My Memories of Yesteryear: Life on Island Lake In the Early Days

Welcome to Discovering the Northwoods from the Manitowish Waters Historical Society. We will take you on a journey through our local history with the help of primary source documentation. To learn more about this rich history or about the historical society – check out our website at There you will find blog posts, show notes, our YouTube Channel, and a full transcription of this episode including maps and photographs.

As with many historical works from this era, there are phrases, terms, and descriptions that are inappropriate to our modern sensibilities. The Manitowish Waters Historical Society in no way condones these offensive remarks or passages. 

The following two episodes explore numerous stories written by John LaFave about life in the Northwoods in the order presented in My Memories of Yesteryear: Life on Island Lake In the Early Days. Sarah Krembs from the Frank B. Koller Memorial Library is the narrator for Part I and Part II. The Foreword for My Memories of Yesteryear was written by Forrest F. Johnson. Forrest, or Forrie, was married to one John LaFave’s daughters, Olive. He wrote the forward before 2020. The forward states;

Image of John and Sai LaFave, circa 1970. Catalog Number 2018.5.109.

The following anecdotes and short tales were written by John LaFave, a father and grandfather we all miss and remember with enduring love. The stories were written in the few years prior to his death on May 27, 1973. They are presented exactly as he wrote them in his own humorous and reflective style. John was the son of Abraham and Sarah LaFave, who were among the very earliest pioneers in the Boulder Junction area. The family operated LaFave’s Resort from 1888 until 1967. John and his wife, Sai, had three daughters; two daughters, Olive and Susie, still reside on Island Lake, while one daughter, Jean, now lives in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. In reading these family chronicles one can only begin to see and know the strong, generous and loving man I came to know in my lifetime. Many, many more of his recollections of his early life and experiences he shared with me, and I cherish this legacy. Whether one is a member of his family or among his many friends, these tales reflect only in part a man who is still very much alive in our hearts and lives.





As I think back at our early childhood and teenage days, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer had nothing in pleasures that we didn’t enjoy as well. We have many, many pleasant and unforgettable memories, cherished as well, I suppose, by all young people who were reared in the country among beautiful lakes and forests. Not that we weren’t poor as church mice, moneywise, and not that we didn’t have trying times; but the many pleasant memories far overshadow what most people today call discomforts and hardships.

In the old, wood-burning days, with kerosene lamps, uninsulated houses, even before old hand water pumps-we didn’t even have a water pump in our early days — we drank lake water from the many lakes, and it was pure and clean.

LaFave’s Island Lake Resort Fishing Boats, circa 1910. Catalog Number 2022.006.001.

At our first Island Resort we hauled spring water from the lakeshore about a mile away for our guests’ drinking water. Many such springs seemed quite abundant in the old timbered days that long since have disappeared. Not that this still isn’t a most beautiful country, but, like all over the world, changes are taking shape. Absolute privacy was but one example that belonged to any individual roaming this area of lakes, streams and woods in the early nineteen hundreds.

To further illustrate what I mean, one day a summer resident and I went on a day’s fishing trip to three small bass lakes to which we portaged a canoe, fishing each lake for a couple of hours, then returning home by way of the same river we had paddled upstream in the morning. On the way up the river, we had paddled within four feet of a deer lying in the water under some alder brush on the river’s shoreline. We passed the big doe about the length of a canoe upstream, neither of us seeing it at first. It must have wiggled an ear or moved slightly after we passed it, because something attracted my attention, and I turned to look back downstream only to see the big doe’s head sticking out from under the alder brush. Our canoe had passed within four feet of the doe without disturbing her; she probably knew she was well hidden.

I was amazed and stopped paddling as I asked Mr. Clemons to look back at what we had passed. He turned and likewise couldn’t believe his eyes. As we had passed the deer, unaware of her presence, we had been continuously talking in a normal tone. Remarking now that the deer must be wounded, I said, “Well, what will we do?” At about that moment the forward movement of the canoe stopped and it started to slowly float downstream with the current. The canoe hadn’t moved over four feet when the doe turned, splashed out of the river, and gracefully bounded back in the woods’ thick brush. We didn’t see anything of the deer after the second graceful leap. It had only been hiding and probably had a fawn nearby, and deer flies probably pestered it to its underwater haven.

Finding fawns in the woods, born only moments before, and seeing hungry wolves, etc., are but a few of the many, many beautiful things of the forests. One night after dark, my wife, Sai, went with my dad and others to bring home a couple of deer that had shot earlier in the day and hung in balsam trees. With the boat full of hunters, they had to return later for the deer.

When they arrived at the scene with a lantern, since it was after dark, wolves had pulled down one of the two deer and were so hungry and intent on eating it, they didn’t leave until the last second. One of the wolves, in hurrying to escape, brushed against my wife’s leg.

One time about 1918, my half-brother, George Schroeder, drove a Model T Ford to Manitowish to get the mail. Since the day’s work at our Island Resort was over, Mother suggested that we boys, the two girls who worked in the dining room, and she get into our launch and go to the mainland house and play an old piano we had acquired, while we waited for George to return with the mail.

He was extra late that night because after dark he had carburetor trouble in the old Model T Ford only a half-mile from our mainland house. As he crawled under the Ford in the dark and fixed the carburetor well enough to get home, he heard the wolves howling. He didn’t know that about twenty wolves had encircled our house as we played the piano and sang. I often wondered if singing and playing the piano attracted the wolves. Some singing, eh? Well, anyway, the howling of the wolves drowned out our singing and piano music. And since it was my first encounter with howling wolves so close, and being the oldest male there for the moment (about 18 or 19 years old), I wasn’t too brave. In time, the Model T drove into the yard and the wolves disappeared, or at least no one saw them and they stopped howling.

George assured us that the wolves would not bother us, as we gingerly walked with the women to the boat landing about three hundred feet away. Since George had a deer rifle in the house, he encouraged me to stay on for a while after my younger brother Charley took Mother and the girls back to our Island Resort in the launch. George and I would return later in George’s boat, as we all slept at the Island Resort.

We had no sooner left the women at the shoreline when the wolves started howling intensely and had actually followed us part way down the hill to the boat landing. We had only a dim flashlight, with a battery almost worn out. As we returned and approached the top of the hill to the house, the howling wolves graciously granted us the right of way. I was happy to shut the door behind me we entered the house. My half-brother, who was much older than I, had encountered wolves since he was 12 years old and wasn’t a bit alarmed. He wanted to try to get a shot at the wolves but as yet we didn’t see them; only if they had come out in the open clearing would we be able to see their shadowy forms in the dark.

After a while George said we should turn off the kerosene lamp we had left lit in the house, open the back door a couple of inches, and await the wolves coming out in the open yard. We did just that, and after a while the wolves started howling intensely again to the west of the house. Suddenly, it dawned on us they were after the chickens in the chicken coop fifty feet to the west of the house.

Around the west and north sides of the chicken coop was thick hazel brush. George told me to follow him as he approached with the rifle toward the chicken coop, and he told me to hold the flashlight over his right shoulder to light the sights of his gun. The closer we approached the chicken coop, the more intense became the howling of the wolves-and also the weaker became the flashlight. It seemed to me that the wolves were within twenty to thirty feet of us, and I was so scared, I begged George not to get any closer. With the intense

howling, I wondered if he could hear me. Finally, the wolves stopped howling at which time I begged George, “Let’s go in the house! He calmly assured me that one rifle shot would send them frightened and running away, but I wasn’t so sure.

George anxiously awaited their coming out in the open, yet we never saw a wolf or heard a twig crackle. After a few more minutes they started howling about 300 to 500 feet from us in the woods, possibly chasing a rabbit or a frightened deer, as their howls gradually faded off in the distance. Personally, I was much more satisfied than George, who was disappointed and wanted so badly to get a shot at a couple of wolves. We returned by boat to the island, as it was late.

On another occasion at the same mainland house, we kept a couple of large pigs we had fed all summer in a pigpen near the boat landing. This late fall day, my younger sister was in the house. (We lived here in the winter months in recent years.) I came up from the Island Resort and asked if she had seen Charley, our younger brother. She told me he was in the garage, a distance of over 300 feet away, working on a Model T car. My sister also said she had heard wolves.

Since it was a most disagreeable day, with a north wind and heavy wet snow, geese had been flying south all day. I assured her she must have heard geese squawking and honking and that there were no wolves around. I started to walk out to the garage to talk with Charley when, after walking about 100 feet, I heard wolves over the hill down by the pigpen. I ran to the house in which we always kept an old 38/55 rifle. I told my sister she was right, and she, too, heard several wolves down by the pigpen. The pigs squealed as the wolves howled. I shot into the treetops in the woods over the pigpen that was about 200 feet away. I never did know how many wolves there were as I only saw two dart across the trail making tall tracks for the woods after I shot. That was the last we saw of the wolves before butchering the pigs that fall. Many, many times I’ve listened to wolves howling in the distant woods, but only on two occasions had I encountered them close enough to be frightened.

Image of Abe LaFave, circa 1920s. Catalog Number 2018.2.142.

One time, before Dad was married, he followed the river log drivers as he worked in lumber camps. The first day of the drive from the main camp, the crew hadn’t made much headway downstream, as they blasted several bad log jams; so the first night they were supposed to return to camp several miles distant upstream. Dad thought he knew a shortcut to camp, so he set out across country by himself and got lost. As darkness approached, he decided it best to build a fire and sleep out for the night, as it wasn’t too chilly with a good fire. As he was building the fire, wolves started howling in the distance, so he made a torch and continued to build two additional fires from big dead log rampikes and whatever he could find. He said wood was plentiful, so he finished building three huge fires.

He tried to keep awake and said you could look in any direction and see fiery wolf eyes, and the howling was maddening. He knew as long as there was a burning ember the wolves wouldn’t attack. He also knew that the big logs he had put on the fires would continue to burn until morning, so he felt safe but still intended to keep awake all night. The wolves stopped howling and, through sheer exhaustion, Dad fell asleep between the burning fires. Just about daylight he awoke with a start, dreaming a wolf had him by the leg. As he awoke, he found his pants were burned where one of the fires had followed a dry root and burned under his leg while he was sleeping, burning a hole in his pants. The wolves were gone.

With sunrise, he knew the general direction of the camp and soon recognized certain hills, etc. Upon arriving at camp, the boss gave him the day off to rest, but the crew all laughed at his black, soot-covered face that he had acquired handling and poking at the burning fires.



I must have been very young, because this particular winter we lived in what was known as the “big cottage.” It was a one-room log cottage, about 20 by 24 feet, located on the southwest comer of our island. In later years, when Dad built a bigger cottage on the north side of the island, the original “big cottage” became ”the front cottage.”

