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Minnie's Diary #31: The Sweetest Things of Life

“The best things are nearest — breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of God just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things of life."

— Impressions, published in Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Co.,

Philadelphia, Vol. XXIX, No. 8, August 1904, p. 273

Had Company

Monday, August 8 - Had company. Mrs. P., Maud & Mrs. Dubey. Went out picking cherries. Had fun. Alice called.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

When Mrs. Paquin heard that Aurora Gamache would be making pickles for Mary Raiche’s wedding, she volunteered herself, daughter Aldea, and daughter-in-law Maud to help.

“Let's make pickles for the wedding and for the winter,” she said.

The three visitors came marching through the door of the Gamache home with jars, vinegar, and pickling spices, as well as beets, cucumbers, onions and other vegetables from their gardens. Soon they were carrying and boiling water, cleaning vegetables, packing vegetables in sterilized jars, and making brine — all while laughing loudly at the latest stories.

“Why haven’t we thought about this before?” Aurora asked. “A pickling party!”

Aurora sent her daughter Minnie out with Maud to pick cherries. Minnie hadn’t spent much time with Maud since Maud’s wedding, a day Minnie would rather forget. But Minnie had a new beau now in Joe Marchaterre. She no longer thought constantly about Ed Paquin Jr., Maud’s husband.

“How is married life?” Minnie asked, as they reached high into the cherry tree to pick the ripe fruits before the robins got them.

“Oh, fine. Ed is busy on our farm, with planting, haying and all the projects he wants to do. He’s still working full-time at the mill, until farming can pay the bills. So I help out with the livestock and the chores. I planted a big garden and I’ve been putting up jars for winter.”

“It’s hard work being a farm wife, eh?” said Minnie.

“I suppose so. I do love it, though,” Maud said. “Watching our cow in the field with her little calf. The chicks have grown into fine hens and should be laying eggs soon. Flowers blooming. Clouds floating across a blue sky. Truly, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Life’s Gifts, by Emily H. Watson

Life’s fairest things are free; —

The azure sky, with spangled sheen,

The lambs at play in meadows green;

In sweet profusion blooms the rose;

O’er hill and vale and violet blows;

And free, in beauteous splendor, flows

The boundless, billowy sea!

Life’s dearest things are free,

Nor to be bought with mines of gold.

The peaceful home, its joys untold,

Its love that binds in willing thrall,

Is free alike to great and small,

And, like a halo over all,

God’s matchless love for thee!

— “The Household,” Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Co.,

Philadelphia, Vol. XXIX, No. 8, August 1904, p. 273

Minnie and Maud carried two pails of bright, tart red cherries to the house. Ma put them to the task of pitting the cherries and cooking them into a filling for cherry tarts later in the week.

“We’ll keep the filling in the ice box until it’s closer to the wedding,” Ma said. “We just had a fresh ice delivery this morning.”

With pickles in jars and cherry filling cooling on the porch, the women sat and visited. They talked about everything, and nothing at all. Who was coming to town for Mary’s wedding? Who was ill? Who was traveling? How do you fix a husband’s faults and when should you let him be? Their aprons and hands bore red stains from working in the beets and cherries. Their fingers carried callouses from the hoeing, digging, chopping, washing and needlework that filled their day-to-day lives. Their feet ached, but their hearts were filled with satisfaction at a job well done.

“An old farm mother was leaving directions behind her. ‘When I am dead,’ she said, ‘put my black gloves on; don’t leave my hands bare.’ ‘Not much,’ her son replied. ‘Do you think I’d hide those toil-scarred hands that worked all their life for me. No! I want them in plain view where all the world can see them as a badge of honor.’ And he was right.”

— “Concerning Certain Domestic Affairs,” Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Co.,

Philadelphia, Vol. XXIX, No. 8, August 1904, p. 273

"Rained All Day"

Tuesday, August 9 - Rained all day. Finish my waist. Went and picked a pail of berries.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“I’m glad we got the hay out of the fields yesterday,” said Minnie's father, Peter Gamache. “We couldn’t do any haying in this weather.”

