Bow River Valley – exit

Gravel bar & cut tree

As I stood on the gravel bar I realized I could use the tree that was lying across part of the river at the south end. I had to wade into the river to reach the tree but the water was only about a foot deep.  I saw the possibility of crawling on the tree to the west shore but many branches were blocking my way. I soon got my axe from the nose of the canoe, were it had been safely wedged in and survived the roll over.

I started to cut the branches off and then noticed that with each branch I removed the tree started to lift itself out of the water.  It was then then I decided to cut off the top ten feet of the tree that was heavy with branches. Once the top weight was gone the tree rose about a foot above the surface of the rushing current.

In the photo above, looking south, the gravel bar is in the lower left hand corner of the picture. The top of the tree is lying in the water at the south end of the gravel bar. The main part of the tree is obvious from the cut off end, and lacking most of the braches on the top side.  In retrospect, if  I had not made it to the gravel bar, the current would have swept me into the tangled web of half sunken trees on the right and I may not have survived.

Once my bridge to the shore was ready, I attached a long rope to the canoe which I moved across the reef to the west side.  While canoeing I wear leather canoe shoes. I had removed them while wading on the reef but once I got to solid land I would need my boots to travel. The boots had been wrapped in the tent and survived in a dry condition so I hung then around my neck to cross the tree bridge.

Once across the rushing current I soon had my boots on and then walked upstream and pulled the canoe across so it was clear of trees and branches.  With the canoe and all my gear safely on shore I decided that I needed to find my paddles, which had obviously been swept down stream.

Canoe in backwater #26

As I walked along the bank of the river I watched carefully for the paddles and hoped they might have snagged somewhere on the river bank. Eventually I managed to  find and recover one on the near shore.  Paddle in hand I continued walking and as I came around and bend in the river, I looked ahead and saw a huge log jam blocking the river.

The logs blocked the entire river from side to side and were piled at least ten feet above the surface of the river. Many were sticking up in the air at all angles. All the logs were larger than a telephone pole. The end were sawed off so at some time loggers cut the trees and sent them down the river, no doubt to the town of Banff.  Obviously a log jam occurred and these hundred or more trees piled up to block the river.

I spent about half an hour inspecting this tangled mess.  All the water was rushing under the logs and came out about thirty feet downstream in a white mass of boiling water. Had I not dumped my canoe when I did I would have come around the corner with almost no chance to paddle to the shore.  The canoe and I would at best been crushed against the log jam, and unable to get free.  At worse we would have been swept under the dam and pinned. We would have simply disappeared, never to be found.

It was at this time I felt much better about having dumped my canoe. I had no trouble convincing my self the canoe trip had ended, as I could see nothing but more uprooted trees all along the route past the log jam.

The next task was to recover my canoe and camping equipment. My only option left was to climb the mountain side up to the highway.  I left all my gear and struggled up to the highway and then hiked about ten miles into town.  After a hot supper and a good night sleep I returned to where I had left the canoe.

Canoe from high above #28

This the view of the canoe from half way up the mountain slope, sitting in a quiet backwater, far removed from the rapids.  Once down with the canoe I used the long rope that was tied to the nose. I ran the upper half of the rope around a tree up the slope.

When I walked back down to the canoe I dragged it up hill and at the same time pulled on the rope, which also prevented the canoe sliding back down the 45 degree mountain side. Once the canoe was up to the first tree I repeated the rope trick with another higher tree. It was slow going because the canoe contained all the tent and equipment.

After a couple of hours the canoe was up on the highway and soon tied to the roof of the car.

When ever I was asked about this canoe trip I rarely gave all the details. But as the years went by I could not help but think of things that happened that should have caused me to quit or give up.  Some might have quit when the canoe got stuck on the rock in the first five minutes. I had waited too long to canoe this river and I was determined to try.  It was certainly the adventure of a lifetime and gives me much pleasure when I think about it.

Canoe on the mountain #29

This is the last photo taken when the canoe was about half way up the mountain.  I managed to get three or four more years of  use out of the damaged canoe, before I had to cremate it.   In all, I wore out three canoes in my lifetime.