One Christmas eve, Mother sent me and my two older brothers to bed after we hung up our stockings near the wood heating stove for Santa to fill. I awoke from a sound sleep later to see Dad sitting on the floor, with a big Christmas tree, all trimmed in beautiful tinsel, resting at about a 45-degree angle. I heard Mother say, “For heaven’s sake, be quiet! You’ll wake the kids!” as Dad got up from the floor, cussing. In later years, I learned that he was high in the air on a stepladder and made a misstep and, in trying to catch himself, both he and tree crashed to the floor. Mother noticed me as I was leaning on one elbow looking at them. She came over, gave me a loving pat, and turned me over so I faced the wall and told me to go to sleep. As I lay awake for a few minutes, I was surprised to see the big Christmas tree that wasn’t there when we went to bed, but my biggest disappointment was to learn that our parents, not Santa, trimmed the tree.

Upon awakening the next morning, I was happy to find some popcorn, an apple and some hard candy in my sock, (which each of us had) plus a little homemade wagon, made from a cigar box. It had spool ends for wheels. I thought more of that cigar box wagon and got more pleasure out of it than anything I can remember.

We had a trap door on the floor that led to a small dirt cellar below where we kept potatoes and canned goods. One day while Dad was down there rubbing the sprouts off some potatoes in a bin, I continuously walked around the opening with my little wagon. Getting dizzy, I almost fell in the opening, after which Mother scolded me and made me play over in the comer.

Two or three years later, I used to get awful earaches. This was when we lived in our home in the center of the island. We didn’t know what a rubber hot water bottle was in those days, and I can remember mother bringing warm pancakes and putting them on my aching ear. Dad also would heat a flat stone, wrap it in a towel and put it on my ear.

During those early years of our young lives, we would get in the way of our mother’s busy working hours, as she did the cooking for summer guests. And, being on an island with water all around, we couldn’t always be watched, so we were sent to live for the summer at Plunkett’s Farm that was located about three miles south of Manitowish. While there, I remember standing on a rock pile in the field, watching the horses plow the field. As I tried to get down off the rock pile, and barefoot as always in summer, a big rock rolled down, caught my foot and made a big blood blister below the arch of my foot. It was the full width of my foot and about one and one-half inches in the other direction. This was quite painful for several days, I recall.

Plunkett Farm along the Manitowish River. Catalog Number 2018.5.118.

Another time when I was a little tyke and staying with the Plunketts at the farm, I accidentally dropped one of Rosella’s toy dishes down in the open hole of the outhouse. (Rosella was the Plunketts’ daughter.) I was frightened silly because one of her brothers told me they were going to tie me to a rope and let me down in the hole to find it. Miss Rosella Plunkett later became Mrs. Emil Wysocki and now, at this writing, lives on Highway W north of Rest Lake Dam. At this time, Mrs. Wysocki is quite ill with arthritis.

Recently, while trying to find a certain place on Highway W near the Wysocki farm, I stopped, hoping to find Mr. Wysocki who could tell me where the place was. I knocked at the back door and Mrs. Wysocki, quite feeble, walked to the door and answered but didn’t know where the place was. After telling her who I was, as we hadn’t seen each other in years, she related a story about me that I couldn’t even remember. The story was thus:

My two older brothers, also little tykes, and I were missing one day on the farm. They all started hunting for us and found me, the youngest, sitting on the edge of the floor of the back porch swinging my feet back and forth. They asked me where Frank and Wilbert were, and I told them they went to town for candy. Looking farther, they found Frank and Wilbert about a half-mile down the three-mile stretch to town, walking hand in hand for candy.

I don’t know whether or not we were at Plunkett’s farm for more than one summer, but there was one thing I could remember. Bill Plunkett often pulled something from his pocket and chewed it. I asked him what it was, and he said, “Candy. You want some?” as he offered me a tiny portion. Before he could stop me, I swallowed it. Boy, was I sick! I’ve never chewed tobacco since.

I also remember a beautiful high swing that we enjoyed so much at Plunkett’s farm.



Model T Ford on bridge between Spider and Manitowish Lake, circa 1915-1927. Catalog Number 2018.2.10.

During those first few winters after Highway 10 was built, about 1910 to 1912, and a bridge was put across the channel between Spider and Manitowish Lakes, the road-which is now Highway 51-was used only in the summer.

Anyone with a car (mostly Model T Fords) ate plenty of dust as they drove the highways. As the years went by, about 1918 or so, some of the roads were oiled. This was quite an improvement but a far cry from our present blacktopped roads. A trip to Hurley and Ironwood meant a good full day’s work, partly over corduroy roads and with very little time let for shopping.

In the winter for several years, all cars (which were few) were stored in their owner’s garage, up on blocks or jacks. About March, when natives thought we would have no further storms, Bob Loveless with his tractor, Dick Sleight with Blatchford’s tractor, Charley Doriot with a team, and others of us would work all day with a homemade wood plow to open the road to Manitowish. We would always wait for a nice sunny day when the snow was thawing. We broke plenty of chains, and plenty of lumber as an extra supply for repairs was carried on one sled.

One of my jobs was to beat the packed snow off the tractor wheels as I walked behind the tractor. Doing this, on one day I became snow-blind. At most times, Blatchford’s tractor, with special self-cleaning wheels made by a foundry in Milwaukee and known as Joe Wier wheels, would be the only tractor pulling, as the Loveless tractor with standard wheels was being dragged with the plow.

One time on one of these plowing expeditions, after two days’ work we got a terrific March storm, and the newly plowed road became blocked twice as deep with snow as before plowing because of the higher snowbanks at the sides of the road. We were two weeks later than usual that spring getting in our boat-painting supplies, etc.

What a happy day it was a few years later when the Highway Department one spring sent up two big caterpillar tractors hooked together to open the main highway early. You could hear the barking and moaning of those big tractors all day as they laboriously plowed, coming north from Big Trout Lake to Rest Lake Dam and farther. The first spring they plowed at Koerner’s Bridge, with heavy ice frozen on the roadbed, the two big machines were delayed several days as both blades on the bottom of the plow were ”turned under” after rooting about a foot of solid ice above the roadbed. The Vilas county snowplowing road crews were always welcome and well fed and housed by resorters as they drove along the highway those early years. Soon after this, the highway was kept open all winter.

“The Broken Knuckle Beer Bar Sign,” circa 1960s. Catalog Number 2021.001.046.

For several years before Highway 10 was straightened north of Trout Lake, there was a sinkhole down past what is now Fritz’s and The Broken Knuckle about a half-mile toward Boulder Junction. Invariably, someone would get stuck, walk up to our resort about two miles away, wake Dad from anytime after dark to daylight hours of the morning.

One time along about then, Morrie Holzman (long before he was in the real estate business in Eagle River and the resort business in Manitowish Waters) blew a tire on a large truck on the highway near our resort. He was in the fruit business at that time in a store in Eagle River.

He came into our resort and asked if we would keep an eye on bis truck while he and his helper went to Hurley to try to buy an extra tire. He told us to help ourselves to a bushel or so of apples. We would drive out to bis truck about every hour, and return. No one seemed to be bothering the apples. Morrie returned late with a new tire and, after mounting it, drove in to tell us, “You sure helped yourself to enough apples!” We told him we took a bushel, which we showed him, and only ate a few others. Further inquiry revealed that a neighbor and his brother had made several trips with a Model T “hauling sacks of potatoes or something.” Morrie found the hoard of apples and then told us to help ourselves to all the apples we wanted, as his new­ found thief would pay well for them. We then took about two bushels.



When we were youngsters, each of us kids had a nickname. Frank was called Duval because he looked like someone by that name. Wilbert was called Swede because he was fair­ skinned and had light hair. Marie was called Jim Scott because her skin was dark or tanned.

Charley was Kelly or Tuffy.

He was called Tuffy because in the summer, as kids, we never wore shoes, mostly because we couldn’t afford them; and Charley always had a rag bandage around one or more hurt toes. It seemed to me that he was always running and stubbing his toes.

I would answer to “Big Abe” or “Jones”-“Big Abe” because my father was known as that and I supposedly looked like him. After the Buswell fire, Pa and Ma Jones lived close by, and Pa Jones, an elderly man, took an interest in me and I in him, since there were no other children to play with and I thought he was funny. Wherever Pa Jones was, I was. I was his shadow for the best part of two years, and “Jones” became one of my nicknames.

Pa Jones broke his back sometime early in life and was very hump-backed. Many years later, he worked somewhere around Rest Lake, near what is now 30-30 Lodge. I understood Pa and Ma Jones used to do vaudeville acts earlier in life and traveled with a vaudeville troupe.

Besides we kids having nicknames, there were many places that had odd names which I haven’t heard in years, such as Cook Stove Point, Wheelbarrow Bend, Tin Can Bay, Hell’s Half Acre. These and many other names were common among the old guides.

Hell’s Half Acre was our island resort. When Dad would really get mad at some of the old guides or whoever, it may have been “Hell’s half acre.” Things and people would start moving. He seemed to have a most violent temper, yet was just the opposite when he wasn’t mad. He was a hard-working, wonderful provider, and for a man who could neither read nor write, he made wonderful progress. Mother, too, was a hard worker, a wonderful woman, and contributed a big share to Dad’s success, but like my good wife and many women, it seems the man gets the credit for any success a couple may have.

“Big Annie,” “Little Annie,” “Mary Ann Stump,” “Schenkmeyer’s Stump” were other names of boats and places. Names of people some old-timers will probably remember: John Corby had a log shack on the point or right side of the channel as you go form Spider to Stone Lake. Of course, there were all the Devines–Jim, Dan, Willie, George, Mary and Lizzy. I don’t even remember seeing Mary and Lizzy until long after I grew up and was married. The boys, of course, were guides and were around our resort more. Then there were Frank Duranso, Frank Andrews, Chris Miller, Ed Voelski, John Hockinson, John Iverson, Babe LaPorte, Levi Sleight, Wid Sleight, Horton Stone, Ron and Fay Buck, old George Buck, Grant B Old Man Stone at Manitowish, John Giblin, Grandma Norton, Bill Ross, Joe Kullick, Charley and Lee Doriot, Cal Doriot, just to name a few.

Years ago, Old John Giblin, known to most just as “Gib,” got the “snakes” from drinking too much and wandered off into the woods and was lost for nine days. He was given up for dead because, during the intensive searching, someone found his bat floating in the river. On the ninth day he came wandering back into Manitowish half starved. They say he must have eaten berries and such from the woods. Today Gib’s condition would, no doubt, be called a nervous breakdown. In the old days, they called it “the snakes.”



Before and during our early teenage days, we boys had many memorable days. One day we went down by the lakeshore behind the Bemis cottage on the island to make steam engines. We would each make a tiny fireplace of small rocks over which we would set a large evaporated milk can, build a fire under it, and make a steam engine with which we would run tiny metal saws that we would create from the ends of tomato cans, etc.

After a head of steam was released by pulling a wooden plug from an opening in the heated milk can, a jet of steam would revolve a paddle wheel connected to a wire shaft that, in turn, would saw paper, small sticks, etc.

