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When Everybody Called
"This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.""This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee."
Out There in North Dakota
There was an Indian there by Boy River, Jim Mitchell. He didn't know a word of English. All he was was a typical Indian, when we first met him.(1) He eventually married my sister. He was a good worker, a willing one.One time he took off to North Dakota with a gang.(2) That was about in the 1930s. When he got out there in North Dakota, he got work on a threshing machine, field pitching. Boy, he liked it there so much! They fed him good, and he had a good place to sleep. He was making good money too. I think they were getting four, five dollars a day, them days, for field pitching.
He stayed there quite a while. Everybody else quit, since they were getting through harvesting. But the farmer he was working for had a little patch to thresh yet, so he stayed. Jim helped them through to the end.
When they were done the farmer said, "I'll take you to town."
It was about thirty miles to town.
"I'll take you to town, Jim. Don't worry. I'll take care of you."
The truth was that Jim didn't know where he was, and didn't know what to say, you know, because he didn't have any schooling. But the best farmer of that area took parts for him,(3) and took good care of him. The farmer felt like taking Jim’s part, taking care of him, because Jim was a good worker. He did take care of him too.
It happened that when they got through with the threshing and had everything all cleaned up, the farmer more or less said, "Well, Jim, if you want to go to town tomorrow, I'll take you. If you get ready tonight, you can go home tomorrow. I'll have your money. I'll write your check, and we'll go to town, go in the bank, and we'll cash that check. You'll get every cent."
Why Jim didn't know how much he had coming! No. To get a hundred dollars those days was doing something. A hundred dollars was big money, and he had over a hundred dollars. He was telling me that himself. He was telling me the experience he had going out to Dakota. He said, "I was out there all alone, with no Indian to talk to. All I could hear is English. All I could say is 'no,' 'yes.'"
So Jim was way out there in North Dakota, and when the farmer pulled into town he took him right into the bank and cashed his check. Jim stood right there and the banker counted out the money to him. The banker took the money and put it in an envelope. It was all new money. Jim had a billfold on him, but gee, all that money couldn't fit in it. So the farmer took the money and he told Jim, "OK, Jim, let's go."
The banker didn't know who had the money.
If he knew Jim had it, there might‑a been a play in that. It was safer the way the farmer did it, because even the people at the bank didn't know who had the money. So the farmer took Jim down to the train.
When Jim got home he was telling me how well they took care of him, and how dangerous it was around there. He told me about all the staggers which stagged toward him. They'd try to talk to him, but he couldn't talk because he didn't know English. And besides that, he wasn't a drinking man.
The farmer went into the ticket office and bought a train ticket home, for Jim. The train was coming and the guy took that envelope and stuck it in Jim's hand. He handed it to Jim, "Here's your money. Don't open it until you get home. I'll give you this other money to buy your meal." He had another five left after he bought a ticket and he gave it to Jim for a meal. "And come back next fall, Jim. You're a sticker. You're very good. You done a very good job. I hate to lose you, Jim. You're a good man -- for an Indian. I'm sorry you can't talk English." Jim shook hands with him, and he came home.
On his way home he didn't want to show this envelope to anyone. He always had good clothes, like suits and everything, and he had suitcases. So, he put the envelope in his suit or in his suitcase until he got off the train. I think he got off at Boy River. He belonged over there somewhere, and he went there somewhere to the wiigwaam where he stayed. I think it was the wiigwaam of one of my sisters, or somewhere close by there. After a while he was married to my sister. But when I'm talking about Dakota, I'm talking about before he was married to her. He had a crush on my sister when he went to Dakota.
When he got to whatever wiigwaam he was going to, he opened this envelope, because he was in a private place. He was in a private room with himself. He said he didn't ever see so much money as he did there. "Boy, he said, I pred'ner dropped when I opened that envelope." He said all he could see was ". . . tens, tens, tens, tens." There was somewhere around two hundred dollars in there -- a hundred and something, but about two hundred dollars. Inside the envelope there was a little slip telling how many hours, and so many days, he worked, and the balance he was owed was on there too. And at the bottom it read, "Good luck to you."
Boy that farmer must have been a good farmer. He thought the world of that boy, for an Indian. Jim thought the world of him too. Poor kid.
That was about ‘26 or ‘27; about in the ‘30s; yea. They were good farmers too, those days. Boy I tell you that farmer took care of Jim and sent him home like a man. Yep. Jim was a clean Indian, and led a clean sort of a life. He was a nice fellow. Jim made it, all the time. He always wanted to go out there again, but he said, "I don't think I could find that place."
That was something for him to be alone out there in Dakota, and he stuck right with them 'till the snow flied. Jim started around Crookston, shocking oats. He went out there to Dakota after the Fourth of July. After the Fourth we used to go out there to shock oats. We'd get all kinds of shocking in after the Fourth. And that's when Jim went, and he stayed 'till the snow flied.
We'd first shock a little short oats around here, ‘round Ball Club and Deer River. We'd do that, and after we'd get through here, then we'd go out to North Dakota.