Bow River Valley – Part 3 upset.

morning on tkhe bow river

I got off to an early start the next morning.  After a hearty breakfast, I soon had the tent down and all the gear packed and ready to go.  First I had to work my way back to the main river from the creek where I had camped. This is wilderness camping at its best. I had the whole river to myself.

Once back on the river the miles of mountain scenery began to slide by endlessly.  River, woods, and mountains, similar but never the same.

As the hours past, the river continued to wind and twist and as the curves got sharper it was very difficult to see what lay just ahead. The current at the bend of a river has a tendency to slow down on the inside and drop gravel, so it is shallow water.  On the outside of the curve the water speeds up to go the longer distance, eats away at the river bank which results in deeper water. The fast water undercuts the bank and caused pine trees to topple into the river, but still anchored on the shore.  These tree can hang just over the water surface and interfere with anything or anyone passing by. Staying in the middle of the river on normal curves is the best method.

Bow river sweepers #18

Eventually I reached an “S” curve in the river by entering a right hand curve.  At the same time I could see a number of evergreens hanging over or in the water on my right side. This  is a photo I took the next day.  We are looking down stream and a large gravel bar is on the left hand side of the river.

As I came around the bend in the middle of the river I tried to aim for the gravel bar where the water was slower, but the current swept me to the fast water on the right side. In my effort to go left, the current swung the back end of the canoe around to my right so I started to go down river sideways. It was at this moment I noticed a pine tree hanging right across my path as it leaned out from the right hand bank with the trunk about eight inches about the river surface. Only the tip of the tree was in the water.

I was paddling so hard I was afraid I was going to snap my paddle in half. I realized I was at the point of no return and I was going to hit the tree with the right side of the canoe. To prevent the side of the canoe from going under the tree and leaving me in the water, I leaned to my left and let the entire right side of the canoe take the blow.

The tree was big enough and firmly rooted to the shore so it easily stopped the canoe. The water on my left surged up, filled the canoe in seconds, causing it to sink and roll under the tree with me inside. I got out of the canoe and as I surfaced I saw a second pine tree waiting for me a short distance away. I followed the canoe and  I ducked under the second tree, pushed by the fast current, and came back up on the other side.

The canoe was upside down and pointed downstream. As I started swimming after the canoe, I noticed my hat bobbing in the water near by.  I reached over, grabbed the hat and put it back on my head.  It seemed the sensible thing to do at that time.

When I caught up to the canoe I grabbed onto the back end and rolled it up right in the water. The sides of the canoe were just showing on the surface of the river. Looking ahead I could see a large gravel bar in the middle of the river and managed to steer the canoe towards it. I crawled up onto the gravel and then dragged the canoe up high enough so it would not be swept away.

Two sweeper trees. #21

This photo was taken the next day, from the gravel bar, looking back upstream and the river bend I came around. The two small evergreen trees in the middle of the photo on the right hand side mark the river and current that swept me around the bend. The two trees in the foreground are the two that my canoe and I rolled under. As I stood up on the gravel bar it was at this moment the shock of the ice cold water hit me. I stood in the middle of the river shivering with the cold and the shock of the mishap. I am a good swimmer so I never felt concerned at any time.

My hands were stiff as I awkwardly removed my shirt and pants.  Once I had rung out most of the water I put them both back on. Still shivering, tipped the canoe and drained out the water. When I checked out the contents of the canoe and found I had lost both paddles, but everything else was still securely packed. I dug out the camera from the packsack and saw that it was still there but rather damp. I rewound the film back into the cassette then drained the water out of the camera.

Gravel Bar #23

This photo was also taken the next day from the river bank, looking upstream  and shows the gravel bar in the left side of the shot.  The tree in the foreground was still anchored  on the bank but lay just over the surface of the water and the top reached over the gravel bar.

