Gert And Vic Go West!

Buck Lucas on Light Foot American Legion Stampede, Casper, Wyo (Doubleday). (Postcard in the John family collection.) These postcards are probably from the 1920s.

–Coincidentally Victor’s birthday is the 13th of this month, so I guess you could say in honor of his birthday…–

It was May 11 (or 18)* of 1908, a day filled with excitement tinged with a bit of sadness for the family of Gertrude and Victor John. Sadness, because just over a week or so ago they had said good bye to the matriarch of the John family. Johanna (Dedrich) John, Victor’s mother had died on April 30th and the funeral had been on May 3rd. But there was great excitement too, especially for their boys Clarence, Lincoln and Victor, junior, because they were taking a trip to the great unknown. The Wild West! Wyoming.

The Wyoming and North Western Railroad (aka Chicago & North Western) had finished a new line from Casper to Lander in 1906, part of what was known as the “Cowboy Line”, and Vic was going to be a station agent there. This expansion was part of C&NW’s plan to build a line all the way to the Pacific coast. (Spoiler alert: the railroad company ran out of money, so never achieved that dream.)

In 1906, the government announced that 2,285 square miles of Shoshone reservation would be open to settlement. At the time, there was railroad service from the eastern border of Wyoming to Casper. The Chicago and North Western Railroad (then Wyoming and North Western Railroad) extended the tracks from Casper to Lander to transport the settlers and their belongings to the land, located north and west of Lander.1

V. H. JOHN TO LEAVE
Station agent V. H. John has resigned his position and will leave Monday with his family for Casper, Wyoming to accept a position as cashier [station agent] for the Wyoming & North-Western Ry.

LOCAL AND PERSONAL–Mr. and Mrs. V. H. John and children left Wednesday [13th] for Gillett where they will visit a few days before leaving for their new home at Lander, Wyoming, where Mr. John will enter on a more lucrative position with the Wyoming & North-Western Ry. Mr. and Mrs. John were among the pioneers of Wabeno, Vic having been station agent here for nearly eleven years, ever since the road was built. He was also postmaster up to January 1, 1906. They have a host of friends here who sincerely regret their departure.

May 7, 1908, page 1, col. 6–; May 14, 1908, page 1, col. 5 [Thursday]

Shortly before they left they sold some Wabeno property:

Real Estate Transfers.
V. H. Johns to John Bigglin, part of block, village of Wabeno. Consideration $100.

Forest Echo, Crandon, Wisconsin —Crandon Public library digital images
Friday, May 22 1908 p8c5; v2no39

I don’t know exactly how long the trip took, but I am guessing that they took the route to Chicago and then headed west from there. (The two places with a red dot next to them on the map are Casper and Lander.) Using the estimate of about 25 miles per hour, and approximately 1530 miles all told, they were looking at 3-4 days travel by train to their new home.

CNW Railways map from 1912. I am only guessing on the route. They could have taken a large variety of different ways to their final destination.

For the boys this would have been a grand adventure. They had never been anywhere more exotic than Oconto, or up north in the scary, largely unsettled woods of northern Wisconsin. Which could, in and of itself, be a grand adventure in those days. But now they were going west, the place of dime-novel adventure stories.

Their father, Victor, had been places. In fact he went to telegraph school in Valparaiso, Indiana for a couple of years. So he was not unfamiliar with Chicago and Milwaukee, or other similar big cities. But for the rest of the family this was all pretty new. Gertrude, does not appear to have traveled much further from home than the north woods either, at this point in time.

They arrived in Wyoming in the latter part of May. From newspaper articles in the Wyoming papers it looks like he was a station agent at Arapahoe, and not Lander. Maybe he had started at Lander, and then shifted to Arapahoe. (Arapahoe was actually part of the Reservation.)

I am very curious to know what they thought when they arrived at their new home. Looking at Arapahoe using current satellite maps, it looks like maybe 100 people live there, (although the 2000 census indicated close to 1800). What was it like in 1908? If it was as desolate of humans as it appears now, I don’t wonder that the family would have been quite happy to move, about 5 months later, to Casper.

The local newspaper tells us that one way the family enjoyed their new home was by bringing their love of the outdoors and hunting from Wisconsin. The articles also tell us when the family moved to Casper. A helpful bit of information we would never have otherwise been aware of.

