Bones ~ “Unsolved Mysteries of the North Woods”


With Halloween just around the corner, I decided to share some of the articles from nearly one hundred years ago that are about finding human remains, sometimes only bones, in Itasca County. There is one incident that warrants its own article (maybe in November), and it’s certainly possible that there are other stories that I haven’t found, or that never made it to the newspaper.

In each example, the person’s identity is not known, and none indicated foul play was evident. The Itasca Cemetery referred to in the articles, was later renamed the Itasca Calvary Cemetery.

 Skull is Found ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 11-22-1922

“A skull, evidently that of a girl 14 or 15 years old, was found last Saturday on the Jarvis Farm, four miles east of Grand Rapids, by Arthur Anderson while hunting. W. W. Libbey, deputy coroner, was notified and went out and got it. The skull has probably been there for 12 or 15 years according to Dr. Russell, who examined it after it was brought to Grand Rapids.  He believed it to be that of a girl 14 or 15 years of age.  How the skull came to be where it was found is somewhat of a mystery.”

 No One Able to Identify Body ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 12-10-1924

“Although the remains of the man who was found dead on the ice of Gunn Lake, last week were inspected by a large number of people, no one was able to identify the body and simple funeral exercises were conducted last Saturday, and the remains interred in the potter’s field in Itasca Cemetery.

The body was found by Ray Barcus and Fay Casper, who were looking up a location for a trap line. They were skirting the south shore of the north arm of Gunn Lake when they glimpsed a dark object on the ice, some hundred feet from shore.  They walked out and found the body of a man frozen into the upper surface of the ice. They at once went to Bert Pearson’s place on Sand Lake, some eleven miles away, and the nearest place where there was a telephone, and notified the office of the sheriff.

Coroner W.W. Libbey, and Mark Delaney went after the body, and found they could not drive their car closer than about four miles from the scene. A long low sled was taken in the car from Pearson’s and when the body was chopped loose from the ice it was strapped to the sled and hauled out by six men.  The body was lying face downward in the ice, with the hands under the face.  The clothes were such as a woodsman or trapper might wear, and the pockets contained nothing by which the man might be identified.  The trip back to the automobile proved to be a hard one, and the party did not return to Grand Rapids until the following day.

Careful examination of the remains by physicians did not disclose any wounds or injuries of any character.  It is thought that the man must have fallen on the ice from a sudden heart attack or stroke which caused his death.  He was a man of medium height, about five feet nine inches tall, weighs about 160 pounds, and apparently not far from sixty years of age.

So far as anyone can ascertain, there were no resident trappers in that part of the county.  No one lives within several miles of the place where the body was found and no reports of anyone missing that answers the description of the dead man have been made. The case will doubtless go as one of the unsolved mysteries of the north woods.”

 Ancient Grave is Found in Street ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 3-2-1932

“An interesting if somewhat gruesome discovery was made here Monday by men employed in excavation work for the water main extensions.  While digging in the middle of the block immediately east of the county hospital, the crew, which was under the supervision of Fred Birch, discovered pieces of an old pine box in the hole which was being excavated. 

Digging deeper, the men came upon the skeleton and other remains of a man, the only parts of the body left being the skull, red hair about sixteen inches in length, a set of teeth, and bones of the body.  The teeth were in good condition and were almost perfect in construction, indicating that the man was probably in the prime of life, about 35 years old, when he was buried.  The framework of the body suggested a medium sized individual weighing in the neighborhood of 150 pounds. The only remnants of clothing still remaining were a portion of a blue striped shirt and part of a suspender.  The shirt was of a style prevalent about 40 years ago. 

The remnants of the rough box and the bones were found four feet below the surface, the general position of the remains indicating that the man had been placed in the box on his side.  W.W. Libbey, county coroner, was notified of the discovery, and the remains were taken to the potter’s field for burial.

Residents of Grand Rapids recall that a number of years ago a cemetery was located at approximately the place of this discovery, the bodies later having been removed to the Itasca Cemetery.  The supposition is that in this cemetery this man, evidently an early lumberjack, was buried at the foot of a pine tree where it was discovered, and in the later removal of other bodies in the cemetery, was overlooked.” 

Road Workers Find Skeleton Near Bank of Big Fork River ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 6-8-1932

“Mysteries are continually coming to the attention of the people in northern Minnesota as the country is developed.  Occasionally, the buried remains of some early pioneer come to light and sometimes there is no clue as to the identity of the persons who lay in an unmarked grave.

Last Friday workmen engaged in hauling gravel, under the direction of Harry Lamson of Bustitown, were astonished to see portions of a human skeleton rattling down as the gravel bank caved in.  The work was being done on the north Bustitown road not far from the Big Fork River and at the foot of Muldoon Rapids, where there is a bridge over the Big Fork. Mr. Lamson at once notified the office of Sheriff Madsen and Deputy Crisp, accompanied by Coroner Libbey, went to the scene.

Investigation showed that the bones found were that of a tall man who had apparently been buried just below the surface at the top of the hill overlooking the river.  The condition of the bones indicated that burial had taken place many years ago, probably 40 to 50 years.  No fragments of cloth or evidence the body had been enclosed in a box or casket were found and there was no mark to indicate a grave.  The remains were very near the surface as the bones were covered by not more than a foot of top soil.

No indication as to the identity of the man buried there a half century ago were found.  The shape of the skull indicates that the remains are that of a white man. 

Old Timers recall that logs were driven down the Big Fork River at least 48 years ago, and perhaps even before that time.  Muldoon Rapids is a dangerous place for river drivers.  It is considered quite possible that some log driver met his death in the rapids at an early date and that his companions buried the body on the hill overlooking the river where his skeleton was found last Friday.  If no claim is made or any identity established after a reasonable interval the skeleton will be given interment on county property in the Itasca Cemetery. The skeleton is now in the possession of Mr. Libbey.”






Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s