The rain had started before dawn and was forecast to keep falling all day.

“At last, a day off,” said Minnie’s brother, Freddie.

“A day off? What’s that? We’re going to sharpen tools today, and oil the harnesses in the shed.”

“Of course, Papa. All work and no play,” moaned Freddie.

“Play is for children,” Pa said. “You’re a young man now. Remember that.”

Her ears open but mouth shut, Minnie quietly drew needle and thread through fabric, attaching white lace to the shirtwaist she was making for the wedding. Freddie gave Minnie a sideways glance. In a few weeks, some of his classmates from the Camp 7 one-room school would start ninth grade in Hermansville, but his school days were done. He would be working on the farm until the logging camps opened, then he’d be another lumberjack in training.

“Say, Papa,” Freddie said. “The Marchaterre boys are going to le cirque in Marinette on Friday.”

“They are?”

Oui. Could I go, too? It's the Barnum and Bailey circus. It doesn’t come every year and, well, it’s raining and there won’t be hay to bring in.”

“I’ll have to talk to Mr. Marchaterre about that,” Pa said. “Now, get to work.”

Oui, Papa.

Freddie rushed out the door toward the shed and spent the rest of the day working hard at every rainy day chore Pa found for him, all the while wishing and hoping for the chance to see the big show when it put up its tents in Marinette, Wisconsin.

Pa found a reason to walk to the Marchaterre farm to “borrow a tool.” Once there, he conferred with Mr. Marchaterre and his eldest son, Joe, on the boys’ travel plans.

“Now that harvesting is in full swing, don’t neglect the most important crop on the farm — the boys and girls. If they want to go to the circus, find a way for them to go, though it is a busy time.”

— Farm Journal, July 1905, p. 254.

"Had a Circus"

Wednesday, August 10 - Washed & picked berries. Alice called. Had a circus.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

While Minnie kept busy washing clothes and picking berries, Freddie continued with his circus campaign. He reminded Pa that the fields were still too wet. The hay was wet. The grain was wet. "Puis-je aller au cirque, s'il vous plaît? Please, can I go to the circus?"

Pa reminded Freddie to stay busy oiling the farm equipment and cleaning the barn.

Freddie sighed. He did everything Pa asked, but he wished he were gazing at elephants, lions, tigers and giraffes instead of the same old horses, cows and pigs.

"He looks like one of those very sad clowns," Minnie thought.

When Alice LaCrosse came to visit that evening, Freddie’s mind still drifted toward the circus. Minnie and Alice wouldn’t let him forget it, even for a minute.

“Alice, have you seen the poster downtown for the 'Greatest Show on Earth?’ It says it’s a ‘superb, sublime, spectacular sensation.’ ”

“I’ve heard it contains six surpassing, superior, sensational surprises,” Alice replied.

“A colossal collection of curious creatures and creations!”

“Stop!” said Freddie, unable to bear the thought of missing the circus. “Please stop.”

“Rawwrr,” said Minnie, using her best lioness roar.

-- For Barnum & Bailey I am waiting. , ca. 1906. Cincinnati & New York: The U.S. Lithograph Co. Photograph.

"Boys Went to the Show"

Thursday, August 11 - Ironed and picked berries. Boys went to the show. Alice called and went to Mrs. Caron.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

Talbot: Blueberries are very plentiful this season and hundreds of bushels are being picked.

Wallace: Several loads of Carbondale people went to the Shaky lakes to pick berries and reaped a great harvest.

— Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., August 13, 1904, p. 5

Freddie’s face carried the biggest smile as he packed a small rucksack with some food, water and a light blanket. Minnie’s youngest brother was going to the circus with Joe and Archie Marchaterre.

Edmond and Willie looked a little sad as they departed for the sawmill, knowing they couldn’t join their brother to see the wonders of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. The Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. had too many orders to fill for flooring, shingles and other wood products. If they wanted to keep their jobs, they needed to be at the mill.

