Itasca County Resorts with a History ~ Leino’s Riverside Resort

Eighty-five years and counting!


Leino’s Riverside Resort, owned by Bruce and Sandy Leino, is on the Popple River in Squaw Lake. The resort was originally established by the Felters in about 1930 and might have been called the Forest Inn at the time. It has been owned by the Kananen and Leino families for eighty-five years! One of the unique characteristics of the resort is that right next to it is a building, also owned by the Kananen and Leino families, which had a dance hall on the upper level. Every Saturday night bands, such as Buddy Lawrence from Grand Rapids, provided dance music.

Early Squaw Lake Community History

Just after the turn of the century, Finnish people began settling in what is now Squaw Lake and surrounding areas. Some men, like Emil Kananen and John Hamalainen, came directly from Finland. John’s wife and children followed a year later. Emil immigrated on the Dominion in a crossing from Liverpool, England to Portland, Maine that took eleven days. The ship’s records indicate he was heading for Ely, Minnesota. By about 1903 he had settled on Round Lake about a half mile south of where the Popple River flows out. Other Finnish families that had first immigrated to Menahga, Minnesota also began making their way north as they learned that land was available.

Emil and John were both entrepreneurs and it didn’t take them long to see that the location of the Popple River, between Round Lake and Squaw (now Nature) Lake was a good place to establish a village. According to information on file at the Itasca County Historical Society, John Hamalainen, who wanted to establish a post office for the community, thought that Emil’s location was the best place for the post office. John had settled about one-mile further north, so the two men made a trade. John named the location Max, and he was the postmaster from January 1906 until December 1910. (The Max post office was later moved three and a half miles northwest, and in 1923 there was a post office established in the village of Squaw Lake.)

Emil built a sauna which he lived in for a couple years and a trading post both from logs he harvested from his land.  Emil began trading furs with the local Native Americans for essentials like milk from his cows, sugar, salt, flour, coffee, and tea. He purchased these items from towns where the train stopped, like Bena and Blackduck, both two-day trips from his trading post.

Emil and Hilda Kananen

In 1909 Emil married Hilda Uusitalo. Hilda had immigrated to the United States in August 1905 aboard the Saxonia. Her passage was paid by someone with the arrangement that she would work in Massachusetts until it was paid in full. Bruce Leino, grandson of Emil and Hilda, explained that the Finnish people were great letter writers, and that probably through an acquaintance the letter writing between the couple began. He believes Emil and Hilda, his grandparents, corresponded for several years. When Hilda was free to leave her obligation, she came to Itasca County, married Emil, and set up housekeeping in the frame home he had built.

The 1910 United States census shows that both Emil Kananen and John Hamalainen were proprietors of general stores. John of course was also listed as the postmaster. On the road between those businesses, six additional families had built homes, so it wasn’t long before the Kananen School, a log structure was built north of the house on the Kananen property. For years the Kananens boarded the local teachers. Their own daughters, Ellen and Vienna both taught school before they married. Sons, George and Toivo, had their father’s entrepreneurial spirit. Toivo expanded the fur business by also purchasing furs in North Dakota and Ontario. He sold to fur garment makers, such as Rothchild’s in New York. Other successful ventures include bullhead fishing and the sale of wild rice. George was involved in getting northern Minnesota wild rice into the markets and restaurants of the East Coast.

Eino and Ellen (Kananen) Leino 1937-1987

Ellen Kananen began her forty-two-year teaching career when she was just seventeen years old.  She taught in rural schools in the Grand Rapids District for almost ten years before she married Eino Leino.  Eino was born in Pennsylvania and was the son of Finnish immigrants. The family moved from Pennsylvania to Canada for a short while and then to Hibbing in the mid-1910s.  The 1930 US census documents that Eino was employed as a truck driver for the co-op grocery store. He was a talented accordion player and had a band of his own called the Night Hawks. Ellen heard the band play for a dance at a Buck Lake School fundraiser and asked if he would do the same at the school she taught at. He agreed.

