The Lonesomes #10 – Squatters

Snapshot 14 (06-02-2012 2-04 PM)

Click pic to watch The Lonesomes #10 – 5:30


A resourceful pioneer scares off an opponent and his dream ensues.

Reid Dickie



Greetings. I’m Angus Marshall.

I wanted that whole quarter section of land at the end of that lovely blue lake but Aubrey Briers, a farmhand from Ontario just like me, was squatting on it, just like I was. Off in one corner Briers built a lopsided sod hut that looked about to be tumbling over any minute. I don’t know how long he’d been there but I was keen to find a way of getting rid of him so I could build my little dream.

What was my little dream? Well, before me stretches to the south a narrow shallow lake, five miles long. A little stream comes in from the north and feeds the lake. The land around rolls in gentle fashion, rich for farming. I feel in my Scottish bones that a town will grow on this very spot.

(BECOMING WISTFUL) One evening when I was sitting under a cottonwood tree watching the sun reflected off the lake, the shimmer of light and water sent a vision afoot over the landscape. Suddenly around me I saw little houses, churches, hotels and stores built along a railroad track, people scurrying about building and doing, building and doing.

I saw yet-unborn Marshalls: my sons and daughters walking on this land, growing and building here, too. And sharing, always sharing, for if the Good Lord teaches us anything, He teaches us that “there’s enough.”

Sitting under that old tree, I suddenly heard a sound from the future, the wet lonesome whistle of a steam train in the distance. It would be eleven years before the track was laid through here but I heard that train coming just as plain as day. I knew at that moment a town would arise here.

That was my dream but Briers was in the way. I needed to get rid of him. He didn’t know me very well. I liked it that way so I came up with a plan.

I waited until the next starless night, dark as a dungeon. I had an old horse collar with a couple of cracked bells that sounded eerie so I put the horse collar around my neck and went to visit Briers. When I got to his hut the thought occurred to me to just push the precarious pile of mud over and smother him. But I didn’t need to resort to murder to get what I wanted.

I started to howl like a wolf which got Brier’s attention. When he came out of his hut, I introduced myself as Satan and asked if I could be of any service to him since he was squatting on Satan’s land. I transformed into a horse and snorted and neighed and whinnied, pawed the ground, telling him I lost my wagon a few miles back and would he help me fetch it. And so on, mad gibberish. Briers didn’t know how to react so he went inside his hut. I could hear him securing his door. As I left, I shouted I’d be back every night to see if he needed anything from Satan. (SMALL CHUCKLE)

It rained hard that night. The next morning, when I stepped out of my little hut, I saw a different landscape. No longer did Briers’s hovel stand out against the raw horizon. In its stead lay a pile of mud. I rushed over thinking the hut had finally fallen onto Briers and smothered him but a thorough dig among the muck revealed no Briers…or anything for that matter.

I never saw hide nor hair of him again. He had vanished. Gone as gone can get. I claimed that whole quarter and the rest of the section, too. (PAUSE) That’s why this town is called Marshallville and not Briersville.

That’s also why the war memorial in town has a monument that looks just like Reginald, my first born, who was gassed at Ypres in 1915. (PAUSE) People call the monument The Unknown Soldier (PAUSE) but I know who it is, (PAUSE) I know who it is.


Character Backstory

Now we move off the farm into town and hear stories of town life starting with the genesis of Marshallville as explained by its founder and namesake.

Angus Marshall is in his late 70s and looks back over a long life to recount a turning point.

The first paragraph sets everything up. Take it slowly, evenly. Tho Angus and Briers are equals in their squatting rights, being a wily Scotsman, Angus has the edge and he knows it.

The second, third and fourth paragraphs become increasingly wistful as he recounts his dreams and visions. Paragraph five about the train gets almost spooky.

In paragraph six we return to the Briers problem. Here Marshall has a firmer tone.

Marshall gets great enjoyment recounting his plan in action in paragraphs seven and eight ending with a chuckle. Paragraph nine tells of the morning after and paragraph ten the plan is a success. He gloats a little over the town name, affirming his significance in the town.

The last paragraph explains what we have been watching for the last four minutes. Angus’ tone gets a little spooky here. He is still grieving. The implication is that Angus paid for the monument and had it built to his specs. His personal assertion of the statue’s identity is very satisfying for the old man. He tells his story with wisdom, kindness and understanding gained by a long hard life on the prairies.

The story and the image are both quite personal for me. The story is, in fact, the true story of the founding of my hometown, and the war memorial stands in the first village I lived in.

The genesis of Shoal Lake, Manitoba rests with Matt Thompson, the original settler who had to scare off another squatter to claim his land. My story, based on reports in the Shoal Lake history books, follows events closely including the horse collar and feigning madness. For the purposes of The Lonesomes, this is how Marshallville came into being.

Steve Black did a wonderful job bringing Angus Marshall to life.


Location Information

The first town my parents and I lived in after I was born was Margaret, Manitoba, south of Brandon. I have vague memories of it since we moved when I was about four years old. I have returned to Margaret since and noted the lovely white statue of the soldier that sat in the small park. I wanted to use the statue for The Lonesomes but when I returned to shot it, it was no longer in the village park.

Fewer than a dozen people still live in Margaret. I chatted up the postmistress who said they had moved the statue to the cemetery just outside of town which is where I shot the scene. The water effect I created in my backyard and applied to the image.

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Filed under Prairie People, The Lonesomes, video art

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