Mar. 2-4, 1919

If you haven’t read the previous post, titled Mar. 2-8, 1919, read that first by clicking here. The next few installments, including this one, will be the commentary for seven extremely difficult days for Clara.

Mar. 2

Went to church and S.S. had dinner at Williams’, helped Catherine with the dishes, layed on the bed and talked all aft. Went up town and got some candy, had lunch, went to League and church, wrote to Edgar and went to bed at 11.

Mar. 3

Went to school and finished exams, studied.

Mar 4

Went to school. They got a message that Edgar is awful sick and for Mr. Williams to come. Mabel wanted me to go so I came home at noon and got ready in a hurry, the train left at 3. had supper at Conde, on the train all night and nearly roasted, arrived at St. Paul about 9. got to Rochester at 1:30 in the daytime, Edgar died at 1:50 this morning, he suffered terrible but was conscious to the last. He said he wasn’t afraid to go. had a cafeteria dinner, couldn’t eat much, went to the “undertakers”. there we viewed the corpse. the poor kid looked just terrible. he is so thin, Mrs. Williams took his lodge pin off and gave it to me, he had a nice new suit, just what I liked. He will never know how I love him. Stayed at the Florence hotel in room 31. slept with Mrs. William’s cousin, cried myself to sleep. the worst day I ever spent in my life. Oh why do I have to be left alone.

I had made the decision to skip the commentary on the last installment. I didn’t feel right intruding on Clara’s shock and grief. And the families’. Edgar’s death was so sudden. The first word they received that he was sick was on the same day they were told it was serious and to come right away. He died 12 hours after Clara and the family arrived in Rochester, Minnesota.

But I do want to provide further information on some of the things discussed during this time. For one, Clara spends Sunday at the Williams’ home, the home of Edgar’s family before she goes to League. Catherine, who she helps with the dishes, is Edgar’s younger sister.

Also, I think I may have finally figured out the League that Clara repeatedly refers to and attends. It may be the Epworth League, an organization for young adults connected to the Methodist church. And as we have established before, Clara’s family is Methodist. The Epworth League was dedicated “To encourage and cultivate Christ-centered character in young adults around the world through community building, missions, and spiritual growth.” Started in 1889, the Epworth League and the Junior Epworth League became quite popular and had memberships in the hundreds of thousands right before World War I.

A fun side note – in the musical The Music Man, which takes place in 1912, a character turns down a date because it is an Epworth League night. 

But on March 4th, everything changes. They get a message summoning Edgar’s dad because Edgar is “awful sick.” Edgar’s older sister Mabel contacted Clara and let her know she should also come.

It sounds like they jump on the next train to reach him. In an earlier installment, it appeared he may have left for college after winter break.

Turns out, Cresbard has a train station. I’ve continued my research on railroads and finally figured that out.

The Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway (M&StL) had originally formed in 1870 to bring in wheat to the city and to send out flour to markets. Over the next few decades, they built tracks up to Duluth, down through Iowa, and across South Dakota.

The Williams’s and Clara caught the 3:00 PM Minneapolis & St Louis Railway train from Cresbard to Conde, for a quick ride to cover the 43-mile distance.

1912 Timetable for the M&StL

Prior to 1906, this part of the track didn’t exist. The first track of the M&StL to reach South Dakota was laid from St. Paul Union Depot in Minnesota to Watertown, SD, in 1884. But the long term plan of the railway, referred to locally as the “Louie,” was to reach the “Big Muddy,” the Missouri River, and to build a bridge over the river and then to lay tracks all the way to the Pacific Coast.

According to The Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway: A Photographic History, in 1906-1907, once the rail to Watertown was completed, crews set to work to complete a “substantial expansion beyond Watertown to a fork at Conde, fifty-seven miles west, where one line stretched northwestward through Aberdeen to Leola, the other westward to the Missouri River at LeBeau. This aggregated 228 miles of new route gave birth to sixteen communities.” 

The sixteen new towns included, from east to west, Yahota, Florence, Wallace, Crocker, Crandall, Brentford, Chelsea, Cresbard, Wecota, Carlyle, Onaka, Tolstoy, Hoven, Lowry, Akaska, and Le Beau. Notice that Cresbard, Clara’s home, is one of them. That also explains Cresbard’s founding date as 1906.

It is this M&StL train that Clara and the Williams family take to Conde, where they have supper. According to Passenger Trains of Yesteryear, the Conde Station was a popular stop for food on the trip east.

“Most of the division points and many of the terminals had lunch counters where everyone from the engineer to Aunt Mary stepped off the local for a “cup of Java,” a sandwich, and a generous cut of pie. Albia, Oskaloosa, Marshalltown, Albert Lea, Waterville, Fort Dodge, Winthrop, Morton, Conde [the only station on the LeBeau to Cresbard to Watertown route on this list], and Aberdeen were, and some still are, depots where passengers could “pick up a bite” between trains or during a lunch stop.” 