The couple began a long-term courtship. Ellen continued to teach school, and Eino worked and remained in Hibbing. After the school year ended in 1937, it made sense for them to finally get married. Earlier in the year, a fire destroyed the hotel and store in Squaw Lake that was owned by the Felter family. The loss hit the Felters hard, and they sold the property which included cabins on the Popple River to George and Toivo Kananen. A large two-story building was erected which included a butcher shop and grocery on the main floor as well as living quarters and a spacious dance hall upstairs. It was one of the only structures in town to have electricity and indoor plumbing. The store was named Kananen Bros., the dance hall was named Riverside, and the resort name changed to Kananen’s. Eino and Ellen moved into the living quarters and managed the store and resort. Eino’s band played there occasionally and at other locations in the area.

Not long after the purchase, George and Toivo built a log cabin on the resort property. It is the only one that was made of Norway pine logs and the oldest cabin there now. Although the other cabins were referred to by number, the log cabin has always been called “log cabin.” Several years later, Eino and Ellen bought the resort which, of course, they renamed Leino’s.

During most of WWII, all the cabins were rented out to “war widows,” women who had married local men before the soldiers were sent overseas. There was electricity to cook on a hot plate and running water, but only outhouses. Nancy McDonald was one of these women.  She married Toivo Kananen in April 1941. Their daughter, Patricia was born the following spring, and their son Richard, a few years later.

Because of the shortage of teachers, Ellen was called back to teach when her oldest son, Bruce, was three years old and Eldon was only an infant.  Eino, who was exempt from serving in the military because his lungs were damaged when he contracted pneumonia in 1918, managed the family businesses.  After the war, the tourism industry picked up again so a few more cabins were added. At one point there were ten. 

Eino and Ellen bought the store and dance hall in the late 1940s and renamed the resort and store Leino’s Cottages and Grocery.  Bruce and Eldon helped with the chores that most boys growing up on a resort did.  They cleaned boats, hauled away fish guts, and mowed grass.  And of course, they had a chance to fish, swim, and get to know some of the kids who came to the resort. The brothers also helped in the store and the dance hall.  One of their responsibilities was to make sure there was plenty of crushed ice (harvested from Round Lake each winter) for beverages!

Bruce and Sandy Leino 1987 – current

Bruce Leino graduated from Blackduck and then attended Bemidji State College. He met fellow student Sandy there, and they married in 1967. After receiving his master’s degree in 1969, Bruce was hired as the Director of Kooch-Itasca Headstart and later was also the Executive Director of Kooch-Itasca. The Leinos lived in Squaw Lake with their children Michael and Kari.

In 1972 Bruce and Sandy purchased the Squaw Lake Liquor Store which they renovated and established as The Hill restaurant. Both had experience in the restaurant industry and worked side by side at The Hill for nearly thirty years. Known for its wild rice soup, prime rib, and the famous Hill Burger, it was a popular place for locals and visitors alike.

Eino died in 1984 and Ellen died three years later. Bruce and Sandy took over the responsibilities of the resort. They closed the store, though still catered events in the dance hall for many years.

The Harbor Bar and Resort located just south of the store was for sale in the late 1990s. Bruce and Sandy bought the property, took down all the buildings, and repurposed it as an RV park with 4 sites.  After selling The Hill restaurant in 2001, the Leinos downsized the resort by removing the oldest cabins. They built a modern duplex, remodeled cabin #10, and renovated a three-bedroom cabin on the other side of the Popple River. The Log Cabin is still the most requested by small groups because of its traditional log walls and stone fireplace.

Sandy wasn’t quite ready to retire, so in 2012 she opened a gift shop in the Leino store. Seven years later her daughter and son-in-law Kari and Cory Smith proposed starting a new restaurant. The owners of The Hill had a fire which destroyed the building and were not going to rebuild. In 2019, the gift shop was replaced by Leino’s Riverside Pub. And what is it famous for besides the made-to-order broasted chicken and homemade potato chips? The wild rice soup, of course.

Leino’s Resort and Leino’s RV Park remains a family run business. Bruce and Sandy, along with their children daughter Kari and husband Cory, and son Michael and wife Brigette, their grandchildren Brock and Kennedi have helped throughout the years and continue to as they are needed.

Chances are likely that the Leino Resort will stay in the family for at least a few more years. After all, it’s only fifteen years until it will have been in their family for one-hundred years!