My brother, Charley, not being content with such small boilers, said, “I’m going to make a real boiler.” Going to some old cupboard in the entrance of our ice house, Charley found an old five-gallon can with a screw cap on the spout. He partially filled it with water, and the new mill gradually took shape.

After about a half-hour of building up steam, Charley was about to pull the plug that let out the jet of steam when the darn thing blew up. Charley was in short pants, as were the rest of us, and he got scalded on both legs. He wasn’t nicknamed “Tuffy” for nothing. Without being seen, he ran into the house and got a handful of flour, as he had previously seen Mother use baking soda on burns she would acquire around the cooking stove while cooking meals for guests. Only when the big blisters appeared was Charley’s secret revealed. This ended our steam engine escapades.



Another time, a hornet came out of a log embankment where we were playing on the sunny side of the island. Charley, curious, went to investigate as other hornets came out trying to get at Charley’s face. Desperately swinging both hands in front of his face, Charley said in a loud voice, “Oh, no, you don’t!” To Charley’s surprise, a hornet got through the barrage of windmill-like swinging hands and stung him on the lower lip. Almost instantly Tuffy’s lip swelled and dropped down almost to his chin. He was a sorry-looking sight, as we all laughed and teased him, “Oh, no, you don’t!”



Another day we decided to build kites. Mine was to be the biggest of all so, taking a couple of four-foot laths, I nailed a cross of two laths together. Just about the time I got the seven nails driven through the center of the cross, with nail points up, Tuffy hollered to me from behind the ice house. He saw a big fish in the water, which I looked at, too.

Not too concerned, I ran back to making my kite frame, but in coming around the comer to the wooden walk where I had previously been working, I accidentally stepped on the seven­ lath-nail-cross, driving all seven nails into my foot. The nails, fortunately, were not too long.

However, because the nails were driven at different angles, I couldn’t pull the laths from my tough, barefoot sole.

My Uncle Frank happened to be watching from the kitchen window and came to my rescue, but even he had a hard time pulling the seven nails out of the sole of my foot. I was given a footbath, which I sorely needed regardless of the nail holes. A big piece of salt pork was tied to the sole of my foot and I was sent to bed. After a couple of days, I was able to hobble around on my slippery bandaged foot, and after many scoldings about using a hammer and nails, for some reason unknown to us, we could never find a hammer and nails for a long time.

Another method of healing a nicked or sore foot was by making a poultice of plantain leaves after washing them and grinding them up.



One clay all the guests from Buck’s resort and our resort got into the big launches from both resorts and went on a picnic to Rice Creek bridge. George Buck (a grandson of the George Buck who started Spider Lake Resort) and I were left at home at each resort to watch things; we were around ten years old. The telephone rang as I sat alone at home wondering what to do. I answered. It was George, also sitting alone at home, with us two miles apart. He said, among other things, “Meet me at Payne’s Road. I’ll come over.” This was before there was a “Spider Lake bridge.” George got into a boat, rowed across the channel, and followed the old school road, or what was then known as Payne’s Road, to Island Lake. At the same time, I rowed across to meet him at the place where Richard Sleight’s cottages now stand.

Activities at Koerner’s resort- hiking, berry picking, picnicking, horseback riding, circa 1916-1930s. Catalog Number 2020.5.016.

We were mad because of not being at the picnic, so, leaving both resorts to their own care, we rowed up Rice Creek, got out of the boat about a half-mile below the picnic grounds, followed the shoreline for a way, catching big bullfrogs. We sneaked up close in the thick brush surrounding the cleared picnic grounds, and George, with all his might, threw a big bullfrog high in the air. It sailed over the tops of the trees, landing “plotch” among the picnickers’ outspread lunch. A hearty laugh arose, they thinking some crane or bird flying overhead had dropped it.

George and I had a good snicker as we retreated farther into the dense brush. Getting by without suspicion, we sneaked up for another barrage after catching two more frogs. Mine failed as it tangled in a tree as I threw it, but George again made a bullseye. It landed in the picnic ground, and we ran for home, never having been discovered. Later we heard stories of how they suspected certain ones at the picnic of pulling this prank, but all denied it and were accounted for.

Thinking we had been away from the resorts too long, our consciences bothered us, and we returned and took George back to Payne’s road where he went back to their resort. When the picnickers returned, everything was serene at the resorts and no one the wiser until many years later when we were grown men and unafraid to review the incident with elders. The bullfrog riddle was finally solved.

On another shore picnic, Dad and Mother decided they and all the guests would have baked musky. Dad had prepared baked musky several times in his life, and he needed clay in which to bake the two big muskies. My brothers and I were elected to take water pails, motor around to Devine’s place on Clear Lake, walk to Buswell about 1 ½ miles from there, and haul home about six pails of clear clay. The clay was about five miles away by boat and trail. None could be found nearby until many years later. Anyway, after almost a full day’s trip, we boys, with arms stretched three inches longer from carrying pails of clay 1 ½ miles, arrived home.

The preparing of the fish, baked with seasoned stuffing, was always taken care of the day before, together with much preparation such as building the fire, etc. These were quite big affairs, much talked about and really enjoyed by the guests. After being prepared with the seasoned stuffing, the two large muskies were wrapped in clean toweling, over which was packed the clay. The muskies were then placed between two big green logs that were about a foot apart, on a bed of hot coals of a previously prepared fire. To this was added more wood which, in turn, made hot coals that were then pulled over the baking fish. This preparation was usually done the evening before and was banked with ashes and left all night. The next morning more wood was added and by noon the feast began. Dad had this down to a science and, were it possible to get clay easier, it would have been done more often.



When I was just a little tyke, we had a girl working for us whose name was Pearl Duranso. Dad took four of us kids and Pearl up to the Rice Creek bridge in our old launch “Helena” He left us to cross the bridge as we were going blueberry picking up where the public boat landing is now on Big Lake. He told us we had plenty of time to cross the railroad bridge, as the train wouldn’t be along for a long time. (There must have been a No Trespassing sign on the bridge, because I know there was one in later years.)

Anyway, Pearl and we kids started walking across the bridge. When we were about halfway across, the train whistled and came around the curve only a few hundred feet in front of us. The train was coming down grade with a full load of logs. Pearl ran with pails and a kid’s hand in each of hers. I think it was my younger brother and sister, Charley and Marie, that she threw down the side of the embankment at the bridge’s end and then ran back and got me. If I remember correctly, I got dizzy and either fell or got caught between the ties.

Anyway, Pearl ran back ahead of the approaching engine and threw me as she jumped clear of the locomotive. All I can remember is seeing the fire under that approaching locomotive and the sparks from locked, sliding wheels.

Years later in reminding my brother Frank about this incident, he said, “Do you know where that girl lives today?” I said, ”No.” He replied, “Up in Winchester across the bridge.” If this is true, all I can say is, “God bless you, Pearl!” I don’t know what your name would be today, or if you ever married, but being a bit older than I, perhaps you can add to, or tell us the exact facts of this incident.

Added note: Later when I went up to Rosella Plunkett (Mrs. Wysocki), she said Pearl died about two years previous to that date. I’ve forgotten what she told me Pearl’s married name was.



As youngsters, before we learned to guide at about 12 to 16 years of age, our chore was to keep the resort supplied with numerous large suckers for pike and musky fishing. We made almost daily trips up Rice Creek, Round Lake Creek, Papoose Creek, and Boulder River for bait. Rice Creek was our best source of supply. This was in about 1912. With an old Evinrude motor, which sometimes wouldn’t start, we would make the trip, which usually took all day.

Cloudy days were bad. So were windy days when the ripple or overcast sky cast dark shadows on the water, making it hard to see and catch minnows in our 20×4-foot seine.

We had a torpedo minnow container. The first one was made of wood laths or cleats with a wood plug at each end and an eight-by-twelve-inch door on the top side. The bottom of the torpedo was weighted to keep it upright in the water. It was about 5 to 5 ½ feet long with a tow rope on one end.

Since almost all except the door was submerged under water, it would hold about 1000 minnows. We would anchor the tow box or torpedo in the stream, and as we caught minnows in our net, we would dump them in a wooden pail until we got too many for the pail. Then we would transfer them to the tow box or torpedo. Occasionally, the door would unsnap accidentally, and on several occasions we lost an entire day’s catch. Once, as we quit for the day, we lost the snap with which we locked the torpedo door and substituted a stick in the hasp, only to have it hit a snag as it rolled over and over as we walked downstream to our boat. After it righted itself in less turbulent water, we discovered the open door and all the bait gone.

Needless to say, we received a severe scolding from Dad. About 60 guests were without bait the next day, and about 16 guides had to fish with artificial bait as we returned to minnow catching for another try.

In that early life, there was little law enforcement and few laws. However, we knew we were not supposed to catch trout, walleye, or musky minnows. At times, we would, however, return with a pail of pike minnows, dump them into a small inland lake, never to see them again. In this manner, we hoped to stock several private lakes. Occasionally, we would put several small muskies (two to three feet long) in small inland lakes. Most of these lakes had only minnows–sticklebacks or shiners–in them. Somehow our efforts were never

rewarded-we never caught a fish from these muddy, boggy stocked lakes. Only once my brother shot a big six-pound bass in what we called Moss Lake, back of what is now Keppeler’s on Island Lake.

Minnows and suckers were especially plentiful early in the summer and spring. When the suckers and redhorse (carp) spawned (for about three days, at peak), I was continuously knocked off my feet, as an eight-year-old kid, while we walked Rice Creek in search of minnows and suckers. Some days I was down more than I was up on my feet with these monstrous redhorse hitting my feet and legs. It was funny to my older brothers, but to me it was at times frightening. The fish were so thick at the peak of the spawning season, you would actually walk on them. Sometimes we couldn’t lift the net and would lose our catch of minnows. We would get so mad we would kill some of the redhorse, many as big as twelve or more pounds, and pile them on the shore of the creek, only to find the next day there were twice as many in the creek. It proved a useless chore and caused a terrible stench from what bears and other animals didn’t eat.

Since minnows were plentiful in the spring, Dad would try many ways of storing minnows for later resort use in the summer when they would become scarcer. I recall one guest from Deer Park Lodge who offered us kids $1.00 apiece for any live sucker up to 14 inches in length that we could catch in late season. Occasionally we would make a dollar, but our efforts cost more than it was worth.

On two different occasions, Dad made big wooden boxes 8 inches deep and 10 by 12 feet or larger in size. He placed these containers in the lake to store bait One was located in Moss Lake and was a big floating box with a log dock to support it. We stored several thousand musky suckers in it in the spring. Within a couple of weeks, the wooden cleats warped, creating openings; after all our many days of work, the suckers were gone before we had use for them. There was an outlet at that time from Moss Lake into Rice Creek.

On another couple of occasions, we dug out earth by hand, big areas around a spring, which fed into Rice Creek. We stocked it with thousands of choice minnows without a cover, only to find days later that it was a haven for minks and otters-and some red mineral which surged from the cold spring water had killed most of the bait.

