Tuesday, January 28, 2014

On the Road to Bathgate Act 4d: I. J. Foster -- They Came to Make Sure He Was Dead

This post, and the On the Road to Bathgate series as a whole, are a journey in learning about, understanding and documenting a family's legacy. This journey began 4 years ago in a small grove of trees on an otherwise open plain near Bathgate, North Dakota at the protestant cemetery (located on land donated by my great grandfather William K. Foster). My oldest daughter launched the journey at the grave of my grandfather, Isaac J. Foster, who on this earth was supported by a cast of 11 children, his wife, Laura Elizabeth Armstrong Foster, and a host of others. I. J. was called from the mortal world 80 years ago but left an unmistakable trail.

When the family went out west in 2010 to scout potential retirement locales, we stopped at my father's home town of Bathgate. I stuck my head in at Reiny's (a bar and the sole remaining retail business in town, now population 43) and inquired of the cemetery's location. We followed the directions kindly given, going south down Garfield Street, left on County Road 1, and beyond the old Great Northern railroad right of way, in total about a half mile out of town. Looking off to the right I spied a grove of trees whose vision triggered memories of my last visit, more than 40 years previous.
Bathgate Cemetery satellite view screenshot, Google Maps
We drove to a parking strip next to the grove, parked, explored the cemetery, and located the Foster family plot. We brushed away leaves and grass clippings from the family headstones and cleared dirt that had accumulated across the edges. My kids found flowers to place on the graves. When we departed the cemetery, my daughter turned to me and said, "Dad, I really feel like I come from somewhere now."

The Foster family plot at Bathgate -- a place from where she comes.
This journey is about filling in missing blanks in that "somewhere." 

The year was 1934 and the Foster era in Bathgate was coming to an end. It had begun when William K. Foster and sons (including my grandfather Isaac) homesteaded quarter section (160 acre) claims in 1879, perfected those claims, and worked with a developer to build the town of Bathgate on one of those claims. Fosters lived in, promoted and served the town for fifty plus years thereafter. 

At Bathgate's peak there were multiple banks and hotels in town, four churches and a mill.
There was a Creamery and a Cheese Factory. Machinery Shops were many. Blacksmith shops, Hardware Stores and Tinsmiths did a huge business. There were Photograph Galleries, milliner shops, dressmaking establishments. Harness making was a lucrative business, even tobacco was grown at Bathgate for a time and there was a Cigar Factory. There was a Wholesale Grocery and Farm Machinery business which supplied settlers as far away as west of Langdon. Many retail stores were in business. The last big retail store being the Hillis and Manning Store, which closed in 1927, after a quarter of a century in business.
By 1934 the town's population had fallen by more than half, my grandparents were ailing -- two of their children had died, and six had moved on, leaving three adult sons at home. The dust bowl, which had earlier savaged cropland in the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, moved north, darkening North Dakota skies. The U.S. Weather Bureau reported:
Bismarck, N. Dak. - While frequent dust storms have visited North Dakota this spring (1934) those on 11 days warrant special mention. The most severe of these storms occurred on April 21 and 22. The velocity of the wind was greater on the 21st, but the volume and density of the dust was greater on the 22nd. The latter storm caused the most comment because of the fact that the 22nd fell on a Sunday, and travel both by automobile and by plane was hazardous and difficult. Several aviators reported that dust was encountered at all levels up to 14,000 feet,. A report on the storm of April 22 follows: A severe dust storm began at 11 a. m. and continued all day, ending the night following. Visibility at the station was as low as 200 yards, at various times. This was the most severe dust storm experienced at the Bismarck station during the 28 years that I have been in charge.
The Great Depression had an iron grip on the economy in 1934. Nationwide unemployment was 22 percent, little improved from the record high jobless rates of 25 percent in 1932 and 24 percent in 1933. 

