What happened to Herbert J. Jesmer, the uncle who disappeared at 17 without a trace?

 What Happened to Herbert J. Jesmer, the uncle who disappeared without a trace?

another horse drawn wagon

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Link to the siblings of Carl Harvey  and Ida

Link to articles about Herbert J. Jesmer

 Some of Herbert’s first cousins on his dad’s and step-mother’s side of the family

What do the descendants of Nelson A. Jesmer and Genevieve  look like? 

 Old Pictures of the town of Quill Lake  Old Pictures of Wadena Sask.  Some old pics of Clair Sask.

Herbert J. Jesmer was the first child of Nelson Adulphus Jesmer. He was born in 10/23/1886 in Bessemer Michigan. “J” most likely stood for Joseph, since both of his grandfathers were named Joseph. Nelson had married a woman named Belle Wood. She was the daughter of Joseph and Belle Wood, who were Canadian. She had come to Ashland WI to visit her brother and a week later she was married to Nelson. They later moved to Bessemer MI where Nelson was running a hotel. Nelson was a pioneer of the town and run a hotel called Jesmer and Long.  Later he ran the Colby House. Having a baby was very dangerous back then. It proved to be very dangerous for Belle Jesmer, because she died one week later, after giving birth to Herbert, from post partum infection.

Miners in Bessemer were usually paid in gold which caused frequent robberies. This was a problem since the Sheriff was in the county seat in Ontonagon miles away. Communication was difficult. Thus, by 1887, Bessemer was a wide open town with fifty saloons and with little regard for the law. Almost all of the early settlers were young people who were husky and were not afraid of hard work and privation. First came a group of mixed Americans, surveyors, prospectors who laid bare the iron ore deposits. Then came the miners. The Cornish, Irish, Scandinavian, French Canadian, and Polish. The latter were mainly railroad workers, also Finns and a few Jewish people. Bessemer was changed from a township to a village.

Conditions in the mines were dangerous and unsanitary. There was no electricity and early miners wore a candle in their hats for light. Mules were used to haul the ore out and kept in the mines so long that they would go blind.

The railroad was finished to Ashland and ore from the Colby open pit mine was hauled by horse teams to the railroad line by the First and Last Chance Saloon which is the present corner of old County Road and Fourth Street. Here it was dumped into railroad cars and shipped to the Ashland ore docks.

I think that Nelson must have been a very rough and tough person himself. He operated a hotel. This might have been simply a house for lodging, but he would have had to deal with some rough clientele. He dealt in gold. He might have had to kick out people who were drunk. He would have to be ready to protect his premises against robbers. Maybe he had a gun under the front counter, “just in case”.

After the death of Belle, Nelson raised Herbert by himself for 3 ½ years as a singe dad, while running the hotel business. He may have gotten help from Belle Wood’s sister-in-law since her brother lived in Bessemer. When he was three his grandmother died of cancer.  Also, at three his father married Jenny Soquet on 3/29/1890.  At five years old Ida Jesmer was born. When he was seven years old Carl was born. When he was eight years old Harvey was born. When he was nine years old Lillie was born. It must have been hard seeing new babies born without his own mother around. He might have felt left and ignored, especially since Jenny was dealing with her own father’s murder trial in WI. (On 5/17/1890 Jenny Jesmer was in Greenbay WI, attending the first degree murder trial of her father, Jean Philippe Soquet. Sentenced to life for killing his wife, and went to work on a prison farm. On 9/27/1890 Jenny’s father, escapes from a prison farm, never to be captured or located.)  At ten years old his youngest sister, Lillie died of whooping cough. During this 3 ½ years, the formative years, Herbert may have not gotten the attention every three year old needs. This could have led to a lack of forming strong relationships, which could explained why he so easily left home at 17 never to be seen or heard of again.

In 1893, where Herbert was 6 years old, there was a major financial collapse in Bessemer. Maybe he felt insecure listening to his parents talking about moving and financial matters. Thirty six year old Nelson and his wife, son Herbert, daughter Ida, their new son, Carl, were faced with a dilemma. They had been establishing themselves in Bessemer as hotel owners. They had property in the down-town area. But what should they do now? There was an economic collapse. Nelson and his wife decided to make a new beginning in a new community and to start again to build their lives (following their previous pattern) There Nelson could make a name for himself. So after nine years in Bessemer, they decided to move to the mining town of Hibbing MN in the fall of 1893.

After moving to Hibbing, Nelson joined local politics. (just like his uncle Adulphus.) He is thirty eight years old and ran for the office of Post Master. He was able to endure opposition and slander and still enter the fight of the elected position. He was accused of operating a “blind pig.” This was how hotel owners would sell alcohol despite of prohibition laws. They would offer free alcohol but people would have to pay an entry fee to see some attraction, like a “blind pig”. People were actually paying for the alcohol. It was declared in the local papers that this was a lie. But I believe that it was not beyond Nelson to do such a thing.

On 5/14/1898 Nelson Jesmer is indicted on 2nd degree grand larceny charges. Herbert was 12 years old. He would have understood all that was going on. Nelson spent time in jail and was released “with the help of wealthy relative from Princeton.” (Probably his uncle, Nelson Edward Jesmer) The fact that Nelson was indicted on 2nd degree grand larceny charges, meant that his life in local politics was over in Hibbing. He could not continue with what had become a major passion in his life. So in order to make a new beginning, the forty two year old Nelson did what he had done in the past, after five years in Hibbing he decided to pack his bags to go on ahead of his wife, Jennie, and four children, (Herbert, Ida, Carl and Harvey), to another pioneering community, Langdon North Dakota.