The water was rushing past on each side of the gravel bar so fast, any attempt to swim ashore would have quickly swept me down the river and out of sight. Since I had lost both paddles I could not use the canoe. I was stuck on a gravel bar in the middle of a swift river and I needed to get ashore to dry land. I now had a new problem.


Bow River Valley – Part 2 of 3

Bow river #14

Once I was back in the river I started to relax and enjoy the scenery and the wilderness of the area. A highway runs on either side of  the valley but hundreds of feet higher than the river and some distance away and out of sight.

During my journey I saw only one other person.  He was a trout fisherman standing hip deep in his waders in a rapids.  He was facing down stream and had just cast his line.  He did not see or hear me because of the noise the rapids made.  Because of the rocks in the rapids I was forced to stay in the deeper water near where he was fishing. As my canoe and I flashed passed him. I yelled a friendly “Good morning!” and left him standing, frightened, mouth hung open and a shocked look on his face. He was fully awake when I left him.

After about fifteen miles the river starts to narrow and deepen. The water slows down a little and the river begins to wander back and forth from side to side in the valley. The river bends make it difficult to see what lies ahead. This river wilderness has been unchanged for many hundreds of years.

Bow river camping #9

At this point I decided to set up  camp. The river has the occasional small creek leading into it from the valleys on either side. The spring run off was done so water leading into the main river had ceased.  This allowed me to paddle away from the current and set up camp in an ideal quiet spot. I soon had my tent up and the gear in place. After supper I took a few more camp photos then sat and relaxed.

Bow river camping (#12)

Sadly the dunking the camera later got ruined many photos, caused scratches and messed up the emulsion. However considering this was taken over fifty years ago, in now looks like an old photo.

distant camp

Just before jumping in the sleeping bag I paddled off into the distance to take this photo of my tent camp, almost hidden in a backwater creek. The smoke from the campfire is drifting off into the woods as I contemplate what lies ahead of me tomorrow.


Bow River, Banff Alberta – Part 1


Bow River #2

Photos were water damaged from the camera being in the river.

When I lived in the mountains of Banff, Alberta I was drawn to the river and vowed someday I would make a canoe trip from Lake Louise, to Banff, a distance of about forty miles down stream. The Bow River is fed by melt water flowing from the mountains and glaciers, all along both sides of the valley.

The opportunity came in August of 1961 when I was 26 years old. I had been planning it for a couple of years and finally bought a new Cedar strip canvass covered canoe. When the day arrived I was committed, no matter how the weather turned out, as my window of opportunity only gave me three days. I started out in Winnipeg and drove a thousand miles with the canoe strapped to the roof. I was venturing off on my own and had camping gear and equipment in order to stay out overnight in the valley.

Bow river #5

This is a typical view as the river flows down the valley with spectcular steep mountains on both sides and a never ending thick green woods on the banks of the river. it is a beautiful but lonely place.

Early one morning I put my canoe in the river near Lake Louise and headed down stream for Banff. My first challenge was to pass under a new bridge that crossed the Bow River. A lot of blasting had been done to construct the footings for the bridge and most of that rock had been pushed back as fill.

The river starts out wide, swift and shallow. The current is too fast to paddle against so the run down the river is exhilarating.  The swift current limits the work with the paddle to steering, and in particular to avoiding rocks and dead trees.

Bow river #6

As I passed under the bridge, between a bridge support and the shore I immediately became hung up on a rock. I tried to use the paddle to lift the canoe up and off but the rock was steep on all sides, leaving deep water all around.  After the ordeal was over I briefly saw the pointed rock sitting about a foot below the water line.

As I bounced the canoe and tried to slip free I heard the sickening sound of canoe ribs breaking. My desperate movements were causing the rock point to first break a rib, then puncture the canvass and cedar between the ribs. Because of the camping gear and supplies in the canoe bottom I was unable to see how bad the damage was.  I had not yet noticed any water in the canoe so I assumed the canvass itself had not yet punctured.

Here I was five minutes into my trip and I was hung up on a rock and causing serious damage to the canoe.  I eventually just sat there, paddle in hand, and watched the current racing by while listening to the odd car passing overhead on the bridge.

