches.  The cure – a pad of sheep’s wool soaked in hot fat shoved into the ear…” [Journey Through Time by Emil Johnson]

Emil Albin Johnson was born in Squaw Lake in 1922 to Magnus and Ida.  Emil’s parents were both Swedish and had immigrated as children to Minnesota.  Emil served in WWII and when discharged married Helen Lindgren from Jesse Lake.  Emil died in 2017 at the age of 95 years.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

Luden’s Cough Drops

Cough drops had been made and sold from glass containers like candy since about 1850, but it was William H. Luden who created and packaged the medicinal lozenge. Mr. Luden had already successfully made candy drops in the back of his father’s jewelry shop in Reading, Pennsylvania when he decided to try a medicinal lozenge. 

Mr. Luden collaborated with a pharmacist to develop a unique cough drop formula.  He colored his cough drops amber instead of the usual red, and the honey-licorice menthol throat drops were introduced.  His marketing plan was brilliant.  He gave samples of his cough drops to railroad workers, which in turn gave the product national exposure in a fairly short time. 

The advertisement in a 1922 Bigfork Settler states: “No tax now ~ Luden’s menthol cough drops ~ Price 5 cents straight ~ give quick relief ~ Famous Yellow Package ~ sold the world over”

During WWII, the Luden’s factory worked overtime to supply troops with their favorite throat drops from back home.

Vicks VapoRub

In 1890, pharmacist Lunsford Richardson worked with his physician brother-in-law, Dr. Joshua Vick.  Druggists at the time often fashioned their own remedies, and Richardson patented twenty-one medicines. The wide variety of pills, liquids, ointments, and assorted other medicinal concoctions included Vick’s Chill Tonic, Vick’s Turtle Oil Liniment, Vick’s Little Liver Pills and Little Laxative Pills, Vick’s Tar Heel Sarsaparilla, Vick’s Yellow Pine Tar Cough Syrup, and Vick’s Grippe Knockers for the flu. These products sold with varying degrees of success, but the best seller was Vicks Magic Croup Salve, which he introduced in 1894.

“‘He had what they referred to as a croupy baby — a baby with a lot of coughing and congestion,’ explains Richardson’s great-grandson, Britt Preyer of Greensboro. ‘So, as a pharmacist, he began experimenting with menthols from Japan and some other ingredients, and he came up with this salve that really worked. That’s how it all started.’

Richardson’s salve — a strong-smelling ointment combining menthol, camphor, oil of eucalyptus, and several other oils, blended in a base of petroleum jelly — was a chest-soothing, cough-suppressing, head-clearing sensation. When the salve was rubbed on the patient’s chest, his or her body heat vaporized the menthol, releasing a wave of soothing, medicated vapors that the patient breathed directly into the lungs.” [greensborohistory.org]

In 1911, the Magic Croup Salve was renamed Vicks VapoRub and most of the other Vicks products were discontinued. The flu epidemic of 1918 increased sales of VapoRub from $900,000 to $2.9 million in just one year.

A lengthy syndicated article in the November 9, 1918 Itasca News explained how Vick’s VapoRub could be used in treating the Spanish Influenza.  “The influenza germs attack the lining of the air passages.  When VapoRub is applied over the throat and chest, the medicated vapors loosen phlegm, open the air passages and stimulate the mucus membranes to throw off the germs.  In addition, VapoRub is absorbed through and stimulates the skin, attracting the blood to the surface and thus aids in reducing the congestion within.”

Ten years later Vicks published a children’s book to help promote the product. The book told the story of two elves, Blix and Blee, who rescued a frazzled mother whose sick child refused to take nasty-tasting medicines. Their solution, of course, was the salve known as Vicks VapoRub.

Bayer Aspirin

Advertisements in the Itasca News during the 1920s state the following: “The ‘Bayer Cross’ on the tablets in the thumb-print which positively identifies genuine Aspirin prescribed by physicians for over 20 years and proved safe by millions. Handy tin boxes of twelve tablets cost but a few cents.  Druggists also sell larger packages.

