Note: The following stories are personal reflections and recollections of Delores Schiller LaFond , daughter of Leon Schiller, growing up on the Schiller farm near Argyle, MN. One can definitely see the wit and charm of young girl's experience with her family.
The Von Schillers
In 1875, the family moved to Grosvenor Dale, CT from Saint Morris Canada. In 1885, Dolphis Von Schiller came to Argyle, MN from Grosvenor Dale, CT with part of his family, his wife Josephine, daughters Ameline, Victoria and Josephine and his sons Dolphis, Hector, Fred and Leon. The men all worked in the wool mills with the exception of Leon who was only nine years old at the time. All the extra money earned was saved to purchase the farm, for $500.00, which was 160 acres five miles from town. They bought everything on the place; the horses, chickens, and even the crops standing in the fields from a Mr. Craig. The upstairs of the 2 story house wasn't even finished when it was bought in the later part of June, 1885. The first week of July, the hail destroyed the crop so the boys went back to Grosvenor Dale, CT to work in the mills again. They worked all that summer and winter returning in the spring of 1886. They bought their seed and started to farm again. They got a good crop that first year and they purchased 80 more acres of land.
Leon Schiller, my father, had gone to work in the mills with his brothers but got too lonesome for his parents-he was only 16 years old, the baby of the family. So the older brothers got him a ticket and sent him back home to stay with the folks. The boys knew how to swim and I remember my Dad telling us that they would drop a dime in the river and dive for it. They were also good ball players. They formed the first baseball team in Argyle. Dad said that the other players would come for him on Sundays from Crookston 40 miles away with a horse and 'buggy. My did was the pitcher, Hector was a good batter, and Fred was a fast runner but I don't remember what position Hector and Fred played.
Dad Leon went to a school named Brushwood College about a mile and a half from home in Middle River Township. He was then sixteen or seventeen years old. He told us that the school teacher liked him so much that she would walk back to the farm with him. In those days the women wore long dresses so by the time they got to the house the teacher's dress would be wet up to the waist from walking through the fields.
GrandDad put an end to that so Dad didn't go to the school anymore but he already knew how to read and write French. When I was a little girl, I remember the French paper that came once a week from Canada. Mom would read the story inside and then tell us in her, own words. Dad was also a good story teller. All the kids loved to hear him tell a story. I remember so well, in winter, how we sat around the kitchen stove and listened to the stories told by Dad and Uncle Fred of when they were kids.
Uncle Fred always lived with us. We loved him so; I remember him so well. We kids would fight over who was going to wash his face as he always, gave us l0 cents. He would always say after the job was done "What do you say" as if it was a big favor he was doing for us. Then we would say that you're supposed to tell us thank you, not us thanking you. Of course, this was an in French as we did not talk English until we went to school. All we knew was yes and no in English. I remember Uncle Fred reading the newspaper. He would start sneezing because of the dye in the ink and he would say "Son of a bitch". How we all laughed at him. He was so good to us. He was a carpenter. He went to Thief River Falls to do some repair work for his sister. He stayed there for three weeks and was so lonesome for us kids that he lost weight. It wasn't funny. His sister would tell him that he loved Leon's children more than hers, and he would answer her that she couldn't blame him because his home was with Leon and his family. She paid him for his work and he told Josephine that he had to go to town to buy the kids at home something. This one needs a coat and that one a dress and by the time he was finished, he only had enough money to take the train home. His suitcase was so full that he had to strap it closed. When we saw him coming, we would run to meet him. He was all smiles to see us. I remember he would open his suitcase and tell us he had something for each one of us. Sometimes we would ask him to tell us a story and he would start once upon a time there was a bear and a skunk, or it went there was a skunk and a bear. We got wise to his story and told him we had heard that one before. He wasn't a good storyteller like Dad by far.
Once Uncle Fred told us he was going to town in winter with the horse and caboose. I wanted to go but they thought it was too cold tor me. I didn't say anymore but put on Phil 's overalls, Sheepskin jacket, and dressed real warm. He had put some hay in the caboose for the horse so I crawled under the hay to hide. When he saw someone he knew on the road and spoke to him, I forgot that I was supposed to be hiding and asked him who it was. Uncle Fred was surprised to see me but just asked me it I was cold. We were too far from home to turn back so we went on. He took me to his niece Josephine and I stayed there til he came back for me. He called home to tell them that I was with him. I heard that Dad had said that I must be with Fred when they missed me. I didn't have a very nice visit with my cousins because I got a good bawling out there. I was glad to see Uncle Fred when he picked me up. He reached into his pocket and gave me some candy. He always bought something for the kids. Every Sunday in summer after Mass he had us stop at the pool hall to buy each of us an ice cream cone. He also bought us a bunch of bananas that we would have with good farm cream. That was his treat to the family. I remember one night - I was about 4 years old- I wanted an apple and the apples were in the basement with an outside door covered with snow. It was a job to get to the apples, but I asked long enough that Uncle Fred put on his coat and took the lantern to go get me one. When he took it to me I was already in bed and had been crying tor awhile. I slapped the apple to the floor because I was angry that it took so long but an he did was ask me to please eat it because it had taken him so mch work to get it. I ate it.
