Monday, December 21, 2015

On The Road to Bathgate Act 4i: Aunt Charlotte Nancy Foster Von Alman on Fire

Charlotte Foster and Arnold Leroy Von Alman,
Glendive, Montana, wedding photo, March 29, 1930.
We have relied on Charlotte Nancy Foster Von Alman's writing and storytelling many times. But up to now we have not written a post featuring aunt Charlotte. We rectify that here with additional passages from her family history and vignettes on her long and well-lived life.

Charlotte Nancy Foster Von Alman was born in Bathgate, North Dakota (population 43, 2010 census), November 22, 1906, the tenth of eleven children of I. J. and Laura Elizabeth Armstrong Foster. Charlotte was immediately preceded in birth by her brother Jimmy who was born on September 16, 1905. My father, George W. Foster, the eleventh and final surviving child, came into this world almost three years after Charlotte on August 27, 1909. 

After growing up in Bathgate Charlotte left to attend college, earn her teaching certificate and become a teacher in country schools in North Dakota and Montana. She married Arnold Leroy "Roy" Von Alman in Glendive, Montana on March 29, 1930. The newlyweds returned east to Littlefork, Minnesota shortly thereafter, where their offspring, Bob, Marge and Lyn, were born and raised. Marge lives in Littlefork to this day. Charlotte died at Littlefork on May 2, 1988. 

Foster family of Bathgate, North Dakota, 1910 Federal Census.

Charlotte Nancy Foster, December, 1906
Note the treadle (foot powered) sewing machine in the background of Charlotte's baby picture. As was typical in the day the machine was located near a window to permit entry of natural light to illuminate the sewing surface.

Charlotte bequeathed us fascinating snippets of family lore in the form of an 18-page, typewritten history on the Isaac Jarvis (1862-1934) and Laura Elizabeth Armstrong Foster (1870-1934) family. The history is jam packed with stories about Bathgate, her parents and ten siblings, and the life and times when the children grew up in Bathgate between 1890 and 1930. We sliced and diced, and then spliced the typewritten history into various Foster family ancestry posts, including on her sister Bina, her father Ike and mother Laura, her brothers Adams and Lyn, and her uncle George Sanderson Foster

Now to the family history -- Charlotte noted that initially the family lived in town, next to the Northern Pacific railroad tracks, a circumstance which entertained the children to no end, and made the family near neighbors of the migrant laborers of the era.

Township Map, Bathgate, North Dakota, 1893 plat book.
I. J. Foster, "The Land Man," had a lot more real estate than that residential lot abutting the railroad right of way. He owned the full quarter section (160 acres) that encompassed the north end of town, plus farmland beyond. Isaac's landholding (see township map right) was bisected by the Northern Pacific railroad and divided into three segments by the banks of the Tongue River. 

We can see exactly where in town the family lived on the plat map (below) of the subdivided Comstock and White Addition to Bathgate. The quadrilateral I. J. Foster family lot is seen at the top left center (to the immediate left of the railroad tracks, just above the railroad siding and a block east of the river).

Plat map, Bathgate, North Dakota.

The hobos who lived under the railroad bridge were a class of individuals who wandered the country seeking work, which usually meant following the crops. They were distinguishable from but frequently confused with less respected brethren.

Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West, By Mark Wyman

The routing of the Northern Pacific railroad and the fame of world champion skater Norval Baptie, Bathgate's best known citizen, intersected to literally put Bathgate on the map.
Town of Bathgate Owes Much To Norval Baptie

It Was the Rare Performances of the Present Champion Skater That Put the Village on the Map 

Few men have won the distinction that has come to Norval Baptie, the great speed skater who will compete at Duquesne Garden this week. He has been the undisputed champion of the professional class for some years. He has annexed so many records that it was recently necessary to build a lean-to to his farm house in North Dakota to hold them all. But in addition to this he is one of the few men who by their achievements athletically or otherwise has succeeded in putting the name of his home town on the map. 
Pittsburgh Press, March 25, 1908.
Baptie was discovered by Johnny Johnson, former champion, and Tom Eck, the great trainer of skaters and bicycle riders. They took him East and entered him at the national championship events at Montreal, Canada. He gave his home address as Bathgate, N. D. The man who was to become the marvel of the age as a speed merchant on skates was a that time only a green country youth, aged 16. The elder skaters made him the butt of all the "kidding," and one remarked that Bathgate was not even on the map. They looked it up and found the statement was correct. A railroad schedule showed it was on the Northern Pacific, and that the train, a combination accommodation and way-freight, stopped there once a week. This one was so slow that yesterday's train usually arrived the day after tomorrow. 
All this riled Baptie greatly, and he went out to show up his tormentors. He put it over them and though the junior of all by several years, skated away with two championships, breaking two records at the same time. James J. Hill, president of the road, happened to be in Montreal visiting his son. He saw the races and became interested in the young phenom. He heard the lad's story and Bathgate immediately went on the map, and now it is the most important stop from Winnipeg to St. Paul. Baptie has since done his best to keep it there.
Bathgate was the type of town where everybody knew everyone. In Charlotte's youth neighbor helped neighbor, caring for each other in sickness and health, and offering mutual aid and comfort in periods of grief. Charity was personal and it started at home.