Short oats ripens early because of the heat of the ground and because the grain isn't planted too late. So the further west you go, the better material of oats or grain you get. That's where they get moisture. The grain grows heavier further west. It's well fertilized there too. But around Ball Club the short oats is planted in sandy areas -- mostly sandy areas -- and that doesn't work too well. But anyhow, around here they got enough oats to take care of their cattle. These small fields were just big enough to feed their local cattle for the winters. And around here the cattle does a lot of work for the fertilizing of the area. That's what they use around here for fertilizer -- natural fertilizer.
Speaking about it generally, Indians from Ball Club went out to the Dakotas, oh, about, starting about, around ‘18 -- ‘18 . . . or ‘12. The first ones to go out there to Dakota from Ball Club went in about . . . I'll say, I should judge about -- for my part I should judge -- it was about 1907. They were working with small fields then, you know. At that time they raised only a few cattle out there, and eventually they had to buy more ground. They were working by hand at that time, but after while the farmers there made enough to get machinery. The machinery took a lot of labor off of the hands of the laborers. So pretty soon they machined everything. I think those machines started to come in around ‘14 -- ‘10, ‘14, ‘15. We liked working with those machines.
In July, after the celebration of the Fourth, some of us boys would get together -- three, four, in a group -- and we would climb a freight train as it slowed down. If it didn't stop, it slowed down. We were active enough to catch a train and get on top of boxcars, flatcars, or anything we'd find. All we had was a few pennies in our pocket, a little change, enough to eat on. If we had time enough we would stop at Fosston or somewhere on the way to Grand Forks, and get a quart of milk. We'd ask the brakeman, "Could we get anything to eat?"
"Yes, you got time. We stop ten minutes."
We'd make for that grocery store and we'd get a loaf of bread and eat it on the way going. Oh, they were good to us. Generally, before we started, I'd make sure we'd get our stomachs full. That's the way we traveled. We'd get up there to Grand Forks in the evening, around evening, and we'd meet some bunch of hoboes already there waiting for a job. We'd ask them, "How's things going?"
"They're just goin' -- a start," they'd usually say. "Times are depressed."
We'd go next to the river where they had a cooking outfit, "the jungle" they called it. They had a table there where they were cooking up. Everything was washed clean. Oh boy, if you didn't wash those dishes they'd go after you. They used tin cans, soap pails, and everything. They had forks and knives. Where they got them I don't know, but they had them. Some of them would take them along and leave them there in the jungles for the hobo's life. They were already clean for us. They had big cooking kettles, usually lard cans or something. They'd cook in lard cans, big lard cans.
Our first worry was cooking up supper. After supper our next worry was about getting a job.
But for the night, we'd crawl in some old shelter, like a box car. We'd start looking for empties in the railroad yard and we'd crawl in one for the evening. We'd take some old paper re‑linings for the boxcars -- what they used to re‑line that freight and stuff -- and covered up with the old papers to keep warm. You'd wrap up in that old paper and that kept you pretty warm. Some of them had overcoats. Some of them would have sacks they used for pillows. We'd pile in and sleep good in there. We'd shut the door of the boxcar. We'd get up in the morning, go down to the river, and wash up. Everybody had their task. After that we'd cook up coffee again.
We drank a lot of coffee, and for supper we most generally had a boil. We'd go into those butcher shops and buy meat scrap. We didn't have enough money to buy anything but scraps. The butcher shop‑'ed give you a lot of meat scrap because they knew that you didn't have much money. They were good, some butcher shops, in those days. They'd allow a lot of meat on the soup bones. They'd say, "You gonna cook up?" And then they'd throw in something they'd want to eat too. They'd want to eat a lot of the stuff they gave us. It's no dog's life, that hobo life.
They'd think, "Well, here, have a good feed." Then we'd get some turnips and onions at the vegetable store and boil that up with our meat. They gave us vegetables too, if we asked for them.
"We're looking for work."
They were pretty good to us.
"You're cooking up in the jungle?"
"Have a good meal."
We had a big camp, and we always had a cook along in the gang, or somebody that could cook.
For breakfast we just made coffee, and we were ready to go. We'd figure on eating on the farm. The farmers would take us out at eight, nine, ten o'clock.
"You have breakfast yet?"
"No."Some of those farmers would take us in the restaurant and give us a big breakfast. Then they'd take us out to work.
We worked on sugar beet farms, wheat farms, and anywhere we could find work. We harvested sugar beets or anything there that was ready. We also shocked oats in the olden days. Later on I was even on the bundle team for oats. A bundler, a binder, ties the oats into little bundles, and they pitch those into the big old threshing machines, grain and stalks and all. The threshing machine threshes the oats off of the stalks, and the stalks fall down and scatter out for fertilization.
It took a lot of labor to harvest in those days. We had eight, nine, ten, as high as fifteen, to a threshing rig, a big old‑fashioned threshing machine. Then when night fell, we'd look for a place to spend the night. Well, a lot of them in those days didn't have big houses, and maybe a farmer had a big family besides. Usually they had a barn with a lot of hay and we were satisfied to sleep in the barn. They had nice big barns. We'd take those old blankets, horse blankets, and cover up with them. They were made out of good stuff. They'd take care of their stuff, some of them farmers, to get ready for the laborers. They'd give them blankets and pillows, coats, or whatever the laborers would need. We'd crawl in the hay and have a good sleep. We'd get up in the morning, go for breakfast -- usually coffee and oatmeal -- and go to work. You'd put in so many days like that. Some of them worked through the season. In those days they stuck to a job. It was nice life, a great life. You were free to the world.
