The strands of history about this little Kickapoo River town reach out to other places. The history of a place like La Farge is really a compilation of many stories about people and families – people and families who came to this place, lived in this place and moved from this place. Those family stories may be entrenched in the lore of the Kickapoo Valley or they may stretch out to places far away.
There is a condo unit on Curtis Lane in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Inside the condo, a thirteen-year old boy slouches in a lounge chair in the downstairs den. He is killing time until he has to go off to hockey practice, trading Tweets with his friends on his phone and casually watching TV.
In a corner of the room, off to the boy’s left, is a cabinet. It is a corner cabinet constructed a half century ago. It is a cabinet of that time; its purpose to show off prized dishes, photographs or other keepsakes of the family. Some would call it a fancy knick-knack shelf, but its purpose was nobler, so perhaps corner china cabinet could be used when identifying it.
The cabinet stands forty-two inches high and is nineteen inches wide. It has four triangular shelves including its base piece. The front of the cabinet is mainly a wooden door with a frame around it. The door is affixed to the frame with brass hinges and a clasp to secure it for opening and closing. The door itself is a large pane of glass supported by another wooden frame. The other two sides of the cabinet, hidden from view when it is placed in a corner, are pieces of tin tacked onto the front frame. The two tin back pieces are wrapped around a wooden support piece that forms the ninety-degree angle that allows the cabinet to fit into a corner. Each of the shelves is also anchored to the support piece. One end piece on the cabinet is also made of tin. The other end piece, either the bottom of the cabinet if it is hung from the ceiling in a corner or the top of the cabinet if it is placed on the floor, is made of the same pinewood as the front. All of the wood is stained a dark brown. The interior wooden shelves and tin backing has been painted a pale yellow-green to show off the contents displayed in the cabinet.
The cabinet was made over fifty years ago in the workshop of a house on Maple Street in La Farge. The corner cabinet was one of several made by the retired farmer for family and friends. The man who constructed the cabinets in the spare time of his old age was named Emery. The boy who sits next to the corner cabinet in Eden Prairie is also named Emery. He is the great-great grandson of the Emery who made the cabinet. The cabinet is a strand that connects the two, as is the name. (Another great-grandson of the cabinetmaker also carries the name.)
The man who made the cabinet was the first son born in Wisconsin to a family who moved from Ohio. He grew up on a farm on Morning Star Ridge and as a young man, he and his brother, carrying axes on their shoulders, walked down to the Kickapoo Valley to do winter work at the lumber mill there. As they trimmed the fallen trees, they earned fifty cents a day. When they brought a horse from their farm along to help skid the trimmed logs to the river, their pay increased to a dollar and a half a day. It was hard work, not in this century, nor the last, but in the century before that. The man who made the corner cabinet spent most of his life working with wood in one form or another. His skills with wood became a strand that still reaches us today – whether in the barns that he helped build or the corner cabinets he made.
The boy named Emery jumps up when he hears the sound of a car horn and an SUV stopping on the street out in front of the condo. He picks up his duffle bag and dashes out the door into the garage to catch his ride to practice. As the door slams, the vibrations reach to another corner of the downstairs den, where the branches of a Christmas cactus shudder. The plant is flowering for the season and is another strand that is connecting families, places and time.
The Christmas cactus is a cutting from a plant, over a century old, that is in a house on Highland Street in La Farge. That host plant is also blooming with flowers to mark the season. A mother passed a cutting from the cactus on to her daughter. It is a strand connecting two members of a family and two places far apart. The Christmas cactus in La Farge now has main branches larger than a man’s thumb and covered with bark like on a tree. The cactus has served for the host of many other cuttings for family and friends and reaches back to another time in the past. It is a strand of history reaching back to a house on the hill overlooking the Kickapoo River at a place called Seelyburg.
At one time or another most of the men who lived in the house on the hill worked for the vast operations producing lumber at the mill located there on the river. One of the sons, Jesse, married and his wife Millie brought the Christmas cactus to their new household. Jesse lived for a century and most of the one hundred years of his life was spent near the Kickapoo and La Farge. His family formed a fife and drum corps to help celebrate those who had fought in the Civil War. Jesse was born in 1865, the year that the war ended. The family fife and drum corps played for GAR Reunions and 4th of July Celebrations in Seelyburg, La Farge and in many other places around the area. Jesse’s drum that he played in the fife and drum corps at those celebrations remains as a strand to that time.
The cactus had been in Jesse’s family for generations, perhaps brought to the Kickapoo Valley from a former home in the East. It always seems to have been in the Kickapoo Valley as part of the family. Jesse and Millie’s granddaughter now has the Christmas cactus (with its red flowers starting to bloom) in the house on Highland Street, passed on to her by her Aunt Esther. Now a great granddaughter of Jesse’s has another part of it in Eden Prairie. So the cactus in its various forms connects the members of the family, moving back in time to the time of first settlement of the Kickapoo Valley from other places and forward to the thriving suburb of the Twin Cities.
History is the telling and sharing of the stories of people and places. The corner cabinet and the Christmas cactus have stories to tell – strands to the past that continue to connect us to a former time and another place.