I do want to digress a bit to discuss the town of LeBeau at the end of the M&StL line that travelled through Cresbard. It’s an interesting story.

In 1875, Frenchman Antoine LeBeau set up a fur trading post on the east side of the Missouri, across from the Cheyenne River Reservation. By 1880, the little town had grown to a population of 250 with sixty buildings.

Murdo MacKenzie

In 1892, under the direction of Murdo Mackenzie, the Matador Land & Cattle Company of Texas, expanded to LeBeau (as well as other places out west), where the company leased 500,000 acres for its steers on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. MacKenzie was so powerful that Theodore Roosevelt is reported to have called him “the most influential of American cattlemen.”

When the railroad arrived in 1907, the town doubled in size. In fact, “Between 1907 and 1910 LeBeau was one of the most important of all western cattle shipping points” The Watertown Express and the “Hog and Human”: M&StL Passenger Service in South Dakota 1884-1960).

Here is a great description of LeBeau in those days.  

“One writer in 1908 called it “one of the most promising little cities in the West.” The robust business district included two banks, a couple of cafés, a drugstore, a general store, and a dry-goods merchant, plus offices for physicians, dentists, and attorneys. The Idle Hour billiard and pool parlor featured cigars and soft drinks, while saloons and other emporiums of pleasure required no paid advertisement. The Hotel LeBeau, which offered steam heat and allowed no dogs in the rooms, also boasted some of the best cuisine on the M&StL’s western extension. One could also check in at the Arcade Hotel, advertised as first-class and charging rates of twenty-five cents and up. The LeBeau Business Men’s Association looked out for commercial interests, while Baptists and Presbyterians divided responsibility for community morality. Cultural needs could be met at Zimmer’s Opera House, and news was disseminated by the LeBeau Phénix, where Edward McBride, “an earnest and active Republican,” was publisher and editor. Near the tracks were two lumberyards, a grain elevator, a livery and stable, quarters for City Dray line, and the M&StL’s various facilities.”

And the Argus-Leader of Sioux Falls described the town as follows:

“Gambling Halls flourished, supported the town’s civic improvements, and shocked the newcomers. Cowboys and Indians walked the streets, along with society matrons, eastern card-sharps, drifters, and dance hall girls.”

The M&StL soon began work on its expansion over the Missouri and west to the Pacific. The town of LeBeau was bustling with excitement over its future, and the Matador Land and Cattle Company was shipping over 150,000 heads of cattle east. And the population of the town had grown to over 500.

But by the end of 1909, the railroad company had abandoned its plans to build west, ceding the future to the Milwaukee Road which had beaten it to the punch with a bridge north near Mobridge. This was a huge blow to the town. The final death knell of LeBeau, however, comes in the form of a classic Wild West story. Murdo Mackenzie of the Matador Land & Cattle Company, sent his son David, or Dode as he was called, to the region to manage the business in South Dakota. He was described as “big and rugged like his father” with a taste for whiskey. Dode, “the ‘blue-eyed, sandy-haired Scot,’ one associate recalled, was ‘as likable and fine a young man as ever lived,’ adding as a serious caveat, ‘while sober.'”

When Dode arrived at the banks of the Missouri River, he met with Ambrose Benoist in Evarts, another town that came and went with the railroads, to discuss the possibility of Dode making the Matador headquarters on his land. I need to do further research about Ambrose and his family, who I believe may have obtained their land through the Dawes Act.

It took several rounds of hot liquid across the bar before the two worthy gents concluded a deal whereby Ambrose’s place became the new headquarters.  The Matador built a frame house there, with a bedroom and office for the manager, Dode MacKenzie.  Ambrose kept his three-room log home where his family continued to live, and Mrs. Benoist cooked for the cowboys.

With the establishment of the Matador headquarters at the Benoist place, Dode stayed around there a good deal of the time when he wasn’t in Evarts making whoopee.  Ambrose was a real character if one ever lived, and a convivial partner of Dode’s for the entire time the headquarters remained there.

Dakota Cowboy, My Life in the Old Days
Drag V brand of Matador Cattle

Not surprisingly, after the 1909 shipping season ended, Dode and the others working the cattle trade “turned to drink and games of chance, to no good end.” Cowboys in LeBeau were also known to “visit the occasional decorated bedroom” in town. 

Dode “rode into Lebeau with fellow cowpokes for a bit of relaxation.” His friends later swore that he hadn’t had a drink before he entered DuFran’s saloon on December 11, 1909. But others said that “After an all-night binge, Dode MacKenzie and a drinking buddy, Ambrose Benoist, staggered into Phil DuFran’s Angel Bar” where “Bud Stephens, a former Matador employee was tending bar.” Who knows the truth?

