Hometown Flavor Stories
The Ohngren Homestead Story
By May Bothne Hodgdon
In July of 2013 Sierra Scoop published a story which was written by my (Lisa Coffron) great grandma Hilda Ohngren/Johnson. Recently I came across another story written about the Ohngren Homestead. I hope you enjoy!
The original Ohngren family home was at Ornskoldsvik, Sverige (Sweden). The name is taken from “OHN” meaning island and “gran” meaning green – green grass on an island.
John’s father was the Lutheran minister, or priesten. Ministers usually had considerable prestige in the area served, occupying a position of leadership and living in better than average homes. The Lutheran Church was the state church.
John, himself, was a handsome young man, tall, slender, with deep brown eyes, brown hair and mustache, of calm nature and pleasant mien.
Christine Peterson, daughter of the tavern keeper, was blue-eyed, fair of complexion, of medium height, buxsom, lively, gregarious, with the choleric nature possessed by the Peterson family, though not so noticeable. She was light of heart and foot, and in spite of working all day in the dairy, could dance all night in the lively Swedish dances.
John did not dance; his father did not allow it. He could only wait outside until the dancing ended and she was ready to let him escort her home. Whatever the courtship, he won her hand and they were married.
All through Europe, for the past fifty years, people had been leaving for America and a new start in that much talked-of land. So not long after their marriage, they, too, began to talk and plan on emigrating. At last they bid their friends farewell and embarked at Balavata with their two small daughters, Katherine, three years, and Elma, nine months. They felt themselves lucky to have close relatives in America, for John’s brother, Henry, married to Christine’s sister, Matilda, were already living in Park Rapids, Minnesota, where they too, would go, and where they arrived by train September 16, 1901.
They were able to find a small place near Henry’s, there at Park Rapids, and John could get work in the planing mill. He soon bought a cow so that they could sell some of the milk and butter, the latter of excellent quality, made by Christine. Each felt the other a good mate and help mate, and faced the future with confidence, unafraid of hard work. Christine, so neighborly and so gregarious, liked the life near the small town and close to Henry’s.
Before they left Sweden they had heard of homesteads of up to 160 acres available in America, and discussed the matter. John cherished this hope, and in 1907 was able to file on 160 acres, made up of Lots 1 and 2 and the South half of the Northeast Quarter of Section 6 of Lakeport Township, Hubbard County. (A lot was a parcel of land that was less than forty acres, either because of water area, such as a lake, or some other reason that cut down the land surface)
To say one filed on a claim was the descriptive phrase used for the process of making application for a homestead. It was done in the Land Office, which in this area was in Cass Lake, Minnesota.
He chose wisely for his building spot, a suitable area slightly higher than the rest, with a pretty grove of pine trees to the north of where he would put the house, so the grove would be a windbreak in winter’s cold. He planned and built the house himself, two-storied, two rooms down stairs, two upstairs, with the stairway along the inside of the west wall. The door faced the east, and he built a rougher entry room. This made a sort of summer kitchen in hot weather because there was a small cook stove in it. In the house he used double sash windows. One faced south, also. The chimney rested on a support in the center of the downstairs, to allow for a cook stove in the kitchen and a heating stove in the south room which would also hold the conjugal bed.
The barn was on lower ground south of the house and later he would start a granary between them. From this building site the ground sloped away slightly to the southeast, and three hundred feet in that direction lay two sloughs, one behind the other. In springtime they gave the appearance of two small lakes surrounded on three sides by hayland.
All this he accomplished before moving there.
The Great Northern Railroad ran across Minnesota, in a northerly direction passing through Park Rapids, Walker, Wilkinson, Cass Lake, and Bemidji. It had what were called emigrant cars, usually just an ordinary boxcar. The name came because they were available to rent to emigrants for transporting their livestock and goods to their new homes. So John hired such a car, loaded it with his team of horses, wagon, two cows, some chickens, tools, minimal household goods, some food, and shipped it the approximately forty-five miles from his claim. He traveled with the car, accompanied by two of his daughters, Katherine, now nine years, and Esther, five. The time was June, 1907.
Christine would stay in Park Rapids until November, when another baby was expected. Elma, six years, and Lilly, two years, stayed with her. She really had no taste for backwoods living and could not face an accouchement there.
They had driven past the small house where their nearest neighbors, the Bothne family, lived. Joe Bothne had been confined to his bed the past winter with a severe attack of inflammatory rheumatism. Now recovered enough to get about with one crutch, he was in no condition to offer help with the unloading, though he saw them drive by.
John untied the cows and turned them into a small area he had fenced with poles and with the girl’s help pulled some pea vines for them. He was thankful for those wild leguminous plants. The plot enclosed part of a small spring pond so the cows could drink at will. At his bidding Katherine brought water to put into a small chicken coop. He sprinkled some grain there and opened the crate to release the chickens.
They moved some of their load into the house and Katherine laid out some of the food brought from home for the new home’s first meal. Refreshed, he emptied the wagon and set up some furniture. Then he went back for the second load. He would not return until darkness had fallen.
Mindful of their father’s instructions the capable Katherine made up the bed and did what she could to set the place in some order. When it was dark she lighted the lantern for she had not found the lamp. When it was very dark outside the wolves began to howl, long quavering notes that sent chills up the children’s spines. The animals sounded to them to be right outside. The door was closed, but what about the windows, made of glass that could be broken? The frightened children thought of the little cubby hole under the stairs. It seemed the safest place, for with the stair door closed they could close the cubby hole door behind them and surely feel safe. In they went and clung to each other while each minute seemed like a month, and wolves howls went on and on. Finally the terrible sounds stopped, but the girls stayed yet awhile, until the welcome sound of their father’s voice came to them when he stepped in the door.
And so they settled in. Summer came, with a long succession of work. The garden needed howing and weeding, but the vegetables on this new ground were flavorful. Milk must be kept cool in the small cellar under the house, then skimmed and butter churned. Meals must be cooked and coffee brewed.
Katherine made Kockeren, or soft bread, like this: One cupful white flower – One-half cup sugar – One teaspoon salt – One cupful sour milk or buttermilk – One-fourth cupful lard, melted (Now cooking oil would be used) – One cupful rye or whole wheat flour – One teaspoonful soda – Two teaspoonfuls baking powder; Sift dry ingredients together and make a hollow or depression in the flour. Pour in milk and lard. Stir enough to mix, then set in a cool place for two hours.
Put one cupful of flour on the breadboard and add the dough. Knead slightly and divide into six pieces. Roll out one until about 8 or 10 inches across. Slide onto a cookie sheet that has only one edge on it. Bake at 400degrees for 10 minutes and slide onto rack in the oven to continue baking. Continue rolling and baking until all are done.
Sometimes she did not use any dark flour, using white flour in its place. This bread, dark or white, was cut with a shear into triangular shaped pieces (like pie pieces) and eaten with butter she had churned.
Her Mother had taught her to be helpful even before she went to school so she could do quite a bit of plain cooking and her father advised and helped her in many ways. Though his hands were roughened and calloused they were still fine and able hands that could and did help a young daughter in many kind ways despite the unrelenting persistence of his own daily work. His children remember this, and that his face and voice spoke to them of affection and kindliness.
They were glad the Bothnes were close neighbors whose house they could see from their east window for that house was only a quarter mile away. Joe and Cora Bothne had two small children; May was four years old, and Adolph, called Buddie, was two.
On the way to Wilkinson there were other homesteaders. A half-mile north of her brother Marie Bothne lived in a small log cabin and her mother was with her. There, the road turned east and though Fred Smith’s land cornered there he chose to build in a pine grove another eighth mile farther on. He was a lawyer from Cass Lake whose family stayed during the summer and he joined them whenever his work allowed it. The Smiths had three children. Madeline was twelve years and the boys, Ancil and Selwyn, were older.
Herman Broeker, a tailor from Cass Lake, had his homestead just north of Ohngrens, where his wife and children lived during the summer. Some single men were closer to Wilkinson and John Osborne was south, near the swamp.
One warm summer day their father came in to say to the girls, “There are some ripe blueberries down on the point of land near the sloughs. Get some pails and we can go pick them.”
There were always empty tin syrup pails, so he took a gallon one and each girl a half gallon one. They trudged along beside him about a half mile to the berry patch. The walking was harder nearer the patch and he took Esther’s hand to help her along.
This point had long been a camping site for the Indians who traveled through the area between Walker and Cass Lake, or when digging snake root in the springtime. The large oak tree had all its lower branches bent down and held by large stones, apparently for a long time, because if a stone rolled away or was removed the branches did not snap into place but hung low. Inside them was a shelter place. Nearby was a circle of stones, smoke-stained on the inner sides because they surrounded a place where fires had burned. Two forked sticks stood across from each other, surmounted by a cross piece on which a kettle could be hung above the fire. Sometimes the nearby families could smell wood smoke at twilight, but intervening brush hid any sight of place or its occasional occupants.
The berries in the open were brightly blue clusters and were easy to pick. Those farther back in the brush were larger but not yet ripe so they spoke of coming back later for them. This they did do. The berries they took home made a tasty addition to their supper.
Later, John showed the girls some patches of berries just west of the house in the pines. They might pick there if they would be careful to keep close to home. They must not wander away and get lost in the woods. He pointed out some large old stumps and a tall dry stub with a crooked branch at the top as landmarks to keep in their view. It would be pretty scary to get lost. However, they never wandered away, and preferred to pick further away only when he could go with them.
He usually took them along when he drove the jolting road to Wilkinson on his infrequent trips. Some afternoons they went to Bothne’s to play with May and Adolph, or May might come to visit them.
One day their father came in to say, “There must be a rainstorm coming up. See that black cloud over us. We’d better carry in some wood and kindling.”
They hurried to do that, and soon heavy drops began to fall while it became quite dark. Lightning flashed and was followed by thunder that sounded like a load of stone falling near them. Then, it was over and the sun shone again, while a beautiful rainbow was theirs for the viewing. Their father explained that it was God’s promise that he would not destroy the world with a flood as happened in Noah’s time.
Joe Bothne found much to admire in John Ohngren’s knowledge and abilities. When Joe was recovered and able to work again, the men often helped each other, or cut timber. One day he told an incident to his wife, Cora.
“John certainly knows how to do things well and makes every move count. Today he needed to file his saw. First, we sawed into a big old stumps that stood about three feet high. Then he turned the saw over and set it into that groove with the teeth uppermost, ready to file right then and there. Pretty smart, I thought. I tell you, Cora, I’ll listen to him whenever we are together after this.”
When John came there to start building his house he had had dinner at Bothne’s where they talked of many things, among them the scarcity of good water. Joe told how he had dug wells that in the springtime were full of water but as summer progressed these went dry and they were compelled to use the brownish slough water. The sandy loam soil required curbing as he dug, too. Sometimes he struck a rock or hardpan and could go no further, so he would pull up the curbing to use again. All this required a second man, and so they agreed when Joe was able, they would work together. Meanwhile, John sunk a shallow well down by his slough that would do until a better one was dug.
So whatever time the men could spare from the pressures of needful everyday work they dug. There was a low place right below the front of John’s house and there they put up a windlass after they had dug down three feet with shovels. The fastened a nail keg to one end of a strong rope and the other end was fastened to the windlass. Taking his daily turn at digging, each one would be lowered with the keg to the well bottom, fill the keg with soil, and wind it up to the surface and empty it out. He also kept adding boards to the top of the curbing so it could not drop down as they dug. Alas! This effort started so hopefully, was stopped by a very large rock, which necessitated abandoning the site. With freezing weather approaching they decided digging must be left until spring.
They cut hay in late summer, that wild hay around the sloughs, using a scythe, and raked it up with a wooden rake John made. The livestock had been foraging in the wild pea vines all summer so there were none to harvest and he could see the necessity of buying baled hay for the winter. He would need money for that and both men decided to earn their money cutting box bolts and railroad ties. There was white pine on their homesteads, and a little tamarack. The latter was always in demand because of its lasting qualities.
If they worked together they could use the two-man saw, about six feet long being heavier they could saw faster with it. They used double-bitted axes and if a handle broke they made themselves another. In fact, they made them during the long evenings, to have a spare always on hand. Mention must be made of the kerosene sometimes needed when pin pitch gummed the saw and kerosene poured upon it would cut the pitch. Small flat whiskey bottles were preferred for carrying kerosene because they fit into a pocket so neatly.
Anytime he was in the woods John kept watch for terminal-top or branch-which had four or even five small branches below it. Or even all around the main terminal. This he would cut with a shank a foot long. He took it home, trimmed, peeled, and dried it. When done it was a tvarla, the bottom stick about a half inch below those joints that branched out and were lopped off 2 to 2 ½ inches long, with the shank a foot high. Christine would put the top of the shank between her two palms, and rubbing them together with incredible speed, when it was set into gravy, or pudding being thickened, would soon have it stirred smoother than using a spoon. She liked to have several to use.
Back in Park Rapids, Christine was nearing the end of her pregnancy. She sewed new dresses for Kathryn, because John said she was growing out of hers and they would fit Elma, while Elma’s would go to Esther. They all had their long winter underwear and she and Grandma Peterson had knitted stockings for the family. Grandma and Grandpa Peterson, her parents, had come to this country, and her two brothers and sister. Peter, married in Sweden, was accompanied by Emily, his wife, and their small son, Justin. Sister Mina’s Charles had slept in the same basket with Justin on the ocean crossing.
She was reluctant to leave this family group, but on November 28, she gave birth to another daughter, whom she named Mayme. So it was almost Christmas when she took Mayme, Lily, and Elma and boarded the train for Wilkinson. John was waiting at the station platform when the train pulled in at seven o’clock that cold winter night., He had hay in the sled box and blankets, too, for the cold ride home, where Kathryn and Esther waited and were keeping fires in heating and cook stoves. John was glad to have his family reunited, as was Christine, though she was never reconciled to living there.
A few days after she came John butchered the young beef animal he had been raising for the winter’s meat. When he cut its throat the blood was caught in a large pan. At the same time salt was stirred into it to prevent coagulation. Some of this blood was mixed with the batch of soft bread with butter. The remaining blood could be used for blood sausage, perhaps. Rice would be mixed with it and the whole thing put into a narrow cloth sack, tied at the opening and dropped into boiling water and cooked. When done and cold, it would be sliced and fried until slightly browned, a nourishing and delicious addition of protein to any meal.
By waiting until cold weather they were assured their meat would keep, barring a long thaw. Some of it, though, was ground into sausage, formed into small balls, fried, and stored in a jar covered with fat to prevent any spoilage. Much salt pork was purchased and eaten. It could be fried in slices or cooked with vegetables, or wild game. And having been steeped in brine it would keep indefinitely.
Her children remember how good their mother’s Flaska Pancakes always were, and she made them for Christmas breakfast.
FLASKA PANCAKA – First, fry pork brown. Cut into small pieces. If preferred, cut into cubes and then fry. Pour off part of the grease. Put pork and remaining grease into a cake pan. – Make batter from: 1 quart milk – 2 cupfuls flour – 1 teaspoonful salt – 3 eggs – 2 tablespoonfuls sugar – 4 level teaspoonfuls baking powder, if sweet milk is used; Pour batter over it and bake until done and lightly brown.
One can lightly frost the hot cake with ½ tablespoonful corn starch, 3 tablespoonfuls orange juice, 1 ½ teaspoonfuls honey. Cool before serving.
The rib roast for their gala dinner was delicious, and for dessert they had her famous yellow cake – famous to them, at least; they like it so much.
The slough was frozen and John chopped a hole daily so the livestock could drink. It came easier to melt the untarnished white snow for water so the wash boiler stood long hours on the back of the stove.
Another immigrant car came to Wilkinson bringing neighbors to settle west of them. They were the Ole C. Johnson family from Kristine, North Dakota, not long from Norway. There were five sons, Carl, Oscar, Alfred, Ingvald, and small Reuben. Very soon, too, Ole Lillemo, good friend of Johnson, came from the same place, with his wife, children Peter, Adelaida, Ragnel, and Guttorm. They moved into a house on the Johnson place to await the opening of a parcel of land in Cass County. Ole Lillemo had come with Johnson to erect the buildings.
