THE F. PLUMMER STORY
By Elva Birkett (nee Plummer)
I, Elva Juanita (Ramsbottom) Birkett, was born in Martin County, Minnesota. My father, Francis Marion Plummer, was a farmer, and what was called a "quack veterinarian". My mother, Anna Helena Strandberg, was born in Sweden, and learned tailoring as a young girl.
We lived in Martin County till I was twelve years old, when Father began looking for another place to go, as land was getting very highly priced, and it was hard to make a living. He looked at places in South Dakota, but on coming back from there, decided to visit a man named Frank Pinder, who lived near Hopkins, Alberta, at that time. He became very enthusiastic about homesteading, and filed on the place we finally moved onto.
Father, of course, traveled by box-car on the railroad, so that he could care for his horses. My mother, brother and myself came by passenger train. I remember we had to change trains in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and it was so very cold; the air seemed blue to us. I also remember a big box lunch from which my brother and I ate. My mother, who was pregnant, tried to eat at least one meal a day in the dining car. I recall, too, that we had a meal at a hotel somewhere, at the enormous price of twenty-five cents a plate. Just lots to eat, too!
We were met by Mr. Pinder in Vermilion, Alberta. He put us up with his family until my father could bring out our goods. We rented a place from Mr. Keitges for the first year, as it was November, and too late to build. After planting the crop the next spring, my father built a granary and a barn, as he had brought six horses with photos
My sister was born the last of May in the little granary; I remember Mrs. John Babcock was the midwife. A doctor also had to be called.
We came to the place near Hopkins Store and ferry in the fall of 1911. At that time there was no Elk Point ferry. After we had cleared the thirty acres necessary for proving up on a homestead, we were qualified for our title. My father planted wheat and oats. The oats were cut for horse feed, called "green feed." The wheat when threshed was used for feeding chickens and pigs, but one load was taken to Vermilion to be ground into flour. From it we also got about fifty pounds of what I can only call "cream of wheat." It was possibly not so fine, but it made a delicious hot cereal for breakfast. There was also something called "shorts," and bran and a few sacks of very dark flour, not suitable for bread. In regards to the hazards of farming, I would say that the short season was the biggest stumbling block.
Buildings in those early years consisted of logs, with usually a sod roof. I could not tell you how to thatch a roof, or make an oven, but I have plastered a barn with mud! Of course, at that stage of the game, everyone had outdoor toilets. Water had to be carried from the well, and in winter would often be frozen solid in the bucket in the mornings. (The bread would also be frozen, so one had to thaw it out before it could be sliced.) The laundry was done in a galvanized wash-tub, on a wash-board. If you were affluent enough to own one, you boiled the clothes in a wash-boiler. Lighting was by coal oil lamps, and heating equipment consisted of a cast-iron heater that would hold a log about two feet long. With the help of the wood cook stove, one could manage to keep warm.
The granary - our first home on the homestead, built in 1912.
Because my father really liked to hunt, we were not short of meat. Nearly everyone in the family could shoot a .22 rifle. My mother used to go out and shoot a partridge and cook it for my brother to take for his school lunch. In the winter, any outside room would keep your game frozen, but without refrigeration, you had to depend on wild birds and chickens. But of course, after people were established and had facilities built to hold them, they usually raised a few pigs; and with a few chickens, they had meat and eggs.
My father used a net in the river to catch suckers. Where we came from in Minnesota, we could not have eaten suckers as they tasted too muddy! But where we lived on the river, the water was so fast, and the bottom so clean, that the suckers were a welcome addition to our diet in summer. If one could go further afield, there was good fishing in the lakes. If my memory serves me correctly, they used to catch fish in the lower reaches of Dog Rump Creek at certain times of the year. I understand that Elk Point's water supply comes from this creek. After fifty years, I would say, "Good for Dog Rump Creek!
In those early days, no one bought canned goods. In the winter we lived out of our root cellar, and on home-canned berries. The root cellar was dug into a bank to keep our root vegetables in. It had a small stove. We kept water in a pan in the cellar, and if there was a little skim of ice on the water, we started a fire in the stove. Our pumpkin pies were made of carrots, I remember.