Safety first! Insist upon an unbroken ‘Bayer package’ containing proper directions for Headache, Earache, Toothache, Neuralgia, Colds, Rheumatism, Neuritis, Lumbago and for Pain generally.

The Bayer company was founded in Germany in 1863 as a dyestuff factory. Obviously, they manufactured other items and by 1899 had developed the trademark, Aspirin.  This was a modification of salicylic acid, found in the bark of the willow.  It was registered worldwide for Bayer’s brand of acetylsalicylic acid and was distributed as a powder to physicians to give their patients.

“Bayer lost its Aspirin trademark status in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom because of the confiscation of Bayer’s U.S. assets and trademarks during World War I by the United States and the subsequent widespread usage of the word to describe all brands of the compound.” [Wikipedia]

The company’s logo, the Bayer cross, was introduced in 1904.  It consisted of the horizontal word Bayer crossed with the vertical word Bayer, both words sharing the Y and enclosed in a circle.  In 1915 the drug was sold as over-the-counter tablets. At that time the thumbprint of authenticity was added.

Kleenex

“In 1924, facial tissues as they are known today were first introduced by Kimberly-Clark. It was invented as a means to remove cold cream. Early advertisements linked Kleenex to Hollywood makeup departments and sometimes included endorsements from movie stars who used Kleenex to remove their theatrical makeup with cold cream. It was the customers that started to use Kleenex as a disposable handkerchief, and a reader review in 1926 by a newspaper in Peoria, IL found that 60% of the users used it for blowing their nose. The other 40% used it for various reasons, including napkins and toilet paper.

By the 1930s, Kleenex was being marketed with the slogan ‘Don’t Carry a Cold in Your Pocket’ and its use as a disposable handkerchief replacement became predominant. In 1943, Kleenex began licensing the Little Lulu cartoon character to popularize the brand. [Wikipedia]

And about chicken soup, that stands on its own merits.  We all know warm broth feels good on a sore throat, and that onions, garlic, and red pepper open our sinuses.

2.17.2021 ~ archived

What are the Odds?

[previously published 3.10.2019]

Amelia Hadley (aka Elizabeth Boxell) is the primary character my
historical fiction novel, What Amelia Knows

What are the odds that a girl whose favorite book as a child was Little House in the Big Woods, who made her younger siblings act out scenes from the book years before the television show debuted, would start writing about history fifty years later?

What are the odds that she would learn of the 1897 murder of her great great great grandfather in the Big Woods less than 100 miles from the Ingalls family home, and this would spurn her historical writing?

Well, I really have no idea what the odds are. Math was never my forte, but my love of history has never waned. Eight years ago I attended my great aunt’s 90th birthday celebration and learned from a cousin that his mother had written a bit of history on the brutal ax murder of John Hadley (pseudonym), a grandfather to both of us.

After two years of research about the unsolved murder and the circumstances surrounding it, I decided the story needed to be written, and I was going to be the one to tell it. I had amassed thousands of documents, but I was stuck. I didn’t know if it should be written as a true crime story or a fiction novel. I didn’t know how to write creatively. And I didn’t know if I could learn.

Reminisce Column

No one starts a writing career with a book, so I began taking classes and writing short pieces. One day I got up the courage to walk into the Western Itasca Review, Deer River’s newspaper office, and talk with the editor and publisher, Rebecca Passeri, about writing a column which would focus on local history. She suggested I bring in a couple sample articles, and the first Reminisce column was published in September 2014. That fall and winter I spent hours at the Itasca County Historical Society reading the old Deer River newspapers (1897-1930) and collecting stories I thought were interesting and worthy of further research.

Since that first article, I have written weekly columns with enough total words to equal three books. I have developed a writing style that fits – historical fiction and nonfiction. This means that everything I write is based on real historical events, or at least as they were documented in the newspapers. For the Reminisce column, I spend many hours researching before I begin to write. Over the years I have developed several collections of stories focusing on a topic such as Law and Order, which recounts criminal activities. A few other topics are Forgotten Postmarks, Rural Schools, and Sportsmen’s Tales.