Mr. Johnson had cases of Kuriko shipped to him from Chicago. It was a tonic, and according to the printing on the bottle would keep you well and cure a wide variety of illnesses. He peddled this to all the settlers to keep them in good health and found business very good. If anyone would return the empty bottle he could have a small discount on the next bottle he bought, which bargain kept them coming back. It was too strong to give to children, so he sold some other elixir for them. The fact that it seemed to have no curative effect on the inflamed joints (from inflammatory rheumatism) that caused his son Alfred so much suffering was either overlooked or unknown to his customers.
One of Christine’s first callers was Cora Bothne, who was accompanied by her small daughter, May. Cora was a black-haired, gray-eyed young woman now in her seventh month of pregnancy. After wraps were removed, Christine, whose thoughts were usually immediately vocalized, blurted out, “My, what black hair you have! You must be an Indian.”
Cora was surprised but managed a weak smile as she answered, “No, I am really Danish. My parents came from Denmark.”
“Oh my! I would never have thought that, with such black hair. But I see you have very white skin and gray eyes.”
“Your little girl has such light hair and brown eyes”
“Yes, her eyes are like Mr. Bothne’s mother’s eyes, and her hair is curly like his. They tell me had light-colored hair when he was small. We have a little boy, too, and he had light hair, but it isn’t curly.”
Hospitable Christine served coffee and molasses cookies, over which they spoke of many things, including homestead life, the new baby girl, Mayme, and scarcity of neighbors. The little girls had a merry time after their initial period of shyness.
It was not long after this that a series of snowfalls filled the rude road and stopped further visiting.
On March first a baby boy was born at Bothne’s. Among Scandanavians it is customary to visit new mothers soon after their accouchement, so Christine went to call on this woman who was lucky enough to have given her husband two sons already. Ester accompanied her mother. They were met at the door by Grandma Bothne and after warming a bit beside the air-tight heater went to the bedside. Grandma brought the new boy, Otto, his black hair very pronounced against the white cocoon of his blankets, and laid him beside his mother.
“Oh, he looks like an Indian,” gasped Christine.
When Otto began to fuss, Cora said, “If you’ll excuse it, I think it is time to nurse him.”
Christine looked at the other woman’s small bosom and with a calculating eye and said, “you must not have much milk for your boy, I’d better nurse him for you.”
She unbuttoned her blouse and bared her breast, of which she was secretly proud, and picked up the baby. But small Otto would have none of this unfamiliar fare. He screwed up his face and began to cry with increasing volume, turning his face away from the proffered nipple. She shushed him and rocked him in her arms but finally acknowledged her defeat by giving him back to his mother. His crying subsided as this familiar figure and fare were his.
Buddie, meanwhile, had approached the bed when his brother began to cry and after buttoning her clothes, Christine turned to him and he did not turn away from her pleasantries. Before long he was sitting on her lap. He became her favorite and she always had a kind word for him or a tidbit if he came to her home.
John had been to Wilkinson and stopped to leave mail for Bothne’s so she and Esther rode home in the sled. He brought a box of freight, the green coffee they had ordered. Like many other Swedish families they preferred to buy green coffee beans and do the roasting themselves. She spread the coffee smoothly over the bottoms of her two black dripping pans, as they were called, set in the oven until the beans were roasted to the degree of brownness which they liked, then cooled and stored in a covered tin can. Just enough coffee beans were ground at a time to make a potful of coffee. It was sort of a continuing cooking process for the coffee pot was either on the front or back of the wood stove most of the time. Weed was the only fuel.
After a cold and blustery March the weather broke and moderated. There was the day when a wandering skunk met up with their dog and went under their house. Having used his weaponry charge on the dog he still left lingering odor under the house before he left and John could plug the hole. No one wanted a repeat of that performance-any part of it, most certainly not the dog.
And then it was spring! The abundant snow melted and water ran everywhere. All the settlers planned and made gardens, since homestead laws required that a certain amount of land be opened for cultivation. They needed the food, too, and talked of wild raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries they would pick. The high bush cranberries they would find in the fall would be good only for making jellies and jams.
With the coming of spring rains, rainbarrels were scrubbed out and set up at the corners of the houses, a shorter distance that the slough holes when it came to carrying water. When water was low in the barrels the children would “holler down the rainbarrel” enjoying the loud sound of their voices as they reverberated.
Christine would step out the door and call the cows in the evening for milking-or call one and the other followed. Her “Co’ Starne, Co’ Starne” rolled out and the cows would come to it. The Bothne children used to holler”Co’ Starne” down their rainbarrel but never made it sound like she did.
Christine milked the cows and taught the girls her method. She used only her index finger and thumb but had great speed and efficiency in that. She had learned all this in Sweden and did it well all her life.
After plowing and spring work was done John went to Park Rapids to work in the planing mill, foreseeing the need for money for next winter. His brother Henry’s second son, John, came up to stay awhile with Christine and the girls, to help for the livestock, and do everyday chores.
One spring day Christine said to Elma, “Take the blue pail and go down to the well after drinking water.”
Elma took the blue granite pail, about a ten quart capacity, and trudged off to the well by the slough. She was the small windflowers were opening along the path and across the slough the muskrat houses still stood along its edge though the ice was gone. She was not aware they were anchored to the cattail stems.
As she neared the well, one of the muskrats, a small brown animal with long, ugly-looking teeth ran at her in a most belligerent manner. She turned and ran, pursued by the rodent, but outran it and burst into the house. Panting and tearful she sobbed out her dreadful experience when any minute she expected to feel those long teeth in one of her legs.
None of them knew then that spring is the time when last year’s kits are pushed out of the nests to make way for the next litter. Then the animals are nervous and unstable, especially the mother carrying new babies. After they are born she continues to be uneasy and in a fighting mood.
Later, when Katherine took a stick and accompanied Elma the rat was gone.
With the water situation what it was, the Bothnes got their wash water from the Ohngren sloughs, too. Before Joe Bothne left to find employment because he, too, needed money, he had dug a hole about two feet across, not far north of the slough so it was nearer his house. Cora could easily dip water for her pails from this hole, and seepage kept it filled until hot weather.
One summer morning when she went down for water she was shocked to find one of Ohngren’s horses lying on his side in the hole, unable to get out. From his appearance she judged he had certainly been there all night.
She went at once to tell Christine of her discovery.
“It’s all your fault,” Christine scolded. “If you folks didn’t dig holes like that, the horse couldn’t get stuck in one. We must get it out. Katherine, put Mayme in the buggy. Elma, call John to help us.”
All of them followed Cora to the mired horse, where Christine took charge.
“Here, Cora, you pull on his tail. I’ll lift on his head. You kids stand out of the way.”
Nothing was accomplished by that effort.
“You don’t have much strength, do you, Cora? Here comes John., He can help lift, too.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if we had a board to pry him up too?” asked Cora.
“Yah, yah. John, you go up behind the new building John is making and bring the widest board in that pile. Katherine and Elma, you go find a chunk of wood to put under the board when we get it under the horse.”
“What kind of chunk?”
Cora looked at Christine and said, “Joe has a pile of round chunks back of our house about 15 inches through, if you want that size. Our house is closer.”
“Yah! Yah! Go there and get one of them,” Christine said.
She walked over by the horse and studied it.
“We can’t tromp around here by him too much or we can sink in when the ground is soft like this.”
By the time the children returned she was ready.
“John, you must help us raise up the horse to get one end of the board to slide under his back. I’ll lift here on this neck and John can help Cora near his tail. Katherine, put one end of the board right here and you and Elma hold it-so!”
“When we raise up on the horse you push on that board,. Push hard to get it under him. Ya! Quick.”
She looked at the small ones and added, “And you all stay over there, out of the way.” She pointed to the edge of the brush, ten feet away.
“Ready, now! Lift!”
No one had a good hold so hands slipped off the horse.
They rested for a short while, then under her directions lined up for another try, being urged to do their best.
Slowly the horse’s weight was shifted just enough to allow the two girls to push the board beside his back. With that for a start the women and John were able to push it further until Christine was satisfied.
“Now, John, you put that block of wood on its side under the board. Not so far out, closer to the horse! No, no! Not that close! Good, that’s far enough. Now, we will all push down on the board-Ready! Push!”
As the board slowly went down she sat her considerable weight upon it, and others followed suit.
Slowly, slowly, the board lifted the horse until he was able to scramble to his feet, shake himself and, verbally encouraged, amble away, followed the gaggle of humanity that had surrounded him.
“We shall put him in the barn, rub him down, and give him some feed. John, you see that he goes right to the barn.”
The animal stopped at their barn pond for a drink and after care and feeding seemed none the worse for his unusual adventure.
Before leaving Cora, Christine turned and apologized for her hasty words about digging holes. As time went on apologies came less easily to her.
One day Christine put Mayme in the baby buggy and went to call on Mrs. Johnson, telling the girls they could go play with the Bothne children, or whatever they wished. Down at Bothne’s they collected May and Adolph to go for a walk up the road. “Up” meant north. There was no road to the south, only a trail. They stood looking south and talking about the big trees down that way. Two big trees were visible. One stood there, much of its top dead the other tree, long dead, a wooden skeleton of tree and limbs, stood down in the swamp, but from their viewpoint a mile away, looked as tall as the other. My, how old they must be!
After some deliberation they decided to walk up to Grandma and Aunt Marie Bothne’s where there might be some wintergreen berries in the woods. They walked in the wheel tracks for they were barefooted. They saw Smith’s peacock beside the road, but gave it a wide berth. It had an uncertain temper. Its mate had frozen to death the past winter in its unheated shelter.
Their search yielded only a handful of the pungent red wintergreen berries, but at Grandma Bothne’s they were treated to a cookie a piece and given a sack of peanuts to take home. Enroute back down the road Katherine suggested they go to their house and have a party with the peanuts. She was carrying the peanuts so they followed her lead.
There the peanuts were divided and shelled. She set out glasses and the peanuts looked so delicious through the glass, but wait! She must bring some milk from the cellar and half-fill all the glasses. Eaten out of the milk with a spoon, after which the milk was drunk, they thought it was a treat extraordinary. It must have been, when its memory could last so long.
Another tribulation arose when the mosquitoes came in hordes. Mosquitoes rose in swarms from the soft green growing things. They can live on plant juices but must have red blood in order to lay eggs to reproduce so the hungry swarms were incessant in their attacks. Smudges were built in old pails and other metal containers and set at doors, where anyone entering the house walked through the smoke to rid themselves of the pests. But they penetrated the houses anyway. Even the livestock sought the smoke for relief, so smudges were built in their yard for them.
Christine came with a bundle of mosquito netting to Bothne’s one day.
“I see you have a sewing machine,” she said. “I want you to please sew this netting to put up over our beds so we can have some sleep. Why, we are slapping mosquitoes all night, and you should see the bites on Mayme. They are worse that on the other children. We think you are so lucky you already have your netting up. John is cutting sticks for ours so that they can hang from the ceiling like yours.”
Cora’s Singer sewing machine was a treadle one of that period and Cora stitched together the netting and hemmed the sides so her neighbor could get the sleep she longed for.
Meanwhile, Christine’s dislike of life on the homestead grew as time passed. She disliked the loneliness, missed her relatives, was unhappy to have John working in Park Rapids, and railed against such a pinching existence. One day it occurred to her that she had an argument in favor of going back because the children should be in school. Was not one whole year enough time to lose from school?
Her determination grew. Why not earn the train fare herself? With money for that in her pocket it would be easier to convince her husband. So one day she went calling on her neighbor, Mrs. Smith, to deliver the butter and present her with some fresh vegetables.
The aristocratic Mrs. Smith liked some areas of life in the woods but she complained about having to send her laundry to Cass Lake, or else do it herself. It was hard for Mr. Smith to take it back and forth on the train, too.
Christine asked her what she paid, then offered to do it for less. Mrs. Smith knew a bargain when she saw-or heard-one and so the deal was made. Mr. Smith would be happier and she would not have washing to do. Since they entertained quite a bit and their guests were to return to Cass Lake via train often on Monday nights, Ancel would bring the clothes down on Tuesday mornings. All were washed on the washboard, often by Katherine, but Christine ironed them. She kept the money paid her, along with butter and milk payments, and when she had enough for herself and children for fares to Park Rapids, she sent word to John about it and that now they were going to move!
John came home on Saturday night in early August via the train. She marshaled her arguments carefully and insistently, her “ace in the hole” being the small pile of money she had accumulated for their fares. John saw he must give up the homestead, the land he wanted so much. He had proved up on it, which means it was now his, and he would keep it. Perhaps in the future-who could say-they might come back.
“I’ll go back to the planing mill one more week.” “I’ll order an emigrant car for the last week in August, or as near that as I can get it.”
He had been “batching” in their house at Park Rapids and knew it could soon be ready for the family.
“Our house will be ready for you, and you can have time for packing so we can load the car when it comes. You can take the girls on the train with you. Maybe I ought to drive the team and wagon down to Park Rapids and not ship them.”
And so it went. He sorted his tools and left a few upstairs for the time when he would return. The little old cook stove in the summer kitchen was to be left, too. He could use it if he could come back sometimes.
The neighbors were sorry to see them go, but lent a hand or a team for hauling to the car or loading it. Farewells were said and at seven o’clock one morning the passenger train left Wilkinson with the family aboard. The freight train would pick up the emigrant car from the siding when it came along later in the day for the short run to Park Rapids.
Since Katherine and Esther had come with him when he moved, he took Elma on the wagon with him and drove the none too smooth road with his faithful horses. Christine had a joyful reunion with her relatives and life moved ahead. He went back to his work in the planing mill. It was some years before he was able to buy land near town and again become the farmer he longed to be.
“Don’t Go Annie” Chapter 1
By Terri Geissinger
“Don’t go Annie”…my mothers whispered words echoed in my mind as the ship slowly pulled away from the dock. As I stood on the deck of the SS Polaria, I could see my parents clutching one another and I knew mother was crying. It seemed I had been waiting for this moment all my life, and now that it was here, I was torn with emotions. Although my heart ached for leaving my dear parents, I could not deny the feelings of seeking a new life in America. This is my story…
I was born in Denmark July 18, 1859. I am the fourth child born of five to my parents. My parents still live on the farm that has been in my father’s family for over 150 years. Potatoes, onions and chickens are grown on the land for the local markets. If we were ever considered poor, I never knew it. My parents are good honest people who raised us with a firm hand, love and lots of laughter. No matter how bad things ever got, my parents saw the bright side of things. There is one of two places you can find mother. If she isn’t in the kitchen with her apron on, she is in the front room in the middle of sewing or knitting something practical for her family. She is a tender, loving mother who puts our needs in front of her own. Father is a big, strong man who seems to be able to do anything. He works long hour’s everyday and is always around when you need him. He has a twinkle in his eye and an easy smile. I think my favorite memories are of all of us together after a hard day working in the fields, crowding on the front porch listening to father playing the fiddle or telling us a good story.
For as far back as I can remember, as long as we were out of earshot of father, my siblings would sit on the old fence and talk about how, when they grew up, they would not stay in Denmark but would travel to America, the land of great opportunity. I would sit for hours listening to them dream out loud of the places they would go, the adventures they would have, the horses they would own, the homes they would build and the families they would raise. When I got old enough to chime in, I too would dream of the endless possibilities. Out of the five of us, three would fulfill those dreams.
The first one to brave my fathers scowling disappointment was my oldest brother Jeppe. He left home when I was eight. I remember mother crying for days and I thought she would never be the same again. Father stayed out in the fields late and seemed to find excuses not pick up the fiddle. It took some time for them to adjust to the fact that their oldest son would not be taking over the farm. Jeppe wrote often, sending his love and his hopes that we would someday follow. He eventually settled in Indiana where he married and homesteaded good farming ground. It wasn’t long before he was raising a family. Except for father, we would all crowd around mother as she would read his letters by the evening lamp light; we could hear the happiness in his words. This fueled our secret dreams.