In The History of North Dakota it is reported:
The Great Depression of the 1930s both slowed progress and sped change. Heavy farm debt loads and low commodity prices caused a crisis of farm foreclosures and bank failures. 
For many ... the economic hardships of the Depression could not be overcome. Thousands of North Dakotans lost their farms and either moved into the cities and towns or from the state. One historian estimates that over 70% of the state's people required one form or another of public assistance. The toll in broken dreams, physical hunger and hardship, and displacement will never be completely measured. 
Both my grandparents died in 1934, and the three sons who had remained in Bathgate scattered soon thereafter, as if lifted by wind from the only home they had ever known. 

Lizzie passed first. Her illness and treatment were reported in the February 9 edition of the Cavalier Chronicle.
Mrs. I. J. Foster and son Bryant went to Fargo Thursday where Mrs. Foster received medical treatment. They returned Saturday afternoon. 
She died within the fortnight. Here is her obituary from the February 23, 1934 Cavalier (N. D.) Chronicle.
               MRS. I. J. FOSTER

Laura Elizabeth Armstrong was born at Nashville, Minnesota, August 15, 1869 and died at her home in Bathgate, Feb. 14, 1934. at the age of 64.  At the age of 13 she moved west with her parents to Bathgate and she and her people were among the pioneering residents of the community. On May 29, 1890 she was married to I. J. Foster of Bathgate. To their union were born eleven children, two of whom, Bina and Grace preceded her in death.
Cavalier Chronicle 2/23/1934
She leaves to mourn her passing her husband, six sons, Adams, Bryant and George, of Bathgate, Lyndon of Los Angeles, Herbert and James of Chicago, and three daughters, Mrs. Charles King of Dickinson, N. D., Mrs. Clifford Cameron of Emerson, Manitoba and Mrs. A. L. Von Alman of Littlefork, MN and seven grandchildren. She is survived by two brothers, R. O. Armstrong of Minneapolis and L. K. Armstrong of Spokane, Wash., and five sisters, Mrs. C. F. Livermore and Arie Armstrong of Minneapolis, Mrs. R. D. Hoskins of Bismarck N. D., Mrs. E. C. Mounton and Mrs. F. G. Wassgatt of Winnebago, Minn.
Several months ago a reunion of the six sisters was arranged at the summer home of Mrs. Hoskins at Detroit Lakes, Minn., where they spent a happy week together.  Mrs. Foster was a devoted member of the Baptist church. She was also a member of the Order of Eastern Star and of the Bathgate Study Club.
To her family she was an unselfish and devoted mother, untiring in her
care and labor for their comfort and welfare. To her friends she was the always optimistic and cheerful neighbor, smiling in the face of discouragement, never admitting defeat. Her memory will linger long in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.
Funeral services for Mrs. I. J. Foster, whose death occured , Wednesday, February 14th, at their home were held at the Presbyterian church on Saturday afternoon, Rev. Frank Shallcross of Cavalier officiating, assisted by Rev. T. B. Lindsay, pastor. The hymns sun at the service were selected by Mrs. Foster and were sung at her mother's funeral, "The Sweet Bye and Bye" and "Shall we Gather at the River." "The Ninety and Nine," a special favorite of Mrs. Foster's was rendered as a solo by Mr. Arthur Strom.
Pallbearers were H. S. Evert, K. O. Paulson, Edward Seblen, Harold Robertson, O. A. Larson and S. T. Witmer.
The remains were laid to rest in the Bathgate cemetery. Mr. Foster, who has been seriously ill for weeks, was unable to be present at the church services. A brief private service at the house was held earlier.
As was customary, the Chronicle reported on comings and goings related to attendance at the funeral. In its February 23, 1937 edition:
Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Cameron and daughter Aneta (sic) of Emerson were called here Wednesday by the death of Mrs. Cameron's mother, Mrs. I. J. Foster. Herbert Foster of Chicago arrived here Thursday evening.  Coming to Grand Forks via plane and then to Grafton by train. He was met by his brother Bryant and Alexander Beaton jr., (sic) Thursday evening.:
Mrs. Stump of Grand Forks came to the Foster home Friday, to attend the funeral of Mrs. I. J. Foster.
Lizzie's passing was mourned by all.