I was the berry picker in the family, as my brother had to go to school. On the homestead on the bank of the Saskatchewan River, saskatoons were abundant. They never seemed to fail to have a crop, and were our mainstay in canned fruit, just as apple sauce is here in the U.S.A. We had high-bush cranberries along the river, and a rather odd-flavored black currant in the ravines. There were chokecherries, too, but I don't think we ever found a way to make chokecherries jell. The best my mother could do with them was to make a thick syrup to put on our pancakes.
We had to walk about a mile for blueberries, which were delicious, but a little harder to find. I used to ride horseback about four miles to a ridge across the sand plain and under the jack pines to find low-bush cranberries. I have since learned that the Scandinavians called them lingonberries. To us, because of their acid content, they were a welcome addition to our bland diet.
My father found there were a lot of wild raspberries around an old saw-mill in a muskeg swamp quite a few miles north of where we lived. He took us all in the lumber wagon on a berry-picking day. We worked hard, and it was quite late when my father decided we should start home. Then, to our dismay, my mother said we had to pick those berries over, or they would get so mushy jolting home that we would never be able to pick out the trash. So we all sat down and worked till nearly dark to clean those berries. They were a rare luxury until my mother got her own tame raspberries started.
When I visited in Elk Point in 1974, my sister-in-law served a delicious jelly, and when I asked what it was made from, she answered, "Pinchberries." Now I have picked every known kind of berry that grew around Elk Point fifty yeart ago, and I never saw or heard tell of a pinchberry. I would find it interesting to know when and where they were first found.
We had to go to Hopkins Store where the ferry was, for groceries. This was about ten miles from where we lived. We shopped in Vermilion, about sixty miles away, for sugar and coal oil, and possibly shoes or other articles of clothing that we otherwise had to order from T. Eaton's catalogue. Ii seemed to require nearly all the cash one could get together in summer to buy clothing to keep us warm in winter.
When you had to travel with horses, one did not go very far. Travelling by lumber wagon was not the epitome of comfort. If you were lucky, you owned a buggy. However, it was such a small vehicle that only two could ride in it, so our family had to use a wagon.
Roads were a disaster area. The only improvement work seemed to be done when people got out and worked out their taxes on the roads. They built "corduroy" roads over the swampy places. These were made of logs laid down and covered with dirt which was hauled on a fresno or scraper pulled by two horses.
There were a few tragic incidents on the river. Once at Hopkins, someone tried to cross a bunch of horses on the ice. It was thought strong enough to hold, and the horses were well strung out. But the ice boomed, as it often did when freezing, and the horses in their fright bunched up, and the ice collapsed. They all drowned. Another time, when the Elk Point ferry was in use and the river was very high, a man with two or three teams of oxen hitched to a load of flour came down the hill a little too fast, and went right into the river under the ferry, and everything was lost. I recall ye another time the ferry broke loose, and people unhitched thE horses and kicked them off, and they swam to shore. The man who ran the ferry stayed with it until they found a place to tie it up, and thus saved it. When the ice broke up the river in the spring, there was sometimes a period of two week when the ferry could not cross the river. If you were not prepared for this, the family could be on short rations for some time.
I still have a picture taken of the little ferry at Elk Point The ferry must have been a service paid for by the government, as I do not remember that we ever paid any fares.
Our mail came to Mrs. Hood's Post Office twice a week and for years was carried by Mr. Caskey.
As for doctors, we had to have someone go to St. Paul de Metis for the doctor to come. It cost a dollar a mile! Then is something to be said for my good health. I never saw doctor for myself, or a dentist, in the six years I lived on thi homestead. My family did have the doctor come when my sister was born, and again when my father was injured by being kicked by a horse.
I was just starting high school when we left Minnesota, the year we moved to Elk Point, and the only way to continue my schooling would have been to move to Vermilion or farther, which was, of course, financially impossible.
The only entertainment was picnics on the first of July, and dances in winter. It also comes to mind that we had some kind of Fair we went to. I know my mother made cakes, pickled carrots and pickled string beans. I cannot remember who sponsored or financed the fairs.
In August, 1917, I married William Ramsbottom. He came from England. He tore down the house his family had lived in when they were staying on his homestead, and built a better house that is still standing. We only lived in it two winters, as we moved to Edgerton, where we worked on a ranch. It was there our eldest son and the twins were born. We then moved to Oregon in the States, where we stayed one year. From there we went to California, where my husband became a very good finishing carpenter. He worked at this trade until he retired here at Healdsburg, California.