Now is the season when many people are doing family research at the museum. They are most often compiling dates – birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, and so on. I find that most of history is dates.
I am awful at remembering dates. Usually I remember my friends’ birthdays about two weeks after they have passed. In high school I was horrible in History class (strange for someone who works in a museum, don’t you think). Our teacher always stressed memorizing when something happened, not why it happened. For someone like me, the everyday events are just as important as the momentous occasions. In fact, I find the day-to-day details are more interesting because they often tell why the “important” events occurred.
When we receive family histories and family trees at the museum, I usually try to read through them. When there are just dates, you can figure out people’s ages when they got married, when their children were born, and when they died. But you don’t know why they married when they did, why they married who they did, or what kind of relationship they had with their spouse or children.
When you just have dates, you lose who the person was. What kind of personality did he have? What were her passions? What made him tick? How did she cope with the events that shaped her life? All of these things help “flesh out” the story of who a person is or was. One of the best ways to find these details out is through a person’s journal or diary. Journals and diaries often contain people’s inner-most thoughts, which tell us the “why” of their lives. Some journals only include basic information and leave out personal reflections and intimate details, but these too can be helpful sources in finding out who a person was.
The museum was fortunate to receive a donation from Mr. & Mrs. Lewis McGonagle that contained the journals of George E. Wilson. Mr. Wilson is one of the people featured in the books entitled History of Morrison and Todd Counties, written in 1915 by Clara K. Fuller. He lived in Royalton and was involved in the lumber mill there, had a real estate and fire insurance business, and owned real estate which included two farms. The book speaks very highly of him. In the early years of his journal writing, he wrote daily entries, most of which were of daily business and not of emotional content. But even this gives some indication of what he was like. Here are some entries from various days:
May 1st, 1891 – Started the mill at 11:30 a.m. Tried to saw & owing to Bull chain jumping, couldn’t saw, but began at one o’clock p.m. Sawed oak underpinning for mill repairs. Chas. Shipman came down with headache in the morning, but went home at 9 o’clock. Not doing any work. Losing ½ day. Played poker all night with Jumbo and Newberg, Greenleif, Hampton, & Sjoberg at farm. J Watt Beal didn’t do anything until 9 o’clock a.m. Helped roll in logs etc., etc. in morning and sawed in afternoon. Gave him full day — Carpenter’s wages. AJ Morse & Elick Nelson came on after dinner. AJM & GEW [refers to himself] took 31 bushels wheat to flour mill & received flour etc. for same.
May 8, 1891 – GEW and Higgins drove to Rices with our team. Took stud Codington along. Put him to Morill mare. Left amount against Mumborg with Martin, the hotel man for collection. Dragoo made out warrant & complaint on my return, which were signed by ACW [George Wilson's brother], for the arrest of Jno. Mumborg for forging name of Julius Fromelt on an order on us for lumber in September, 1890. Chas. Shipman was drunk to-day. ACW fired him at six o’clock p.m. Shipman, Jumbo, & Newberg played poker at Newman’s until 6 a.m. GEW watched there until 3 a.m.
May 18, 1891 – Greenleif & Williams left at 8 a.m. for farm. Gave Norris Carnes check for $15.00 on ap. Bob Muncy went up Platte river to look after fires that were reported to us last Thursday, by Grant Broadhead, who said our logs were on fire. ACW did not think it advisable for me to go up Friday a.m. with men. RHM returned at 6 o’clock and reported over 50 logs burned & a good many charred.
Sept. 19, 1891 – IPW [George's father] rec’d telegram from Bob, saying that he would be here tomorrow with horses. Ella coming by train. ACW got angry and abused me wrongfully. Was in office all day until that happened at 3 p.m. He had no occasion for so doing.
Oct. 9, 1891 – Went to Buckman town with others to aid in searching for Litka’s girl that lost herself in the woods out there. Drove our team Jno & Billy. We were not successful & ret’d at 8 p.m.
March 29, 1892 – ACW left with our team to look over logs purchased on Skunk & Platte Rivers. First rain of the year. Cow killed at depot by noon train. Evangelical minister and red whiskered fellow here from Rices, getting estimate on church to be built in Town of Graham.
Dec. 31, 1894 – Last of ’94 finds me in bad circumstances – Never was so hard pressed in my life for money.
Mr. Wilson was seeing a woman by the name of Maud (referred to as M- in his journal) for over a year. They evidently got engaged:
Oct. 14, 1895 – Mpls. all day. M- Bot Ring $6.00. Ordered clothes from SE Olson & Co.
However, in January it seems that they were not getting along and appears that they broke off the engagement. There is no specific mention in the journal, but he stops writing about Maud for quite a long time. This later entry seems to explain some of the mystery:
Sept. 5, 1896 – Went to Hudson 7:30 a.m. Looked up records in Court House of marriage, between Maud Martin & Blossom. The former’s name being recorded as Morton and Sadie instead of Maud S. Martin. Ret’d to Mpls. About 8:30 p.m. met Maud on 9th St. So. Passed her without recognition. Was overtaken at 2nd Ave. & after conversing, was invited to call at Mrs. Wold’s on 9th St. which I did. Remained all night. Paying the land-lady $1.00 for use of room.
Sept. 6, 1896 – Sunday. With Maud until 3 p.m. She had my diamond ring & refused to return it. Left the house, and me in her room. Overtook & followed her around Town until she went to Chief Smith’s office – Police H’Qts. There she accused me of her ruination, etc. & positively refused to return ring. Remained there with Chief who promised to do all in his power to recover same. Could not re-plevy same owing to its being Sunday. Ret’d home at midnight.
George Wilson never did marry.
I find Mr. Wilson’s journals absolutely fascinating. He makes references to the daily business of running a saw mill, going to the lumber camps, running a farm, hunting, etc. It gives a more complete picture of daily life in that era than any history book or compilation of dates.
Not only are journals a font of information for future generations, they also help the people who write them. In addition to being a helpful reference book that helps a person keep track of when things happened, journals can be therapeutic. Writing down thoughts and feelings during stressful times often helps a person to cope with a situation.
If you decide to keep a journal, write down the daily occurrences as well as your own reflections about them. That way your great-great-grandchildren will get a sense of your personality, your values, your passions. They will feel closer to you than if they only know dates.
By Julie Tomala
Copyright 1996, Morrison County Historical Society