I have hundreds of stories in the works and am pleased to have the opportunity to continue the Reminisce column. You can expect to see the column in the second and fourth Sunday edition of this newspaper. This summer I will continue with a series, Resorts with a History, which will look at the beginnings of some of the region’s earliest resorts which are still in operation. I am also working on a series about Historic Landmarks in Itasca County. According to my research, there are sixteen. I’ll cover five or six before the end of the year. Of course, there will also be a few Law and Order stories, and the balance are likely to be similar to the remainder of this one, snippets of local history with a common theme.

What are the odds? These are a few stories from bygone days that illustrate some remarkable odds for individuals living in our community over one hundred years ago.

Hunting Odds

In October 1903, Andy Morrisey, a local Deer River businessman had lost his gun in Squaw Lake while duck hunting. Ten days later he found the weapon, still under water. Remarkably, he shot and killed a duck with the ammunition that was in it when it fell in the lake.

In November of the following year, there was an article about a man from Hibbing who had been deer hunting near Crooked Lake and had killed two yearlings walking side by side with a single shot. Two weeks later the following article appeared in the paper.

Three at One Shot ~ Itasca News 12-10-1904

“Ben Tibbets, of Ball Club way, probably made a record the last day of the hunting season that never before was equaled in this section. Considerable attention has been given by the daily paper to a man on the Range who shot two deer at one shot. Ben went the fellow one better by getting three.

Mr. Tibbets saw the deer, which he had previously wounded, in some thick brush. He fired, scoring three at one shot, a doe, and two fawns, two of which he had not seen at all. The three deer were just a few feet apart. Ben is exceedingly economical with ammunition.”

Survival Odds

In the March 31, 1906 issue of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review there appeared the headline, “Girl in Trance for Six Days.”  The accompanying story explained that Ethel, the six-year-old daughter of Ben and Mary Johnson had laid down because she wasn’t feeling well, and when her father checked on her he could get no response. The child was pronounced dead, and preparation was made for her burial. The parents noticed that the body was still warm and refused. She was left in bed not making a sound or movement. On the sixth day, she opened her eyes and spoke in a feeble voice. At the time the paper went to press several days later, Ethel seemed to have recovered, though the physicians were puzzled and unable to tell what had happened.

On the 1910 United States census, the Johnson family is documented as having moved to Cambridge and had lost one child. All members of the family were listed, but there is no Ethel, or a child aged ten. It seems that Ethel had died, although I could not find a record of her death.

The subject of the next story lived another five years, and his death had nothing to do with his head injury.

Lives with His Brain Exposed ~ Itasca News 8-24-1907

“After a day’s drunk here Thursday afternoon, Andrew West, barn boss at Dumas’ mill, aged about forty, boarded the west bound local freight and went to Ball Club where he continued his spree. At an early hour next morning Matt Barnes saw the man sitting in the office of the Ball Club hotel and noticed his clothing was covered with blood and blood covered the floor about him. Mr. Barnes made an investigation and found a deep cut in West’s head.

Answering inquiries, the man said he was hit by the train while getting off from it. An investigation was made along the track and blood on the track showed where he was lying, and his hat was found with the brim cut off ragged as if a car had done it. As West was seen at nine o’clock, long after the train on which he rode had gone it is supposed he was hit by one of the midnight passenger trains. He was brought to Deer River on the local, and Doctor Hanley dressed the wound. The cut was an inch deep, through the scull [sic] and two inches long. The brain could be seen through the indentation. West claims he never lost consciousness and all through the performance of the doctor he was strong and steady nerved. He was taken through to the hospital at Grand Rapids on the local.”