Another time-the last-Dad figured if he could use the spring at Big Lake landing, we would dig out a big area, log the sides, and feed some warm water from Rice Creek together with the spring water into the area. We worked for several days in water so cold, we couldn’t stand the pain in our legs as we dug laboriously with shovels. We then covered this area over with lumber, making a floor roof, secured a door and lock, and loaded it with thousands of choice minnows. After a few weeks, we found that some jealous individual had. found it and busted the lock, released the bait by chopping the log sides, and all our supply of bait was free again. Probably it was a warden who did this. It may not have been legal.



Once when my sister Marie was a baby on the island, Frank was left to guard her while she was in a baby buggy. The island was not much more than a half-acre hump ef land in the middle of Island Lake. Frank, only 8 years old, lost control of the buggy and Marie, in the buggy, took a flying, bumpy ride down the hillside, over a rocky shoreline, with the buggy coming to an abrupt stop in the water behind the protecting booms or logs in the water around the island. No one knows why the baby wasn’t knocked out of the buggy or why it didn’t tip over.

Because of the light weight of the baby, and because of pillows and blankets in the buggy, it floated long enough for Frank’s cries to get oldsters to rescue Marie from her “Moses­ in-the-bulrushes experience.” Frank cried some more when a paddling taught him to keep away from steep slopes with a baby buggy.

Another time when my younger sister Olive was a baby, just able to walk, she wandered away as we sat talking on the steps of the back porch. All at once, Mother said excitedly, “Where’s Olive?”

With a jump, everybody got to his feet, as Olive had been with us only minutes before. Running around the building, Dora looked down to the lakeshore to see Olive walking across a narrow walk which spanned the water to a floating log dock known as our side dock. Someone hollered at the baby, and she tumbled off the walk into the lake. When Dora could get to Olive, she found her lying on her back on the bottom of the lake in about 2 feet of water. Both crying, they returned to the kitchen, not too much worse off from the ordeal. For some reason unknown to her, the little toddler after that couldn’t take two steps out of anyone’s sight without being called back or picked up.

Another time, Wilbert was playing around the dock and fell into the water and under the dock. His shirt got caught on one of the big 20-inch spikes that extended about four inches below the log and was driven into a cross member of the dock. Not seeing him come up as soon as expected, Uncle Frank ran over to investigate. Seeing the fracas under the water, Frank soon released Wilbert from his perilous predicament. Wilbert coughed, cried, and spit water for five minutes as he tried to tell us what had happened.

Chicago Northwestern Depot in Mercer, WI. Circa 1910’s- 1930’s. Catalog Number 2018.4.6.

Another afternoon some men guests were all dressed up in their city clothes, with all their fishing clothes packed and waiting in the launch, as they were just about to leave to meet the Rest Lake stage for the return trip home on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad at Manitowish.

As had so often happened during the previous week, one of the men, now handsomely dressed and groomed for city life, started to tease Tuffy, my younger brother, as he stood on the dock awaiting their departure. Possibly Tuffy was expecting a dime or quarter tip as guests soon offered a youngster as they departed. Tuffy, about 8 years old, was being chased by the well-groomed “city slicker.” Skipping over a floating minnow box and along a big log boom in the water, Tuffy made his way to the lakeshore. His well-dressed friend, pretending to be in hot pursuit, tripped and stepped on the minnowbox which momentarily sank and, in trying to regain his balance, he tripped over another log and plunged headlong into the lake as a roaring, laughing crowd watched nearby. The launch was delayed on its trip, as the drenched guest ran to his cottage to change back into his fishing clothes. We heard later that on the train trip his friends kept introducing him as their “north woods guide,” as he returned home with a suitcase full of wet clothes.



In the early days of the resort business, it was common practice for two to six people to go on camping trips with a tent, or tents, for as long as a few days or a week or even longer.

Dad had three or more tents for just such use. One day a couple of guests returned from a camping trip, and the damp 8×10-foot tent, together with two folding cots, were set up on the grass on the back part of the island to dry out. My younger brother Charley (“Tuffy”) was about six years old and, since the tent made an ideal playhouse, we youngsters spent considerable time in it.

One day, Tuffy, for some reason, wanted to try to smoke. Matches were always available in our kitchen so, with matches and a discarded cigarette stub found on the ground, he sneaked into the tent, lit the cigarette and started smoking. Just about this time, someone walked past the tent and Tuffy, thinking they were coming into the tent, stuffed the lit cigarette under the bed covers and ran to the guide shack to hide. In about 15 to 20 minutes, the tent went up in quick, roaring blast of flames and smoke, only about 20 feet from the lodge.

Immediately, Mother missed Tuffy, so a frantic effort was made to pull apart burning bedding in the tent to find him. After a few minutes someone looked in the guide shack. There was Charley, sitting on the bed, guilty as sin.

Another time, before I was born (as told by my mother), my older brother Frank disappeared when he was a little toddler. Living on the island, there was always the constant fear of us toddlers falling in the lake-which, incidentally, did often occur, but somehow we survived. After an intensive search and Mother in tears, someone thought to look in the woodbox under the stairway, and there was Frank fast asleep.



Jim Hasselman and Harry Agerter camped for the biggest part of each summer for many years on an island near Schubert’s. One night a violent earth-shaking crash partly awoke them. (Jim always said a steam locomotive could run through their tent, take it away, and it wouldn’t wake them.) The loud noise of rain hitting the tent roof and sharp claps of thunder just about drowned out all other outside noises, as the lightning lit up the inside of the tent.

Being tired, they mumbled a word or two to each other as to what made the noise, and, inhaling a breath or two of the night’s chilly air, pulled the covers over their heads, snuggled deeper under the blankets and went back to sleep.

Next morning they awoke a bit later than usual as the sun’s bright, warm rays cast the trees moving shadows on the roof of the tent. Harry, knowing it was time to make breakfast, dressed, untied the tent flaps, and started out the opening. Having done this hundreds of times, he wasn’t expecting to trip over a limb and land headlong into a pile of brush-which he did. As he found himself sitting beside the trunk of a big pine tree, entangled among its branches, the mystery was solved. During the night’s storm, a tremendously big pine tree (about three feet in diameter at the stump) had fallen, the limbs blocking the tent’s entrance as the broken stub of limbs drove deep into the ground. Had it fallen a few feet farther east, they would have never known what hit them. It did mess up their rock fireplace and pup tent, scattering mostly canned goods and spare clothing in many directions.

Harry and Jim, after borrowing a crosscut saw and axe from Dad, lived like two lumberjacks working for a couple of days cleaning up the debris and laboriously piling enough

firewood for many seasons to come for their use. As they worked, they jokingly talked about what would have happened had the tree fallen a little closer to the tent Somehow, they always took everything as funny. And each time they told the story later in life, it got funnier. We had many a hearty laugh over this incident



A man by the name of Loui Sidell had a 16-foot Old Town canoe he used to leave with us year after year. Dad kept it stored overhead in our icehouse. One day my brother Wilbert decided to take this canoe and portage it over to Moss Lake to see if we could catch some of the fish we had so often planted in there. Dad had forewarned us not to use this canoe. I recall the name on the side of it was Three Star Hennesey, named after a brand of whiskey.

Anyway, we portaged the canoe over to Moss Lake, but on our return trip with the canoe, we decided to let it down a steep washed-away 16-foot sand bank instead of following the shoreline the way we came up, since this was a shortcut. In doing this, the canoe tore away from Wilbert’s grasp, lunged over the bank, and at almost a perpendicular angle, came to a crushing stop in the sand below.

We peeked over the bank and were startled to see the bow pushed in about a foot back.

Embedded in what looked like a nice sand beach was a big log. On impact this caved in the front of the canoe. Luckily we had towed the canoe across with an outboard motorboat, or we would never have gotten home.

I don’t know how Dad ever explained things to Louis Sidell, as I was nowhere around, nor was Wilbert, when he arrived. I only know we had the first square-sterned canoe on the Manitowish Waters after that.



One day my brother Charley and I were paddling around the lake on an old log. It was a piece of hewn bridge timber from earlier logging days, about twelve by sixteen inches and twelve feet long. We called it “Our Good Ship Lizzy” and, although it traveled slowly, we had many pleasant and memorable trips on it.

We found an old discarded canvas canoe, with a gaping hole in its side that you could shove a waterpail through. We towed it to Pig Island, tipped the water out of it and decided to fix it. It was a sound but slimy craft except for the big hole. During the next couple of days, we got tar, orange crates, and other light box lumber and started repairing.

We managed, after working in the hot sun for two days, to make the most unsightly, absolutely waterproof patch you ever saw. We also got our legs full of hot tar that, in the hot sun, made numerous blisters. We both wore those tight short knee pants worn by most boys our age, so there was plenty of exposed skin. We soon abandoned “Our Good Ship Lizzy” and practically lived in our watertight canoe for the next couple of years.

One day years later when I was well into my twenties, Dad bought an Old Town canoe he used to rent out to camping parties. I was going to take this canoe and go across the lake. It was quite windy, but with a rock in the bow for ballast, I felt no need for added help. I put one foot in the canoe shoving it away from the dock when my outside foot caught on a dock hook to which boats were tied. This threw me off balance just enough so that my knee hit the peak of the bow, and with a quick flip, I was in the lake. Now in the water, I decided to swim after and retrieve the canoe, which hadn’t shipped a drop of water. I swam about fifty feet but soon found that the high wind drifted the light canoe twice as fast as I could swim, so I swam back to the dock. Luckily, there were several used boats on the dock, but by that time I had a good long row to bring back the canoe.



Two dear friends of my wife and me, Jim Hasselman and Harry Agerter, came from Indianapolis, Indiana, for many years and camped on what was known as “The Boys’ Island” or “Schubert’s Island,” as it was sometimes called, on Island Lake.

Jim and Harry were young men in their teens at the time, but were quite expert at handling a canoe. One frightfully rough day when we had quite a number of guests at our island resort who were fearful of venturing out on the white-capped waves of the lake, Jim and Harry decided to paddle over to our island for added food supplies. As the boys approached our resort. many of our guests “oohed” and “ahhed” as they marveled at how the boys’ canoe weathered the waves. As they landed on our floating dock, Harry pulled up the canoe and walked up the walk toward the lodge, while Jim followed, feeling quite proud of their accomplishment. They were further elated as our guests, seeing such rough water for the first time, asked them if they were not afraid in a canoe in such waves.

After buying supplies, coffee, bread, etc. they returned to the dock to depart back to their tent on their island. Harry always paddled in the bow of the canoe, Jim in the stern. As they led Jim gave the canoe quite a vigorous push away from the dock. Both Harry and Jim were about to sit down when a sudden stop threw Harry headlong into the water about ten feet in front of the canoe, while Jim landed on the gunwale at the middle of the canoe, tipping it over and landing in the water, provisions and all. Jim had forgotten that after Harry had pulled the canoe on the dock, he (Jim) had tied it with a light 16-foot rope in case the wind blew it off the dock.