Marie is six years older than I and she’s my favorite sister. I am not sure if that counts because she is also my only sister. Marie is beautiful, intelligent and has a quick sense of humor. Everyone loves her. When she married Richard Kilpatrick in 1871, we were all so happy for her. Richard is a well respected carpenter and has built many fine buildings around the country. I know my parents were hoping that they would settle somewhere near the farm. I will never forget father’s face at the dinner table when Richard and Marie broke the news that they would be moving to America the following year. Mother said nothing as Richard spoke quickly of their plans of opening up a carpentry business in San Francisco. He explained that California was booming and the opportunities were boundless for his trade. He was hoping that father would approve, I am not sure if he ever did. Mother was crying again.
I was thirteen when Marie and Richard left Denmark. Soft rain fell as we all stood on the cold dock and watched the ship slip away. It was the saddest day of my life. I made a promise to myself that day. I promised that I would be the next one to go and follow my dreams. From that day forward I worked hard and saved every penny I could to purchase a ticket to long away place that I knew very little about.
My sister, like my brother, wrote often and was very good at describing the beautiful coast of California, the magnificent red wood forests, the excitement of San Francisco and the lure of the gold and silver that lie in the Sierra streams and mountains. She would write of the people who came from all over the world with their hopes and dreams of a better life. Many would return to their home countries with their dreams shattered while others stayed and carved out lives in the new land. It didn’t seem to matter if it was during the day or at night; my dreams thrived on adventure and romance. My imagination took me across the ocean on a beautiful ship filled with fascinating people…on a train crossing the Plains of buffalo and wild Indians…thru the rugged snow capped mountains, mounted on fine horses with strong handsome men as guides. I seemed to have no problem imagining myself in America. I kept the precious letters under my bed in a small painted cedar box that Marie had sent to me as a present. I would read the letters over and over until I memorized every word she wrote.
Its early spring 1883. I am twenty three years old and ready to embark on a journey of a lifetime. It is hard to believe that ten years have passed since my family waved goodbye to Marie and Richard. I can remember that day and I how I felt as if it were yesterday. A lot has happened since then. Jeppe still lives in Indiana where he has a large successful farm and three young sons. My second brother is married and lives near the farm to help father. His wife is expecting their first child. Marie and Richard are very successful and live in Bodie. My little brother is attending college and hopes to open a business in Denmark. Mother is excited about the new baby coming and is busy knitting clothes. Father, well, he is tired all the time and talks more and more about the good old days.
Tears flow down my cheeks as the moist cool air dampens everything around me. I don’t notice the chill of the breeze as it lifts my coat and scarf. I won’t stop waving to my dear parents as they stand on the cold dock, slowly becoming tiny points of color disappearing into the gray scenery…
April 11, 1883 – Early Evening – SS Polaria – third day – I write now with trembling hand. I fear that I may have made a dreadful mistake embarking upon this journey to America. It seems as though I have spent an eternity on this godforsaken ship and yet it is only day three. This is the first moment that I have found the will to write an entry. I and most others have suffered greatly from stomach casting. The snarling sea has not been kind and rocks the ship endlessly. The conditions are horrid. I have not seen the light of day or sensed fresh air since we left home. All passengers are discouraged from going topside because of the dangerous seas. I yearn to breakaway from the damp dark and stench that fills every moment. I am feeling poorly and will try to write again tomorrow.
April 12, 1883 – Morning – SS Polaria – fourth day – I write this morning with hope that at last, my stomach is adjusting to this environment. I feel a bit better and have not casted all night. The sea has relented some and the ship is not tossing as much. I am famished as I have eaten little since we started out. The food is not desirable. The meat (beef & horse) is heavily salted, the hardtack tasteless. Drinking water is closely rationed. There are four of us in this small space that are called ‘quarters’. Each morning a large bucket of water is brought to the door and we must all share for drinking and bathing purposes. If we fail to return the empty bucket outside the door before nightfall, we will not have water the following day. I cannot begin to write how difficult it is to be in these cramped conditions where all of us have been violently ill and not able to clean up after ourselves properly because of water rations.
I am thankful that my quartermates are female. Their names are Mattie, Joan and Tillie. Mattie is the oldest and seems kind. In the few words that we have exchanged, she told me that she was joining her husband in America. She hasn’t seen him in three years. So far all I know about Joan and Tillie is that they are sisters from Hamburg Germany. They speak English about as well as I do! I haven’t had the chance to talk much to them as we have all been indisposed.Will write later.
April 12 – afternoon – We were allowed to venture topside! The air was crisp and clean, the sky wide and blue. I never felt anything so good. I overheard two ship hands talking and one said that we were making good time. We should be there in nine to eleven days, if the weather holds. I pray the weather holds.
April 13, 1883 – mid morning – Fifth day – I am much better. I saw the captain last night when I was in line for the evening meal. He commented that I looked pert. Joan and Tillie are both doing better as well and are up and about. I worry about Mattie as she is still dry casting. We have been helping her as much as we can. She says she wants to die. When she says these foolish things I remind her of her husband who certainly must be anxiously awaiting her arrival. It seems to calm her. I miss mother and father terribly.
Weather is clear and calm. Food is horrible. Water looks dirty and tastes bad.
April 14, 1883 – afternoon – Sixth day – I am bored, tired and sick of this disgusting ship. My mothers words come to mind, “Don’t go Annie” and I question my decision to leave home. What was I thinking?
Tillie just came in and said she saw the ship hands slip two dead bodies over the side. One was a man who had a family. His wife and children cried as they tossed a braid of colors into the water; the other was small child who had been ill. I am sad.
I think Mattie is dying. She won’t eat and drinks little. It disturbed me greatly to see Joan using Mattie’s ration this morning to bathe. I said nothing and I regret it. The scours are tormenting people. I am well so far. Although it is impossible, I desperately try to keep to myself, in fear of becoming infected. There are too many people here. The noise is unbearable. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night; children are crying, people are arguing, some result into fist fights. I fear we will never get off this ship. Storm coming.
April 15, 1883 – mid morning – Seventh day – My prayers were answered. The storm that tossed the sea last night has passed and left us unharmed. Thank you Lord in Heaven.
I am terribly homesick. My heart is big and sore and feels as though it will push through my skin. I miss everyone and everything about home. I even miss Mrs. Stern’s mean turkey. Mattie seems worse.
April 17, 1883 – early morning – Ninth day – I did not write yesterday as it was a bad day. Mattie is dead. I tried to wake her for water and she was cold and stiff. We summoned the captain and he had the men take her body to the topside. Joan, Tillie and I braided colored strips from our petticoats. We all said a prayer as the ship hands slipped her body into the sea. We watched the colored braid until it too slipped underneath the dark water. I am sad for her husband.
April 17 – late afternoon – Joan is crying and feels bad about stealing Mattie’s water. I am glad I didn’t say anything to her about it because she now regrets wholeheartedly her devilish actions. We worked together and gathered Mattie’s belongings for her husband. We cried.
April 18, 1883 – mid morning – Tenth day – As I write ‘tenth day’ my heart jumps! If all goes well, we should land day after tomorrow. Joan and Tillie are fortunate for they have family who will meet them at Ellis Island where we will dock. I will have to travel a great distance to Indiana before I see anyone I know. Even if my brother were to meet me at the dock, we would walk right by one another! I was young girl when he last saw me. Now that I think about it, it’s hard to believe it has been fifteen years since Jeppe left Denmark. I wonder how much he has changed. I cannot wait to meet his wife and boys…Auntie Annie. I like that. My intentions are to stay in Indiana for three or four weeks. I am expecting a letter from dear sister to give me details on how to travel to Bodie California. What a beautiful name, California! I have read exciting stories about the west and hope to see a real live Indian. In Jeppe’s last letter, he wrote that he wishes that I would settle with him and his family. He has heard that Bodie is an undesirable place to live. He writes that the climate is extremely uncomfortable and that there is little civilization in the west. He feels that it is unsafe for a woman to travel by herself. I think that if I survive this ship, I can survive anything!
April 19, 1883 – early morning – Eleventh day – Great Joy! Word is that we should start seeing land this afternoon! Everyone is excited and topside is crowded with onlookers. With this wonderful news also came that two more people died and were put over. I overheard a woman in the hall say that twenty-three people died on this journey and how it should be considered a miracle. I shall not rest peacefully until I get off this godforsaken ship.
April 19 – night – I write with sincere gratitude to the Lord in Heaven for what has been delivered to us weary travelers today. Tillie, Joan and I had just returned to topside when “Land Ahoy” was called from the man who watches from the crows nest. I nearly jumped out of my bloomers when the steam horn blasted in celebration. Mother would have reprimanded me by the way I pushed my way through the crowd. I found my way to the rail and looked out to the familiar empty distance. My heart pounded as I frantically searched. At first, I couldn’t see anything but a wavy line. As if by magic, a thin dark strip formed against the horizon. Words cannot express the feelings that gripped me, tears stung my eyes. For a brief moment there was a noticeable silence on the deck, and then gasps as reality took hold. We stood together, strangely bonded by this passage. Someone let out a hip-hip hooray; all at once we were hugging, laughing and crying. It seemed to me that we were in fear that it may be an illusion, that it may disappear, for none of us moved far from our places. Eyes remained fixed on the vast distance. Ever so slowly the long black strip thickened as the orange sun sank into the water. The dark damp chill chased many down below.
Tillie and I have decided to take our blankets and go back up and sleep on the topside. We want to witness the first sight at first light.
April 20, 1883 – early morning – Twelfth day
Blasted mist has hidden the land! Tillie and I woke in a damp cloud. We have come back down to this hell hole to wait until it lifts.
April 20 – mid morning – At last she has revealed herself. America. She is real. There are no words that I can write to describe this moment. The captain says we will dock in four to six hours. I will not write again until I am firmly standing on the ground. Thank you God!…
April 21, 1883 – America- First Light Early dawn has brought light into this small room and I must not let another moment pass before I journal my yesterday. I shall not want to ever misplace my memory of landing in America. As I write, I am in disbelief that I am really here. But Alas! I am!
Once land was spotted from the topside of the SS Polaria, it seemed it took a lifetime for the ship to reach it. Passengers huddled together to watch as the land manifested and New York slowly unveiled itself.
The ship glided to a halt, the huge anchors were dropped. Captain addressed us all and ordered that women and children would disembark first. Two steamtugs came alongside and rope ladders were lowered. Ship hands helped women and children with their belongings down the ladders. This was a fearful sight and created much anxiety in my stomach. The ladders were nothing more then threadbare ropes and were free to move in the wind. I witnessed two women fall into the water below who were immediately caught by strong hands and brought up to the steamtug deck. I was certain that I would also fall but I am proud to write that when my turn came, I set my mind and nearly flew down the ladder! The hand that caught me on the deck laughed and said that he had never witnessed such a sight. Little did he know that it was pure fear that fueled my flight! Joan and Tillie were next and both were relieved that they, too, landed firmly.
The steamtug gurgled its way toward shore and at last, we set foot upon land. Tears flowed freely as many hugs were shared. We were informed of the regulations and were instructed to stay in an area near the shore until all passengers were accounted for. While we waited for the remainder of the passengers, our baggage and band boxes were taken by wagon to a warehouse somewhere out of view. This left me unsettled for it is all I have to my name. The boy who was loading our possessions assured me that once we were properly checked in, we would be able to collect our belongings. Within an hour, all passengers were off the ship. We moved in one body up a tree lined corridor toward the emigrant depot. Joan, Tillie and I held hands as we walked together toward the magnificent building. Emotions swept our words away. I will try to describe this place and fear that I will never be able to convey its beauty and essence with words.
Castle Garden has been the landing stage for immigrants since 1855. It is large enough to hold 4000 people at one time. (I know this because we had a very informative emigration officer guide us from the shore to the Customs House. He has lived here for twelve years. I think he must know everything about America for he did not stop talking the entire time he was in our company. He was handsome but I cannot recall his name to save my life. It is no wonder, yesterday was filled with people and questions and answers. I was thoroughly exhausted by the evening meal and slept soundly through the night.) This majestic structure was built by the British in 1812 and resembles an old fortress or castle. The walls are of red granite and are very thick and circular in form. Mr. Emigration Officer explained that the platforms and portholes which are present throughout the massive building are for armory should the land need defense. I found all this very interesting.
Once inside the enormous circular room, we crammed together like sheep. Wherever you looked, there were lines of people. Although there were benches along the walls, most people were sitting on the floor so not to lose their place as the lines gradually moved toward the huge desks located in the middle. Each desk had a sign that identified the ships that had landed that day. The Emigration Commissioners would ask the same questions to each person as the Captain of the ship would confirm the information from his documents. It took most of three minutes for each person to be ‘checked in’. There were over 300 passengers on the SS Polaria. It took over 15 hours before it was finished. I am thankful for Joan and Tillie’s company as it helped pass the time. We considered ourselves somewhat lucky; we were in line less than eight hours.
While in line, I observed several curiosities worth remembering. By far the most obvious was the different nationalities that were present. Germans, Italians, Dutch, English, Irish, French and others. The blend of languages, laughter and cries of children created a continuous clamor that reverberated from the high glass dome above us. The glass dome is certainly something I shall never forget. Bright stained glass cut to look as if a garden of flowers loomed above. Reds, pinks, blues and green delicately intertwined with the massive mahogany beams. Much of the glass is free of color and provides a view of the blue sky and white puffy clouds. As the sun moves across the sky, children are mesmerized by the patterns created by the colored glass which seem to magically move on the white marble floor.
We had been in line for several hours when we noticed an older gentleman working his way through the crowd. He had a look of concern and it was obvious that he was on the verge of tears as he frantically moved from person to person. We couldn’t hear the man’s words until he drew near. Although I had never seen him before, I knew who he was. My heart squeezed tears to my eyes as I heard the man say that he was looking for his wife, Mattie O’Brian. Tillie clung to my arm and whispered that I must tell him. Joan trembled as he questioned the couple in front of us. They shook their heads; he approached us. The sadness overwhelmed me as I looked into his eyes. Words didn’t come, there was no need. At first he stood still, searching my face; then as if an invisible hand struck him, his body folded and he fell to his knees and cried. We tried our best to comfort him. He wanted to know of her last days. We were gentle in telling him, keeping the unpleasant details aside. When he walked away, it was as if he had aged a hundred years.
The room nearly fell silent when another leading officer from the Information Bureau stepped to a raised rostrum and addressed the assembled emigrants. Several different officers had done the same earlier in the day, but I could not understand the language’s spoken. This one, gratefully, I could understand. He gave direction for those who could pay for accommodations and for those who needed it provided. He gave information on how to seek the Bureau of Exchange for those who had currency. The Intelligence Department offers a list of work for hire at no charge. We were warned that many outside employment agents charge $2, some are not reliable and many should be considered dangerous. The travel depots are located within the compound, where one can purchase railway or steamer tickets which are bound North, South, East or West. Additional travel assistance is available on the east wing. A state hospital is located on the premises for anyone who needs medical attention. He continued his warning that there were many undesirables that have been known to take advantage of emigrants. He concluded his address by confirming that the Immigration office is dedicated to the protection of the emigrant. He stepped down and two more men stepped up. One had a large cloth bag in which they both brought forth letters. I could feel the excitement rush through the room. Shrieks of joy were heard as names were called.
When it was finally my turn to step up to the desk I found that my voice was weak with intimidation. The registrar officer looked at me with kind eyes and repeated his question.” Your name and destination please.” I answered this time with a little more confidence, “My name is Annie Bertelsen and I am going to Chicago and then to Indiana and then”…he interrupted me and stated that he only needed the first destination. He then asked my place of birth, age, status and occupation. “Denmark, 23 years old, single, seamstress.” He asked if I could afford accommodations and I replied “yes.” He directed me to the exchange desk. I signed my name on the document and as I turned to leave I heard my name called from the rostrum. I rushed up to receive my letter. It was from my brother, Jeppe!
My fingers fumbled as I opened the envelope. His familiar writing brought tears. I carefully read the words. He had enclosed a railway ticket with precise instructions. I am to board the train today at 3pm destined for Chicago.
As I close this entry, I must mention that not a moment has passed that mother and father have not been forward in my thoughts. I miss them dearly.
