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Survival in the Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part V

Orrah Jr. was so diminutive at birth he fit into the palm of his father’s hand. Orrah Junior’s physical development was slow, his legs so tiny that he was still crawling when he was over two years old. Violet and Orrah fretted about it, so Orrah made a swing with a harness that hung from the ceiling so Junior could learn to walk, his feet resting on the floor. Orrah would chase him around and around until he finally got the hang of it. Orrah Jr. was almost three years old when he started walking, his younger brother Floyd started walking when he was one. Violet now had three spirited little boys, and when morning came Violet reported they would chatter like monkeys. When they got too loud Wesley would yell at them to stop. As his two younger brothers began to talk Wesley finally caught on and began his oral adventure. Orrah Jr. not only began walking but according to Violet “he was running like a good little fellow”. The three boys saw to it that there was never a dull moment. Orrah sometimes took the boys on canoe trips, though not very often. Years later he wished he had spent more time with his first three little boys.

In the summer of 1934 they were outgrowing their cabin, so they took the three boys over to the Kettle River so they could work on and fix up a large old log house from a logging camp that Orrah’s dad Frank had abandoned many years before. They pitched a tarp near a creek about a half-mile from the old log house and started on the kitchen part which was added on from beach combed lumber. Violet would later have the job of fixing up the big log living room. She was expecting her fourth child. While camped under the tarp and cooking over an open fire Orrah went picking mushrooms, but somewhere along the way he picked the wrong type, cooked them up and the entire family became deliriously ill. Near death, they all lay under the tarp for six days. When they got out of the danger zone, Orrah vowed never to eat another mushroom, and they never did.

It was 1934 when Halverson’s Logging put in a set of camps.

Orrah partnered with a young man by the name of Horace Boas and became “Piece – Makers”. Piece making was when men hired out on their own to cut pulp for the paper mills or boom timbers, their job was cutting boom timbers that could be fifty to a hundred feet long. Each day Violet would bake them a raisin pie for their lunch, the pie was their lunch. Orrah often visited the logging camps, he would bring back the cooks laundry and Violet would get paid .25 cents to wash them, the cook also sent one hundred pound white flour sacks which she cut out and made aprons for him, eventually other loggers sent their clothes over. Violet was making money. The cook would also send over lots of scraps for the dogs but underneath the scraps he would sneak in a pound of butter, a chunk of ham, sausage and a lot of other good things to eat, occasionally they would find a case of sausage or some other eatables out on the ice when the teamsters would come by their cabin. That winter the dogs grew fat and so did the family.

Violet was expecting, but she carried water in the evening from a hole in the ice; though she worried about that she might slip and fall. She washed clothes weekly, she carried all the water the night before so that it would be room temperature, and the next day from the stove she would add hot water. She bathed the children and then put the dirty clothes into soak so they would be easier to scrub the next day.

Orrah and Violet had a plan. She saved every penny she earned to help buy the Halverson Logging Camp when it would be permanently shut down in the spring, and it happened. They now had a cook shanty, a smokehouse, a pigsty, a blacksmith shop, barn, a warehouse and a bunkhouse in which they stayed until the cook shanty could be cleaned up for a residence. On April 28, 1935 Orrah delivered Elnora (named after his mother) Margaret (Violets mother), but because they thought it cute, they nicknamed her Tootsie. However something seemed to be wrong with their new baby Tootsie. Now what!

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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