Minnie's Diary #30: Berries, Hay, Plagues and the Circus
Monday, August 1 - Picked berries all day. Joe over in evening.
— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904
Minnie’s legs ached and her shoulder muscles strained as she bent over to pick raspberries from branches close to the ground.
“Maybe playing baseball yesterday wasn’t the best idea,” she said to herself, rubbing her shins as she hid behind the berry bushes.
Minnie carried two large buckets to fill with tender, juicy raspberries. By noon, she carried the full buckets back to the house. After dinner, she walked to the blueberry marsh where she found even more berries. She smiled and nodded at Permelia Paquin and Mrs. Desjardines, who were also in the berry patch.
“Bonjour! Bonne journée pour les baies,” said Mrs. Desjardines.
“Indeed, it is a good day for berries,” Minnie said. “But keep your eye out for bears. They like the berries, too.”
- News Gossip from Sagola, Iron Mountain Press, Iron Mountain, Mich. August 4, 1904, p. 5
“As hay harvest comes at the busiest season of the year the farmer must use his best judgement as to the time of harvesting the crop, as his work at this time may be subject to conditions over which he has no control. The one thing he must do is to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and to push the work as rapidly as possible if he desires to have a good supply of feed upon which he can maintain his stock in a good healthy condition during the feeding season of the year.”
— Charlevoix County Herald, East Jordan, Michigan, August 20, 1904
Minnie saw the neighboring farmers and their sons, hard at work in the fields. Teams of horses were pulling mowers, cutting hay and leaving it to dry. Pa drove a team pulling a rake to turn over the hay he and Freddie had cut yesterday, letting it dry some more in the warm summer son. Mr. Paquin and Del were gathering hay with pitchforks onto a long, flat, horse-drawn wagon, then unloading the loose hay into their barns. These dried grasses and clovers would keep their horses and cattle fed all winter long, but it was hard work.
Today was also a big day for Minnie’s oldest brother, Edmond. After spending a month at home when he lost part of his left index finger, Edmond was back at work at the Hermansville sawmill owned by the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. He’d left early that morning with Willie.
"Be careful, Edmond," Ma said.
Minnie happily waved goodbye and wished him good luck on his first day back. “I’m glad I won’t be seeing his sad face around the house all day,” Minnie thought.
Minnie’s new beau, Joe Marchaterre, helped his father and brothers with the hay until it was time for supper, then he walked to the Gamache home to see Minnie.
“You have hay in your hair, Joe,” Minnie told him, picking out grassy fragments as they went for a walk in the barnyard.
“Pretty much everyone does these days. It’s the latest style,” he joked, reaching out to hold her hand.
The sun setting over the cutover stump lands and blueberry marsh seemed extra orange tonight, perhaps due to the hay dust in the air. As they reached the edge of the potato field, Joe stopped and turned Minnie’s face toward his, then planted a sweet kiss on her lips.
“Cut Large Hay Crop. Farmers in the vicinity of Iron Mountain are engaged in cutting the largest and best hay crop in many years.”
—Menominee County Journal, July 30, 1904
Tuesday, August 2 - Picked berries in forenoon. Went to Hville in afternoon to get our proofs.
— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904
After picking more berries, Minnie and her mother rode into Hermansville to pick up their proofs from the photographer. It didn’t take them long to decide which family photo they liked best.
“This may be the last photo we all take together,” Aurora Gamache said. “Before long, you, Ed and Willie will be married and setting up your own households. It will just be Freddie and us on the farm.”
Minnie embraced her mother in a long hug.
"I"m not going anywhere anytime soon, Mama."
Preparations for Logging
"The Pittsburg & Lake Superior Iron company is arranging to conduct logging operations on an extensive scale in the vicinity of Metropolitan, Dickinson county. It will operate three camps and give employment all fall and winter to more than two hundred men."
— Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., August 6, 1904, p. 1
Winter seemed a long way off, but already the lumbermen were getting ready for the next season in the woods. Companies were building camps and recruiting the best men to be foremen, who were in turn recruiting teamsters, blacksmiths and cooks. If you recruited a good foreman, a lot of skilled labor and lumber jacks would follow him into the woods.
