Frank and his son George lived eight miles south of Stratton, Ontario and on the way to their homesteads there were miles of muskeg and moss or tamarack swamps from shoe-mouth to boot-top deep. Frank penned in a letter to home that “we are back to nature all right”, other ruminations included that there isn’t a horse in here nor can one get one in here until it freezes up but some neighbors have oxen. We have to carry everything in but George is big and stout and just “wild” about his land and vows to make of home out of it. He iterated in his notes that George had walked eight miles to Frontier to get nails and carried 32 pounds of them, two pounds of butter and some other stuff in his alpine pack which nearly everyone had, he started at 7:00 AM and got back at 7:00 PM wet to his knees “so it is not all pie here”.
There was loud talk of a railroad coming and then everything would go quick, they had a wagon road granted out to Frontier but it would probably be two years before they could use it as it will be worth about seven-hundred dollars to cut it out, trails were cut on what were section lines but done only by donation. Frank and George had seven or eight settler claims close to them and more scattered around and notated that most of the homesteaders go “out” during the summer months so that they would be isolated and alone for at least two months but they wanted to stay there all the time if they didn’t run short of funds. Frank and George had a busy summer schedule as they wanted to get Franks house and stable done, they corked the cracks with moss and “they were warm all right”.
Frank told his relatives in Indiana that they didn’t have all the rocks in the world as there was one about ten rods north of his place that was big enough to build a barn on it and then have good room for a cow lot and he had seen others. You couldn’t go into the woods without a pocket compass or you are lost within twenty rods. Tamarack pilings paid well and there was cedar, George sold $75.00 of cedar and could have sold twice that much if he had a team of horses. Frank thought that they couldn’t lose out on the land as the timber will help out all the time if they could get a railroad and evidently ardently believed that if that happened he could live the rest of his life without working.
Frank disclosed that George was a smuggler but that was the only way to get goods from Canada without paying duty. He wrote that the River had no bridge nor likely to have one soon, he described the river as about a quarter-mile wide and just beautiful with high banks. He rowed across once himself and saw some families of natives going down the river in their birch-bark canoes. He told his family that the land in Canada was just like his but had more acreage cleared, a gent told him that clover was a weed there and another man told him that near Lake Superior the woods were waist high in clover and the deer were fat as hogs in the fall.
Frank was forced to learn some domestic chores that he had fou faraud when raising a family; they did their own cooking , baked bread and washed dishes three times and day, he mused in a letter home to “tell the girls I used to think cooking was work but it is just play”.
Frank walked one mile to where he was working and then back for lunch, so four miles in all. He worked until seven or eight at night and went to bed at ten or eleven, he detailed that he stepped from one moss bog to another as a wagon was of no more use that a handcar would be since the road was very rough and full of stumps. Inexplicably Frank thought that after he had been ensconced at his homestead about five years he was going to walk all over his land and scare out the deer, moose, wolves and lynx and “we have them all”.
More from Frank’s 1912 missives home in the coming weeks...life happens.
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.