Charity extended beyond state lines. When Montana was stricken with drought I. J. Foster and others offered pasture and water, gratis, to Montana farmers.

Nonpartisan Leader, August 25, 1919
Bathgate, N. D.
Editor Nonpartisan Leader: 
There is pasture and plenty of water in this section for several hundred head of cattle free, if the owners can afford to pay for a boy and a pony to herd them. Farmers in this section are in the market for a few cars of grade Herefords and shorthorn females at living prices.
I. J. Foster
For the Foster family, charity was sometimes meted out in the form of thrift or forbearance; it took on national scope during World War I.

In October of 1930, the office of Pembina County judge was open.  Ike and R. M. Carson ran for the office.  Carson won  by a vote of 2,415 to 2,184 -- this advertisement and endorsement appeared in the October 30, 1930 Walhalla Mountaineer.  
Ike. J. Foster This advertisement is prepaid - written and paid for by his friends in Pembina county. I. J. Foster has been a resident of Pembina county for over fifty one years.  He came to North Dakota when a boy.  He raised a family of eleven children, and educated every one of them.  He was sheriff of Pembina county for two terms, and deputy for four terms. He was empowered by the commissioners of Pembina county to deputize twenty men to help move the records of the county from Pembina to Cavalier.  Did he hire these men?  NO!  He moved them all alone and saved the county the expense.  During Mr. Foster's first term as sheriff he got all penalties for collecting personal taxes.  He went fifty-fifty with the delinquents thus helping a lot of poor people in Pembina county. He helped to make the Pembina County Fair what it is today.  For years he has taken care of the Poultry Exhibit at the Fair without any remuneration.  For twelve years he has been a member of the State Live Stock Sanitary Board, one of the most important in the state.  The Foster family during the World War gave more to the Red Cross Fund than any family in Bathgate Township.
During World War I the American Red Cross established 54 hospitals in Europe and four at home to care for sick and wounded U. S. service men and women. There was a huge national effort to support the Red Cross.

Isaac was always good copy for the local newspapers and a frequent advertiser (promoting at various times his insurance, finance, real estate and auction businesses) to boot. When he wanted to get a message out, it was published, in this case combining a note of charity with a law and order theme.

Pembina Pioneer Express, November 14, 1902

Charlotte's history goes on to report that the family moved their year-round residence in 1909 across the river and out to the farm, which a few years later led to a close call for my then two and one-half year old father.

The children slept under the stars during the summers and into the fall.

For reference, the average overnight low in Bathgate (five miles south of the Canadian border) during the last week of October is 25 degrees Fahrenheit. By the middle of November the lows fall into the teens.

A great deal of processing, provisioning and producing was necessary to support a family of thirteen on the farm. Much was invested. Help was hired. Charlotte recalled that everybody pitched in.

The barn was reputed to be the largest in North Dakota. Here are photographs of the barn when under construction.

The boys rounded up the cattle at night and drove them home to the safety and security of the barn.

The kids started tending the farm animals young. According to Charlotte, my father learned to milk cows at the age of five. His hands were very strong.

The I. J. Foster family raised cattle for production and dairy products for sure, but Ike's passion was showing cattle and other farm animals at the Pembina County Fair. 

Ike's cattle won a clean sweep in the Hereford (beef cattle) classification at the 1919 county fair.

Pembina Pioneer Express, August 1, 1919

Three of I. J. Foster's Hereford cattle.

Isaac J. Foster also swept the Ayershire (dairy cattle) classification.

Pembina Pioneer Express, August 1, 1919

Perennial champions, the I. J. Foster herd swept the Hereford classification again in 1922 and many other years.

Pembina Pioneer Express, August 4, 1922

In Charlotte's day, herding the more compliant sheep was a task left to the younger siblings. 

I. J. Foster ran a good size flock of sheep, always looking to import new stock.

Pembina Pioneer Express, July 26, 1907

He built an immense shed to shelter sheep during the worst of the winter and provide cover during lambing season.