The teamsters, who drove the horses, would seek a good blacksmith who could keep their horses well-shod and their sleds sturdy and safe. And everyone wanted good grub from a camp cook who didn’t drink too much and served up three square meals each day.
“Won’t be long and Edmond and Willie will be in the woods for the winter,” Ma said. “I think your Pa will tell Freddie to go this year and he’ll stay home to do the farm chores. He’s about done working in the woods.”
“Really?” Minnie said. “Pa always said he’d be happy if he died in the woods. Why would he pass up another chance at camp life?”
“The frigid cold last winter made him think again,” Ma said. “He says he wants to stay here, and sleep in his own bed at night.”
“I can’t say I blame him for that,” Minnie replied. “But … Freddie. What terrible job will they make him do in his first year?”
“He’ll be on an ice sled, like the other rookies, until he can work his way up.”
Minnie couldn’t imagine staying up all night on an ice sled equipped with a water tank. As the horses pulled the sleds, the men would open a sprinkler system that laid a fresh layer of ice on the tracks between the camp and the lumberyard in Hermansville. On the downhill runs they sprinkled sand to add traction, so the sled wouldn’t speed down the hill into the back ends of the horses. A runaway sled filled with tons of wood spelled near-certain death to anything in its way.
“Expect Big Lumber Output. It is generally believed that the coming winter will witness great activity in the lumber woods of the upper peninsula. Preparations are already being made on a larger scale than for some years past.”
—Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich. July 30, 1904, p. 6
Berries and Plagues
Wednesday, August 3 - Picked berries again.
Thursday, August 4 - “ “ “
Friday, August 5 - “ “ “ Fred Duby over & Joe Marchaterre. Had a circus.
— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904
By Friday, berries were dancing through Minnie’s head whenever she closed her eyes. Blueberries, huckleberries, raspberries and blackberries were all ripe for picking. Ma worked at making jams and jellies with the fruit Minnie brought home each day. They had their fill of berry pie and berry cobbler, which the men gobbled up whenever they took a break from the fields.
Minnie made a blueberry teacake and served it to Joe and her cousin Fred when they called Friday evening.
“Have you heard from your friend Emily, Minnie?” Fred Duby had a grin on his face, and Minnie knew that wasn’t a good sign.
“Not since the end of June,” Minnie said. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, they’ve been having all kinds of trouble in Menominee. I just wondered if she was all right.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Oh, plagues of insects. Hail. Toads. I’m just wondering if they’ve survived? Are all the first-born sons safe?”
“To those who arose and were on the streets early this morning the city of Menominee appeared to be undergoing one of the trials that afflicted ancient Egypt in the time of Moses, for the streets were fairly alive with great quantities of young toads of the most minute size. The long rain storm of the past two days had generated this brood of infant reptiles, and they were all over the streets in immense numbers…. They disappeared as the day warmed up, but during the early hours they made the walking bad for the pedestrians of nervous tendencies, and multitudes of them were killed by the wheels of the street cars.”
— “A Plague of Toads Visits Menominee,” Marinette Eagle Star,
Marinette, Wis.; July 9, 1904, p. 8.
“Menominee and Marinette were visited by a plague of insects a few days ago that surpassed anything ever seen there. It was a storm of Green Bay flies. They came in perfect clouds and settled on all buildings and walks and especially in the vicinity of lights in enormous numbers. They were thrown into the streets in shovelfuls. The Green Bay flies only twelve hours, the first rays of the morning sun killing them.”
— Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., July 30, 1904, p. 4
“Daggett: The heavy rain and hail storm prevailing here Wednesday evening did considerable damage to the crops east of the village.”
— Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., July 30, 1904, p. 5
“Really, Fred. You’d think you’d have better things to do with your time,” Minnie replied.
“What do you mean? The newspaper is filled with important information. I’m just sharing a bit of news. Look, here's some more important news."
