Wednesday, March 9, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy, Week 10: Disaster by Fire

Thank you to Amy Coffin of the  We Tree for the series 52 Weeks of Personal History & Genealogy.  My topic for Week 10 is: Disaster by Fire.

On February 17, 2011 I wrote about the Sigford home on Matney Way. My mother's parents suffered a great loss and in many ways never fully recovered from the effects of the fire that took the only home they ever owned. Not only were they nearly fifty years old, but in just a few short years they would be devastated by the Great Depression. They were also caught in the changing times; the burgeoning industrialized world had little use for their skill set of ranching, farming, and horse drawn transportation.

A few years earlier, in October, 1918, my father's parents suffered a similar catastrophe. At that time, the close-knit McPherson clan lived in close proximity to one another in the area around Little Falls, Minnesota. Jabez' older brother Jim had lost his wife and then moved in with his parents so they could help raise the family – and Jim to help support his aging parents. They all lived fairly close to Crow Wing Lake, which was the site a a well-photographed family get-together the previous summer.

At the time of the fire, my Uncle Ralph was about 14 years old and the fire was indelibly etched in his mind. The following is hs account of the fire that burned their house to the ground:

The year 1918 was quite a year, 1st Bertha & Cecil were married. Dad had the Newman & Foster places under rent. Walt & Grace Mc lived on the foster placer we worked the land. Walt & his family moved to Little Falls in the spring of 1918 & Dad rented the house to a Norwegian couple & also early that Fall Clare was going to give up his lease on the Clute place in the spring of 1919 so Dad leased the Clute place & to take possession in the spring of 1919. In July of 1918 a family from Montana bought the Newman place. Our lease wasn’t up till Jan of 1919 so Newman gave Dad 250.00 to move by Sept meanwhile Dad sold 6 of the cows & a team of horses with a few other things to the family from Montana. We moved into the place by the lake. It was 17 rooms & was really built for two familys as both Clare & Goldie & Elmer Schamp & his family both lived there before the grandfolks. We were all moved there stock & everything by Oct 1sr. Gladys or Jerry as she liked to be called was married in that house the day it burned down.

On there wedding day it was snowing, Clare & Walt were both out west but there were about 30 people there for the wedding not counting the kids. I was upstairs changing into my suit of clothes when I heard someone yet the house is on fire. I run down the stairs & outside & looked up & the whole roof was a fire. I run back up stairs & change into my work clothes again & instead of throwing everything I could out the window I left everything upstairs. With that much help we got everything out downstairs, I can still seek like carrying the stoves out with fire still in them. It was still a big loss because there was 600 bushels of potatoes, 100 gal of sorgham 700 to 800 jars of fruit in the cellar besides most of the bedding , clothes & so forth besides a tough winter to get thru, we had another house a mi from there to move to but all the stock & fee had to stay at the place on the lake so it was a chore to go over twice a day to milk & take care of the animals.

We were able to stay over at the Wright farm while the Petersons were able move off of the Foster place that winter. They got out in a couple of weeks so we could have it, The only thing was all the food for the stock was on the place by lake so we only kept 1 team on the Foster Place that winter but it was quite a chore going back & forth between the two places to milk & do the chores twice a day.

By 1922, the idyllic life by Crow Wing Lake was gone. With all of their belongings and eight of their 10 children packed into their 1914 Studebaker touring car, my grandparents, Jabez and Elizabeth McPherson began their long trek to California. [Note: One daughter and her husband were already living in Calipatria, and the baby of the family would not be born for another three years.]

In many ways, the fire of 1918 affected my McPherson grandparents as the later fire of 1921 affected my Sigford grandparents. Both men were in their fifties and their best working years were behind them. Although my McPherson grandfather was a bit more comfortable in the automobile age, he had spent his life “wheeling 'n' dealing” with horses, cards, and hard physical work. After the Great Depression had lifted, the jobs available were made for living in a different world than he knew – just as they were for Frank, my Sigford grandfather.

* * *
For other postings on Gladys/Jerry and the tragic shooting of her father and grandmother, see the following:

Shooting Deaths
Newspaper Account of Sentencing
Tragedy in the Life of Jerry Rose


  1. Joan, how sad. Your uncle wrote a nice report, considering he was a teenager. I would imagine a lot of old photos and papers were destroyed as well, that's another shame.