In the end my only options was to bounce the canoe violently up and down and move off the rock enough that the canoe finally slid off and raced off down the stream.  My concern for the extent of the damage was primarily focused on how badly the canoe was leaking.

Bow river rapids #1

I was also distracted by a rapidly approaching rapids and uprooted pine trees lying about. Once I was in calmer and less dangerous waters I ran the canoe ashore, unloaded the gear and inspected the bottom of the canoe. A total of five ribs had been cracked and in the space between the ribs the floor was puncture in four places. Turning the canoe over showed serious scrape marks in the canvas but no actual hole.

I had come too far to make this trip so I decided the canoe was still strong enough to continue but I would have to stay off the rocks. I pushed off shore and went on.

The Stone House

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I remember the first time I saw this stone house in Richardville township, Kittson County, Minnesota.  I was fascinated by the intensive labor that would be required to build it. Now, some twenty five years later I returned, with permission, and photographed it in detail.  I have done a little research and believe it was built some time in 1885 to 1890 by a Alfred E. Ramsey, who came from Prince Edward Island, Canada.

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This close-up shot of the horizontal lines indicate that wooden forms were used to frame the wall and many, many stones were used with the concrete.  The wall on either side of the windows has lost the smooth surface shown on the other sections and suggest to me that the concrete mix had less cement in it and weathered badly. The two window frame must have been set in place prior to the pouring of the cement & rocks mixture.  Other sections of the walls showed this happened in other places. It also may be an indication that the cement was poured on a very hot day and the cement up against the wooden forms  caused it to dry out before it could set properly. Regardless of what caused it, these sections were strong enough to last over 125 years.

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This is the south side of the house and shows the major crack in the s/w corner.  In fact all four corners of the house failed in this manner and it is amazing it has not fallen down. When I first saw the house the cracks were hardly noticeable and I believe the harsh winter freezing temperatures were responsible.

It is obvious the lower section of the roof failed and it allowed water to enter the building and caused considerable damage to the floors. Most abandoned buildings suffer from roof failure, followed rapidly by the failure of the walls and the collapse of the building. That did not occur with this stone walled structure.

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This view of the back wall of the house shows it is reasonably intact other than the fact that all the windows have rotted away and fallen inside. Note the failure of the cement under the window frame on the right side. The bottom corner is very bad but shows that thin rebar was used, at least in the corner.

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This view of the rear or west wall is in very good shape considering its age. If the sides of the house had not cracked it would probable remained standing for many more years.

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The shot was taken looking east through the window opening in the right rear lower section.  It is a confusing mess.  The house was divided in the middle by a north/south wall. The door opening is on the second floor.  The entire dividing wall, both upstairs and down has fallen down into the basement. In this view, what little remains of the second floor is in the middle of the photo.  Only the portion in the left middle of the photo still remains.  The first floor has already fallen into the basement. The door on the main floor had a rounded top which can be seen in the lower right of the photo.

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In this view the door opening was on the first floor and has fallen about four feet into the basement.  Looking through the door opening you can see what remains of the first floor. The floor joists and planks on the lower left are a portion of the attic floor that fell into the basement. The round holes in the wall are for stove pipes. The hole in the south roof allowed water to soak the main and attic floors so that they failed where they were attached on the south side of the house.  The stone walls are still secure and in time all the interior walls and floors will rot away and leave a hollow building.

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This is the north wall of the house which only contained a door and window opening. The door opening has been sealed up with stone and cement. From the cracks it appears the wall above the door was failing and it was sealed up to stop it from getting worse.

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This is the north east corner of the house. From the age of the trees all around the house it appears that there was nothing but open prairie when the house was built.  To the best of my knowledge no members of this Ramsay Family remain in the county.

Killed by a January Thaw!

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While we are always learning new things that make life better, we are continually forgetting important skills that saved us from an untimely death a few generations back. This thought came to mind when I began to plan a snowshoe outing during our recent lovely weather. As I put my snowshoes on and took a few steps, I found that the surface of the snow was very wet and I sunk deeply into the drifts.

