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James Ross: An Unsuccessful Farmer


Debbie Dykhuis


It seems as though most people who came to the Red RiverValley found success or at least partial success in farming, but here isthe story of a man and his family who were not successful in farming butcame through it with their heads held high.

James Ross, my great grandfather, was born June 8, 1876,to Thompson and Margaret Ross. He was the oldest of eight children. Thompsonwas a Scottish emigrant and Margaret a German emigrant. At the time ofJames' birth, they were living near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. When he wasa small boy, the family pulled up stakes and moved on to Iowa. Perhapsit was the urge to move West that made them decide to move on. His parentsfarmed there and naturally that's where he grew up. He helped his fatherfarm there and also taught school in the area of Dows, Iowa.

In 1903, James decided to move to Minnesota to make hisfortune selling wild hay. He and his brother Felix came to a town namedFoxhome which turned out to be James's home for almost the entirety of hislife. Foxhome at that time was the wild hay selling capital of the world. Their means of transportation was the train which almost everyone rodeif they wanted to get anywhere in a hurry. All the two boys brought withthem were their personal belongings. As it turned out, one couldn't makemoney if one didn't have a lot in the first place so the whole wild haybusiness was very discouraging for both of them. After about a year anda half of hard luck, Felix decided to go back home to Iowa, but James stayedon. The location of Foxhome is about thirteen miles east of Breckenridgein Wilken County. This is approximately where the Bois de Sioux and theRed River run together or meet.

In 1904, he met Elsie Delight Russell, who also lived inIowa; however, he met her in Foxhome. He married her on March 15, 1905.

From that time on, they rented farms, a different one almostevery year. He had really hard luck the whole time he farmed. One reasonwas because the soil was alkaline. It seemed as though he was the onlyone who had that problem.

In 1906, their first of eight children was born. It wasa little boy, William. He was to be followed by a brother, Russell. In1908, twins were born, Margaret and Francis, a girl and a boy.

Then, in 1909, the children and James, their father, werevery, very ill with whooping cough which resulted in the death of Francis. Elsie, their mother, wasn't sick and she was left to care for her sickfamily and take care of the animals, too. To make things more difficult,she was expecting another baby very soon.

Soon after, another baby, a little girl named Naomi, wasborn.

Then, in 1910, a great historical event which really hasnothing to do with the family, but is worthy of mention was Halley's Comet. My grandmother, Margaret, remembers her mother telling of a neighbor whowas so afraid the world was coming to an end that he climbed on top of ahaystack and set it on fire. The fire got hot and he hopped off the otherside and was the subject of jest and friendly ridicule for a long time after.

In 1911, there was another addition to the family, anotherlittle boy named Raymond. In 1912, there was a little girl, Esther, born.

Then, in 1913, James purchased his first farm. That musthave been a really great thing for him. At last, maybe he would be ableto get somewhere. His farm was already established meaning that there wasalready a house built and a barn, shed, well, house and granary. Theirhouse had four rooms which now would hardly accommodate so many people butit didn't seem to be too bad. Their farm consisted of one hundred sixtyacres of land. He had about one hundred to one hundred fifty head of cattle,horses, hogs, and chickens. My grandma remembers the house looking so bigcompared to where they lived before.

In 1915, the last one of their children was born, a littlegirl named Ruth.

The personalities of James and Elsie were much different. He was a stubborn, short tempered, hard working man. Elsie was altogetherdifferent. She was very tolerant of other's opinions. She was always satisfiedwith what she had and learned to be happy. They were both real religious,she probably more so than he.

Like most children those days, the children got most ofthe childhood diseases most children got. One thing that was quite unusualwas that Foxhome had a doctor that practices there and also a pharmacy. This was really convenient.

The kids were also quite mischievous. One of the mostfun things they did that they weren't supposed to do when they were kidswas to ride the calves. They were fun loving as most children are but wereduly punished. The razor strap was kept well polished with all the spankingsadministered with it.