Joan and Tillie will be meeting their family today and we will have to say goodbye. I feel as though I have known them a lifetime and, yet, it has only been weeks. I look forward to seeing my brother and his family and will write at the next opportunity.
As the train whistle let out a long screech, Annie pressed her face against the cold glass and watched Castle Garden slowly slip away. Her cheeks were still moist from tears that flowed while saying the final goodbyes to Tillie and Joan. They had wanted to stay with her until the last moments. Their aunt and uncle were kind enough to let them do so.
A tap on her knee drew her attention from the window. A small child, a little girl with curly brown hair and large brown eyes stood before her. She was holding a rag doll with one arm and when Annie turned she promptly plugged her mouth with a wet red thumb. Her tiny lips curled into a smile, she giggled and tottered back to her mother. Annie’s eyes followed the child and nodded a smile to the mother who looked back at her with a glance of hopeful understanding.
The emigrant passenger car in which they ride lacks the beauty and comfort of the first and second class parlor cars. The seats are upholstered with hard durable leather; the frames are made of iron. The seats are arranged ‘coach style’ similar to stagecoach seating. This particular car provides berths for sleeping. Upper berths swing freely on upper rods and when not in use can be fastened to the ceiling. Lower berths are made from the seats by turning down the backs. The floor is bare and show signs of wear. In the back corner, stood a wood stove, a stack of wood nearby. In the opposite corner, behind the door, there is a small closet size area which is used for the toilet. If you look down, you can see the tracks whiz by.
Twice a day, 8am and 4pm, the train stops at an ‘eating house’ located near the tracks. First and Second class passengers detrain first and are served quality meals in fashionable dining rooms. The cost ranges from one dollar to three dollars per person. Emigrant class waits in line, usually at the back door of the establishment, and is offered a sack meal to be eaten outdoors or to take back to the train. The sack meals range from twenty cents to sixty cents. Occasionally, the server will take pity on the children and will slip in milk and sometimes, to their delight, hard candy.
The journey from Castle Garden to Chicago takes nine days. Arriving at the Union Station, Annie follows her brother’s instructions and changes trains. Her destination; Evansville, Indiana. Another three days of railway travel and at last, the steam whistle blows her final stop….
May 3, 1883 – Evening – Jeppe’s farm – Indiana – I will try and journal today but I fear that the exhaustion that has taken over my mind and body may overcome me before I finish this entry.
The train pulled into the station in the early dawn hour. Those of us who were anticipating the stop were anxious and had gathered our belongings long before the brakes signaled our arrival. When I stepped off, I looked frantically from one face to another. Much time has passed since my eyes looked upon Jeppe; I feared I would not recognize him nor he would me. The instant he stepped forward, my heart knew he was my brother and I leaped into his big arms and cried. He too, welled with emotion, could not speak for several moments and held me in a close embrace. We moved indoors while the rail boys unloaded the bandboxes. As soon as mine was brought forth, Jeppe carried it to his wagon. I admired his strength and couldn’t help but recognize his resemblance to father.
I sat next to him on the high seat. He wrapped me in two heavy blankets and handed me a cloth of sweet loaf that his wife had made for the trip. It was very good. The ride was delightful. Jeppe said the trip was an easy one, no more than a half day. We quickly fell into easy conversation, catching up with life. It felt like a dream to be there beside him. As if it never existed, the fifteen years that had separated us dissolved.
As we rounded the big tree out front, the dogs came out first, barking with wagging tails. I felt my heart squeeze when a small blonde boy, dirty from head to toe, poked out from behind the barn. Jeppe called out and the boy ran toward us. I could see my brother in every move he made. “Daddy’s home” was shouted from the porch as the second boy jumped from the top step to the ground and charged toward us. The screen door opened and Jeppe’s wife with a welcoming smile and a baby girl in her arms came to greet us.
Jeppe climbed down from the wagon and reached up for me, gently placing me on the ground. The boys wrapped around each of his legs, peering up to me with shy smiles. “This is Barton and this is Emmett.” Both boys beamed and “This is your Aunt Annie.” I giggled and repeated him, “Ah, Aunt Annie!” Jeppe’s wife came down the steps and joined in “And…this is Emma, it is so good to finally meet you, I am Laura.” With that, Jeppe scooped Emma from Laura’s arms and planted a kiss on his wife’s cheek. He looked so happy, standing proud with his family. I will always remember that moment.
The boys showed me to my very own room. The window looks out to a rolling green pasture dotted with trees. I opened my bandbox for the first time since I packed it in Denmark. I am grateful that I have arrived safely with it for I heard stories that it was common for baggage to be lost or stolen. Unpacking my belongings sent a rush of homesickness through me. I aired out my day dress and looked forward in wearing something other then my travel dress. Barton brought warm water for the first bath I have had in a while. It was marvelous. I fear I have become thin, for when I put on my dress it hung loosely.
Words cannot describe how I felt sitting at the dinner table tonight. To hear the boys giggle and watch Jeppe be a father, to see the love in Laura’s eyes for him, to hold sweet Emma in my lap. I am still getting used to the idea that I am Aunt Annie! Laura prepared venison and vegetables and sweet bread. It was all so good that I had three helpings. If she cooks this good all the time, my dress will fit again soon!
If Mother and Father could be here, they would be proud of Jeppe. His family is healthy and beautiful.
Before I retired this evening, I was delighted to get hugs and kisses from the children. Jeppe stood to give me a hug and while doing so, he whispered familiar words that caught my breath. “Don’t go Annie, stay here with us, California is not a safe place.”
I am weary and must close this entry. I will journal again soon.
Annie’s days with her brother’s family went by quickly. She enjoyed watching the children play and helped with school book lessons. She and Laura spent afternoons preparing the garden, laughing in the sunshine. Jeppe would come in from the fields in the evenings and the family would sit together for supper. Each one would take turns saying Grace before the food was passed. Delightful conversation was shared between all. She admired how Jeppe would encourage his children to speak and be heard. Proud stories of catching lizards and trapping squirrels were common. Nearly every night, just before supper was over, one of the boys would ask their father, “Papa, are you real tired tonight?” Little Emma would chime in, “Papa play, papa play!” Sometimes, with a gleam in his eye, he would tease and tell them that he was too tired or that he bumped his head and the tunes fell out. The children would squirm in their seats and plead with him to ‘play just one, pleeesssee’. When it was time to be excused from the table, they would squeal with delight when Jeppe reached for his fiddle and move to the big chair by the fire.
As they nestled around him, Annie couldn’t help but be swept back to fond memories of her own childhood. Her heart tugged at the thought of leaving her brother and family. Doubts cluttered her mind, uneasiness sat like a rock in her stomach. Jeppe had pleaded with her to stay…was she foolish to continue the journey to California? Would she be able to find her way across a country filled with wild Indians and little civilization? Why would she want to settle in a town that was known for its violence? Could she bear to disappoint Marie by changing her plans? Three words secretly echoed, “Don’t go Annie.” The disturbing thoughts circled like vultures in her mind. She bit her lip and shook the thoughts away. She eased on to the floor next to her nephews and lifted Emma to her lap. She held on to them tight, taking in their sweet scent, listening to the melancholy tune that floated and danced with the lamplight shadows on the wall.
On the thirteenth day of her visit, the letter she expected arrived. Little Emmett tore through the house calling out “Aunt Annie, a letter, a letter for yooouu”. She recognized the eloquent penmanship on the envelope and knew it was from her sister, Marie. With mixed feelings, Annie sat down and opened it carefully.
April 27, 1883 – Bodie, California – My Dearest Sister Annie, I pray that this letter finds you safe with Jeppe. I trust that he and Laura are taking good care of you. I assume your journey has not been easy and I pray every morning and night that God will deliver you unharmed. Jeppe has written me several times over the last months indicating his concerns of your travels to California. My sweet sister, please know that I would never send you into the mouths of hungry lions. Your safety and well being are my first concern. Our dear brother has let exaggerated journalism feed his vivid imagination. There are no wild Indians waiting to kidnap you and make you one of their own and the streets of Bodie are not filled with shootists. Such nonsense! Please do not let his fears conquer your mind with uncertainty. I can assure you that Bodie is as safe as any farming district in Denmark.
Bodie is growing rapidly and the local conversation is that the rich gold and silver veins that run through the bluff appear endless. Just yesterday, I read in the newspaper that Bodie is now considered the second largest town in California with nearly ten thousand citizens. This town may not be as glamorous as San Francisco or Virgina City, but I can promise that it holds God fearing people who are dignified and respectable. The law is present and there is a citizen committee to be sure that all follow the correct path. Mr. Kilpatrick and I would not be here if it were not so.
Mr. Kilpatrick and I are fairing well. I am disheartened that God has not given us children. Mr. Kilpatrick is not bothered by these ideas as he has little patience with the young. The business takes most of his time away and I sometimes wonder if he remembers his promises when we were young. His knowledge of carpentry has been beneficial to his success. He purchased the Bodie Foundry two years ago and the revenue has given him the opportunity to invest in real estate. To my surprise, he has allowed my name to be on the deeds. We now own five small houses throughout town and rent them with a tidy profit. Our home is large and comfortable and has a stunning view of the surrounding hills. Your room faces east where you will enjoy the sunrise from a large bay window. All is fresh and waiting for my sweet little sister!
Enclosed with this letter are your train tickets and stage passage with pee cards and $50 for whatever you may need. I trust that Laura will send you off right with baskets of food. I pray that your journey will be safe and full of wonderful scenery. I cannot describe how my heartstrings are pulling at the thought that you will be in my arms soon. Give our dear brother a hug and kiss for me and tickle those children until they turn pink! With Much Love, Your sister, Marie Ann Kilpatrick
When Annie pulled out the train tickets she gasped. Stamped in decorative red were the words First Class Passenger. She sat back in the chair and gazed out the window. In the distance she could see Jeppe behind the horse driven plow. Tears ran down her cheeks.
“I love you Jeppe.” Annie didn’t want to let go of the embrace. “You don’t have to go Annie” he turned quickly so she wouldn’t see his tears; she recognized them in his voice. The steam whistle let out a long cry, “All aboard” a man bellowed. The boys jumped up and down with excitement. Laura reached over and gave Annie another hug and kiss, “Promise you will write as soon as you are settled.” Little Emma’s cries were muffled from the noisy steam engine gathering strength. Annie kissed her salty cheek and turned away to climb the steps into the railcar. She found her seat and quickly slid over to the window where she could see her family standing on the platform. Slowly, the train inched forward, Jeppe and the boys followed alongside, throwing kisses and waving goodbyes. As the train gathered speed the boys couldn’t keep up and Jeppe scooped them up under each arm. They watched as the train left them behind. Annie buried her head into her hands and sobbed.
The Indiana steam engine puffed its way slowly north to Chicago. Three days later, Annie changed trains and boarded the Chicago Railway to Omaha, Nebraska. Four days more and she arrived in Omaha. Immediately upon arrival, she was ushered toward a handsome passenger car owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. Relieved that she had made the connection in time, she settled into the comfortable seat and marveled at her surroundings.
The Silver Palace car that she was riding was a far cry from what she had traveled previously. The interior was decorated lavishly with deep green velvet seats, polished cherry wood and gold trim that curved around the arched window frames. Each window had adjustable shudders. Sparkling gas chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Thick floral rugs cushioned the floor. The wood stove that sat in the corner looked as though it belonged in a castle.
Her adventure across the country was swift and elegant. The Union Pacific Railway was much quicker then the slower rail lines she had known. The views that passed her window were spectacular. As the days rolled on, the land changed from a sea of waiving prairie grass and lazy rolling hills to yellow sagebrush and barren landscape. The Rocky Mountains brought a pleasurable change as they pushed their way into view. The train heaved itself over the mountain pass and chugged toward the next stop, Ogden, Utah.
Polite goodbyes were exchanged as most of the passengers detrained and went separate ways. Annie felt nervous in the busy railroad depot, she struggled to understand the language and searched for the words that were written on her ticket. She found the sign, ‘Central Pacific Railroad – San Francisco,’ and stood in the long line. The attendant checked her ticket and directed her toward a beautiful Pullman. She giggled to herself, still not quite believing that she was traveling first class. She boarded and waited for the familiar whistle.
The train pulled out and followed along the edge of a great lake that stretched as far as the eye could see. It struck Annie as strange; it seemed unusually stark with NOTHING growing around it. It took nearly two days for the view of the barren lake to disappear, leaving only dry desert to occupy ones mind. Days of endless desert, miles and miles of endless desert! At last, the magnificent snowcapped mountains broke through and came into view. There was a recognizable charge of excitement felt within the car. For some, the Sierra Nevada Mountains signaled that the journey was near end.
The train slowed to a stop in Truckee, California. Annie stepped off into the biting wind and hurried inside. Checking her ticket, she found the sign that read ‘Virginia/Truckee Railroad.’ It didn’t take long for her to find her seat among many others. The passenger car was more of what she was used to, but still very comfortable.
On the eve of June 11, 1883, Annie arrived in Carson City, Nevada. She stepped from the passenger car and was greeted by a young girl with long black braids and big dark eyes selling bread. She hesitated and then pulled from her hidden pouch a coin. The young girl was delighted, handing over the loaf before darting away. Annie smiled to herself and gathered her belongings. Her trunk stayed on the platform while she searched for information on stages and accommodations.
The short bald man behind the counter with a toothless smile peered around her,” Are you traveling alone Miss?” Something in his voice didn’t sit right and with her broken English, she chose to lie. “My brother is outdoors with our trunk.” He shrugged and gave her directions across the road to a place where she and her brother could stay for the night. But they would need to get back to the depot early, the Bodie Stage leaves at “3am…SHARP”.
“Roy, Mike, Gid Up” the stage lurched forward into the dark. The early morn was cool; Annie snuggled deeper into her shawl. Her heart beat with excitement and she was certain the others could hear it. The stage held three other passengers, all of whom exchanged brief hello’s as they boarded the Carson – Bodie Stage. Annie sat next to a large woman who smelled heavily of lilac and took up most of the seat. It wasn’t long before the woman was snoring loudly and leaning uncomfortably toward Annie. She squirmed a bit, trying to be polite, finally tapping her on the shoulder. She grunted, shifted her weight and resumed her sleep. The two men, who sat across, kept a steady conversation which Annie guessed to be in Italian.
With the beat of the horse’s hooves, the coach swayed back and forth in a steady rhythm. She pushed the heavy curtain aside and watched the stars flicker in the black sky. Annie closed her eyes and let her mind drift with the motion. She was back at home in Denmark. She could smell mother’s sweet loaves in the oven. Her heart pulled heavy as she remembered her parents standing on the dock waving goodbye. So much has happened between then and now, hard to believe that it had only been two months since she left home. She thought of Joan and Tillie, the hard Atlantic crossing, sea sickness, the easy laughter and their tearful goodbyes. Her heart squeezed at the memory of Mattie’s husband, when he learned of his wife’s death. She smiled to herself when she recalled the moment she saw Jeppe for the first time in all these years and knew in her heart that he was her brother. She could still hear the laughter of his beautiful children and how it felt when they called her Aunt Annie….quiet tears fell in the dark coach.
She watched out the window as light eased in, painting a lavender sky. At first one by one, then dozens at a time; the stars melted into the grand canvas as it folded purple and pinks and blues into a magnificent sunrise. The oversized woman woke with a start and immediately starting fussing with her hair. Annie was relieved to learn that the woman was departing at the first stop in Minden.
The driver hollered out to the team, who slowed their steady gait to a stop. He crawled off the top and opened the door, holding out his hand for the ladies. Annie was grateful to have the opportunity to walk about. The woman passenger disappeared into the large hotel. The Italian men headed across the road, while the driver unloaded a heavy trunk from the back. Taking his hat into his hand, he turned to Annie and said, “Mam, my name is Hank Monk and I hope the ride has been gentle so far. If there is anything I can tend for you, please just give a holler. Our travel is long today and tomorrow a’for we git to Bodie. The next stop is Twelve-Mile House and will have breakfast hot from the griddle watin’ for us.” He smiled, put his hat back on and offered his hand to help her up into the stage. At that moment, the hotel doors flew open with a woman running out toward them yelling, “Don’t leave, wait for me!” The driver laughed out loud, “Yes Mam!