I. J. held on for some months thereafter. He had a reputation for being strong, tough and not to be trifled with. The family lore is that Sheriff Ike had a huge funeral. Everyone came, they say, mainly to make sure he was dead. Whether that was the case, decide for yourself as you read the contemporaneous accounts repeated below. As for my Aunt Margaret (Mrs. C. Cameron), she was always near and dear to my heart -- as you read below and see her steadfastness, you may get a small hint as to why.

Not long before Lizzie's death, Ike was said to have been getting better. First, in early February (the 9th) the Chronicle reported:
Mr. and Mrs. C. Cameron of Emerson, Man., who were called here Tuesday by the illness of Mrs. Cameron's father, I. J. Foster, returned to their home in Emerson Saturday. Mr. Foster was somewhat better when they left.
The February 16 edition of the Chronicle offered tempered optimism:
Cavalier Chronicle, February 16, 1934
I. J. Foster who has been very seriously ill for the past month is reportedly at this writing a little better and his friends sincerely hope that he will continue to improve.
As winter moved into spring my Aunt Margaret continued to come down from her home in Canada to regularly visit. The March 30th report from the Chronicle:
Mr. and Mrs. Cliff Cameron and Annetta were Sunday visitors at the I. J. Foster home.
In April (the 20th) Aunt Charlotte and children accompanied Aunt Margaret for a visit:
Mr. and Mrs. C. Cameron and daughter Aneta (sic) of Emerson, Manitoba, visited at the I. J. Foster home Sunday. They were accompanied by Mrs. L. A. Von Alman and children who spent the past two weeks visiting at the Cameron home.
As April seeped into May (the 11th), however, it became clear that the end was near.
Mr. and Mrs. C. Cameron and daughter Aneta (sic) of Emerson, Man., are at the I. J. Foster home now. They were called by the critical illness of Mrs. Cameron's father, I. J. Foster.
The first report of Ike's death appeared in the North Dakota state capital Bismarck Tribune, published some 300 miles distant.
Long Illness Fatal to
I. J. Foster, Bathgate
Mr. and Mrs. R. D. Hoskins, 904 Fourth St., have received word of the death of Mrs. Hoskins' brother-in-law, I. J. Foster, which occurred at his home at Bathgate Thursday morning after a long illness due to cancer. It will be remembered that Mrs. Foster died Feb. 14 of this year.
The Bismarck Tribune 5/11/1934 
Mr. Foster had been in serious condition during most of the winter and until a month before his death was a patient at a Grafton hospital. He is well-known here as he served as a member of the state livestock board at one time. Mrs. Foster was the former Elizabeth Armstrong and had many friends here.
The funeral will be conducted at Bathgate 2 o'clock Sunday afternoon. Mr. Foster's remains will be laid to rest beside those of his wife in the Bathgate cemetery.
The Cavalier Chronicle reported on a son and a brother who came promptly into town for the funeral.
Herbert Foster arrived here Friday evening from Chicago, having been called here by the death of his father, I. J. Foster.
George Foster, Sr., of Chicago arrived here Saturday to attend the funeral of his brother, I. J. Foster
Having missed the previous week's deadline, in its May 18 edition, the editors of the Cavalier Chronicle remembered Ike.

I. J. Foster 
IT IS THE LOT OF EVERY MORTAL BEING TO   obey that final law of the infinite -- death.
Cavalier Chronicle, May 18, 1934
Nature neither measures nor balances our wishes in this matter, but inexorably grinds onward into the teeth of time, the unfinished story of humanity.
A thousand babes are born and a thousand men die. With a breath life begins and with a breath it ends. Such is the law of nature.
I. J. Foster was born into this world, carrying in his heart a genuine interest in his fellowmen which made him an outstanding character in Pembina county and its environs.
After many years among us, acquiring a fullness of life beyond the privilege of the average man, he became subject to that law of the infinite and now is gone.
Around us the pulse of life beats on, but let us pause a moment in tribute to his memory -- to him whom we remember.
The Chronicle reported the obituary on page 1.
Final Tribute Paid
Foster Memory

