In late January of 1913 Frank wrote his family in Indiana that he was making progress but since last summer he had been short of breath from time to time, he thought he was improving though he admitted he was more chipper on some days than others. Frank was hopeful but also knew that he couldn’t get any more done on his house until he got more money and time to haul some lumber into his homestead but he was typically upbeat and figured he would get it “proved up” by Fall and “ then it will count up pretty fast”.
Frank’s son George took a snapshot of Frank with their team and a load of poles with his dad holding the reins, but it was George who actually ran the team.
Franks children were concerned as they had received “The Letter” in early August of 1912: Frank told his kids that he had been injured while digging the well, “I got one of my short ribs caved in” and he confessed that he had gotten careless, got his feet wet and caught cold and had to “cough so much”. As Spring faltered Frank had not recovered and he lacked needed medical attention, early Summer brought no relief and his spirit lagged. In August Frank’s sons and daughters received a telegram from the agent in Stratton, Ontario informing them that their Dad had suffered “stroke paralysis”. A neighbor Abner Billyeu sought a doctor in Baudette who wouldn’t come so instead he brought a coffin back to Birchdale. Regrettably he was late, Abner met George with his Dads body encased in a crude coffin made inexplicably from the floor boards of Frank’s cabin. As George related “it was August, we didn’t have an embalmer and it was hot”. Frank was buried in Birchdale early Tuesday morning August 19th. 1913.
George left the cemetery to wire final word to the rest of his family when he met his brother James who had traveled to visit on the road between the Stratton Railroad Depot and the Rainy River. They proceeded to send a telegram to their family that somehow got delayed for several days, this coupled with the fact that the young men went haying for three weeks to make money they badly needed left their Indiana family in deep suspense and it was some time before they had an accurate description of their father’s death and burial.
George stayed on their homesteaded land until he “proved up” both claims with James assisting. They returned to Indiana, the land now professionally managed. The railroad Frank envisioned that might have made homesteading economically feasible for the western part of Koochiching County terminated and never fully materialized. Today a graveled County road still ends three miles from Frank’s cabin, the remains of which are on the same trail he knew, through the same muskeg, through the same seemingly inexhaustible morass he challenged.
Frank Geddes did not survive his adventure in Koochiching homesteading. I hope you enjoyed meeting Mr. Geddes, if so I think you’ll like Annie.
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.