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

Orrah’s idea to live trap fox and then harvest them when the fur was prime was entrepreneurial, but it caused more work for Violet as she had to feed them. It was quite a distance to walk all the way around their pond, so when the foxes dug out and escaped from the cage, Violet was glad, but Orrah not so much.

Violet ruminated about her responsibilities. The winter was cold, the logs were standing and that made it easier for the chinking to fall out, the 55 gallon wooden barrels of water froze back of the cook stove and stayed frozen until the weather moderated. Violet had to cut and haul her firewood using what was called a one-man saw. It was dull and it took her seemingly forever to cut the wood. She packed water with a yoke across her shoulders, with a pail hanging on each end and carried another pail of water in each hand. The well was about 150 yards from the house.

Violet washed clothes over a washtub and a washboard once a week; so she had to make sure she had enough wood and water so that she could stay indoors one day a week. From the time the kids were four or five years old they helped carry firewood while she split it. Violet used the dogs to haul out the wood until Orrah told her the dogs needed rest. After that she had to haul the wood out using a rope over her shoulder; “where was my rest” she quietly wondered. After hauling a few sleigh loads of wood out by using a rope over her shoulders she made up her mind that some of the dogs would have to go. Orrah told his brother Alton that he wanted this dog and that dog shot. Violet made sure and reminded Alton to get rid of the dogs, which he did before Orrah could change his mind.

Violet’s workload continued to grow. After all her outside work was done, she stretched deer hides over frames and set them outside to freeze so she could shave the hair off of them. She would cut the hide out of the frame, grease them and then let them dry some more, then soaked them in a solution. Violet kept working the hides by taking and rubbing them together making them soft. Within two weeks she took the hides out of the solution and hung them on a line continually stretching and pulling them so they wouldn’t shrink. According to Violet they got soft like velvet and she smoked the hide very lightly so as to preserve the material for years to come. She made buckskin parkas, mitts, shirts and even buckskin pants. The month of March was the best time to tan skins because the weather was warmer and it made it easier to work the hides in the sun. With the hair that she shaved off she made mattresses and by hand with a needle and thread she sewed the edges around the mattress. She thought that they looked like they came from a factory and she was proud of what she accomplished.

Violet reported that things were cheap then but getting the money was a vigorous enterprise. You could buy shoes, overalls and jeans for as low as .15 to .25 cents; she made nearly everything from scratch. In Violets words she “worked her heart and soul out to keep her children warm and put clothes on them while her husband goofed off”. One day Orrah caught a female timber wolf in a trap, he hit her with a stick and knocked her out, put her in his sleigh and brought her home. Orrah called the wolf “Grey Girl”, put a chain on her and led her around the yard. Day after day he played with the timber wolf while Violet did all the chores. He put her in the harness and she pulled the sleigh with the other dogs. In Violet’s words “she was just sick at heart because Orrah spent so much time with the timber wolf that she grew to hate it”, but “really it wasn’t the timber wolf she hated, she just hated Orrah’s actions about the whole matter”. Violet prayed to God to do something about that timber wolf, and one morning Orrah hitched her up in the harness with the rest of the team and took off on the trail, but Grey Girl dodged behind a tree and broke her neck. Violet wasn’t a bit sorry though and was glad it was over with. He had kept her nearly a year.

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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