Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: “White Water” River Drive or Spanish American War

This, Part VI, continues the memoirs of our grandfather, Matt Hemmingsen, the pioneer lumberman of British Columbia. Part V wrapped up a winter of loading logs to the river bank using horse drawn sleighs, in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin.

Spring 1898 has arrived with the next function of the logging process about to begin; the river drive that moves the logs decked at the river banks during winter, to the mill.

Matt had reached 21 at his last birthday. The emigrant of Norway at eleven, was now a naturalized US voter. William McKinley was President.

Note: WordPress Reader does not display columns. Please click “Visit Site” to view the balance of this post where descendants have added side-by-side historical and genealogical data to Matt’s Memoirs.

From Mathias Hemmingsen’s Memoirs 1

The pay for ordinary river work was $1.00 for eleven hours, and $2.50 for sixteen hours on the main drive.

The first day of May was set that year for the drive to start, so the last day in April I went to town intending to enlist in the Army (Spanish American War). The quota of volunteers asked for was filled the first two days which left us two days late. We had no radio then to advise us of what went on. I therefore worked on the river all that summer and the following winter I joined Dad in his logging camp where Harry and I worked together cutting logs until spring. Being employed by Dad seemed to me a bit tame in as much as the number of men in camp was concerned. Having been used to seeing a 100 or more men in camp (we had only 20 men, including Harry and myself.)

The spring of 1900 found me on an upper Mississippi River drive where logs were winched across two lakes by manpower before reaching the outlet to the river. Adverse winds kept us idle for days at a time.

These logs were driven through an Indian Reservation and by law all Indians, whether fit for the jobs or not, were put to work in order to keep peace while going through the Reserve. Those Indians were hard gamblers. They played a game called “mocassin” which is somewhat similar to the shell game, but instead of shells three mittens were used. During the idle days the game went on all day and continued into the night without intermission. Some of the gamblers lost everything they owned including shoes and shirts they wore. The continuous sound of “tom-tom” and the chanting of Indians at play got on my nerves so badly that I quit my job there.

Two days later, together with a pal, we hit the headwater of the Clear Water River which flows into the Red River to Winnipeg, Canada, and then to Hudson’s Bay. There we were promised a job of taking in “rear” which meant that we joined the river crew and also meant being in water up to the neck rolling off logs which had been stranded on sand bars, etc. But having no spare peaveys at camp we were sent down river three miles to arm ourselves with these necessary tools and come back. The Jam Crew foreman handed us each a peavey and told us to go down river a mile to help break a huge log jam, cautioning us about “white water” below and suggesting we follow the trail to the jam. But not being very fond of walking we jumped onto a passing log on our way down to work on the jam. Someone in the crew had informed the foreman that those two new men had come through Hell Rapid on one log. After being reprimanded mildly he said “I am looking for white water men so you fellows stay here and I’ll send two other men back to the rear camp.”

My prowess was exaggerated by a lot of my fellow river men who seemed to think this young man could do the impossible – even to make a bubble on the water – and ride it if no log was in sight.

When the drive reached Red Lake Falls I felt like taking a rest, as did many of the other boys. Bad feet were the main complaint. The term “scalded feet” was prevalent and was a form of poison from the water and fine sand in the heavy boots on long walks in hot weather – it did put some of the uninitiated in hospital.


Descendant Notes

Luckily Granddad mentioned the Spanish American War – conducted April 21 to Aug 13 1898 – for it trued his timeline. He had just been talking about loading logs in the “Winter of 1898” – but that operation typically began Nov. to Dec., weather depending. So he may have meant Winter 1897-1898, or, a year later. This takes on importance to establish the date of death of his brother, Harry.

Dad’s Family History put it between 1892 and 1894.2 Here, Harry appears to be alive in the Spring of 1899.

Question: might he have misspoken Harry for his brother Ed? Recall we have seen him misidentify when he was confronted with memories of great trauma.

Granddad was on the upper Mississippi River in Spring 1900 for a drive starting May 1st.

US Census 1900 enumerated him in Mason WI on the 19th of June as a laborer in a lumber camp.3 Ed was in Mason too, at another camp. Harry was not found in that census anywhere in the US.

