When I started researching the life of my great-grandfather, John M. Femrite, I felt as though I were confronted with a great mystery. Neither my mother or my grandfather Hiram ever spoke of him to me or anyone else in the family. What I knew about him I learned from a short biography in the 1916 book, “A History of Lac Qui Parle and Chippewa Counties.” The entry for John was full of praise for the outstanding farmer that he had become.
John began his career as a public school teacher and was highly respected for the work he did. Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, however, he began to acquire land in the area and devote his time to raising crops and livestock.
In a short number of years, he had assembled a sizable farm of nearly a thousand acres and built an award-winning herd of Aberdeen-Angus cattle. His purebred bulls had a reputation for siring strong and healthy offspring. In fact, for a number of years running in the second decade of the 20th century, his animals were regularly listed in the annually-published “American Aberdeen-Angus Herd Book”, the bible of the pure-bred cattle in that group.
As readers of this blog will be aware, I’ve written a number of posts about my great-grandfather, one of them being the recent “The life and times of J.M. Femrite, pt. 2” in which I look at the ups and downs of his fortunes.
Imagine my surprise when several days after I posted that piece, I got a comment from a reader that read,
“Hello there, my name is Ann. Years ago I acquired this trophy in an antique store. It was awarded for “Best Beef Herd” to J.M. Femrite, 1915. In doing little research, I found you and your blog. If you are interested in it, please let me know. I would love to find a proper home for it.”
She had attached a photograph of the trophy.
I think I read the message two or three times before I called my wife over to read it as well. I asked her if she thought it was real and then we both quizzed each other on the circumstances that would have to happen for it not to be real. They didn’t seem likely. On the other hand, how could something like this actually be happening?
I replied to Ann’s message and told her that the J.M. Femrite named on the trophy was my great-grandfather and I’d be delighted to get the trophy. At first we tried to arrange for her to ship it to me have me reimburse her for the shipping charges. Then, for some reason, I asked her where she lived and found out that she was just a 30-minute drive away. I decided to drive to her house and pick it up in person instead of risking some problem in the shipping process.
One lovely fall day a couple weeks ago I did that and had a nice chat with Ann and her husband Michael. She couldn’t recall exactly where she found the trophy, but she knew that it had been at least 20 years since she acquired it. She showed me the manufacturer’s stamp inside the base of the trophy and told me that her research indicated that the company had supplied trophys for Harvard University, among others, so it was a well-crafted piece. I could tell that when I finally held it in my hands. It has quite a heft to it!
Since the trophy lists the name of the Minnesota county, Lac Qui Parle, where John Femrite farmed, the competition was clearly held at the County Fair, an annual event in the city of Madison. 1915 would have been one of the two or three years when John’s farming career was at its peak.
I don’t have a trophy case, but I do have a mantel and many, many bookshelves. I know that I won’t have any trouble finding an appropriate place to display the trophy and I expect to have many opportunities to tell the story of its odyssey from the 1915 county fair to my home. I won’t forget to tell others about the kind and thoughtful acquaintance that I made in the process. Thanks Ann!