The Rest of the Story:
By Rita Maisel
The day after writing last week’s column we had a partial answer to the grave a man in Sacramento wanted us to locate. However, the first person who remembered the grave pointed out the map sent with the request was nine miles off. The correct intersection should have read at the corner of Highway 1 and 55, not Highway 5. Several people who had lived near that location remembered going to visit the grave, but they did not know who the child was who had been buried there or when her death occurred. You try to go with basic facts. The child buried there was a little girl about five years old. She had been riding in a wagon with some other children, fell off and was killed when the vehicle she was on ran over her. She did not belong to any of the families who had lived there in more recent times which meant her family had been transient or had moved away. No one knew when. Another fact was that the area was near where Jim Baird had farmed. As we dug deeper it was also near where many of Jim Baird’s relatives had farmed since the earliest of homesteading days.
People who remembered the little grave added more information. A small chain link fence had circled the grave, and the trees surrounding it had a name. The first was “Fischer’s trees” since there are currently Fischer farms nearby. Then one of Jim Baird’s cousins thought they might have been “Foster’s trees” and followed up by mentioning she did not remember any Foster families living in that area. But that turned out to be the clue that led us down the right path, and in case any readers are wondering, we can pass on the information that neither the C. B. Foster family who lived in Langdon and had a restaurant here nor William T. Foster and his wife Nora, who farmed closer to Wales, appear to have been related to the earlier Fosters.
Years ago I did work on tree claims in Cavalier County and remembered older people calling sections of land by the name of a settler who had received title to that piece of property by planting a tree claim. It was often the second piece of land a homesteader acquired because if he planted trees that grew, he would get another quarter of land at a low price. Most planted cottonwoods, willows or other hardy seedlings, and while the homestead required a house, some liked the ambiance of the tree claim so much they constructed a second house near the trees.
In the 1970s some surrounding towns or counties had begun planning for centennials, and Mildred Rutledge was a cheerleader in getting local people interested. There was an 1895 wall map of Cavalier County at the court house which was thought to be possibly the last existing copy giving the names of original homesteads. When efforts were made to photocopy portions of it, the map fell apart, but we knew it would be of historical value. It would have to be hand-copied a township at a time. The map was laid out at the Register of Deeds office, and it seems I drew the short straw so spent Christmas vacation at the Register of Deeds office copying the map. It took most of the winter and many return visits to correct errors, but the results made usable township maps that we put in notebooks and made available to the Dresden Museum and the Cavalier County Library. Those amateur maps have been well used ever since.
It was fairly easy to locate the Irwin and Gordon claims (ancestors of Jim Baird) in southern Mt. Carmel Township and the north eastern part of Langdon Township. Just above J. J. (Jimmie) Gordon’s land in Mt. Carmel was a quarter of land marked Frank Foster. Less than a mile from Nicholas Irwin’s claim in Langdon Township was another quarter in the northwest corner of Harvey Township belonging to Frank Foster. The Foster land appears to be where the grave had been located. However, the 1912 atlas shows that the Foster land in Mt. Carmel had been sold to Jimmie Gordon (a brother of Mrs. Irwin), and the second piece of Foster land had been sold to Nicholas Irwin and later went to his son the first Russell Irwin. Other family members farmed this land down through the years, and a more recent map shows it belonging to Jean Baird, Jim Baird’s widow.
The main clue we learned from the maps was that the Foster family had left Cavalier County by 1912 so the little girl must have died before that date if she was a member of the Foster family. Then a current neighbor who has spent quite a few years in that neighborhood remembered that some people had come from Canada a few years ago and moved the grave. Unfortunately she did not know exactly where they had come from. If Fosters had come back maybe there would be something in the clipping file under their name and believe it or not, there was!
The headline says “Fosters Revisit Home They Left in Spring of 1903” and goes on to tell that William E. Foster of Langruth, Manitoba, and his brother, Frank D. Foster, of Maidstone, Sask., came to Langdon in August 1964 to visit former classmates and friends who included Mrs. Etta Witzel, Mrs. Thelma Howatt, the Roy McDowall home and William Crockett who had been a classmate of Frank D. Foster. The Foster family had settled on a farm near Maidstone in 1903, and Frank D. still lived on the farm in 1964. In checking Find-a-Grave, Frank D. and numerous family members are buried in Maidstone Cemetery but none of the names listed have a pre-1903 death date. The 1900 census of Langdon Township lists the Frank Foster family who came from Canada in 1887. That list includes two little girls: Bertha E born in 1895 and Alvina born in 1897, if the hand-written list was interpreted correctly. One might just be the little girl buried in the long ago grave. Unless someone comes up with more information, this might actually be the rest of the story.
Torkel Nelson Family Ties:
Gail Haugen Melland has just completed another new book of family history and if the name Torkel Nelson rings a bell with you, please do stop by the Cavalier County Library and look it over. It has all the earmarks of Gail’s intensive search for great stories. She suggested I read it before the book is available to library patrons, and I was happy to do so even though the name Torkel Nelson did not immediately sound familiar.
Born in Norway in 1831, Torkel Nelson and his wife came to America settling in Iowa and Minnesota before coming to Cavalier County where family members had homestead claims in what is now Montrose Township and later Billings Township of Cavalier County. There were eleven children in the first family in this new country, and they had children, grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren. Some of their history overlaps Gail’s previous Melland research because Nelson family members married Mellands, but other stories will seem brand new to readers who are not family members. A few of the stories may already have been published in area centennial books, but the chronology has been updated to include recent births and deaths as well as some interesting trivia about Loma, Union and other towns nearby.
Gail has done a good job with this booklet of family ties, and it might even give readers inspiration for compiling some of their own history.