August 1942: The Death of Amarilla…pioneer of Pine River

Amarilla Grace Spracklin Barclay Dawes Urton passed away on 10 August, 1942, in Pine River, Minnesota. She was 84 years old. She arrived in Pine River in 1878 and she made Pine River her home for 64 years.  I will be adding notations in the sources below.

Here is a summary of her death record:

Amarilla Urton died on August 10, 1942 in Pine River. Her husband’s name was George Urton (Note: 3rd husband). She was widowed. She was born on Nov. 17, 1858. She died at 83 yrs 8 months 23 days. Her occupation at death was “housewife.” Her father’s name was Daniel Spracklin who was born in the U.S. (Note: born in Ohio) and her mother’s name was Mary Keller (Note: Her name was Elizabeth and her mother was Mary) also born in the U.S. (Note: born in Ohio). The death certificate was signed by Miriam McDonald of Yakima, WA. The funeral home was Northlund Funeral Home in Pine River, MN. signed on August 18, 1942.  (Note: Miriam noted in her family notes that it was Elizabeth and not Mary for the mother of Amarilla.)

Source:  Certificate of Death for Ammarilla Urton, #02159, Pine River, Cass County, Minnesota, Minnesota State Department of Health, Minnesota

Amarilla Urton

Amarilla Urton

First White Woman In Pine River Territory Buried This Week

at Age of Eighty Four

Cass County lost one of the most colorful figures in its history when death came to Mrs. Ammarilla Urton of Pine River, on Monday, August 19th (10th). The first white woman in Pine River and for approximately twenty years, the only white woman north of Gull Lake. (Note:  I spell her name Amarilla while a lot of times it has two “m’s.”)

Mrs. Urton helped plan the town of Pine River and donated much land to the village, including that which was used for the railway right of way (Note: actually George Barclay and Amarilla did this together), Pine Ridge Cemetery, the power house site, two parks–one the Brookside park and the other the land on which stands the Armory. The sites where the Methodist and Lutheran churches are located and ten lots for the first real school house were also donated by Mrs. Urton.

Mrs. Ammarilla Urton was born on November 17, 1858, in Blairstown, Iowa. She came to Brainerd in 1877. (Note: should read 1878.) On July 27 of the same year she married her first husband, George Barkley, resident of Brainerd, but who at that time was running a trading post at what is now Pine River. After their marriage they started for the territory which was to be her future home, driving by team the first day as far as Gull Lake. From there they took Tote teams to Pine River.

The Trading Post was located on the banks of the river near what is now Pine Ridge Cemetery. (Note: Not true). This post and been built by Barkley and McNannie in 1877. (Note: it was built much earlier.) The following year the store was moved to the site now occupied by the Urton residence. This store was the very first business place in this territory. Here the Indians brought in their furs and traded for supplies. The life was a lonely one, in complete isolation from her own sex, though this pioneer woman was never afraid. Although there were Indians all about them, they never caused any trouble. (Note: I don’t think it really bothered her being out their alone, she was raised on a farm in Iowa and used to isolation.) 

Mr. & Mrs. Barkley built the first frame building as well as the first building with shingles about 1880 (Note: more like 1895). This was the Barkley Hotel, a pretentious building for its time painted white. It was while, sitting in the lobby of that hotel that Mr. Barkley was shot in 1898. (Note: Too bad no building plans exist we could see its internal structure and then figure really where he was sitting.  Reports are varied about the actual death scene.)

Also built was the big store where the Fraser building now is. In 1900 (1902) Mrs. Barkley married J.G. Dawes. Mr. Dawes was a helper in plating the village of Pine River. Both Mr. and Mrs. Dawes used vision in plating the two wide streets and parks which all these years have been an asset of Pine River. Continued for many years was store business in the small building at the end of Fraser block.

In 1921 (Note: They married in 1919.) Mrs. Dawes married George Urton, later retiring from the store business.

In 1932 several of the Pine River clubs, Eradelphian, Men’s Business Club, Fancy Work Club and other groups of Pine River, paid honor to this grand old lady–who had the privilege of living a colorful life, vouched safe to few–in celebration of her 74th birthday. The event was held in the Lake Region Hotel in the form of a beautiful dinner party. Mrs. Urton told tales of many interesting happenings during her days sent in the wilderness. (Note: I wish they had recorded this or the stories.)

In 1939 a large group of friends sponsored by Mrs. Kate Silk and Mrs. Frank Shepherd again celebrated Mrs. Urton’s birthday. Mrs. Urton had one son (Note: George Alexander) and one daughter (Note: Grace A. Barclay McDonald), the son died at the age of 18 months and was buried in Brainerd.

Her daughter proceeded her in death several years ago (Note: Grace died December 23, 1911). Surviving are five grand children, Miss Marian McDonald, Yakima, Wash,; Mrs. H. M. McKanna, Green Acres, Wash,; Mrs. R.R. Davies, Boise, Idaho,; Gordon McDonald, Seattle, Wash,; Keith McDonald in the armed services (worked in Seattle).  (NOTE Edna McDonald another granddaughter was missed.)

Death came to this pioneer woman at the age of 84. Ailing for three years, the past several weeks she had experienced many sick spells. On Monday, the day of her death, however, she dressed and walked about with the aid of her companion Katie Silk.

