Circa: 1928By Betty
Here is the tale my mother told so many times so very long ago.
My great grandfather was a doctor who chose to serve the Yankee army during the Civil War. After the war, he and four army buddies traveled north on the Mississippi River on an open flat barge. Some days the River was in a hurry, pushing icy waves over all the barge, leaving it cold and wet; other days the old wooden barge floated like driftwood. Sometimes men tried to paddle it quickly north; other days, nature had its way.
At Minneapolis the River divided – one course roared north to the Canadian border. The other course drifted west along the bluffs and valleys. The soldiers chose west which was closer to the homes they’d left. At the bend of the River they said, “Enough” and tied the barge to the trees. Out on land they stretched, looked around, and declared, “We’ll settle.” In time they built a barn to store supplies. One by one settlers wondered by and then spread the word. A general store evolved.
The old barge traveled to Minneapolis to buy lumber, groceries, hardware, boots, jackets. Business grew. Farmers sent the wheat by the old barge to Minneapolis to be ground into flour. The five soldiers decided to build a mill from stone from a nearby quarry. The mill still stands, today.
The doctor had a one-room office and as the town’s population grew, the men used stones from the quarry and built a hospital. It was the only hospital for many years. The very old stone hospital is now a care facility.
People wanted and needed a church. From the quarry came stones to build a church – the church where I walked down dark, damp stairs to a well-lit basement room where I read Bible stories to 3 and 4 year-olds while the parents were upstairs at services.
Later, I played the piano for the junior choir. My best friend and I sat many a night on the stone steps and planned our lives. It was here I found faith and peace for all time. Could those five soldiers know, they’d smile and think, “Well done, Yankee soldier.”
The town grew big and people were growing old. Up a tree-filled valley was an open hillside. The five soldiers bought the land, deeded it to the city for all perpetuity and created a trust to sustain it. It’s now the cemetery where my great-grandparents rest in peace.
There is no character for this tale. These five men had character. They were five young men who had seen the world at its worst. They left families and home not knowing if they’d return. They had survived bullets, hatred, cruelty, hunger, cold, betrayal, death, overwhelming odds.
Floating up the Mississippi River on a flat barge sometimes rocked and covered with icy wet water. Sometimes just drifting along, like a piece of driftwood. They had no fear – they had survived the worst. And hope must have called them home to build a simple life where people would live in peace. Always hoping they were making the world a better place because they tried.