Vast Crowd of Pembina Folk Gathers Sunday
For Bathgate Funeral of Well-Known Citizen
One of the largest funerals held in Pembina county and the largest ever held in Bathgate was conducted here Sunday afternoon when final tribute was paid to the memory of I. J. Foster, widely know Pembina county resident. Between 800 and 1,000 persons are estimated to have attended. Funeral services were held from the home and 2 p. m. with Rev. Frank Shallcross and Rev. T. B. Lindsay officiating. 
Special music was rendered by a local choir with Arthur Strom as soloist, singing favorite hymns of Mr. Foster. 
Cavalier Chronicle, May 18, 1934
There was a Masonic escort to the cemetery and Masonic services at the grave. The floral offerings were many and beautiful including large wreaths from Governor William Langer.  Pall bearers were the same men as acted at the funeral of Mrs. Foster in February. They were: O. A. Larson, Max Duprey, H. E. Robertson, E. J. Seblen, S. T. Witmer and K. O. Paulson.
I. J. Foster was born Feb. 26 1861, at Moncton, Ontario and died May 10, 1934. Came to North Dakota in 1874, homesteading on the present site of Bathgate City. In 1890 he was married to Elizabeth Armstrong of Nashville, Minn. Mrs. Foster died Feb. 14, 1934. 
To their union 11 children were born, five daughters: Albina, who died in 1928; Grace who died in 1927; Florence (Mrs. Charles King) of Dickinson, N. D.; Margaret (Mrs. S. C. Cameron) of Emerson, Man.; Charlotte (Mrs. A. L. Von Alman) of Littlefork, Minn. and six sons, Herbert and James of Chicago, Adams, Bryant, George of Bathgate and L. R. of Los Angeles. 
Mr. Foster was a prominent man throughout the county and the state. He served as sheriff of Pembina county for two terms. For 14 years he was vice president and a member of the State Livestock Sanitary Board. For over thirty years he was an active auctioneer in Pembina county. Prior to that he was in was in the real Estate business at Bathgate. Mr. Foster was always active in Democratic politics. During the year 1908 he served as Master of the Bathgate Masonic lodge.
He leaves, besides his family, a sister, Mrs. A. E. Palmer of Seattle, Wash., and two brothers, George S. of Chicago and James D. of Edmonton, Alberta, and a host of friends throughout the country.

For reference, Bathgate's population at the time of the 1930 census was 292, while the funeral attracted 800 to 1,000 people six days before the obituary was published in the Chronicle, which was and is the newspaper of record in Pembina County.

The next week the Chronicle noted two departures:
Herbert Foster returned to Chicago Sunday after spending a week here. He was called here by the death of his father, I. J. Foster.
Mrs. L. A. Von Alman and the children, Robert and Margie Anne leave for their home in Littlefork, Minn., Tuesday after being here for the past six or seven months. Mrs. Von Alman will be remembered as Charlotte Foster.

Isaac Jarvis Foster

Starting with the end does not mean this is the finish. Readers may be assured that once we have had an opportunity to sort through and digest our recent research, we will return with additional posts on lives long and well lived. When I talked about Ike with an employee at the State Historical Society of North Dakota, she said, "Oh, he was a businessman." There is much to report. 


  1. Thank you for posting this. I was searching for family members on the (R.D.) Hoskins side of the family, and I see that this is fairly recent.

    I appreciate you taking the time to write this.

    1. You are quite welcome. It's a pleasure.

      I knew a Bob and Lee Hoskins some 30 years or so back, who are on the Hoskins side -- he was probably a grandchild of R.D, but I'm not sure at this point. They graciously had us up to their place on Fisher Island, New York. It was take the Amtrak train to New London, CT and get on the ferry from there. They were wonderful, gracious people.

      I hope to expand my writings into the Hoskins side down the road. When I was in Bismarck this winter all the old timers knew or knew of the Hoskins because of their ownership of the Hoskins Meyer store and media outlets.

      The Bismarck Tribune, which is behind the paywall at newspapers.com, has a ton of Hoskins material. I have a copy of R.D.s obit (very extensive) that I'll publish soon, and try to figure out a way to let you know, or if you can send me an email, I will send a copy directly.

    2. Here is a R. D. Hoskins post. Enjoy!