There was really not much time to play as they had a lotof chores to do. When they did play, they played by themselves mostly orthey'd dress up. When my grandma (Margaret) and her sister, Naomi, werea little older, they used to sit in the buggy and memorize poetry.

The chores the children had to do were, the boys were expectedto care for the animals and then work the fields when older. The girlshad most household responsibilities girls have today. The little kids fedthe chickens and other little tasks they could do.

The children walked across the prairie one mile to schoolevery day. They never hardly missed a day. All the children finished grammarschool in the country and then went on to high school.

In 1918, the family was stricken with illness once more. A flu called the Spanish influenza came down upon the whole nation. Itdidn't miss the James Ross family either. In September, the first memberof the family got it and it was January before the last was over it. Wholefamilies were wiped out by it and it was hard to get a doctor. The symptomswere, the joints ached, upset stomach and it generally weakened you. Again,everyone but Elsie was sick.

Another event of 1918, was that a tornado struck FergusFalls, about fifteen miles from Foxhome. My grandma can remember the greenishcolor of the clouds and the way they rolled. That tornado killed quitea few people and whole parts of the town were demolished.

In 1923, there was a big three day blizzard that particularlystands out in my grandma's mind. She remembers that they had to burn potatoesto keep warm.

Otherwise, the weather there was hardly different thanhere. These were only two storms my grandma remembers.

One of the things that the family did every week was tomake a trip to town. They went to Fergus Falls about three times a yearbut made a trip to Foxhome about once a week. Their farm was about fivemiles from Foxhome. Foxhome had two general stores, a post office, bank,saloon, two hotels, three grain elevators, and a pool hall. The town stillexists and has a population of about 150.

Great-grandpa Ross was also quite a socialite. He wasactive in church. He was Sunday school superintendent and served on thechurch board. He spoke at Women's Christian Temperance Union Meetings,Anti-Saloon League meetings, and fourth of July celebrations. As you cansee, he must have been quite eloquent. Their family attended the MethodistChurch every Sunday possible. He also served as town clerk and served onthe school board for many years.

As soon as the children were old enough, they left home,much to their father's dismay. After all the children were gone, Jamesand Elsie remained on the farm

For about six or seven years before 1942, when she diedshe was afflicted with diabetes and heart trouble. She had always saidshe hoped none of her boys would ever have to go to war. It was duringWorld War II that Raymond had to go. He left in March, she had a heartattack soon after and died on May 17. As it turned out, he was only infor a year and a half, never had to fight, got the mumps and got a medicaldischarge.

After that, great-grandpa really aged. He continued tolive on the farm until one night he awoke to smoke and the house burned. After that, he lived around with the kids but didn't like that so he wentinto an old folks home. He found he didn't like that either because allthe other people spoke Scandinavian and he couldn't understand it. William,his oldest boy took him to Kentucky to live with him. He died there onFebruary 3, 1955.

All the children, except Francis, survive today. Theyall married, also. William works for cattle and horse associations in Kentuckyand Tennessee; Russell is a preacher at a mission in Sheridan, Wyoming;Margaret was a school teacher, registered nurse and telephone operator. Naomi, was a teacher, Raymond is a preacher and a carpenter in Kentucky,Esther is a registered nurse and resides in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Ruthworked as an occupational therapist in an insane asylum in Fergus Falls. All the girls were housewives as well as their other occupations.

That is the story of a man and his family who tried tomake a go of farming in the great Red River Valley and were unsuccessfulbut didn't give up. James Ross was too proud to give up. He accepted thefact that it wouldn't be easy and worked hard to do as well as he did. He was a man who stood up for what he felt was right and was one to letpeople know about it. He may have been an unsuccessful farmer but his life,to me, was far from unsuccessful. I'm proud to look back at him and hispioneer family and I'm sure the rest of my family is too.


Dykhuis, Margaret, Humboldt, Ill. Interviewed, January5, 1974

Hanson, Margaret, Virginia City, Interviewed, January 3,1974


Dykhuis, Margaret, Humboldt, Ill. Interviewed, January5, 1974

Hanson, Margaret, Virginia City, Interviewed, January 3,1974