I was always in some mischief. I saw a chicken come out of the chicken coop through a little hole on the side of the building. So I got an idea that I could come out of that hole. I tried it and got stuck halfway. I called for help and they had to come pull me out. It didn't feel so good afterward because I got another bawling out I tried everything that come to my mind. I was full of p and vinegar. I guess that was how I learned-the hard way.
I remember one night the folks were playing Whist, a card game. Bea and I took some long stockings and crawled under the table to tie their legs to their chairs. Mom, Dad, Uncle Fred and Lil didn't even notice what we were doing they were so engrossed in their game. We were very careful so they wouldn't feel us tying them together. When they finished playing, they got up to leave the table but fell back in their chairs. Bea and I sure thought that was a big joke on them and really laughed.
One time Dad & Ma were gone to town when a storm came up so that they couldn't come home home til the next day. So Uncle Fred stayed with us. It was so stormy - the house shook. Lou and Lil had Bea sleep with them but I was alone in the bed in the next room. I was so scared that I got out of the bed and went to sleep with Uncle Fred upstairs. He had a goose feather tick that was so nice and warm. The house shook worse upstairs but I didn't mind because I was with someone to sleep with. I slept there all night. When Dad and Ma came home, Lucille and Lil told Mom , "you know what Dolores did last night - she wanted to come to bed with us and we wouldn't let her so she went to sleep with Uncle Fred upstairs." Tattletales!
Before we ever had an Christmas tree, we had stockings that were put on the foot of the bed. There was always an apple in the foot and an orange in the heel. It was full of nuts wrapped in newspaper and Christmas candy too. We also had one toy hidden under the desk on a shelf. That toy had to last all year so we cherished it like it was our eyes. We were careful not to break it. I remember Phil got a mouth organ one year and he had to see what made it work so he took it apart. He couldn't put it together again. He did the same thing with a watch. He had to find out what made it tick.
Once before Christmas it was so stormy that Dad and Ma couldn't get to town until after Christmas to shop for us. We were so disappointed. But when the storm was over they went to town to get us our presents. Mom put all the candy, nuts and oranges on the bed in their room. She pretended that she was surprised when she went back and opened the bedroom door. She said, "Oh, come here and see what Santa Claus brought for you" I can still see all the candy, nuts and oranges in the middle of the bed. We really believed there was a Santa Claus.
Before Christmas one year, Lil and Lucille were making doll clothes. I asked them who the clothes were for. Lil said it was for some poor little girls whose folks couldn't afford to buy them any Christmas presents. They gave their old dolls to Bea and me because they were getting too old tor dolls. Anyway, they all went to midnite mass. Dad stayed home with Bea and I. When they came back about 2 or 3 in the morning, they woke us up to see our first Christmas tree. It was decorated with strings of popcorn . and cranberries and lighted candles. Under the tree were the dolls all dressed up in the clothes Lil and Lou had made. I told Bea "See, we're the poor little girls , remember when we asked who they were for?" We were happy to get them even though they were second hand - just couldn't understand how Lil and Lou could give up their babies like that. They were such beautiful dolls - gifts to them from Uncle Fred. They had kid bodies with joints at the knees and elbows with bisque heads from Germany. One doll was blond and the other brunette. I often wonder what happened to them.
We also got a box of animal crackers most every Christmas. Bea and I would line them up on the wainscotting in the dining room. Our home was the old folks home. Grandpa and Grandma li ved with us. All the family would come for New Years. We had tea to fifteen guests -nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles. Ma and the older girls would bake a week ahead of time - making cakes, cream lillies, peanut bars, meat pies, buns and gingerale. The big New Years Day dinner was fun but let me tell you it was a lot of work for us. We had the New Year's dinner for years and years until we left the farm. I remember I was 25 years old. I remember my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. We were little then and sent to bed but we all sneaked down the staircase to watch the people there.
We always looked forward to New Years and Christmas dinner. We would be invited to my cousin Joe Morin's home on New Year's Day. My mother did not have any of her relatives in Minnesota, they were all in Canada so it was all Dad's people. Bea and I played house in the caboose and the coal shed. Our medicine was salt water when we played sick. I remember the coal shed was divided into two - one side was Bea ' s house and the other side was mine. We were happy those days til we grew up and left home one by one.
