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Minnie's Diary #6: Reckless Extraction and Attraction

“In a half century (Michigan) contributed from its mines and forests for the upbuilding of the country with a recklessness which can hardly be approved.”

-- From a 1935 report from the State Board of Education to the Michigan Legislature

A Visit to Buch and Nieman’s General Store

Monday, 1 February, 1904 - went to Hville with Mrs. Caron. Fred sick.

-- Diary of Minnie Gamache, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Mrs. Caron's heart condition made it difficult to get out of the house, so Minnie offered to drive her to Hermansville for a shopping trip. As Minnie harnessed the horse and prepared the sleigh, Mama called to her from the house.

S'il vous plaît, could you get some médicaments for the cough?” asked Aurora. “Fred est malade. Il a de la toux et de la fièvre.

D’accord, Mama. Of course,” Minnie responded. "A cough and fever. I hope it's not serious!"

At Buch and Nieman's on Main Street, Minnie helped Mrs. Caron off the sleigh and up the two steps into the store. Inside, Mrs. Caron ordered some groceries, dry goods and sundry items from clerk John St. Onge while Minnie went to the pharmacy counter.

“Dr. Shoop’s cough cure, please,” Minnie said to Mr. Nieman.

“Someone sick at home?”

“Yes. My brother Fred has a fever and cough. Mama asked me to bring back some cough medicine.”

“Ah, yes, Dr. Shoop's is everyone’s favorite cough remedy, eh? May I also suggest these cinnamon and quinine capsules from Boots Drug Company? It’s a very potent combination for curing influenza and colds.”

“Quinine? The malaria drug? I don't think so. We always use Dr. Shoop’s.”

"Nieman and Pipkorn Store" was at corner of 2nd & Main in this 1912 Platbook map of Menominee Co.

News from Champion

Tuesday, 2 February, 1904 - stitch a quilt Wednesday, 3 February, 1904 - washing. stitched. had a letter from Eva Riopelle.

-- Diary of Minnie Gamache, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Eva Riopelle had been Minnie’s third grade teacher in Champion, and they stayed in touch after the Gamache family moved to Hermansville in 1895. Remembering Eva's countless classroom lessons on proper penmanship, Minnie smiled to again see her teacher’s careful handwriting.

Note: This is not an actual letter.

Minnie thought of the families struggling in her old hometown, remembering the men who went deep into the pitch-black mine each morning and didn't come out until after dark. Her Papa had been one of them. Many others worked in the woods, spending countless nights away from their families in the winter to supply wood for the mine shafts or for the charcoal kilns that fueled the pig iron furnace.

At the mine's peak, more than 300 men extracted, refined and shipped out 200,000 tons of pig iron each year to distant cities such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago, providing raw material for guns, railroads, ships, automobiles and skyscrapers. With the mine idle, what would become of those men and their families?

Emily Receives a Letter

Thursday, 4 February, 1904 - got thru stitching. Mamie over. went to call on Em. Ma Maud & I 11:00 PM

-- Diary of Minnie Gamache, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Mamie LaVigne called in late afternoon to share disturbing news. Someone had complained to the school board about Emily.

“About what?” Minnie asked.

“I don’t know,” said Mamie, “but they delivered a letter to her classroom this afternoon.”

After supper, Minnie and her mother put on their overcoats, boots and hats and headed down the road to the Paquin house. Maud Raiche appeared suddenly on the road beside them.

“What’s happened?” asked Maud.

“We’re going to see Emily. Something with the school board has upset her,” Minnie said.

When they arrived at the Paquin house, they found Emily upstairs, weeping on her bed, holding a crumpled letter in her hand.

Note: This is not an actual letter.

Emily looked up with reddened eyes, her curly black hair tumbling in every direction.

“I just can't believe it. I am at that school before dawn every morning and stay up late at night, preparing lessons for six levels. When children don’t have lunch, I share some of my own. When they don’t have warm boots or clean underwear, I find a way to help out. But what thanks do I get? This... this insulting letter.”

“I know, I know,” said Minnie. “This is preposterous. Who would do this?”

“Oh Minnie, I don’t know! Why would someone complain about me having fun while walking home with the Paquins?”

“What are you going to do?” Maud asked.

“You need to stand your ground,” said Minnie. “It’s not right.”

“But I’m under contract. If I disregard them, they can dismiss me.”

“They won’t be able to find another teacher who's half as good as you," Minnie said. "Just make sure your room is clean and warm. Get the children to help with the sweeping and cleaning. I’ll help you scrub the floors on Saturdays. The contract doesn’t say that you have to do the janitorial work, does it?”