Nothing much was lost but their pride, after making such a marvelous entrance, and we had many hearty laughs about in later years.

At another time, Harry and Jim, in making extended canoe trips as they explored these woods and waters in those early years, found a bear’s den. They had a shotgun along and, thinking there probably would be no bears in the den anyway, Harry volunteered to crawl into the runway or hole to the den, as he dragged the shotgun by his side. The opening was barely big enough for a 17-year-old boy to get into alone-without a shotgun. When Harry got almost full length into the opening, in the darkened light he felt a breath and saw two big shining eyes in front of his face. With the speed of a rattlesnake, Harry jerked the shotgun up as close as he could get the barrel past his head. As he quickly moved his head to one side, he pulled the trigger, which was back near his belt.

The roar of the blast nearly busted his eardrums as he backed out of the entrance faster than a wink. Jim, outside and ready, ran with Harry a short distance from the den, as Harry pulled his shirt back over his shoulders from over this head, the result of having backed out of the hole so fast. He had left the shotgun behind. Now, with everything quiet once again on the western front, but still shaking, Harry again pulled up the front of his shirt to feel his belly. It was all scratched and bleeding from the gravel in the den as he backed out so quickly.

As things remained quiet, Harry and Jim decided to go back, get the shotgun and see what happened, except for Harry nearly skinning himself alive. They cautiously dug away at the den’s opening, only to find a big, dead bear with a hole in its head, right between the eyes, the size of a saucer. Had the bear been out of the cave lying on the ground, Harry couldn’t have made a better shot.



Years after Harry Agerter and Jim Hasselman had their canoe incident at our island, Harry was now an old man in his fifties, yet quite able and strong. I was hired as his guide. Jim, in the meantime, had married and moved from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Washington, DC. One day Harry said, “Let’s go to Duck Lake today and also fish Round Lake as well as Big Lake.”

We paddled up Rice Creek to what was known as the Big Lake portage, which was about a half-mile south of Big Lake Landing. In later years it was made into a campsite. As we portaged across, just above the Big Lake landing was a high steep hill. While we were portaging, the wind rose to terrific strength and as we looked down on Big Lake which was now white with big waves and whitecaps, we debated whether we could make it. Finally, Harry said, “Oh, hell, I think we can,” while I thought (but didn’t express myself) that I would willingly bet $50 that no canoe could stay afloat on such turbulent waters.

Since we were 150 feet from the lake when we were debating and high on a hill, as we approached the shoreline the waves were even bigger than we anticipated. I inwardly thought, ”Now Harry will chicken out,” but not a word from him. Here I am, his guide and protector (Who am I to suggest going back?); although I had no fear, I just didn’t think we could battle those huge waves and stiff wind. Harry got into the bow as usual, while I steadied the canoe with the stern pulled up slightly on the sand shore. He tried to hold the bow with his paddle stuck in the sand beach as I gave a terrific shove, jumped in, and tried to be quick enough to get off the shallow shore. But always, after three such attempts, we were washed sideways back on the sand beach, shipping water each time. We never tipped over as I always jumped out in ankle- to knee-deep water and steadied the canoe on each try.

On the fourth try, we made it with only a little water in the canoe. We bobbed across Big Lake to Round Lake Creek, shipping an unbelievably small amount of water. However, we realized at noon that, from our previous tries, our sandwich lunch was quite a soggy mess. On our return that evening the wind had subsided.



In the early days, about 1909, George W. Buck, the founder of Spider Lake Resort, built a large barge or scow. This must have been about 10 feet wide and 24 feet long. The hull or boat part of it was made of heavy material such as 2×8- or 2×10-inch lumber. In the center, extending almost to each end but full width, was built one room completely enclosed. This was about 6 feet high above the side wall of the scow, which made a room about 8 feet high and about 10 by 20 feet in size. This was taken out and anchored in Spider Lake, off the shore of Buck’s Resort, and was used as a saloon from which they sold whiskey.

I heard that the real reason this saloon (as they called it) was floating on water had something to do with the State or Federal taxes; it could not be touched by certain authorities because of its location on water. Later it was pulled up on the shore of the resort, as it had served its intended purpose on the water and was then used for a guide shack or guides’ sleeping quarters.

One winter our school was held in May Buck’s house, and occasionally we boys, with the Buck boys, would romp and play around in the guide shack, get body lice on us, come home and catch heck from Mother, as she got out the “fine comb” and cleaned us up. Many of the old guides were also lumberjacks in the winter and, although the others were exceptionally clean, it was not too uncommon to “get loused up” in such sleeping quarters.

Koerner’s Spider Lake Resort water front, circa 1920s. Catalog Number 2018.2.194.

The boat part of the scow was covered over and made into a big barge with which the Bucks would haul a railroad carload of beer from Rice Creek Bridge about two times a summer. Mr. Ted Koerner, who later owned Spider Lake Resort, made a bigger barge and, with a big launch, would haul and unload beer cases all day at Rice Creek bridge.

I remember that when Ted would get about half buzzed up, he would walk down to the dock at Rice Creek to see how the barge or launch was being loaded. Some of the guides would sneak a couple of cases out the opposite side of the boxcar into the woods. When guiding and fishing up Rice Creek later, they would go find their beer in the woods. One day Billy DeGrote quickly hid a case underwater in the river under some alder brush, only to find in looking for it later, someone had already found it.

One time at a dance on what was Doriot’s Resort on an island on Stone Lake, a fight started at the small bar. The bar was built back in the woods, apart from the dance hall and only patronized by men. The fight started between Louie LaPorte and George Devine, after George made some remark to Louie about a certain girl. As George raised up a bottle of beer, with his head back and his face toward the sky, Louie hit him a blow under the chin. George made a complete somersault backward but in a flash was on his feet, taking off his coat as he charged back at Louie.

The fight lasted for what seemed like an hour. They battered and tore at each other so long that half their clothes were tom off above the waist. Louie ended up with nothing on above the waist and with one pant leg tom up to the belt.

Finally they got locked in each other’s grip, with a couple of birch trees that grew close together between them. As they kicked, clouted and tore at each other, sometimes hitting the trees with their fists or feet, each one was afraid to let go of the other since they were quite evenly matched. Eventually it ended, George so exhausted and sore, he could hardly straighten up. We bystanders thought George had serious internal injuries from being kicked so often.

Later at the dance hall, we heard that one of George’s brothers, while we were watching the fight, had run down to the lakeshore to his boat and had taken his revolver out of his tackle box and was waiting back in the shadows of the woods. Just as the fight stopped, he was about to shoot Louie. Had it gone a few minutes longer, Louie may have been a dead man.



One day while waiting for the train to arrive at Rice Creek bridge, my two older brothers and I decided to do some target practice. We hardly ever saw a soul there and could see the water up the river some distance above the bridge but not right near the bridge. We could also see the creek or river well below the bridge, also up and down the track for a safe shooting distance (we thought).

We each had a 22 rifle, mine a cheap, single-shot which used to annoy me because the shell ejector wouldn’t work, and each time I would have to take a pocket knife and remove the empty shell. My brother Wilbert had a beautiful new 15-shot 22 rifle which cost considerable-and how I wished I had one like it. I think I was about 10 years old and Wilbert was 12.

Placing a tin can on the rail, we would shoot holes in the can. All at once after many minutes of shooting intermittently at the cans, right after Wilbert shot, someone yelled down in the river in line with our fire. A guide-I don’t know who-from another resort was rowing a boat with two other men and somehow had silently rowed into our path of fire.

We couldn’t see the guide because the alder brush on the side of the river directly in front of us blinded our view. Momentarily, after the guide hollered, we thought we had shot someone. As the boat came into view, we got a good tongue-lashing from the guests, and the guide told us the shot went between him and the guest in the center of the boat, over the gunwale and almost hit the blade of his oar as he was rowing.

After they left, we were still shaking with fear, and my brother Wilbert said he was going to throw his rifle into the deepest part of Island Lake on our way home. I pleaded with him not to do so but to be more careful hereafter, and if he didn’t want that beautiful gun, I’d like it. He argued that I was too young.

About an hour later, we rowed down the river and out into the lake about a quarter of a mile. I had momentarily forgotten the near-accident and thought Wilbert had, too, when he reached over, grabbed the gun, and threw it overboard into deep water. My heart sank with the gun. What a beautiful gun compared to my old single-shot! As he threw the gun, he said, “There, now that gun won’t kill anybody!” I was sick.

Years later when my wife and I were married, we took a boat trip with two very dear friends down Trout Creek to Rice Lake. As we neared Old Indian Headflier’s place, there were high reeds and cattails that hid our boat as we silently floated downstream, fishing as we went. All at once we startled a flock of blackbirds that had been feeding on wild rice. As they started flying, a 22-rifle shot landed in the water near our boat. At first I thought Ernie Morin, my friend in the following boat, had lost a sinker from his casting line; but he wasn’t casting. A little farther on, we startled more blackbirds and quite a volley of 22 rifle leads landed near our boat. Being closer to the guns now (which we couldn’t see), we hollered loudly with fright.

We realized at once that the hunters were shooting at the blackbirds-but couldn’t see us. The shooting stopped.

When we got down the river a couple of blocks farther, we saw the men standing on the bank near the cottage. We told them their bullets almost hit us. Mr. Young, one of the men who had been shooting, said they were shooting at the blackbirds but not shooting anywhere near us. We were really mad, and Mr. Young knew it. His last insulting remark was, “Remember, LaFave, you’re not on Island Lake now. You’re on the Indian reservation; we can hunt here anytime.” With that, Ernie Morin retorted, “Does that give you license to kill people?”

We were soon out of talking range as we silently floated downstream. But I’ve learned in my lifetime what it’s like to be in back of and in front of a 22-caliber rifle, and both instances were long remembered. One can’t be too careful on water.

One hunting season in our old mainland lodge-since torn down-about twenty deer hunters arrived to eat their noon dinner. Several of them stood their rifles in the comer of the big kitchen as they passed through to the dining room. Since my brother’s children were playing in the kitchen, the deer rifles made my mother nervous. She was very busy making dinner and asked one of my older brothers to check those guns and see if they were loaded and, if so, put them outside.

My brother grabbed one of the guns, pumped it with his trigger finger in front of the trigger. The forward movement of the sliding action triggered his finger and the rifle discharged; fortunately it was into the cupola over the big hotel kitchen stove. A shower of plaster dropped down, engulfing the already-prepared food, as my brother stood there shaking, not fully realizing what happened. My mother and several of the rest of us just about fainted in our tracks. I scolded my brother for grabbing a gun with his trigger finger as he did. It was a nervous crew eating a plastered dinner that noon.

