Musings: Who dug the wells?

When I spent Monday afternoons with my elderly residents at the Hallock nursing home some years ago, we studied Kittson County’s townships and communities from plat books from the past. They always had so many stories to tell, so much information to impart, that I was surprised when they were unable to answer this question, ‘Who dug the wells on the farms you lived on and how did they go about digging them?’ As with the search for information about the Flu of 1918, we just got there too late. There is no one left to tell us and such information was never written down.

I have always been interested in fresh water and the digging of wells. My dad put in wells on a part time basis and I used to help him make the blocks needed. Back in North Dakota I lived in only one community out of about a half dozen where the water was nearly unfit to drink. There I remembered longingly of the shallow wells where I grew up and the water there that was sweet and clear.

I have came to understand that all too often the pioneer homesteads here on the Minnesota side were not so lucky. On reading from the Stephen book, Our Town, many had to try to find ways to save rain water or would haul water to cisterns. Communities settled themselves on or near streams to guarantee a source of water for man and beast.

Since then we have found we “cannot fool Mother Nature” and water is one resource man cannot control. How lucky we are to be able to tap into underground sources for usable water on a large scale. As with many other situations, our forefathers could have used the modern technology and know-how available today. Without it, they just worked hard and made do.

Written by: Ethel Thorlacius

Musings: Railroad

Early stories about the settling of Marshall County can cover any number of topics, so we will just make a stab in the dark to start someplace. We found out that both railroads in the county got started and where they did not go, alternate transportation was provided. By August of 1878 the rails were through Warren and this community began to thrive.

What did the railroad bring’? One of the interesting tidbits I read about in the Warren – Plains to Plenty book was of the first buildings built along the track. They built a pump house and water tank first to service the trains, then added a section house. The depot was housed in the pump house at first, but another building was later built for that purpose. The section house was also used as a railroad eating place and was run by a W. H. Gilbert and here is where the story got interesting!

It was reported that trains that went through came from both the north and south and would stop for dinner. Mr. Gilbert would be responsible for feeding these people and there were sometimes as many as 250 to be fed. Now a time or two, I have helped feed 250 people and felt I would not do it right away again, let alone daily, so I take my hat off to this entrepreneur: Mr. Gilbert. Finding the groceries, let alone doing the cooking had to be a real challenge, especially in a far outpost at the end of track.

Written by: Ethel Thorlacius

Musings: Gumbo Land

Opening the Marshall County Book at random and scanning those pages found me some interesting information right off the bat. Here was the section on the East Valley Township, south and east of Mud Lake. This area was settled a bit later than what I call the “gumbo” land, and even though life was as hard for them as in other settlements, they seem to have come with a purpose, like they knew what they wanted.

They certainly were ready and willing to work for all they had. So many of them apparently had settled elsewhere — Iowa or North Dakota — and came to Marshall County in a quest for a final home. Contributors to the book from that township had a number of interesting stories to tell that certainly were unique.

A wild fire swept the area around Kuriko Lake, north of Mud Lake in 1928 and had unearthed for some hunters the body of a trapper who apparently had died there 40 years before. The skeleton, with its old gun, empty shells and old coins was finally exposed after such a long time.

On the lighter side, is the story of the plight of the local caribou. (Sometimes the account calls them caribou, sometimes moose.) A herd of these wild animals had lived in East Park Township, but were gradually becoming extinct, with only a few cows left. It was 1922 and someone decided that the Minnesota Dept of Fish and Game would bring in a bull moose to rebuild the herd and would bring it all the way from upper Canada.

Mr. Moose had quite a trip. First he was hauled 200 miles by dog sled to an air port, then flown by plane to this area. He was then trucked to the north side of the Red Lake Reservation and put into a fence 14 feet high. When the cows found him, he jumped the fence and — as the account in the Book says — “they all lived happily ever after”!