What are the odds that this Little House in the Big Woods fan would ever get a book written about her ancestor’s murder in those woods? Again, I can’t say, but I can say that I did get it completed!  After a few years stuck in a drawer, I pulled out my notes in July, and on December 31, 2018, I finished the first draft of my manuscript!  I am in the of revision, am working with a professional editor, and am the historical consultant on a movie which will also explore this unsolved murder.

2.14.2021

“This 48 below weather has to be experienced, to be appreciated”

In the early 1900s the cold temperatures weren’t considered newsworthy unless the thermometer read at least 40 below. Three exceptionally cold winters that did rate a spot in the news were January 1904 – 40 below, January 1909 – 44 below, and January 1912 – 48 below. Side comments included, “Good weather for the ice crop but h— on Sam Torgerson’s nose,” and “this 48 below weather has to be experienced, to be appreciated.” [Itasca News 1-7-1909 and Deer River Times 1-25-1912]

Ice and Snow

No matter what the temperature, livestock needed to be cared for and work needed to be done. Logging was the primary industry in northern Itasca County in the early years, and winter was the time that trees were cut and skidded out of the woods. The waterways needed to be frozen over for logging to be done. In years when there was more ice than snow, the frozen waters provided transportation and entertainment.

“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]

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

“Skating for the week has been fine and many youngsters have put in happy hours on safe ponds and the river, but owing to no moon, not many larger people have been out nights on the ice.” [Itasca News 11-18-1916]

In the winter of 1918 and 1919, the cold temperatures were noted as a good thing for the economy. In February 1918, orders for ice to be sent to the west coast topped 230,000 tons! “Northern Minnesota ice is in strong demand this year, and this crop, which is never a failure in this section, is a very large income producer. The failure of the ice crop in the western states has led to a last demand from this section, and at Detroit 3000 carloads are being removed for shipment to Spokane and from there for distribution to the ice stations of the Northern Pacific railroad. If all orders are filled Detroit will ship out 230,000 tons of ice this winter and this section of the state is the nearest point where good ice may be secured for western purpose.” [2-13-1918 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]

The following month, after a bit of a warm-up, “The hearts of loggers and forest product operators were gladdened on Monday by a prediction of colder weather and snow. A few more days of sleighing will mean a great deal to several men. It is important to the Itasca Cooperage Company that the largest amount of logs to be used for staves and heading will be secured. Several forest products operators have a large quantity of posts and poles in the woods and if brought out, these will tend to eliminate a shortage which some consider inevitable.” [3-6-1918 Grand Rapids Herald-Review] The Itasca Cooperage Company was incorporated in January 1918 to make headings (barrel tops), staves and other wood products. In 1921, the company expanded to Grand Rapids.

Frozen Limbs

I remember wearing rubber boots over my shoes when I was in grade school and wonder to this day why I never experienced more than a little frost bite. Thank goodness the winter weather gear has improved tremendously since then. I imagine there were many situations involving the careful thawing out of toes and fingertips. Hands and feet did not always fair as well, and amputation was sometimes necessary.

S.J. Ness met with a painful accident last week by burning his hands. He had frozen his hands and for a remedy had bathed them in turpentine and afterwards while lighting his pipe the turpentine caught fire, burning his hands very badly. [Bigfork Settler 1-31-1907]

Feet and Hands Frozen ~ Itasca News 1-4-198

On Wednesday morning about eight o’clock the section crew on the Minneapolis & Rainy River [rail]road discovered by the track near Jessie Junction the body of a man lying in the snow and apparently lifeless. Investigation, however, showed that he was alive, but his feet and hands were badly frozen. The man was brought to Deer River, and Dr. Fairall found that both hands and feet would have to be amputated. The man was sent to the hospital at Grand Rapids and he died the same night.”

Frozen Feet Riding Freight ~ Itasca News 1-6-1912

“Ed Stewart, aged about thirty, who says he is from Minneapolis, rode between cars on a freight train from Cass Lake Monday night, and when he jumped off and discovered he had both feet frozen. He was assisted to Dr. Hanley’s office and after having care was sent next day to the hospital in Grand Rapids. It is not known here yet whether his feet will have to be amputated.”

