Rivard, John T. / Triple centennial jubilee souvenir book : Somerset
[The Somerset Historical Society], pp. 115-119
THE OLIVER TOWNE COLUMN ST. PAUL DISPATCH, JUNE 29, 1955 (With Permission of the Author) There was, in the Sunday Pioneer Press of June 5, a brief story in the vacation sectibn which declared: "In Wisconsin's lumberjack days, it was said that the four toughest places in the world were Cumberland, Hayward, Hurley and Hell." Which statement has pricked a sore spot in the tough skins of many a Somerset, Wis., resident because, as one of them put it the other day: "Anyone knows that the four toughest places in the world in the lumberjack years were SOMERSET, Hayward, Hurley and Hell." Cumberland seemingly does not fit into the scheme at all. As a matter of fact, I have this quote from a man whose ances- tors wore bruises on their knuckles as pridefully as Heidelberg dueling scars. "Cumberland tough? Why, you had to insult a man to make him fight when I was there in '98. But in Somerset, just say 'bonjour, mon vieux' (hello, old pal) and you were in the most beautiful scrap this side of the Revolutionary war. The same gentleman admits that the present generation is not sure it is entirely happy about this distinction, but "will fight for the truth to the last tooth." The roaring days of which I am now speaking occurred between i86o and 9oo when i5 lumber mills ran in Still- water and 3,ooo beefy lumberjacks worked the Apple and St. Croix rivers. And, in spring, when they rolled-logs and men-down the rivers, Somerset was the rendezvous point of these French- Canadians, an oasis of good whisky and lots of it. Of the dozens of hitching-post pipes on Somerset streets, there wasn't a straight one in the lot 24 hours after the lumber, jacks reached town. And it was economic suicide to put a bay window into a store or house front. The biggest sport of the day among the lumberjacks was heaving each other through plate glass windows. And the bigger the window the better. The quality and quantity of Somerset whisky set lumber- jacks to drooling long before they made their annual invasion of the town. One of the LeMire boys, for instance, was walking down to Somerset from St. Croix Falls and was thinking about the liquor he was going to drink when he got there. And the more he thought, the more his mouth watered. And they say that by the time he was two miles out of Somerset, he was dead drunk, just thinking about it. Although fights were two dozen for a dime, there is no report of murder being committed. One reason why the brawling always stopped short of serious bloodshed was the fact that the priests in the area were tougher than the toughest lumberjack. Rev. John Rivard, present pastor of St. Anne's Catholic church at Somerset, recalls the missionary who sought in vain to entice some of the loggers into religious environs on Sunday. At last he said to them: "You fellows think you're so smart. Bring out the tough- est man you have. And if he beats me cutting a log with an ax, you don't have to go to church. But if I beat him, you go to church." So it was agreed. And the missionary, who had come down from Hudson, Wis., said a prayer, rubbed his hands and the con- test was on. He won, but the Lord must have been with him. Because his log had a hollow in it which gave him a head start on his rival. Of all the legendary figures in Somerset history, the physical prowess of none gas been more oft recounted than that of Tuphil Rivard. And in a community which has seen some physical giants in the names of Montpetit, Germain, Montbriand, Bergeron and Barriault, that is saying quite something. Tuphil Rivard was a logger, carpenter and millwright. And it was he who, after placing the cross on the top of St. Anne's steeple 75 feet above the ground, climbed onto the cross and stood, one leg on either arm, balancing himself without effort. Tuphil sang in the church choir. But not even then was he without his quid of tobacco. And he was, within memory, the only chorister who sat in a rocking chair with a spitoosr by- his side while he sang. Even after he passed 6o summers, Tuphil was always the top man on a barnraising detail. It was he who) nailed down the uppermost rafters. The Somerset of '955, noted for good eating places- there are seven cafes and taverns within the village limits and five just without-is calm, belying one other spectacular era in its nearly i oo years. That was the "Roaring zos," when some Somerset purveyors sold moonshine to the eastern half of Minnesota. There is the story of the man from St. Paul who stopped a native on a Somerset street and asked where he could buy a gallon of hooch. I'll show you," said the native and got into the car, directing the driver across the Apple river and up the hill to St. Anne's where he pointed at the priest's house and said: "That is the only place in Somerset where you CAN'T buy a gallon of moonshine." When, in those days, the "feds" swooped down, the fore, warned farmers dumped the mash out on the yard and not, infrequently, the cows and pigs ate their way into the merriest binge you ever saw. Such are some of the Somerset tales, now gathering moss, which are told and retold on cold, winter's nights about men of yore who played, worked and fought hard. And Cumberland? "XWhere's that at?" they'll ask.
© Copyright 1956 by John T. Rivard