John Abel Pearson (1881 – 1964) was Cook’s first homesteader and knew firsthand the hardships European settlers encountered when they arrived in northern Minnesota. Abel, as he was better known, and his wife had six children, one of whom died of pneumonia on a train to Duluth. The Pearsons’ land was south of the old Cook School and extended to present-day Highway 53. Their first home was located where the aptly named Homestead and Pioneer apartments are today.
In addition to his farming duties, Abel pressed hay into bales for northern Minnesota logging camps and was able to purchase a Model T Ford by hauling gravel, according to an account by Alice Jacksha published in the November 10, 1991, Hibbing Daily Tribune. Jacksha said her father, Vivian Everett, worked with Abel for the State Highway Department, and Abel provided bear meat to the Virginia Red Owl supermarket when meat was rationed during World War II.
“He never preached the gospel or sang in the choir,” Jacksha wrote, “but he lived a consistent Christian life. He was loved and admired by his children, ten grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.”
As of the early 1990s, all of Abel and Klara Pearson’s five children lived in Field Township west of Cook. Abel’s grandson, David, is the last Pearson to live on the family’s original homestead. Abel’s old fence, now concealed by trees, is still standing on the south side of the property. GPS surveying determined the land Abel staked in the early 1900s was only off by approximately three feet.
David provided HTF with old photos, newspaper clippings, and a high school senior’s essay written about Abel by a neighbor in Field Township. That essay is published below as it was originally written.
On the seventeenth of April, 1893, Mrs. Andrew Pearson and her twelve year old son Abel left their homeland of Sweden and sailed for America where the young woman’s husband was waiting for her.
After a long, tedious journey they finally reached Soudan, Minnesota. There they had to wait for ten days before they could set off for their new home in Frazer Bay as they had [to] wait for Lake Vermillion [sic.] to open up. They traveled by rowboat some twenty miles to a small log cabin near the Indian settlement at Wakemup Bay. There the young mother, who had left a nice home and come to a foreign country to set up housekeeping, began the job.
With only Indians as close neighbors, and the nearest town a full day’s walk away, this woman tackled a job not many young women would dare do.
In order to help his family along, young Abel took to trapping and snaring. On one trip to town with a hand sled and a three dog team, he hauled a load of thirteen nice mink furs and ten muskrat furs, and received only ten dollars for the entire load!
He also snared rabbits which then were so plentiful that one morning he got forty-one and the next morning twenty-sev en!
These he cleaned and dressed, then brought them to Tower were [sic.] he was paid five cents apiece for them.
Abel shot his first deer the first year he lived on Lake Vermillion, and the next year, only thirteen years of age, he shot a large bear.
During the seven years the Pearsons lived at Frazer Bay, the only playmates he had were young Indian boys at the Wakemup Bay settlement.
Occasionally a young white boy would come and visit Abel—and what a time Knute Fuller and Abel Pearson had teaching each other the alphabet. Young Knute would patiently teach the little Swedish boy the English alphabet and then Abel would take his turn, explaining the Swedish alphabet to Knute.
At the Wakemup Bay village near the Pearsons’ home the Indians lived in small log cabins and some in birch bark wigwams. A small Methodist church was built there around 1890 where services were held in the Chippewa language.
Quite a few of the Indians could speak a little English and in time Abel picked up a bit of Chippewa. One of his former playmates was Frank Wakemup who later moved to Nett Lake when the whole tribe moved there in the early nineteen hundreds. [Abel’s grandson David said Abel still visited Frank at the Nett Lake reservation.]
During the summer months a steam boat ran from Tower to Head of the Lakes where there were a few people living. The steam boat brought supplies to people living along the lake shore. One day late in the fall Abel and a friend rowed out to meet the boat but for some reason the boat didn’t come that afternoon. As it was important they decided they would have to row to Tower. Everything went fine but as it got later the weather turned colder and colder. Finally just as they got to Pike Pay, around a mile from Tower the lake froze. Luckily they had two pair of oars and for the rest of the way they were forced to pound and break the ice to get the boat through. They finally reached Tower, tired but triumphant.
When he was nineteen, which was 1900, Abel took a job in Tower. After he had been working for a few weeks he had a feeling it was important he leave his job and go home. After a day of traveling he reached their home to find only the blackened ruins of a house and his family no where around. As they had friends in East Little Fork he went there and found his mother staying with the Sjostrom family. They stayed with them for about a month, until the first of April. When they felt the weather was warm enough, they set off to find a site for their new home. Abel, his mother and father left with only a gun, a borrowed tent, three cows and a horse and began to look for some land to homestead. Where the present village of Cook stands they settled and lived in their small tent. Abel staked out 160 acres and then built a cabin for his family to live in, just a little east of where our town now is.
The first Fourth of July celebration in Cook was in 1900 when the Pearson family and the John Olson family came down the river in a small row-boat and then had a picnic lunch and an enjoyable afternoon along the shore of the Little Fork River right where the present Delich Service Station [as of this printing, a vacant building on north side of Vermilion Drive] stands now.
At the time Abel Pearson homesteaded in Cook there were a few families in Leander and East Little Fork. In East Little Fork the John Sjostroms, Fernland and the John Erickson families had homesteads. Leander was settled by the Edblom family and the Peter Leanders.
A year after Abel had begun his farming, they were told that a railroad was going to be put through from Virginia to International Falls. The few people around Ashawa [Cook’s original name] were naturally pleased and after a trail was cleared for the tracks, Pearson would walk down that trail to Leander to visit with friends there and discussed the coming of the railroads and just to enjoy the conversation with others.