Months afterward, we were at a neighbor’s boiler room that had a cement floor; the boiler was a heating unit for a greenhouse. We were doing work nearby, and this made a convenient, warm place to eat our lunch. Someone mentioned the hunting season gun incident of my brother, having also been there with us at the time. In frustration because of someone mentioning the previous incident, my brother saw a rack of guns this neighbor kept on the wall. Walking over, he took a gun off the rack as he explained, “Well, look, this was all I did.” As he picked up the gun, the owner said, “Look out! Those guns are loaded!”

My brother pumped the gun as he did in our kitchen and again, BOOM! It accidentally discharged. The bullet hit the cement floor, ricocheted against a cement wall and hit one or two metal pipes on the boiler and finally came to a stop. How it missed four of us sitting in separate chairs in the room, I’ll never know.

My surprised brother stood there, again shaking, while our cool-headed neighbor quietly took the gun from his hands and placed it back in its rack. I wasn’t so cool, I’m sorry to say, and really laid down the law.

Another time when I was just a little kid about 6 or 7 years old, two canoes of Indians paddled up to our Island Resort in birchbark canoes. This was quite common, as each summer

Mother would buy tubs of blueberries from the Indians, especially during busy seasons when we didn’t usually find time to pick them ourselves.

This time, though, it was late in the summer, and they had been gathering wild rice up at the rice bed above Big Lake. During their stay there, one of the youngsters, an Indian boy about 15 years old, was shooting blackbirds with an old 22 rifle. One shell had failed to fire (possibly the firing pin was no good), and the shell ejector wouldn’t work, so the lad had an old ramrod of heavy wire. He opened the breach and tried to ram out the loaded shell. Somehow it discharged, driving the ramrod and shell out. It entered under his chin and out through the top of his head. He was dead instantly.

My older brothers knew this boy. They went to school with him one season in the town of Odanah, which had an Indian school, although a few whites also went there at that time.

In one of the two canoes lay the coffin or rough box with the boy. To me, as a youngster, it was an unforgettable incident, as I had never seen a coffin made like that with the sides curved, of beautiful pine wood which they must have gotten from the Buswell lumber mill. Around the top edge of the coffin was a beautiful red flannel blanket, the edges showing, as it seemed to form a seal under the lid. After talking with Dad, who could understand Chippewa, they continued on through to Lac du Flambeau by water, through Little Trout, Sand Lake, etc. At that time, canals build for Mr. Southgate connected Alder Lake of the Manitowish Chain to the Flambeau Chain, so one could go by canoe to Flambeau. Mr. Robert Loveless oversaw the building of those canals.



One time, while we were in school at Buswell, it snowed heavily all day. We traveled the five miles each way on skis, and my half-brother Tom, who was quite tall and big for his age, broke the ski trail and took the lead. When we got to the big hill on Island Lake, we stopped on top of the hill to tighten our caps and mittens before skiing down. Wilbert pulled out from behind on the trail and was about to ski down when Tom, being the oldest and more able, said, “No, let me break a trail first.” Since those who managed to stand up on this speedy run usually sailed halfway across the lake, a good straight ski trail helped, and each trip we eagerly looked forward to this hill.

Tom started out, gaining speed by the second, until he looked like a professional ski jumper as he approached the bottom of the hill. Waiting until he got out of range, Wilbert was about to start down. Meanwhile, as Tom hit the ice level at the bottom of the hill, his skis stopped like hitting a concrete wall, and he plowed slush and water (unseen below the fresh snow) for a distance of 35 feet or more. The fresh, heavy snowstorm had settled the thin ice along the shoreline, and slush and about five inches of water had risen to the surface below the cover of fresh fallen snow. When Tom’s unwaxed skis hit this slush, they stopped dead, and he tore both leather straps from his skis and lunged ahead to a cold bath.

Needless to say, the rest of us walked down the hill, as Tom wrung water out of his cap and mittens. Wilbert laughed for a week, and every day he chided Tom as we approached the hill, saying, ”No, let me break the trail first!”



Dad bought a team of Indian ponies that we kept for one winter the first year I went to school at Buswell. They were kept in our old icehouse for a part of the winter, then back of what is, at this writing, Wangaards’ on Island Lake. We had a big box about four feet by six feet and three feet high that Dad put on the sleigh. Each school morning we would get up before daylight, and after breakfast we would see Dad take a big heated rock from the old kitchen stove oven, wrap it in a blanket and carry it out to the big box. This box had a cover and had blankets inside. We kids would get into the box, and Dad would drive us across the blustery lake and up to the Big Lake Warehouses, a distance of about 2 ½ miles. This was usually on cold, very stormy days.

Activities at Koerner’s resort- hiking, berry picking, picnicking, horseback riding, circa 1916-1930s. Catalog Number 2020.5.016.

On one such day, Dad had faced the cold wind crossing the lake while we were snug in the box. Upon reaching a somewhat sheltered area in the woods, he called back and asked Frank, my older brother, to drive for a few minutes while he walked behind the sleigh to get warm. Both Wilbert and Frank crawled out of the box, while I stayed in.

Dad, walking behind the sleigh, clapped his leather-mittened hands together to warm them, making a loud noise. At this instant, the Indian ponies took off like a shot, and the box on the sleigh tipped first one way then the other, as I heard my two brothers and Dad holler, “Whoa! Whoa!” It was a runaway. In the excitement, Frank dropped one rein so Wilbert quickly grabbed it, each pulling with all their strength but to little avail. About all it did was steer the horses on and off the road as they raced on far ahead of Dad. With this experience, we later found that two things would make the Indian ponies run away every time-one, to clap hands together, the other to rustle newspaper.

After bouncing back and forth hitting all sides inside the box, I got up on my knees and lifted the cover of the box, only to be greeted in the face with hard-packed snowballs from the horses feet, also missing a few that flew past. With trees traveling by so fast, Frank and Wilbert zigzagging the team on and off the road, and Dad running a block behind, I wasn’t long deciding this was no place for me. In trying to lift the heavy lid to get out, flying snowballs and all, I fell over the high edge of the box and bounced off the sleigh into a snowbank as the horses and all disappeared in the distance.

I was crying when Dad caught up with me, but he, being abut 6′ 4″ tall, grabbed me with one hand as he was running by, tucked me under one arm like a rag doll and kept right on running. As Dad scolded me for jumping off the sleigh, I was sure I didn’t help the situation any. With him running along with me under his arm, I learned a lot of new words and what a fellow should do to a damn team of horses when they run away.

About a mile down the road, we arrived at the scene. The sleigh was straddled across a big pine stump, with enough splintered wood and extra harness around to make another outfit. Since we had made good time-especially that last mile-we kids stood around, trying to help but mostly in the way, and Dad tried to salvage what he could with use of telephone wire from a nearby line.

Many times later Dad would take the horses out on the ice on Island Lake, rustle paper and clap hands, steering them and letting them run until they frothed at the mouth-but he couldn’t break them. The whistle or noise of a train would set them off, too.

I can’t remember whatever became of the horses, but that was the only winter we had them. Dad might have chucked them through a hole in the ice-I don’t know!

This reminds me-we used to keep two to four pigs on what is now Pig Island. Not having the help to butcher early in the fall, Dad kept the pigs into the early months of the winter. We had a big steel kettle about three feet across on top, sitting over a fireplace. Each time we took feed over to the pigs, we were supposed to slightly warm their drinking water in this kettle before giving it to them. This was quite a chore. One day the pigs got out of their pen, walked over to the waterhole on the ice and, because of the rounded slope around the waterhole, slipped in and disappeared under the ice. It was thought someone stole the pigs, until the ice left the lake in the spring and the pigs were found floating in the lake. It did, however, lighten our pig-feeding chores.

Another time, a pig got out of the pen in the summer and, apparently being hungry, swam for our main island about a quarter of a mile away. Dad found it later, floating in the lake with its throat ripped open from its front hooves. It was so fat that each stroke it took would tear its throat with its sharp front hooves.

For several days in the spring and fall, the ice on the lakes was sometimes unsafe for travel and resulted in some frightening experiences. One time Dad was trying to cross on one­ inch-thick ice while Mother watched him over partly-open water about three-fourths of a mile away. She thought he disappeared a couple of times, as Uncle Frank Noonan (her brother) tried to break ice to get to him. After a half-hour of work, Frank hollered to Dad that he simply couldn’t make it and to go back. The ice was too thick in most places to easily break and too thin to support a man on foot.

Dad carried a ladder, to be used to save himself if he fell in. He headed for shore, lying on his belly on the ladder and, in a swimming fashion, glided over the slippery ice back to shore. His trip across the ice was a failure; originally, he had intended to get food supplies for himself and George Buck. They were trapping muskrats in Dad’s shack on Big Lake. Several days later, Dad returned on better ice. Shortly after that, the muskrat season came to an abrupt end. As Dad was making pancakes, Buck was skinning rats, and as he tried to clean the hides, raw pieces of meat would be peeled from the hides, sticking to Buck’s fingers and knife. He would snap or shake his hands to free the meat. Soon there was more meat in the pancakes and on the ceiling than Dad could endure. An argument followed, and Buck and Dad broke up housekeeping and returned to their homes, very little richer and much wiser.

Another experience on ice occurred years later when my good wife Sai and I were first married. We went to the island to live. This particular evening, as we drove down at dusk in an outboard motorboat, the lake was freezing or skimming over,” as we called it.

This was our first night home after our honeymoon and, knowing the lake would be frozen over in the morning, we were going to sleep late, thinking no one would be able to get to us for several days.

While still sleeping the following morning, a loud rap came on the door. Getting up, I glanced out the window and saw a thin sheet of glossy ice all over the lake. Bewildered, I answered the door and was amazed to see Dad. He said, “The electric light plant won’t start, and we’re out of water at the mainland. Would you come over and start the plant?” I asked if the ice wasn’t terribly thin, but he assured me it ”would hold a horse.”

I looked for my ice skates, as I was going to be moving on ice that had been open water only hours before. Dad had a long light pole that he would walk with. He would rest one end on his shoulder, reach out in a sort of stooped position, cupping his hands over the pole, thereby supporting part of his weight on the bottom end of the pole on the ice as he shuffled along.

Knowing some of his previous escapades on ice, and not wanting to concentrate too much weight in any one spot, I soon was gone like the wind on my ice skates, leaving Dad far behind.

With my hands folded behind me, I was leisurely skating along with my head down watching the ice. All at once, ahead and to my right I noticed a large crack in the ice.

Following its course by eyesight, only too late I found it turned and crossed just in front of me and ran from the shore to an island out in the lake. With but a moment to think, I gained all the speed I could muster and jumped a three-foot separation in the ice. The rising sun had warmed the air somewhat, but mostly because of a change of wind to the south, the thin ice had separated and shifted three feet apart.

After completing the successful jump, I skated back and forth well beyond the separation across the lake waiting for Dad to come within hollering distance as I motioned to him regarding the separation of the ice. He saw it and shuffled to the shoreline and had to walk about a half-mile along the shore before finding a safe place to get back on the ice.

