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Survival in a Northern Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part VI

Violet’s new little girl was named Elnora Margaret but because she thought it cute she was nicknamed “Tootsie”. With that nicknames started in the family, in later years Violet opined that if she had to do it over none of her children would ever have an attached moniker. The boys were glad to have a sister and they knew it was a girl from how loud she cried, however there seemed to something wrong with new baby Tootsie, she often woke up screaming in the night and Violet just couldn’t figure out what it was that made her wake up with a sudden scream as she nursed her the same as the other babies except Orrah Jr. because he was premature, she bottled fed him condensed milk.

Violet’s teeth were bothering her real bad so for the first time in five years they went to Fort Frances to get them fixed. They took Elnora with them and stopped at her Father-in-laws fish camp, Orrah’s stepmother took one look and noticed the baby was awfully thin. Violet then realized her breast milk was not sufficient for Elnora. Arriving in Fort Frances Orrah bought a few Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, grapes and some other treats for them and some surprises to bring back to the boys. Orrah fed the baby grapes after pushing the seeds out, he fed her the chocolate bars and boy did she eat. After returning they fed her scraps from the table and she put on weight and according to Violet blossomed in to a pretty baby.

There never did seem to be an end to Violets adventures, she reported the soil was poor around the logging camp and nothing would grow, they had to pick blueberries to earn enough to buy potatoes and vegetables. Orrah would bring in culled fish and leave them at the boat landing and send five and a half year old Wesley and four and a half year old Orrah Jr. to tote them in gunnysacks from the landing to their camp a mile away through muskeg and swamp area. Orrah worried for their safety and one day when the boys were packing the fish in they lost their way in the muskeg. Wesley knew they were lost and made Junior stand in one place while he looked for the trail, he found it and they made their way.

The following summer after Elnora was born Orrah bought Violet an

Old Royal Sewing Machine and himself a nine shot .22 Iver Johnson pistol. Violet sewed for the boys from old coats, over-sized pants and any available material. She also made quilts from old coats, ripped them apart at the seams, kept the parts that weren’t worn out and cut the material into eight inch squares, she salvaged old cotton blankets from the logging camps for filling. All Violets sewing time had to be done at the end of the day after she had cut and hauled the firewood, carried the next day’s water, cooked the meals, fed the children and attended to the unexpected, and after the chores and dinner were over she taught Wesley the alphabet he read to her while she was knitting socks, or putting buckskin tabs on mattresses with a darning needle. She often stayed up until three or four in the morning sewing until a feather robe or mattress was finished, she confessed that there were times she would sleep a little longer the next morning.

Violet recalled Orrah bringing and curing bear meat then smoking it and making ham and bacon out of it. There were neighbors who ate it and swore that they would never eat bear but unknowingly they did. During this time the experience of living in an old logging camp for three years was not to Violets liking and according to her they were the loneliest days of her life. All there was to look out at was a clearing and woods all around her, a pond that the kids played in and they paddled around in an old duck boat which was a actually a hollowed out log.

Next up, Orrah got the idea to live trap wild fox before trapping season, put them in a cage in the woods back of the pond, and leave them so that the fur would be prime by the time season came around. How did that go for Violet?

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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