Pembina Pioneer Express, November 29, 1907

Wolves in search of a main course of mutton or a leg of lamb were an ever present danger to the sheep population.

Pembina Pioneer Express, June 29, 1906

Isaac was more than happy to dispense advice to fellow farmers on how to care for a sheep flock and fend off voracious wolves. 

Pembina Pioneer Express, March 6, 1908
In the afternoon, I. J. Foster of Bathgate gave an excellent talk on sheep. Here are a few extracts. Don't go into sheep until you are ready for them; build your fences with the expectation of moving them. The colder the sheep are the longer the wool will be. Racks are not necessary. If lambs come early you want racks and build them straight. As to the kind of sheep, go among your neighbors and see what they have and like best. I would get the coarse-wool sheep as they give more wool and mutton. Breed your sheep and have your lambs come early, if you are prepared to take care of them. Little lambs will stand a lot of cold. If you leave this matter late you will neglect it with spring work. I admit I am a little sheep crazy but I am making money out of it. Mr. Foster told how his sheep had cleared a place of sow thistles and said that sheep would eat enough weeds to pay for their keep and then one gets the lambs and wool. When lambs are born care must be taken to keep them dry and warm. He told of saving 20 lambs by a mixture of a tablespoonful of brandy in a cup of milk. The wolves were killing his sheep so he sent and got 60 cow bells and tied them onto the sheep and true enough the wolves came but when the heard the noise they went away.
Isaac did not come out and say it in his talk, but he preferred the Hampshire breed, noted for lean meat production and eight pounds per head annually of coarse wool. The Foster family Hampshire sheep were champions at the county fair!

Pembina Pioneer Express, August 1, 1919

The family raised chicken and hens, geese and ducks, turkeys, pheasant and peacocks. Charlotte recalled that a hired hand pulled out his shotgun to protect the poultry from poachers.

I. J. Foster and family earned top awards too in the poultry categories at the county fair.

Pembina Pioneer Express, August 1, 1919

Pembina Pioneer Express, August 1, 1919

Charlotte reported the county fair was the gayest time of the year for the children. One year at the county fair, the Foster family made unconventional use of a turkey and a lamb.

The sheep, the turkey and the wagon are in the family picture below. Based on timing of the newspaper report (see below) and the relative ages of the children, we surmise the children in the wagon are Charlotte and George.

Foster kids being pulled by a sheep (unnamed) and Tom Turkey.

Come the next spring, the Bathgate Pink Paper reported on Tom Turkey's demise.

Bathgate Pink Paper, May 31, 1911
Tom, the old turkey gobbler which was such a pet and which Herby drove in harness and cart at the Hamilton Fair last year, took cold in the storm of Thursday and died of pneumonia a few days later. Most of the visitors at the fair will remember the oddly assorted team driven by Herby, consisting of a pet lamb and old Tom the gobbler. The matter of the loss of a turkey, more or less, may not seem a great matter to most people but to the dozen young Fosters he was an institution, a playmate, an old friend, almost a member of the family and his going left them quite disconsolate, for, had they not raised him from a chick and taught him many things, most important of all, that driving in harness. They had made him unique in his line, the only track turkey in the state and it was the results of their efforts and their success in an effort. No wonder they feel his loss.
The boys scared out and captured varmints, cared for orphaned lambs, and helped to cut ice.

Pictured to the right, courtesy of the book, Proudly We Speak: A History of Neche, Bathgate, Bruce and Hyde Park, 1976, we see a crew sawing blocks of ice from the Tongue River at Bathgate in the pre artificial refrigeration days.

Accessing the river for ice could be a very perilous process as this December 1904 incident reported in the Pembina Pioneer Express reveals.

Pembina Pioneer Express, December 2, 1904

Charlotte says the kids got a dime a bushel for harvesting potatoes -- which were useful as projectiles as well as food.

There were cycles of animal feed to stir and cook, butchering chores to perform and goose down to pull. Charlotte continued:

According to Charlotte, the Foster family purchased provisions in prodigious quantities. Mama canned quarts of vegetables and fruits by the hundreds. Sewing clothes for a family of 13 was a major enterprise with duties shared with a hired lady and Aunt Florence.

Florence Hoskins was wife of R. D. Hoskins, one time editor of the Bathgate Pink Paper. R. D. and Florence moved to Bismarck when North Dakota assumed statehood in 1890. R. D. was the first clerk of the North Dakota Supreme Court. He founded the Hoskins Myer store in Bismarck, which stayed in business there for more than a century. The family would go on to open KFYR radio, a 5,000 watt clear channel AM radio station and KFYR TV, an NBC affiliate and the first television to operate in Bismarck. Florence frequently took the train back to Bathgate to visit with her sister and nieces and nephews.