V. H. Johns and wife of Arapahoe, and eastern friends [possibly the Howell family] left for home Saturday morning after spending several days in this locality fishing and hunting and taking in the fine scenery in this section. Mr. Johns has been transferred to Casper, where he is now the agent.

October 08, 1908, page 2 Wind River Mountaineer no. 49 (Lander, WY https://newspapers.wyo.gov)

V. H. John lately station agent at Arapahoe, Wyoming has been transferred to Casper. Mr. John is a very obliging agent and the press hopes he has come to stay.

October 09, 1908, page 5, col. 2 Casper Press no. 22 (Casper, WY https://newspapers.wyo.gov)

One can get a sense of how popular the John family was back in Wisconsin by looking in the Wabeno newspapers:

LOCAL AND PERSONAL
The following items from Wyoming papers regarding Mr. and Mrs. V. H. John, former residents of Wabeno, will be of interest to our readers:

W. H. Howell and wife Lovington, Ills., who have been visiting with Mr. and Mrs. V. H. John returned home Wednesday.

J. H. Howe, who has been station agent at this point for several months, left the first of the week … V. H. John, who has been agent at Arapahoe, takes his place in the depot here.—Casper, Wyo., Tribune.

Best display in Class 19, first, Mrs. V. H. John, Arapahoe…Special prize, Best Double Collection, Mrs. V. H. John, Arapahoe. (Display was fancy work at the Fremont County Fair, Wyo.)

October 29, 1908, page 1, col. 6

In October they started selling off some household items. This might have been to lessen the load for the move to Casper. Or, was the thrill of being in the Wild West starting to fade?

If you want some cheap second hand household goods see V. H. John at the depot.

October 16, 1908, page 5 col. 2 Casper Press no. 23 (Casper, WY https://newspapers.wyo.gov)

And in November they tried to sell even more goods. This looks serious!

For Sale
1 bed room set
1 book case
1 large leather rocker
Dishes and two carpets
Enquire at the depot of V. H. Johns [Casper, WY]

November 11, 1908, page 5, col. 5 Natrona County Tribune

By the 21st of December, a mere 7 months after their grand adventure started, the John family was back in Wisconsin. To stay.

V. H. John and family of Casper, Wyoming, are visiting Mrs. John’s mother, Mrs. John Cain, and calling on old friends in the city.

LOCAL AND PERSONAL
Mr. and Mrs. V. H John and children arrived at Gillett Monday from Casper, Wyo.

ADDITIONAL ITEMS
Mr. and Mrs. V. H. John were in town a few hours yesterday visiting friends. They recently returned from Casper, Wyo. and are making Gillett their home for the present.

Oconto County Reporters, Wisconsin —ocnews.co.conto,wi.us digital images
Thursday, Dec 21, 1908 v38 issue 9, p7c2; December 24, 1908, page 1, col. 3; January 7, 1909, page 2, col. 2

Family tradition says that Gertrude was missing her family, friends and life in Wisconsin too much to want to stay in Wyoming anymore. So Victor quit his job and they packed back up and left for good. We don’t actually know why they moved back. Gertrude’s unhappiness might have been the catalyst, or it could have been something else altogether. The town of Casper had been trying to clean up its image to attract a more respectable residential population. But maybe there was still too much unlawfulness, drinking, and prostitution in full view of the kids. I guess it will forever be a mystery.

By 1910 Victor and the family were living in Hackley, Vilas County, Wisconsin where he was again working as a station agent. Six years later he started his new career in banking.

Both Clarence and his brother Lincoln must have retained good memories of their time out West because years later, as adults, they returned to Casper. Lincoln lived there in 1918, and then, after a couple of years break, was back by the 1920s-’30s. He was living in Casper and working as a fireman on the railroad line. Clarence went out to visit him in the ’20s, and he might have done some work on the oil rigs when he was there.

The short time that they had spent in Wyoming as boys had left enough of an impression that they had to return. At least for a little while.**

Clarence at an oil rig.

*It is difficult to tell from the newspaper articles exactly what day they left, it appears to have definitely been on a Monday, so, it was either the 11th or the 18th of May.
**I do not know if their brother Vic, jr. ever went back.