The woman eased herself into the coach across from Annie. Extending a gloved hand, she reached out with a smile, “Hello, I am Lavina Staal, I live in Bodie.” Annie was surprised to recognize the familiar accent. “Thank you, my name is Annie Bertelsen.” Lavina looked at her closer, “Bless my peaches, are you Danish?” Annie smiled, “Yes, I am from Denmark.” Lavina sat back and smiled, “Me too.”
Hank opened the door at Twelve-Mile, he found his two passengers sitting side by side, laughing and talking Danish. The women hardly stopped a moment during breakfast and had to be told twice that it was time to board. Not only did Lavina know Annie’s sister, Marie, but they also discovered that they came from towns in Denmark less than a hundred miles apart, that they knew several of the same families and most likely crossed paths while growing up.
During all this wonderful conversation, the women never seemed to notice the other passengers that rode across from them. Nor did they pay little attention when the stage stopped at Double Springs to change horses or Mountain House when the passengers got off and new ones boarded. The day went by quickly and when it was time to stop for the night in Wellington Station, the ladies were exhausted.
When Hank slowed the team in front of the hotel, Annie started to gather herself. The driver called out, “First Stop!” Lavina reached out and took Annie’s hand, “Your ticket includes a stay here, but I think it better for you to come with me. My friends own the next stop, just down the road, it is a delightful place. Please…as my guest.” Annie felt a bit awkward, and then relented. “Thank you, I am honored.” The two male passengers got out of the stage, tipped their hats toward the women then slapped the door shut. The horses pulled forward.
The stage halted in front of the Hoye Hotel where Mary approached to greet the weary travelers. She was well known throughout the area for her hospitality and serving the finest meals in the state. Her husband John helped run the store and livery stable. Their place was a favorite stop for anyone who enjoyed fresh apple pie or peach cobbler, strong coffee and the latest news on mining, traveling or politics.
Hank opened the stage door and helped the ladies down. Lavina threw open her arms and Mary came to her laughing and smiling as old friends do. She introduced Annie and Mary responded with a warm welcoming hug. Taking both women by the hand, she led them inside.
Annie didn’t realize how famished she was until the aroma of lamb stew and apple pie surrounded her. As if reading her mind, Mary asked if they would like to dine first or settle into their rooms. Annie smiled at Lavina and both chimed in, “Dine first.” The ladies joined other travelers already enjoying succulent stew and fresh bread. Dinner conversation was interesting with news exchanging from all parts of the countryside. It was evident that Lavina was well aware of the geography and mining business for she kept up with the conversation offering tidbits of knowledge that brought forth further opinions or more questions, particularly from the men. Annie looked upon her new friend with admiration and respect.
Mary softly laughed and gently declined Annie’s offer to help with the dishes. “It is time for you to settle in for the night; you have an early rising and a long day ahead.” She showed Annie and Lavina upstairs to their rooms. As they climbed the steep staircase, Mary informed them that hot water had already been delivered to their rooms for baths. The hotel was a fine establishment and Annie felt guilt seep inside for accepting such a generous offer from a woman she just met. The look on Annie’s face must of showed shame for Lavina turned to Annie and said, “Do not worry Annie, I stay here frequently. Mary and I are close friends and I get a considerable discount for the medical services I provide.” She gave a quick hug and turned toward her room, she whispered,” Sleep well and see you early. Hammond will wake us when it is time.” She quietly shut her door. Annie stood there for a moment, staring at the closed door. Hammond? She turned into her own room and shut the door.
The room flickered in the lamplight. The high bed was centered in the room. Annie went to the half-bath where the water was still steaming. She slipped out of her traveling dress and let it fall to the floor. The hot water eased her tense back muscles. She glanced at the dress on the floor and realized that it looked more like a rag than a dress. Her thoughts moved through the day’s events and seemed to settle mostly on the woman named Lavina. She was fascinating, educated, spoke English fluently, well liked and of all things, a Dane. A Doctor? Annie had never met a woman doctor.
She blew the light out, pulled the covers back and slid between the crisp cold sheets. Tomorrow will start early again. Hank will be waiting out front at 4am. As she drifted off, her last thoughts were of her parents waving from the cold dock in Denmark.
She was sure she had just shut her eyes when she felt a warm tongue lick her hand. Her eyes opened wide to see a pair of brown eyes staring back. “Hammond?” He thumped his tail and licked her hand again. Ok! I am awake! He got up to leave and she struggled out of bed to close the door behind him. She found the matches and lit the lamp. She quickly got into her dress and pinned her hair up. She was finishing hooking her boots when a tap came at the door. “Annie, are you ready?” She opened the door to find Lavina holding two brown paper bundles. She pushed one into Annie’s hands. It was still warm. “Fresh bread for the trip, from Mary.” The two women hurried down the staircase and out the front door. Hank stood waiting near the team leaders. He smiled when the ladies appeared and rushed over to open the stage door. Two other’s were already sitting inside. “Come along Ladies, we have a long day ahead.” Hank crawled up to his seat and gathered the reins,” Joe, Jerry, Gid Up!”
“But Mama, I really have to go now!” The young blonde boy wiggled in his seat, his hands clasped tightly on his lap. His mother shook her head and smiled apologies to both Annie and Lavina who sat across from them. She reached into her hand bag and pulled out the pee card which was issued to each passenger. “I need to apologize for my son Henry, he has lost his manners somewhere between here and St. Louis.” She carefully tore off a ‘stop’ and banged on the roof of the stage. “My name is Mrs. Philip Cavanaugh, my friends call me Lily.” Henry piped up, “I am six years old.”
“Whoa Boys, Whoa, Easy Now, Easy…” Hank’s voice, firm and steady directed the team to slow the stage to a stop. He hopped down and opened the door. The boy pushed by Hank and ran for the bushes. The ladies smiled as they all handed Hank a ‘stop’ ticket and stepped out into the early morning light. “No time to dally ladies, we have a long trip today.”
The stage lurched forward on Hank’s command and quickly resumed the familiar pace. “They are magnificent with the sunrise dancing on their peaks, don’t you agree Annie?” Lavina continued her gaze out the window watching the pink and orange rays of sunshine chase the shadows down the slopes. “They call them the Sweetwater Mountains. Tucked up in one of those canyons is the small mining settlement of Cameron. My husband wants to move there. He tells me the prospects are favorable and we should seize the opportunity before the gold is gone.” Lavina laughs, “I suppose someday he will get his way…although I am not yet convinced that I want to move into the wilderness. Bodie suits me well with all its modern conveniences.” Annie was curious, “Your husband…he is a miner?” “A miner by heart and a mill owner by trade. Ah yes, he would love to give up the headaches of owning a stamp mill for a life of prospecting in the mountains and streams. But the profits of the mill are easy to get used to and hard to walk away from.”
The stage continued to roll back and forth in an easy motion. Henry was lost in sleep cuddled close to his mother. Lily spoke, “We are going to Bodie to join my husband who works in a mill. We have not seen him in two years. He has written that he is nearly deaf from the constant roar of the iron stamps crushing rock. He works at the Syndicate Mill.” Lavina nodded knowingly, “Be sure that he is using beeswax to buffer the noise and help protect his eardrums. If he isn’t, you can purchase a ball of it at any of the general stores in town.”
The stagecoach bounced alongside the rippling East Walker River. Henry woke with a jolt, “Mama, I am hungry. When are we going to get there?” Lavina answered for her, “We will be stopping soon at Nine-Mile House. Mrs. Green is expecting us and will have a table full of food. She is a wonderful cook and a lovely person. She has two boys, one about your age Henry.” Turning to the ladies she added, “I don’t know how Sarah does it. Her husband has been away for months on business. She has her hands full with schooling the boys and working the ranch, not to mention providing meals for the stages. I worry about her; she is in her eighth month.” Henry sat up with the thought of meeting someone his age. It had been a long trip strapped to his mother’s side.
“Whoa Boys, Whoa”…the stage pulled to a stop in a cloud of dust.
Sarah Green stood in the shade of a large cottonwood tree in front of her two-story adobe home. Her youngest son Willie jumped up and down beside her with excited curiosity. Henry couldn’t get out fast enough; moments later, he was asking permission to swim in the pond with Willie. Sarah assured Lily that she could wrap his lunch and that the pond was safe. Lavina greeted Sarah with a tender hug. The two women smiled as their hands gently rubbed her swollen belly. “Won’t be long now Sarah. I think you should come with us so I can help you when the time comes. You can’t have this baby out here all alone.” Sarah shook her head, “You are too kind Dr. Staal but really, Amos is due to return any day now. He is bringing his sister with him from the East and she will help me. I will be just fine.” She patted Lavina’s hand. “Now lets go inside to get you all some fixins.”
Lunch was delightful and the hungry passengers devoured the steak, potatoes and apple pie. They weren’t there for more than a half an hour before Hank was herding them back into the coach. With fresh horses anxious to travel, his familiar voice rang from his high seat. “Jack, John, Gid Up.”
The heat of the day sat tight between the passengers. It was hard to imagine that there were two empty seats inside the coach. The women fanned themselves as they watched the desert scene slowly pass by from their cramped quarters. Henry pouted; he was disappointed to leave his new friend playing in the pond. They were thankful when Hank allowed them to get out at Fletcher for a cooling in the creek while he checked out one of the horses for an apparent stone bruise. The horse was replaced and they were back on the dusty road again.
The conversation turned to the next stop. “Aurora was quite a place in its time,” Lavina went on, “Not many folks left now with Bodie just miles down the road. Although I enjoy my home, Aurora is a place I would have preferred to live. The brick buildings lend a feel of civilization and progress. As I understand, hope still lingers in these hills. I heard last week that there are a handful of mining engineers who are working on a new technique in processing ore that could bring people back.”
The stage slowed to a crawl as the team pulled their burden up the pinyon pine covered mountain. Cresting the top, the passengers had a birds-eye view of the once bustling town of Aurora. It looked out of place, sitting quietly in the open surrounded by hills marked with discarded mines. The arrival of the stage stirred life. Hank hollered at the sweaty team and the stage stopped abruptly in the middle of Antelope Street.
Everyone stepped out into the late afternoon sun. The wind whipped at their dresses, the women turned away from the assault of flying dirt. Many of the two storey buildings were boarded up. Weeds found their way up thru the cracks in the boardwalks. One could not escape the feeling of neglect. Two teenage boys, Hanks hired swampers, rushed out of nowhere to disconnect the exhausted horses and align a fresh team for the last leg of the journey. Lavina took the lead and headed toward a large two story with curtains in the windows and a large wood sign which read ‘Millie’s Inn’. “Come along quickly before Hank…” before she could finish, Hank hollered to his passengers to “Make it quick or we won’t get to Bodie by nightfall.” Lavina laughed and replied, ‘Oh Hank, how about a sasparilla?” she hurried the others inside, out of the wind.
Annie had never tasted sasparilla before and found she enjoyed the carbonated beverage. She sat and watched Lavina visit with Millie and wondered if there was anyone she did not know. Henry and Lily were preoccupied with a spotted puppy who was tied up near the door. She felt anxious to get back into the stage. Her long journey was near end. It was hard to imagine that in a few short hours she would be reunited with her sister. She was just thirteen when Marie left Denmark. It seemed like a life time ago…she wondered if she would recognize Marie. After all, ten years have slipped by…her heart squeezed with nervous anticipation.
Hank pushed through the doors with the wind. “Come along, no time to waste.” Henry begged his mother to stay with the puppy and started to cry as his mother approached him with ‘the look.’ In two steps and one easy motion, Hank swooped down and threw the boy over his shoulder. He turned to Lily with a wink in his eye and stated more than asked, “How bout the boy rides up on top with me for a while.” Relieved, Lily agreed that it would be just fine.
Millie stood on the wooden porch of the deserted Inn and waved good bye to the travelers. Henry had a big smile sitting close to Hank. The wind carried his little voice,
“Ted, Tom, Gid Up!”
The stage left Aurora in a cloud of dust. It wound its way down Esmeralda Gulch and on through Del Monte Canyon alongside Bodie Creek. The deep canyon walls shadowed the narrow bumpy road. A delightful cool breeze was welcome and the ladies enjoyed the last miles of their journey. The women didn’t stop chatting until Annie stopped and asked,” Oh my, what is that awful noise?” They all listened for a brief moment when Lavina smiled and answered, “Ladies we are almost there…that would be the Syndicate Mill.”
As if on queue, the stage rounded the corner where the huge mill came into view. The noise grew louder as they neared. Lily leaned out the window hoping to see her husband somewhere in the vicinity. The stage hit a bump and she nearly fell out. Hank saw the close accident from the corner of his eye and barked at her to “Sit tight or git out and walk…Mam.” She slid back in with a huff. By now the town was in view. Annie didn’t take her eyes away from the scene that passed her window.
Men on horses rode by, tipping their hats at the ladies. The stage pulled to the far side of the road to allow a large mule team hauling a load of pipe pass. The teamster who drove the oversized load yelled profanity at his team. Annie’s fair cheeks turned pink. Lavina laughed out loud, surprised that she understood the words. The handsome buildings were painted white; some had blue, others had red trim. Curtains fluttered from second floor windows, balconies overlooked Main Street. Music could be heard from behind swinging doors. Men gathered on the boardwalks, some sat on the benches outside the establishments which Lavina pointed out to be saloons. Annie couldn’t help but notice that some men dressed fashionably, others appeared rather un-kept. Annie couldn’t help but stare at the girls who hurried across the street. They were dressed in bright colors with feathers in their hair. Lavina leaned over to Annie and explained that they were Hurdy Gurdy Girls and the men could pay them for dances. A Chinese man with a long thin black braid stood on the corner with a cart full of vegetables and plucked chickens. Children could be heard playing some kind of game in the street. One could not escape the noise of the stamp mills; she wondered how anyone could get used to it. As the stage crept through the busy street, Lavina explained that they were in the upper end of town. She pointed out the bank, the land office and the U.S. and Occidental Hotels. A line of young adults formed at the doors of the bowling alley and the roller rink.
“Annie…Annie!” Marie was standing on the boardwalk frantically waving. The moment their eyes locked, tears welled and words were held still. The stage slowed to its final stop. Annie stepped off the stage and into the beginning of a new life.
“Annie Don’t Go” Chapter 8
June 16, 1883, Sunday, Early Evening, Bodie, California – Dearest Mother and Father, It is with overwhelming gratitude and relief that my long journey from home has at last, ended. There are no words to describe the dual emotion that dwells within as I write to you this fair evening. Happiness flows deep due to the long awaited reunion with my dear sister and, yet, my heartstrings pull tight with the thought of both of you so far away. You have been ever so present in my minds eye. Know in the depth of your hearts that I am now safe in Marie and Richard’s care.
I arrived in Bodie three evenings ago. The first two days, I suffered greatly from exhaustion. It is only until this moment that I have the will to write. Although I am well, I have been frequently experiencing an odd sense of motion that simulates the rocking rhythm of the stagecoach. Marie tells me this is a common sensation after traveling many miles. It is truly troublesome and I hope to be sound soon.
Marie and Richard have been most gracious and have accommodated every need. Her appearance is as I remember, save the roundness in her middle. She wears her long brown hair in soft curls and has mother’s gray wisps at her temples. Standing close, I am pleased to write that I have grown several inches above her. When I teasingly acknowledged this fact, she was quick to point out that her tiny feet are still much daintier than mine! Oh, how I have missed Marie and her quick humor! She has the same sweet smile and dancing blue eyes when she laughs. It brings me joy to be close to my sister again.
