Merry Christmas

In 1925, Great Northern sent out Christmas greetings in the form of a little booklet called Red River Trails. This would be republished in a slightly different form for the 1926 Columbia River Historical Expedition. I’ve already posted a scan of a photocopy of the Christmas card version, but since then I’ve obtained one of the original cards. The photocopy apparently didn’t include the cover, which as shown below was printed in blue and red.

Click image to download a 5.6-MB PDF of this 32-page booklet.

The Red River of the North was important to James J. Hill and the Great Northern in several ways. First, Hill’s mentor and business partner, Norman Kittson, had built his transportation business in the Red River valley. Hill himself took a winter trip up the valley by dog sled in 1870 so he could observe the Red River Rebellion; by a fortunate coincidence, he met his future business partner, Donald Smith, who was dog sledding south. I suspect the cover of this booklet is meant to represent this meeting.

When Hill and his partners, including Kittson, Smith, and Smith’s cousin, George Stephen, purchased the bankrupt St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, it was heading down the Red River. As they built it into the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Manitoba, it hauled as much as a quarter of the nation’s wheat harvest to mills in Buffalo (via Hill’s steamships on the Great Lakes) and Minneapolis. This produced enormous profits, allowing the railroad to issue 8 percent dividends with plenty left over to pay for the extension of the line first to Minot, then Great Falls, and finally Seattle.

The nineteen pages of text in this booklet describe the transportation history of the Red River, with the last seven pages focusing on Hill and his partners. The only indication of the authorship is a “G.F.” at the end, which of course stands for Grace Flandrau. Like Great Northern’s 1924 Christmas booklet, this one has a greeting near the front that is signed by Louis Hill, Ralph Budd, and several other Great Northern executives.

A previous owner of the booklet has imprinted their name in it: Gene M. Gressley. Gressley is an historian who taught at the University of Wyoming for many years and ran its American Studies program. His published research was on the American West but didn’t particularly focus on railroads so he must have picked up this booklet as part of a hobby. He currently lives in Chicago.

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