LaRoi Lobdell: ‘A Strange Sort of Being’

Here’s a story that’s been told many times, by many people, with lots of variations which just make the story more interesting. It did really happen, with much of it taking place in this area.

Forest City was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, settlements in Meeker County. It was also the site of the federal land office — the place where claims from a wide area had to be filed.

Mary Lobdell was born in the heavy forests of New York state. She was raised by her parents, particularly her father, so the whole family knew all the essentials about life in the woods, and their daughter was an expert on life in the great outdoors. She hunted, fished and trapped as her contribution to the family’s life far, far from civilization.

Her exploits were famous, and she lived up to her fame as a hunter by bringing as much as 150 deer, 11 bears and innumerable wild cats and foxes as well as hundreds of mink and other animals which were wanted for their skins.

On one of her hunting expeditions to Pennsylvania she met a fellow who challenged her to a shooting match. If he could out shoot her, she’d have to marry him. She lost the bet and married the winner. It wasn’t long before she realized that she had married a drunk and ran off and left him.

And that’s where our story begins.

She tried to track down her errant husband without much luck. Taking a big step, she started living and dressing as a man, a role she played so well that no one even suspected her gender. Her hunt took her far from New York and Pennsylania, always without success. One version of the story has her working her way near the Mississippi River, and that one dark night the river boat on which she was sailing met and passed another boat on which her erring husband was working. She continued working her way west, giving singing lessons along the way. She worked very hard because she felt her quarry was at hand.

In Minnesota she worked in a large area reaching from the Lake Minnetonka area to the Kandiyohi lakes.

She kept her disguise as a man, and used the name “LaRoi Lobdell.” The young lady was so successful in this role that one of her neighbors at that time later remembered her as a “hail fellow, well met, and that she had committed no indiscretions” while living and working around the Kandiyohi lakes.

When her first winter in Minnesota approached, she began looking for shelter in earnest. A group of people from the St. Paul area had platted land for the capitol of the new state of Minnesota. They needed someone to live on the property to maintain their claim. An older woodsman who was looking for shelter for the winter applied for and got the job. He was told he couldn’t do it alone, so he had to find someone to live with him there during the winter. LaRoi Lobdell, as she still called herself, moved into that cabin with the woodsman and they lived together all winter. He never had the faintest idea that his cabin mate was a woman.

Her disguise worked so well so easily that she became a little careless and someone guessed what she had been doing and reported her to the authorities. She was promptly arrested and spent some time in the Forest City hoosegow awaiting trial. When the territorial judge reached Forest City there was a quick trial. LaRoi Slater was found guilty of impersonating a man.

She served several months in jail until the District Judge arrived to hold court. He could find nothing wrong with women wearing pants, provided they obeyed all laws (which she had) and didn’t disturb the peace.

Her sentence was reversed, and she left Minnesota in a hurry. Nothing was heard from or about her for several years until someone reported that she had been sentenced to life imprisonment in a Pennsylvania prison for shooting and killing a man.

He wasn’t her husband.

Demonstration drivers were a group all to themselves

Come to think of it, we haven’t seen the likes of Paddy Nolan for a long, long time.

There was a celebration wherever and whenever he went, and he went to many places every summer.

Paddy was a demonstration driver and those guys were a group of people all to themselves, which was understandable — they were the guys who chained themselves into their cars and began driving to see who could drive the longest time and who drove night and day before they had to be carried out of their cars. They were very popular for about 15 to 20 seasons 40 or 50 years ago. He didn’t pack much so that wasn’t a problem, but he always seemed to turn up dressed to the nines. He had covered this territory so thoroughly that each visit brought many kids to see him like an old friend. That was a problem. People who knew him came to visit.

We mentioned that he was a demonstration driver and he had a route he traveled mile after mile year after year.

People would crowd up to his car just to shake his hand which always was a real thrill.

He couldn’t get out of the car he was driving. Chains welded to the floor or frame of the car kept him in it. If memory serves he worked out of Grove City and drove a route that began and ended there, with a lot of road in each circuit. When he came to Willmar his stopping point was the the old Post Office headquarters but he’d driven in an exaggerated circle miles and miles long and wide, and he stopped at every town or hamlet just to greet old friends and have a quick word and hand shake before the crowds pushed his friends away.

There was never any big fuss — no bands or parades (unless he was a scheduled unit in the parade), but every appearance he made was greeted with enthusiastic cheering.

He drove long routes and always seemed to be enjoying every minute.

Where did all the cranberries go?

