Modern Pioneer Family
Willa Cather in her book MY ANTONIA describes the earlypioneers lives in the 1800's and early 1900's. These people were poor andled very rough lives. They didn't have the many conveniences which are soprevalent today. Many people feel that today's modern man has everythingtoo easy. They feel that he is missing some of the enjoyments of life bydoing everything the easy way. People don't seem to realize that there aresome families even today who don't have indoor plumbing, running water andother similar conveniences. One such family was the Merlin Twamley familyof Kittson County.
This family's origin can be traced back to the 1800's whenPeter Twamley, a man of Scotch-Irish descent, settled in Quebec, Canada,with his wife, the former Mary Gillis. She too was of Scotch-Irish descent.They were married in Ireland prior to sailing to Canada. Peter made hisliving by fishing in the St. Lawrence River. Sometime prior to 1883 Peterand Mary moved to Drayton, North Dakota. Among their prized possessionswas a pump organ. In 1884 their first child, Johnwas born. When John was five they moved to Roosevelt, Minnesota. It washere that their second son, Frank,was born. The boys completed an 8th grade education here.
One of the things the young people did at this time wasto hold box socials. The girls packed a box lunch for the occasion. Abouthalf way through the dance the box lunches were auctioned off. As each youngman bought a box he found himself with a lunch as well as a girl. He thenate lunch with her. Of course, sometimes the young men got caught and endedup marrying this girl. This is what happened to John Twamley in 1909. Hebought Henrietta's (Hattie Munro) boxand after they discovered they could polka well together they were marriedthat same year. They lived a short while in Humboldt, Minnesota. Their firstson Merlin, was born in Pembina, North Dakota in 1911. In 1913 their secondchild Rodney was born. Then a tragedy struck. John went blind for no apparentreason. He went to New York only to be told to go to Rochester, Minnesota.After a series of operations, he regained his eyesight but had to wear tintedglasses. After a while he contracted typhoid fever. When he was releasedfrom the hospital after his attack his eyesight was restored and he no longerrequired glasses.
In 1916, their first daughter Goldendene was born. Hattietook all of the children's names from storybooks. The third son, John'snamesake, was born in 1919 and another girl, Margaret, in 1921. On August18, 1943, one of the hottest days of the year, John Twamley passed away.His death was caused by a combination of heart disease and cancer. A strangecoincidence took place seven years later to the day when Hattie passed away.She and John had both lived to be fifty-nine years of age. Little did theyknow then that their first son Merlin and his children would live with theinconveniences they had lived with all their lives. But Merlin was onlyhalf of the team the other half was his wife Lucille.
Lucille's mother, Charlotte Mary Hazilton, was the daughterof Clara and Edward Hazilton. They had five girls and three boys. Charlottewas the first white child born in Hazilton Township, Minnesota which wasnamed after Edward Hazilton her father. When Edward and Clara first arrivedin Hazilton Township it was populated by Indians. But here they homesteadedand cleared the land. Charlotte often told her children how frightened Claraand the children would be when Edward had to go for supplies. After all,it was a four day trip with horses. However after they got to know the Indiansand made friends they got along fine.
Charlotte was married at Brainerd, Minnesota. Her husbandwas Stephen Richard Flanders, the son of Stephen and Elvira Flanders. Theyhad seven boys and two girls. They were homesteaders in Crow Wing County.Stephen and Charlotte took up homesteading near Brainerd. Here Merle andEnid, two of Lucille's sisters, were born. They then moved to Rollag, Minnesota,formed and ran a saw mill. All the rest of the children were born here exceptArlene who was born in Northhome. There were eleven children in all. Theywere as follows: Merle (Swenson), Enid (Swanson), Elvira (Dibble), RichardFlanders, Florence (Dayton), Charlotte (Kelly), Lillian (Mader), Lucille(Twamley), Leonard Flanders, Opal (Mills), Arlene (Becker). Lucille wasborn closer to Hauley, Minnesota than to Rollag. In 1927 Charlotte and Stephenmoved to Northhome where they raised the children and later passed away.They, too, never realized that their daughter and grandchildren would livethe same way they did as early pioneers.
Lucille Flanders and Merlin Twamley were united in marriageat Northhome, Minnesota. Merlin worked for Lucille's father for a shorttime after their marriage. When Merlin was about 14 or 15 years of age,he worked on the weekends for Wm. H. Easter, his uncle, who used to livewhere Garth Symington lives now. Here he helped farm and helped Bill whenhe shipped cattle out of Humboldt, by train. After he quit working for Lucille'sdad, they moved back to the Humboldt area where Merlin worked as a youngman. That winter he again worked for Wm. H. Easter.