It was at this moment that my memory kicked in and I turned right around and headed back to the house and removed the snowshoes. In the historical past, trappers, hunters, and explorers were fearful of a sudden thaw when traveling during the winter months. Extensive wet snow soaks the webbing on the snowshoe and the wetter it get the more it sags and begins to stretch apart. If you keep traveling in these conditions the webbing gets so soft your foot sinks deeper than the frame of your snowshoes.  Eventually the webbing breaks and you are forced to stop and make camp.  The snowshoes need to repaired and dried out while you calmly feed your fire and await colder weather.

If you are caught on the trail miles from your cabin or proper winter shelter the situation becomes precarious  With deep snow conditions travel on foot is impossible.  Without snowshoes your moccasins become soaked, lose their strength and come apart, leaving you with wet feet.  At this point you are forced to sit out the so called better weather and hope you have enough food to keep you alive until things freeze again. Some stories report experienced outdoorsmen being trapped for almost a week.

Travelers who get into this situation and fail to appear at the end of the trail, cause friends to become concerned.  The poor snow conditions also prevents help from traveling to the rescue. Everyone just has to patiently await colder weather before he can hit the trail.  The search will usually find the traveler out of food, hungry and cold.  Under sever conditions the amateur will be found starved and/or frozen to death.

Keep this in mind before you head out to check your traps or visit your friends and relatives.




For a many years I have been photographing old barns and houses in Kittson County before they are burned down or crushed and buried.  I now have the only photographs of many buildings that no longer exist. Each year fewer old farms and homesteads are left. As a result I am finding it difficult to find subjects to photograph.100_2087.JPG

Early this May I spotted an old red barn sitting close to the Canadian border in St.Vincent township.  From a distance it seemed to be in good conditions and wore what appeared to be a reasonable coat of paint. As I drove the trail into the farm site it was obvious that the buildings had been abandoned because the road and farm yard was covered in tall grass.

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The house and buildings looked as if they had been built in the 1940’s. In a small garage with a collapsed roof I could make out the remains of an old 1930’s truck. As I walked around I could see a lot of old farm equipment such as horse driven hay rakes an mowers peeking out from under the tall dark grass.

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When I got to the barn I quickly saw that it was well built but the roof was full of small holes where the asphalt shingles had blown off and the original cedar shingles underneath were in sad condition.Strong prairie winds during years of exposure had lifted the big doors off their tracks and one set was on the ground.

As I walked around in the deep grass I could see that no vehicles or people had been on the farm for many years.  The entire place was as silent as a tomb and gave me the feeling that something serious or tragic was connected to the place.

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The interior of the barn was in excellent condition but it only had a half dozen stalls on the west side while the east side was constructed of pens for small livestock.

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When I went up into the hay loft I found the head of the stairs was used as a tack room and enough horse harness for a couple of teams was hanging on the walls. When I stepped into the hay loft I found it empty of hay but the hundreds of small holes in the roofing made it look like a star filled night.

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As I drove away I could not shake the feeling that there had to be some kind of story connected to the place. It was as if the residents had left in a hurry and time just stopped suddenly.

I resolved to look into who owned the property and see if I could learn what story it held.

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It took a month or so but I learned that the owner of the property had been sharing a few drinks in a local bar and agreed to drive two younger men home.  No one seems to know why but they ended up driving on a remote country road east of St. Vincent and got stuck in a snow filled ditch.  It was in February, it was dark out, and they left the road in an area that had no residents nearby. The owner and driver of the vehicle was in his early seventies while his two passenger were much younger.

The owner of the car decided he would go for help and started walking in a north westward direction in what later appeared to be in the direction of his farm.  It was not until the next morning that someone driving by saw a body lying out in a field. The man was dead and had frozen to death.  Later the occupants of his car were found safe and alive in his car about five mile away. All this took place back in 2001 or about fifteen years ago. The deceased lived alone so the farm site became abandoned.