At two o’clock in the afternoon they had tea and she was stricken with a heart attack about three passing away within a half hour. With her when she died were Katie Silk and Mrs. Smith, a tenant of the Urton apartments. Services will be held in the M.E. church on Monday at two p.m.”  Source: Walker Pilot Newspaper, August 14, 1942

Another obituary appeared in the Pine River Journal:

Pine River Jrl

Pine River Jrl

Mrs. Amarilla Urton, Founder of Pine River Passes Suddenly, 

“Mrs. Amarilla Urton Founder of Pine River Passes Suddenly – Mrs. Amarilla Urton, resident of Pine River for 64 years, passed away at her home Monday, following a short illness. She was 83 years of age at the time of her death. Funeral services will be held Monday afternoon at 2 p.m from the Methodist Church with Rev. Fish in charge. Interment will be made in the Brainerd cemetery beside her first husband.

Mrs. Urton was born in Iowa County, Iowa, November 17, 1858 (Note: She was born in Benton County where her father lived till he moved to Iowa County about 1872), coming to Brainerd in 1877, where she was engaged as a seamstress. Here she met and married George Barclay on July 27, 1878. The young couple drove as far as Gull Lake by team the first night and continued their trip the following day by tote-team to the territory known as Pine River, near the location now occupied by the cemetery.

The Trading-Post was built by Mr. Barclay and McNany (Note: McNannie) in 1877 (Note: too late much earlier). The following year the store was moved to the site now occupied by the Urton residence. This was the first business establishment in the territory in those days it was known as the Trading Post where the Indians brought their furs and exchanged them for supplies which was the only form of business conducted at that time as the lumber-jacks had not yet arrived. Mr. Barclay then purchased three forties from the federal government, the deed of which was signed by the President, received three years later which will give some idea of the rapidity of land deals in early days.

During all this time, Mrs. Urton was the only white woman in the territory. For the next fourteen years, the closest white people where at Gull Lake some distance away especially in those days. One can well imagine the pioneering courage needed by a young woman to carry on in the face of all these hardships. She spent many lonely years up there in the north country, planning with her husband, the future of a town, never complaining and always doing her part in the struggle.

The railroad came through here in 1892 and was known as the Brainerd Northern running from Brainerd as far north as Hackensack, then known as Laporte. The first post office was built previous to the advent of the railroad by Mr. Barclay (Note: George Barclay was post master for a time). Mail was delivered twice each week by stage, traveling from Brainerd to the Leech Lake Agency. Four days were necessary to make the round trip. The first shingled building in Pine River was the Barclay Hotel, operated by Mrs. Urton and her husband, the hotel was located on the lot across the street from the Farmers Supply Store and was destroyed by fire several years ago (Note: 1915). It was while engaged in this business that Mr. Barclay was killed while sitting in the lobby of the hotel in 1898. This was the first death recorded in Cass County. (Note:  There is no actual death certificate for George A. Barclay it is all noted in the Coroner’s Inquest file).

Mrs. Urton then married Mr. Dawes, and later Mr. George Urton, who both preceded her in death. Mr. and Mrs. Urton (Note: She did not marry or meet George till 1915 so it was J.G. Dawes that was involved with the following) took an active part in the building of the village, donating property now occupied by the railroad right-of-way (Note: George A. Barclay and her together), the Pine Ridge Cemetery, two parks, the power house site, the Lutheran and Methodist church properties and ten lots for the first school which was built in 1900. All in all this grand old lady had a colorful life, one that few have the privilege of experiencing.  

She spent 64 years of her life in Pine River and was well passed her allotted threescore and ten years when she passed away. It is only fitting and proper that the citizens of Pine River pay tribute to her as the founder and pioneer of this modern little city which developed far beyond her fondest dreams.” Source: Pine River Journal, Pine River, Cass Co., Minnesota, Friday, August 14, 1942.

Miriam McDonald, as far as I can tell, was the only family member who attended the funeral of grandmother Amarilla Urton in Pine River. The funeral took place on 12 August, 1942 at the Methodist Church with a Rev. Gerald Fish officiating. Interment would be in the plot in the Evergreen Cemetery in Brainerd next to her first husband George A. Barclay and their son George Alexander Barclay.

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2 thoughts on “August 1942: The Death of Amarilla…pioneer of Pine River

  1. Actually Laporte, the town you refer to as later called Hackensack was and still may be an actual northern MN town. The reason I say this is because my aunt Norita spoke of that town and was a teacher there. I think she taught after WW II–as she was a WAC and I think obtained her teaching license after that… She was a McKennett, whose family settled south of Cass Lake. The family was in charge of the post office for a time at Wilkinson, MN. This was when they lived close to the railroad and mail was dropped off by the train…

    • Hello Joan: According to Google Maps there is a Laporte south of Bemidji and a Hackensack north of Pine River, this does not make sense, HA! The obituaries were from the newspaper written by the newspaper or some other person so they are not always accurate and in this case they may have not been clear. The whole story about how George and Amarilla got to Pine River from Brainerd has several versions. I have tried to figure out the roads back then but maps are wanting. Yes back then the railroad was a big deal. My information from the Federal government states that George A. Barclay was postmaster for Pine River from about 1877 to his death in 1898. The year of 1877 was very early for the area so I think the mail was probably brought in my wagon for some of that time. When I think about all this the only way I would really learn about Minnesota history is to live there for a time but that is not in the cards. Thanks for sharing. Bonnie

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