Froze to Death

In the early newspapers there was at least an article every winter about someone freezing to death.

“Report reached here from Bena, Sunday that the body of a man frozen to death, later identified as Arnold Petro, a German who until recently, was employed in tailor shops at Grand Rapids, was found by the railroad track early Sunday morning near Bena. The body was held at the freight house at Bena by railroad hands there to obtain identification. The coroner of Cass County took charge of the remains and found in the pocket of the dead man a union card which bore his name. Petro had no money on his person and as he had not been working for some time, it is supposed he was stealing a ride on the ‘blind’ baggage and fell off after freezing to death. George Burger saw the dead body a short time after it was found and says it was frozen stiff and showed no marks of violence.” [Itasca News 1-2-1904] The definition of blind baggage – railway baggage, express or postal car that has no door or opening at one end especially immediately behind a tender.

Frozen Body Chopped Out of Lake ~ Itasca News 1-8-1916

“On Monday of last week Ole Lindstrom of Jesse Lake, who lived on forty acres which he bought, on the new road between Jesse Lake and Spring Lake, went hunting dressed in rather light clothing. He wounded a deer and in following it, lost his way in the woods and being missed by neighbors, a search was made for him. The deer he wounded was found and in tracks covering about twenty-five miles the party found the body of Lindstrom in the frozen slush ice of a small lake. He had thrown his gun away some distance back and in his pocket was found a small empty match book. The body was found on Friday of last week.

“Lindstrom was about 21 years of age and single. He leaves two sisters who reside in Denver, Colorado. Undertaker George Herreid was summoned and went up, also in the capacity of deputy coroner and took charge of the remains which he brought here Monday. The remains were shipped Friday morning to Denver, Colorado, for burial.”

House Fire

There were often more house fires during the cold weather of winter, in part because many homes had a stovepipe going through the roof, with no chimney. In the following examples, each family suffers the loss of their home and most of their belongings. Fortunately, no lives were lost and in both cases the community of Deer River provided a helping hand to the families.

Hot Stove Pipe, Sad, Poor Family ~ Itasca News 12-19-1914

“A sad case is that of last week at Jesse Lake when at 5 o’clock in the morning, fire caught in the roof near the pipe of the cookstove of Albin Kekkonen’s house, and in a few minutes the family was without a home and the parents escaped with but the rough clothes they had on and the children in their night robes.

“Mr. Kekkonen was in town yesterday, and he said it is a mystery why he and his wife could not put the fire out. He said there was fire in the cook stove only, the pipe was not overheated, there was no wind, and he had plenty of water on hand which he used lavishly on the blaze from the start.

“Kekkonen has already rolled up the body of a log home, but is without means, and the women’s clubs of Deer River will try to raise aid for the family.” Regarding the log home, my guess is that Kekkonen had logs that he could use or that he had moved a log structure onto his property.

Family Suffers Fire ~ Itasca News 2-3-1917

“Monday morning at about nine o’clock fire, which had gained full headway, was discovered by Mrs. Harry Kentfield in the garret of her house, the Martin log [home] at the top of the hill on the county road, about two miles from town. Settlers happened along at the time, helped the woman save a few household articles, but nearly all was lost. Going to the back door, Mrs. Kentfield noticed smoke and at once it became so thick from the tar paper which largely made up the composition of the log structure, that she barely had time to carry out the baby. Mr. Kentfield was cutting wood in the timber a short way from the house, and Frank Voigt, who happened along the road, went down and notified him of the fire.

“The family moved into town in one of the Ingersoll houses, and with goods, furniture and clothing given them by villagers they have been able to get along. Mr. Kentfield works as night watchman at the Deer River sawmill and is a steady worker the year round. Mrs. Kentfield has been in a hospital most of the time for the past year, and there has also been sickness among the children of the family. If there ever was a need of public help, this probably is a case where charity is deserving, and we believe the family would not be averse to receiving any aid offered.”