Minnie couldn’t believe that her father and Mr. Marchaterre had agreed to let the boys travel out of town, skipping the chores that came along with having a family farm.

Minnie’s mother just smiled. She knew that Pierre and Joe Sr. had their share of hard work growing up near Rimouski in Quebec. With the fields too wet for working, why not let the young folks enjoy the circus?

“You boys be careful, now,” Pa said. “Watch out for pickpockets. Keep your money hidden away from cheats and scoundrels. Remember what I told you about staying safe and being gentlemen.”

“Yes, Papa,” Freddie said, waving goodbye as he walked down the road with Joe and Archie to catch the train.

The barn, the trees, the brook, the birds, The meadows with their lowing hearts, The woodbine on the cottage wall, — My heart still lingers with them all.

— Anonymous poem, “The Household,” Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Co.,

Philadelphia, Vol. XXIX, No. 8, August 1904, p. 273

Mrs. Caron Needs a Hand

While the boys headed off to the circus, Minnie stayed busy with household chores, wondering why she couldn’t see the circus, too. After ironing and picking berries, Minnie and Alice went to help Mrs. Caron, who was still struggling with her health.

With the help of 14-year-old Nellie and 12-year-old Marie Anne, they harvested and canned vegetables from the neglected garden, cooked up berries into jam, scrubbed the floors and washed the windows.

Late in the afternoon, Mr. Caron returned from visiting the saloon in Hermansville. Minnie could smell whiskey on his breath as he brushed past her and settled in a chair in the front room. Rather than greet him with a happy smile and a kiss, the girls grew quiet.

“What’s wrong?” Minnie asked Nellie.

“We aren’t allowed to bother Papa until he’s had a nap,” she said.

Minnie felt a tug at her heart. These girls didn’t know a father’s love in the same way she did. A father who laughed with his children, who taught his sons to catch a ball and his daughters how to dance.

“What a shame,” she thought.

“That father who, when he comes in from his day’s labor, expects the children to quiet down, and everybody to clear the track and get out of his way that he may enjoy his paper without interruption, has no business in that family. He should have been a bachelor and spent his evenings in some lone attic or third story room, far away from the maddening sight and sound of young America. Here he could grow pompous and conceited to his heart’s content, and be quite out of reach of any woman who might think a husband should be a sharer of matrimonial responsibilities, rather than pose as superior to the rest of the family."

— “The Household,” Farm Journal, August 1904, p. 273

“I don’t know what I’d do without your help,” Mrs. Caron told Minnie and Alice. “I barely have the strength to get out of bed. With every few steps, I have to sit down and rest. I don't know how much longer my heart can take it.”

“It’s no trouble, Mrs. Caron,” Minnie said. “That’s what neighbors are for.”

Dieu vous bénisse,” Mrs. Caron said. “God bless you.”

My life is a brief, brief thing I am here for a little space, And while I stay I would like, if I may, To brighten and better the place.

— “The Household,” Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Co.,

Philadelphia, Vol. XXIX, No. 8, August 1904, p. 273

Roots and Transplants

Friday, August 12 - Rained and had company. Mrs. Rochon, Mrs. F. Raiche, Mrs. L. Bonssier & Alice called. [Mrs. L. Bonssier] slept with me. Mrs. Caron with the boys.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

Aurora Gamache welcomed Mrs. Raiche with a warm hug and a kiss on both cheeks.

Aurora and Christina were both Dubé women from French Canada; they seemed more like sisters than distant cousins. With their immediate families far away, they treasured having a cousin nearby.

"Everyone is so excited for the wedding on Monday, Christina," Aurora said.

Christina arrived at the Gamache home with her third daughter, Deneige “Minnie” Bussierre, who lived in Champion with her husband, Leon, a Teamster for the iron mine.

"How are things in Champion, my dear?" asked Aurora.