“A Place Where Law and Order are to be Upheld” Itasca County During Prohibition

7.3.2022 [archived ~ previously published 8.23.2020]

NOTE: Tuesday July 5, 2022, is the one-hundred-year anniversary of the shooting that resulted in the death of Deputy Earl Pearl Hyatt. His family recently shared with me that Deputy Hyatt is honored on the Officer Down Memorial Page. Thank you for your service, dedication, and life Deputy Hyatt. You are not forgotten.

Making arrests, especially during Prohibition, could be hazardous, even in Itasca County.  In July 1922, John Lence caught wind that his home in Taconite had been searched for moonshine and that law enforcement was looking for him.  A train ran between Grand Rapids and Duluth several times each day. Lence was expected to be on the evening train and, if so, would disembark at the Holman station just east of Taconite.

Earl P. Hyatt and Howard Harmon are identified as deputy sheriffs and employed at the Oliver Mine as policemen.  As mentioned in a previous article on Prohibition, there were no specific guidelines for the enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment when it took effect in January 1920.  It appears that in Itasca County game wardens and mining company policemen had the authority to make illegal alcohol arrests. Hyatt and Harmon were waiting at Holman station.  When Lence got off the train, they planned to place him under arrest.  Lence had already decided as to how he wanted to deal with the situation. He shot both men, claimed self-defense, and was found guilty of murder less than two months later.

Moonshiner Shoots Two ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 7-5-1922

“Enraged because his activities in disposing of illicit liquor had been discovered, J.L. Lence, former Oliver policeman at Taconite, shot and seriously wounded E.P. Hyatt and Howard Harmon, Oliver patrolmen and deputy sheriffs, last Monday evening.  The shooting occurred at Holman, the Great Northern station nearest to Taconite, just as Lence stepped off the evening train to return to his home in Taconite.  Four shots were fired by Lence, three taking effect in Hyatt, and the other in Harmon.  Hyatt was shot twice through the neck and once in an arm, while Harmon was shot through the left breast, just above the heart.

“It appears that activity in moonshining was suspected of several individuals in Taconite, so the officers came to Grand Rapids on Monday and secured search warrants.  A search of three houses resulted in the arrest of Paul Salitero and H.N. Steinhart, and the finding of evidence in the Lence home.  Lence himself was away, however, and Hyatt and Harmon took the evidence they found and brought it and their two prisoners to Grand Rapids.  They then returned to Holman to await the arrival of Lence, who was expected on the Merry Widow train.

“Evidently, Mrs. Lence, or someone else knowing his location during the day, had telephoned him of the officers’ action, for when he got off the train, he had his heavy revolver in his right hand, carrying his grip in front to conceal it.  Seeing Hyatt and Harmon awaiting him on the platform, he opened fire as he stepped from the train, dropping both at once.  He then ran from the platform, and took the road to Taconite, escaping in the gathering dusk. His wife ran behind him, shielding Lence so that others who were on the platform could not shoot the escaping criminal.

“Word of the shooting was telephoned to the office of the sheriff in Grand Rapids and the Oliver police headquarters in Coleraine as soon as possible, and the injured men were taken to the Coleraine hospital.  The entire section between Holman, Taconite, and the mine pits to the north was surrounded, for it was thought Lence was hiding there.  Instead of that, however, he escaped through the cordon of guards and walked to a point two miles west of Coleraine, where he secured a lift from Claude Merritt of Deer River, who had been on the range and who was returning home.  Reaching Grand Rapids, the gunman first secured a lunch, and then went to the county jail and asked to be locked up, saying he had shot the officers.  He was immediately accommodated, and the hastily formed posse called in.”

The following day, the Iron Range News reported that while at Duffy’s restaurant, Lence heard that everybody knew what had happened and he told Deputy Sheriff Ed LeFevre that “he would no longer try to make his getaway.”

