These stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Look Back in Time” program. Each week’s radio story will be posted here on our website.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
Feats of strength were an important measure of a man in the old days. One man in Roseau County who
had a reputation for extreme strength was Elmer Mikkelson. In Roseau County’s Centennial Book, Rudy
Billberg wrote about Elmer, crediting Connie Swanson and Cap Nelson for information. Here’s that story:
A large family came from North Dakota to the Roseau Valley in 1895. Both the parents were from Norway
and they had eight children, seven boys and one girl. On the banks of the Roseau River, near where it
flowed out of Roseau Lake and near where the old Hudson’s Bay Trading Post was thought to be, they
homesteaded. The family name was Mikkelson.
In November of the same year another child was born. It was a boy – called Elmer. In years to come
Elmer stood out among his fellow men because of his feats of strength.
In 1903 the father died. The mother showed great strength of character as she remained on the
homestead and brought up her family. At that time and in that place, it was a tremendous
Elmer served his country in World War I. At war’s end he returned to the farm home on the Roseau River
to spend the rest of his life.
The tales of his strength are many, but two or three stand out in the memories of older citizens and are
told and retold. One day Elmer was seen walking toward Gust Nyquist’s machine shop with a complete
Model T Ford engine under his arm, an incredible feat. It was said that Ernest Roadfelt intercepted him
and engaged him in conversation, the idea being to see how long Elmer could hold the engine without
setting it down. It didn’t happen. Ernest finally ran out of talk and Elmer walked on his way without so
much as changing arms.
Cap Nelson tells of two incidents worthy of mention. On one occasion, Elmer and his brother George had
parked their Model T Ford on Main Street across from the Nelson Garage. When they returned, they saw
they had a flat tire on the left rear wheel. As Cap and his brother Art watched. Elmer Mikkelson got the
jack out of the backseat, took a rough measurement, then set the jack to the proper height, grabbed the
car by the hub cap with his right hand, lifted it and with his left hand slid the jack underneath the axle.
Then, too, Cap tells of a time when he and his brother were duck hunting at Roseau Lake. The weather
was bad, and the boys got into a set of deep ruts with their Chevrolet. No matter what they did, they
were unable to get free. About that time Elmer Mikkelson, from his house, noticed their predicament and
walked over to help. It was expected that he would push the vehicle, but Elmer had no such idea. He
picked up the front end of the car and set both front wheels on higher ground. Then with a slight
backward push the car was free of the ruts.
In early winter of 1934, Ed Sunsten and I were overnighting in a cabin on our trapline about two miles
upstream from the Mikkelson farm. Cold weather had frozen the river hard. There was no snow and the
Mikkelsons were driving the river to Roseau. About 9:00 PM while reading Street and Smith’s wild West
magazines by the light of a kerosene lamp, we heard loud voices coming down river accompanied by the
chug of a Model T Ford. We recognized George Mikkelson’s voice which was very high pitched.
“Good grief,” I told Ed, “Blow out the light. That’s the Mikkelson boys and they have been in town
drinking beer all afternoon and we don’t want them to stop.”
Right in front of our cabin was a slight ruffle in the river and about twenty feet from shore the ice was a
bit thinner. As the Ford went by, we thought all was well. Then there was a terrible commotion. We
heard language that burned our tender ears. What on earth happened, we wondered?
“Maybe they broke through the ice,” Ed said, “We had better go out and see.”
We lit the lamp which now couldn’t be seen by the men on the river and began putting on our heavy
clothes. Then another blast of choice adjectives battered our ears. We stopped momentarily and looked
at each other. Before we got outside the door, the Ford started and chugged off down river.
In the morning, with enough daylight, we rushed out to see what manner of catastrophe had occurred to
bring on the unsolicited entertainment of the night before. We couldn’t help but laugh as we saw the
evidence that revealed the whole story.
The right wheel of the Model T broke through the ice. This brought on the first explosion of unhappiness.
Then Elmer had climbed out – stood beside the wheel, grabbed it and lifted. Right there, his two feet
broke a big hole as the weight of the car came upon them. This brought the second round of explicit
adjectives. The water was only about a foot deep and they were home in a few minutes. So all was well.
Thank you to (www.roseauonline.com) for letting us share our county’s history with your listeners by donating air time, studio time, and production staff every week.