We certainly don’t think of Kandiyohi as a cranberry producing place and if we did we’d be dead wrong, at least for the present. The past was different and cranberries were a subject of a lot of speculation.

Everyone is different when it comes to food and it should be safe to say that more people ate cranberries (when they were available) than those who preferred to not indulge.

Just imagine the reaction of those people who spotted a couple of young boys sauntering down the road indulging in CRANBERRIES. Those who got close enough to the youngsters would capture the aroma of fresh-picked cranberries. Those youngsters were smart. They disappeared with their new-found treasure as fast as they could without giving onlookers a clue or two as to how they’d acquired the delicacy. And it was FRESH! That only added to the mystery and frustration.

Many parts of Kandiyohi County are very rugged, and they were just as hard to negotiate in the 1870s or 80s. Furthermore, the parents of the youngsters were cranberry fans too, and Easterners to boot.

The boys had used their beans in disappearing and their families wanted to help them keep that secret. One thing that helped a great deal was that everyone knew cranberries came from Maine and most certainly not from a wild part of Minnesota!

The very few people who were in the know were as close-mouthed as mouse traps.

They slipped off to the cranberry marsh only when they were dead sure that they were not being watched. They took circuitous unmarked trails, mostly in the very dark evenings and their efforts paid off. They had all the cranberries they wanted and willingly sold the rest to the neighbors.

This continued for a number of years — youngsters picking and neighbors buying the local cranberries. Their freshness was indisputable, and made them the most popular fruit on the market. Their rapid sale when they were available, year after year, kept the people in the northeast part of the county on the alert for each batch that came out of the woods.

Alas, all good things must come to an end and the Kandiyohi County cranberry seasons were no exception. It started one year with, the neighbors were told, a slightly smaller harvest, due to a drought that had developed quickly, leaving parts of the cranberry marsh high and dry.

The marshes shrank every year. Each year larger portions of the marshes produced no cranberries. The rains returned but not enough to recreate those mysterious marshes. People in that part of the county spent some time trying to locate those mysterious marshes. They may have covered every square inch of the county, or at least the portions which had produced the cranberries, without finding a trace of the by-gone goodies.

People who are familiar with that part of the county say they’ve spotted areas which might, just might, have been one or two of the marshes, but they just didn’t have what it takes to produce cranberries.

Better leave that to the cranberry pros in Maine.

Do we adopt pets or do they adopt us?

We Americans are a really funny lot. We want to do things for ourselves and other people. We want to be friendly, but don’t reach out to others. We give our time, money and efforts to help worthwhile projects for people we’ve never met ….and we wonder why we are lonely.

Many of us are trying to bridge that gap by “adopting” a pet. Pets come in every make, shape, or size, and they do need care.

“Service dogs” quickly become members of their adoptive families and there are thousands of stories of these animals making fantastic rescues or getting their “families” out of burning homes.

TV’s Lassie seems capable of performing properly in dangerous circumstances.

We can’t all have Lassies in our homes, so it’s a big step forward when dogs and cats and other pets adopt their “families.” Not everyone should even try. It can be a chancy step. It’s bad enough to try to carry on a conversation while a parakeet is screaming nearby. Worse yet are the puppies or kittens which insist on chewing fingers or clothes.

People around here use very good judgment in choosing and training pets. Most of these purchased are good, sound pets for this part of the world.

Personally, I hope people, will continue to purchase sensible pets — I object strongly to people having to chase “pet” rattle snakes or young alligators.

We seldom hear of pets “adopting” their owners but it has happened right here in Kandiyohi County.

Way back when two neighbors each had a goose which had adopted them.

Wherever the men went the geese were sure to follow. That was just about 100 years ago, and was the only such situation ever reported around here.

When either or both of these men were at work around their homesteads the geese were right there working with them. When they worked in their fields their geese were right there to help.

Other people enjoyed watching the geese at work or play with their “owners.”

Daniel Danielson had had his goose for a little more than a year when the other one moved in across the road and was soon working along with his neighbors goose.

One of the two men’s neighbors put pen to paper and here’s how it came out.

“Farmer Daniel had a goose” Farmer Daniel had a goose It’s down was white as snow; And everywhere that Daniel went The goose was sure to go.

If Daniel went to fix a fence The goose would go along: If Dan would hammer in a clinch The goose would duck the bars; The goose a gander must have been, He had the name of “Lars.”

