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Mrs. Ham

I’ve ruminated about Mrs. Ham since I read about her 30 years ago. Mrs. Ham lived in Fairland, Minnesota an isolated hamlet in NW Kooch. It would be a long walk from Baudette, make sure you go left when you get to the Fiero Truck Trail because it’s a long way to Big Falls. From Int’l. Falls it’s 20 miles to Loman and then west on The Black River Road. Originally it was named Feldman for one of its first settlers, but later referred to as Fairland where a Post Office was located until 1936. There were so many folks and commerce in the Fairland area at one time, that some sketchy historical accounts claim there was consideration given to Fairland when the Koochiching County seat was established. Mrs. Hams was resilient, bull hide tough too.

Mrs. Ham didn’t feel well and a pain in her abdomen was stern, so a concerned Mr. Ham somehow relayed word to International Falls that a doctor was needed as soon as possible. The gentleman who brought me into the world, the esteemed Dr. C. C. Craig, answered the call. He got a ride to Loman with the mailman and then walked the remaining distance to the Ham homestead. He diagnosed Mrs. Ham as having acute appendicitis and administered what aid he could to the stricken woman and advised she would have to immediately be carried out for surgery. Folks started spreading the word that there was a need for a dozen men and while they were rounded up Dr. Craig improvised a make-shift stretcher. They set out due North with a team of horses and dray, the men took turns carrying Mrs. Ham then rode the dray as they became tired. They traversed a very rough frozen route north to Birchdale instead of the regular road choosing to take a short cut through the pine forest a distance of about 12 miles. Word had been relayed ahead for more help and when they arrived there were additional men and lots of hot food and coffee, Dr. Craig had not eaten since leaving Loman.

Mrs. Ham got lucky as the Rainy River was still frozen, she was carried across the river and put on a train in Stratton, Ontario and thus was transported to Fort Frances and back across the river to Int’l. Falls where Dr. Craig operated on her in his own hospital for a ruptured appendix. Every now and then over the years I would think of her and just muse holy cow and maybe even holy moly along with holy smokes because several weeks later after she had sufficiently recovered she walked home, over forty miles.

Fairland on the banks of the Black River had its challenges. There were times when the Black flooded especially after unusually heavy winter snows and spring rains. The land was flat and the banks of the river not steep. There were times when the river would rise and up to three feet of water would come into the house. In these times of emergency they had a raft that doubled as a back porch, when it started to float they would roll the bedding and their best stuff up and hang it from the rafters. The cattle and horses found their way to high land and they put the chickens on top of what served as a barn with some food. When the raft was floating freely the poled themselves to safety and often stayed with neighbors and while tricky they usually could pole the porch back home in a week or two. Few viewed it as a vacation.

New settlers came to Fairland mainly in the winter when the roads were passable as they were mostly just blazed trails. Mosquitos, flies and other insect infestations were dense and infamous the many swampy areas ideal breeding grounds, according to several first person accounts the “hordes” of bugs fostered all ilk of caterwauling and often included the word “millions”. Smudges ruled the house.

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.

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