And the money was valued those days. You didn't get much -- maybe four, five bucks a day -- but the valuation of the money on the dollar was there. And there was no income tax to take out. The price of food wasn't too high, and five dollars was valued as a lot of money. That's the way we lived . . . a hobo life.
Some of them would go back home on the train. We had passenger trains those days. Some of them would ride the train lines back home on the passenger cars, and maybe we'd ride the boxcar back home. We still would have money in our pockets when we got back home because we saved a little. It wasn't too rough along in there. It wasn't rough by any means.
We got along pretty good. They use the Indians good out there.
They didn't bother the Indian boys when we were riding the train cars. They were always nice and tried to help the Indians that were coming in. They knew we had a hard life. They knew we were looking for work. They knew that we were looking for something to eat all the time. And when we got something to eat we were satisfied. Some came back home with a little money, some didn't. It all depended on how much they made. Some got into a little bad luck, like rainy weather, or maybe a poor crop or something. Some struck it lucky with a good crop and plenty of acreage. Those who struck it lucky got in a lot of time. Others had motor trouble -- steam engine trouble -- and couldn't get any time in. So that's the way it went. Some would come back with good clothes. They'd buy their clothes out there. We thought that was something. That was a good old way of life. That’s why all the men and young folks -- the men folks -- would leave for the west to labor in the Dakotas.
I knew a lot of them who would leave for the Dakota grain just about ricing time. I'd go from one place to another, one Indian ricing camp to another. I'd ask for the boys.
“Where have they gone?”
"Well, they left for Dakota."
A little bit later on lots of people took their teams of horses out there. We used to load horses to take with us too, because they didn't have enough horses in North Dakota. There used to be a guy around Ball Club who ordered a couple boxcars to load horses. He'd put them in the boxcars and take them to Dakota and hire those horses out right there. He'd take them out to Dakota and put them on the binders and threshing rigs. He'd take the wagons too, wheels and all. He'd take them apart, ship them out, and put them back together out there. That's all Godfrey ever done was hire horses. Yah. That was the “Old Man Godfrey” -- Morse Godfrey.(4)
It got so that everybody had figured out that Dakota wasn't very far. It was a couple hundred miles or something. One Frenchman said, "I'll make that with my team." Instead of hiring a boxcar and renting horses out when he got there, and instead of putting them on the boxcar to move them out there, he wanted to drive his own horses to Dakota. So, he drove them out. When he got half way, one of the horses played out and died on the road. And there he was, with that second pole tied up on the hames of his one horse, and that one old horse was pulling that god damn wagon with a load on, camping outfit and all. I don't know how far he got before he finally found a pretty cheap horse up there that was nothing but a rack and bones. He put the harness on that other one and he made a team and finally got out there.
Of course, they had Siouxs in Dakota, but we never got into trouble with the Siouxs. No!! We got along good with them. The government possessed a school there and a lot of them went to the government school. That helped lots. I don't think the Siouxs were enemies. It was our leaders, instigators, that caused the trouble.
I say a lot of people, a lot of the Sioux tribe, don't want to fight. A lot of Indians in general don't want to fight. It's the leaders. They make up something and probably we have to go fight and the Sioux have to go too. That's the way it is. They never changed that way of life. The leaders tell them something that makes them think it's dangerous for them if they don't fight, and they feel they have to go.
The point of war is talked about all the time, but individually everybody likes to be in peace. They like to sit peacefully by a campfire. I've seen a thousand people peacefully sitting in groups around campfires. All they want is plenty to eat and to see the animals. They want to see the animal wildlife and to watch birds fly. They want to see natural things growing, and to watch the rice crop maturing.
They like to look at the acorns on the trees. They ask, "How much food we gonna have? How much food that's gonna feed our animals, the deer, the bear?” The deer and the bear come along in there and harvest, the same as a person. They're struggling for life; they're battling for life too. They work with the Great. It's just like a hobo life. The bear and the deer have to be careful, and they're always looking for something to eat.
So I bought it through the tax title. It was tax delinquent. A guy had a mortgage on it and I bought up the mortgage. I got a sheriff's notice to the guy that held the mortgage.
"Well," he told the sheriff, "I don't want it; he can have it."
So I got it. I bought all nine lots and I had a nice little house there with a yard and a good garden spot. I made a pretty good living there, right there in town at Bena. I was off from a farm(6) and so I had a little farm on my place there in Bena just to experiment.
I broke up a piece of ground, oh, about twenty‑five, thirty feet square -- well, say thirty feet square anyhow. I broke up a piece of ground. Geeze that was nice ground, right there in Bena. I planted corn and potatoes and cucumbers and garden stuff all in nice little rows. Gee how they grew when I put fertilizer in there. How that stuff grew!