A tasty pie spelled the end of passenger pigeons

Passenger pigeons were beautiful. They were migratory, going south for the winter and coming north in the spring. Living in huge colonies as they did, they all left those winter quarters the same day and flew north or south, depending on the time of year; but flying north or south on their migrations have often and accurately been called “clouds” which they formed.

When they were on the move their “clouds” blacked out the sun and kept it blacked out until the last bird had passed any given point during the flights which commonly lasted for three to five hours.

While they could be found in other states, Minnesota seemed to be the part of the world they liked best, and that’s where they settled. Minnesota and Michigan appear to have been their choice of living quarters when they were in northern climes.

Settlers in those states looked forward to their arrival each year.

Popularity has its good points which sometimes backfire. Hunters waited their coming every year because, when properly prepared, there was no finer dessert for hungry human. They were easier to kill, too, a factor that played a major role in their eventual disappearance from this earth.

The last known carrier pigeon died a natural death in a Michigan museum in 1906. Mankind had succeeded in the total destruction of one of nature’s finest and largest species of bird life.

That can’t be blamed entirely on the hunters — those birds were very good to eat.

There were no hunting or fishing laws in the late 1800s. Professional hunters told of hunts yielding thousands upon thousands of dead pigeons. It’s entirely possible that local hunters were equally guilty. There are many reports of youngsters killing more than their share of birds as they flew from nesting places to feeding grounds. Two young sons of a family living in the north part of the county fired two shots into a flight going overhead. The youngest one of the two killed 26 birds. His brother fired and dropped 37. Those were the undisputed records for pigeons shot by single shots for 1868. The late Dr. William I. Mayo reported, “I remember when Charlie and I, both youngsters at the time, easily knocked enough birds out of the trees and filled two large sacks to take home.”

Early Willmar merchant S .S .Glarum loved to tell how, when he was a boy, pigeon hunts were conducted with large hooped nets. Other hunts were made with heavy branches. Most of the hunting was done with shotguns. Hunters would wait for the twice daily flights along the Crow River in these parts. The rookeries around here were toys compared to the one at Petosky, Mich. That one was three to 10 miles wide, 40 miles long and covered with birds. People came from miles around to see the birds and eat them. Pigeon pie was a great favorite.

In 1889 it was estimated that 1,500,000 dead birds and over 80,000 live ones were shipped to Eastern markets from this one facility.

Alexander Wilson left an interesting report of the activity within a roost: “As soon as the young birds were fully grown but had not yet left the nests parties of the inhabitants from all parts of the adjacent country came with wagons, axes, beds, and cooking utensils and informed me that the noise in the woods was so great as to terrify the horses, and that it was difficult for one person to hear another person speak without bawling in his ear. The ground was strewn with broken tree limbs, eggs and young squab pigeons, which had been precipitated from above, and on which herds of hogs were fattening,

“Hawks, buzzards and eagles were stalking about in great numbers, and seizing squabs from their nests at pleasure, while from 20 feet upwards to the tops of the trees the view through the woods presented a perpetual tumult of crowding and cluttering multitudes of pigeons. their wings roaring like thunder, mingled with the frequent crash of falling timber; for now axe-men were at work. cutting down those trees that seemed to be most crowded with nests, and contrived to fell them in such a manner that they might bring down several others; by which means the falling of one large tree sometimes produced as many as two hundred squabs, little inferior in size to the old ones, and almost one mass of fat.

“On some single trees, upwards of one hundred nests were found, each containing one young only; a circumstance, in the history of this bird, not generally known to naturalists. It was dangerous to walk underneath these flying and fluttering millions, from the frequent fall of large branches, broken down by the weight of the multitudes above, and which, in their descent, often destroyed numbers of the birds themselves; while the clothing of those engaged in traversing the woods were completely covered with the excrements of the pigeons.”

And there you have it. The saga of the passenger pigeon and how mankind helped destroy them. Maybe if passenger pigeon pies hadn’t been so nourishing and tasty they’d still be here for us to see and enjoy.

Let’s keep all that we have and pass it on

Evolution is heartbreakingly slow. Working on Earth time one encounters one problem after another. Why? Easy answer: in space there is no time …. and what would become Earth was an incredibly small object about to begin to spin at unbelievably fast speeds which would soon be putting that wad of Earth on display in other forms than we know now.

Fast forward a couple of million years. That wad of dirt (now Earth) has picked up some passengers — miniscule forms of Earth too small to be seen by anything are gaining volume and strength, so we jump forty or so million years.

