Monday, October 7, 2013

1910 Forest Fire in Baudette MN

Recently I was stunned by a story. I suppose it will bug me until I write about it.

In 1859 a young boy was born in Sweden, his was named Edward Rulien but he was known as “Erik”.  I am not sure when he came to the United States, it was before 1882.  In 1884 he married Mathilda Johnson in New Richmond Wisconsin.  They would have four children for sure.  William born in 1884, Anna in 1887, Hulda in 1888 and Teodor who was born in 1890, his birth on February 8, 1890 would claim his mothers life two weeks later. Teodor would live but only for seven months.

Erik was widowed with children aged  6, 3 and 2 and a brand new baby.  He quickly married his wife’s sister, her name was Augusta Johnson. In 1891 they welcomed Ellen, Herman in 1893, Lillie in 1895, Hildegard 1897, Judith 1899, Evelyn 1901, Agnes 1904 and finally Elizabeth Margaret in 1910. 

In 1907 they moved to Minnesota, settling near Baudette. Baudette was a logging area.  Big timber surrounded the area with a few small homesteads where cleared land would raise a garden and enough grain and hay for their animals. Most everyone cut and sold timber for a living. It was a summer of drought.  In the Fall Typhoid was making the rounds.  There were fires in the area, either from brush piles or sparks from the train tracks, on October 4, 1910 the towns of Graceton, Pit, Williams and Cedar Spur would be wiped out.  On October 7, 1910 the winds would fan four fires into one burning tornado.  The residents of Baudette and Spooner would have little warning.  A few trains left with people, some survived by going into the river, the sick were taken down to the river on cots.  Some people fled by boat.

Erik and Augusta would hide in a root cellar shielding their children from the flames, until it became too hot, then they would huddle together in an open area in their yard.  It must have been like being in an oven.  The seven youngest children would perish with their parents.

William the oldest survived because he was in Crookston or he stood in a river all night, from what I read there are conflicting reports.  He never married as far I can can figure.  The three oldest girls, Anna, Hulda and Ellen survived because they were working in Minneapolis.

Baudette and Spooner would begin rebuilding immediately, their lumber mills remained intact.  The loggers may not have a home but they had a job.  Canadians just across the border housed many of the fire victims until they could rebuild homes.

So what fueled my interest in this story?   Remember those three girls that were working in the cities?  One was married in 1908.  I bought an old photo in an antique shop of her 50th Wedding Anniversary.  I feature one photo a day on Forgotten Old Photos hoping that someone will claim a photo.  Occasionally Iggy can track down the people if we have a name.  In this case we had two first names Anna and Algot and a wedding date…no last name. 

June 25 1958 50 th Anniversary DL Number 1359

Algot and Anna Norrbohm

Looks like she was happily married for a good long time and had many children. Her second child was born just 12 days after the fire in 1910. She bestowed her maiden name of Rulien as Kirby’s middle name..perhaps as a way to honor her family.

One million acres burned back in 1910, the Baudette/Spooner fire ranks third worst forest fire in Minnesota.  Because of that fire the Fire Commissioner urged the State Legislature to form the Minnesota Forestry Services which later became the DNR.

43 people perished in the fire, nine from Anna’s family. The three girls escaped because they weren’t loggers, Hulda never married as far as I can tell, she died in 1969 and is buried back in Wisconsin near her mother.  Anna died in 1965 and I couldn’t find out anything about Ellen.

I am not sure that this photo will ever find it’s way home.  But now at least the story or a bit of it has been told:)

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  1. Morning, interesting story, Francine.

  2. Very interesting story. Hope you find Anna or a relative some day.

  3. I have always said that real life is far more interesting and dramatic than anything anyone could ever make up. What a fascinating story. Thank you for telling it and the photo really brings it to life. I have a book somewhere about an 1800's fire in MN that I bought years ago and I thought it was a true story but it was combined from facts and some fiction thrown in. If I find it I will send it to you. I don't think it related to that fire though. I don't recognize the names of those towns. I've been wanting to read the book about the blizzard back in the day that came out a few years ago. I heard about it on public radio. I forget the name of it now. I love true history of regular people especially the midwest, of course! LOL! Have a great day.

  4. I haven't fully "given up" on the research on this one. There are so many children, I find it a case of "where to start?" As I attempted to find "any living ones" I found that the "timing" of the information I had (i.e., 1940 being the last census with public records) and the passing of this couple predates a lot of published obituaries - make a gap in what I could trace. Surely there are lots of grandchildren with children around - I see many listed living in Minnesota, but I can't find any "link" that says, "this person was so-and-so's child."

  5. Wow, what a story. I can't imagine the horror or that fire, and literally being cooked to death.

  6. Wow! Definitely a story that needed to be told. I hope Iggy will be able to find the link so this photo can be another Full Circle.

  7. What a heartbreaking story.

  8. Our ancestors faced some very hard times. I often wonder how they had the courage to go on. I guess they didn't have a choice.

  9. We simply can't imagine how difficult it must have been to live in those times. There are records of a huge fire in a nearby town, and the only way a family survived was to go down the well.


  10. That is quite some family history :) -- great post! Would be neat to find the connections to that photo.

  11. Wow - what a story. Full of tragedy and yet with a some good endings too.

  12. I lived in Baudette for a couple years and there are eye witness accounts of the fire. I think I read them in the library in Roseau, where my grandma was born. You can still see the pit grave in the cemetery in Baudette where the victims were buried. The stories have always haunted me. There is one about a father who put his family in the well to survive.

  13. Well done!! An very intersting!


  14. My girlfriend worked at the nursing home in Baudette a couple years ago and there was a survivor living there that remembers her mother taking her in the river as a little girl to escape this fire. There is a book about the fire ( don't remember the name).

  15. From Jeff : Not sure if I entered my last comments correctly, so I'll try once again. This picture is my grandparents, Algot and Anna. You have done a nice job of research and I certainly appreciate all your hard work. If anyone would like some more of the story please feel free to contact me Jeff.


Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your comments! If you have a question I will try to answer it here. Connie