Written by: Ethel Thorlacius

Musings: Early Pioneer Books

There is a section of the book, Warren — Plains to Plenty, called “Tales Twice Told” that has the most delightful stories of the early days in Warren. Quite a number of local writers contributed stories and remembrances to this valuable book.

The author I’ve enjoyed reading was Ella Peterson, who seemed to have rather a “tongue in check” look at life. Her visual walks around town showed us small town America at its best and also shared the pleasures of growing up in a rural community. I was especially intrigued with the story of the bridges of Warren. Being a newcomer in the area, I see little evidence of many bridges or of a meandering coulee wending its way through town. Black top and concrete along with new buildings must be covering over what had to be a picturesque scene.

Ella shares this,”I was told that the coulee was filled in by remains of the Taralseth Store fire and Mabel Youngdahl told me the kids used to pick up trinkets out of the debris. She still has a beautiful little blue vase she found there which she still has as a keepsake.” When I read that I couldn’t help but visualize a scene down the road sometime when a group of archaeologists might decide to use Warren for a “dig” to learn more about our present day life. What they find might be hard to explain.

Written by: Ethel Thorlacius

Musings: Early Settlers

Some of Marshall County’s history that could have been lost but was not came to the Historical Society through essays written in the high school English classes in the early 1930s. Those students were still able to interview pioneers and record their stories to leave them behind for us.

One such writer was Bernice Erickson of the Warren High School and a granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ole J. Melo. Her neatly written paper was rated as a first place entry and her teacher was Miss Margaret Powers. Her account is valuable because it contains some of the day-to-day happenings in those early days of settlement.

First of all she tells us what the Melos brought with them on their trip from Norway and the poor conditions on the ship that brought them across. She states: “Some of the main supplies [they brought ] were as follows: mattresses that were made by covering feathers, spinning wheel and weaver, cooking utensils that were made of copper, forks, knives and spoons that were made from the horns of cows, ten quilts and eight skin robes.” She told of how the early farmers got together to build their first rude houses and how the Indians would stop by to warm themselves and got something to eat, as Mrs. Melo was known to be kind to them.

Many early settlers began their farming operations by working for the bonanza farms and earning the money to buy their own stock and open their own land. Their first school was a newly built granary that was pressed into use until a better building could be erected. Church services were even held in that granary and any event could be considered a celebration. The tall prairie grasses they found here were a god-send for feeding their stock, but proved to be a quick burning fuel for the prairie fires that happened at times.

Bernice’s report probably paralleled a number of other pioneer stories, but not every one was written down to share with others. That is what makes these student essays so valuable to the Marshall County Historical Society.

Written by: Ethel Thorlacius

Musings: Early Barbers

What better way to start the review of stories of Marshall County than to relate the story of Patrick McC]ernan, an early barber in Stephen.

“Johanna Cadson”, my little old story teller from the early settlement days, likes to tell of how he studied law by correspondence after he had closed his barber shop for the night. Listed in the “Our Town”, Stephen’s Centennial book, Mr. McClernan had done his work through the Spraque Correspondence School (address unknown) in 1895 and finished to take his bar exam in 1900.

Johanna tries to instill, through her story, just how important it was for people, especially men, to become educated to earn a better living. She also points out the fact that the immigrants who came to America found that education opened new vistas for their children.

In her lilting accent, she says, “Dey know in the Old Country dat da boys can only do vat der papas do: if his papa be a farmer, den he can only be a farmer; if he be in da store, he only be in da store”. There was little hope for advancement in the “Old Country”.

What a wonderful place America was to become! Settlers Square’s ox cart and ox are a focal point of the museum and efforts are made to learn all we can about this important part of Minnesota’s history. I ran across a piece about ox carts in the Red River Valley Historical Essays, written by students at the Humboldt School in 1974. Ronny Pede had found that the ox cart had changed in construction about 1841 when pioneer Joseph Rolette made a lighter model so they could carry extra furs in their loads. Furs carried were mostly otter, beaver, martin and muskrat.

Written by: Ethel Thorlacius