Jim Wilkins, WWII Vet

James Colehour Wilkins Memories

Son of Cap's only daughter, Kathrina Colehour

Mother, Dad and I visited the grandparents almost weekly from 1916 through 1921 during the summers and were in the hotel on most visits. I would have been 1 to 5 years old. At that time we usually did not stay overnight.

We lived on the farm when I was born in 1915. We visited Cap and Grandmother regularly by horse and buggy first and then in the 1917 Dodge. So we were at the hotel almost every week when it was open in the summer.

On several occasions I ate lunch or dinner in the Children's Dining room, which is now the kitchen. Children were not allowed in the main dining room which is the present living room. The tourist kids and their nurse maids ate in the Children's Dining room and I ate with them.

We moved from the farm to town in September 1921 when I started first grade. We lived in the 1882 house in the winter and in the Coop in the summer until the hotel was closed for good. Then we lived in the 1882 house year round until the fall of 1929 when the present house was completed.

The Coop was a small one story building set back on the middle lot between the Prospect House and San Juan. It was built for Charlie to live in when the hotel was running. There was a small lean to on the south side used for a kitchen. Some winters George Willie used the Coop to built boats. The Coop was moved to a location in the west shore of Battle Lake and remodeled to rent to tourists.

There were two tornadoes on the same day in Fergus Falls in the summer of 1918 or 1919. I remember the tourists in the dining room of the hotel being worried that the tornados might reach Battle Lake. The sky was real dark and the clouds were moving fast. Much of Fergus was destroyed and 58 people were killed. We drove to Fergus to see the damage but the guards would not let us in the city limits.

Grandmother made excellent ice cream for Sunday noon and Wednesday evening dinners. The last year or so when the hotel was open I tried to help turn the handle on the ice cream freezer outside of the hotel near the water tower. I could not.

The ice came from the large ice house where the present garage is located. The ice was cut in blocks two feet square and about 30 inches high. It was hauled in during the annual ice harvest when train loads of ice were shipped to Wahpeton and west into North Dakota.

The tourist men sat on Captains Chairs on the front porch before and after meals. One evening a week the men had a poker game in the west room on the main floor of the 1882 house and the women played bridge in the living room.

The beer, fruit and vegetables were stored in the cellar of the 1882 house on the dirt floor to keep them cool.

The electric lights at that time were small bulbs dropped on a cord from the ceiling.

Cap had his office on the main floor on the northeast corner of the building. His desk was on the west wall and there were large pictures behind the desk and across the room. There were several chairs on the east wall and the usual spittoons for the chewers and smokers.

The entrance to the public washroom was on the north wall. Outside across the road was the outdoor toilet for the women. There was a 5 or 6 foot board fence covered with wild cucumber vines in front of the toilet. I used the women's toilet one time as it was much nearer than the men's. I ran out of the toilet to go back into the hotel and ran right into an auto. I was not hurt but the driver was upset.

The bed linen and other laundry was done at the west end of the kitchen. The sheets were "mangled" in a small wooden building west of the ladies toilets.

Cap was in good health for a man of his age at that time. He walked to the Post Office every day to get the mail until his 90s. He led the Memorial Day Parade walking the full distance until he was in his 90s. The last year or two he rode in an automobile until the last two blocks and led the march to the Memorial Hall. He and Grand Mother sat at the front of the stage as honored guests.

About 1920 when he was nearly 80 years of age he visited us at the farm. While there, he and I went to Beauty Shore Slough not far from the farm house and sat on the shore watching the birds flying. A duck swam near us and he shot it. I was so proud of him and I was only 4 or 5.

He went deer hunting in northern Minnesota with his friends. They slept in tents and cooked over open fires. They must have gone in horse drawn wagons as there were no cars then. The men also took a train to Montana to hunt.

He shot his last deer when he was 80 years old. My father could not match that as he shot his last deer at 79 years of age. One day he was in his front yard shooting the dead top branches off his trees with his rifle.

He was very generous. Mother said he sometimes felt sorry for some of the tourists and gave them reduced rates. The Kertzebourns had a jewelry store in St Louis. They rented the first floor front room of the house for three months in the summer and ate their meals in the dining room. They told Cap their business was not doing well and he gave them the room rent free for the summer.

We celebrated Christmas Eve with a birthday dinner for my mother and then gifts in the living room near the tree. Cap was getting a Civil War pension of about $16 a month. One time he gave me a dollar for my Christmas out of his small pension.

Cap and I sat in front of the fireplace in the front room of San Juan many times. He told stories of the early days in Battle Lake but did not talk about his war experience. He was critical of other veterans who talked about the war saying they probably did not see real action.

