The house is gone now but it used to be below and behind the Interior Credit Union where Mettie’s restaurant, Mrs. Hill’s Cafe was. They had come to this new little town of Oliver in 1918 from Galahad, Alberta; once again they were pioneers.
I remember visiting there when Mettie sold the restaurant. Before that, she slept in the back of the restaurant after Great Grandpa Bill died.
Rachel Willmette (Mettie) Vieux was born in Eagle Point Wisconsin, the daughter of an itinerant French Canadian Narcisse Vieux and a young Scottish girl, Orrinda Mary Nichols, the daughter of the infamous Doc Nichols. Mettie grew up on the the banks of the Chippewa River along with her sisters Mary and Agnes and half sisters Gertrude and Nettie and her half brother Adolph Tautant.
Mettie’s parents divorced when she was little and her mother remarried a fine and decent French Canadian Adolphe Tautant Sr. When Mettie was in her teens and just before her marriage, her step father passed away and Orrinda (known as Mary) married Thomas Christianson and eventually moved to Minnesota and then to Solon Springs, Wisconsin.
Mettie used to love to tell stories to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She had many stories of her life on the river and her growing up years as well. Mettie’s life wasn’t always easy but she still had good memories of those early years.
The following story that Mettie told her children and grandchildren has been passed down from generation to generation and is a true account. Dad remembers Mettie telling him this story many times.
Years ago, when she was a young woman of 15, she married my great grandfather William Walter Hill and he took her from her beautiful Chippewa Valley to Minnesota. Bill was a policeman and a tavern owner (quite opposite occupations, you might say!) He also owned a farm.
Bill and Mettie had been married five years. They were childless and Mettie feared she would never have children. She took care of her half brother Adolph Tautant from the time he was 10 until he was 20. Mettie worried that she did not have a child yet but kept it to herself and Bill never brought up the subject as he suspected that Mettie was self conscious about her lack of children.
One day Bill came home and said to Mettie, “C’mon girl, we are going moose hunting.” He got out the little cart and hooked the two oxen to it while Mettie quickly prepared a basket of food for their trip. Then they were off into the thickets to hunt moose.
An hour after setting out, Bill pulled the cart to a halt and grabbed his rifle. Mettie stayed with the oxen while Bill went in search of a moose. Shortly Mettie heard two quick rifle shots and thought, “ah, Bill has a moose…we will have a fine stew tonight!” As she got down from the cart, she saw Bill come on the run. “Mettie, follow me with cart. I got TWO moose!” Mettie climbed up and off she went following Bill through the thick brush.
Sure enough, there were two dead moose lying in the tall grass. Mettie left the cart some distance away while Bill set about cleaning them and cutting them up. When Bill had finished up, Mettie called Bill to come and have something to eat. Mettie had spread a blanket on the ground near the cart and was standing in front of the oxen as Bill approached her. Suddenly the oxen surged forward, their nostrils flaring at the smell of blood. Before Mettie could move, the oxen took off and ran over her with their hooves. The one wheel of the ox cart also cut a swath on Mettie’s abdomen.
The moose were all but forgotten as Bill chased the oxen and cart. They had finally stopped running about a half mile down the trail. Bill had hastily wiped his hands in the grass to get the smell of blood off him and quietly approached the now exhausted oxen. He took the reins and turned them around and headed back to Mettie. She was lying on her back, eyes closed and covered in her own blood. Bill saw at once that she was cut open from below the neck to the bottom of her abdomen. Fear clutched at him as he wrapped the blanket around her and gently lifted her into the cart. Driving as fast as he could, he made straight for the neighbours that lived down the trail from them.
There weren’t any doctors in the area and any injuries were tended to by the wives and it was this way when Bill pulled up with Mettie in the cart. The farmer’s wife laid out a clean sheet on the bed and Bill carried Mettie in and laid her down. The wife told Bill to go get a bucket of water and put it on the fire and then she started ripping up cloth to use to clean and lay over the wound. Mettie told her husband to go out in the bushes and gather certain plants to make a poultice to cover the wound. Mettie’s grandfather was old Doc Nichols who lived in Wisconsin and had learned things from the Indians and he had taught Mettie’s mother how to make potions and medicines from the local plants. In turn, Mettie’s mother had taught all of her daughters.
After some time, Mettie’s wound was finally cleaned and bandaged. It was decided that she would stay there for the night while Bill went into Detroit Lakes to fetch the only Doctor around. They would be back the next day if he could find him.
Early the next morning Bill and the Doctor arrived. Mettie was in some pain but she had instructed the farmer’s wife on how to make a tea that would help with the pain and let her sleep. The Doctor examined Mettie’s wound. He cleaned it and asked Mettie what was in the poultice because it seemed to already have started healing the tissue. He quickly mixed another poultice and covered it with clean bandages.
The Doctor thought that if they made a comfortable bed in the cart, that she could go home and soon she was in her own bed. Bill took care of her by himself over the next few weeks and it wasn’t long before she was well enough to be up and about.
Six months passed since the accident and one day when Bill had come in from work, Mettie was sitting at the table with a strange look on her face. Bill was immediately worried that something was wrong and rushed to her side. Mettie just looked at him and smiled and said…”well, Bill, it looks like we are going to have a baby.” Mettie was three months pregnant.
Mettie firmly believed that the accident with the ox cart was instrumental in her finally being able to have children. After all, she had been married five years before the accident and no children. She delighted in telling her children and grandchildren the story of the moose hunt and how it helped her! Mettie and Bill eventually had seven daughters, Bessie, Nora, Mary, Grace, Dode, Gert and Ruth followed by three sons Bill Jr., Jesse (Ole) and Lawrence (Half-Pint).
My Dad made sure that we heard this story and quite often he would retell it to his Aunts and Uncles and brothers and sister. You see, Mettie was the glue that held the family together and was loved and honoured by all.