And I got chickens, a young crop of young stock‑chickens. I bought some old sheds and I put the chickens in the sheds. I had a horse in there too, on those little nine lots in Bena. Right in town I had a horse.
When I'd come home from logging I'd have fried chicken and garden stuff. Once in a while my woman’ed go get some groceries, a little sugar and tea, and that's all. The rest of the time we had garden stuff and fried chicken. I'd get tired of chicken and garden stuff after a while. Whenever I’d get tired of that I'd buy something else I wanted to eat.
So that's the way we raised our own crops. Yes. And that's how we made our living.
People would walk in and look over the garden and say, "Ohhhh, look at the cucumbers!" One time I said to an old lady as she was walking around in a big apron intensely looking at them cucumbers. "Why don't you pick 'em up? They're gonna just lay there."
Those cucumbers were just lying there, you know. My woman picked all she wanted to can, so they weren’t gonna take too much from us that we were gonna use.
"Take all you want."
So she filled up her apron.
They were great big cucumbers. Oh, they were big. She took them home to her grandchildren. Ya, they all used them.
That was "Old Lady Flemming.”(7) They had a little resort there by Bena and her and her old man would drive into town once in a while. He said, "We want some of your garden stuff: lettuce, radishes, cucumbers. We'd like to have a couple chickens too."
I said, "Well, don’t they have chickens anywhere else?"
People liked my chickens because I fed them oats, ground food, and a mash -- all that stuff. And if you had meat scraps, bread, and toast, and stuff like that, they ate that too. I had as high as a hundred chickens there, and they were fat too. They were fat! They were just yellow when you opened them, just yellow. Sometimes I fed them corn, pure corn, ground up. I'd buy that whole corn and grind it up. If we made any money that way, I don't know. Overall we made good; at least we kept even. But I don't know what made money because I was logging besides.
Between 1925 and ’45 you might as well say I was pretty much just logging and roaming around. When there was a potato rush in North Dakota, or a beet rush, I would go back to Grand Forks. I worked out there for the American Crystal Sugar Beet Company when they were in season. When the sugar beet factory was ready for processing sugar, I would work for them. And I did other spot work too. I did construction work around Grand Forks. And I worked in the potato fields, picking potatoes.
At first, in the potato fields, all I had to do was drive the horses. They were good teams, and they were nice and fat! When I drove team I liked to look at them. After a while they got short of labor in the potato fields. The laborers went further north and west. Well, then I had to jump off to check the potatoes every now and then, and I had to tie my line where I could catch the horses if they jumped. We had lively teams, you know, in those days.
But those chemicals!! If you put too much on your crops the chemical will burn them out. That chemical they spray on the potatoes is too hot. But they say they have to use that chemical. “What are you going to do with potato bugs and all that?” they’d say. “All the insects come if you don't use chemicals.”
After a while lots of people went out to Dakota to get work, never bothering about the chemicals. And once you got near the borderline you got lots of work. You bet we got work! When you got to Crookston you got lots of work because the labor that was there moved out west to get more wages.(8) The wages took the people of the Crookston area. See, the other laborers were moving west, and we were moving out there to where they were. We were moving along with them, but behind them, shocking oats. This is west of Crookston, oh, about thirty, twenty-five, thirty miles west of Crookston. By the time you got to Crookston you would have money, and the further west and north you went, the more wages you got. Once we made it to the west of Crookston we got about eighteen or twenty dollars a month. That was pretty good money them days. They had farms and a little oats right around Crookston, sure, but the further west or north you went the more grain they had. They had the bigger fields north and west of there, and they change the crops around continually so the ground didn’t wear out. You plant there in one place one year; you plant the other place the other year. That helped kept production up from one year to the next.
One time, about 1940, ‘41, when I was back at Bena, I got a letter that said, "You're not paying on Social Security." I was logging on my own, cutting timber on my own, at that time; that's why I got the letter. "You're not putting in any money for your Social Security. You're late." I was buying timber stumpage, and logging, and they found out. "You're not paying any Social Security!"
At that time I thought, “I’m not eligible, ‘cause I’m not making enough money.”
I was self‑employed and had to pay out money to the men that worked for me. And I didn't have hardly enough to get by on because the value of the timber was too low. And the cost of labor was moving up. But anyhow, I had enough timber, and I got enough money to get by with food and feed for my horses, at Bena, Minnesota.
And besides, Indian people were a little less interested in signing up for Social Security. The Indians didn't want to sign up so fast because they thought all they were interested in was game and fish. Game and fish are included in our way of thinking about making a living. See, we go out to work, yes, and then we go back to game and fish. We go out to work and pick up a little sack of potatoes, or we work on the farm, shock a little bit, and then go in the woods. We go in the woods later on -- when we’re done with these spot work jobs -- and do a lot of hunting. We were getting along very well working like that, with all of us picking berries in the summer, because we knew winter was just around the bend. And in the woods we were equal; we were the same there as the whites. I also think Indians don't believe in holding a job year‑round because too much is taken out of their checks in the company’s book.
So I didn't approve Social Security in those early days. That's why I was self‑employed -- because I figured, "later on in years there might be too much red tape and I don't have a bookkeeper."
