Born in 1854 “Inexplicable Frank” arrived in Int’l. Falls in April of 1912 where he joined his 19 year old son George who had drifted to our area seeking employment, at George’s urging they both filed and were granted 160 acre parcels adjacent to each other 13 miles south of Frontier and as Frank tells it:
Their plan was to build close together about twice as wide as across a street and shortly after arriving they peeled spruce logs and built George’s house first getting the cracks as close to together as they could. They then took moss and corked the cracks making it tight and according to Frank warm too. For the roof they split poles and laid them next to each other as close as they could and then laid moss or birch bark with a final layer of dirt about three inches thick.
Frank letters back home testified that “this is a wild county yet there are some seven or eight homesteads in the area”. The slew or muskeg had water boot top deep for two miles around them when they went “out”, a road had been petitioned and he thought it would be next year when a corduroy transportation system could get them out, he pointed out that there is no use for a wagon due to very thick roots and the rough terrain. There was only one horse in the area and they had to be sure to get him out before the bog thawed out, they had used the horse to help haul some lumber in. The ground is covered everywhere with moss and what they referred to as roads were just cut out of the timber by the home- steader. Frank and George felt fortunate that their building sites were on higher land than most of the surrounding area so at least around the house site it was easier to clear. Frank had traveled with a trunk containing his possibles and hired a man to get it across the Rainy River and then three miles from his homestead where George took the horse to pick it up.
Frank was to me inexplicably ebullient to his situation, he iterated to the dear ones back home that they were living fine as George had brought some groceries in before the snow went, 150 pounds of flour, 50 of sugar and some other things though it wasn’t enough and he suspected they were in for carrying the rest eight miles. Frank, evidently not a domestic, learned to wash dishes and do some cooking and notated having canned milk, oatmeal, rice, peaches and most everything they needed. They cut the logs close to George’s new house and with the horse skidded them to the building site, it seemed a concern that they had no windows, yet. Frank was pretty sure that when he built he would have to get an Ox as he felt that would be the only chance. Things looked pretty tough to him but with George there he thought he might as well stay. The land is good, surely the best and the trees just sit on top of the ground, they don’t sprout when cut down and in three to five years you can take them out easy, he advised that when they cut the trees they burn the moss off and you can sow timothy and it grows just like weeds. There were stones around but he didn’t discern many, he did see some big ones as high as his head and cover a quarter acre, the soil being gravelly clay and sandy loam. On the Canadian side a man told him that clover was a weed there, he pointed out that the land was just like theirs but they had more cleared, they burn it off in dry weather but he didn’t dare to do that concerned that fire in a dry time likely would burn all the timber, a key revenue source.
Frank drank the proverbial kool-aid and enjoined George’s vision, they hoped to build two houses and a stable before they were through though he confessed he was not enamored by building log houses. They wanted to clear two to three acres the first summer so as to get some hay started. Frank always wished his family well in his salutations and advised them to be “stout” and they would get along all right.
In his letters home Frank penned that there was “strong talk” of a railroad in a year or so and if we get that it will soon be a great country to live in. Next up, more of Frank and George adventurous frontier tribulations, they were common.
About the Author:
Mike Hanson is a long time resident of Birchdale, Minnesota. He enjoys spending his time in the great outdoors, building birdhouses, and has a deep interest in uncovering and understanding settlement history. His writings come from hours of research, as well as engaging discussions with locals and area historians, both professional and amateur.