Tricounty News

Hardy settlers' thrills and experiences (part 2)

The drivers were always happy and ready to tell of the goings-on of the outside world.Text is a prize-winning essay on local pioneer history, written by Margaret Cairns. Her essay was printed in the St. Cloud Daily Journal Press March 9, 1926.The Red River carts on their way to and from the trading posts on the Red River of the North often passed grandfather's house in the summertime. They were a source of never-failing enjoyment to the children. The shrill squeak, squeak of the wooden wheels could be heard a mile or more away. These carts, drawn by one ox or one mule in a homemade harness, were a picturesque sight. There would often be several hundred carts in a train, one after another. The drivers were always happy and ready to tell of the goings-on of the outside world. These early settlers suffered many privations that tried the hearts of even the stoutest. Most of them had exhausted their means in expenses encumbered in coming to this country, and in such improvements as they were able to make. They expected to raise enough crops the first summer for food for themselves and feed for their stock, but in the summer of 1856 the grasshoppers devoured their crops. Provisions had to be hauled from St. Anthony, by team, seventy miles away, over corduroy roads and through forded streams with the ever-present danger of savages lurking in the bushes. The closest economy had to be used, and such luxuries as tea, coffee and sugar were seldom used. In the spring of 1857 great difficulty was experienced in procuring seed to plant the fields. Finally they were seeded and the abundant crops were nearly ready to be harvested when a great swarm of grasshoppers arrived and in one day the crops were destroyed. With crops gone and no resources, the gloomy prospects were appalling. But these people were not easily discouraged. They economized in every way possible. Fish and wild game were plentiful, and they managed on their meager supplies. One time during the summer a picnic was planned. My grandmother's donation was "sorrel pie," the sorrel being leaves from a wild plant with a sour taste somewhat resembling rhubarb. This pie was sweetened with molasses. The latest fashions never worried these pioneers. Their only worry was to get sufficient clothing to keep them warm in the winter and from impersonating Adam and Eve in the summer. Tops of leather and felt boots were made into shoes for the women and children. Each settler did his own tanning, and the skins of muskrats, minks and coons were made into warm caps, mittens and jackets for the children. In 1858 new seed was procured and with unflinching zeal and optimism a new crop was sown. This time a bountiful harvest was the result. Just as better times were coming, the Indian outbreak occurred. Many murders were reported daily, and the actions of the once friendly Indians became so alarming that the men deemed it best for the safety of their families to build a block house large enough to house the whole settlement. So rapidly did they work that the fort was completed in two days. The rooms were partitioned off with blankets, and beds were made on the floor, but a feeling of safety made the beds feel softer than the ones in their homes. The first Saturday, Elder Brooks, the circuit rider came into the fort. He was on his way to St. Anthony from upper Crow Wing County. He stayed with us that night taking a place with the guard under the eaves. The next forenoon all being quiet, he held a service. That was a service never to be forgotten. The weirdness of the situation, the intense excitement and the horrible fear of the people made a very impressive scene. Elder Brooks stood at one side of the fort with his gun and Bible lying side by side on a box in front of him. The Bible, his weapon for those inside, and his gun cocked and ready for the foe outside, should the place be attacked. Men, women and children were grouped around him, sitting on boxes, trunks, or on the floor. The men with their guns ready for action while above them at the four corners stood the guards with guns, watching and ready to give warning should the Indians be seen. The Indians only attacked the fort once, doing no damage comparatively, but the parties who were out during the day saving their crops (it was just harvest time) had many narrow escapes getting back to the fort at night. They always went in squads of eight or ten, two or three of the number acting as sentinels while the remainder did the harvesting. There were many massacres at Mananah, Paynesville and Forest City, and many poor escaped refuge from them reaching the fort nearly dead from fright and torture. When ammunition began to give out, the women used all the lead that could be found and even melted some of their pewter dishes, making them into bullets with the old bullet molds which nearly every pioneer had at that time. Their guns were old Army muskets, and it was almost as dangerous to stand behind one as to stand in front of it for they could kick backward as effectively as a government mule. The settlers stayed in the fort for two months before returning to their homes. Brighter times came to the settlers. Crops were good, and there was plenty to eat. Produce, however, brought very small prices. It took fifteen bushels of wheat to buy a barrel of salt, and other things in proportion. Nothing daunted these early settlers. They were heroes suffering uncomplainingly the hardships and worst of all the loneliness in a strange land, away from kindred and old friends. It is sincerely hoped that their descendants will see that their heroic sacrifices shall not be forgotten and their memories shall be honored. Happy New Year, and may God bless! As the world becomes more hectic, it is comforting to go where (almost) "everybody knows your name," in the places we go to socialize and to share our common roots, values and traditions. In a world filled with war and strife, Kimball should receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Besides being a "pause that refreshes" on highways 15 and 55, here you'll find the joy of life's little dramas. Among many other events and experiences, Kimball Days take place once a year to bring friends together. For the love of history, your Kimball Area Historical Society always welcomes you to its annual history exhibit during that festival. Watch the Tri-County News for other coming events, programs and Historical Society meetings. Thanks again to Duain and Kay Linn for contributing this two-part story. To submit column stories and/or photos, to secure gift memberships year-round, or for information and research help with your own history, you can reach the Kimball Area Historical Society at P.O. Box 100, Kimball MN 55353, or by telephone at (320) 398-5250 or 398-5743, or (800) 252-2521 from out of the area.