But I came to find out that the Social Security was planning on being the most helpful thing to the people. And then I began thinking to myself, “Whatever I asked my government, they’ve done for me. Whenever I asked the white people, they helped me. They knew all Indians were having a hard time getting improvements, so the whites did all they could.“ I thought, “Well, I'll go on my Social Security plan. It sounds good.” I read up on it, and it sounded good.
Eventually, when the War broke out, different laws come up and I had to go to Grand Forks and work. So . . . I went to Grand Forks and worked. While I was working there the War(9) came on pretty strong. Just about the time the War come on there was a big sleet that poked the trees all over.(10) We had to clean them out. Gee, we made good money that time.
Back at Bena, I paid up, squared up, and I moved out. I went to work in Grand Forks full-time so I could get on the Social Security plan. When I lived in Bena I was self‑employed and I wasn't paying in anything. When I got that letter saying I wasn't paying, I had to go out and go to work to pay on that Social Security plan. So in order to make Social Security, I decided I'd move. I decided to sell out my place in Bena. That's what destroyed my interest of farming. That's why I let the farm go. I sold everything and dropped everything and went west.
I should have turned my place over to the woman or the boys earlier on, but they didn't want to farm. The boys were big enough, but at the time when I decided to let the farm go they weren’t interested in farming. They wanted to get in on that defense work for war time.
I moved to Grand Forks to go to work for the bigger industries, and that's when I went to work for American Crystal Sugar Beet Company of Grand Forks full time.
I got in working on a sugar beet plant for American Crystal. That's where they were paying Social Security. And that's what I'm drawing on now. By golly it's a good thing I went on it anyway. I'm thankful I helped myself to do that. It took a lot of sufferage to go in there and go through that, but still I got there. I got there, and now I can say I'm free. I can say I made it.
I worked there four or five, six years. Most of that time I had three or four to take care of. When I was employed by American Crystal Sugar Beet Company I was a dependent, so I had three or four dependents all together, and when they took over a hundred dollars out of my check for those three and four dependents, I used to kick. So the office clerk told me, "Won't that look good when you get ‘old age,’ Paul?"
"Well I got four or five years to go yet before I become eligible for that check!”
"Yes, but that'll be a good‑looking check when you get it. And that'll continue all your life, from there on."
So now I'm glad they took mine right out. And then I stayed there, working five or six years for American Crystal. And I was proud of what they were doing. They hired not only me. I had two boys who worked there. They were hired too. So we all made good, ya. The boys were old enough to keep a job at American Crystal, but after the War started they wanted to go out and work with the defense plants.
So Social Security is a great thing. They'd never disregard that. Social Security is a most helpful thing. It's a helpful thing as a community work. It's working with your people. It is community work.
Now the changes are coming. Now we see them. Now people are building up on Social Security. That's another good thing. By the advice of white people, by our leaders in our counties and everything, I'm getting along all right. I got letters which used to say, "You are working for Social Security. Make your reports. Someday you're going to get to be sixty-five, and you're going to get Social Security."
At first I didn't think much of that, you know. I want to be self‑employed. But I thought, "No, I cannot go along without cooperation. I think I'll join the cooperation,(11) and join and be employed by some concern so I'll make enough for Social Security," which I did. I thought of that two, three times. Finally I went out into big factories to work because I was concerned that I make enough through my employment to get along in my later years. I figure I wouldn't go hungry again. But if you go along self‑employed, without any cooperation, without listening to advice, you might not be taken care of in your old age. “I was going wrong all these years,” I thought. “But now I'll be in the cooperation.” I was joining the people that's smart, the people that sees things for your betterment in the future. I think it's a great thing that I have sidetracked to work for the private companies. See, I felt I had to join the community's action. Social Security is a community action to develop the area of this country of which I'm living in now. I enjoyed it; I made a little Social Security, and I was getting to be sixty-five.
You don't get enough on Social Security; but even so, I am sure that the people in your local -- in your locality -- are not going to let you down. They are going to see that you get enough, and that's a big thing that the whites have proved amongst the Indian. I do learn that. We always feel that. But a lot of the Indians won't give in and speak of that. They always have some complaint.
But we have to go along as a community. We have to go along for betterment, which I believe in. If you see them making good, let 'em make good. If you can help, help. And if you cooperate, it'll reflect to you later on. You'll feel it. You'll feel that things are going along fine. Cooperation, I think, is a wonderful thing. If you cooperate then you have friends. Good advisory is another wonderful thing.
I was out to Grand Forks about five years. That was until about 1945, ‘46. I worked out in the beet fields in the summer, when they weren’t processing the sugar, and sometimes I helped American Crystal collect labor. We used to come down to Leech Lake(12) in big trucks and get labor from the Indians. We'd load idle Indians up on the trucks. They'd give them cabins out there in Dakota, and furnish them with groceries.
All the labor had to do was plot out the beets -- thin them. They made good money thinning beets out there! I think we got two dollars an acre, or two dollars a ton, or something like that. They made good, because they didn't have to pay out any rent or anything at all. Everything was there, but they always bought some groceries. All they paid for were their groceries. They worked in groups. I saw some of them go out of there with eight, nine hundred dollars in their pockets, just like nothing.