Although every effort was made to save Hyatt’s life, he died from the gunshot wounds two weeks later.  Immediately following Hyatt’s death, Judge Charles Stanton called a special term of the district court in Grand Rapids.  The term was scheduled to begin August 17. Both grand and petit jurors were drawn for the purpose of trying Lence, who was now charged with the murder of Hyatt.  It was one of the first murder trials in the county since women had the right to vote and be part of a jury. Alma Chalberg, the wife of Charles Chalberg of Goodland, “was ‘foreman’ of the [grand] jury which was made up largely of women.” [Iron Range News 8-24-1922]

John Lence

John Henry Lence was born about 1874.  At trial he stated he was from Kentucky, but the information in the 1930 and 1940 federal census records indicate he was born in Tennessee.  It is not known what brought him to Itasca County or when he arrived.  There is a Charles and Clara Lence in Bass Brook as early as 1905, but they were born in Iowa and Minnesota, respectively.  John Lence was married at the age of 42, and there are no known children.  He told Judge Stanton that while in Minnesota, he had lived a short time in Bemidji, Deer River, and Cohasset. When he got the job at the Oliver Mining Co., he and his wife lived in Taconite.  I have found no information on Mrs. Lence, other than that she died between 1930 and 1940.

Major Earl Hyatt

Earl Pearl Hyatt was born in Anoka, MN, in 1881.  He married Catherine Stewart, and together they raised two sons, James and Irving.  The 1910 Federal census shows the family living in Anoka, and Hyatt working as a store clerk.  Hyatt received the commendation of major during his nearly 20 years in the army.  He started as a member of the Minnesota National Guard in 1899, and by the time he returned from France after WWI he was a major.

The 1920 census shows Hyatt’s family living in Anoka, but he is not listed in the household. The Grand Rapids newspaper stated that he had been a deputy sheriff in Deer River before taking the job as a policeman for the Oliver Mining Company. Perhaps upon returning to Minnesota, he came north in hopes of securing a good position before moving the family.  General Albert F. Pratt was Colonel in the regiment in which Major Hyatt served in the army.  He was a friend of Hyatt’s and agreed to aid the prosecution in the trial of Lence, the man who killed his comrade.


The murder trial of John Lence began on Tuesday, August 22, with the selection of ten jurors from a pool of sixty men and women.  The following day, after two more jurors were secured, the presentation of evidence began.  There were fifteen witnesses for the prosecution and six for the defense.  Lence pleaded he shot in self-defense and, while on the stand, stated that the officers struck him with clubs. By late afternoon on Thursday, the case was given to the jury who returned a verdict several hours later.

Found Guilty of First Degree ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 8-30-1922

“‘Guilty of murder in the first degree.’ This is the verdict of the jury that tried J.L. Lence for the murder of Earl P. Hyatt, Taconite patrolman for the Oliver Iron Mining Company and deputy sheriff of Itasca County.  The evidence was all heard, the attorneys made their pleas, and the case was given to the jury, on Friday afternoon at 3:30.  It is reported that the jury determined the guilt of the defendant in less than ten minutes after entering the jury room, but that the degree which should be named took them several hours to decide.

“Judge Stanton and a large number of interested spectators were in the courtroom when the announcement was made late Friday evening that a verdict had been agreed upon.  The judge took his place on the bench, and the jury filed in.  After the verdict had been read, each member of the jury stated that it was his or her verdict.  The judge then congratulated the jury members on performing a difficult and disagreeable task in a satisfactory manner and discharged the members.

“The sentence was then passed upon Lence, who was present in the courtroom with his attorneys.  Judge Stanton imposed the penalty of imprisonment at hard labor in the state prison at Stillwater ‘for the term of your natural life’.

“During the trial, the defense attempted to enter a plea of self-defense in the killing of Hyatt and the shooting of Harmon.  This was disproved, however, by the testimony of a number of eyewitnesses who showed conclusively that no attempt was made to strike Lence or injure him in any way before the shooting was started.

“It is the general expression of opinion that the state’s side of the case was presented in the best possible manner by Ralph A Stone, County Attorney.  Mr. Stone worked diligently in the preparation of the case and presented the evidence in such a manner that it was clear to the jury, beyond doubt.  The summary disposal of this case, and the immediate sentence of the guilty man, will do much to put Itasca County on record as a place where law and order are to be upheld, and criminals punished.”