When I stepped off the stage, Marie was unaccompanied. She explained that Richard had been delayed shortly and would escort us home. Never would have I recognized him had he not walked up to Marie, placed a kiss upon her cheek, then swooped me up into one of his mighty hugs. When he placed me back upon my feet, I stepped back in disbelief. It took me a few moments to accept what my eyes were seeing. The look upon my face must have proved my thoughts. He laughed and proceeded to bestow upon me one of his humorous tall tales. He described a fine summer evening years ago, when Bodie was in its prime of a rough and tumble town. He was engaged in a rather enthusiastic faro game and had indulged in a bit more Irish whiskey than he should have. When he woke the next morn, he was sure that a hatchet had been laid upon his brow. He carefully crawled across the room to check his reflection in the looking glass only to find, with complete horror that his hair had slipped off his head and landed upon his chin. The beautiful red locks that once occupied his head now grow from his face; he wears it in a long beard! Other than his shiny cap, he looks quite the same. He is as slender as he was when they were married and left Denmark. Marie tells me that he works long days with little time away.
Their home is a testimony of his success with the Bodie Foundry. It is a handsome house with two levels, a wide porch wraps around the entire lower floor and two balconies extend from the second. The house is painted white with blue trim around the tall glass pane windows. The property is located on a corner and has two points of entry with steps built of reddish brick. Visitors enter the front door that opens into a formal receiving hall which leads into a spacious parlor. The parlor is decorated with red carpets and dark green velvet draperies. A beautiful tapestry from Italy hangs on the far wall above the piano. An ornate pewter stove is centered and keeps the room comfortably warm. All the furniture in the house is made of mahogany and was sent from New York. (Although the parlor is lovely, it is a bit too starched to suit my fancy.)
The less formal entry opens into a tidy supply room leading directly into the kitchen. The supply room is where wood is stored for heating and cooking. A small section of this room has been partitioned by screens and is used for hanging meat. Burlap bags keep the meat moist and cool. This area is also used to store potatoes and onions.
The kitchen is modern and I admire the fine workmanship that is present. The large Crawford stove is a masterpiece. It has six cooklids, a water reservoir, large oven and a loaf warmer. Hidden under the hearth is a kick pedal which opens the heavy door when arms are full. Recalling Marie’s kitchen catastrophes when we were young, I could not help but ask Richard if my sister finally learned how to cook. With a quiet smile and a look of strained patience, he whispered that he was thankful that town had many choices of eating establishments. We both smiled and held our humor from Marie. (Remember how her temper would flare when father would tease her and ask for extra sugar for the rock cakes!) Most pleasing to the eye are the cabinets which are suspended from the ceiling and have glass doors that are etched with roses. Marie has a beautiful set of dishes and crystal drinking cups which are placed in these window cabinets. The lower sections are polished wood and topped with green and blue speckled counters. In the corner stands a new contraption called an ice box. Marie firmly states that this is the best thing a woman can have in her kitchen. Perishables can be kept for days without spoilage. When the ice melts down, it is captured into a cask and reused as pleased. (Every other day, a young boy delivers ice for the box. She tells me that even though summer days are warm, Bodie nights commonly freeze. This ensures the harvested ice stored in the local ice houses throughout the year.) The kitchen basin is deep, smooth and painted creamy white. The hand pump is a new model and does not require much effort. When we were washing dishes last evening, I was pleasantly surprised to find a consistent warm stream of water flowing from the spicket. Marie explained that there is an elevated tank that sits outside the kitchen wall with a hose that siphons water when pumped. The tank is perched upon a brick oven that keeps the water warm and also used to bake bread. She favors the outdoor oven during warm spells of summer. (I held my tongue tight when the thought of rock cakes with extra sugar came to mind!)
Directly off the kitchen is a formal dining area. As with the parlor, it is decorated with thick carpets and heavy velvet draperies. The table is large and has eight high back chairs with cushions. I recognized grand mum’s delicate dishes in the glass hutch. The set is beautifully placed and grand mum would be pleased.
There are four sleeping rooms located on the second level. My room is the last one down the hall and faces east. It is in my opinion, the loveliest room in the house. It is decorated in soft pinks, yellows and greens, it is bright and cheery. The four post feather bed is centered against the far wall. It is the highest bed in which I have ever slept and I fear that should I fall out, I will suffer great injury! I shall never forget the first night when Marie proudly showed me to my room. Upon entry, my sight fell upon the big bed and emotion gripped my heart and squeezed tears to my weary eyes. I immediately recognized the yellow daisy quilt that you gave her from your trunk when she left home. You must remember how I cried when you gave her my favorite quilt. Now years later with an ocean between us, I wrap this quilt around me and it brings to mind loving memories of home. Her sensitivity and thoughtfulness is deeply appreciated. Opposite the bed is a large window that is built in a peculiar fashion. It is situated in such a way that it appears to push out from the wall, creating a space where a comfortable bench occupies. Marie calls it a bay window. It is here that I am presently sitting and writing you this letter. There is a door that leads outside and on to the balcony which looks over the side street. It is Sunday, the mills are quiet, I can hear faint music floating up from Main Street.
Bodie is located in a dusty bowl carved out of a sprawling mountain top. Most of the stage route leading here was surrounded with short scrubby pines and yet here in town, there is not a tree, a bush, a dead twig in sight; nothing to break the wind or shade tender skin. Yesterday the wind whipped up dirt and carried it to the devil himself! I have never experienced such a howling and then, as if the Great One decided it was enough, the wind stopped in a heartbeat and all was silent again. At least until the teamsters started hollering at their teams to move out. Bodie is indeed a busy metropolis and I have gathered from dinner conversation that it is the only supply center for miles around.
Today I felt rested enough to walk down to Main Street with Marie. She insisted that we visit her seamstress who is located in a back room inside one of the general stores. Much to my embarrassment, the journey has worn my flesh to bones and my day dress to tatters. Mother, I know you are fretting when you read this, so please allow me to explain. My traveling dress was ruined by the time I departed the ship. The day the ship docked at Castle Garden was the last day I could possibly wear it. From there on, I wore my day dress. It held up well mother, and it will always be among my treasures. As much as I have tried to save it, the poor thing has also been ruined. Marie continues to humble me with her generosity. She paid the seamstress for three new dresses and new undergarments. Marie requested that the undergarments and at least two of the dresses be delivered by the start of next week! All measurements were done and materials purchased in short of an hour. Oh mother, a professional seamstress! She has been contracted to make a day dress made from sturdy cotton in a petite lavender flower print with champagne lace, a simple house dress in pale green and a formal evening dress in shimmering dark blue with bright white lace. I was taken by surprise when Marie wanted to choose material for the formal. She informed me that next month is one of the largest social events in Bodie; the Fireman’s Ball. Evidently, we will be attending. Be assured that your loving and obedient daughter is well. Annie Christine Bertelsen
“You will be paid four dollars a week.” Annie shook the woman’s plump hand, “Thank you for this opportunity Mrs. Opie. I will be here at 7:00 tomorrow morning.” Annie turned to leave when Mrs. Opie added with a smile, “I will provide tea and sandwiches for the midday meal.” Annie nodded, “That is very kind, thank you.” She fastened her hat and stepped out into the bright sunlight, pleased with her accomplishment, she was eager to share the good news with Marie.
Annie made her way down the boardwalk toward Nelson’s Bakery. Marie requested a fresh loaf of bread as hers didn’t rise. Now familiar with her surroundings, she felt comfortable out and about in Bodie. As she entered the building, a loud shot was heard from across the street. The commotion drew everyone’s attention. Annie quickly stepped inside and watched from the window. Two men, tangled up in a flurry of fists and dust rolled on the ground. Almost instantly, the Constable, sitting high on his horse was upon them, badge flashing in the sun, shooting his gun into the air. The two gathered themselves quickly and ran off in different directions. Satisfied, the Constable rode off from where he came. In a matter of minutes, the town resumed as if nothing had happened.
“Annie darling, how are you?” She turned toward the familiar voice. The women embraced. Annie stepped back with a smile, “It is good to see you again Lavina.” “Oh Annie, please forgive me. I fully intended on dropping in at your sister’s home by now, but I had to leave town the day after we arrived. There was a mining accident at Lundy and several men were hurt. I needed to stay until the danger of infection had passed. I returned just yesterday. May I walk with you home?”
Annie and Lavina made their way across the busy street and up into the residential block. Upon entering the house, the heavy scent implied that Marie would be found the kitchen. Annie quickened her step and called out, “Oh Marie, don’t tell me you burned the pot roast!” She found Marie sitting in the dining room exasperated. “I give up. I will never master the art of cooking!”
Lavina entered the room behind Annie, Marie stood and reached out taking her hands, “Dr. Staal, how good it is to see you. Please forgive my emotional state…I have completely ruined dinner!” Lavina hugged Marie and suggested that they enjoy an evening meal at her home. Richard was not due from Carson City for three more days; the women were quick to accept the invitation. Marie sent word to have the surrey ready at 4pm.
“Annie! This is wonderful news! Mrs. Opie is a good Christian woman and has a reputation of honesty and dependability. Her business is flourishing with all the children in town. How smart it is to dedicate her profession toward children’s clothing.” Annie smiled from across the table, “Yes, I look forward to working with her. She told me that I will start with washing materials to be crafted and soon I will be cutting patterns.” Lavina raised her glass in motion of a toast, “To Annie’s successful future as a seamstress assistant.”
The women visited comfortably in Lavina’s parlor. A large picture window provided a magnificent view of the Sierra in the distance as well as the splendid view of Booker Flat. She could see the horses running on the track and wondered which one would win the race. It brought her back to her childhood days when the neighborhood children would line up their steeds and run through the forest. “Annie, will you be attending the Fireman’s Ball Saturday?” Marie answered for her, “Yes indeed she will! Silvia Densmore created her a gown that is simply gorgeous.” A sly expression crossed Lavina’s face, “You know Annie, there are far more eligible men here than women. It is not uncommon for men to travel hundreds of miles to meet a proper woman who is available for marriage. A young pretty woman like yourself could have your pick of several successful men who would make a decent husband.” Lavina smiled at her own words. Annie blushed from the window.
It didn’t take long for the crisp Monday morning chill to color her cheeks. As she neared Main Street, the noise of traffic amplified. Annie patiently waited on the corner of Main and Green until it was safe to cross. The morning was busy with teamsters arriving with supplies. She stood there, marveling at the long strings of mules and horses pulling their heavy burdens. Some wagons were loaded with long iron pipe headed toward the mills while others, loaded with whiskey barrels headed for the saloons. Annie hurried across the dusty thoroughfare and continued up Green. She slowed her pace in front of the two story schoolhouse. She could see the young teacher through the window, busy cleaning the large slate board for the day’s lessons. Three children dashed by and ran up the school steps, anxious to get inside. Annie smiled to herself, she liked this town, it felt like home. Turning on Wood Street, the scent of fresh cut wood lingered where N.B. Hunewill operated his lumber yard. She hurried past the large stacks of milled timber and several burley workers. The Catholic Church sat high on the rise; Mrs. Opie lived two doors beyond.
It didn’t take long for Mrs. Opie to recognize that Annie was personable and had a flair with customers. She was quick with direction and had a good sense of business. Mrs. Opie explained that this week was a bit unusual due to the Firemen’s Ball. An overwhelming amount of adult customers were willing to pay extra for her services. Annie kept busy and was an excellent assistant. By the end of the week, both women were pleased with the new arrangement.
Early Saturday morning, Annie woke before the sun climbed over the bluff. She lit the lamp. The shimmering dark blue gown hung from the hook and looked elegant in the flickering light. Her heart squeezed, butterflies floated in her tummy.
“Sit still Annie! I may be challenged in the kitchen but you know I can fashion hair!” Marie studied Annie’s reflection in the looking glass that hung upon the wall in her sleeping room. Annie sat frozen until she sneezed. “Sorry Marie…are you done yet?” Looking triumphant, Marie said slowly, “Why yes, I believe you are done.” Annie stood up and turned around. Marie stepped back and admired her younger sister. She looked beautiful. The short puffy sleeves fell slightly off the shoulders, exposing her pale soft skin. Dainty white lace trimmed the bodice and dipped at her bosom. Elbow length gloves matched the deep blue lace of the skirt. Her tall frame and trim waist accented the full flowing skirt. Annie had recuperated well after her long journey. The gaunt, strained look had been replaced with color in her cheeks and light in her blue eyes.
“Up you go” Richard helped the women up into the backseat of the buggy. He crawled up into the driver’s seat and waited until he found a break in the line of traffic before he gave command to the horses to move out. The sun dipped into an orange caramel sky. It seemed as though the whole town was headed in the same direction.
Richard pulled the buggy to the front Miners Union Hall. Music drifted out from the decorated building. Two men, dressed in top hats and tails came forth to offer their hand in assistance as the ladies stepped down from the buggy. A young man stepped on board and took the reins while Richard slipped from the driver’s seat and joined the ladies on the boardwalk. With one on each arm, he proudly escorted them through the tall doors.
Inside, the Miner’s Union Hall had been transformed into a festive tropical illusion. The scent of kerosene hovered above the crowd, light flickered upon the walls. Both sides of the large room were decorated by a long stretch of colored paper, hand painted to simulate the ocean. Saplings had been cut and fastened to the ocean scene; bright papier-mâché flowers were attached to the trees while hundreds of them extended from the high ceiling, floating in the breeze. The tables were covered with colorful cloths, real flowers sprung from vases. People nodded politely at others, the band on the stage drowned out conversations. Richard navigated the ladies through the crowd and found their name on a table. Coincidentally, Lavina and her husband sat at the table next to them. She beamed when Annie walked up. “My God darling, you look stunning!”
It seemed as though not one more person could fit inside the room when the music faded and the master of ceremony took the stage. He welcomed the crowd and introduced the band. The audience loudly applauded their approval. Lavina reached over to Annie and tugged at her arm to gain her attention. Lavina motioned toward the door where several gentlemen were standing in conversation. Lavina proceeded to scoot her chair closer to Annie. “The handsome one on the far left; he is the most eligible bachelor in Bodie…a gentleman in the truest form, a successful business man and a Civil War hero. His name is Robert Fouke. If the opportunity arises, I will introduce you. You must meet him.” Annie watched the man for a few moments. He certainly was handsome; indeed there was a distinguished air about him. His presence seemed to draw attention, another man walked up to shake his hand. Obviously he is respected…suddenly, he turned and seemly looked her way, she quickly turned back to her table, heat rising in her cheeks.
“Mr. Kilpatrick, may I have the next dance with your sister?” The thin man stood near the table and did not take his eyes off of Annie as he asked permission. Richard looked at Annie, she nodded slightly and Richard approved. Her heart pounded as he led her through the crowded dance floor. The thin man stepped on her foot twice and she was relieved when the break came in between songs. He escorted her back to the table and thanked her with a kiss upon her hand; Annie was polite and hid the squirm. Lavina was beaming, “How was that?” Annie leaned toward her and whispered, “He may be thin but certainly not light on his feet!”
Throughout the evening, Richard granted permission for men to dance with his sister in law. He and Marie would laugh when Annie returned to the table, flushed from the activity, only to be asked to return to the floor. She would sit out only to catch her breath, anxious to be asked again. Annie could not remember a finer evening. Most gentlemen were experienced dance partners and only a few were ones she hoped would not ask again. She caught herself, more than once, searching the crowd for one particular man. She was beginning to lose hope that he would approach her table. During a lively dance, she accidentally brushed up next to him. She looked up into his blue eyes and was surprised how her breath caught. The man she was dancing with quickly whisked her away. She noticed Mr. Fouke on the dance floor with the same woman several times. Anxious curiosity grew within and she assumed that he must be courting her. She wasn’t very attractive…her dress looked weathered…It would be improper to ask about him…wouldn’t it? The midnight supper provided a welcome break, and a chance to talk to Lavina.
Annie struggled to find the words without appearing improper. When she couldn’t find them, she simply asked the question. “Is Mr. Fouke courting that woman?” Lavina looked amused, “Annie darling, that woman is his sister. I heard she is here for a short visit from Kansas. He most likely feels obligated to entertain her.” Annie was a bit embarrassed by the question and most, by the sense of relief that washed over her.