I used to get about twenty Indians from around Bena and Ball Club to plot out beets. If somebody was idle and wanted to go, I'd give them something to do. We'd pick a lot of them up, a whole truck load, and take them out to North Dakota. I had a driver. I had a driver, and I'd just take the book and go around picking up these Indians, talking to them, and explaining things in Indian to them. I'd take them up to the sugar beet company, and they'd give me a slip telling us where to go to unload the families. We usually had two or three families in the group, depending on how many were in the family and how much labor the company wanted in each place.
The whole family would go there. Ya, the whole family would just lock up and go out there to North Dakota. They'd take their bedding, that's all. They'd leave their dishes. If they didn't have any, we'd get dishes out there from the American Crystal Sugar Beet Company.
After a while I got in pretty good with that company and I went to work in the plant itself. I was purifying -- running that sugar purifier -- in that plant. Three of us worked there. Ya, I had good position with that company. They wanted me to go to Crookston when they started up in Crookston, but I said I didn't want any of that. I told them, "I'm going home to where the fish and the deer are."
Oh, there was game out there; yes. A little old guy, a farmer, came to me one time and I said to him, "Gee, you got mallards in the Red River. Look at the mallards out there, big mallards."
He said, "You like mallards?"
"Ohh, yeah a lot!" And I said at the same time, "How many chickens you got?"
"You don't like mallards then?"
"No, I don't care for 'em."
"You eat chickens?"
"I don't care for them either, because I get tired of 'em."
"How many chickens you got?"
"I don't know," the farmer said. "You like mallards?"
We were talking over by my little cabin that was provided us by the company. "Ya, I like mallards."
"I got a 12-gauge Winchester over to the house. You could use it if you wanna."
He brought some shells, a box of shells, and his 12-gauge.
"Go get your mallards."
The river, the Red River, went through right on his place. We went down towards the river and shot three, four, of them mallards coming out of there. We shot them down. I don't know whether they were tame or wild, but they were big. Yes. We got the mallards and cooked them up.
"By gosh," I said, "I'll never shoot another bunch like that again. Those aren't like our mallards down home where we come from."
The woman said, "Why? Did you think they taste muddy, boggy, mucky, musky?"
“Those mallards, they're on dead water. That's all they live on, those bugs, you know."
Oh there was an awful taste to them. You couldn't eat it, it was so strong. I didn't like it. It wasn't like our free-water mallards here. No, the mallards here are good, ya.
"No," I said, "I won't shoot another bunch."
I told the farmer that.
"Well," he said, "there's a lot of ducks, but they don't eat 'em here because they don't taste good. You see, we tried 'em. We don't like 'em. They don't taste good here. They eat bugs on that dead water in there. There's dead logans in there."
“So,” he said to me, "I'll get you some feeding birds."
When he went home he got a half‑a gunnysack full of chickens. Oh, there were about eight or ten in there. He threw them on the ground and said, "There, you don't have to hunt ducks. That's chicken."
They were big chickens too. We let them run loose even though there was a chicken coop there. We lived on an old farm where he moved out of when he built a new house. He moved out of this house we were in and into a new place. We let those chickens run at first, but we used that old chicken coop later on.
Believe me, we lived good out there. We lived good out there. Oh, they took good care of the Indians. That big company took care of the Indians good. And they took care of the Mexicans good too.
They had Mexicans working there, and we got along together. But you have to consider too that we're alive in the north, way in the north, so living here in this weather doesn't make any difference to us. But with the ones that grew up in the south, you could see a difference in them. When the southern people get up here and work on the sugar beets they have their earflaps down and their gloves on -- when we're working in shirtsleeves!
One of the Southern people asked me one time, "How can you guys stand it in the forty‑below weather up here?"
"Why, we're natural born; we're naturalized to here."
Yeah, we got along. Mexicans aren't a bad people. They're nice people. It's just how you use them, you know. They pull some young pranks that people expect, but everybody's young. They're young, but we got along good with them.
My boys played with a Mexican kid. They were about fourteen years old, fourteen, sixteen years old. They'd go out together in cars. I don't know what they did at night with them, but they'd go traveling, and visiting towns together. Sometimes they'd go to shows. When they'd come back, I'd ask them, "How can you get along with a Mexican? Do they drink?"
"Oh ya, they drink a little beer."
Ya, we got along good with that Texas bunch. There was a Texas bunch and an Indian bunch and a National bunch.(13) We got along good with both those bunches, but we were kind of scared of those Nationals. And the Nationals didn't trust the Texas bunch.
The Nationals were the real Mexicans, the ones that came from Mexico. They had them up here too. The farmers hired Nationals, and I worked with Nationals in the American Crystal plant. We had kind of a rough time with them -- well, it wasn't really too rough, it was just that we had kind of a hard time trying to make them understand. See, I think the Mexico Mexicans felt like the farmers were ordering them too much. But no; it's the idea that the farmer wanted something -- this work done and done properly -- and they couldn't understand. That's where the drawback was.