The jury for the trial included seven women and five men.  The newspaper listed the women by their husband’s names.  Instead, I chose to identify them by their birth name first. Elvira “Vie” (Crabill) Gary, Cohasset; Josephine Syverine (Noderhaug) Bartels, Cohasset; Emma Ruth (Sturgeon) Franti, Bovey; Eldora “Hattie” (Zimmerman) Franks, Coleraine; Mary (McDonald) Harlin, Marcell; Margaret (Benzing) Passard, Grand Rapids; and Mrs. G. Hill, Marble.  I could not find Mrs. Hill’s given name.  The men were: Albin Rudquist, Third River; James Duffy, Grand Rapids; John Rush, Bowstring; Ed Bowman, Nore; and Ernest Sweedman, Max.

Itasca County Resorts with a History ~ Lakewood Lodge

7.10.2022 [archived ~ originally published 7.6.2017]

Lakewood Lodge is in a quiet, protected 80-acre bay on the south end of Sand Lake. William Schultz and his sons built a two-story lodge during the years of 1917-1919, and it is believed the first sportsmen stayed with them in1917, making this the Lodge’s 100th year.  Though it is one of the first resorts to be built north of Deer River, it was an afterthought.  It was the Schultz farm for years before it became a resort. 

Schultz Family History

Wilhelm Johann Schultz was born in Germany in August 1873. At the age of four, he immigrated to a small German community near Eau Claire with his aunt and uncle.  By necessity, Schultz was industrious from an early age and was employed in a barrel factory making staves when he was only eleven.  

In June 1898, William married Mary Sophia Luebstorf, also of German heritage, and while living in Wisconsin, the young couple had three sons, Herman, William Jr. “Bill” and Henry “Hank.”  Striving to improve life for his family, the Schultz’s moved to Newport, WA in 1904 for the good-paying jobs.  Indeed, the weather was milder than in the Midwest, but the jobs were not exactly what they had hoped for, so they headed back east with another son, Harold “Buck” in tow. 

Learning that land was available for homesteading in northern Itasca County, Schultz filed on 80 acres in unorganized township147-26, twenty miles north of Deer River. During the winter of 1906-1907, William and his cousin Charlie built a two-room homestead cabin near the south bay of Sand Lake while Mary and the children lived at Shady Rest Resort in a small house with the owners.  

Darlene Vobejda, daughter of Buck, relates the following story: “By April, Mary had had enough of being in the cramped quarters and decided to hike to the homestead.  She carried a pistol for safety and pulled a hand sled with the smallest boys.  They walked across the bay because it was quite a shortcut, but when they got close, the ice had melted and receded so they could not get to the shore.  Mary couldn’t see anyone, so she fired the pistol a few times to get the men’s attention.  They came out and cut down a couple of trees, and helped them get to shore.

Mary was disappointed that there was still a dirt floor in the cabin and stated she couldn’t stay in a building with a dirt floor.  So, after the children were put to bed, the three adults spent the night laying a wood floor.”

The Schultz’s farmed for ten years, and the family grew to include another son, Levi, and two daughters Lenora and Orletta.  According to Bureau of Land Management records, by 1915 Schultz had acquired to additional 80 acres.  Now three of the four lots bordered Sand Lake, and since Mary had helped her parents run a boarding house in Wisconsin, they decided that operating a lodge for sports enthusiasts would be a clever idea.

As Proprietors of Lakewood Lodge

The large log building which served as the main lodge for many years was believed to be one of largest cabins in Itasca County at the time.  It consisted of a lobby, a dining room, kitchen and two screened porches on the main floor, and six sleeping rooms in the upper level.  All the furniture in the communal areas and bedrooms was hand-made, except the springs and mattresses.

In 1921 the first cabin was built, which rented for $5 a week!  (In 2005, it was moved from the property and is now used as a private hunting camp a short distance from the resort).  The Schultz’s built five more cabins and outhouses, as there was no electricity or running water.

One of the most interesting artifacts from the Schultz years is the guest register.  It indicates that people came from as far away as the Twin Cities, Chicago, and Ohio, to stay at Lakewood Lodge, as well as locals from Deer River or Grand Rapids who might come for a day of fishing and a sumptuous meal.  The overnight guests generally stayed at least two weeks; after all the train trip to Deer River took several days, and then there was a 2-day trip by horse and buggy along the rutted logging roads to the Lodge.

