Excitement is in the air! Deer hunting season is upon us, and Governor Walz kicked off the Minnesota season with a bang here in Fergus Falls. The timing of his visit couldn’t be more perfect as the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club prepares to celebrate their 100th anniversary. Members of the club are doing a “museum takeover,” with 100 years of conservation history displayed at the Otter Tail County Museum.
Initially named the Fergus Falls Fishing Club, residents organized on March 9, 1920. Organizers included familiar names like Ronning, Wessberg and Bertelson. John L. Townley served as the first president and future sheriff John Henkes was the secretary. Those people from the past, the men, are easy to look up.
However, researching the female members posed problems. The organizer list names Mrs. Thorvald H. Johnson and Mrs. G. A. Stalling as charter members. Who were these conservation-minded women? No photographs of them exist in the Otter Tail County archives, but a few details about their lives have emerged.
Mrs. Johnson began life as Mae Edwards, born in England around 1866. In 1868, her parents immigrated to the United States. They settled in Minneapolis where Mae would do nurse’s training. Her first husband, Frank Pickett, died in 1905.
Mae remarried in 1915 and moved to Fergus Falls. Her new husband had a tailoring business in the Manhattan Building in downtown Fergus Falls. Thorvald H. Johnson had Swedish parents. He immigrated to the United States in 1905.
Together, the couple embarked on a career in politics. According to his obituary in the June 2, 1947 Fergus Falls Daily Journal, “When the Farmer-Labor party was born, Mr. Johnson became a member and one of its chief advisers and leaders in this county.” He was elected to the House of Representatives and the State Senate, in the 1930s. The Journal described them as, “constant companions and ‘pals’…Johnson’s interests were her interests and her interests were his interests.” Their interests included conservation, fishing and hunting and they held legendary parties for the children of Fergus Falls.
The little we know about the George and Maude Stallings makes for a colorful story. Like Johnson, George was a tailor who only lived here a short time. By chance I discovered him in a 1923 article in the New York Musical Enterprise. The author reported that, “a local divorce suit recalls old times to Fergus musicians. The suit in question is between the wife of former Bandmaster Stalling and a local resident. It will be remembered that Mr. Stalling disappeared rather mysteriously some time ago, and it is now alleged that the wife wasn’t his wife, and all sorts of complications have set in.” Scandal!
There’s no telling what became of the mysterious Stallings, but Fergus Falls can be proud of a resident who won the Minnesota women’s state marksmanship championship in the 1940s in addition to competing on the men’s team. Lucile W. Soby’s skill with firearms was as renowned as her generous philanthropy.
The Fish and Game Club exhibit opens at the Otter Tail County Historical Society on Feb. 7th, 2020.