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Sagas of Pembina County 1867-2017

After hearing numerous rave reviews of Jim Benjaminson’s book on Pembina County history, I can honestly write that this is a book readers will enjoy. It does not have the old family pictures and lists of family members that were part of the centennial books we have been enjoying for the last forty years. However, there are pictures included to illustrate places and events with many we might not have seen before. The vast majority of the pictures were ones I had no recollection of seeing down through the years. Most of his stories are about places and ways of life complete with details that many will find surprising. If you do not already have a copy, contact the Cavalier Chronicle or the Pembina County Historical Society.

The reason his book begins with 1867 is that this date marks the establishment of Pembina County located in Dakota Territory. Yes, I do know that a previous Walhalla area publication lists the Gingras Trading Post with a date of 1848. At that time Pembina County was a part of Minnesota Territory. The 1867 boundaries remained in effect until the Dakota Territorial legislature established other counties which had previously been part of Pembina County. As a result, the 1867-2017 years marks the area’s 150th anniversary.

Chapter 2 of this book is titled Flour Milling, and until I read it, I did not realize quite what that involved. Over the years most of us have heard story after story about early settlers who strapped a bag of grain to their backs and walked all day (sometimes twenty or more miles) to get to St. Thomas where there was a flour mill. They would stay overnight once the flour was in the sack and spend another day or two walking home again. Some stories mentioned if it happened to be a rainy day, they stayed until nicer weather because the flour and rainwater were an unusable mix if they did not take that precaution. I suspect that Vivian Crawford, whose family had a similar mill in Langdon in later years, might have mentioned the term “roller mill” in her stories, but what was involved had not penetrated my mind. Benjaminson not only tells you how the mills operated but pictures them.

Another fun chapter with lots of new information had to do with bridges and ferries. Most of us know what bridges are, but ferries in Cavalier County were in short supply. There are some tales of canoes left on the shores of lakes, but a ferry that would transport horse and wagon or later automobiles with passengers was just not in our vocabulary. Because Pembina County had not only the smaller rivers but also the Red River with steamboat traffic to Grand Forks and to Pembina from Winnipeg, the ferries had to be licensed both at the Dakota side and the Manitoba or Minnesota sides.

The chapter on newspapers was another I enjoyed because several of the people working on Pembina County papers either came to Cavalier County to work or came from Pembina County and had long careers in our area. One of those was James Woolner, who came to Drayton when his father and uncle were pastors there and possibly at Emerson as well. James began as a writer for the Bathgate Pink Paper (yes, I have seen copies, and they were on pink paper!) and then came to Langdon where he worked on both the Democrat and the Republican. Another was Till Copeland, who was listed in the Benjaminson book as having an Olga address. Actually, the Copeland family lived at Beaulieu and early on Till, and his sister, Carrie, came to work with C. B. C. Doherty at the original Cavalier County Courier. Carrie also gave music lessons in Langdon and was organist or pianist at the Presbyterian Church until her death. After a few years in Langdon, she married Charlie Chisholm, who had a store in Langdon. Carrie and Mrs. Doherty were the first female workers on Langdon newspapers. Children in both families told of learning the alphabet sorting type. Howard Doherty and Margaret Bartlett were grandchildren of those pioneering mothers. One who got his start in the newspaper business in Cavalier County was Jerry Frawley, who was associated with the Hannah Moon and a Wales publication for a brief time before settling in Cavalier where he worked on the Chronicle for years and was frequently quoted in Langdon papers.

I can especially recommend the chapters on the Brick Mine and the Concrete mine. This book does not quote directly from my aunt, Alice; Vivian Maxwell Goschke or her aunts, Pheme and Nora; Oliver Lawson; Harry and Alpha Carlson; or Magnea and Grant Swanlaw, who all contributed to my meager knowledge of the Concrete site where I can remember playing as a child with children from the area. It does, however, have technical and legal comments that might answer your questions and even some of my own. You might also enjoy the part about the Northern Dakota Railroad and an engine named Maud. One of the pictures even shows the boarding house where Mrs. Lawson (mother of Oliver and Harrison) cooked for the workers in the mine – a story remembered and often told by her grandchildren.

The chapter on Birdeen Gibson, an artist who graduated from Neche High School in 1931, brought back special memories for me because she had painted a picture of Christ Knocking at the Door for the Trinity Evangelical Church in 1941. That church became Trinity EUB church in 1948 and Trinity United Methodist in 1968. My grandmother and other family members had been charter members of the predecessor Zion Evangelical Church east of Cavalier since arriving in Dakota Territory. Some family members had come as early as 1875, others in 1879 and my grandmother in 1883. The Zion church and cemetery at Cavalier were named for the Zion church and cemetery in Hay Township, Huron County, Ontario where the family had lived since 1852, and many of the members at Cavalier were people they had grown up with. As a child I remember going to the Trinity Church and being taken to the front of the church to see this painting. Family members told me the painting was very special because Christ is knocking on the door of your heart, and there is no latch on the door so you must open it from inside and invite Him in. Three copies of this painting are pictured in the Sagas book, and it is possible I know where a fourth copy hangs today. The three pictured are the one at Trinity, the one at the now closed “Chocolate” Methodist Church in Cavalier - which is now in the Pembina County Museum, and one from 1947 displayed in the Drayton United Methodist Church. Only the Drayton picture photograph does not show a latch on the door. All three carry a note “From Hoffman” along with artist Gibson’s name. There is a dim memory that a picture of Christ in Gethsemane was originally painted by a German artist named Hoffmann as was one of many versions of Christ, the Good Shepherd now familiar as a stained-glass window.

A final chapter is on Cemetery Walks and mentions “lost” cemeteries which are also difficult to locate in Cavalier County. The Pembina Cemetery books came out before the Cavalier County ones were published in 1993, so both sets are somewhat outdated, but just this week visitors to the library were pleased to find family members in the printed books of both counties which are available at the Cavalier County Library. Some of Cavalier County’s known cemeteries have been photographed and may be searched by name through Find a Grave. If you are looking for family burials, those are resources that you may have at your fingertips.

Years ago, when walking was easier, I visited most of the historic cemeteries in Pembina County as well as almost all of the ones in Cavalier County simply because they are open history books. Of course, I do not remember all of them, but there is one near Pembina which is not only easy to locate but makes you feel like you are walking across a map of North Dakota. Buried there with their families are Charles Cavileer, Jolly Joe Rolette, Wm. Moorhead, Nels Nelson, I think one of the Bottineau family, and many others whose names are now on the counties and towns of North Dakota. You might also find their stories in this book which can be enjoyed again and again down through the years.

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