They just talked Mexican, no English, and when one of them wanted to discuss something the leader would call in a translator. We had a field worker there who could translate.(14) We had a worker in the field office and the farmer'd tell the Mexican workers, "I'll have to get the field worker to come talk to you." Then they'd talk, "Baba, baba, baa‑baah." They'd tease, you know, and they were ornery. They had their big knives too.
Pretty soon that big car we were watchin' for would come from the direction of the main office. Pretty soon the field worker'd come. He was the head man. He talked Spanish. He'd talk any language. The workers thought he was a Mexican. He was quite a dark‑headed guy. Ha! He came out to the field and somebody said, "There's the field worker. There's the guy that's Mexican. He'll talk to you."
Gee, they all ran up to him. They took off their big hats and kneeled right down in front of him. They'd kneel down in the front of him; that's how they greeted him. They knelt down on one leg in the front of him. They all did that. He said something in Mexican to them, and boy they took off their hats. Oh geez! You could never get a better crew after they knew that guy was from the office, and afterwards he told them that they had to do their work according to what the farmer told them. "You watch the farmer; and what he tells you to do, do it," he said. "You can't understand English, but do the best you can," he told them, in their language. Boy we had a good crew after that!
And how they'd fight in the trailer. Sometimes the company would move the men in a trailer. They had about twenty, fifteen or twenty, guys in the trailer. They had big long four‑wheel trailers. The women got in the cars, and the men folks took the tractor with a big trailer and big box on it. Sometimes we had to get moved to a different field because it was quite a ways to walk. When it was a mile and a half or two we'd get into these trailers. The Nationals and the Texas bunch would get mixed up sometime. It happened that way sometimes. The Nationals didn't have their cars, you know, because they were ordered here by their government.
I asked one Mexican -- one National -- one time, "How much you making here?"
"Don't know. Don't know," he said.
He didn't know. He got his money from the government down there in Mexico when he got back home. They'd haul them up here, and they'd haul them back. They got paid down there. I guess they got their money down in their country. The government did their business with the companies, but the companies took good care of them. Their dollars earned here were valued in Mexico. Boy, when they'd get there they were rich with what they made here. There was a lot of value in there, in that silver dollar, when they'd get down to Mexico. When they got back down there the valuation of what they made up here is full value of what they're supposed to have. They were rich when they got in Mexico. That's why they came up here to work.
So, that's the way it went.
I was going to tell you, we were riding that trailer one day and pretty soon three, four of them started to fight in there, right in the trailer. The one big leader went right in, pushed them apart, and talked Mexican to beat hell. It got so that tractor guy had to stop. After they finished, all started to laugh. After the fight stopped, they all started to laugh at one another. Even the two that were fighting started to laugh. That's how they got along.
They each had their meat knife there with them. They didn't use the knifes when they were fighting though. They would just push one another around. They'd just started pushing and wrestling in there. But they might have used them too, if one gang busted in or started to break in. If they were to break out with those knives, why I'd‑a‑been stepping out of the trailer and I'd‑a run like heck.
Geez, I can remember that just as good as if I were right there. I laugh yet today about it, about how they went at it in there. They didn't go to blows, they just wrestled. I was afraid it might break out if we all joined in. The leader busted it up. The leader busted it up, but he had to talk to beat hell before they quit.
Oh ya. I had some pretty husky boys on my crew, and they were in the back of me too. One of them was pretty good with his fists, but I didn't want to get in there, in that fight. Besides, we couldn't understand what they were fighting for. That was the best part of it; we didn't know anything about it. It was just between the Nationals and the Texans, but the Texans were more advanced. They had a little better education, and had a better understanding of the meaning of the union rules. The Texas bunch were nice fellas. We get along good with the Texas bunch. I like to sit and visit with them. They'd come over to our place at times. When they'd catch us at meal times we'd cook up Indian bread and all that.
Boy they'd go for that fry bread. Oh boy! Oh geez that's good, ya. It's simple to make too.(15) You just deep fry bread dough in grease, that's all. It's simple. You just take baking powder and add that to your flour. Fry bread's made from flour and baking powder, water, and salt. That's all. You just mix that together and deep fry it, yes. Boy that's good. Ya. That's what I call an Indian doughnut. Indian doughnuts! Ya, that's life. You don't know lots about this country they give us, until you get out amongst the people.
That's just the way I worked, out there in North Dakota, and we got along pretty good that way. But one time when I was in Dakota, on the Dakota side,(16) I saw an Indian "insing"(17) on the jackets of the police. They had a big Indian head on their jackets. I said, "What does that 'insing` mean? What is that headdressed medicine guy supposed to signify?"
They looked at me and said, "Well, I don't know. We just have that on, stating that we're here."
"Ya, you're here. You're a white man? You're wearing that 'insing' aren't you? Does that mean you cut the Indian's head off, or does that mean something else?" You know, before you put stuff like that on you, as a white man, you ought to think about what it means. If we did that to you, and started signifying your head on a medal, you'd sue us for it. It's a good thing for you that the Indian doesn't wake up now, or ask something about that in Congress."