“It’s so hard with the mine shut down,” Minnie Bussierre told the women. “Most of the men have left town to find work in other towns or out west. Some took their families, but others left wife and children behind. Mr. Fitch is letting the families live in their homes rent-free, hoping that the men will return when the mine opens up again.”

Bessemer Herald, Bessemer, Mich., 14 May 1904

“I bet the kids miss their papas,” Ma said.

“They sure do. Some of the boys are acting up with the men away. Getting into a little trouble at school or in town.”

“Getting into a ‘little’ trouble? That’s how big trouble starts. With small things,” Aurora said.

The women all nodded their heads.

“Didn’t U.S. Steel buy the mine?”

“Yes, but we’re still waiting for an announcement on when the mine will reopen. They’ve kept the pumps going and a small maintenance crew. And Leon still has a job. The company needs to keep the horses fed and exercised. In a year or two, he might be the barn boss.”

Before long, Mrs. Joseph Rochon, the former Jennie Ayotte, knocked at the door, along with Minnie’s friend, Alice.

“It’s good that Freddie went off to see le cirque,” Ma said. “We have an extra bed for guests tonight.”

Although it was rainy outside, the kitchen felt warm and dry, the women feeding off the love of cousins and old friends they could trace back to their childhoods in Quebec. Minnie thought about the importance of those ties back to French Canada. She could see how family roots kept her mother grounded to her hometown, long after she'd moved away. She had also seen families endure the trauma of pulling up roots and planting themselves elsewhere, seeking a better opportunity. When immigrants land in a new place, having other “transplants” nearby becomes vital to their happiness and survival. “We are fortunate to have these dear friends and cousins close by, when Mama and Papa's families are so far away,” she thought.

Le Cirque

Chicago & North-Western railroad is handling the Barnum & Bailey show in its tour of the upper peninsula.

— Iron Mountain Press, August 4, 1904, p. 2

Joe, Archie and Freddie couldn’t believe what they were seeing. They’d arrived in Marinette the night before, on the eve of the circus, and found a city bustling with anticipation. With all the boarding houses and inns full, they finally decided to lay their heads in a field on the outskirts of town, near where the circus would be the next day.

Not long before dawn, they could hear the elephants trumpeting and the lions roaring as the Barnum & Bailey Circus train arrived from Green Bay. Workers jumped off the train and went straight to work, erecting the tents for the cook, dining hall, sideshows, menagerie, performers and — grandest of all — the Big Top.

Joe, Archie and Freddie joined a crowd of young men and boys watching in amazement as a circus tent city rose in the hayfield within a couple of hours. Men of all nationalities worked together in swift precision to hammer stakes, lift the poles and hoist the canvas high in the air.

"Look, Pa! The elephants are coming!" cried a young boy.

Elephants, giraffes, camels, horses and all kinds of creatures came off the train. In the early morning light, they horses, ponies and elephants were led to buckets of water and fresh hay bales that had been broken open.

Soon, elephants and draft horses were put to work hauling poles, tents, bleachers, ropes and other things needed for the big show. Workers shined the wagons for the noon parade, which would march through town and make it impossible for anyone watching to resist buying a ticket.

Brightly colored wagons pulled by 12-horse teams led the way. Atop the wagons, the costumed acrobats and daredevils waved to the crowd, throwing candy to the children.

Some of the wagons carried lions, tigers, panthers and bears. And the elephants! The giant but gentle beasts walked by, swinging their trunks, the little ones holding onto their mothers’ tails.

The clowns walked alongside, making coins appear from behind children’s ears and getting into all kinds of merry trouble along the route.

After the parade left, the boys wandered the circus grounds to see what they could see.

“Step right up, ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages!”

A mustachioed man with a big voice stood on a box. Behind him, a sign on the tent read “Freak Show.”

