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

Mr. J. A. Matthew’s houseboat had eight rooms, a combination dining and living room, a small galley, a pump-room and bathroom downstairs and three bedrooms. The living room, bathroom and bedrooms were all finished in natural knotty pine paneling. Upstairs there was a front and back porch with a veranda covering them, and it had three foot walkways along both sides of a large room. It had cost Mr. Matthew $10,000 to build it during the heart of the Great Depression; Violet thought it to be a “floating mansion”.

Mr. Matthew decided to build another houseboat and was asking a $1,000 for his “floating mansion”. He told Orrah that he would take it out and sink it before he would take less. On the way back to their Kettle River place Orrah talked about buying Mr. Matthews houseboat, taking it to Schoal Lake so the children could go to school at Mine Center so they would only have to walk a mile. On the way back they stopped at Albert Lessard’s. He was leaving the country and gave them everything with the exception of his personal belongings. He gave Violet all of his pots and pans, his nice chinaware, a finished chest of drawers, a couch that folded in a double bed, and a big iron bed. With all these nice things Violet confessed that she was in “second heaven”. Violet had been worried about her two boys hoping they were safe. As they rounded the bend Orrah blew his whistle and both boys came a-running happy to have them home again.

Before settling in for the winter Orrah took the entire family and even the sled dogs to the mouth of the Big Pipestone River. Orrah and the boys got in some open water mink trapping and one day while paddling along they saw something floating. As they got closer, they discovered two giant Whitetail bucks locked at the antlers. It was getting quite late in the Fall but Orrah and the three older boys made a trip to the Border Mill in the steam tug, taking the entwined buck antlers with them with the intention of gifting them Mr. Matthew. He was very impressed. Orrah would not take any money for them because it was illegal, but as Mr. Matthew pointed out “there was nothing that say’s I can’t pay for the time it took you to bring them to me”, and he gave Orrah $500.00.

In 1944 after spring trapping season was over they prepared to salvage logs again. Orrah and the three older boys constructed a crib of boom timbers and towed it to the Border Mill leaving thirteen year old Orrah Jr. and seven year old Frankie at home to look after the sleigh dogs and watch the house. In the latter part of July word got to Orrah and Violet that Orrah Jr. had hurt himself very badly and was in the hospital in Fort Frances. All of Violet’s children had the habit of rolling large boulders down the side of a hill behind the house, Orrah Jr. had started rolling one by himself went headfirst over the rock and the rock rolled right over him gashing his face from his eyes to his chin. When Orrah was able to get up he went into the house and wrapped a towel around his face, his brother Frankie looked on in horror. Junior had Frankie sit in the bottom of a boat and he rowed to a point about a half-mile away and then to a second point and finally across Hale Bay to the neighbors. He got out of the boat walked the last few hundred yards, and Frankie later reported that Junior had fainted several times on the way. The neighbors were in no hurry to get him to a doctor so they kept him with them until they were ready to go to Fort Frances several days later. By that time Junior had an infection and the doctor was very upset that he had not been brought to him right away. He had been very lucky to draw out the infection telling them that they could have lost Junior. According to Violet, “Junior’s face was never the same afterwards, it had changed completely”.

Next up, later in the summer they tow more logs to the Border Mill and docked across from the “floating mansion”, Orrah and Mr. Matthew have the chat.

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