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

Violet thought the Kettle River place situated on the shores of a big bay with long yellow beaches a beautiful location. The house consisted of three rooms, a kitchen, bunk room and a large log room which later became the living room. You had to go outside from the kitchen to go through an outside door to get to the bunk room. Prior to moving to the Kettle River place Violet and Orrah had camped there and worked on the house so that they could get the kitchen and bunk room livable where she then built four large double bunks.

Orrah started spending time with the three oldest boys, teaching them to row the punt which was similar to a Jon boat. Though illegal he taught them to set a line and hooks for Sturgeon. They came home with a big one and according to Violet “they feasted off that Sturgeon for a couple of weeks." She smoked quite a bit of it, the kids loved it and especially liked the Sturgeon head soup she made. She notated that “they loved and devoured it”. Violet had a garden of chives about four foot wide and about twenty-five long, they came in handy to put in fried potatoes, she also put them in cooked and fried wheat, in the back of the house on a side hill was a good garden spot they spaded up by hand.

The first summer living at the Kettle River place Violet didn’t have soap and needed lye to make it. She extracted the lye from the ashes of hardwoods like birch and ash but not without some adventure, as the wooden keg she used caught fire when she accidentally put hot ashes in it. According to Violet it was a lot of hard work, especially when a can of lye cost ten cents. Making soap was a long and slow process, using rendered fat from moose, deer, and bear that Orrah harvested. She let the soap set for about twenty-four hours before checking it, it usually took about three to four weeks to make it. After it was well set she cut it up into bars and she thought it was something like Felse Naptha soap, and used it especially for scrubbing clothes over a washboard and other general purposes. She also made a pine-tar soap which was very good for washing hands.

On July 9, 1938 Violet gave birth to her sixth child, Violet Marie, on her 27th birthday. She was born with long black hair, later lost it and it grew back blonde and curly. She was nicknamed Totty, so now she had Toots, Snooks and Tots. Two weeks later they loaded the Punt and the canoe with fish nets, a tarp, a small amount of grub, blueberry crates and headed for the blueberry patch, they turned the dogs loose so they could follow them on the shoreline. While Orrah paddled the canoe Violet rowed the punt, they found the blueberries ripe, pitched the tarp and toiled in the hot sun all day long to get the four cents per quart. Son Wesley became an excellent picker and could fill a gallon in no time flat picked clean. During this time Violet was nursing Tots, and because they had brought few provisions Orrah got the idea of having just one meal a day. Violet reported that after a day of picking she would come back to the camp so weak that she didn’t feel like doing anything; the one meal a day was just not enough. Violet set a fish net, caught and prepared the fish, made pancakes, cooked blueberries and sweetened them with sugar to put on them. One day after preparing the evening meal, they called the children to come and eat, they came charging into camp. Well, Elnora tripped and fell off of a hill headlong into a rock with such force that it terrified her father. When Orrah picked her up she was bleeding, a nasty, nasty gash on her head. They were sixty miles from a hospital and had no money with only limited first aid supplies. Orrah using canoe cement as an adhesive drew the gash together as close he could and packed a bandage on it. It healed up but for years Violet cut Elnora’s bangs so the scar would not show.

One day The Canadian Mounted Police showed up looking for murderers, robbers, thieves and people using American goods such as food and clothing. Oh oh, now what?

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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