Winter in Northern Minnesota, Leora in the early 1900s

1904 map showing the railroads in Polk County, Minnesota

Leora Goff was 12 when her father, Sherd (who suffered from wanderlust) decided they’d move (along with other families) from Guthrie County, Iowa, nearly to Canada–to Key West, Minnesota. Typically, farm families made their moves in time to be settled by March 1.

The Goff family moved there from Iowa by train. Sherd and his father, John B. Goff, took the livestock up first. “Pa and Grandpap left with a stock car train a week or more before we did,” Leora wrote in her memoir. “There were two cows, some chickens, and household goods. We stayed at Grandpap Jordan’s [at Monteith] a few days and left by train about March 20th. It was nice spring weather in Iowa. We had a wait of a few hours in St. Paul, Minn., and some or all of us were getting colds, even Grandmother Goff.”

Laura–pregnant again–and her mother-in-law had started out with eight healthy children.


The Northern Pacific Railroad ran right through Key West, which was 13 miles east of Grand Forks, North Dakota. By the time they were met there at the station–by Grandpap Goff driving horses and pulling a cutter loaded with comforters–a blizzard had come up. Their new home was only half a mile north, but Leora said that arriving that way mixed up her sense of direction the whole time they lived in Minnesota.

Key West depot and elevators in the 1920s. From “Bicentennial History of Polk County, Minnesota: Pioneers of the Valley” by the Polk County Historical Society, 1976

It was too dangerous for the kids to go to school there during the winter, so that winter of 1903-1904, Leora boarded in Fisher, a town ten miles south of Key West. Talking to a blacksmith one day, Sherd had found a German family with two small children for his oldest child to board with.

Leora enjoyed living with the family, but the 13-year-old experienced homesickness for the first time. A letter arrived from her sister Georgia, “Don’t be homesick. You will soon be home setting hens for Mamma.”

“That did it,” Leora wrote decades later, “I burst out crying, and the lady I was staying with felt so sorry for me and did things to make me feel better. When I would go home with the George Wright (cousins) for the weekend, that helped a lot–we had such good times together–a large family like I was used to.”

Another Blizzard

One weekend, another girl from Key West wanted to go home. She was somewhat older than Leora and arranged to take the train to Grand Forks. “It was nice and clear when we left Fisher but an old fashioned Minnesota blizzard struck and, in northern Minnesota, flat country, a blizzard was dangerous. All the trains were snowbound and we were in Grand Forks, North Dakota, snowbound, with very little money.

“This girl was 18 or 19 years old (I was 13 years old) and happened to have a cousin who was working  someplace in the town and she got in touch with him. He took us to a hotel to stay the night. The blizzard was still raging ’til it cleared away on Sunday afternoon. This cousin, I guess, worked at a livery barn, as he found a man from near our territory who had been stranded and was going  home in the late afternoon. It was dark when we got to our place (he drove a team and sled). I was so glad to get home and was hungry as we hadn’t eaten since morning–our money was used up.

“The next day it was bright and clear and cold. Pa took me back to Fisher to school in a ‘cutter’ sleigh and team, all bundled up. It was only ten miles but seemed like a hundred would with a car. My stockings were frozen to my heels–you could even see frost. I had ‘chilblains’ for some time after that. A pretty good cure is to boil potato peelings and soak their feet. The lady who I stayed with first at Fisher was so good and helpful.”


“We were getting rather homesick for Iowa,” Leora wrote. “We moved to Fisher the last winter we were in Minnesota, 1904 and 1905. We enrolled in school as they had school in towns in winter. . . .

“We skated and played on the ice of the Red River, which ran north and eventually into Hudson Bay. Pa paid our share for keeping snow off the skating area. It was lots of fun and exercise. Some used sleds as we did sometimes. It was a long winter and there was lots of snow.” 

The Goff family returned to Iowa in 1905, but with nine children. Perry Goff was born the first year they lived in Minnesota. And yes, Leora’s mother was pregnant again.



    • Virginia, she was my age (70s) when she wrote her memoir. I’m so surprised at the very definite memories she had even as a small child! I just wrote the first draft of those Minnesota years for “Leora’s Early Stories.” She’d be so please, but not surprised!

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