Turns out, Ambrose, Bud and Dode had “had words some time in the past. Don’t know what was said or done, but the feuding was nowhere near to being behind ’em. They weren’t on speaking terms, to put it lightly.” Some stories say that the bad blood between MacKenzie and Stephens may have begun back in Texas.

One day Stephens was warned that Dode was on his way into town,

packing mischief in his gun belt. Stephens was ready. Dode marched in the Phil DuFran’s saloon, and the bartend let him have it right in the chest with the piece he was wielding. Twice. Dode staggered back out the door, fell down the steps and spilled out into dusty Main, where Bud Stephens, having stepped outside, let him have it again. And again.

Although another account of the event states that

MacKenzie crossed the street to Knoll’s hardware, picked up a .45 Colt revolver and a handful of .38 cartridges, loaded the gun and headed back across the street to confront Stephens. The bartender pulled out his own .44 and fired point blank at Dode MacKenzie’s chest.

A particularly poignant version of the story has him dying in Ambrose’s arms. (book). But either way, Dode ended up shot to death and Bud was charged with his murder. The trial was held in March of 1910 in Selby, the Walworth County seat.

A furious Murdo MacKenzie hired six high-powered lawyers to prosecute Stephens, who was defended by 21-year-old Pat Morrison [from Mobridge], trying his first criminal case. It was rumored that Phil DuFran financed Morrison and an equally inexperienced assistant.

The jury consisted mostly of farmers, who spared little love for big-time cattlemen and their hard-living cowpokes. The jurors bought Stephens’ claim of self-defense and found him innocent of murder or any other crime.

Bud was advised to immediately “leave town to avoid the wrath of irate cowboys.” “Phil DuFran left town again, started salooning elsewhere. “Murdo McKenzie said he’d never, ever again run cattle from his vast, west river empire through the dad-gummed streets of LeBeau, South Dakota.” “They boycotted LeBeau ever after. More importantly, no Matador cattle ever again entrained at LeBeau.” The Matador instead moved its operation north.

So began the death of the town of LeBeau.

A few months later [in September 1910], a fire on LeBeau’s Main Street quickly tore through most of the business district. Ugly conflagrations were not unusual in frontier towns made of flimsy false-front buildings, but this one was particularly suspicious. The fire hose had been cut; so had telephone and telegraph lines. More bad luck followed when another fire hit LeBeau some weeks later. No arsonist was ever caught.

One of the few buildings to survive was Phil DuFran’s Angel Bar.

By 1911, things had collapsed so dramatically that the M&StL cancelled all passenger trains to and from LeBeau. And in 1924, the railway tore out the tracks to LeBeau. Today, the town lies at the bottom of Lake Oahe, which was created by the Oahe dam, fragments of foundations visible only when the water level of the lake is very low.  

But back to Clara’s heartbreaking trip to get to Edgar. As mentioned earlier, they caught the 3:00 PM Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway train in Cresbard, and it should have been a two-hour ride, which would put them in Conde at 5:00 PM. They then took the overnight from Conde to St. Paul, a trip of just under 300 miles. 

I couldn’t believe it when I found timetables for 1912, which is a few years before Clara’s trip. And here’s what I learned. In 1912, a train left from Conde every night at 6:16 PM and arrived in St. Paul at 8:53 the next morning: Train 25, complete with lighted Pullman sleeping cars. This coincides with the times Clara gives us for their trip and provides the group with over an hour to have supper. 

Pullman Car

During the daytime, passengers were accommodated in comfortable sofa seats. At night, the upper berth dropped into place from the ceiling, and the cushions of the daytime section seating drop down to form a base for the lower bed, see picture at the top of this page. Both berths had space for clothes hangers, a rack for toilet articles, etc. Berth curtains provided privacy. The upper berth was the least expensive accommodation offered in a Pullman sleeping car.

The next morning in St. Paul, Clara and the Williams disembarked into a warehouse, where a temporary ticket office and waiting room stood while a new station was built. The original Union Depot burned down in 1913. Rebuilding efforts began in 1917 and didn’t completely finish until 1926, even though it was partially opened for train travelers in 1920.

Trains continued to arrive and depart as they had before the fire. As work progressed, all tracks and approaches to the new depot were elevated above the original site. The old tracks on the lower level removed. The entire project took nearly nine years to complete.

Finding information about travel from St. Paul to Rochester has proven difficult. The Chicago & Northwestern had service but in 1912, it doesn’t appear to be direct. But there may have been direct service by 1921. That would not be surprising because the route was an extrememely important one for many people as the Mayo Clinic is located in Rochester. It looks like a train left St. Paul at 9:15, and they arrived in Rochester at 1:30 PM.

It’s unclear where they rushed to be by Edgar’s side. As I wrote previously, it is possible he was away at college at the time. But I spent a lot of time on the trip of the frantic family and of Clara, so I will continue this next installment.

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