“No... but what about the rest? Must I sit in my bedroom every night, praying and reading like some Puritan? It will drive a woman mad.”

“Don’t despair. We will figure it out,” said Minnie.

Maud had excused herself from the room and returned downstairs, where Aurora Gamache and Armelia Paquin were visiting quietly. Minnie and Emily stayed upstairs for some time, planning Emily’s next move. When they finally arrived in the kitchen, they found Maud sitting close to Ed Jr., tending to a cut on his arm.

“It’s just a small scrape from the lumber yard. It’ll be fine,” Ed said.

Pauvre Edmund. You must let me clean it to make sure it doesn’t get infected,” said Maud, fawning over him. “We can’t have you losing an arm. What kind of lumberman would that make?”

“A one-armed one, I reckon,” Ed responded, with a roll of his eyes toward Minnie and Emily.

Wondering About Maud

Friday, 5 February, 1904 - scrub floor. Min over. went home 1:30 pm

-- Diary of Minnie Gamache, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Cousin Minnie Raiche stopped by for a visit on Friday, and the Gamache women filled her in on what had happened to Emily.

“I can’t imagine who would have snitched on Emily for walking home at night with Ed, Fred and Del,” said Minnie. “And what difference does it make? She wasn’t doing anything improper.”

“People still have old-fashioned attitudes about men and women,” Cousin Minnie said. “Take my sister-in-law for instance.”

“What about Maud?”

“Well, she’s always gossiping about girls because of the company they keep or the places they’ve been seen. ‘I saw so-and-so loitering around the saloon.’ Or, ‘Did you see so-and-so flirting with the Italians at the ice cream parlor?’ Every time I talk to her, it's the same.”

Minnie didn't respond, casting her eyes out the window to the farm across the road. At 15, Maud had completed school and remained the only daughter still living in Joe and Emeline Raiche's house. She's trying to land a husband, Minnie thought. How desperate might she be to get off the farm?

The Last of the Pine

Saturday, 6 February, 1904 - went up the camp

-- Diary of Minnie Gamache, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Come all you sons of freedom and listen to my theme

Come all you roving lumberjacks that run the woods and streams

We'll cross the Menominee River where the mighty waters flow

R. Jacques, Nat'l Film Board of Canada (public domain)

A fiddler kept the tune and a drummer supplied the rhythm as Peter Gamache led the singing. When they reached the chorus, everybody joined in:

And we'll roam the wild woods over and once more a-lumb'ring go

Once more a-lumb'ring go

We will roam the wild woods over

And once more a-lumb'ring go

Normally, the lumber camp would be quiet on a Saturday night. The married men usually returned home while the single men caught a train to Escanaba, looking for nightclubs, saloons, bordellos, gambling houses, and dance halls they couldn't find in Hermansville. But with the fasting and sacrifice of Lent approaching and outdoor temperatures less raw, the Gamaches, Paquins, Raiches, Carons, Menards, and Dubys gathered together at Camp 20 for some midwinter fun at the invitation of camp cook Deleon Menard.

1912 Platbook map, showing location of the Gamache Farm & Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. Camp 20.

Minnie and the other young women — Emily Gagnon, Maud Raiche, Permelia Paquin, and Nellie Caron — didn't miss a dance, since the young Frenchmen outnumbered the women 2-to-1. Minnie took turns dancing with Ed, Fred and Del Paquin, Henry Caron and her brothers.

With our crosscut saws and axes we will make the woods resound

As many a tall and stately tree comes crashing to the ground

With cant hooks on our shoulders and our boot tops deep in snow

And we’ll roam the wild woods over and once more a-lumb'ring go

Once more a-lumb'ring go

We will roam the wild woods over

And once more a-lumb'ring go

You may boast of your gay parties, your dances, and your plays

And pity us poor lumber boys while dashing in your sleighs

But we ask no better pastime than to hunt the buck and doe

And we’ll roam the wild woods over and once more a-lumb'ring go

Once more a-lumb'ring go

We will roam the wild woods over

And once more a-lumb'ring go

“They logged the last pine at Camp 19 this week,” said camp blacksmith Joseph Caron. “Before long, there’ll be no more pine on Company land.”

“We’ll still be working the hardwood, though,” said Ed Jr.

“Pffft. Hardwood won’t last, either,” said Mr. Caron, a know-it-all who liked his drink a bit too much. The combination meant he often dominated the conversation when beer or brandy could be found. In other words, pretty much all the time.

“It makes no damn sense to cut the pine down so fast. But Michigan’s taxes, they drive all the companies that-a-way. Those fellers in Lansing tax the Company based on the trees growing on the land, and not the logs they cut. So the company has to cut the trees to pay the taxes.”

