We have retitled the “Weekly Radio Readings” to “Historic Happenings.” Each week’s story will be posted in its entirety. The stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Looking Back in Time” program.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
Available recordings will also be linked to the Wild 102 “Looking Back in Time” page.
March 12, 2023
Today I’ll continue telling you about Anva Comstock, a very early settler of Roseau, whose English family had first lived in New York, then came to Minnesota. Anva came to Roseau in 1893 when everything was much like it had been for hundreds of years before. His daughter-in-law Grace Comstock interviewed him and documented his story in 1954, which was recently shared with me by her grandson Mitchell Cole. I’ll continue reading from that story.
As Anva cleared the land of trees by his logging operations, he moved his mill farther into the wooded regions. This left large areas behind which were ready for the plow as soon as the brush was burned.
Much of this land he sold for almost nothing to anyone who wanted it. Other settlers who had purchased or homesteaded land would have Mr. Comstock log it off for them. This was cheaper for them because they could not afford to hire anyone to clear the land, even if there would have been plenty of help available. In most cases these people asked nothing for the timber except for some lumber after it was sawed. This gave them cheap lumber for their buildings. Other settlers within twelve to twenty miles got most of their lumber from Anva. He sold cheaper because the hauling expenses were so much less. Roads at the very best were still a long way from good, so materials and other supplies were gotten as close to home as possible.
In the fall and winter months many of the settlers nearby worked for Mr. Comstock in his logging operations. Three or four of the Herling boys worked for him for many years. In fact, when Anva quit logging about 1935, Henfred, Ed and Ray Herling were still working for him. Money was not plentiful and as it took a number of years to open enough land to support themselves and their families, these neighbors welcomed the chance to get work so near home. During the logging season, anywhere from 15 to 30 men found employment at Comstock’s logging camp.
Logging was not Anva’s only interest. He, like other pioneers, wished to build a permanent home. In the spring and summer months, he worked diligently, building up the fine farm on which he still lives. This farm was once one of the areas he had logged off. As he began farming he quickly realized the need for a threshing machine. As he already had a steam engine for his saw mill, he decided to buy a threshing separator. For many years this was the only threshing rig for a number of miles around.
“When I first got the rig,” said Anva, “I had to thresh everything south of Roseau. We started as soon as there was grain ready for threshing and usually wound up about Christmas time. We’d knock the snow off the stacks and keep right on threshing. There wasn’t much money in it; we just helped out each other.”
For many years, people such as Ole Moen, Creightons, and many others who had settled in the Winner and Skime regions, would make the Comstock home an overnight stopping place when traveling to and from Roseau. Here they would care for their horses and get free meals and lodging for themselves. Anva and his family always welcomed these travelers. Tommy Lightning, an Indian from Warroad, also made Anva’s home his stopping place as he traveled around the countryside. Tommy and Anva have always been great friends. Even today, Tommy never fails to ask about Anva and how he is getting along.
As the children grew up, Anva helped them establish homes of their own. He helped Dennis, his oldest son, build a home near Wannaska. He gave not only materials for building, but also spent many hours and days working to help Dennis get settled in his home. Each one of his children received his thoughtful help.
My husband, Clifford, was one of the other eight children to receive his help. We were married in the early 1930s and had pretty tough going to get started in our home. Mr. Comstock helped us build our home and let us use machinery with which to farm. Whenever we needed help, we knew where that unfailing help was to be found.
Anva J. Comstock had trust and faith in his fellow men. He showed his trust and faith when he aided a young doctor. This doctor came to Roseau fresh from college. Like most young men just finishing their training, he was short of money. He was also a stranger in town. A call from quite a distance in the country had come in. The doctor in town was not available, so the young doctor volunteered to go. But how? No one in town knew him well enough to let him have a team of horses without paying for it. Mr. Comstock was in town at the time, so he offered his team and buggy to the doctor. When the young doctor returned from his call Mr. Comstock refused any pay for the use of his team. He commented, “I thought we needed another doctor in town; to me this young chap looked like he knew what he was doing. This was a chance to give him a start and prove he did know something about doctoring.” That doctor is still in town and has been there over forty years.
Mr. Comstock showed his trust and faith in others. When a new family came into the community, he did not hesitate to let them have lumber for building, even when he knew they were unable to pay for it. “I expect you’ll be here quite a spell, else you wouldn’t bother to build,” were Mr. Comstock’s usual words. If money was scarce, he’d probably scare up a few dollars of his own to help buy nails, windows and other such things needed to help that family out. Quite a few bushels of grain and untold amounts of vegetables from the family garden have found their way to barns and tables of many families in the neighborhood. If some neighbor was ill, Anva was often the one to try to get a doctor or take that person in to the doctor. I remember the time when Henry Hanson from near Winner stopped at Comstocks’ on his way to Roseau with a little boy who was desperately ill. Anva took him because he could travel faster. Henry had no money but that didn’t make a difference. Anva even paid the doctor bill at the time.
As I sat talking to Anva J. Comstock, who is my father-in-law, I realized he was as great a pioneer as any of his ancestors. He had to be just as courageous and self-reliant as any pioneer. He was just as helpful and showed his faith and trust in others by his work in his community and his attitude toward his neighbors.
Thanks to Mitchell Cole for sharing this great story about his ancestor.
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.