Herman, Bill, and Hank Schultz were fishing guides. Their days began at first light because they caught minnows for bait, then rowed the boats two miles up the lake to the narrows which let them into the big part of Sand Lake, and by the end of the day had rowed 10-15 miles.  After the guides cleaning the fish caught that day, Mary would fry them up for their guests.

The In-Between Years

In 1938, William and Mary sold Lakewood Lodge, and it changed hands a couple of times before it was sold to the Sieferts, who added cabins number 7 and 8, and in 1950 had the log lodge torn down.  They built a new lodge and a house where they lived. (The second lodge was used until fall 2006)

~ Sieferts sold Panekas but kept some acreage, built a cabin and still spend their summers at the lake. 

~ Panekas sold to Don and Terry Cook who moved north from a resort they had owned on Leech Lake. Don and Terry raised their boys here while making many improvements to the resort.

~ The Cooks sold Lakewood Lodge to Naylors. Roger Naylor was a teacher for the Deer River Schools and author of Black Rock Bay.  The espionage novel is set at a resort in Black Rock Bay and depicts Lakewood Lodge and Sand Lake in a fictional setting.

~ Naylors then sold to the Beahn family from Las Vegas who continued improvements to the resort and still vacation with fellow resort owners from their time in the area.  In the 1990s cabins 2 and 3 were built by the Beahns

~ The Beahns then sold to the Nelsons who owned and operated Lakewood Lodge for 9 seasons while making many improvements to the resort until 2001.  [excerpts from the Lakewood Lodge website]

Casselman Family

Steve and Danielle “Dani” Casselman decided to give up the corporate life when their boys were young and started looking for a resort to purchase in Minnesota.  For nearly two years they traveled weekends from their home in Nebraska to inspect options in the Brainerd area.  Eventually, their realtor suggested a resort a bit further north, so they packed the boys, diapers and all, for yet another trip.  It took only one visit to Lakewood Lodge for them to decide. “I sat in the swing overlooking the lake and said, ‘I feel at home.’” Dani explained.  Steve agreed wholeheartedly, so in 2001, they became the new owners.

In 2006 the Casselman’s made a substantial investment, purchasing additional acreage, building a new lodge and eight cabins, and remodeling several others.  It was at this time that several old cabins were sold and moved.  In addition to #1 moving just down the road, cabins #2, #3 and #4 found a second home as a bed and breakfast near the Effie Rodeo grounds.  One of the legacies of the Schultz reign is the plum trees they planted when they first settled on the property 110 years ago.

Now in their 17th season, the Casselman’s shared that their greatest accomplishment has been the lifelong friendships they have made with so many of their guests. “We have seen their kids or grandkids grow up, and they have seen ours.” Steve, Dani, and sons Stevie and Cole, have enjoyed vacationing with a few families, and recognize milestones such as graduations, weddings, births and anniversaries, etc. Every week of the resort season they look forward to familiar faces from all over the United States and as far away as Puerto Rico.

As far as interesting guests, they had been told by Ruth (wife of son Buck Schultz), that Al Capone might have stayed here during Prohibition…I wonder how many places Scarface turns up during this special series?  A well-known guest during the Casselman’s time is Carlos Silva.

“Carlos Silva, he pitched for the Twins 2003-2007, was a guest for some years.” Steve said, “One summer when we had an appetizer potluck contest, Silva, a native of Venezuela, made empanadas.” I asked if he won, and they laughed, explaining that he did, but “it might have been rigged – he had a lot of family here, and let them get whatever they wanted from the Lodge store. I was totally out of t-shirts and sweatshirts – had to place a rush order after the weekend!” Dani said.  

The Casselman’s have established a few traditions, but you’ll need to stop in to see what the ‘Bucket of Fun’ is all about!


In November 2020, Preston and Aimee (Beahn) Osborne bought Lakewood Lodge. Aimee’s family owned the resort during the 1980s.

