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The Life of Jeremiah Johnston: Part XI

It was Thursday July 21, 1898 when Missionary/newspaper reporter Rodgers left the Sault Rapids on the Kenora at 8:00 AM. He described the morning as dull, but the clouds added to the river scene, one spot remained in his memory especially where the light green crop of grain with a little cottage nearby was perfectly reflected in the still water. At about 2:00 PM they reached the upper end of the Indian Reserve; there he saw Joseph McLeod, a Christina Indian, on the wharf who smiled and saluted him. After crossing the Big Traverse they entered the Islands of the Lake of the Woods where he felt the Lake well deserved the name. The islands were covered with evergreen trees, chiefly of young growth as the larger trees had been cut or burnt. There were pine trees he described as with tall tops bent by wintry blasts. Poplar abounded and the white stems of them added to the effect that it “can truly be said of the islands they were with verdure clad.” According to Missionary Rodgers there were 18,000 islands of all sizes most of them fairly round in shape. What struck him most was the breath and softness of the scene and in every direction, vistas would open up stretching away for five or ten miles. As the steamer sailed on the effect could be compared with nothing else than that of a kaleidoscope of islands that would change their relative positions and a new combination would take place, here and there rocky cliffs could be seen, their crest barely covered with water.

As they neared Rat Portage (Kenora, Ontario) the scenery became grander and when they approached the gap the view from the Captains bridge where he had been invited excited him and he described it as “scarcely surpassed for exquisite beauty,” it was nearly 8:00 PM and the setting sun was gilding the clouds. The shadows from the well wooded shores began to deepen across the path of the steamer and the water was a perfect mirror. He sensed that it seemed as though they were passing through a succession of little miniature lakes each one closing in upon him, the light of the sun forming a central throne. They passed through the Devil’s Gap, on the east side there was a large rock like a skull on which seemingly someone had painted red eyes, lips and a black mustache and goatee, his two word description was “very grotesque,” but to him Rat Portage looked very beautiful in the evening light, they arrived about 8:20 PM.

Over the next few days Mr. Rodgers investigated the area and planned his further westward journey, he viewed the bridge over the Kenora gorge and the waterfall of Keewatin, he went on by road to other rapids area. He stopped by a Station and asked the agent for the best direction west and was advised not to use trails though the bushes, the agent didn’t think it would be a very pious thing to do as he would probably lose his way and advised him to follow the stage road, this meant walking twice as far and crossing the river twice. Over the stage road he found a narrow road between a dense growth of bushes with roads leading off of it and in reality if it had not been for the fact that it was more worn than the rest he could easily have lost his way. The mosquitoes were thick, and his veil was of use, it was very hot and he crossed the river by ferry on his way west leaving the Rainy River only to his memories.

The next adventure that will be introduced to you is the story of John Tanner, he was born on the Kentucky River near or about 1780 and was captured by the Shawnee when he was nine years old. He was sold to an Ojibwas family and raised from then on by a traditional hunting and gathering subsistence group that ranged the north woods of Minnesota and navigated, hunted, trapped and canoed into our area.


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