The railroad company wanted to buy some land from Mr. Leander to build the depot on, but as he didn’t care to sell they bought some a little further north along the Little Fork River and built the station. If Mr. Leander would have been willing to sell, the present village of Cook would probably have been located in Leander.
Even yet they were forced to go to town for groceries, but meat was easily gotten. A hunting license sold for a quarter and you were allowed five deer! Later it was cut to only three dear and one moose! In the years Abel lived around the lake and Cook he shot nine moose. The last one he shot was in 1913.
One experience Abel will never forget was the time he was working in Tower and found it was necessary to get home. There had just been a heavy snow storm, so the snow was nearly knee deep. For the first ten miles the going wasn’t to [sic.] rough as a team of horses had gone ahead of him but for the next twenty miles he had to break trail himself. The Tower-Itasca road was then just a wagon trail and it easily drifted over. Many times while plowing his way through those drifts, Abel wondered if he’d actually make it. That night, totally [sic.] exhausted he reached the Erickson home in East Little Fork where he stayed that night. Early the next morning he continued the rest of the way to Cook.
In 1900 when Abel and his family settled in Cook it was all complete wilderness, but in ten short years it was a fast growing little town. There were three stores, two saloons, a post office and two hotels by 1910 where shortly before had been only woods.
In 1910 a beautiful young girl came from Sweden to visit relatives near Cook. There Abel Pearson met Clara [Klara] Erickson. After courting her a year they traveled to Virginia on June 29 and were married.
They built a new home on Abel’s farm and continued to live there and farm. They raised a fine family of two boys, and three girls.
As settlers continued coming to Cook, Abel willingly helped them get settled by donating his team of horses and helping the families move in. Families living too far out of town for their children to get to school would often board their children with the young couple who lived but a short distance from the Cook school.
As the little town continued to grow Abel sold pieces of land from time to time. Martinson’s Addition and “Abel’s Addition” were originally part of Pearson’s homestead.
In 1934 they bought another farm a few miles west of Cook and moved there, where they still reside. Mr. Pearson has lived a life filled with adventure, but he has also had his share of hardships. He will never forget the experiences of those first years at the lake, or later his homesteading days in Cook.
—Barbara Soderberg, 1953
Early history of Ashawa (Cook)
The Village of Cook, when August Buboltz, who now is its principal storekeeper, came to it in 1904 consisted of not much more than a tent, in which was a printing plant, upon which the “Northland Farmer” was printed, published and circulated almost to the Bear River, by its editor-owner, James A. Field. The paper plant was hauled into Cook on a sleigh, over the Vermilion Lake.
With the clearing of timber, the land in the Township of 62-18 was seen to be good for agricultural purposes, and with the Duluth, Rainy Lake and Winnipeg Railway possibilities, the possibilities of a farming center developing somewhere in the vicinity, attracted some who were interested in town planning. The Goodhue Investment Company of Duluth, acquired land in section 18 and a townsite was surveyed and platted for them by the Duluth Engineering Company.
The first lot was sold to John Nelson, of Taylor Falls, a lumberman, now deceased. Upon his lot now stands the Farmers and Merchants Bank.
The first building in Cook was that erected for August Buboltz by John B. Shaver, of Virginia. When completed, it was opened as the Little Fork Hotel, and conducted as such by Mr. Buboltz until 1909, when he went out of that business, and later took up merchandizing [sic.] and other enterprises in Cook and the vicinity. He built many houses in the place.
The first store building in Cook was that occupied as a general store by Lee and Hanson of Tower.
The first church was the Swedish Mission, which was built in about 1906. The first minister in Cook was the Rev. Lantz.
The first school was that erected about one and a half miles east of Cook. It was built in 1905, and the first teacher is stated to have been Miss Payne.
The first physician was Doctor Kurtz.
Cook was originally known as “Ashawa.” It was platted as such and the village first became known as “Cook.” At least two attempts have been made to secure corporate powers for the village. A petition dated February 26, 1915, and signed by E. W. Carey and twenty-five other residents on land “originally platted as ‘Ashawa,’ and later known as ‘Cook,’” sought the approval of the county authorities to their wish for incorporation of the village.
Included in the boundaries of the incorporated village, the projectors sought to get blocks one to sixteen, inclusive, and outlots one to five, inclusive, as platted in the southeast quarter of northwest quarter and northeast quarter of southwest quarter of section 18, township 62-18, as well as what was known as Balliet’s addition to Cook, and certain other adjoining tracts. Petition asserted that census taken on February 26, 1915, showed that on that day there were resident in the district for which corporate powers were sought 220 persons.
Later, it developed that a clause calling for the inclusion of about one thousand acres, additional, had been inserted in the petition after it had been signed. At all events, such was the allegation made by certain of the freeholders, who filed remonstrance with the county commissioners, that paper also stating the fears of objectors “that incorporation would re-introduce saloons, which had been eliminated some years earlier.” The remonstrance was signed by 22 of the signers of the original petition, and was dated March 17, 1915.
It delayed action by the county commissioners.
However, on March 29 of that year another petition, favoring incorporation, was prepared by L. T. Luthey, and signed by many residents, eventually reaching the office of the county auditor.
On April 28, 1915, Charles E. Adams, special counsel for the County of St. Louis, advised the county commissioners that this petition was “legally sufficient in all respects.” On May 3, however, it came to the knowledge of the commissioners that 12 of the signers of the second petition wished to withdraw their signatures. The withdrawal of these signatures made the petition “insufficient to require any action” by the commissioners. Hence, the village is still without corporate powers.
[Cook was incorporated as a city on May 13, 1926.]
Source: Walter Van Brunt, Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota; Their Story and People (Chicago: The American Historical Society, 1921).