—————————————-
SOURCES:

  1. https://trib.com/news/local/casper/answergirl/answer-girl-casper-lander-train-history/article_a8a6717a-4ea4-5079-a7e5-d8a0072db900.html.
  2. Visit the two following links to see lots of images from Lander and Casper, in the general time period that the John family was there. Both have more than one page of pictures to look at, along with town histories. I could find nothing on Arapahoe. http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/lander.html
  3. http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/nplatte3.html

Death by Railroad Car

new-york-central-railroad

KILLED AT HUDSON. [1911]

Charles Brooks, a former resident of Cherry Valley, was killed by the cars at Hudson, Sunday [February 26th]. Particulars of his death have not been received. He was in the employ of the Western Union Telegraph company and was one of the most valued of its employees. Mr. Brooks was born in Cherry Valley about fifty years ago, and his boyhood and early manhood were passed there. He was a pleasant, companionable man and had many warm friends here, who will feel deep sorrow at his loss. He leaves a widow and one child, as well as one sister, Mrs. Samuel Millson [Eliza Jane or Jennie], of North Adams, Mass. and two brothers, Andrew of this village, and Benjamin of Hawthorne.1

Charles Brooks was the youngest known child of David Brooks (brother of my ggg-grandfather John Brooks). His sister Sarah, who married a Woodward, was actually still alive but not mentioned in the obituary. She was living in Rochester, New York with one of her daughters.

According to his wife’s obituary from 1953:

Her husband, who was an employee of the New York Central railroad, was killed in a rail accident on February 26, 1911. An only son of the couple met with accidental death while with the Armed Forces in [Delhamps, Mobile County] Alabama on January 5, 1917.2

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find out anymore on their only child’s death. I can only assume it was a military training accident. A sad end to this Brooks line.


1. The Otsego Farmer, Vol. XXV, No. 13, (Cooperstown, New York), March 3, 1911, page 1; http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html.

2. The Freeman’s Journal (Cooperstown, New York), January 14, 1953, page 6; http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html.

Source for image: https://ssl.bing.com/images/search?q=New+York+Central+Railroad&form=RESTAB&first=1&cw=2007&ch=1219

Love at first sight?

untitled
Clarence John and Myrtle Hamm, newlyweds.

My father remembers being told, when he was younger, that his parents had met when Clarence was injured in a train accident and Myrtle was taking care of him at a hospital in Marshfield where she was working as a nurse.

He didn’t have any more details than that. So for the past 15+ years I have waited patiently to find the newspaper article that would mention this accident and give me more details. Thankfully, the Oconto County Historical Society is currently making great efforts to digitize the Oconto County newspapers, and I have found some great articles in the past. A recent check of their progress gave me the answer I have been seeking:

train
The Gillett Times, v27n50, Gillett, Wisconsin, Thursday, August 4, 1927, page 1.

The article certainly confirms that Clarence was in a train accident, and he was sent to the Marshfield hospital, where Mrytle would have been working at the time, (she had graduated from nursing school in May of that same year.)

It is believed that Clarence received a pretty hefty settlement from the railroad and this is probably the money he used to start his own business. A bowling alley.

bowlingalley
The Gillett Times, v28n15, Gillett, Wisconsin, Thursday, November 29, 1928, page 1.

3709800809_8dd79bff4c_z

 

Here is a matchbook saved by the family from the bowling alley.

It is said that because Clarence’s venture started not long before the crash of 1929 and folks no longer had extra money to spend on luxury outings, such as bowling, the business didn’t last very long. But, I have no proof of that yet. I guess I will have to dig a little deeper.

In 1931, a little over 3 years after they met, Clarence and Myrtle ran away to Illinois and were married at the court house. Was it love at first sight? Only they know, and they aren’t talking.

Carrie Sues the Railroad…

Carrie8 (Kari7, Kari6, Ingeborg5, Kari4, Agnete3, Auslauf2, Kari1 Persdotter Finneid) Amundson Hamm who married Frederick Hamm sometime around 1903, had had a child with a gentleman by the name of John Gustafson in 1900. It is currently unknown as to whether or not they were actually married. This child was named John C. Gustafson, (the initial ‘C’ is said to stand for Cornelius). We know very little about John’s childhood, other than the fact that in 1908, when Carrie took Fred to court for non-support of his family (which consisted of her and my grandmother Myrtle at the time), it was mentioned by Fred that her 8 year old son John was living with his grandparents Amund and Jorgina Amundson. Nothing is known about John’s father.