Several girls dressed in long grass skirts came out to clear the tables. The band reassembled and began with a soft tune. Lavina and her husband glided to the floor while Richard escorted Marie toward the swaying crowd. Annie was completely captivated with the scene and was not aware of the man standing at her side. “Excuse me miss, would you care to dance?” “Oh, I, oh, I can’t until my brother returns to grant permission.” Annie instantly felt foolish. Mr. Fouke responded with a smile, “Ah yes, indeed, another time then.” Annie quickly spoke up, “Actually, I don’t think he would mind.” Robert Fouke looked a bit surprised and offered his arm to the attractive woman.
She slipped easily into step with him as he led her through the next several dances. The normal awkwardness between two strangers was nonexistent; it wasn’t long before they were sharing tidbits of personal information. Annie knew better and yet felt completely comfortable in this man’s presence. When it was time for a break, he purposely struck a conversation with her brother and sat with them at their table. The master of ceremony stepped onto the stage and announced the last dance. Without words, they both stood, Robert took Annie’s hand. The music was soft and slow. Back on the dance floor, he would catch wisps of her lilac perfume and resisted the urge to bring her closer. He found Annie’s easy laughter was refreshing; her smile stirred something deep inside, something that he had not felt in a long time. It terrified him.
“I have a feeling that he will propose today…what do you think?” Annie glanced up from her sewing trying to disguise hope, “Lavina, Mr. Fouke obviously is taking his time to consider the future. He is a careful man and from what I have learned, he does not leap into anything.” Lavina looked at her good friend across the table and burst into laughter. “Leap? Good Gracias, he has been courting you for nearly four years.” Annie readjusted the dress she was working on and spoke in defense, “Now wait, remember he had to leave for several months after we first met. We weren’t officially courting that year…and he does travel on business and is away for weeks at a time. Maybe he doesn’t think he would make a good husband.” Lavina caught the look that Annie threw at her and knew she had touched a sensitive subject. She redirected the conversation toward the latest gossip from downtown. Marie walked in and sat down next to Lavina, turning to Annie, “I wonder if Robert will ask you today?” That did it. Annie abruptly stood, haphazardly folded the dress and walked out of the room. Marie watched her sister leave, “What did I say?”
Robert’s footsteps echoed as he walked through the empty house. He stood at the large window in the main room that looked out toward the mountains, the scent of fresh cut pine lingered. He was pleased with the construction and relieved that it was finally completed. Much to his frustration, the heavy winter had delayed the project which had set back the completion date considerably. It was a handsome house with five rooms, high ceilings, three wood stoves and a spacious kitchen. He was almost certain that his secret was safe. He wanted this to be a surprise. Instinctively he reached for his pocket and felt the small velvet box. Everything was in place.
The slight breeze lifted the warmth of the pleasant autumn day. Annie sat close to Robert as he drove the buggy up Cottonwood Canyon and into the tall trees above Booker Flat. There was a rig parked in their favorite place so they moved a little further up the road. They found a secluded grassy knoll under a beautiful old tree. While Annie spread the picnic blanket, Robert lifted the large basket from the buggy. They sat down together making themselves comfortable. He wondered if Annie noticed his hands trembling, surely she could hear his heart pounding. “What a delightful spot, this may very well become our favorite…funny how things happen, don’t you think Robert?” He looked at her with loving eyes, “Yes, darling, I do believe this will be our favorite wife.” Annie blinked at his response. Robert suddenly realized what he had said and nervously chuckled to himself, “favorite spot…” Just then, a handful of children ran through the area, yelling and laughing playing a tag game. A little girl about 5 years old stopped in front of Annie, “I know you. You made me and my sisters’ dresses for church. Is this man your husband?” Annie turned three shades of red before she answered, “You need to get along now, honey, before the other children leave you.” The little girl ran off behind the others. She avoided Robert’s eyes. He picked up her hand and kissed it gently before reaching up, turning her face toward his. Their eyes met, he whispered,” I love you, Annie. I want you to be my wife.” She was sure she heard him right…but what if… “Could you say that again, please?” He laughed out loud and stood up, taking her in his arms and yelled, “I love you Annie Bertelsen, I need you to be my wife!” The tears streamed down her cheeks, stealing her voice. She stood motionless, afraid to move. His heart stopped while he waited for some kind of clue that she was saying yes. Bending down, looking deep into her teary blue eyes, he softly repeated, “Annie darling, will you marry me?” She could only nod her head and hug him with all her might…
On December 6, 1887 Annie married Robert Fouke. The small ceremony took place in Bodie at the Methodist Church. Lavina and Marie, with husbands, were witnesses.
Just as Robert had hoped, Annie adored her new house. She enjoyed decorating and making it into a home filled with love. She continued to work as a seamstress and ultimately opened her own business, working out of her home. Robert continued to profit as an investor in several businesses throughout California, Nevada and Arizona. Unfortunately, this required him to travel for several weeks at a time.
It was a year after the wedding that Richard and Marie sold their properties and moved to San Francisco. Many tears flowed as the day of the move drew near. The final goodbye was filled with promises of letters and frequent visits. As promised, the sisters wrote each other every week but unfortunately, would never see each other again. The move proved profitable and brought good fortune; little over a year later, Marie gave birth to a tiny daughter named Lily. This little girl would grow up hearing stories of her adventurous Aunt Annie.
Early one morning, the fire bell sounded through Bodie and to everyone’s horror, the beautiful house, which Annie spent many years living with Richard and Marie, burned to the ground. Luckily no one was injured. Ironically, the fire started in the kitchen.
Dr. Lavina Staal continued her practice and remained busy through the years. She stitched open wounds, set broken bones, sat thru fevers and delivered countless babies. Her friendship with Annie grew deep. Not a day passed that the women did not share time together. When Lavina gave birth to a still born son, Annie was by her side and helped her through the devastating grief. For months Lavina lived in depression and later in life would recall how her best friend, Annie, saved her life.
Annie and Robert wanted children desperately. As time went on, they were worried that they would not come. At last, their prayers were answered when Annie gave birth to their first daughter, Hazel, on October 2, 1889. Lavina helped with the delivery and stayed with Annie for several days until she could take care of things herself. Hazel was a delight and Annie made the transition into motherhood naturally. To their great joy, three years later, their second daughter was born. As with the first, Lavina delivered the precious baby girl and took care of the family until Annie recuperated. Elsie was a handful from the beginning. The little girl ‘tiger’ demanded love and attention and won her father’s heart early in life. Robert and Annie were blessed with two healthy, beautiful daughters sent from heaven. Life could not be better…
“Mama, don’t cry.” Annie turned away from her daughters realizing that her tears were upsetting them. Hazel and Elsie watched their mother closely. She dried her cheeks and pasted a smile, “Hazel honey, hurry up and finish your breakfast or you will be late for school.” Elsie wiggled down from her chair and crawled up into Annie’s lap. “Mama, I wanna go to school today.” Annie wrapped her arms around little Elsie, gently kissing her forehead. Hazel quickly answered, “You can’t go. You are only 3 years old and school is for big kids.” Elsie stuck her tongue out at her sister. Annie replied, “When you are 6 years old, like Hazel, you will be able to go to school, too.” Elsie put her hands on Annie’s small round tummy, “Can the baby go to school too?” Annie couldn’t help but laugh.
The telegram, sent from Robert, arrived last evening. He has been delayed on business in Nevada and will not be home as soon as expected. As always, he closed the message with love and kisses for his dear wife and girls. Annie knew that he would be home if it were at all possible. As much as she longed for his easy smile and warm hugs, it was hollow days like this that she desperately missed Lavina and Marie.
Six weeks ago today, Lavina and her husband Jonathan, had moved from Bodie to Bishop. It was early summer when Lavina broke the devastating news that Jonathan had sold the stamp mill and had purchased a grist mill in Bishop. They were expected to move by fall. Time moved swiftly. Hugs and promises of weekly letters and frequent visits were heartfelt. Early morning, October 3, 1895, Lavina’s black buggy left town, the memory still brought tears.
The deep sadness that overwhelmed Annie for weeks was replaced with great joy when she was certain that she was with child. Her heart soared with love at the thought of a new baby cradled in her arms. She knew that Robert would be pleased and hoped the girls would be excited. Known for her sense of timing, Annie kept the tidings to herself. With only days away, she purposely waited until the evening of the Annual Autumn Dance.
Light music floated down from the stage as it did many years ago when they first met. Robert held Annie close as they swayed with the melody. She whispered the soft words in Robert’s ear. He instantly froze, searching her eyes. Her tearful smile said it all. He took her hand into his and kissed it gently, wrapping her in a warm embrace.
“I want a sister,” Elsie announced. “I don’t. Can’t we just get a puppy?” Hazel pleaded. Robert swept up Elsie and propped her up on his shoulders. “Sister or brother, we will pray that both mama and baby are safe.” He pulled Hazel over to his side, “You girls help mama around the house, all right?”
Lavina burst into joyous tears when she read Annie’s letter. She responded quickly, promising to stay with the family and deliver the baby. They calculated that the baby would come toward the end of May. Lavina planned to arrive early to assist with household tasks and help take care of the girls. The women wrote to each other twice a week, filling the pages with tidbits of daily occurrences, recipes, fond memories and excitement of the coming spring. The frosty mornings and warm days of autumn reluctantly gave into the blustery winds and horizontal snow.
Winter set in with a vengeance and it was difficult for everyone in Bodie. Annie filled her days with knitting baby clothes, chasing after Elsie and helping Hazel with schoolwork. For the most part, she felt good as her belly grew, a bit more tired with this baby than with the other two. That was to be expected, she was after all, 37 years old. Robert stayed close to home taking care of his family, keeping them warm and dry. The girls often snuggled close to their mama, especially when the temperature dipped, often below zero.
Winter dragged on and it seemed that spring had forgotten Bodie. It was a time for celebration when the sun finally had enough warmth to begin the melting. As expected, the roads became a muddy mess. It was impossible to go anywhere without sinking into sticky dark puddles. Much to Annie’s displeasure, Elsie enjoyed playing in the mud. Hazel, on the other hand, cried every time she had to step outside. Getting her to school was not an easy task. Spring also brought business commitments that required Robert to travel to Carson City. He left on April 20th and promised that he would return as soon as possible, he would be gone six days at the most.
It was the morning of April 23, when the sharp pain shot through her back. She had just returned from walking Hazel to school and was sweeping out the mud room. She must have twisted wrong…the pain came and left quickly. Although the intensity startled her, Annie soon forgot that it happened, after all, it was too early. She was alarmed when the deep pain returned an hour later. It did not take long before she was convinced that the baby was coming. The severe contractions of back labor prevented Annie from seeking help. She prayed that someone would stop by the house. Mid afternoon brought a concerned neighbor to the door when she noticed Hazel walking home by herself. When Mrs. Johnson found Annie lying on the floor, she quickly recognized the situation. It wasn’t long before the house was full of women, all of whom had their diagnosis and remedy. Annie pleaded for someone to send an urgent telegram to Lavina. She knew that even if the message got to her dear friend by morning, chances of Lavina arriving in time would be nothing short of a miracle. She was at least 5 days away…Annie prayed that Robert would make it home early.
The general consensus was that the baby was breech. Annie needed a doctor who was summoned from Bridgeport. He arrived in the dark hours of the morning, his breath thick with liquor. Annie was in great pain and exhausted by the intense labor. The house was cloaked with a heavy blanket of hushed anxiety. Several women stayed with the girls as they slept on the far side of the house. Cries of the new born child were heard as a lavender dawn lit the sky. The women stood anxious for word if Annie survived. Mrs. Johnson came out of the room with a weary smile and stated that both were fine. The women quietly celebrated with hugs and tears.
When Elsie and Hazel woke, they were allowed to join their mother and new baby sister. They crawled up in the high bed and snuggled, counting fingers and toes. The tiny baby girl slept soundly in Annie’s arms. Overwhelmed with gratitude, she prayed for her family and fell asleep surrounded with love.
Several hours later, devastating reality took hold. Word spread quickly that Annie suffered with dreadful childbed fever. This common tragedy was known well, little hope remained. A blood infection with no remedy, death was certain within days.
When Robert stepped off the stage, he was immediately surrounded by a group of distressed women. He didn’t wait for them to finish the words, he hailed a passing buggy. He burst through the door searching for a familiar face. The house was unusually quiet. A woman stood near the window with a tiny bundle in her arms. “Annie?” he choked. She motioned toward the bedroom. He took a deep breath and walked in. She lay in the bed propped up with pillows. She looked pale with a peculiar flush to her cheeks, her hair was matted, her eyes closed. She woke when he brushed her face with his own, a faint smile appeared. He fell to his knees at her side and took her small hand into his and placed a kiss.
She whispered, “I know you will do what is right. I trust your decisions. It will be difficult for you and the girls…don’t let them forget me…remind them of my love. Have you seen the baby? She is a tiny thing…I want to name her Annie Marie…” trembling emotion gripped Robert, his words were held silent by the weight of his heart breaking. He wept openly as he listened to her soft voice, “A request, my love… look deep in your heart and find the strength to allow Lavina and Jonathan to take this baby and raise her as their own…” As if the words were fragile strings of life, once said, there was nothing more.
Robert crawled up next to her and cradled her in his arms and cried. “Annie, Don’t Go…”
The black buggy, traveling at a dangerous speed, tore through town and up the street. Lavina halted the exhausted horses in front of the house. She quickly stepped down and was immediately surrounded by the grief stricken women. She fell to her knees and sobbed.
Annie Christine Fouke died in her home on April 27, 1896. The cause of death was childbed fever, she was 37 years old. She is buried in the first section of the Bodie cemetery. Her husband Robert placed a beautifully ornate, uniquely chiseled headstone upon her grave. The day after the burial of his beloved wife, baby Annie Marie was christened Genevieve Staal and traveled home to Bishop with her adopted parents, Lavina and Jonathan.
In the following months after his wife’s death, Robert faced difficult decisions and struggled with deep emotions. It was decided that Hazel, now 7 years old, would move to Indiana to live with Annie’s brother, Jeppe. Although Hazel grew to love her Aunt Laura, Uncle Jeppe and several cousins, she never forgave her father for sending her away. Hazel blossomed into a lovely woman and married a local Methodist minister. They kept Indiana as their home and raised three beautiful daughters who in turn, gave them 14 grandchildren. Hazel lived to be 105 years old.
Elsie had an extremely difficult time adjusting to life without her mother and sister. At just 3 years old, she begged her father not to send her away. His heart torn, he promised her that he would not. Robert continued his business travels, leaving Elsie for weeks at a time with different families in town. Unfortunately, mining in Bodie was in a serious decline and many families were moving away. Elsie would grow up in a world of insecurity coupled with the empty feeling of abandonment. Her father must have known that this lifestyle was not healthy, yet, he did not have the heart to make arrangements to send her away. The attempt to bring consistency into his daughters’ life backfired when he married a woman by the name of Rebecca. It is said that Elsie never accepted the ‘new mother’ and her presence in the home only deepened Elsie’s anger and resentment. She grew into a rebellious teenager and as soon as she could, ran away from Bodie to Reno. She fell into a rough crowd and later moved to San Francisco where her body was found in an alley. Elsie died at 31 years old.
Robert Fouke eventually left Bodie for Alameda California where he became Commander Quartermaster Secretary of California and Nevada. His marriage to Rebecca ended tragically with her untimely death. He married again only to be widowed a third time. He did not have any more children. It is said that while still living in Bodie, he occasionally visited the Staal family in Bishop. Lavina kept the visits short and would not allow the truth to be known. He would later write in his memoirs (written when he was 92) that the visits in Bishop were bitter sweet. Robert Fouke lived as a farmer, an honored soldier, an Indian agent and as a gold miner and investor. He lived to be 96 and is buried at the Veterans Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Baby Annie Marie grew up as Genevieve Staal and was never told she was adopted. Just as Annie knew they would, Lavina and Jonathan provided a home full of love and privilege. As the cute little girl with long brown curls and dancing blue eyes grew into womanhood, unbeknownst to Genevieve, she was a mirror image of her birth mother. Her intelligence and confidence blended with personality and beauty would open many doors to her future. She was accepted into the University of California in Berkley where she studied to become an English teacher. She was one of the first women to graduate from the university.
