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The John Bisbee (I1829) Family As Told by Malvina Palmer, 1962

A biography of the John Bisbee - Ardelia Small Family of Madelia, Minnesota. Shared by Eleanor Bisbee McCutcheon

When John Bisbee was 16 years of age, he went to sea in a cod fishing boat for a summer in the Gulf of St. Lawrence River.

He attended academy at Auburn, Maine. He worked in a shoe store in New York City for two years. He volunteered in 1861 for the Civil War but was not accepted. He taught school in Wilton, Maine.

John Bisbee

He left Maine on March 20, 1865, with his wife and first born, a daughter, Melvina Frances. They went west and stayed at Sparta, Wisconsin for awhile. Leaving his wife and daughter (who slept with an axe under her pillow, because of fear of Indians), while her husband went looking for land. John went to Minnesota by team with his cousin, Benjamin Frank Thompson. Later he settled in Kasota, Minnesota.

John Bisbee bought land near Garden City, Minnesota following the Sioux Massacre along the Minnesota River Valley. He farmed and worked in the Carlos Boynton Store at Garden City for four years. The following four and one half years he worked as a bookkeeper and salesman in Madelia, Minnesota. In 1874 he formed a partnership with Mathis Olson in a merchandising, grain, and produce store. It served a radius of 40 miles. Goods were traded for produce, butter, eggs, etc. (Occasionally the produce was not what it was purported to be, that is, one lady traced her home-made butter by putting salt pork in the bottom of the jar. She was known as Mrs. Porkarene Johnson after that.) In 1891 Bisbee sold his business to his partner, Olson.

In the meantime, he with his increasing number of sons, ten in all, farmed a three-quarter section in Fieldon Township. This, with a tree claim, was purchased at $1.25 per acre. One farm was within the village south of the Omaha Railroad right-of-way, west of Madelia. Another was the elevator lot where John Bisbee and his sons operated a grain business. The pasture lot was used for fattening cattle or sheep brought in from the grazing lands of the West -- Montana or Wyoming.

When ready for market, they were either shipped to St. Paul or Chicago, usually accompanied by one of the Bisbee sons, who rode in quarters provided in the caboose of the train on which the cars hauling the stock were transported.

The growing up of the John Bisbee family in Madelia, Minnesota was during the last quarter of the 19th century, a period of home industry, and in an agrarian family, a large family was an asset, being the source of needed labor.

Grandmother Ardelia Small Bisbee, for long periods of time, served 18 people three meals a day. She knit woolen socks for her men-folk, even her son-in-law John Palmer was included. Ultimately the knitting machine replaced the manual knitting and her knitting was faster. "Boughten bread and pastry" were practically unheard of, and if available were a disgrace for a housewife to serve. Flour and sugar were purchased by the barrel . Yeast was saved from one baking to the next, as a "starter" (Wednesday and Saturday were baking days). Both white and graham bread were baked regularly. The latter was by a recipe of which generations of the family were especially fond.

Yellow soap and cheese were made at home. Butchering of beef and hogs for home use, with pressing, "frying out" the lard, making of sausage, etc. took place periodically.

Saturday baked beans were flavored with salt port (pieces of side pork) kept in brine in an earthenware crock, covered with an old plate. Sunday and Thursday evening prayer meetings saw Ardelia sitting in her pew on the east side of the church, left hand side midway down the aisle. Her rich alto voice be heard in the hymns sung by the congregation.

John never attended church. Ardelia's three daughters, Melvina (oldest) was the church organist until she married and moved from Madelia. then Mabel (the middle child of 13) was organist until her marriage then Ardelia (youngest child of 13) took over the position. After Ardelia's marriage, Mabel again was organist until her illness in 1923 (a paralysis apparently resulting from a thrombosis occasioned by dental extractions) Ardelia, youngest daughter and child was organist until she went to college in 1910.

When John Bisbee retired, he followed two hobbies with great energy -- one, the stock market, and the other horticulture. He had long been an admirer of Luther Burbank. J.B, as his children referred to him in his presence, set as his goal: the production of an apple which would taste like the Maine apple he recalled as a boy, would look like a western apple in size and color, and would withstand the severe Minnesota weather. He sowed hundreds of seeds, grafted hundreds of branches onto trees (as many as five, resulting in rot). This did not matter to J.B. for his goal was a variety meeting his criteria, not a producing orchard for market purposes. He exhibited at the State Fair, exchanged views with other growers, and achieved a Bisbee apple, but it was never grown in quantities. No one in the family was in a position nor had the inclination to take over where J.B. had finished.

His "playing" the stock market after his retirement was quite successful. He left nice legacies. to his 12 living children in high grade stocks which are still good in the year 1962.

John Bisbee retained his health and mental faculties until his death at the age of 94 years in 1932.


Owner/Source Courtesy of Lawrence Edward Bisbee, Redmond, Oregon (formerly of Madelia, MN)
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Linked to John Bisbee/Ardelia Frances Small
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