One of the Foster family's cash crops was flax
Flax is grown for its oil, used as a nutritional supplement, and as an ingredient in many wood-finishing products. Flax is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens. Flax fibers are used to make linen. The Latin species name usitatissimum means most useful.
Flax fibers are taken from the stem of the plant and are two to three times as strong as those of cotton. As well, flax fibers are naturally smooth and straight. Europe and North America depended on flax for vegetable-based cloth until the nineteenth century, when cotton overtook flax as the most common plant used for making rag-based paper. Flax is grown on the Canadian Prairies for linseed oil, which is used as a drying oil in paints and varnish and in products such as linoleum and printing inks.
Flax stalk fibers are so stringy and tough that if they are not processed for use in paper or fabrics the only practical means of disposal is by fire, a circumstance that contributed to Charlotte almost losing her life. Charlotte was age 6 and uncle Jimmy was 7 in August 1913.

Here is an undated photo of Jimmy and Charlotte in what appears to be a cabbage patch, probably a year or two before Charlotte caught on fire.

Charlotte in the garden with her brother
Jimmy who put out the fire by pushing
pushing Charlotte into the Tongue River.

The news of Charlotte's horrible burning spread far and wide. Here is how it was reported in newspapers throughout the state.

Bismarck Tribune, August 17, 1913.

Grand Forks Evening Times, August 15, 1913

Turtle Mountain Star, August 13, 1913.

Williston Graphic, August 28, 1913.

A report in the Pembina Pioneer Express added that Charlotte's recovery was neither as quick nor complete as hoped -- her condition deteriorated into "somewhat critical."

Pembina Pioneer Express, August 22, 1913

The family had to hire help. They brought in a nurse. Family and friends lavished Charlotte with gifts. My dad, four years old at the time, was a pest -- poor Charlotte did not forget.

It took Charlotte more than a half year to recover. To add insult to injury, that winter her school also burned.

A lack of proper fire-fighting equipment was responsible for destruction of the school.

Pembina Pioneer Express, November 28, 1913

Charlotte's Teaching and Educational
History References,

Charlotte's Teaching and Educational
History References,
When Charlotte finished her schooling in Bathgate (high school graduation May, 1924) she went on to attend Valley City State Normal School (now Valley State University) and Dickenson State University (then Dickenson College, a normal school that was founded in order to fill the need for teachers in western part of the state). I believe, but cannot confirm, that Charlotte's sister Florence Mabel Foster King lived in Dickenson with her husband and two children at that time. Two years of college attendance qualified Charlotte to teach in country schools and teach she did.

She taught the 1925-1926 term near Belfield, North Dakota in the western part of the state. 

Charlotte passed 13 Montana teachers exams to obtain 1st grade teachers certificate. She also passed exams for career courses from Dillon, Montana in school law, rural education and school management.

She taught in the far northern reaches near Sunburst, Montana from May, 1927 to December, 1927. Sunburst had no school during the winter.

Charlotte then taught in Glendive, Montana from January through May, 1928, September 1928 through May 1929, and September 1929, through May 1930.

Marriage Announcement, Arnold Leroy
and Charlotte Nancy Foster Von Alman.
During Charlotte's tenure in Glendive the family she boarded with introduced her to Arnold Leroy Von Alman.

Charlotte and Leroy were wed in Glendive on March 29, 1930. 

Charlotte was proud to have taught Tim Babcock in the 1st or 2nd grade during her teaching tenure at Glendive. Tim Babcock became governor of the state of Montana in 1962. In a reversal of some sort, Tim Babcock was born in Little Fork, Minnesota, the town that Charlotte and her husband would move back east to the summer after they wed.

Von Alman Foster Montana wedding license.
Von Alman Foster Montana wedding certificate.

From Aunt Charlotte's archives we are fortunate to have a picture of her and her mother, we are guessing from the mid 1920s.

Laura Elizabeth Armstrong Foster and Charlotte Nancy Foster

We also have a photo of Charlotte and her sister Margaret said to have been taken in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Charlotte and Margaret, undated.
And we have a picture of Charlotte with her children Marge and Bob, from the early days in Littlefork.

Charlotte Von Alman with Marge and Bob circa 1940.

We are especially fortunate that Charlotte saved a letter written to her in long hand by her mother on April 30, 1932. It is all that I have which is in my grandmother's voice. Lizzie lamented her failing health. Here the letter is reproduced in full.

