Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Brother Harry; Death by Logging in 1900 – Obit in 2019.

Last post saw Mathias Hemmingsen work his cant hook on a river drive down the Upper Mississippi and then use his canny white water skills to clear a log jam around Red Lake Falls.1 That was May 1900 in northwestern Minnesota. It was time for a rest.

Matt apparently took the break back home in Mason, WI – US Census 1900 enumerated him there as resident of a lumber camp.2 He was likely on hand to attend the June 10th wedding of his beloved sister Henrietta. Dearly missing Harry and Marie, every sibling we thought alive was there. Matt returned to the Red River area thereafter, where the story picks up.

His upcoming August birthday would turn him 24. That fall would be this naturalized citizen’s first federal election; President William McKinley was re-elected on November 6th. Life was good and actually improving, but what soon followed was horrifying and heartbreaking.

The event was not disputed but its timing was. Matt, at 80, put it at 1900 in these Memoirs of about 1956. His son John, our father, at 86, put it years earlier in his Family History of 1999. 3 John’s work has been available to us since then, while Matt’s was fresh a couple of months ago. So, John’s version was established family lore. The issue for us is that John may have corrected his father’s account, based on conversation that postdated this unedited draft Memoir. The issue for Matt’s brother, is that John would rob him of an adult life.

Descendants offer their findings after the Memoir extract, to determine if, once again, Matt’s memory conflated events of intense adverse personal nature, due to what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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

“My next job, gathering up logs around the shores of Red Lake to be driven down to Thief River Falls for the sawmills terminated with low water and frost. In other words, the drive was “hung” which meant disgrace to the crew. I had a letter from Harry at that time advising me that he was working on the North Shore of Lake Superior and that a job was waiting for me. After resting up for a month, I joined my brother at the North Shore Camp and the job was working with him decking logs, and the wages $40.00, which was considered big money.

Descendant Notes

This was sometime after June 1900.

Harry was Matt’s junior by a year and a half.

I arrived at Camp November 20th and started work the next day on the decking with Harry and a Canadian Frenchman. We got along very well together and had planned to stay all winter at loading. Friday morning December 7th, we went to work as usual, but due to being nearly finished in that place, the space for logs to come in was very limited, and we had to put on extra speed to keep the skidding teams from waiting for room to deposit their loads. At 10 o’clock at the height of excitement trying to keep things going, Harry and his partner, who were ground men, placed the chain around a big log to come up to me on the top of the pile. I could see that the log was out of balance in the chain and suggested that they have the chain adjusted properly. However, it was not for fear of their being unable to handle the situation safely that the suggestion was made, but to save a lot of unnecessary manipulation. The consequences were that the log went up eight or ten feet, slipped out of the chain, and struck and killed Harry instantly. After Harry’s funeral I decided against any further cant hook work.”

Matt began describing the decking operation on page 8 of his Memoirs. We captured it in the post that included Decking Riverbanks.

From it, we know that in the exact moment at issue, Harry, using a chain, was trying to transfer a 12 to 24-foot log from the ground, up to Matt. Matt would then position it on the log pile using a peavey or cant hook. Since they were nearly finished operations in that area, the log pile Matt was standing on had likely reached the height of 30 feet.


Potential point of conflation of death in 1894 vs 1900: the post that includes “Decking Riverbanks” from Matt’s Memoirs, covered events after the loss of the family farmstead in the 1894 forest fire. We expected to hear about the incident in Matt’s words at that juncture because John claimed Harry’s death happened around then. Instead, Matt lapsed into the “I” mode, without explaining where his sidekick Harry had gone. In fact, Harry was not mentioned again, until late 1900. It was the same event type – decking – that was topical in 1894 and 1900. In other words, the accident episode would have made sense at either place in the narrative. In that interim, younger brother, Ed, matured. Matt could have been working with Ed in 1900, with the accident reflected in the rear view.