That spring Merlin started work for Ralph Reed. He workedhere for several years. The Ward family informed Merlin and Lucille if theywished they could live in a little house that Ward's owned. Here they couldlive rent free. Lucille lived the rest of her life in that house. Merlinworked in the winter time for the Mando Logging Company near Northhome andInternational Falls. At first he cut the trees with an ax or saw and inlater years he was able to take in his cat and bulldozer to remove the treesand make roads for the next spring. With the help of Lawrence Ward, Merlinbought his first cat in Minneapolis or St. Paul. A man from Warren, hauledit up to Humboldt where Merlin started work with it. It was a cat, a dozer,and a scraper. Lawrence Ward and Merlin ran the cat for a year. They builtroads, dug ditches, and dug ponds for the farmers along with other things.They then earned enough to pay for the tractor and Merlin struck out onhis own with his sons. His sons now own and operate Twamley Brothers ConstructionCompany. About 1961 or 1962 Merlin had the most equipment that he ever hador ever will have. He had two ukes, or turnapulls, two patrols, and twocats and dozers plus some scrapers. Of course, all the while Merlin wasout working Lucille wasn't sitting still at home. She had to cook, bake,sew, and take care of her children. Although the children often went withtheir dad while he was working they couldn't all go so Lucille still hadquite a few at home.
Merlin and Lucille had thirteen children; seven boys andsix girls. They are: Merlin Jr. wife Lois-children Hankie and Ray Allen;Ivan Henry wife Betty-children Theresa, Sandra, and Susan; Ralph Alvin-bachelor;Rodney Marion wife Linda-children Stevie and Jeanne; Teddy Armen wife Judy-childrenTravis and Trevor; Marion-deceased April 12, 1952-5 years 0 months 4 days;Margie Lynn husband David-children David Christian and Darci; Clara Janehusband Floyd-child Troy; Cheryl Ann husband Mike-child Tiffany; Danny Ray-inthe Air Force; Linda Carole-Senior in high school; Tommy Merlin-Sophomorein high school; Cindy-in Seventh Grade.
A neighbor of the Twamley's, Agnes Griffith states that,"There wasn't anything Lucille couldn't do. She could cook, sew, andbake very well. When she sewed anything she never used a pattern. Naturallyshe became quite an expert at make-overs. She was an all around housewife."(1)Lucille always made do. The Twamley's never had indoor plumbing or electricityso Lucille always washed her clothes by hand. Agnes said that even withouttoday's modern conveniences Lucille kept her children spotless. Not onlydid she carry out the duties at home but she enrolled the three older girlsin baton twirling class, and sewed their costumes. They never missed eithera practice nor a performance. The boys were also provided for. They wereon the pee-wee basket ball squads. She became a chauffeur for these events.
Five of the older boys began their educational career atJoe River Rural. Merlin Jr. finished 8 years at Joe River then attendedhigh school in Saskatchewan and Crookston. Ivan, who also went 8 years inJoe River, attended high school in International Falls and Hallock. Tedwho only went one year in Joe River became a student in Humboldt for theremainder of his school days.
Ralph after 8 years of Joe River became a Crookston Agriculturalstudent. Rodney who completed 6 years at Joe River, 4 years at Humboldtfinished grade 11-12 at Crookston. Agnes recalls when he graduated thatshe and Lucille were to attend graduation exercises. They felt that it wasa long ways a way so they left Humboldt at 6 AM to get to Crookston. Theyhad quite a wait before the graduation started, but they were so excitedafter all that was really something. Nowadays people think nothing of goingto Crookston. When people get excited about going places like Lucille andAgnes did just a few years ago they are usually going to Spain or England.One of Lucille's big excitements about the trip was that she had saved enoughmoney to purchase a record. She just loved Johnny Cash so she bought oneof his records and just couldn't wait to get it home to play it.
Lucille had her own little record player which she oftengot out and played. She was a great music lover and she loved to sing. Herchildren can still remember her working around the house singing. If shesang a silly song, which she often did, she stopped what she was doing andstarted to laugh as she was very good natured. Margie the oldest daughterrecalls so many "fun" incidents, such as the afternoon all thechildren and Lucille sat by the pond and watched the ducks many antics.It seems that Lucille had the rare ability to enjoy the real things in lifethat so many 1972 people pass by on their snowmobiles and cars.
Lawrence Ward said, "Both Merlin and Lucille werealways happy. They were always kind and thoughtful. They were always helpingsomeone else out." (2) This same thing was said by many different neighborsof the Twamley's. One of the neighbors went so far as to say, "I neversaw Merlin mad, he always had that big grin on his face." Sure theTwamley's had inconveniences but they never let it get them down.
They had an outhouse that had to be filled in every sooften and a new one dug. There was ice to break on the well in the winter.If the well froze too solid snow was melted to provide drinking, cookingand washing water. They also had a shortage of sleeping space. This wassolved in the summer time by the older boys sleeping in an old "bunkhouse".In later years they bought an old trailer house and slept in it. The childrenmay have been crowded but they sure had fun. Imagine having twelve brothersand sisters to play with. Of course, when the younger children grew up someof the older boys left home. They were in the Army or Navy. But there wasstill quite a handful at home. The Twamley's didn't acquire a televisionuntil 1962 or 1963 so one can see the children had to entertain themselves.They couldn't be set in front of a TV and be told to watch Cartoons untildinner time. One convenience the Twamley's enjoyed was a telephone whichthey acquired around 1955. This came in handy for the last two children'sbirths.