My new bride was left all alone on our island, which was a big joke to Dad. We had a telephone from the mainland to the island, and Dad could have just as well called me instead of walking down, but he wanted to prove the ice was safe.

I telephoned to Sai on the island and told her about the ice separating and that she may have to be alone for a day or more, as the warming winds and sun might leave the ice too thin for me to return. I recognized a break in her voice over the telephone as she tried to be brave about this new venture of our married life. So, after starting the electric light plant motor so as to run the water pump, I decided to return to my lonesome bride. My mother was against my doing so because of the danger, but “love will find a way.”

The sun had softened the surface of the ice somewhat, and I feared my skates would cut in and trip me, so I decided to use skis, which would support me over a larger area of ice. I also carried a long light pole so that, if I fell through, I would have support to pull myself out.

On my return trip, I skied around the ice separation on the shoreline, then hit across to the island. Everything went fine until I got to within about two feet from shore. The sun and warmer weather had thawed the ice on the south bank of the island sufficiently that, in a· leaping dash for shore, I broke through the ice to a depth slightly below my knees. But the main thing now, I was with my good little wife again.

We stayed on the island for several days, until the weather turned colder and the ice seemed to be a couple of inches thick. It was good, clear blue ice, so we decided to again cross to the mainland. I, wearing ice skates, put my bride on a steel-runnered hand sled and, pushing from her shoulders in a half-standing position, started across the lake.

Everything went fine until we got out in the wider part of the lake. I suppose because of not being protected by islands, the ice there was much thinner. First thing I knew, I was pushing up a gradual incline as the thinner blue rubber ice curved slightly down with our weight. I felt sure as long as I kept moving and didn’t lose an ice skate, we’d make it. The calves of my legs ached, partly from pushing in this stooped position, plus the fact that my only recent ice skating was in a standing position a few days before.

We decided, now that the ice was thinner, to hit for the nearest land which was Schubert’s Island. The Lord was with us; we made it. After resting, we started out again. The ice from there to the mainland seemed thicker, and we had no trouble, but we did stay with the folks a night or two until the ice froze thicker.

We used to move to the mainland resort for each winter for several years before I was married. On one such occasion, we had moved everything except six bushels of canned goods that were left in our island resort cellar, knowing the cellar wouldn’t freeze for several weeks. After the lake froze to a smooth safe thickness, mother sent me down to the island to get the canned goods. Because there were more cans than would stay on the small sled, I made an extended platform to save an extra trip. It was more than a mile between our two resorts. Then I thought, to further help myself, and since the strong wind was in a favorable direction, why not make a sail and ride up the lake with the load. The ice was beautifully smooth.

After making a cross section of wood, I managed to find an old piece of canvas and by tying the bottom to the sleigh, I steered with a looped piece of rope. Soon, away I went, big load and all, sailing smoothly across the glassy ice, gaining speed by the minute as I drew out of the shelter of our island into the open area. As I gained a reckless but smooth speed, I forgot about a rough frozen-over crack in the ice that formed almost every year from Schubert’s Island to the reef.

In a desperate effort to stop, I dragged my feet heavily on the ice, but they made poor brakes. I bounced, canned goods and all, over the rough spot, then coasting again on smooth ice but with canned goods rolling in all directions all around my newly manufactured iceboat. After finally coming to a stop well beyond the rough spot, I sadly looked at my scattered display of cans, many still rolling in the wind several blocks away on the smooth ice. After gathering canned goods for what seemed like hours, I gently pulled the sled the rest of the way home.



Art Busse (pronounced Buss) was one of Stang’s foremen hiring men and renting teams of horses that were available for winter logging. Using Pete Vance’s Indian ponies one winter, Art found them quite light and thin compared to heavier work horses usually used in the woods. One day when I asked Art Busse how Pete’s horses were doing, he replied, “They’re so thin, we had to tie knots in their tails to keep them from jumping through their horse collars.”

One thing Stang did was feed the men and horses well, and by spring Pete Vance’s wild ponies were a much better-looking team. They never had it so good.

For many winters in the early days, Pete Vance used to disappear, and when he would return in the spring, he would say he was in Florida at his orange grove. After learning the truth-that he only went by train as far as Lac du Flambeau-people used to tell each other about his wild stories.

Some guest asked him one day to stop and see him when he went through Chicago. Pete made the excuse that he only stopped overnight in Chicago on his way south. Asked further where he stayed while in the city, he said he stopped at the Blackstone Hotel. He went on further to say that on a particular night he stayed at the Blackstone, some smart aleck started teasing him, and it made him mad. So he jumped out of the top bunk, grabbed the guy by the back of the neck and threw him over the grindstone. This could have, in those days, been a typical lumber camp scene, so Pete got his stories mixed. All he really ever knew was the outdoors, lumber camps and Lac du Flambeau. Pete Vance outlived three wives, one a white woman and two Indian women.

One early morning before the guests he was guiding got up for breakfast, Joe Ilg, Sr., saw some Indians go across a trail to a little nearby lake. Traveling over this same trail with his guests later that day, Joe reached down to the ground, pulled up a pinch of grass, smelled it, then remarked, “I smell buckskin. Must be Indians around.” Only a few minutes later, as they proceeded down the path with their fishing gear, there were the Indians at the end of the trail.

Many such jokes were played on city guests, whom some guides called “city slickers.”

One day, my half-brother, George Schroeder, came to the resort with two big beautiful muskies. No one had caught a musky for a couple of days as the lake remained calm and the weather hot and humid, so George was quite the center of attention. Not being used to so much talk and attention, George felt somewhat uneasy and embarrassed. One guest asked, “George, how do you do it?” George answered in a nervous but serious tone, “Well, first you go where you think they are, then where you think they ain’t, and you’ll get ’em.”



One of our guests, Bob Thies, while fishing on Clear Lake years ago started shooting at a loon with a 22 rifle. One of the bullets ricocheted off the water, traveled across the lake and hit a young lady in the arm. She was about 18 years old, and Bob quickly fell I love with her and later married her. It’s the only time I ever heard of shooting your wife first and then marrying her.

On another occasion, we were minnow catching up Rice Creek when we caught an old musky that was dying on top of the water. It was really a “freak”-over fifty inches long and with a skinny body and a head big enough for a sixty-pounder. It also had part of its lower jaw shot away, but it was all healed over. Besides this, it had a couple of big growths on the sides of its body.

Bob had set a line with a sucker on it off their cottage on the island. People paid little attention to a set line in the early days. We brought the freak musky home, weighed it (it weighed 25 pounds), and hooked it to Bob’s setline before he returned from fishing. By this time, the fish was dead.

All the guests except Bob were wise to the prank. When Bob retrieved the fish, everyone threw rocks, clubs and whatnot at it as it first emerged from the water. Bob thought his friends killed it right there, so he had it shipped to Chicago and mounted. They did not tell Bob the true story until the next year’s fishing trip–and they were amazed at what a beautiful job the taxidermist had done in filling out the body. They said it made a beautiful mounting, so Bob was still happy.



One early summer Mr. Summerfeld, a guest of the season before, wrote us that he wanted the very best accommodations that we had, as he and a friend would be up in July (a busy time at the resort). He particularly stressed he wanted “the best” which, of course, would be a cottage with modern plumbing, only one of which we had left available at this time. 1bis, too, he stressed, depended on the price. In all, his first and early season letter was rather uncertain, as everything depended on this or that.

We answered his letter, offering the remaining cottage with bath; but, not getting an answer from him in a couple of weeks, decided to rent the cottage to another larger party, bringing us more revenue for the same period of time.

In a few days, we heard from Mr. Swnmerfeld that he would take the “cottage with bath,” although the price was more than he should pay. We wrote to him, saying that, due to his delay in answering our previous letter (and the uncertainty of his earlier letter), we had no alternative but to rent his cottage to another party. In this letter, we made our next best offer, a smaller cottage without bath.

More than a week went by-no answer.  So we rented that cottage.  Again Mr. Summerfeld’s letter saying, “I’ll take it” arrived. Next, a room in the main lodge was offered. Again, a delayed letter saying, “I’ll take it,” only too late.

That summer, Mr. Summerfeld lived up to his name, sleeping in a tent on our resort lawn. However, he took it all quite good-naturedly, as guests kidded him about making decisions and reservations well in advance.



On our island resort we experienced many storms. Dad had the first telephone line from our resort to Manitowish, and these wires that spanned the lake from island to island, then to the mainland, seemed to attract lightning.

On one occasion, we youngsters were sitting on our old front porch of the lodge, which had no screens. On the island there were no mosquitoes and little need for screens. All at once, lightning hit the telephone line, jumped from the insulator to the big pine tree 12 feet in front of us, ripped off a streak of pine bark about two inches wide and 16 feet down to the ground, and showered us with a “hailstorm” of bark. On several occasions, as in this case, when one is really close to lightning, you hear the hiss or rip of the lighting just before you hear the thunder.

Many times, my mother experienced close calls. One time the celluloid comb she wore in her hair was snapped from her head and flew twenty-five feet away. On another occasion, lightning ripped across a cement floor to a ground wire and burned Mother’s feet. Luckily, she wasn’t hurt.

On another occasion after a bolt of lightning hit the telephone line, a blue ball of electricity about 10″ in diameter was plainly visible for part of a second, floating near the telephone until it disappeared.

On the north side of our island resort, we had a guide house where the guides slept. One rainy day Charley Layman was lying on a bed about four feet from the door. A bolt of lightning hit, both hinges tore off the door, and splinters of wood flew in all directions as the door fell forward into the room onto Charley’s bed. Over the head of the bed was a small mirror which, at the same instant, shattered and fell to the floor. Charley said the bolt seemed to circle around the room and out a window. I suppose the metal beds attracted it, as there were three other metal beds with no one in them. Charley was unhurt and thought it a big joke.

Many times lightning would invariably get flashing around the big kitchen stove. This stove weighed more than 1200 pounds and rested on a separate concrete foundation from the ground up, not on the kitchen floor. With a big open copper water tank connected to the stove for heating water and a cold water supply pipe to the water tank, it must have been a perfect ground.

Mother would always quit making a meal and get away from the stove if a bad electric storm occurred during meal hour. For many years, we just assumed the stove attracted electricity until one spring before all the winter’s ice left the lake, when we had a severe electrical storm. My brother Frank and I were batching on the island and were the only two there as the folks were now living at our mainland resort. As the storm grew more intense, I became more nervous at Frank’s poking at skillets as he was cooking supper.

He, too, knew of the many lightning incidents, yet seemed intent on getting the supper cooked. After I repeatedly asked him to stay away from the stove, he was about to return to cooking when I nervously grabbed his arm and gave him a jerk. As if timed by the Almighty, a blast of lightning lit up the stove, rattled the dishes, and we thought it busted our eardrums. Frank often told of this incident and, at the time, was sure not to return to the stove for a few minutes as the storm soon subsided.