“And that pushes out more lumber, so the lumber price goes down,” added Mr. Paquin. "And the Company loses money."

“Is that why the company pert near collapsed ten years back?”

“Yah. We was lucky that Dr. Earle saved us by putting up his own money to save the company. And then the maple flooring business took off, so Hermansville survives -- for now at least,” Mr. Caron said.

When winter it is over and ice-bound roads are free

We'll be back in Hermansville, once more our girls to see

They’ll be there to welcome us and our hearts will overflow

We’ll stay with them through summer, then once more a-lumb’ring go

Once more a-lumb'ring go

We will stay with them through summer

Then once more a-lumb'ring go

The lumbering era would be coming to an end in Hermansville in a few years, but on this weekend, everyone put aside those worries to enjoy drink, food, music, stories and the company of friends. Some of the men left in the afternoon to return to their farms to milk cows and feed the livestock. They would return the next day after completing their morning chores. At night, the women and children slept on cots in the mess hall, where the Menards made their home. The remaining men climbed into their beds in the decidedly disgusting bunkhouse.

All weekend, Minnie kept her eye on Maud as she flirted with Ed Jr.

When our youthful days are ended and our stories growing old

We'll take to us each man a wife and settle on the farm

We'll have enough to eat and drink, contented we will go

And we’ll tell our wives of our hard times and no more a-lumb'ring go

And no more a-lumb'ring go

We will tell our wives of our hard times

And no more a-lumb'ring go

Sunday, 7 February, 1904 - stayed at the camp all day. had fun.

-- Diary of Minnie Gamache, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Mr. and Mrs. Menard set out a real lumberjack breakfast on Sunday morning, with flap jacks, bacon, venison sausage, biscuits, strawberry-rhubarb jam, dried fruits, doughnuts and pie. Their guests sang, danced, played cards, told stories and tromped about in snow shoes, dodging the stumps and discarded tree limbs. The sky shone bright blue during the day and the Milky Way splashed overhead at night.


Notes & Further Reading

Disclaimer: While the diary entries above are real, the stories I've created to illustrate Minnie's life are fictional. The stories are based on my research into the history of the time and the characters, but are largely the product of my imagination. I welcome your corrections and alternate interpretations.

-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter

Note to Readers: Thanks to all who have commented and shared on my posts. If you don't want to miss an installment of Minnie's Diary, please subscribe to my blog. I will never sell or share your email and contact information with anyone else.

Characters: Minnie mentions one new person in this week's diary: Eva Riopelle. Eva and her sister, Nellie, taught in the Champion schools for many years -- Eva in third grade and Nellie in second grade. Eva taught from 1887-1907, then took a break after getting married. She returned in 1925 and taught until 1939. Nellie taught from 1892-98 and 1911-1939. Eva was also listed as the first graduate of Champion High School in 1888. (Source: Glimpses of a Century in the Wabik Area, published by the Champion, Beacon, Humboldt Historical Society).

I've introduced John Nieman, who moved from Cedarburg, Wisconsin, to Hermansville in the 1890s. He and his brother-in-law and partner, William Buch, opened a “merchandising plant” that catered to the needs of the community and also operated a logging camp, “Camp Buch,” according to descendant Harold Pfohl. The 1912 platbook map of Hermansville shows a "Nieman and Pipkorn" general store on Main Street, which must have been a predecessor to "Buch and Nieman." The map above also shows that J.E. Nieman owned 80 acres of land, upon which sat neighborhood school (a former lumber camp). For photographs of Hermansville and area lumber camps from 1902-05, visit this Pfohl's well-done blog about his German-American immigrant ancestors at Another new character, Joe St. Onge, worked as a department store clerk in Hermansville in the 1910 census.

Two more new characters are Deleon and Mary Menard. In the 1900 census, Deleon Menard was a cook on a logging train. Since the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Siding No. 4 ran through the Camp 20 area north of the Gamache farm, I thought the Menards might be working out of the same camp.

(Some may recall from a previous post that my great-great-grandfather Peter Gamache was a lumberjack in Champion. I've since found an 1894-5 city directory that shows he was a miner. The more you look, the more you get to know your family.)