Lavina and Jonathan lived in Bishop for the remainder of their lives. They owned and operated a successful grist mill for decades. Lavina continued her medical practice in the Owens Valley, where she was endeared by all. The couple was respected for their community efforts and generous contributions toward education and health services. Jonathan died in 1908, followed by Lavina in 1916 when Genevieve was 20 years old. Both are buried in Bishop, alongside their infant son, Frank.
While sorting through her parents belongings, Genevieve came across an old trunk in the attic. She dusted off the rounded top and carefully opened it. Everything was neatly in its place, just as her mother had left it. Genevieve smiled as she unfolded two beautiful old fashioned dresses. She guessed they were from the Bodie days. She held them up to herself and laughed at the outdated style. As she dug deeper into the trunk, she found a picture of two women, one she immediately recognized as her mother, the other woman was someone she had never seen before. The young smiling faces stared back at her. She briefly wondered who the woman was with her mother; it was obvious they were good friends. Looking closer, she realized that they were wearing the dresses that she pulled from the trunk. She put the picture aside and dug deeper. She found some yellowing newspaper clippings, old property deeds, several journals and at the very bottom was an unmarked envelope. She opened it and read the words out loud and then silently, she reread the names and dates several times. The truth sent her mind reeling. Tears stung her eyes as she slowly folded the adoption papers and slipped them back into the envelope.
Genevieve never spoke of what she found on that day in the attic. She buried the secret deep inside herself. She accepted a teaching job in Seattle where she would eventually meet and marry the love of her life, Alex Peterson. Their lives were complete with the birth of their two children, Richard and Shirley. As Genevieve’s children grew up and life moved through years of holidays, celebrations and grandchildren, the secret lay dormant in a dark corner of her memory.
It was on a crisp winter morning when she summoned her children to her bedside. Both Richard and Shirley, now in their mid 70’s, listened closely as their tearful mother told them what she had found in that dusty old trunk in Bishop…
Baby Annie Marie Fouke, also known as Genevieve Staal, celebrated 101 years of life.
On June 12, 2003 I received a phone call at Bodie State Park from Mr. Richard Petersen. He introduced himself, apologized for taking my time and gently stated that he was told that his maternal grandmother may be buried in the Bodie cemetery. I sat back in my chair and listened closely to his story and fought tears. He was quite surprised to learn that I did know of his family. A few weeks later, I had the privilege of meeting Richard and his wife in Bodie. Together we walked up to Wood Street, where his grandmother’s home is located. It was very emotional for all of us. He walked slowly through every room of the old house where his mother was born and where his grandmother died. We walked up to the cemetery where he placed a bouquet of bright yellow flowers on Annie’s grave.
On August 12, 2007 Annie’s family came together for the first time in Bodie. This special gathering of three generations was indeed, an emotional event. I was honored to be a part of it. After visiting the Fouke House, Annie’s 10 year old great, great granddaughter slipped her hand in mine and looked up with wide blue eyes and thanked me. My heart swelled and squeezed tears. It was powerful reminder of the importance of keeping history alive for future generations.
Annie Don’t Go is based on a true story. Ongoing research continues to shed light on Annie’s story. I am currently writing a more detailed version of this story that will be published.
A very special thank you to Dianne Farias for editing.
Preserving Family History- Hilda & Henry
Submitted by Lisa Coffron, Written by Hilda Johnson
You can create a treasured collection of family memorabilia to be passed on from generation to generation by compiling information on your past with special photographs, documents, and letters in an album.
The story below is one such story. While browsing through some of my old scrapbooks I came across a hand written storybook that my Great Grandma Hilda “Hildur” Johnson provided as a gift to family members on her 50th wedding anniversary in 1968. I had never read it in its entirety until now so I decided to type it all verbatim to share with our readers. This is the first chapter of three about herself, Grandpa Henry “Henrik” and their lives together.
Hilda or “Hildur” – A blond blue eyed daughter was born to Henrik and Mathilda Ohngren in Mellansel, Sweden on Jan. 3, 1898. She was the fourth child, having two brothers Olof and John, and a sister, Karin, older than herself. When Hildur was four another brother, Henrik, was born.
Henrik Ohngren Sr. was a land owner called “Bonde” in Sweden. He was the oldest son in his family, and as the custom in Sweden, inherited the home and land when his father died. His father died at an early age, so Henry had a good home for his family. He provided a separate home for his mother, so was in the process of building a large new home on the farm when Hilda was born. She was born in the bakery house. In Sweden they had a separate building with a huge stone oven in which all baking was done. It was the custom to bake bread in there in these huge ovens, enough to last six months. This bread was rolled thin and when baked was stacked away and dried. That’s the reason all Swedes like hard tack.
Henrik raised his own grain and had a mill to grind his grain. A river, “Angermanelven”’ flowed along the side of his land, so he had a big mill-wheel that furnished power for his mill. Besides raising grain, he had horses, cows, sheep, pigs and chickens, as the land was rich and productive.
Some winter months Henrik worked in logging camps to earn extra money. He had a good education in his early years, so used to draw up and take care of many legal matters in that part of the country. Hilda remembers how his letters were always so formal and business like.
Henriks brother, John, was married to Mathilda’s sister, Kristina. They left Sweden for America in 1902, so Henrik decided to follow them there to the land of opportunity. He sold his farm and belongings, and with their five children, came to Park Rapids, Minn. a few months later. There he built a home and worked in a saw mill.
Hilda has a very vague recollection of Sweden. A few things stand out, as remembering that she walked on stubble, short cut grass or hay that cut her bare feet. Then at one time being up in the hay loft and some children daring her to jump out, she said if they would go hide she would jump, which they did, and when she jumped she ended up running into the house with blood streaming from mouth and nose.
On the trip to America, Hilda was lost at Liverpool, England. She was finally found walking happily and peacefully along with the crowd in that city.
Hilda started school in Park Rapids, Minn. in the kindergarten at the age of six. Sister, Carrie, started at the same time. Olof and John had previously entered the year before. The children have no recollection of a language problem, so must have adjusted quickly.
Hilda loved school and got along very well. She passed through the yard of Dr. Stone on her way to school and remembers how she would walk slow and dally along imagining that people seeing her thought she lived in that beautiful home.
Hilda and other children passed by a turn table on their way to school. That is where the engine of a train is turned around. One day, coming from school the turn table had been left unlocked, so the children thinking it was like a merry-go-round climbed on and hung on over the side. Some larger boys turned it around. Hilda, being the first one on became crushed over the hips where the two rails came together. When the children turned it back Hilda fell limp to the ground and had to be carried home by the children. It was thought at first she would not live, but after a long struggle, learning to walk again by holding on to chairs, she was able to walk and play and go back to school.
Hilda was quick to learn, so continued on with her class. When she was in the sixth grade she was promoted at mid term to the seventh thereby completing 6th and 7th in one year.
Mrs. Ohngren wanted her children confirmed in Swedish. There was no Lutheran church in Park Rapids so it was necessary to have a visiting pastor conduct classes. Olof, John, Carrie and Hilda together with Jack and Peter Eastman were confirmed in Swedish when Hilda was only twelve.
When Hilda was fifteen the family moved to Bemidji, Minn. where she attended High School in her sophomore year. After three months it became necessary for her to quit to help out at home. The family had increased to nine children and her mother to help with the family budget, had begun keep boarders and roomers. Father worked six days a week at the saw mill, Carrie was working at the Markham Hotel, so there was too much work for mother to do so she needed Hilda at home to help.
Bemidji had a new State Teachers College, so Hilda attended school there the following summer. At that time, if you passed all state board exams and requirements to teach you were given a second class teacher’s certificate. Hilda took all tests and to her surprise passed all of them. She was not yet seventeen, but had falsified her age in order to take the exam. Her first school was at Grygla, Minn. where she taught two years. By attending summer sessions at the College she was able to advance to a first class Teacher’s Certificate.
While growing up Hilda had several boy friends and admirers, but none that especially interested her.
The winter of 1916-17 Hilda was teaching at the Bass Lake School, not too far from home. One week end she had planned to spend with her girl friend and go to a dance out in the country near her home. Her friend walked to school to accompany her through the snow to her home. On the way when passing Hilda’s Uncle Erick’s logging camp, they decided to stop for a cup of coffee. There was Henry Johnson working as a helper to the cook, so he served them. Naturally there was conversation so Henry went to the dance too. He tells how much he fell in love with Hilda then with her red blouse and red cheeks. So the romance began….
Henry or “Henrik”- Part 2
A brown eyed boy was born to Jonas and Hohanna Johnson on Aug. 22, 1898 in Klippen, Sweden. He was the eleventh child of thirteen. Several brothers and sisters had died in infancy, but seven lived to adult age. His father was a shoemaker. At that time most shoes were made by hand. His mother was a tailoress and dressmaker. This makes us think that the family was always well dressed and did not suffer for lack of shoes. They lived on a farm and produced much of the food needed for such a large family.
At the age of nine, Henry, who was growing to be a strong husky boy, started to tend cattle for various farmers in the area, and earned enough to help keep his own needs. He enjoyed this immensely because he would take the cows out to where there was good pasture, then round them up at night and take them home. During the day he learned to enjoy the great outdoors. Fishing was his greatest pleasure. Each day one of the farmers wives packed a good lunch for him. He tells of the halls of home, churned butter and good homemade bread and rolls he would get. He could hardly wait to get a short distance away, so he could start munching. He herded cattle through the summer till his family left for America.
As he has many times stated, skiing was one of his favorite sports, and with all the snow and hills he became quite a professional on skis, and was daring enough to take many a high and dangerous jumps.
Through the winter he attended school near by their home. He did very well in school. His marks in school were always at the top, and of course as good or better than his sisters and brother, Carl. He enjoyed school and nearly always had a crush on the teacher.
Henry had an uncle and aunt, Farbro Daniel (fathers’ brother) who wanted to adopt him, as they had no children and felt he couldn’t be missed much from such a large family of thirteen children, and they had the means to provide for him. This his mother and dad could never agree to, because they loved them all, and maybe Henry didn’t want to leave his happy family.
At the age of fourteen, his parents decided to leave Sweden, and try their luck in America, taking the then Carl 18, Vera 16, Henry 14, Mamie 12, and Svea, the youngest 9. Their daughter Tyra, who was married to Emil Johnson and had a son Gustan, also accompanied them.
Their oldest daughter, Emily, was married to Pete Peterson, who had preceded them to American and lived on a farm near Park Rapids, Minn. The Johnson family lived with them for a short time until they settled on a farm near Sebeka, Minn.
There Henry attended country school for a couple of years, helping out with the farm work when he had the spare time. His family attended Lutheran Church in Sebeka, from which Henry was confirmed at age 15.
When he was 16 and 17 he worked on a farm near Park Rapids for Mrs. French and her son Walter. Later he moved to Bemidji, Minn. where he worked in saw mills and logging camps.
In his early years he found several cute Finnish girls that he was interested in and tells about, but he tried an experiment to find out who he was to marry. He placed a girl’s name under each of four clumps of sod. In the morning, if a living bug was found under one, that was the girl he was going to marry. To his surprise and pleasure he found a bug under Hilda Ohngren.
From then on goes the story of his romance.
Part 3 – Henry & Hilda Johnson
The school term 1917-18 Hilda taught in Shotley, Minnesota. Henry always dated Hilda whenever she came home, and when she had plans to go home for the Holidays he always came and got her and brought her back again. He usually had to a hire a team of horses and a buggy from the livery stables. “That was the good old days.” Hilda says he was handsome and such a good dancer.
They became engaged on Hilda’s 20th birthday and were married Aug. 29, 1918. They rented and lived on his fathers’ farm in Sebeka. Hilda taught school that first term at the school in their district. She did not continue there as they were expecting their precious daughter, Ruby, who was born in that first year.
Later Henry’s dad sold his farm so they moved to Bemidji for a year. Then in 1920 they left for Everett, Wash. Work there was very scarce, so after a year they moved back to Bemidji, almost penniless. Henry there worked as a city bus driver and Hilda again taught school.
Then came the urge again to go west which they did in 1922. Henry there followed the lumber business. He and Pete Eastman took a contract to pile lumber in Leavenworth, Wash. and worked there for a year. When that contract was finished they purchased a home in Everett, Wash. and Henry went to work for the Canyon Lumber Co.
Their long wished for son, Gordon, was born to them in Everett on March 14, 1925. Like all parents do they had great hopes and plans for their children. Hilda, in her youth had always enjoyed and taken part in dramatics. Ruby showed great talent and became quite well known in Everett, for her acting and dramatics. Her teacher sent a letter with her of recommendation, as having unusual talent.
But time changes things. In 1929 the fields looked greener in the auto industry at Pontiac, Mich. where Hilda’s parents lived. They placed a “For Sale” sign in their window and unexpectedly sold their house. The next Sunday, having guests for dinner they decided to drive to Seattle to give Carrie (Hilda’s sister) the news. Their friend, Ole Berglund, took his car and Hilda and Mamie rode in the ruble seat. Rain started falling after leaving home so the pavement was wet. Berglund had to stop his car suddenly because a car had stopped on the pavement and was changing his tire. This caused his car to skid and slammed into the rear of the stopped car.
The collision drove the body of the car in on the side where Hilda was sitting. She was seriously injured, as her leg was broken in three places. After a lengthy stay in the hospital Hilda was again able to walk.
While still using crutches they sold their household goods and moved to Pontiac, Mich. in 1929. There they built a home and Henry went to work at Fisher Body. But the Depression years followed, so Henry worked intermittently. The money they had saved while in Everett, Wash. was all used up in building the home. To help with the family income Hilda went to work for Sears Roebuck & Co. She was employed there from 1923 to 1949 having various positions from Sales girl to Merchandise Manager.
The hope for Ruby’s career in dramatics ended when she came to a new place and with the depression there was no money to give her lessons so she could become known. The dream for Gordon was to be able to play an instrument. He had a 120 base accordion and learned to play quite well. He won first place in a contest in a theatre in Pontiac, Mich., but that too had to be dropped for financial reasons.
Ruby and Gordon went to Sunday school, were confirmed and also married in St. John’s Lutheran Church in Pontiac, Mich.
Gordon majored in Engineering in College, and with one year yet to go he married his childhood sweetheart, Rosemary Frost. He completed and received his degree at S.M.U., Dallas, Texas.
Henry’s greatest pleasure was hunting and fishing, so in 1947 Henry purchased Breezy Point Resort on Straight Lake near Park Rapids, Minn. Two winters were spent in California. They loved Calif. so well that when they had the opportunity to sell the resort they did and moved to California.
They purchased the El Conejo Trailer Park in Thousand Oaks which they operated until in 1953 when Hilda was again seriously injured in an auto accident. Henry was working as a machinist for the Navy at Pt. Hueneme as the work around the trailer park gave him much spare time with Hilda’s help.
The accident made it necessary to sell the Trailer Park and they transferred to Huntington Park where Henry went to work for Standard Steel Corp for 10 years.
On his retirement in 1963 they built an ideal home near Lake Isabella, very lovely but too far from children and grand children in their later years. They had the opportunity to sell their home, which they did and decided to move to San Bernardino, Calif.
Before the change was made Henry fell and broke his hip, so was in the hospital in San Bernardino, Calif. while Hilda, with the help of John Ohngren (her brother) and Jane (his wife) moved.
God has given us much to be thankful for. In spite of accidents we have good health. Our children and families are living near enough so we can see them often. Ruby with a spell of illness is very well. She has a fine husband, good home and three children. Jim (Ruby’s son) is doing so well and has blessed us with three lovely great grandchildren. Diane (Ruby’s daughter) is a wonderful daughter and John (Ruby’s son) is also doing well.
Gordon has a good position and a very nice home. He adores his wife Rosemary and his three children. Ralph, his oldest, is in the service now and we pray for Gods protection. David is a well adjusted boy, a Junior in H.S. next year. Daughter Cheryl, a lovely girl just entering high school.
We are so thankful that all are well. We thank God for our sisters and brothers and for our many, many lifelong friends. May God bless us all!
If you have a past time family story you would like to share with our readers please email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to P.O. Box 869, Minden, NV 89423.