top of page

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

For about a month in 1948 Orrah and son Wes guided some rich folks from Florida by the name of Kelses down near the Border Mill while the houseboat was anchored in back of some islands. The Kelses came up every summer to a resort they owned on Rainy Lake and, according to Violet, they ate richly too, and all the men seemed to have died from heart attacks from the grandfather down to the grandson.

At the end of their guiding adventure they took the houseboat to the Falls River cabin where they had left Floyd, Frankie and Elnora. They then left six year old Tony with Elnora at the Fall River Cabin and towed the houseboat back over to a little harbor near their Kettle River place where Orrah and the boys decided to build a new steamboat by using an old boat frame for the pattern. It was a slow and tedious process as they never had any power tools and had to do everything by hand; it took the entire summer. The boat was 47 feet long, round bottomed with a fantail stern, and the ribs were steamed by hand and bent into the right shapes. Afterwards, they towed it back to the Falls River place where Elnora and Tony had the garden looking lovely, as they had kept it watered by hand. She had a 12 foot beam and though yet unfinished they named her the S.S. Clipper.

As summer waned, they went to the Border Mill to get supplies for the winter, and then Orrah and the boys would head to their trapping cabins and get everything ready for their fall and winter trapping. After the cabins were secure they took in the fall duck, goose and deer hunting seasons, spiced with some early trapping. The men were all gone and that left Violet with two girls and Tony, who Violet described as frail and small for his age. While the men were gone it was Elnora’s and Violet's duty to keep the houseboat and steam tug pumped out. They cut and carried in the wood for the stoves and Violet taught the girls how to cook the dog feed. They had to make piles the size of an eight inch pie on a four by eight sheet of metal outside so it would freeze into cakes. That way, when the boys would arrive at their trapping cabins, they could thaw one out for each dog.

Violet testified that she and the girls liked being alone at their main home because they could get a lot done. They helped her wash and cut up vegetables from the garden for processing, she put up a lot of preserves, and jars and jars of pickles and relish. She also made a lot of mincemeat and she bragged it was with real meat too. When the boys would come home they would have pumpkin and mincemeat pie waiting for them and they would eat until they were stuffed.

Violet sewed the girl’s dresses and made them coats for when they went to town, however their trips were proverbially few and far between. They got to town once a year for about a week, both Violet and the girls were not very happy about it, and there were times when they never even got to go. Violet wanted the girls to get out and associate with other people and she longed for all her children to go to a formal school. Elnora was a young teenager and beginning to feel left out of a lot of things. She badly wanted to go to school; she wanted to be a registered nurse, a clerk typist or a journalist. She dreamed of being any one of those three. Violet knew that the boys felt the same way and that they felt they were being deprived of something they should have.

One particular morning when the men were gone, a foot of heavy wet snow fell during the night. Violet told Elnora that they would have to shovel the snow off the steam tug after they had breakfast. She had not sooner had said that when the entire stern of the steam tug went under water. Violet thought a gust of wind had pushed the houseboat forward ramming the steam tug. They didn’t know what to do; they were helpless, they prayed. That afternoon Orrah and the boys either walked in or arrived by canoe, and came to the rescue.

Next up the steam tug gets pulled, pumped, and bailed, and the S.S. Clipper gets a boiler.

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.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page