Cold Remedies: In 2015, the Smithsonian shared information about six, once-popular cold and flu medicines that we wouldn’t touch today. They included Dr. Shoop’s cough cure and Boots Drug Company's cinnamon-quinine capsules. Interestingly, a synthetic form of quinine -- hydroxychloroquine — has been promoted as a treatment for covid-19. Learn more about old cold and flu remedies at:

Teaching in the Early 1900s: While I don't have any evidence that Emily ever got in trouble with the Meyer Township school board, teachers in 1904 faced different expectations. Teacher contracts and rules in the late 1800s and early 1900s could contain many interesting requirements, including some forbidding women teachers to date or marry and others requiring them to serve as unpaid janitors. Women teachers in Detroit, for example, could lose their jobs if they married. In April 1904, the New York State board of education voted to allow women teachers to get married without being dismissed or forced to resign. Rural schools often had inadequate facilities, poorly trained teachers and school boards micro-managing teacher hiring and firing.

Detroit Free Press, 11 October 1903
St. Joseph (Mich.) Herald-Press, 29 December 1904

In 1899, the Michigan legislature established the Northern State Normal School to train teachers, and the first classes began in the Marquette city hall. Today, that school is known as Northern Michigan University. Prior to the early 1900s, Hermansville's teachers came from the Oshkosh State Normal School in Oshkosh, Wisconsin -- now University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Champion Mine Closure: Although Eva Riopelle's letter to Minnie is fictional, it's based on 1903-04 news stories of the Champion mine sale and temporary closure. Here’s an account from the Marquette Mining Journal of the Champion mine closure on October 21, 1903:

Workmen Scattering. Over One-Half Champion Mine’s Former Employees Have Left the Village

"During the past ten days a majority of the men employed by the Champion Iron company prior to the shutdown have left the village. The exodus began in earnest after the pay roll had been squared Friday. Some left the following day; other pulled out Sunday and Monday, every train took out men….

“Very few of the families will leave Champion this winter. Agent Walter Fitch has told the men that the houses will be free to all who desire to leave their families here. This is a favor that nearly all will take advantage of. Most of the men have gone away hoping that operations will be resumed at the mine in the spring. The families affected by the suspension have already settled down to an economical basis of living. All unnecessary expenses are being cut off.”

--Quoted from Glimpses of a Century in the Wabik Area, published by the Champion, Beacon, Humboldt Historical Society, 2019

The Champion mine reopened in 1906 for about five years, and then from 1949-67 before it closed for good.

The End of Pine: White pine logging began in the Hermansville area in the 1870s, when the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Co. cleared land to build a track from Powers to the Breen Mine in Quinnesec. The Hamilton and Maryman Company later used the railroad boarding camps for logging camps. Mr. C. J.L. Meyer of the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. arrived in 1878 and purchased from Hamilton and Maryman the site where he built the Hermansville saw mill and lumber yard -- and later the land where he built the village of Hermansville.

Some thought Upper Michigan’s forests had so much pine, the resource would last forever. Of course, it did not.

According to "Hermansville from the Beginning," published by the IXL Historical Museum, lumberjacks cut the last pine at Camp 19 in the 1903-04 season. By 1925, all of the company's harvestable pine was gone. In his 1925 history of Hermansville, Charles M. Case blamed the state's tax policies for creating perverse incentives to cut down trees rather than manage them as a sustainable resource.

With forests disappearing quickly, the State of Michigan established an Independent Forestry Commission in 1887. It investigated how forests had been destroyed by fires, wasteful cutting, or to clear farm and pasture lands. The Commission also looked into how the loss of trees had affected the climate and Michigan’s ponds, rivers and water power. In 1888, the Commission issued a report and hosted a convention in Grand Rapids to discuss its findings.

Then it was disbanded.

“While the [lumber] industry is still the most important manufacture in the State, it has declined steadily with the depletion of the forests. Between 1900 and 1904, the value of products decreased $13,005,148, or 24.3 percent. … [The] four cities for which a product of over a million dollars was reported are Manistee, Muskegon, Menominee, and Cadillac.”

Statistical Returns from the Census of the State of Michigan, 1904 [database on-line].

Provo, UT: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Census of the

state of Michigan, 1904, Vol I-II. Lansing Mich.: G.A. Prescott, 1906.

By 1900, much of Michigan’s forest lands were cutover, burned and abandoned. During this era, the conservation movement began to grow in Michigan and throughout the nation. The revived State Forestry Commission created the first state forests in 1903 in Crawford and Roscommon counties in the Lower Peninsula. For more on Michigan forestry history see:

For photos of Northwoods lumber camp life, see:

To hear a group of men singing “Once More A-Lumbering Go,” check out this YouTube version. Lumberjacks often modified the lyrics of this song for the local area. I’ve altered the lyrics I found on-line to include a Hermansville theme. For more Michigan lumberjack songs, visit the Library of Congress at:


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