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Manitoba History: Excerpts from “Letters from Elkhorn”

Edited by W. J. Fraser

Manitoba History, Number 1, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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Editor's Note: The following excerpts are from the "Letters from Elkhorn" collection submitted to the Manitoba Historical Society by Mrs. Frank Rowan of Miniota, Manitoba with the permission of Mrs. Peg Murphy. Two other letters from this collection appeared in the Summer 1979 issue of Manitoba Pageant. Here a young woman gives her uncle in Scotland a favourable picture of pioneer living in Manitoba.

Norwood (Two Creeks)
Elkhorn P.O., Man.
May, 1884

My Dear Uncle,

... Could you get me a little sprig of heather ... It is so much prized here. I will enclose two little flowers, the first of spring...l am charmed with this country. I would not go back and stay in Scotland again ... Life in the old country would be tame after life in Manitoba ... We have got on surprisingly well, considering everything. The boys have all been at home through the winter. Excepting about two months when John was assisting captain Bogan, there was no work to be had at the railway or anywhere else that they could hear, so they employed themselves at home, cutting and hauling fence posts and firewood, and on terribly cold days they busied themselves indoors making yokes and bows for oxen. Old father made harrows and the boys made a sleigh. Of course that was not bringing in money, but we will not ... need to put it out. We have managed to put past the winter very well. Occasionally we had to go without butter before the cow was giving milk, but we would rather live plain and pay all as we go along. Bob and Jim were down at Elkhorn with potatoes and a few turnips. They also took a load of oats, and tomorrow they take potatoes again. They all sold at 60 cents per bushel; the oats were very very cheap. They were so cheap they thought it would not pay to get the thresher to come, so they took them upstairs and beat them with sticks and sold 100 bushels (only 20 cents per bushel). The rest they are feeding to the cattle. Wheat is the best crop here, but unfortunately we had none. Of course we are only commencing and had not much crop in at all. We had about an acre of potatoes planted and got upwards of 300 bushels. Turnips were a very good crop. We sold a few and got 35 cents average for 60 pounds. We have 25 bushels of seed wheat and the boys intend going across the river on Monday for another 25 or 30. We started the plough on the third of April; the harrows have been going for about a week ...The house is 30 feet by 16, and the kitchen at the back 12 by 12. The logs are squared outside and in and look very nice. We intend burning lime to plaster it. We have lime on the land. But you know, things have to get done by degrees. Our cow is now giving milk and we have a little bull calf. Tell Granny we have 6 hens and one rooster. We get 5 eggs daily now.

Now I will ... give you an idea of how we spend our winters in Manitoba. We have had quite a gay time. In the beginning of the winter I was over at Wilton Grange, Mr. Spence's, and stayed a fortnight. Then Mr. Moffatt's party at Buffered. Then our ones: but you would hear of those before... Father was made a councillor, and the first time he went up to Beulah to the council meeting he stayed with the warden. W. A. Doyle Esquire of Napeyurza. Aleck, Sara, Mag and I were invited to a grand ball at Beulah three nights after. So Mr. Doyle told Father to tell us we were to drive over to his place early in the day and have tea and dress there, and go with Mr. and Mrs. Doyle, Mr. 'ones, their nephew, and Mr. Chew, an Englishman. The ball was given by the bachelors around Beulah, and knowing we had not a team of horses one or two of them volunteered to drive over for us, a distance of 13 miles, but Mr. Thomson was invited, so he said he would drive us. .Well wrapt in buffalo robes [we rode] in the sleigh drawn by Mr. Thomson's team ... After tea [at the Doyle's] we dressed and started for Beulah hall and arrived about 7 o'clock. What astonishment when we entered the hall! A large hall (above Mr Rowsell's store) hung with white and festooned with red, lamps from the ceiling, side lights, a splendid waxed floor and a great many nicely dressed ladies and gentlemen walking to and fro. Mr and Mrs. Doyle introduced us to some and the music began, a violin and organ. Partners for grand march and Circassian circle and off we went. We spent a very pleasant evening. We danced till one; then we had a splendid supper handed around by a few of the gentlemen, then dancing again till 5 o'clock. You understand the people have to come so many miles and cannot go home through the night, the dancing is kept up till morning. Next we got on our wraps and 3 or 4 pairs of stockings, etc., got into the sleigh and off to Napeyurza again, the bells sounding so nicely as we glide along over the snow ... After dinner, Mr Thomson, Aleck. Sara and Madge started for home leaving me on a visit. I stayed weeks and spent a very pleasant time. Mrs. Doyle gave a party and all the people round gave one in honour of me ... We drove in Mr. Doyle's toboggan, drawn by one pony and the pony had a strap across his back with a row of little bells on it. We have fur caps...and buffalo robes to the throat. The toboggan is much nicer than the sleigh ... just like in a small boat. We drove out to Mutual Improvement Meeting Spelling Bees, etc.

One day Mr. Jones ... asked if I should care to drive to the [Indian] reserve ... Arrived at Big Hunter's tepee ... The tepee was very clean and tidy [with] a nice bed clock, cooking stove and ... open fireplace. In one corner a square of the floor is not laid, just the earth. Then right in the corner is clay from the Assiniboine built up in the form of half circle. After it is up about 4 or 5 feet the chimney is begun, all of clay. Then there are half a dozen sticks or so about a yard long laid up against the back and there they blaze away splendidly and what a jolly heat it sends out After ... about half an hour, we shook hands and took our leave, next calling at Soux Jack's. Mr. Jones would not take me in there for there were 3 or 4 Indians sitting smoking ... We started next for Solomon's, the Indian missionary. He is son of that great chief who raised the disturbance some years ago down south ... He got the Bibles and got 2 little girls to read a chapter in Dakota to us, then they sang hymns, also in Dakota ...

We got a letter from Mr. Doyle ... "to the Norwood Choir" (the name he had given us—having us sing anthem; and hymns on the Sunday they were here) saying the Mutual Improvement Association was going to have an evening's entertainment on the Friday and had taken the liberty of placing "The Norwood Choir" on the programme for 4 selections ... Bob, Guy, Sara, Mag and I ... sang "Cast thy Burden on the Lord", "Men of Harleigh" and "Spider and Fly," and then I sang "Kathleen Mavoureen" and "Teddy O'Neal." We had other songs, recitations. readings and dialogue. Altogether we spent a good time, stayed all night at Doyles' and home the next day. Now I think I have given you a pretty good idea how we spend our time ...


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