Right now I told him off. After that I never saw him anymore. They covered their “insigns” after that too. Could be they're waking up. That Indian head signifies something. That's supposed to signify something and have some meaning. They didn't think of that when they cut the Indian`s head off and put “insing” pictures of it on their shoulders. I haven't seen much of that lately. That was a Sioux head. The other Indians laughed when they heard me talking to him about his “insing.” One of the guys who heard me tell about the “insing” was on the Council with me many years ago. Being on the Council is a hard deal.
Altogether I was out there in Dakota about five years. After five years we got tired of working that area. When they were in season for processing sugar there were all kinds of slopes coming in pretty fast, and it was hard work. A slope is a big pile of beets, piled up with a peak and it slopes on the sides. When the sun would shine on them the syrup would blister and run out.
And people would hear so much about that area, like about the seasonal work available, and they'd move out there. Then there'd be a lot of people around there looking for jobs. The farmers were doing pretty good on their crops. The crops were good, and they were short of labor. People would hear that and they'd rush out there to Dakota. So I got to thinking, "Well, I better try something else, naturally."
I always heard that Duluth was a good town too. So I moved to Duluth and I got a place there. That was about 1949. It was a rented place. We just used a place there, and right away I had a job. I went to Duluth, Iron and Globeworks. Duluth Ironworks Globe.(18) I worked there about four or five years, four or five winters.
That'd be about 1948 or '50. Around fifties. Then I moved to Superior. I was getting better money over there in Superior. I got a job over at the Acme Iron Works, working for Campbell, the banker's son. The two companies were kinda working together. I liked that line of iron work, like molding. I didn't mold; I was a finisher, on the cast iron. I worked finishing off the castings that came through the iron works. Then I would grade the metal, which we'd re-melt.
I liked it in Duluth. But Duluth is also where we had the uprising in the Indian office.
1. “Typical” meaning a very traditional Indian.
2. “Gang” here refers to a local group of workers who went out to North Dakota together, looking for seasonal work.
3. The farmer spoke up for Jim Mitchell; the farmer looked after him.
5. Paul bought tax-delinquent and forfeited property.
7. Ida and Katherine Flemming were the daughters of Ernest and Julia Flemming. (Cass County Historical Society & Museum, 2006.) It is also reported that "two children were raised by Ernest Flemming and used Flemming as their last name . . . Flemming, Catherine McLean (1888) [and] . . . Flemming, Ida McLean (1890). "Ransom Judd Powell Papers," Minnesota Historical Society, Microfilm M-455, FAMILY No. 58, KAH DAH WAH BE DAY. Accessed 4 November 2018. https://www.maquah.net/genealogy/Powell/POWELL.58.html.
8.The Red Lake River flows from Crookston to "Grand Forks," joining with the Red River of the North at East Grand Forks, MN. Paul and others going out there to North Dakota are at least initially following the Red Lake River from Crookston to Grand Forks. The distance by road is twenty-five to twenty-nine miles. See also footnote #16.
9. World War II, which lasted from 1939-1945.
10. Cf., Mark W. Seeley. Minnesota Weather Almanac. 2006. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, pp. 101-102.
11. Paul though of Social Security as a “cooperation,” that is a cooperative -- much like the cooperatives of the Finnish people in the Deer River area.
12. To the Leech Lake Reservation, not just to Leech Lake proper.
13. "Nationals" are laborers from the country of Mexico ("the Mexico Mexicans"), as opposed to Spanish-speaking Chicanos from Texas who Paul refers to as Texans or the "Texas bunch." "Mexicans" are members of either of the Spanish-speaking groups.
14. The "field worker" was basically a crew chief that would work with the laborers in the field. One of his responsibilities was to translate for the Spanish-speaking laborers, between the folks from the company in "the office," the farmer, and other laborers.
15. Many legends notwithstanding, fry bread has in more recent times been called a "Nontraditional 'Traditional' Food" with claims that its popularity essentially sprang from a mid-20th century "Americanized Trading Post Diet" among the Navajo. Others disagree. (Mihesuah, 2016.) Sean Sherman, "The Sioux Chef" (Oglala Lakota) suggests, "“Fry bread is a simple food but also a difficult symbol . . . connecting the present to the painful narrative of our history. It originated . . . when the U.S. government forced our ancestors from the homelands they farmed, foraged, and hunted, and the waters they fished. . . . They lost control of their food and were made to rely on government-issued commodities. . . . Fry bread represents perseverance and pain, ingenuity and resilience. . . . Yet, fry bread contributes to . . . a recipe for chronic illness and pain.” (quoted in d'Errico, 2017.)
The controversy surrounding fry bread developed since Paul walked on.
16. "When I was in Dakota, on the Dakota side" refers to being essentially in Dakota Territory and on the (State of) Dakota side of the Red River (the Red River of the North). Paul's orientation is primarily with reference to the river and not to state or municipal boundaries, with Grand Forks, ND-East Grand Forks, MN being the North-South reference point. See also footnote #8.
17. Paul refers to an insignia as an "insing."
18. Globe Iron Works at Duluth was incorporated as the Globe Duluth Iron Works in 1918.
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