Perhaps some forms of animal life which would be barely visible if only there was someone to see it, but large enough to be developing some life forms, are appearing.

Now let’s skip a few million decades, when a man visiting Earth might Iind several species of dinosaur roaming the green pastures of a growing Earth. Some more centuries and mankind is developing a ground for a new kind of animal — this one with only two legs— who are spreading across the land. Mankind will soon (in Earth terms) develop a new life system, unlike anything they had seen.

Early man accepted the opportunities the young countryside offered, and, like most men, began to show their abilities to the people they called “WOMEN”. It was only natural that they chose their wives — as people who could help build a new civilization. That took a lot of rock throwing, hunting and all the things that go into new situations. New people eager to establish their lives, and anxious to show prospective mates of the land their strength, their stamina, built new homes.

It took millions upon millions of years to reach the way of life we enjoy today. Let’s keep it and pass it on for generations to come.

Immigrants learn some hard lessons

The days are long gone when the latest mishap or misunderstanding of a new immigrant was the object of local humor for days at a time.

It may have been funny to the locals, but not at all humorous to the new resident to whom it had happened.

Very few of the local jokesters had ever spent week after week aboard a ship which should not have been on the ocean, or tried to understand our fiscal system, or watched as a loved one was buried at sea, which had happened to too many of those people who were gambling not only their lives, but those of the members of their families in their searches for new ways of life in a new world.

What may have been funny to Americans could have been disastrous to a foreigner.

They tried very hard to become Americanized, doing things as they thought they had seen Americans do, most of the time successful, but sometimes with disastrous results.

Helpful friends back in the “old country” kept telling them how they had to be so very careful in financial dealings in their newly adopted country. This information was hammered at them from the moment a friend heard they were leaving until they were very familiar with American money and the American sense of humor.

It is true that immigrants “just off the boat” were barraged by America’s worst citizens — all offering special deals which were always to be found in the “helper’s” pockets, leaving their victims to fend for themselves. American square-shooters were always warning against those types, but weren’t successful often enough so our new American neighbors trusted no one when it came to money matters.

Here’s what happened to one new immigrant, Martin, who wanted to get from Chicago to Cherokee, Iowa. There a railroad official told him he had to change trains. Now Martin wasn’t going to be fooled by this man. He just sat in his seat and looked at the guy. He avoided every attempt to get him off the train. Three men came to carry him off but he clung to his seat. Finally, four men managed to get Martin off the train so it could get on with its business. Martin still had all of his money. Railroad men helped him get on the train to Hills, Iowa, where he lived for the rest of his life. An earlier settler there helped him get oriented and in a couple of years he became a successful farmer.

Many years later, Martin was going somewhere by train. When he boarded the train he asked the conductor if he remembered a man he had put off the train 25 years before. The conductor’s reaction was very satisfying to Martin. His grin grew broader as he watched the conductor search his memory then slowly shook his head as he said, “So you’re that son of a gun.”

This week marks 141st anniversary of dangerous blizzard

This week marks the 141st anniversary of what many believe to be the most dangerous blizzard in the history of this county. It started out with a bang, slowed down a bit two days later and gradually petered out.

The story starts early in the morning of Jan. 7, 1873, in the small log house on the claim Ole Enestvedt and his wife, Anne, had filed six years before. The cabin standing beside the Minnesota River had sheltered many people on their way to more land in North Dakota, after a 45-mile trip to or from Willmar on truly barren, treeless prairie, leaving no marks to guide a traveler to any destination in that part of Minnesota.

The Enestvedt family was working hard, packing necessities for the long trip, and Mrs. Enestvedt was making a list of the things she hoped to bring back home.

Additionally, they were in a hurry to meet eight distant neighbors at one gathering place, so they could continue on together to the nearest trading post. Enestvedt’s span of oxen made the family first at the rendezvous point, with the other eight teams together close behind. They chose a lead team whose driver knew his way to the post. That became the lead team and headed the procession until it tired of breaking the way through the snow, and another team took its place.

The first part of the trip was very pleasant, and the men could leave their teams and have their own “reunion” on one of the sleds. One of the neighbor girls who had come along left the caravan to go to the home of a neighbor which was only two miles off the caravan route, to see how the patient was faring. It was their last visit — the neighbor died the next day,

The wind was beginning to pick up and shift to the north. The temperature was dropping steadily, but Anne Enestvedt left the caravan to go a half mile to another neighbor’s house to see how they were fairing. She found that all was well with that family. When she was ready to go back to the caravan she was stopped by the neighbor. In just the short time she had visited them, the wind had swung around bringing fierce cold and awful snow drifts. The storm continued at a high pitch until the fourth day when it eased and people could leave to go back to their own homes (only a few did) or stay with the sleds until they reached their destination.

