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Survival in a Northern Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part IX

Orrah was tending his traps when he saw it; he thought it was a big bear but all he could see was the nose. His shot burned the bear’s nose and he was surprised when it jumped up and he saw it was a cub. According to Violet Orrah was immediately on red alert knowing that, to” tamper with a cub is like playing with fire”. Orrah finally came to the conclusion mom had been shot or the cub had been abandoned, so he brought Cubby home.

Cubby never forgave Orrah for burning his nose but he followed Violet around with the rest of children and would bawl “Ma, Ma. Ma”. They kept Cubby on a tie-out chain and because he knocked the wooden barrels apart that they gave him for a house, they had to give him a steel barrel. Cubby spent his time pounding on that barrel. They buried the barrel in with dirt and put plenty of hay and moss inside of his stylized den. The sled dogs would occasionally get loose and jump on Cubby and he would cry “Ma, Ma”. Violet would run out with a broom and chase the dogs away. One day Orrah took a canoe to visit the nearby loggers working on a boom of logs with Cubby sitting on the bow. One of the lumber jacks yelled “look at the bear!” At the sound of man’s voice Cubby jumped off the canoe on to the boom timbers and ran after the man. The man sprinted along the boom timbers to the wannigan (a cook house on a barge) for safety. Orrah later iterated that it was the fastest canoe ride of his life as Cubby was tied to the canoe thwart. Orrah also noticed Cubby was chewing his collar so he said to just let him chew through as he was getting to big to have around and one day Cubby decided he had had enough of living with humans and mean old sled dogs. He finished chewing the collar and off he went never to be seen again.

Violet always laughed about Orrah’s adventure with Elmer Rodgers. They made a trip to the Kettle River place just prior to them moving from the logging camps. There was an old laundry stove in the kitchen for cooking on. Orrah had found some old skunk glands and thought there was no reason to save them because they were just too smelly. So he threw them in the hot stove followed by a thunderous “big boom” and all four stove lids went up in the air. In telling the story, Orrah always said that Elmer's face did indeed turn green over the terrible smell from the gas that came from the explosion of the skunk glands.

The third winter in the logging camps was memorable because they began to run out of food. They had a one hundred pound drum of cooking lard, plenty of flour and lots of vegetables consisting of potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, cabbage, beets and onions. Violet reported that they had plenty during the winter and then they ran out of dog food. Orrah had Violet cook up the potatoes and vegetables in the lard and feed them to the dogs, by spring it looked like they were going to end up starving because the food was gone. Violet was now expecting her sixth child.

In the April of 1938 they harnessed two dog sleighs, both loaded with their paraphernalia such as clothing and what food was left after feeding most of it to the dogs. One was topped off with the two bundled babies Tootsie and Snooks . They headed for the Kettle River place about seven miles away. The three older boys had to walk but because the sun was warm and the snow was melting it made the walk very hard for those little boys; Junior always said it was the hardest walk of his life. The Kettle River place was situated on a big bay just off the Kettle River with long yellow sand beaches, and there was a big clearing and lots of grass. Violet thought it an absolutely beautiful location.

Next up, Violets family is growing, their Kettle River place is seeing improvement, they take advantage of nature’s bounty for their provisions both legally and illegally and Violet had Mrs. Barney Langford, a French Canadian and half Athapascan Indian, just a mile away, so now Violet had a friend and neighbor to visit with once in a while. They often picked blueberries together.

About the Author: Mike Hanson is a long time resident of Birchdale, Minnesota. He enjoys spending his time in the great outdoors, building birdhouses, and has a deep interest in uncovering and understanding settlement history. His writings come from hours of research, as well as engaging discussions with locals and area historians, both professional and amateur.

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