The older children's birthplaces were varied. Merlin Jr.was born at Northhome and Ivan at International Falls. Ralph, Rodney, Teddyand Margie were born in St. Vincent at home. Clara, Cheryl, and Danny wereborn at Albert Fitzpatrick's Nursing Home in St. Vincent. Linda in Altona,Manitoba, Tommy in the Hallock Hospital, and Cindy in Emerson, Manitoba.So the children were born in several counties as well as countries.
It must have been quite a chore to feed that size family.Bread had to be baked every day so there was fresh bread for the next day.A huge kettle of potatoes had to be peeled for each meal. Lucille and Merlinalways had a huge garden which helped to curb expenses. Even so this familyrequired a lot of food and it took a genius like Lucille to plan out eachmeal to the best taste as well as the best economical advantage.
Lucille saved on haircuts by cutting all the hair in thefamily whenever it needed it. If someone needed a new suit, shirt, or dressan old one was always ripped up and became a new one. Lucille was alwaysambitious. One neighbor states "I can remember Merlin always sayingLucille could track a deer better than a man." Lucille was quite anoutdoorsman. She loved to walk in the woods. She sometimes hired out asa guide to hunters to show them where to get a deer. She loved to go withneighbor women berry picking. They picked whatever berries were in season,whether they were choke cherries, plums, or June berries, they picked them.Agnes Griffith says she remembers when they did this and she said they "madethe best jam in Kittson County". She remembers them picking and fillingtheir pails in between running after their kids. People who take on thismuch nowadays are giants or so they seem but Lucille and Merlin weren't.
Lucille stood about five feet three and she had a darkishbrown hair. Merlin on the other hand stood about five foot eight or fivefoot nine. When he was young he had red hair which most of his childreninherited. But he lost his hair young so remained bald most of his life.So they were very normal people who had to do with little or nothing.
They had a stove downstairs, it burnt fuel oil, which hadto be poured in the stove tank every morning and every night. One of thechildren went to start the stove one time and it blew up in her face. Shedidn't get too badly burned and wasn't scarred, so she was very lucky. Thechildren's baths were always given to them in front of the stove in thewash tub with water heated on the stove. Even this ritual proved to be alot of fun.
It took quite a while to bathe all the children beforebedtime. Lucille was ambitious and loved each child very much. No childwas ever neglected. Lucille died April 14, 1961 of a kidney disease latein pregnancy.
Merlin and the children then tried to fend for themselvesafter Lucille's death. This was quite difficult as Merlin had to be gonequite a bit, trying to make a living for his family. Therefore the childrenhad to be left alone. At this time the older ones learned to take care ofthe younger ones. All the children but one were in school so they weren'thome during the day. The children used to take turns babysitting for theirlittle sister till one of the neighbors started to take care of her. Thenwhen one of the older brothers came back from the service, he and his wifetook the child back with them.
When the children ran low on groceries and no one was thereto take them to the store they walked about six miles to Noyes with thesled to haul groceries home. Then when Merlin or one of the boys came theypaid for the groceries. During this time the children learned to fend forthemselves. They too learned that you had to break the ice off the wellbefore getting water. Some of them became quite expertin getting the pail full the first time. The children always had their petsto keep them company if they got lonely, as well as their brothers and sisters.All their lives they had pets, they had: Two pigs, a goat, many dogs, cats,rabbits, ducks, fox, a cow, and even a horse at some time or other. SinceMerlin worked long hours and quite often away from home, the children learnedto adjust their lives. Finally it became next to impossible for the childrento stay there any longer so on October 16, 1964 they were all put in foster-homes.There were seven of them left at home at the time. The rest were all eithermarried or were living away from home. The oldest went to a home with thetwo youngest. The next two oldest girls went in a home together as theywere almost like twins. The other two stayed in separate homes. This wasquite a change for these children to make especially for the older oneswho were used to doing what they thought was right in raising the otherchildren.
Merlin was killed in a car accident June 12, 1970. Allthe children are still living except Marion who was a blue baby and diedApril 12, 1952.
Maybe the characters in Willa Cather's book MY ANTONIAdid have a rough life. But it is still possible to live with little or noconveniences today as Merlin, Lucille and their children proved by livingthe life of the 1800's in the late 1900's. I am proud to say that Merlinand Lucille were my mother and father.
(1) Griffith, Agnes-Interview, January 1972
(2) Ward, Lawrence-Interview, January 1972
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Griffith, Agnes and Hughie-January 1972
Ward, L.C.-January 1972
The original essay was reproduced for this webpage by Danand Bette Dawn Twamley
Griffith, Agnes and Hughie-January 1972
Ward, L.C.-January 1972
The original essay was reproduced for this webpage by Danand Bette Dawn Twamley