“Inside this tent are the most amazing, most stupendous, most shocking things you’ve ever seen. Step inside and see the bearded lady. Or how about the Korean Twins joined together — they’ll never spend a minute apart. See Krao, the Missing Link. Captain George, the Welsh Giant. Loretta, the Snake Charmer. Pierre, the Strong Man. Amazing feats of strength! You think you’re strong, young man? Raised on a farm, were you? You haven’t seen strong until you’ve seen Pierre. What about Harry, the Human Pin Cushion? We have them right here in the Freak Tent. Come one, come all. Only 25 cents a ticket! Next showing in 20 minutes. Don’t miss it! Dooooon’t miss it!”

Freddie looked with wide eyes at Archie, who looked at his big brother, Joe.

“Why not, boys? Let’s check it out,” Joe said.

Freddie couldn’t believe the sights and sounds of the Freak Show. Afterward, they visited the menagerie tent to see the big cats and other exotic animals up close. And then it was time for the big show itself. The boys arrived early to get a good seat and enjoy the pre-show by the clowns, who kept the crowd entertained with lowball humor and slapstick.

-- The Barnum & Bailey greatest show on earth. Wonderful performing geese,

roosters and musical donkey / Strobridge Litho. Co., Cincinnati & New York. ,

ca. 1900. Photograph.

One clown captured the crowd’s attention as he tenderly nursed a fully swathed baby with a bottle. Other clowns peeked inside the blanket, oohing and aahing over the adorable baby. Suddenly, the gentle scene ended when the “baby" squealed and wriggled out of its swaddling blankets, revealing its true identity as a young pig. The crowd squealed itself, laughing with delight as the pig darted toward the exit.

“That pig is a real ham,” Joe said.

The show itself was indescribable. Three rings of entertainment going on simultaneously. Riders standing on horses as they galloped around the ring. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, one young lady named Dallie threw somersaults while her horse ran around the tent. If you looked up, you’d see the Florenz Troop, 12 acrobats altogether, defying death with their triple somersaults and four-high human tricks.

Nothing prepared the crowd for the grand finale, which had been promoted on posters all over town. Volo the Volitant began by descending a ladder on a unicycle, carrying another performer on his shoulders. Then he rode a bicycle over a 56-foot gap between two ramps, drawing huge cheers. With the band playing suspenseful music, the crowd held its breath as Ugo Ancillotti climbed to a platform fifty feet in the air. He launched his bicycle down a 93-foot wooden runway, gathering enough speed on the ramp to enter a loop and fly — upside down — through a gap in the loop, landing safely on a downward ramp on the other side.


“Amazing!” said Archie.

“Can you believe that?” said Freddie

“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t,” said Joe. “It truly is the Greatest Show on Earth.”

After the show, the boys had to head back to Marinette to catch a train that would take them to Powers Junction, where they’d switch trains for the short ride to Hermansville. They agreed they’d never forget that day as long as they lived.

Daggett News: A large number of Daggett people attended the circus at Menominee yesterday. Cedar River News: A great many people attended the circus at Marinette yesterday.

— Menominee County Journal, August 13, 1904

News from Emily

Saturday, August 13 - Went to Hville with Alice and rode up Mrs. Chenard & Hilda. Had a letter from Emily. Crowd over.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

Freddie, Archie and Joe brought back their circus stories, entertaining the crowd that had begun to gather for Mary Raiche’s wedding. Although the ceremony wasn’t until Monday, the celebration was underway as families shared food, drink and tall tales in different homes.

Minnie slipped away to read Emily Gagnon’s letter, which was filled with news of the sugar factory in Menominee getting ready for beets to arrive next month, the pickle salting station receiving cucumbers at the new pickle factory, Civil War veterans meeting in Menominee, circus fever, and the Chatauqua in Marinette, the second-largest Chatauqua in the country. In the midst of it all, health officials were trying to combat a typhoid outbreak by urging everyone to boil their water before drinking it.

“Have you heard they’re building a resort on the Menominee River?” Emily wrote. “They say some businessmen from Chicago are planning to develop Muscauno Island into a resort with a fancy hotel. The Wisconsin and Michigan Railroad has bridges to the island, connecting it to both Michigan and Wisconsin. I guess it’s only a matter of time before the big city folk start to come here.”