He like to go to Swanson's Drug Store and visit with other men who were relaxing there. He and George Willy often talked as they were good friends for years.

He was very popular with the tourists who stayed or ate in the hotel. He loved to hug the ladies and talk with the men. He and Grandmother received about 100 Christmas cards each year.

He loved the frequent articles about him that appeared in the Battle Lake Review and willingly posed for camera shots.

Cap had a cot in his office in San Juan and took short naps both in the morning and afternoon. He and Grandmother ate their meals in the kitchen except when the family or friends ate with them. Then the meals were family style in the dining room.

Cap had a small radio which he used mainly to listen to the news at 9 o'clock. Our family went over to San Juan frequently to visit in the evening and listened to the news with the head sets as there was no speaker for the radio. My father assembled a crystal set radio but it did not work well. Then he strung a wire from our house to San Juan and attached ear phones. We were then able to listen to the same programs that my grandparents listened to.

Cap used the name Grizzly or Old Grizzly. It seems that his men in the Union Army when he was a Corporal gave him that name. He signed his Christmas card "Grizzly and Wife". I mailed a letter to him and on the envelope addressed it to "Old Grizzly, Battle Lake Minnesota" and it was delivered.

He was wounded twice in the war. The bullets went through his shoulders. He said that he had four bullet holes. The newspapers interpreted that to mean that he was wounded four times. Some articles about him say that "he received four separate wounds".

He was a Corporal when he was first wounded. He went home to Mount Carroll to recover. The local paper wrote "Sargent Colehour is home recovering from a wound."

After the war he went to Chicago where he was employed in the post office. He was Captain of a rifle team. When he moved to Battle Lake, the newspapers said that he was a Captain in the Civil War. He was called Captain Colehour and Cap Colehour. The Minneapolis Tribune wrote an article about him and called him Colonel Colehour. Quick promotions and not so great accuracy in the media.

He liked to be different. He bought a cap to wear in the summer and cut round holes in the top for ventilation. On some hot days he sat on the lawn with his feet in a tub of water and held the sprinkler above him to keep cool.

Cap and Grandmother lived alone until he died. Their daughter in law, Eleanor, helped with the cleaning once a week in later years. Cap shoveled coal into the furnace until late years when Dad did it for him.

Cap died at his home 2:45 AM December 25, 1938, He suffered a stroke about 10 days earlier and then had an attack of influenza. I was 24 years old teaching and coaching in the Wahpeton ND High School. Mother, Dad and the Doctor were present.

Mother and Dad did not want my sister and me to be there so we slept in our own home across the yard. Early in the morning they told us he had passed away.

It was customary for the young people to sing Christmas Carols early Christmas morning. I always enjoyed the fellowship. That morning, however, I found the choir before they were about to sing at Cap's house and asked them not to.

The funeral was held in the First Baptist Church with Rev. Bridges officiating. The church sanctuary and the east room were full of friends and relatives. The American Legion placed a large flag on the casket which was in the front. There were at least 10 large floral pieces. His grandchildren were pall bearers.

Jim Wilkins

After the service the American Legion escorted the hearse and family to Lake Wood Cemetery east of Battle Lake. It was a very cold day. The men fired the customary volleys and the coffin was lowered into the ground.

Mother and Dad stayed with Grandmother Colehour for several days in her home and then moved her to our home where she died about a year and a half later.

Written by Jim Colehour

Jim Wilkins Colehour (1915-2017)

Jim Colehour was a WWII veteran and his wartime uniforms and paraphenalia are displayed at the museum. He trained at the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School and served as Supply Officer of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion 46 on Guadalcanal and New Guinea in the South Pacific in 1943 and 1944. In 1944 he was assigned to duty as the Administration Officer of the Material Disposal and Redistribution Office in Minneapolis, until he was separated from active duty on February 22, 1946. He continued in the Naval Reserve for a total of 21 years, retiring from the Naval Service with the rank of Lieutenant Commander on October 12, 1975.

His obituary is remarkable, below are some of the highlights of his life.

James was active in a number of organizations including serving as: President of the Fergus Falls Chamber of Commerce, President of the Fergus Falls Kiwanis Club, Governor of the Minnesota-Dakotas District of Kiwanis, President of the Moorhead Kiwanis Club, President of the Otter Tail County Geological Society, Treasurer of the Otter Tail County Historical Society, Member of the Board of Directors of the Fergus Falls United Way, Treasurer of the Otter Tail County Republican Club, President of the Lakewood Cemetery Association, Treasurer of the Battle Lake Shore Association, Vice President of the Resident Council of Touchmark on South Hill, Spokane. He was a member of the American Legion Post of Battle Lake, and a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of Fergus Falls.

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