Either Matt was in Mason in June 1900 for the rest he noted after Red River Falls, or for the marriage of his sister Henrietta (Etta Church) or both.

It is 1898, when about this time his sister Marie succumbed to TB. Ole’s second family now consisted of Henry, Arthur, and Clarence, with Mildred added in 1897


Part III on the lumber barons, Weyerhaeuser and Humbird, showed that resource depletion in the upper mid-west would cause operations to move west. That influence can be felt in Part VI, although Matt had not yet migrated. Here is a starting point to review geography associated with Matt’s discussion of the Red River of the north.

He had mentioned, in the Bunkhouse Lice post, that he had tried the logging operation of harvesting in North Dakota, but found it not to his liking. That may have been done in conjunction with these Red River events.

THIS ENDS PART VI. Part VII will take his “scalded feet” back to Lake Superior.

Left: Hemmingsen Logging at Cowichan Lake B.C., ca. 1912. Matt emigrated from Norway in 1887, was logging in the Wisconsin woods at twelve and migrated to Vancouver Island in 1906. Our woods pioneer retired in 1946 after significant innovation. CLICK for our broader genealogy and Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen (1867-1976).

COPYRIGHT: Posts authored by Doublegenealogytheadoptionwitness are copyright © 2018-2019. All rights reserved.

Notes and Sources

1 The descendant notes are provided because Matt’s material comes from an unedited, undated, unsigned draft that he apparently dictated to his daughter Margaret Henrietta circa 1956. This post captures pages 12b, 13 and 14a. The 25 -page effort was captioned as below, on page 1. It was provided by Matt’s grandson Matt Hemmingsen, via grandfather Matt’s son, Robert Mathias Hemmingsen. It is protected here, published at copyright © 2018-2019. All rights reserved.

2 The Hemmingsen Family Collection including “John O Hemmingsen/Mary Margaret Hemmingsen (Dickson)” authored 1999 by John Oliver Hemmingsen. All materials posthumously published here are copyright © Marilee Wein 2018-1019. All rights reserved. 

3 Document accessed at © 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.: US Censuses 1900 from United States Archive and Record Administration (NARA) for Mathias Hemmingsen in Mason, Bayfield County Wisconsin.

7 thoughts on “Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: “White Water” River Drive or Spanish American War

  1. Marilee,
    What an amazing story! I’ve never heard any of this before. Was I oblivious or just not at the right time and place to hear?


    1. Granddad had an amazing life. Had Aunt Marg not typed this up and given it to Uncle Bob, who saved it for cousin Matt, who gave it to me, then we siblings would not have heard much from the first half of the Memoir (ca 1956) – that’s what I’ve put out so far. Dad’s Family History is pointed more to the second half. The oddity is that GD skewered this first half by not mentioning his parents by name, and pointing his Norwegian birth and first eleven years there, to Wisconsin. That was compounded because the genealogist that Dad employed to rout out our Norwegian past obviously blundered on GD’s parents birth/death dates which, in turn, hid their whole emigration scheme and first years in the US. That is what I have filled in on earlier posts and is fully documented in Norway archives. If Dad was working from these Memoirs in the late 1990s, he may have glossed over the first half, because without the genealogy being sorted out, they seem at odds with truth. And, as they are unedited draft, many persons and places are identified by only by initial. So no, you were not oblivious, just not informed.


  2. This is great stuff Marilee. I love the old logging history. My how things have changed. There were a number of companies that migrated to California in the 1900’s as the old growth white pine played out in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. Companies like Diamond Match and Red River Lumber came for the vast stands of old growth timber still in California. Many loggers came with them.


    1. It amazes me, that once vast forest was so quickly depleted – whoops – we’d best move west. Hindsight! My Dad wrote me “Forest Regeneration” – a small scrapbook on Hemmingsen family operations in the BC rainforest wherein they replanted their take for new forest. (I’ve posted it) He took me back to the spot a few decades ago to see my birth-year regrowth. It took three separate pictures to appreciate a tree from soil to top! I am so glad to have that perspective.


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