Great-grandfather Ross

21 Nov

Great-grandfather Ross

by Carrie Ross Marsden

written to Lawrence A. Marsden, her son

The story of my father is not a happy one. He was a hard worker as a logger on the St. Croix River in Minnesota. He had bought many sections of timber from the government at $1.25 per acre. I think there were 36 sections. He logged this timber and floated it down the river in the spring of the year.

He had about $50,000 in the bank, and the winter cut of logs ready to sell when disaster struck. You see, he had become an alcoholic and couldn’t stay away from the saloons. One day he had a dispute with one of his teamsters about how much he agreed to pay the man at the time he hired him. The amount in dispute was only about five or ten dollars a month.

During one of his drinking sprees, he told his best (?) friend about it and that the teamster was going to sue him. The friend told him about a plan to stop the man. All my father had to do was to assign all my father’s holdings to the friend, and the man would not be able to collect anything. My father, in his liquor-addled mind, foolishly did assign all his holdings to his so-called friend.

The friend immediately took over the operation of the business and, in the next few years logged all the remaining timber while the action in the courts dragged on and on. My father spent all of his money to the lawyers who were supposedly trying to get the property back.

After several years, my mother hired a lawyer in Minneapolis on her own account to get back the property. This lawyer brought this Judas friend into court and told the court that the laws of Minnesota required that the assignee of property must show adequate value for an assignment of property, and asked the friend to do so. Of course, he could not do so. The court ruled that the assignment was not legal and the property must be returned to my father.

But, by that time, the timber had been logged, the teams and other personal property disposed of, and the proceeds placed where it could not be recovered.

Such a mess! The result of the litigation was that my father was broke, had no timber to log, and alcohol had reduced him to what one could call a “bum.” The story we children were told was that later he went through the ice on the river and was drowned. Whether that is fact or fiction, I cannot document. Another version I have been told is that he went out into the Dakotas and homesteaded land. This, too, I cannot document.

At best, it is a story of what happened to an alcoholic, and how not to trust a friend even if you consider him your best friend. The result of this was, that my mother told us many times, “Boys, I would rather see you brought home in a casket, than to see you brought home drunk.”

None of us that I am aware of, have ever drunk whiskey1. These notes are not fiction, they are facts. I have no resentment against my father, although I have some remembrances of how badly he treated my mother. Since alcoholism has been determined to be a disease, my father needed psychiatric treatments, but in those days, such treatment was unheard of.

My mother was a wonderful woman. She raised five children and gave each of them a good education. She was a pioneer in spirit, and, when the children reached adulthood, she sent up into Canada (British Columbia) and pre-empted land on Kitsum Kalem Lake, where she became postmistress in the town of Rosswood (named after her). She was a hard worker and could earn money wherever she lived. Her principal source was to keep boarders, run a hotel or restaurant, or both. She had great courage and resourcefulness, and believed fully in her Catholic teachings. God bless her!

I was reluctant to give you this story about my father, but, since he is your grandfather, I think you have a right to know. Should you retain the information to yourself, that is your privilege. I have no objection.

Carrie Ross Marsden was known to her four grandchildren as “Bapa.” She was a teacher for many years, and taught in one room schoolhouses. Her gravely voice was kind and wonderful, and she made the best sweet rolls ever. My mom could never match them, and claimed Bapa intentionally left out a step or ingredient in the recipe. Whenever I listen to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Book Ends” — the song “Old Friends” — I am reminded of her during the recorded voices that precede the music. She was living with us when she died. At the time, she had come to believe that the Communists were spying on her. — LSM

1Carrie Ross Marsden definitely enjoyed a drink of scotch or gin – and I can attest to that as her grandson.

Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends”

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