Fred Fields / Big Jerry
Overseer on the Dakota Branch of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, and his brother-in-law.
“They are doing great work. Fred is a good boss.” – By the Shores of Silver Lake
As railroad foreman during the construction of the Dakota Central line through Kingsbury County, Fred Fields was said to often eat his meals at the Surveyors’ House with the Ingalls family, sometimes accompanied by his brother-in-law, Big Jerry.
Frederick William Fields was born in Canada on December 8, 1843, the son of Sophia (Boyle) Fields (born in Ireland) and John Fields. Fred’s early life is unknown, but on June 26, 1870, Fred married Marguerite Almina Bressord (the correct spelling of her maiden name is uncertain; it is seen as Broussard/Bresord/Brossour Brusso, among others). On the 1870 census, they were living in Johnsburgh (Warren Co.) New York, with Fred working as a railroad laborer. Almina Fields was born in Canada in December 1854, the daughter of Elisa Deverance (from France) and Frank Bressord. At the time of the 1860 census, Almina was living in Burlington, Vermont, with her parents and siblings: Eugene (age 9), and Mary (age 7).
The Fieldses had thirteen surviving children: Louisa (1872), Fred (1873), Mary (1875), Eugene (1877), Emma (1881), John (1882), Moses (1884), Charles (1887), Sarah (1888). George (1890). Alfred (1893), Marguerite (1897), and Theresa (1899).
In March 1878, Fred filed on a homestead in Turner County, Dakota Territory, the NE 2-97-52. They were living there at the time of the 1880 census, with Fred’s occupation given as “railroad overseer.” He made final proof on the homestead in 1885 and the family lived on the farm until the 1900s, when Fred and Almina moved to Mitchell, South Dakota. For a time, it is believed, they were partners in the running of a hotel and restaurant in Redfield.
Fred and Almina moved to Montebello, California, following some of their sons who had settled in California. Fred died there November 20, 1933; Almina died June 17, 1935.
Who was Big Jerry? Other than writing that the half-breed “Big Jerry” was part Indian and part French, and the brother-in-law of railroad foreman Fred Fields, Laura Ingalls Wilder provides no other information about the character.
It’s pure speculation on my part to suggest that Jerry may have been Almina’s brother, the one called Eugene on the 1860 census. In 1877, Almina Fields gave birth to a son named Eugene Joseph Fields, yet on his World War I draft registration, his name is given as Jerry Joseph (his mother Mrs. Mina Fields is given as his next of kin). Jerry’s eldest sister, Louisa, married Merrell Sophy, and they had a son born in 1899 named Eugene Joseph Sophy. The name was clearly important to multiple generations of the family, plus there is use of “Jerry” as a nickname in connection with it. The draft records for multiple Fields brothers indicate that they had a stout build, black hair, and brown eyes.
Unfortunately, no additional information about Eugene Brusso (or alternate spellings) has yet been found. If you’re a descendant of one of the fifteen children of Frederick and Almina Fields, I sure wish you’d get in touch! My email address is in the sidebar.
Big Jerry (SSL 7, 9, 11; PG)
Fred Fields (SSL 10-11; PG)
as railroad foreman (SSL 10-11; PG)