I thought that was the end of the story until a month or so later when I returned to the farm to look at the old car, the farm machinery and the horse harness.  I was with a person from the Historical Society and were going to examine the old vehicle and horse harness to see if it would make a good exhibit for the museum. We had already made steps to contact the owner who lived in the west of Canada

When we climbed the stairs into the loft we discovered most of the horse harness was gone.  We found tracks in the tall grass left by a four wheeler that led into the back of the barn. This harness had hung in the barn untouched for fifteen years.  It seems reasonable to assume that one of my recent enquires into the history of the farm had resulted in the theft of all the horse harness.

It would be of little value today but it would have made a great display of horse harness that had a great part in building the county back in the horse and buggy age. Perhaps someone reading this post has seen or heard about a new found set of horse harness and will call the Museum in Lake Bronson so we can arrange for it to be returned or for the Sheriffs office to take some action.

It was rather a disappointing end to what was already a sad story.





Prairie Showers

Today it rained off and on. That usually means that the rain clouds are marching across the sky, bringing rain to limited areas of prairie unexpectedly. They are also known as sunshine showers as the rain can be surrounded by bright sunshine the whole time it is raining.100_1822.JPG

One advantage of living on the open prairie is the rain clouds can be seen coming from a long distance and the falling rain reminds one of a huge garden hose, watering the crops.


When I was very young and caught in a rain storm, while living in the city, I always assumed that it was raining all over the city at the same time.  I was quite surprised when I was a little older to see it raining some distance down the street, but not where I was. Had I been raised on the open prairie I would have caught on more quickly.

Flatland Farm

I love exploring old abandoned farms in Kittson County. Farms that provided a home and an occupation during the forties and earlier.  Many of them look as if they just packed up and left the buildings and never looked back.  Some places get the grass mowed and some even get the lawns trimmed, but most age rapidly in the wind and rain and hot sun.


The buildings served a multitude of purposes, from storing equipment, sheltering animals to storing grain. These buildings at one time were part of the farm yard but now even that land is being cultivated.

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The door has sagged to the point the latch no longer works so a chunk of iron secures it from the strong prairie winds. The blowing dirt slowly builds up around the shed and in turn the grass grows with it. Its now to the point the door can no longer open.

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This corner of the building is fully exposed to the strongest sand laden winds which have slowly chewed away at the boards. The lower boards are protected by the grass while the highest boards sit above the worst of the sand. Mother nature is relentless.

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This is another old building which appears to have had a multitude of uses. The upright boards in the sagging door show its present size, accompanied by another iron wind support. If you look carefully you will see the added boards on the right side of the door shows the previous door was larger.  The short boards on the left side of the door indicate that originally the door opening  was even larger. As the buildings use changed the doors were reduced in size.

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Every farm yard had at least one well with a large hand pump. The well lid is warped and getting dangerous. A tight top on a well keeps small critters from falling in and tainting the morning coffee. While the pump was last in use two clamps were needed to hold the top pieces in place.  The farm was obviously abandoned about this time and the pump never fixed permanently.  The grass has not been cut since last year.

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At the time the photo was taken the field had been cultivated and was awaiting seeding. The building should survives  for at least another ten years as a reminder of the orginial tenants but soon even it will be gone. The present farmer no long lives on the property.

George’s house – a little history

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George’s House

I have learned that George Johnson bought the house and the land from Glen Clair Beck some time in the late 1940’s.

Beck bought the land and a smaller old house from Pete Anderson in 1938. In about 1942 Beck bought the present house and moved into onto the property in order to house his growing family. Betty (Beck) Wileski has kindly provided me with this information.  She lived in the house for about ten years before the family moved to farm south west of Lancaster.

At the present time we have not learned where the house originally came from, but we are still looking. To emphasize how small the original house was, Betty commented with a laugh, “After we moved out, it was turned into a chicken house.”

Betty’s information has confirmed the George Johnson purchased the house and the land and it was never owned by his parents who farmed in the Caribou area. If you know any additional information about George Johnson, his house, or family history please contact me at