I met my aunt Charlotte a time or two when I was a youngster. She was a direct, spirited, freckled, and auburn haired lady who lived on the banks of the Little Fork (two words) River in Littlefork (one word), Minnesota. When we visited Bathgate, North Dakota in my youth we would swing over and visit aunt Charlotte and uncle Roy who lived on the banks of that river. I recall that my cousin Margie and her family lived next door. Marge is still with us and is blessed with an abundance of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren -- some of whom are readers of this blog. 

Aunt Charlotte lived on the banks of the Little Fork river where it travels through Littlefork, Minnesota. The north/south roads on this satellite view from Google maps -- highways 43 and 23 -- once connected via a through truss bridge. The river's drainage includes a great deal of red clay, tinged from iron oxides that color the soil, which leach into the runoff and cause the river to run red. The Littlefork drains into the Rainy River which forms a portion of the northern United states border, separating Minnesota and Ontario.

Map of the Laurention Divide running from east to west across. The
Devils Lake basis is separately identified because at current elevations
there is no natural outflow. 
The community of Littlefork and its namesake river fall north of the other continental divide, i.e., the Laurentian Divide. North of the Laurentian Divide drainages flow northerly into Hudson Bay and thence into the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean. To the south drainages flow south to the Gulf of Mexico or East to the Atlantic via the St. Lawrence Seaway. The neighboring topography is such:
The Little Fork River is bounded by low banks, nearly level land, and a dense forest of pine, spruce, fir, aspen, and birch. Farms and farm houses flank the upper river, which is crossed by several bridges. But the stretch from the State Highway 65 bridge at river mile 97.7, to where the road again crosses the stream at river mile 57, is wild and nearly inaccessible. Farther downstream, development again is more evident, particularly near the town of Littlefork.
Timber wolves, bobcat, lynx, beaver, otter, bald eagle, and osprey are occasionally sighted. Big game includes moose, black bear, and white-tailed deer. Ruffed grouse and several species of ducks are common. Walleye, northern pike and muskie, smallmouth bass and rock bass are found. Sturgeon are also found throughout the river, but are not legal game.
Ten miles north of Littlefork, the Little Fork drains into the Rainy River which forms the border between the United States and Canada for a swath of northern Minnesota. The largest nearby town is International Falls, nicknamed "Ice Box of the Nation," an honored earned by virtue of averaging 109.4 days per year when the high does not exceed freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit).  

Many thanks to my cousins Marge, Matthew and Shana who contributed materials referenced and published in this post. Following are pictures of Charlotte and Roy Von Alman, through the years.

Charlotte Nancy Foster Von Alman, God bless her and may she rest eternally in peace.

Related Resources:

Laura Albina Foster Christmas card, 1923.

Grayce Foster Easter card, 1926.

Robert LeRoy Von Alman

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Posted: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 6:00 am

Robert LeRoy Von Alman, 81, longtime resident of Hibbing and formerly of California and Alaska died Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, at the Fairview University Medical Center–Mesabi.

He was born Jan. 17, 1931, in Littlefork, Minn., the son of Roy and Charlotte (Foster) Von Alman. Bob was a graduate of Littlefork High School. He was united in marriage to Shirley Efshen on Nov. 29, 1958 in Roseau, Minn.

Bob was a veteran of the U.S. Army serving in Europe during the Korean War.
He worked for E.W. Coons Company doing road construction for 29 years. Bob also worked construction in California and Alaska. He was a member of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Hibbing, Mesaba Lodge 255, the Lodge of Perfection, he was a 33 degree Mason of the Scottish Rite, a member of the Aad Shrine, the Sons of Norway Lodge 058, the Mesaba Rangers and the ROMEO breakfast club.
Bob enjoyed woodworking, fishing, and the outdoors.
He is survived by his wife, Shirley; children: Debra Von Alman, Terri Jo (Don) Hanson, Jim (Bobbi Jo) Von Alman, all of Hibbing, and Carol (Chris) Read of Apple Valley, Minn.; seven grandchildren: Mitchell and Christian Hanson, K.C. Jensen, Turner and Olivia Von Alman, and Erik and Charlotte Read; a sister, Margie Larson of Littlefork; and many extended family members and friends.
Bob was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Lyn.
Funeral: Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Hibbing with the Rev. Erik Holleque officiating.
Visitation: Will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, with a Masonic Service at 5:30 p.m. in the Anderson-Daniels Funeral Home Chapel. Visitation will continue from 10 a.m. until the service Friday at the church.
Burial: Interment will be in the Maple Hill cemetery
Memorials: Are preferred to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, the Scottish Rite Language Clinic in Duluth, or the Shriners Hospital for Children.
Family services are provided by Anderson-Daniels, a Bauman Family Funeral Home, in Hibbing. To express condolences online please see

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