The Circus is Coming
“Nine-tenths of the population of Niagara have signified their intention of attending the Barnum & Bailey circus at Iron Mountain, Tuesday, August 16th, and every available livery rig has already been engaged for the occasion.”
— Iron Mountain Press, Iron Mountain, Mich., July 28, p. 4
“Would’t it be fun to go to the circus?” Joe asked. “I’d love to see those acrobats on bicycles and the girls on the flying trapeze.”
“And the bearded lady and tattooed man,” Fred replied.
“And what about the elephants, lions and tigers?” Joe marched around the room imitating the elephant’s long trunk and a lion roaring. Fred grabbed a chair, lion tamer style, and pointed it toward Joe, shouting, “Back! Back! You beast!”
“We don’t need to go to the circus,” Minnie said, laughing. “It’s enough of a circus here already with you two clowns.”
-- Iron Mountain Press, Iron Mountain, Mich., August 4, 1904, p. 8
Saturday, August 6 - Went to Hville. Anna & Hilda over & Joe. Had a fine time.
— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904
“Say, girls. Did you hear about the mind reader who was in the county the other day?”
Joe had a smile on his face and Minnie knew that some kind of joke was coming, hopefully not at her expense.
“No, but I have a feeling I’m going to.”
“It’s right here in the Menominee County Journal,” he said, and began reading aloud:
“It is said that a mind reader recently, in a neighboring town, having demonstrated to the party of ladies and gentlemen his ability to read a newspaper through two thickness of horse blankets, one of the girls, a native of Metropolis, left the room with the remark that she ‘was not going to stay there any longer with just that calico dress on.’”
— Menominee County Journal, August 6, p. 1
“Joe! You scamp. Wait until I tell Ma,” said Joe’s younger sister, Hilda.
“What? I’m just reading from the newspaper,” he replied.
“What other news is there?” Minnie asked.
Go and Hear Her
“It says here that a Mrs. Calkins, district delegate for the W.C.T.U., will lecture in the M.E. church at Ingalls on Wednesday and Thursday, August 17 and 18. The Journal editors say, ‘Go and hear her.’”
“Well, I guess we know where the Menominee County Journal stands on alcohol,” Anna said. “Won’t be long, and the WCTU will be closing all the saloons.”
Minnie’s mother, Aurora Gamache, had overheard the young people and stepped into the room.
“As long as they let us have our own wine and beer at home, I wouldn’t mind if the saloons shut down. Keep the men at home where they belong,” she said.
“Who’s this Mrs. Calkins?” Minnie asked.
“It doesn’t say,” said Joe.
“I think I’ve heard of her,” Anna said. “She’s that widow from Kalamazoo. She’s been organizing across the state for the Michigan Women’s Christian Temperance Union.”
“Is that what WCTU stands for?” Joe said. “The saloonkeepers say it’s “Women Constantly Torment Us.”
“Those WCTU ladies show up at the mines and lumber camps from time to time,” Joe said.
“Oh, yes. They get a little preachy, but they pass out comfort bags that the men do appreciate.”
“Oh, they’re filled with little things that make camp life easier. A comb, scissors, thread, needles, tooth brush, buttons, mirror, soap, twine, bandages — and also Bible tracts and a ‘mother’s letter.’”
“What kind of letter?”
“Just a letter from a woman saying she is praying for you as you work in the woods, and encouraging you to remain ‘pure of heart and body.’ ”
“How many lumberjacks can read?”
“Very few. The older fellows can barely write their own names. They toss the reading materials aside. But the buttons and thread sure come in handy, and the bandages, too. Lumbering is hard on your clothes and your hands and feet.”
“That’s for sure. Ma spends a lot of time mending the boys’ clothing when they come home from the woods on Saturday night.”
“Do the comfort bags stop the men from drinking, though?”
“Oh, no,” said Joe. “The minute they get their pay in the spring, they’re off to Iron Mountain or Escanaba to visit the saloons.”
Sunday, August 7 - Ma & Pa went to Mr. Poulds. I kept house. Alice, Joe, Joseph & Fan were over. Had a circus.
— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904
With Minnie’s parents off to Spalding to visit with George Plourde and his wife, Rosanna, Minnie became the lady of the house. She handled her mother’s usual morning chores, fed her brothers a Sunday dinner and cleaned up afterward. Sundays were for visiting, and she soon had a crowd of friends calling. In addition to Joe, she welcomed Alice LaCrosse, Joseph Ducharme and Fannie Mae Bogart, a telegraph operator from Menominee who was filling in temporarily in the Hermansville Western Union station.
“What’s the news from Menominee, Fan? I hear you’ve been visited by three plagues so far,” Joe said.
Fannie chuckled, but couldn’t hide a somewhat worried expression on her face.
“Yes, indeed. And there’s no Moses around to take credit or put an end to them, either. Now we’re concerned that typhoid is running through the city because of contaminated water. We have to boil our water before drinking it, or you’ll most certainly get sick.”
-- The Daily Eagle Star, Marinette, Wis., August 8, 1904, p. 1
“Hail, toads, insects and now typhoid,” Minnie said. “What a fright.”
“Yes, and they say two of the Menominee River lumber mills will go out of business this year,” Fan said. “The pine is about gone upstream and the lumber barons are moving out.”
“That will put hundreds of men out of work,” Joseph said.
“Well, it’s not all bad news,” Fan said. “We’re getting a new pickle factory.”
“Pickles? The whole town will smell like dill and vinegar,” Joe said, holding his nose.
“A carload of barrels arrived for the pickle factory this week. The section crew laid a sidetrack to the pickle factory this week.”
— Menominee County Journal, August 6, 1904, p. 1
“The Pickle Salting station of McGuire & Alert is now completed and ready to receive cucumbers. Those having contracts to furnish cucumbers should begin delivery at once.”
— Menominee County Journal, August 6, 1904, p. 8
Undeterred, Fan continued to promote her hometown. She lived in Frenchtown in Menominee, but took equal pride in happenings in Marinette, Wisconsin, just across the river.
“The Chatauqua is in full swing in Marinette. So many interesting lectures and musical numbers. I’m sad to miss it this year."
-- "Soldiers Day at Marinette Assembly," The Daily Eagle Star,
Marinette, Wis., August 8, 1904, p. 1
"Oh, and the circus is coming to town. My brother Sam can’t wait.”
“Yes, the Barnum and Bailey Circus,” cried Joe. “I want to go so badly. Wouldn’t it be grand to see the Greatest Show on Earth?”
“There won’t be any shows coming here in the future if all the jobs go away,” Joseph said. “The lumber barons will be gone, the lumberjacks will be gone, and we’ll be left here looking at a bunch of stumps.”
“There’s always farming,” Minnie said.
“In the U.P.? Most of the land here is no good for farming. The best thing you can grow in this soil is a tree.”
“Two of the Menominee river mills will go out this year and be removed to other fields. The H. Witbeck company, of Marinette, has only about two months’ more sawing and as soon as possible after the season closes will be moved to Canada, probably to Collingswood, Ont., where it will be set up to manufacture lumber for the Carney Lumber company, which has purchased 300,000,000 feet of pine on the Spanish river in the Georgian bay district.”
— "Logging Laconics," Iron Mountain Press, Iron Mountain, Mich., August 4, 1904, p. 3
Notes & Further Reading:
Note to Readers: It's been a few weeks since I last shared stories from Minnie's Diary. I guess the holiday season got the best of me. I'd hoped to finish up the diary project in a calendar year, but here we are in January 2022 and I'm still back in August 1904. Nevertheless, I'll keep pressing on and maybe we'll celebrate Christmas in July this year. I hope you are all well and staying healthy.
Minnie's Diary is part history and part fiction. While my great-grandmother's diary entries and the news clippings are real, the rest comes from my imagination and research into life in 1904 Hermansville, a company-owned lumber town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For more about Minnie and her family, read this introductory page elsewhere on this website.