The next day I figured there must be something that attracted that electric charge to the stove. Since it was a nice day, I went up on the roof of the kitchen, which was a shed roof. As I walked on the roof, I studied the electric wiring, then the guy wires and telephone wires. I found one of the three guy wires leading to the top of the 10-inch galvanized smokestack from the stove passed within six inches of the telephone wire. In a windstorm, because of the slack in the line, it probably came even closer. I got an insulator and fastened the telephone line farther away from the smokestack guy wire. Never after that did we have to keep away from the big hotel-size kitchen stove.

Another time, a terrific windstorm picked up our heaviest 18-foot boat with a motor on it, sailed it over two other boats, landing it in the water 20 to 30 feet away. The wind tangled the other boats on the dock, but they didn’t leave the dock. Immediately the lake looked like a frothing, foaming basin of white-capped waves. What moments before was visible was now a downpour of torrential, blinding rain. Nothing could be seen beyond fifty feet.

Dad came charging into the house asking for someone to go with him in our launch to catch the boat before it smashed on the rocky shore. At the moment, I thought he was crazy, but I never saw him fearful of anything. Somehow I hesitated and seemed to have more things to do than a Philadelphia lawyer. George Buck, my buddy, unhesitatingly volunteered, so they both disappeared in the foggy, drenching wind-swept storm toward the boathouse.

George related their experience upon his return, which was in about a half-hour. The storm had somewhat subsided by then. We couldn’t see them, but George said they ran our 25- foot launch, bow first, up to the 18-foot outboard boat which, incidentally, landed upright when it blew off the dock over two other boats, although it was partly submerged due to splashing of waves and heavy rain. Dad lay on his stomach on the bow of the launch, reached out and grabbed the bow of the boat as George operated the launch motor. They couldn’t get between the shore and outboard boat as it was too close to the rocky shore.

Those old early launch motors had no reverse gear, but by quick, tricky maneuvering, one could reverse them by throwing off the ignition switch, quickly advancing the timer, waiting a second until the revolutions of the motor almost stopped, and then throwing on the ignition switch. Only by experience and practice could you do this, as there was danger of being too hasty and breaking a crankshaft.

George knew it was his only recourse, so he tried it. Hurray! It worked! So they backed into the waves as Dad held the outboard boat until they cleared the rocky shoreline far enough to be safe, stop the motor, tie the boat to the stern of the launch and return home. Had I gone, I would probably have failed and smashed both boats on the rocks. I have been in similar storms in a good rowboat, which, blessed with good strength, I much preferred to depending upon machinery.

In later years when, like Dad, I became the owner of our resort, in one bad storm I saw one of our guests with his outboard motorboat being helplessly driven by the heavy wind along a rocky shore across the lake from our resort. I saw a wall of rain coming up the lake, as the peak of the storm hadn’t yet hit.

I grabbed an extra pair of oars, threw them into a good rowboat and disappeared into the big waves and foggy mist. I no longer could see shore in any direction but, knowing the direction of the wind, I followed the waves at an angle for a distance of about a half-mile and came out almost exactly where I last saw the helpless, excited boat operator. Knowing he would be in the opposite direction of the wind, I followed the shoreline another quarter of a mile.

I found him, motor and all nearly swamped and helplessly driven back in the flowage among snags and logs, and I wondered how I could get to him. He was sitting in the stem of the boat with a big inflated tire tube around him under his arms. With the help of the big waves washing my boat over several bouncing logs, I managed to get to him. He was really frightened, but I assured him that right there, had we tipped over, we could still stand with our heads above water. We secured his boat to a more solid stump while, as we bounced in the waves, he got into my boat. I knew he wasn’t strong enough to fight the waves and get his boat out by himself.

We left his boat there, and I fought for ten minutes to get out over the logs to open water. Once out, I had good going, but it required endurance and strength, plus some knowledge of handling a boat, plenty of which I’d been blessed with. I rowed for about twenty minutes against the big breakers as we bounced up and down the crests and troughs of the waves. Soon I got into the lee of a point of land and from there on in, the waves weren’t so bad. Needless to say, my friend was happy to step out on the dock. About an hour later, we went back and got his boat after the storm subsided. Luckily, it had no holes in it-just some scratches.

There were many such instances experienced by guides and others. In one instance, on November 12, 1938, four men drowned fifteen minutes after leaving our dock. Their names were Horowitz, Beck, Delaney, and Belter and they were from Wausau, Wisconsin. They rented a 16-foot Thompson hydroplane boat from us and set out for Rice Creek. It was a terribly windy day, and as the wind was offshore at our end of the lake, no one realized how big the waves must be at the far end of the lake.

At about 8:30 o’clock in the evening, Mrs. Delaney called and asked if they had as yet left for home in Wausau. She mentioned that they were supposed to return early to be at a meeting. Often guests just renting a boat for the day stayed out on the lake fishing late, so until the telephone call, we thought little of their not returning early.

1983 newspaper clippings of CCC Camp Mercer article. Circa 1933-1942. Catalog Number 2020.8.3.

Since it was already dark, I called the CCC camp (Conservation Corps camp) and they, like us, thought possibly the men were waiting for the wind to die down before returning.

However, the CCC informed me that in the event the four men didn’t return by daylight, they would send out a search party in the morning.

This they did and found our 16-foot boat in the channel. Also found were a gas can, rod case and other items along the north shoreline of Island Lake. This was quite positive proof that they must have drowned, as further inquiry proved no one around the lake had seen them, although one or two wild stories led us to search in wrong areas at first.

A week or so of intensive searching and dragging the lake refused to reveal any bodies. The lake froze over a week or two after the drowning, which prevented further search, except before snow covered the ice. So the search was abandoned until spring, by which time the bodies rose to the surface.

In the spring, the bodies were found and, according to the time their watches stopped, they were only about 15 minutes on the water. If they hollered for help, no one heard because of the high winds and also because they must have capsized more than a half-mile from our resort. The strange part I could never understand was the fact that the motor was never found on the capsized boat, also no guns, no tackle and, most of all, no oars-and they had oars when they left our resort.

Over the years, other lakes had taken lives, but this was the first time Island Lake had a drowning.

One day on a return trip from minnow catching, we kids were caught in a most severe storm. As it got worse and the storm approached closer, we pulled ashore and took refuge under the roof of the three-sided sheltered depot of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway near Rice Creek. During our wait, the strong wind blew rain at us and, with the roof offering little shelter, we three huddled under a big poncho. The thunder was a continuous roar and lightning was steady.

The closest rail was about 10 feet in front of our depot shelter. As we watched, we were amazed to see a bolt of lightning hit the railroad rail across the river about 300 feet up the track.

We were what might be called mercifully “thunderstruck” when a moment later a bolt struck the rail directly 10 feet in front of us. It was the first time in my life that I clearly and distinctly heard the “hiss” or the “rip through the air” of lightning, before hearing the ear­ shattering roar of thunder that always follows. For a minute or so in the storm’s darkened daylight, all I could see were dark spots of all colors floating in front of my eyes. My tongue seemed to swell up momentarily until it filled my mouth, and I imagined I could taste salt.

None of us was hurt, but Bill McCarthy, my cousin, who was with us, said he felt a shock in the tips of his fingers. As we regained our composure and looked at the rail in front of us, we saw that there was a spot on the rail about six or eight inches long, where the lightning had hit, that looked like burned gunpowder or sulfur. After the storm subsided, we returned home only find most of the minnows dead in our tow box.

The following day, Dad went up to Rice Creek bridge to meet the train and from Island Lake to the bridge, a distance of slightly over a half-mile, he counted more then twenty old flowage rampikes hit by lightning or broken off.



One day while Dad, my brothers and I were working at cutting wood on Island Lake over in Stang’s slashings, about 1917 or so, we heard what sounded like machine gun fire-­ both intermittent and at times steady rifle shooting. Dad was bewildered as to what it could be. Upon arriving home, he asked Mother if she had heard from anyone as to what was going on up by Big Lake. Mother told Dad that someone had called her on the telephone reporting that there had been a murder on Big Lake, and a posse was out for the murderer.

Days after, this was the story we heard from Mr. Stranberg.

Mr. and Mrs. Powers had three cottages they used to rent to summer guests on the north side of Big Lake. One I recall was called “The Honeymoon.” I don’t remember the names of the other cottages. We often saw them as well as Mr. Powers as we fished Big Lake. In the winter during prohibition, a Kentuckian by the name of Donahue trapped furs and stayed with the Powers one winter. The men made moonshine. I don’t know where they sold it or whether they sold it at all.

Anyway, the story goes that Mrs. Powers and Mr. Donahue had a love affair, and one night Mr. Donahue took a hammer and killed Mr. Powers while he was asleep. He dragged Powers out behind the house and buried him in a snowdrift behind the cottage they all lived in. Since they were in a rather isolated area, with no roads, Mrs. Powers used to walk over the lake on the ice to a neighbor’s for the mail almost daily. Not seeing her for a week, neighbors became worried.

Finally, one day Mrs. Powers came across the lake for the mail but said nothing; however, she did leave a note on a stick in the snow where another neighbor’s trail crossed hers. In the note, she said she was being held captive by Mr. Donahue and that he had murdered her husband. Immediately, Mr. Bill Stranberg was notified, he being the local judge. Mrs. Donahue again escaped or went for mail, and was protected by local people. A posse was formed and, with many men with rifles, the house was surrounded. Through a loud speaker, Donahue was summoned out of the house and told to surrender. With a rifle he started shooting from the house at some of the men on the ice, after which a barrage of shots were returned from the posse. Again the megaphone was used to ask Donahue to surrender, but a curse to the posse and rifle shots were his only answer as he yelled, “Come on and get me, you sons of      !” Donahue thought that the only men there were the ones on the lake.

Many exchanges of shots followed, but Donahue was a poor shot. None of the posse men was hurt. With three groups of men, arranged so as not to get in each other’s crossfire, they slowly closed in around the encircled house. Finally, after Donahue ceased shooting, someone sneaked back of the house. By this time, not a square foot of the building or windows remained without a bullet hole. Even the phonograph inside the log house had several bullets in it.

With no noise, someone sneaked across the floor to a trapdoor leading to a small cellar below. There lay Donahue. With his last shotgun shell, he had blown off the whole top of his off, without another mark of having been hit. He was dragged out in the back and buried. As the rope was put around his neck to drag him out one of the posse said, “That’s the last necktie you will ever wear.”

I don’t know whether Mr. Powers was buried there or not, but only a year or so ago I showed my son-in-law Forrest Johnson where the cottages were. And only a grave marker and cement sticks plus knotted logs remained. Before or shortly after the shooting of Donahoe, Mrs. Powers left this county and as we were told the story by Bill Stranberg, the above is the account except Bill added, “It looked pretty shady and we told Mrs. Powers she should better make herself scarce.” No one to my knowledge has heard about her since. She must be long dead by now.