Mary and Andrew Hanson ~ Accident or Murder? Law & Order in Itasca County

6.26.2022 [archived ~ previously published 9.8.2016]

Mary (Hedquist) Hanson circa 1895

On September 12, 1901, Mary Hanson was busy working in the kitchen of the home she shared with her husband and three small children.  She heard a commotion and turned, at the same moment a bullet struck her in the abdomen, killing her. The boys ages six and four looked on in shock. Their mother lay crumpled on the floor in a pool of blood and the rifle was in the hands of their father.  What had happened?

The Itasca News asked a similar question and detailed the immediate response of Andrew Hanson:

Accident or Murder? Itasca News 9-14-1901

Mrs. Mary Hanson of Moose Lake Found in a Pool of Blood. Her Husband Delivers Himself to the Sheriff Claiming He Shot Her Accidentally

“Andrew Hanson, a Swede living on Moose Lake, at some hour early Thursday morning shot and instantly killed his wife.   The shooting appears to be enveloped with considerable mystery, but the facts as nearly as can be learned as substantially as follows:  Hanson claims he was taking his rifle from a shelf or the wall when it accidentally discharged, the contents entering his wife’s body.  Taking his children, a boy of six and another some years younger, who were the only witnesses to the scene, he led them to the bridge crossing the thoroughfare between Moose and Deer lakes, and started them to their grandfather’s, Andrew Hedquist, where they told that their mother had been shot by their father.  Hanson himself took through the woods and made his way to Grand Rapids, surrendering to the sheriff and claiming he had accidentally killed his wife. 

Coroner Russell, Sheriff Tyndall, County Attorney Pratt and others took conveyance overland and proceeded to Hanson’s house.  Arriving there they found Mrs. Hanson lying in a pool of blood, shot through the abdomen, the ball taking a downward course, passing clear through her body, a dishpan, an inch pine board and flattening itself against a log in the house.  Considerable difficulty was experienced in securing a jury, the region thereabouts being sparsely settled.  The following gentlemen were finally secured: Jonas L. Long, John Bosley, L.W. Huntley, Gus Anderson, Oscar Norman, John Nyberg.”

Bosley, Norman and Nyberg were neighboring farmers. Huntley was a clerk at the courthouse and the other two lived in Grand Rapids.  All of the men were between the ages of 35 and 50.  The coroner’s jury reviewed the remains at the Hanson home and the body was released to the family.  The funeral took place on Friday, and the burial took place on the Hanson farm.

Mary (Hedquist) Hanson was born in Sweden on Oct 15, 1864, to Andrew and Katherine.  The family immigrated in about 1890, and according to an interview done by Elmer Mattila with Clarence Hedquist in 1994, the family name at the time they came to the United States was Anderson.  “The first two brothers that came over here, they said every other person on the street in Duluth, his name was Anderson.  So, they changed the name to Hedquist.”   At the time of her death, Mary had her parents, at least two siblings, John and Gus; and her children Richard, Theodore and Emilie living in the area.  Her husband was in the Itasca County jail. 

Hanson was visited by a News reporter at the jail the day of the funeral who commented, “He is on the verge of a mental collapse, the strain beginning to tell.  Questioned as to why he did not go with his children to their grandparents and notifying them or some of the neighbors, he could return no connected or intelligent answer.  It has long been an open secret in Hanson’s locality that he was morbidly jealous of his wife, almost insanely so.  What grounds he had, if any, will probably develop themselves at the trial.  However, the affair may be viewed it has most peculiar appearances.  Without any intention of prejudging Hanson and without desire to injure his chances of proving his innocence, the News wishes to remark that the first impulse of ninety-nine men out of a hundred under like circumstances would have been to have rushed for assistance.  No thoughts of personal consequences would enter the mind of any man until his wife had been properly cared for.  The trial will tell the whole story, however.  Until then the News withholds further comment.” [Itasca News 9-14-1901]

Hanson was indicted for the murder of his wife Mary in early December 1901 and his trial began on Saturday December 14, in front of Judge McClenahan.  “The prosecution had just completed its evidence when Hanson’s attorney, C.C. McCarthy, made a motion to dismiss the defendant on the grounds that not sufficient evidence was shown or existed to cause a trial against Hanson.  Mr. McCarthy laid much stress in his words and there was a feeling of general satisfaction all through the court room when Judge McClenahan stated in a few words that the accused man was dismissed.  The jury was then discharged, and Mr. McCarthy walked over to his pale client and in a low voice informed him he was a free man and could go home to his children.