Minnie had a hard time imagining rich city dwellers traveling all the way to an island on the Menominee River to have a vacation.

“Typhoid, tree stumps, mosquitoes and forest fires. What a way to relax,” she mumbled to herself.

New Summer Resort: Menominee is to have a new summer resort. Chicago parties have decided to develop the Muskona island, several miles up the river from the city.

— Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., August 13, 1904, p.

Notes & Further Reading:

Note to Readers: Minnie's Diary is part history and part fiction, based on notes written in a 1904 calendar by Minnie Gamache. While my great-grandmother's diary entries and the news clippings are real, the rest comes from my imagination and research into life in 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: Mrs. L. Bonssierre is the only new character in Minnie's diary this week. I learned she was Desneiges "Minnie" Raiche, the third daughter of Frank and Christina Raiche. Like the Gamaches, the Raiches were natives of Rimouski, a lumber town on the St. Lawrence River. Frank (François) Raiche was born there in 1838 and his wife, Christina Dubé, in 1846. They married in 1862 and had at least eight children in Canada between 1864 and 1885, before moving to Michigan to find better opportunity. Minnie Raiche Bonssierre appears in the U.S. Census in Champion from 1900-1920. Her husband, Leon, had worked his way up from a Teamster in 1900 to become the barn boss by 1910. But in 1920 he worked as a laborer in the iron mine, which I think would have represented a fall in status. Sometime in the 1920s, she and Leon moved to Ishpeming, where Leon was working as a servant for a family.

New Summer Resort: Residents of Menominee County and nearby communities will recognize the reference to the "new summer resort" on Muscauno Island as the Four Seasons Island Resort. When I was a child in Menominee County, it was a rare treat to have dinner in the big hotel. It's been beautifully restored and still hosts vacationing families, events and golfers today.

The Circus: I wrote a bit about the Barnum & Bailey circus last time in Blog #30. Of course, we look at circuses differently today when it comes to animal treatment. In those days, the circus was a grand spectacle and if it came to your town, you wanted to see it. Here are some additional interesting sources about the Barnum & Bailey circus:

"One Thousands and Fifty on Pay Roll," Green Bay Press-Gazette, Green Bay, Wisconsin, 05 Aug 1904 • Page 9

"Greatest of All Shows," The Diamond Drill, Crystal Falls, Mich., Sat, Aug 13, 1904 · Page 5

Champion Mine: The clipping above also includes news of the sale of the Champion iron mine in 1904.

Farm Life: The August 1904 edition of Farm Journal in Google Books provided additional source material for this blog. I hope you enjoyed some of the poetry and old-time "wisdom."

Football in 1904: As Super Bowl Sunday approaches, I thought you might be interested in some football news from 1904. The game was invented in the 1880s. By 1904, various towns and schools were fielding football teams. It would be another 15 years before the Green Bay Packers would be organized. Of course, in those days the players didn't have as much protective equipment or rules preventing injury. Helmets weren't required for college football until 1939. Some people were calling for the game to be banned. In 1903, the American Medical Association recorded 35 deaths and more than 500 serious injuries, including eleven spinal injuries causing paralysis and other serious disabilities.

“It can be said, without exaggeration, that at least fifty deaths or permanent total disabilities resulted from the football games of 1903 in this country. That’s paying dear for what is called ‘sport,’” said The Warren Mail of Warren, Pennsylvania, on February 11, 1904.

“A farmer heard so much about football games that he finally took a day off and went to see one. A neighbor asked him about it. ‘There’s nothing to tell,’ said he. ‘Just let twenty big hogs out on a soft field any day and then throw down a peck or so of corn in a sack and see ‘em go for it, and you’ll know about what a game of football looks like.’”

— Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Co., Philadelphia, Vol. XXIX, No. 8, August 1904, p. 274

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Jan 31, 2022

I like the last comment from the Farm Journal!

Barbara Schauland

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