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Wm. Nelson Finney: Early Pioneer to Kittson County


Norma Finney

Many people have contributed to the makings of the Red River Valley. Two of these people were my Great-Grandfather, John Finney, and my Grandfather Nelson Finney.

Great-Grandpa John Finney came to the United States from Ireland during the potato famine in 1845. He came with his two brothers to live with their sister in Brooklyn, New York. Their parents had died earlier in Ireland.

The family kept in contact until the Civil War. Great-Grandpa joined the army when he was sixteen. One winter was spent at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The next summer he was with the troops that stopped an uprising of Brigham Young's in Utah.

Sometime after the war Great-Grandpa married. He and his wife settled at McGregor, Iowa. His wife was Sarah Lightfoot, an English woman.

They lived in Iowa until 1878 when they decided to move to Southern Iowa. The steamboat that was destined for Southern Iowa was two days late. When Great-Grandpa found out that the Manitoba Territory was being opened up, the family took the first train north to St. Paul, Minnesota. From St. Paul they boarded another train to Fishers Landing, which was at that time the end of the Great Northern Railroad. At Fishers Landing they boarded a steamboat which took them to Grand Forks and up the Red River to Emerson, Manitoba. As Grandpa once said,"If that steamboat had been on time at McGregor, Iowa, I would not be a citizen of Kittson County today."

They arrived in Emerson, Manitoba, in April of 1878. The first summer they lived one mile east of Emerson. That summer Great-Grandpa worked in Emerson. The next year they moved across the border to Section 28 of St. Vincent Township, which is next to the Canadian border.

Great-Grandpa's family consisted of eight children, five boys and three girls. They are John, Emery, George, Allen, Betsy, Mary, Edna and Nelson.

Their schooling was quite different from what it is today. It consisted of three months in the fall and three months in the spring. They attended the Joe River School which was located one-half mile south of their farm.

Two members of Great-Grandpa's family died when they were quite young. Allen died when he was seventeen, and Mary when she was seventeen. They both died from pneumonia.

When Grandpa was between eighteen and twenty years old, he bought his first threshing machine. He did a lot of custom threshing in the fall for many area farmers. In fact, Grandpa operated a thresher for thirty-five years.

During the winter they would go to the Roseau River for wood. There they would cut the wood, and haul it home for the year's supply of fuel. The Roseau River is approximately thirty-five miles east of the farm.

There were a variety of forms of entertainment for the area people. One of the favorites was a gathering at a neighbors farm for a baseball game. Many also enjoyed fishing at the Joe River which was reportedly good. Hunting wild game of the area was also enjoyed by many.

On September 17, 1902, Nelson Finney was united in marriage to Clara H. Yeo, a native of Mitchell, Ontario. Their wedding took place at Hallock, Minnesota. They then made their home on the farm presently owned by Burton Finney.

Grandma Finney was a teacher before she was married. She had taught at Northcote, Donaldson, Joe River, and Hallock. After her marriage, she decided not to continue her teaching career.

Grandpa and Grandma raised a family of six. This family consisted of Eugene, Grace, the late Mrs. L.C. Ward; George, Harold, Burton, and Willis. All the children received their education at Humboldt. Their only daughter, Grace, became a school teacher. She taught for eight years in the area schools.

Grandpa did many things during his long life. In the early 1900's he owned a general store in Humboldt, which was managed by August Anderson. In 1911, he sold his prosperous business to James Florance.

Grandpa was also the area dealer for the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company for a number of years. The business consisted of selling machines and supplying needed repairs. While being the local agent, he was given a chance to travel to Argentina and represent the company as a field man for three years. He was offered $100 per month wages for his service. Grandpa however, turned this offer down. He felt he could not move his family to a new location for such a long period of time.

Grandpa served for 44 years on the Humboldt and Joe River school boards. He was also part owner of one of the first elevators in Humboldt.

From 1920-1924, Grandpa operated the Humboldt elevator. He rented the farm land to the Wilson Brothers and moved the family on to town. Their home was located on the lot now occupied by the Maxwell Standard station. The house was destroyed by fire of unknown origin, on July 6, 1920. The house was a total loss along with all the family belongings. All the family managed to escape the blaze, however.

The family then became the first residents of the newly constructed Methodist Parsonage. They remained in this home until 1924, when they then moved back to the farm and resumed farming operations. Grandpa and Grandma remained in this home for the rest of their lives.

Grandpa was also Director of the First Btate Bank of Humboldt for many years. This was the only bank to survive the Depression of the 1930's. After the depression the bank was moved to Hallock and became known as the Northwestern State Bank.

Grandpa turned the farming operation over to his sons and retired. He still overlooked the work which the boys were doing during his retirement. Grandma continued to grow a beautiful flower garden which she dearly loved. They both continued to be very active Grandpa drove his car up to the age of ninety. In 1958, Grandpa was honored at a Centennial celebration at Hallock, as being one of the oldest citizens of Kittson County.

Grandma died December 9, 1958, after she had suffered a stroke. Grandpa continued to live on the farm alone after her death. He kept up the flowers that Grandma had worked with and loved.

Grandfather died December 18, 1965, of natural causes. He had lived a long and rewarding life.


(1) The Lake Bronson Budget, "Pen Portrait of the Week", April 4, 1957. Volume 55, Number 15, page 1.



Finney, Willis: Interview January 22, 1970 and January 25, 1970

"Pen Portrait of the Week" The Lake Bronson Budget, April 4, 1957, Volume 55, Number, page 1.