I like Randy Seaver’s idea of occasionally posting a photo from his personal collection, so I’m going to start doing that as well. Here’s one of my favorites.
This is a photo that a family member got from the Minnesota Historical Society, entitled “A lively crowd of old time lumberjacks at Gus Sexton’s camp”. My great-grandpa Bill Sexton (1870-1960) appears in this photo, along with three of his brothers (he came from a family of fourteen). Please take the time to load the higher-resolution version of this photo, so that you can enjoy the details. The photo is dated in the collection as 1903, but I suspect that it may have been taken earlier, given the age of family members here–maybe in the mid-1890s.
The basic story is as follows. Great-grandpa Bill was born in 1870 in a little village in Quebec, on the Gaspe Peninsula. The town was Maria, also known as “Irishtown” because of the large number of Irish immigrants. Making a living in Maria was tough and Bill’s oldest brother Gus eventually moved away to look elsewhere for work. Gus landed in Minnesota in the early 1870s and found work as a lumberjack. He did quite well, eventually running his own lumber camp.
Several of Gus’ family members eventually followed him to Minnesota, including my great-grandpa Bill, who worked as a lumberjack in his brother Gus’ lumber camp.
My great-grandpa Bill is towards the center of the photo, standing next to two of his brothers. Here’s Bill:
To Bill’s immediate left are his older brothers Jim (sparring with the cook) and Gus:
And towards the left of the photo, we find Bill’s brother Chris (Chrystostome) Sexton:
What I love most about this photo of the lumber camp is just looking at the higher resolution version and spending some time looking at some of the details. The first things that jumped out for me were:
- The diameter of the logs used to build the camp building. Old-growth White Pine in MN could be as large as 40″ in diameter
- How everyone is goofing around, with their fists raised. (One guy even brandishes his hammer at a neighbor). What did the photographer say, just before taking the photo? I imagine something like “All right everybody, pretend like you’re going to fight with the guy next to you”.
- The clothing. Lumberjacks wore “Mackinaw” pants and shirts. After the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894, members of this same lumber camp, when reporting their personal losses, only applied for replacement Mackinaw outfits.
- It’s Winter. Lumber camps like this operated during the Winter months, because the logs were hauled out on horse-drawn sledges or rollers
- No women. My great-aunt Alice (Bill’s daughter) talked about how all these guys would go out and live in the lumber camps for months on end, only coming back to visit family and women friends when the season ended.
- The tools. I see what I think is a long two-man saw, leaning up against the building. The two men in the front have what looks like a tong that might be some sort of a log lifter, as well as a couple of rope loops that may have been used for climbing
- Men who aren’t smiling. Despite the clowning going around, some men are merely posing, but a couple look like they are the types who never smile. Tough characters.
These are the kind of photos that I really love having in my collection. They show relatives or ancestors, but also give a great glimpse into some aspect of the times that our family members lived in. Just staring at this picture makes me want to invest some time in learning more about lumbering in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the late 1800s. I’d love to learn more about the time period and how these men lived. And having a direct ancestor as part of this history just makes it come to life for me.