I remember how Bea and I would climb up on the roof of the granary or the barn and sing our heads off. The good Lord was with us because on the north side was a straight drop to the ground, and if we had fallen off it would have meant broken bones for sure. Bea and I would make fruit nectar in a gallon tin peanut butter pail and radish sandwiches to take with us to the woods close by. We had a favorite place to make a picnic, of course. We roamed the woods along the river. It was easy to walk the woods then as the cows had paths we would follow. I tried to walk there when I visited once but couldn't find away through because there were no paths to follow with the cows gone. Bea and I mllked lot of cows. I started the cream separater. When the bell didn't ring anymore,it was easy and, someone else would take over.
I didn't like housework. I was Dad's tomboy. I worked in the fields. I would hurry when I washed the dishes and Lil and Lou would tell me I didn't wash them right. I would rather clean the barn. Dad and Phil would come home from the fields at night and I would have the barn clean, hay in the manger, feed in the feedbox, and the stalls bedded with straw. All Dad and Phil had to do was water their horses and unharness them before going in to supper. They liked that. I remember I really hated to wash or wipe' dishes. If I could get out of it I would run to the outhouse and sit there until I couldn't hear the dishes rattle. Lou and Lil would bawl me out "Where have you been" and I would say out in the outhouse, when you got to go you got to go (but for same reason I had to go whenever the dishes needed washing).
Bea and I used to go pick chokecherries in the woods. There was a place we called Maudie for a horse that was buried there. The cherries that grew in that spot were bigger than any other place. Sometimes we picked them before they were ripe enough so we put them in the dark in the hayloft until they were ready to eat. There were only chokecherries and wild plums on the farm. Some were big enough for Ma to peel and make sauce. They were good but took lots of sugar.
One time Uncle Hector came on a Sunday afternoon with his kids. His son Pete was a big tease, always had it in for me. He was rubbing my head on the tractor wheels. I kept telling him to stop but he wouldn't. I said to myself when he lets go, I'll get even. I started to chase after him with a coupling in my hand. He jumped on the wagon box and I threw the iron coupling and hit him on the head. He fell into the wagon. I don't know if I knocked him unconscious or not. Uncle Hector came running. He said to my Dad if I had a kid like that I'd kill her, but my Dad said we don't kill children. They took him into the house. I ran into Ma 's bedroom in the back of the house because I thought I had killed him but Ma came in to tell me he was alright so go pIay. He only had a scratch on his forehead. I went around the back of the house and looked at him through the window. I did shame on you with my finger. Big baby that he was - or course, Uncle Hector didn't see him rubbing my head on the cogs of the tractor.
Next year we had everyone over as always. Our house was the rendezvous for all the family anyway. We were fixing the turkey for New Year's dinner and Phil, my brother, told me to take the asshole of the turkey with the pinfeathers and give it to Pete for a gift. In those days, we gave gifts on New Year's Day, so I took the asshole of the turkey for a ring, put it in a matchbox and wrapped it. I put the wrapped matchbox in a shoebox, wrapped the shoebox and stuck it under the sofa. When he came over for New Year's Day I gave him the present in front of everyone. He opened it and it didn't smell so good. Everybody laughed. I said to him "That's what you get for the time you rubbed my head on the wheels of the tractor - I got even with him that time. Ha!
In the summer in the evening, Bea and I would take the calves in the house yard and ride them horseback. They would get us all scraped up on the trees in the yard, and we made a mess. Lil and Lou would scold us but we did it anyway. On the farm, in those days, we didn't go anyplace often so we had to make our own fun.
We had a gray spotted horse by the name of Duke. When I would clean the barn I hitched him to the stoneboat - no bridle or reins. He would look around and see how much manure I had on the stoneboat before he took off for the field where I could unload it. Then he came back to the barn and I would load up again. He would take off on his own when he thought there was enough on the stoneboat. Another funny thing he did was to go kick the granary wall when he wanted some grain. When he got loose, he would go over the the wall where there was a hole. Some wheat would be there on the ground. He would eat that and then hit the wall with his hoof so more grain would fall through the hole. We used to hear that noise and wonder where it came from. We went to take a look and there was Duke hitting the granary wall. He also would open the door and eat but he couldn't close the door. Pretty smart horse, huh?
That's the end of my story.
by Delores Schiller Lafond
SCHILLER FAMILY TREE.PDF of Dolphis and Josephine Schiller complied by Rosemary Schiller, Argyle , MN Large New France Map 1610-1791.pdf The 1666 Census of Montreal Brief History of Montreal
BENJAMIN SCHEILLER 1757-1835 Posted by Paul A. Plante, 3/31/2000
Click here to view 1995 Schiller Family Reunion/Thief River Falls, MN
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