I worked for my brother from August 1899, to March, 1901, at $16 a month, making $304, of which I spent only $12 in that time, as I had clothes.
On the first day of March I went to a farm that I had bought for $150, paying $50 down. It was a bush farm, ten miles from my brother’s place and seven miles from the nearest crossroads store. A man had owned it and cleared two acres, and then fallen sick and the storekeeper got it for a debt and sold it to me. My brother heard of it and advised me to buy it.
I went on this land in company with a French Canadian named Joachim. He was part Indian, and yet was laughing all the time, very gay, very full of fun, and yet the best axman I ever saw. He wore the red trimmed white blanket overcoat of the Hudson Bay Company, with white blanket trousers and fancy moccasins, and a red sash around his waist and a capote that went over his head.
We took two toboggans loaded with our goods and provisions, and made the ten-mile journey from my brother’s house in three hours. The snow was eighteen inches deep on the level, but there was a good hard crust that bore us perfectly most of the way. The cold was about 10 below zero, but we were steaming when we got to the end of our journey. I wore two pairs of thick woolen stockings, with shoe-packs outside them — the shoe-pack is a moccasin made of red sole leather, its top is of strong blanket; it is very warm and keeps out wet. I wore heavy underclothes, two woolen shirts, two vests, a pilot jacket and an over coat, a woolen cap and a fur cap. Each of us had about 300 pounds weight on his toboggan.
Before this I had looked over my farm and decided where to build my house, so now I went straight to that place. It was the side of a hill that sloped southward to a creek that emptied into a river a mile away.
We went into a pine grove about half way up the hill and picked out a fallen tree, with a trunk nearly five feet thick, to make one side of our first house. This tree lay from east to west. So we made a platform near the root on the south side by stamping the snow down hard. On top of this platform we laid spruce boughs a foot deep and covered the spruce boughs over with a rubber blanket. We cut poles, about twenty of them, and laid them sloping from the snow up to the top of the tree trunk. Over these we spread canvas, and over that again large pieces of oilcloth. Then we banked up the snow on back and side, built a fire in front in the angle made by the tree root, and, as we each had two pairs of blankets, we were ready for anything from a flood to a hurricane. We made the fire place of flat stones that we got near the top of the hill and kindled the fire with loose birch bark. We had a box of matches, and good fuel was all about us. Soon we had a roaring fire going and a big heap of fuel standing by. We slung our pot by means of a chain to a pole that rested one end on the fallen tree trunk and the other on the crotch of a small tree six feet away; we put the pan on top of the fire and used the coffee or tea pot the same way — we made tea and coffee in the same pot….
“Jake,” as we all called the Frenchman, was a fine cook. He made damper in the pan, and we ate it swimming with butter along with slices of bacon and some roast potatoes and tea. “Jake,” like all the lumbermen, made tea very strong. So did I, but I didn’t like the same kind of tea. The backwoodsmen have got used to a sort of tea that bites like acid; it is very bad, but they won’t take any other. I liked a different sort. So as we couldn’t have both, we mixed the two together.
The sun went down soon after four o’clock, but the moon rose, the stars were very big and bright and the air quite still and so dry that no one could tell it was cold. “Jake” had brought a fiddle with him and he sat in the doorway of our house and played and sang
silly French Canadian songs, and told stories in his own language. I could not understand a word he said, but he didn’t care; he was talking to the fire and the woods as much as to me. He got up and acted some of the stories and made me laugh, though I didn’t understand. We went to bed soon after eight o’clock and slept finely. I never had a better bed than those spruce boughs.
— Quoted by Hamilton Holt, in his book The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans as Told by Themselves (read for free)