Remember to subscribe to my blog at the bottom of the page if you want to make sure you see every installment of Minnie's Diary. I'll send an email each time I publish a new post. I will never sell or share your contact information with other individuals or companies.
-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter
Characters: New characters this week include "Mr. Poulde" and "Fan." I've also introduced Mrs. E. L. Calkins from newspaper accounts (see below).
I couldn't find a Mr. "Poulde" in census records from north Menominee County, but I did find two men named "Plourde." Archille Plourde was born in Kamouraska, Quebec, in 1859, immigrated to the U.S. in 1887 and farmed on the east side of Spalding Township with his wife, Margaret La Freniere. George Plourde was born about 1850 in Saint-Léon-le-Grand, Quebec, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1871. A laborer, he lived with his wife, Rosanna Perrault, on the west side of Spalding Township, closer to the Gamache farm in Meyer Township. I guessed that Pierre and Aurora were visiting George and Rosanna, but who knows for sure?
I also couldn't find a young woman named "Fan" in the Hermansville area in the 1900 or 1910 census. I did find a Fannie Mae Bogart, whose father ran the Western Union telegraph in Marinette for many years. You can see their names in the 1905 Marinette city directory entry below. Fannie was born in Marinette in 1887 and died in Powers, Mich., in 1944. She moved to Iron Mountain in 1914 to work as a telegraph operator. There she met her husband, William John "Slim" Eslick, a switchman for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. I think it's logical that Fannie may have filled in for the telegraph operator in Hermansville in August 1904, so that's the story I went with.
Telegraph and Telephone: I researched telegraphs and telephones in the early 1900s after finding Fannie Mae Bogart and her Western Union connections in Marinette. According to news accounts, in Boston in 1904, one person in 25 had a telephone. In Chicago, one in 29. In New York, one in 31. At the time, merchants would keep a telephone for their customers to use, since few people had telephones at home. Meanwhile, the telegraph remained the most reliable way to get a message quickly from one place to the next, but its days were numbered as the telephone became more widespread.
If you're interested, here are some links to explore:
Telegraph operators: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_telegraphy
Telephone history: https://www.elon.edu/u/imagining/time-capsule/150-years/back-1870-1940/
Where there's a telephone or telegraph, you need cedar poles to string the wires. Records of the Northwestern Cedarmen's Association meeting in 1903 include summaries of cedar sales for telephone poles, shingles, and the like. F.J. Lang of the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. in Hermansville chaired the association's Posts and Shingles committee that year. Quite a few companies based in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula show up in the association's membership records. You could say that cedar from Wisconsin and Upper Michigan helped build the nation's telephone network.
Barnum & Bailey Circus: I spent a good bit of time researching the 1904 circus for this blog. Today we cast a critical eye toward the circus's treatment of animals, performers and people with disabilities, but in those days the three-ring spectacle truly was the Greatest Show on Earth. It drew thousands of spectators of all classes, many who would travel many miles to see the show. I plan to write more in a later blog, but here are some interesting links you might want to explore:
Day-by-day chronicle of events in the 1904 Barnum & Bailey Circus, courtesy of the Milner Library at Illinois State University. See pages 86-88 for their trip through the Upper Peninsula that year.
Ugo Ancillotti, "Impresario of Latest and Most sensational Novelty Attractions. Inventor of the death ring, double loop, loop the gap and other most daring features." Learn more about Ancillotti's death-defying, upside-down loop jump.
Sharon Grimberg's PBS documentary series, "The Circus," describes the origins and spectacle of the American circus. It can be purchased for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Women's Christian Temperance Union: Both the Anti-Saloon League and WCTU were actively trying to shut down big alcohol in Michigan in 1904. In many respects, the fight took on an anti-immigrant tone, focusing in particular on Catholics and German and Irish immigrants. The WCTU was founded in 1874 in Cleveland, Ohio. It had become one of the largest and most influential women’s groups in the nation, working not only to ban saloons and alcohol, but on prison reform, labor laws and women’s suffrage. After the death of WCTU President Frances Willard in 1898, the organization scaled back and focused mostly on prohibition.
