Guide to the McCracken Family Letters

MSN/MN 5020


Collection Summary

Title: McCracken Family Letters
Dates: 1912-1944 (bulk 1918-1944)
Collection No.: MSN/MN 5020
Creator: McCracken Family
Extent: 148 folders; 3 containers; 3.5 linear feet
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A collection of more than 500 personal letters directed to Frank and Ruth McCracken at Toston, Montana. The letters span the years between the wars; most were written by relations and acquaintances in Minnesota, Montana, and (especially) North Dakota. In addition to personal and social content, there is much allusion to the broader economic, geographic, and cultural forces that shaped life on the Northern plains in the 1920s and 30s.

Selected Search Terms

Great Plains -- Economic conditions -- 20th century -- Sources
Great Plains -- History -- 20th century -- Sources
Great Plains -- Social life and customs -- 20th century -- Sources
Depressions -- 1929 -- Great Plains -- Sources
Depressions -- 1929 -- North Dakota
North Dakota -- Social conditions
North Dakota -- Economic conditions
Agricultural credit -- North Dakota
Rural families -- North Dakota -- History -- 20th century

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], McCracken Family Letters, [Collection and folder no.], Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The McCracken letters were acquired by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2015, from Michael Brown Rare Books of Philadelphia (List 128, Item 21). Arranged and described 2015, by Ingrid Adams and Marek Mazurek. Finding aid 2015, by Ingrid Adams and George Rugg.

Biographical Note

The recipients of the letters, Frank and Ruth McCracken, spent most of their married life on the Northern plains. Francis Marion McCracken was born on 9 September 1859 in Dodge County in southeastern Wisconsin. In 1881 he married Ruth Ann Carr, born 23 April 1859 in Fillmore County, Minnesota. By 1894 the couple was living in the Devil's Lake region of North Dakota, at McVille in Nelson County. (Ruth's parents and younger siblings had moved to Hamlin Township in Nelson County from Minnesota in 1882). Subsequent records place the McCrackens in Towner County, North Dakota (where Frank opened a general merchandise store in 1902, at Maza) and in Crary, Ramsey County (1910). McCracken also derived income from the ownership of farmland, in North Dakota and Montana. By 1918 he and Ruth had left North Dakota for Toston, Broadwater County, Montana, where Frank served as president of the Toston State Bank. The bank failed in 1924, but the couple remained in Toston until Frank's death on 6 October 1945. Ruth died in Nelson County, North Dakota on 6 November 1953. The McCrackens had no children.

The following are the most frequently encountered of the McCrackens' correspondents:

Mary Ann McCracken (b. 1838), Frank McCracken's mother, lived in her later years with her daughter Clara McCracken French in Chatfield in southeastern Minnesota. 29 letters.

Clara McCracken French (b. 1863), Frank McCracken's sister, lived in Orion and Chatfield, Minnesota. Married Leroy French, 1881. 45 letters.

Andrew Carr (1854-1948), Ruth McCracken's brother, graduated from Rush Medical College in Chicago and established himself as a practicing physician in Minot, North Dakota. Married Addie McIntyre, 1883. 57 letters.

Jess Carr (1866-1953), Ruth McCracken's brother, farmer and longtime resident of Nelson County, North Dakota. Married Francis McDougall, 1894. 107 letters.

Phoebe Carr McDougall (1871-1967), Ruth McCracken's sister, born in Minnesota but lived near McVille, Nelson County, North Dakota for most of her life. Married Allen McDougall (Francis McDougall's brother), 1889. 111 letters.

Sarah Belle Carr Cull (b. 1874), Ruth McCracken's youngest sister, left North Dakota for Lewistown, Montana, and eventually for Los Angeles (ca. 1928). Married Julius Cull, 1903. 33 letters.

Gertrude Carr Taylor (1878-1940), Ruth McCracken's sister, widowed, lived in Minot with her brother Andrew and later in Los Angeles with her sister Belle. 26 letters

Emma McNett Carr (1877-1952), Ruth McCracken's sister-in-law, wife of her brother Richard (1871-1959), lived in South Galpin, Valley County, Montana. 31 letters.

Scope and Content Note

The collection includes more than 500 personal letters directed to the McCrackens over a span of more than 25 years, from their departure for Montana ca. 1918 to the death of Frank McCracken in 1945. The majority are from family members, most notably the siblings of Ruth McCracken. The dispersion of letters over the interwar years is fairly even. In addition to their extensive personal and social content, the letters have much to say on broader issues of the period, with reference to the Northern plains generally and North Dakota in particular. Among these are: the American involvement in World War I; the influenza epidemic of 1918-19; the farm crisis of the 1920s; the North Dakota Non-partisan League; banks and the economy; Prohibition and bootlegging; oil on the Northern plains; the Great Depression and its consequences; and American involvement in World War II.

Arrangement Note

The collection is divided into two series: 1) Primary Correspondents (folders 1 to 88A), and 2) General Correspondents (folders 89 to 137). The first includes persons who wrote to the McCrackens over a period of years; it is arranged by author and thereunder by date. The second includes infrequent correspondents, and is arranged by date. Also in Series 2 are the many loose envelopes included in the collection (folders 111-137).

Container List