E. J. Finney
Businessman And County Commissioner
Keith E. Finney
When people write about the achievements of other persons, they are usually reluctant to tell where they came from and how they gained their prominence. I would like to start by telling you about E. J. Finney's ancestors and their adventures on the way to the United States and finally into the Red River Valley.
Edward John's (E.J.) father, John Finney, was the youngest of a very large family. John's mother and father came to the United States by boat from England and Ireland. They settled in the state of New York when they first arrived in the U.S. While they were living in New York, John and his brothers and sisters were orphaned at a very early age. The children were very young, but they managed to survive many hardships and became strong healthy people. John joined the cavalry when he became of proper age to do so. While he was in the cavalry, John took the chance to move as far west as the Dakotas. After he had lived and roamed the Dakotas for some time, he decided to head back to Northern Iowa. John seemed to like traveling and because he did like to travel, he knew many people in the North - Central United States.
John just couldn't seem to stay within the U.S. boundaries. He just had to get out and see more of the world. He traveled and traveled till he had finally reached the Canadian Province of Ontario. While he was in Ontario, John seemed to be cursed with love, because he fell in love with a Canadian girl. She didn't know that she had caught a traveling man though. John and Sara Lightfoot were married in Ontario and immediately started a family. Their first two children were girls. Their names were Betsy Ann and Mary Jane Finney. This is where E. J. Finney came into the picture. E. J. was born December 14, 1866.
By the time E.J. was four years old, his father had developed the urge to move again. This move took John and his family to northern Iowa for a stay of eight years.
E.J. was twelve years old when they moved to Minnesota. His father had heard that Minnesota was opening up to people for homesteading, so he took his family, which by this time had grown to a healthy nine, northward to Emerson, Manitoba. They traveled up the Mississippi River by boat as far as they could. Then they came by train and horseback on to their settlement east of present, St. Vincent, Minnesota. They did not live on their settlement until after they had lived in Emerson for a year.
E.J. told his children many stories about hard work, and sleeping in attic-like rooms where they woke up in the mornings with snow on their beds and ice in the wash basins. They took their farm produce to Emerson to sell to the elevators and merchants. They would sometimes have to walk to and from Emerson after a long hard day of work.
E.J's sister, Mary, who worked in the hotel in Emerson, developed a case of diphtheria at the early age of seventeen and passed away. Another sister, Martha Ellen, died at one month and a brother, Henry Allen, died at an early age of eighteen years.
E.J., his brother, George, and his brother, Emory, were married to the three Thompson sisters, Olive, Maud and Hannah. E.J. and Hannah had two little girls; Verna Maud, born September 17, 1892 and Olive May, born July 13, 1894. Verna died April 26, 1893, at the age of seven months and Olive died November 22, 1894 at the age of four months. Hannah passed away shortly after Olive had passed away.
Three years after the death of E.J.'s first wife, Hannah, he met and soon married Mary Margaret Fitzpatrick. E.J. settled down on his own homestead at the location we now farm, and started to raise a family of three. He set his buildings on the plot that his son and my father farmed up until his death in 1969. This claim is about three miles north of Humboldt, Minnesota and about five miles west of St. Vincent.
E.J. and Mary raised a hearty family of three. They had two daughters and one son. The first born was a boy, Edward Ward Finney. Edward Ward, my father, was born July 13, 1901. Edward Ward was more commonly known as "Ward" Finney. The second child in the family was a girl, Clara Mae Finney. Clara was born in 1904. Clara was married to Raymond Kothe of Lancaster. The third child, a daughter, was born in 1910. She was named Mildred Finney. Mildred grew up and was married to Dr. Anthony S. Berlin who was a doctor in Hallock, Minnesota for some time.
When Ward was eighteen, Clara was fifteen and Mildred was nine, E.J. and Mary decided to move to St. Vincent. They sold their farm to Madge Peterson who had come to Kittson County from Nebraska.
When E.J. got to St. Vincent, he got the urge to start up an implement store. This store was just across the street from Sylvester's store, which stands in St. Vincent today. The store had been formerly owned by a member of the Lapp family. Three years after E.J. had started his business, his building caught fire and burned to the ground. The building was a total loss. He never did rebuild his establishment.
E.J. was a man who liked to be totally involved at all times. He liked to help the people around him. E.J. was elected to the office of Vice President to serve on the St. Vincent Elevator Company's Board of Directors. In the early twenties, E.J. was elected to the office of County Commissioner of the Fifth District. He held the office for a period of twenty years. It was through E.J. Finney's efforts, that the present bridge that spans the Red River, was erected. E.J. was the secretary-treasurer of the Northern Telephone Company. He was also an insurance agent for Fireman's Insurance of Newark, New Jersey. E.J. had his insurance agency right in St. Vincent. E.J. lived a very exciting life of his own in the political and business fields.
E.J. had his own unique ways of enjoying life to its fullest extent. He was a great stock market fan and enthusiast. He had many stocks in some of the leading companies. Some of these were the Packard Automobile Company and Sinclair Oil. He played the stock market more for enjoyment than for profit.
After a long, hard, but enjoyable life, E.J. and Mary began to age very quickly. Mary developed a bad case of arthritis and became bed ridden very unexpectedly. Because of Mary's illness, E.J. decided to find a place in Hallock in which to live. In 1943, E.J. and Mary finally found a room above the Farmer Store in Hallock. They lived there until E.J. passed away on January 9, 1952, from an embolism. Mary's death followed the same year on November 6, 1952.
E.J. lived a very fruitful and adventurous life. He had many memories from the time he was a little boy in Canada, a young man in Iowa, and a settler in the Red River Valley. He had memories of his many travels and also of the farmers using horses for all of their work, because there were no tractors or steam engines. He could also tell you all about steam engines and the numerous, large threshing crews. He had memories of trips to school in snow covered sleds, using foot warmers and fur blankets to keep warm. The hard coal stoves, the Indians, homemade, wash days with the hand washed clothes hung out on a clothes line to dry, and lots of warmth, love, and generosity.
They had very little, but gave all they had, to the future. All he had for transportation was a sleigh and a buggy. It is really a wonder how they managed to survive, but they did and we as a generation are flourishing from the work of our forefathers.
E.J. told his children many stories of interest. He once said that St. Vincent had two and three hotels, many saloons, and was quite a prosperous town. He told them of the fort across the river, known as "Fort Pembina." He said that the fort was to protect the people from any and all violence. He also told about a shoot-out with one of Jessie James' gang in one of the Pembina hotels. These stories will always be recorded in the minds of generations to come. And they all started in the mind of a great man, who saw the facts come and go with his own eyes.
These stories shall never be forgotten, nor shall we forget the man who saw it all happen and helped to develop the Red River Valley into a prosperous place in which to live. This man, who shall never be forgotten, is my grandfather, who worked for me and for you.
Mrs. A. S. Berlin, Anaheim, California. "Interview" January 11, 1971
Mrs. E. W. Finney, Humboldt, Minnesota. "Interview" January 3, 1971
Mrs. E. W. Finney, Humboldt, Minnesota. "Interview" January 12, 1971