Factors that support the conflation possibility:

  • If dead in December 1900, Harry Hemmingson should have been located in that year’s US Census since it was conducted in June. Despite thorough search, he was not found.
  • Significantly, we saw Matt repeatedly, when recalling his mother’s death, call his step-mother by the name of his half-brother’s wife. (First post of the Memoirs). Thus, it would not be unlikely for him to mistake Harry for Ed in 1900.
  • “Friday morning at 10 o’clock”December 7 did, indeed, occur on Friday in 1900. But then, it did as well, in 1894.
  • No account of the gruesome event was found in local newspapers for 1900.


Harry Hemmingson, so-named, was found in no official document. To conform to American custom, surnames of all five children born to Ole Hemmingsen in Norway were changed from Olson/datter to Hemmingson once in the US. Harry was memorialized in the memoirs of his devoted brother, Matt. His place of rest has not been found.

Harald Olson (Ole’s son) was born 05 May 1878 in Hemnes Norway.4 His folks were Ole Hemmingsen and Berit Hass Mathisdatter. Harald apparently spent his young years in Hatfjelldal, as it was from there, that his father emigrated to Wisconsin in 1882.

Harrold Mathisen emigrated on 22 Sep 1886 from Hatfjelldal Norway to Chicago Illinois.4 He was accompanied by his mother, Berit, and two of his four siblings yet born. Further migration to Mason, Bayfield Wisconsin is all but certain.

Harry Harrington died 07 December 1900 in Duluth MN.5 It is tantalizing to claim this serendipitous find as ours, and prove Matt’s account as right; not conflated. Only under cautious circumstances, should one do so. That said:

Exact namesakes were present in the 1900 Duluth MN Census and steps were taken to eliminate any with this particular profile, but in genealogy, we know that one can be missed, or, that any element of a profile may be in error.

Duluth Minnesota lies on the southwestern end of the North Shore of Lake Superior. There is a lot more “north” to Lake Superior before Canada, so, it is unclear where Matt’s “North Shore Camp” was, but if it was in Duluth, it is odd that he did not reference it so. On the other hand, there was much logging in Duluth in 1900.

Harrington was born in Wisconsin, and Hemmingson in Norway. However, we know that Matt erroneously claimed Wisconsin birth in his adult life. Since Matt was witness to the accident which happened away from home, he was likely his brother’s informant.

The best case for Matt’s version: Harry Harrington and Harry Hemmingson died accidentally on the same day. As it turns out, they were born on the same day, since 22 years, 7 months and 2 days computes exactly to 05 May 1878. Who would have known that on that terrible day in Duluth MN? One too grief struck to assure the recorder got the spelling right. Descendant takes a deep breath and claims Harry Harrington.

Harry Hemmingson 05 May 1878 to 07 Dec 1900. RIP dear great uncle, Harry.

THIS ENDS PART VII. Please offer comments or questions below.

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).

Notes and Sources

1 The Memoirs of Mathias Hemmingsen is a 25-page volume dictated to his daughter Margaret Henrietta circa 1956. It is unedited and unpublished, and graciously provided by Mathias’ grandson, Matt via the Matt Hemmingsen Family Collection. This post covers pages 14a to 15b. The work is protected here and published at copyright © 2018-2019. All rights reserved.

2 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.

3 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. 

4 The National Archives of Norway, the Digital Archives Church book for Hemnes parish 1878-1893 SAT/A-1459/825/L0361 [Harald 5MAI1878 AND Marie 18APR 1880] [Note: both posts verify birth years for Ole/1851 and Berith/1853] and Emigrantprotokoll VII 03.07-22.03, 1885-1888// SAT/A-1887/1/32/L007; (2i) for Mathis., Berit with Einer, Marie and Harrold in 1886 p.78/190

5 Document accessed by search at for Name=Harry and Death=07 Dec 1900. Output included 18 worldwide choices including that for Harry Harrington at of the Minnesota Discovery Center.

6 thoughts on “Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Brother Harry; Death by Logging in 1900 – Obit in 2019.

  1. I don’t know if it’s valid here, but it’s a common memory occurrence to conflate more than one memory leading to wrong years, wrong seasons, etc.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s