WCTU Organizer Emor L. Calkins had lived through double tragedies in 1901. On August 16, her husband, Earle H. Calkins, owner of a rendering and fertilizer company in Kalamazoo, Mich., died suddenly of heart failure. He was 48. Just two weeks later, on September 1, her 11-month-old daughter, Mildred Ruth, died of cholera. The baby was 10 days short of her first birthday.
The Calkins had two older daughters, Glenadine and Gladys, who were in their early 20s when their father and sister died. Mrs. Calkins threw herself into the one thing she had left: her work for the WCTU. She traveled throughout the state, giving lectures and building up local units to take on big alcohol and the saloonkeepers. She later became the Michigan president of the WCTU for more than 20 years.
A 1909 record of the WCTU's state conference at Battle Creek lists Mrs. Mamie Passmore of Hermansville as a Menominee County WCTU leader. I couldn't find any census records placing Mrs. Passmore in Hermansville, so she may have lived there only a short time.
Making Hay: For a look at harvesting and storing hay the days before tractors and hay balers, check out this video from the British Film Institute, "A day in the hayfields, 1904." I spent a summer working on my uncle's farm, where we used tractors, balers and hay elevators to get the bales into the haymow. I can't imagine doing it with horses and pitchforks.
Denuded Pine Lands: Several news accounts in 1904 express dismay at the loss of pine forests in Michigan. Once thought an inexhaustible resource, the great pines in Michigan's U.P. disappeared in less than 40 years. By 1904, experts were discussing what to do with the cutover land. Much of it was unsuitable for farming, though landowners still tried to sell it as prime farmland. Below are a few stories reflecting on the pine lands.
“A movement has been undertaken by Charles W. Garfield, president of the Grand Rapids Savings Bank and member of the state forestry commission of Michigan, looking to the reforestation of the cutover pine lands of that state, says the American Lumberman. … Professor Judson F. Clark, of the bureau of forestry, Washington, has been in Michigan, has studied the pine barrens situation and has given utterance to some startling conclusions as to what can be done with the cutover lands. He says that the lands of Michigan, from which the original pine has been cut, are fit only for that kind of growth. Their sands are not fit for the growth of crops but the long, thin roots of pine trees shoot below the light surface into the damp ground beneath. Therefore, the land should be wholly devoted to the growth of pine forests. Professor Clark declares that Michigan possesses a bonanza and apparently does not know it. She owns 6,000,000 acres of denuded pine lands and allows them to lie in waste, while in a half a century they could produce pine timber of a total value of more than a billion dollars.”
— “Denuded Pine Lands - Reforestation in Michigan on a Vast Scale is Suggested,”
Iron Mountain Press, Iron Mountain, Mich., July 28, 1904, p. 5
-- "Growing White Pine from Seed," Menominee County Journal,
Stephenson, Mich., August 6, 1904, p. 8
-- Iron Mountain Press, Iron Mountain, Mich., July 28, 1904, p. 4
Other News of Interest: Here are some more newspaper tidbits that I couldn't find space for in this week's blog:
Reducing Wood Waste: “We just finished a wood alcohol plant at Wells,” said W.K. Hubbard, of the Stephenson company. “It has a capacity of 650 gallons a day, and as it utilizes our waste material, the only cost is labor, which makes its product largely profit. In addition to the alcohol we get considerable charcoal, which also is valuable. We use the butt ends of logs, as well as limbs, for the alcohol, burning sawdust under the retorts. Years ago there was a great deal of waste in the lumber camps, now there is little besides the brush. Some day a use will be found even for this.”
— Logging Laconics, Iron Mountain Press, August 4, 1904, p. 3
Historic Mail Carrier: “Antonio Paquette, an Ojibway Indian guide and mail carrier, who first brought the news of Lincoln’s assassination to the upper peninsula, is dead, aged 85 years. Paquette carried mail between the Soo and the Saginaw river years ago, using dog sleds in winter.”
-- Iron Mountain Press, July 28, 1904, p. 5