Meanwhile one of the teamsters had lost his bearings, but was found later.

The wind whipped very soft snow — so soft that it covered the eyes of the oxen, and had to be brushed off before they could move on.

Now all the drivers were desperate but they found some straw sheds where they and their animals could wait out the storm. Finally the weather allowed travel once again, and they all made it to the stores. Shopping was fast and furious and grain changed hands rapidly. A night’s sleep and they were all headed for home, where they found everything in good order.

The only victims in their area of the storm were four out of a group of five Irishmen who had been on their way to Beaver Falls. They froze to death on the open prairie.

History’s unanswered questions persist

Believe it or not, the history of our country is loaded with unanswered questions: Did Pocahantas save John Smith? Was Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, murdered? Was Davey Crockett killed at the Alamo? Why did General Lee order the infamous Pickett’s Charge? Did FDR know about Pearl Harbor in advance of the attack? Was Amelia Earhart a spy? and there are many, many more that are still unanswered and there are people still looking for the answers.

Most of those questions will never be answered … can never be answered, and there are new ones popping up every now and then. Many of them are being answered due to ongoing research by the Minnesota Historical Society. Many people are finding artifacts dating from the Ice Age as they plow their fields and tend their gardens. Minnesota has done a very good job of searching for evidence of the peoples who lived here thousands of years ago. In spite of all the efforts being put forth we still know comparatively little about the people who lived here before we showed up.

Some of that is simply due to misunderstanding and misinterpreting the things our forefathers did and the way they lived.

In an effort to solve some of the mysteries a group of ladies set out, in 1924, to get information from descendants of early settlers. They published a book on their efforts to get accurate information from people who had lived the events which they talked about, or others who had gathered information from other sources. This makes research difficult because so much extra research must be done. The first of these is information from Gen. William LeDuc, obtained when the general was 92 years old. His version of Little Crow’s death was he came to his death by carelessness when returning from a duck hunt. Having stepped ashore from his canoe he drew his gun from the canoe, muzzle first. Something was caught and the gun accidentally fired, catching the chief full in the stomach. He asked for someone to get his friend Sibley. He asked his friend to watch over young Little Crow, and keep him from making mistakes in dealing with the whites.

A second report told of Little Crow’s death after being shot while picking berries on their way. This happened near Hutchinson. The people there failed to identify the body and it was dragged through the streets several times before being left in the neighborhood.

The accounts are more than 50 miles apart. Minnesota Historical Society representatives identified the body and brought it to St. Paul, where it was kept until just a few years ago, when it was brought to South Dakota for interment in a church cemetery.

These two reports demonstrate the difficulties in finding and determining the truth.

The second report is partly true.

Searching for the inside of Christmas

This column by an old friend offers a different perspective on the significance of Christmas:

“The outside of Christmas is visible. You can see it. It’s there in the Christmas trees, in holly, in toys, in gay store windows, in gifts wrapped in bright paper.

“The outside of Christmas can be heard. In chimes, in carols, in organ music, in sleigh bells, in the voices of the choir.

“The outside of Christmas can be tasted. There’s turkey and cranberry sauce, the pumpkin pic and the candy.

“In the hurry and scurry of the Christmas season most of us limit our contact to the outside of the Christmas season. Most of us are so busy we don’t have time to get inside Christmas so it becomes, for most of us, a surface experience.

“To discover the true riches of the Christmas season we must penetrate the surface. We must get inside Christmas. Christmas will get inside of us and we will have a truly mystical experience.

“No one knows how to go about exploring the inside of Christmas. Each of us must go adventuring to find the inside of Christmas in our own ways.

“One thing is certain, and that is that we must get away for the turmoil and the outward excitement that are so much a part of the outside of Christmas.

“We must get away from the visible and journey into the invisible. We must seek the inside of Christmas in the silence; we must look for it in deeper selves.

“We may go alone into a cathedral or chapel late at night to meditate. We may sit alone by the fire in our homes, after all the others have retired, and open ourselves to the inflow of good will and joy and peace.

“We may take a long walk under the stars, or through the softly falling snow. We may sit byu the bedside of a sleeping little one and think about the miracle of childhood.

“When we take the time to seek and find the inside of Christmas, the Christmas spirit will glow with a new radiance within our hearts.”