Two Grandfathers

Tales of Vashon

I woke up on my back in the grass, not knowing what had hit me.  The Carahers , my cousins, had bet me a quarter that I couldn’t knock off Papa Jim’s toupee and I lost.  Papa Jim was an ex-boxer, a con man and the grandfather of 23 grandchildren.  He was always teaching us from his book, “The Manly Art of Self-Defense,”  “Mothers of America protect your sons from Unscrupulous Men,” though the book was never finished.

When I was in the third grade, Papa Jim took me to Seattle to pose for photographs in boxing shorts in different boxing positions.  The pictures never made it to the book and Papa Jim never made it to the 8th grade.  He told us kids that he was the middle-weight west coast boxing champion and was managing a stable of boxers in the central district in Seattle.  He commuted to Seattle every day in his green Ford four-door and when we asked Grandma Ada what Papa Jim did in Seattle, her response was, “I don’t want to hear what happens in Seattle,” her being very Danish and conservative in nature.

Our other grandfather was a giant in the food industry and an advisor to presidents Hoover and Roosevelt.  GCC was scary to us kids and he wore hearing aids and would turn them off at the end of dinner and hum to himself, not wanting to be part of his grandchildren’s “prattle.”

John Sweetman’s family history reads like a story from “Wild West” magazine where they paid their authors a penny a word to print their stories.  John’s grandfather on his Dad’s side was a wealthy and successful cattleman in Northeast Montana.  Family history was that he made and lost several fortunes before he moved to Bainbridge Island in the mid thirties.

He and a partner.. The partner turned out to be an unscrupulous scoundrel and con man…, started a town exactly on the Montana North Dakota border, some time after the start of the 1900’s.

The town was begun on the speculative prospects of the Great Northern Railroad passing through. Not unexpectedly.. as it turned out..Montana was a ‘wet’ state and North Dakota was a ‘dry ‘. state ! Apparantly there was a ‘business ‘advantage to be had here.

I suppose that is why the town was built exactly straddling the state line, and a saloon was built with the bar in Montana and the Kitchen in North Dakota. We don’t know where they put the pool tables.

My grandfather and his partner built this town with a general store.. warehouse.. grain elevator and most likely other businesses.

Within a few years .. Maybe about 1912 or so, the town of ‘Mondak’ became notorious as one of the most rowdy and violent towns in the west.  That was a pretty good accomplishment as the competition for really bad towns in the West was pretty severe at the time. It certainly helped that a primary business of the town was selling booze to dry North Dakota.  Things went downhill in about 1915 after the County Seat was moved to Poplar which was a few miles west and wholly in Montana.

My grandfather got out of the business after his Partner absconded with the warehouse inventory and money they had made.

The Town of Mondak is now a ‘ghost’ town.

Sean@vashonloop.com