By 1900   Langdon “was a bustling community.”  Nelson Edward Jesmer “Ted” (Nelson’s grandson) stated, that one of his cousins said, that Nelson was buying horses from the Natives and selling them over the border in Canada. There were French Canadian communities 20 miles north, across the Pembina River valley, into Southern Manitoba. Maybe Herbert joined him on the times he took horses over the border.

On 9/28/1901, Herbert’s grandfather, Joseph A. Jesmer dies in Greenbush township MN of a stroke. Herbert was 15 years old. I don’t think that Nelson attended his father’s funeral. Actually I get the impression that Nelson didn’t visit home much. There is a story that he was shunned by his family members because Jennie, his wife had been a nun and he took her away from her vows. And so, the death of his grandfather may not have affected Herbert very much.

Spring 1904 the family moved to Quill City area in Saskatchewan Canada. The Canadian government was giving away free farmland. Nelson could never be content with living in Langdon. It was too developed. He was always going to newly developed communities and trying to start businesses. And so the free land in Saskatchewan probably was very enticing to Nelson.

Here is an account of the the initial move written by Herbert’s future sister-in-law, Jessie Jesmer.

Nelson A. Jesmer, his wife Genevieve and four children, Herbert, Ida, Carl and Harvey came to the Quill City area in the spring of 1904. They traveled by a yoke of oxen and wagon from Sheho, the end of the steel. There was no town or post office in the area. At that time it was unknown where the rail would be laid or when. The land here had just been opened for homesteading a year earlier, but already most of the homesteads were filed on. Mr. Child showed them a quarter that was available in what became Harrow area, but Nelson discovered that S.E. of 22-34-14 W2nd was open and filed on it. The nearest land office was Humboldt.

 The family spent the summer in a tent and put up some hay. The wild hay was thick and so tall it brushed the bottom of the wagon box. In August it turned cold and there was a bad wind storm. The tent blew down and a great deal of snow fell. The family spent two days lying under the canvas of the fallen tent, under the snow. They ate raw oatmeal.

 They returned to Sheho for the winter. The G. Clarksons and Aspenalls and their children wintered with them.

 The spring was very early and dry. When the family returned, a fire had swept the area and burned the hay, but the hay-rack left behind the year before, was intact. Everywhere in the blackened ground, white buffalo bones were to be seen.” 

As soon as the family arrived in 1904, 17 year old Herbert, left home with a wagon and horses and was never seen again.  It was said that Herbert went to Red Lake Ontario and was carrying on a transport business there. It makes  sense that he would want to go to Red Lake Ontario. There was a growing timbering industry there. There was also the last great gold rush in North America. Look at what was happening in the region in the following accounts…

“From the mid 1870’s to the early 1920’s, the quest for furs, then for minerals, brought Europeans to the area. In the summer of 1925, two brothers, Lorne and Ray Howey, discovered gold under the roots of an upturned tree. This event triggered the last great gold rush in North America, the birth of commercial bush fishing in Canada, and the founding of the town of Red Lake.

More than 3,000 people converged on Red Lake at the height of the Gold Rush of 1926. They traveled by dog team or by foot on the frozen rivers and lakes, over the 180-mile gold rush trail. In spring, they used canoes or small boats, and before long, airplanes. Eventually the bush plane came to dominate travel to the goldfields. In 1936, Howey Bay, in the heart of Red Lake was the busiest airport in the world, as aircraft of all shapes and sizes, on floats or skis, transported freight and passengers in and out of the area at 15-minute intervals.

During the late 1890s, there were several sawmills operating in the Dryden, Ontario area. They primarily supplied the builders of the Canadian Pacific Railway(CPR) with railway timber, and powered the many steam boilers used for mining in that area. In 1909, Charles and Grant Gordon began the construction of a paper mill on the west side of the Wabigoon River, where a paper mill is currently located. The mill’s location has some advantages, because it has an abundant electricity supply from the river and a plentiful supply of wood.”

Herbert was doing just what his father was doing. He went to a place where new towns were being formed and there were plenty of opportunities to start up a business. He could use the wagon he left with to start up a transport company. That is what the family thought he did.

I wonder what happened to him. Did he and Nelson argue together, after all, Nelson appeared to have a “strong” character? Herbert’s mother, was not Jennie. She was Belle (Wood). Did he feel like he did not “fit in” with the other half-siblings? Did the loss of his mother and lack of attention in his formative years make him not form strong bonds with his step mother and her kids.

Judging from his sibling’s life spans he may have died in the 1960’s or 70’s.  He may have connected with some relatives from the Wood family. He may have married an Aboriginal girl for there are some Jesmers among the First Nation people of Manitoba and Ontario.  He may have gone by a different name. Herbert may have become Herb, or Bernie or Bert. Maybe he went by the middle name, Joseph or Joe. I hope that one day we will find out what happened to Uncle Herbert and discover a whole branch of Jesmers belonging to our family tree.





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