It appears that like my grandmother Myrtle, her half-brother John spent very little time living with their mother Carrie, certainly not when the census takers came around.1 The reason for Carrie’s abdication of her motherly duties is never made clear to us, so any reasons we would give would be mere speculation. I believe that she was simply incapable of doing so due to mental health.

Because Carrie’s mother Jorgina had died in 1907 and her father Amund in 1917, John was now no longer living with his grandparents, and likely on his own at the age of about 17 working to feed himself and possibly helping his mother out. We do not know how close their relationship was, or even if they had one. But in 1920 when he was injured on the job Carrie stepped up to the plate to help him get monetary compensation from his employers:

amundson_carrie

newspaper_amundsoncarrie_1920 copy
News-Tribune newspaper article about the court case. His mother Carrie is on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John’s grandfather Amund, and step-father Fred, had both worked at the ore-docks of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad company in Duluth’s harbor in the early 1900s, information which is found in the city directories. John most likely got the job because his grandfather had been there for many years, so he had an ‘in’. The image below is what the docks looked like at the time of his accident.

 

ore_dock
Ore docks of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad where John was injured.

 

According to the personal injury case (#43788) dated September 4th of 1920, Carrie was filing as John’s guardian against the DM&NRR railroad because of permanent injuries he had suffered while working at the ore-dock. Carrie brought the suit as John’s guardian because he was only 19 years old and therefore still considered a minor, as such he was unable to bring a lawsuit on his own. If indeed that was what he wanted.

The complaint stated that John had been working for DM&NRR for some time on the ore-docks, performing duties related to unloading the vessels. A description of how the unloading of the ore was also provided in the record as follows.

Ore-Dock-Duluth

mentoreight37

The ships containing the ore in which John worked were unloaded with complicated machinery. This type of vessel had a number of large compartments each separated by large beams running across from side to side. Each compartment was equipped with a large hatchway that ran across the deck of the ship and allowed access to the hold. Hoisting rigs were arranged along the dock so that they could be moved to a point above any of the hatchways. These rigs consisted of a horizontal track suspended at a great height above the ship and ran from a point above the hatchway back over and upon the dock. Attached to the rig is a carriage which moves back and forth carrying a heavy steel cable from which a clam shell bucket was hung, this bucket was dropped down into the hold to grabbed the coal and pull it up to the dock where is was then deposited into a big pile.

The people who operated the rigs were called hoisters. The rate of speed with which these rigs ran was ‘terrific’, and the speed also caused the clam shells to swing and sway from one side to another striking against walls of the hold, which made it pretty dangerous for the employees who were working in the hold where the ore was being removed.

On this particular day John’s job was as one of the ‘cleaners up.’ They shoveled the coal left in the hold, that the rigs couldn’t reach, in a pile to the center where it could then be lifted out. This work was tiring and required undivided attention of the ‘cleaners up’ to avoid getting ‘eaten’ by the clam shells. It was while one of these clam shells was being carelessly manipulated by a hoister, according to the complaint, that John was struck by the device and injured. In fact he was injured so badly that his right foot had to eventually be amputated above the ankle.

Of course, the railroad answered that they were not responsible for his loss and a court date was set. Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened with the case from there, as there is nothing further in the records regarding its progress.  I will assume that the parties settled, but the case could have been dismissed too. John was now a 20  year old young man out of a job and disabled.  I can only imagine how long it must’ve taken him to recover from having his foot amputated and then trying to find work after that.

By 1923/4 John was married a woman slightly older than himself, by the name of Lillian Jarvella (or Lania/Lavis/Lavia, records are quite varied regarding her last name). They eventually had 9 children together*, some I am sure who are still around as they were born in the 30s and 40s. According to census records John was working as a farmer in the 1930s and a paper hanger in the 1940s. He died in 1985 in Minneapolis.

* John and Lillian named one of their sons Clarence and one of their daughters Myrtle. After his half-sister and her soon to be husband? Hmmm.

1 Myrtle did live with her mother from birth, 1906, to at least 1908. But by the 1910 census and thereafter, until her marriage, she was permanently residing with her Hamm grandparents in Wisconsin.