Mr. Hanson will immediately resume to his home with his three little children, the oldest of which is only six years, and undoubtedly life will now be smoother for him.”  [Itasca News 12-14-1901]

It is hard to say how much smoother life went for Hanson.  At least to some he appeared to be emotionally distressed.  On April 29,1903 there was an insanity hearing for him on a complaint alleged by Charles Sterling.  Several neighbors were summoned and based on the evidence, he was discharged.  “…Judge Huson finding that Hanson was perfectly sound in mind.  Of all witnesses examined none ever heard Hanson speak irrational except Mr. Sterling.” [Itasca News 5-2-1903]

However, Hanson is an inmate at the Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane by the time the1905 Minnesota State Census was conducted.  For whatever reason, his three children are in an orphanage in the Washburn Orphan Asylum in Minneapolis.  According to the census record, they had been there 11 months, so were placed in July 1904.

Theodore and Emilie are still listed at the Washburn Home on the 1910 U.S. Census.  Richard is seventeen and was probably released to work for himself on his 16th birthday.  Their father remains at Fergus Falls and in February of 1911, he died and was buried in the cemetery on the grounds of the hospital.

The 1910 census was as far as I was able to trace Emilie Hanson.  The WWI registration indicates Richard was in Moody, SD and by the WWII registration he is living in Minneapolis with his wife Margaret.  A family tree on connects Theodore with the Washburn Home, and shows him residing in Wichita Kansas by 1915, where he lived until his death in March 1994.

Of course, I cannot help but to wonder if Richard, Theodore and Emilie Hanson saw their father after 1904, or if they stayed in touch with one another.  The tragic event that took place on September 12, 1901, and subsequently haunted their father until his early death, surely affected each of them for a very long time.

Itasca County Resorts with a History ~ Cut Foot Sioux

6.19.2022 [archived ~ originally published 7.12.2018]

The Cut Foot Sioux Inn, first established in 1916, is nestled in the heart of the Chippewa National Forest on Little Cut Foot Sioux Lake.  Little Cut Foot is connected to Big Cut Foot Sioux and Winnibigoshish offering 70,000 acres of water and plenty of fish of many species.  Walleyes are a favorite, and the Cut Foot Sioux walleye spawning site is within 450 feet of the main lodge.  Since the 1920s, eggs have been collected from female fish in April, raised in protected environments, and then placed in lakes through Minnesota.

According to a history compiled by Dori Stanek (owner 1975-1992), before being a resort, the location served as a trading post established by William Fairbanks in about 1892.  At that time there was no bridge, so Fairbanks built a ferry and charged a fee to shuttle homesteader to land across the channel.  The Hudson Bay Fur Company had a steamship built which traveled the waterways and docked for the winter at the trading post.

George Perry acquired the property in about 1916, and it is believed that the log trading post became part of the resort’s lodge.  The 1920 United States census shows that he was the owner and proprietor of a hotel on that location.  Very shortly after that, Perry sold the business to Mr. Herbert Bowen and his wife, Jessie, from Hibbing.

Early Years ~ Establishing Resort

The Bowens, along with their daughter Stella and her husband Albert Christie, did a brisk summer business, and by the close of the 1923 season, it was evident that more cabins were needed to accommodate guests.  Before the fishing opener, a six-room cottage, ice house, and storage building were added, as well as renovations to the main lodge.  A Delco lighting system was installed, ten new rowboats (bringing the total to 32) and five Evinrude motors purchased.

A favored site for the fishing opener, the May 21, 1924 issue of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review stated, “some idea of the size of the crowds that went fishing is gained when Herb Bowen reports that at the Cut Foot Inn, they fed 102 people for breakfast on Sunday morning.” Before that summer was over, Bowen had obtained a lease on the additional property on the north bay of Big Cut Foot Lake, two miles from the Inn, from the government, and several buildings were put for the fall hunters.

In March 1925, Bowen sold his interests in the Inn to his son-in-law, Albert Christie.  The Deer River News stated: “Mr. Christie needs no introduction to local people or the tourist public.  He has been associated with Mr. Bowen ever since the latter bought Cut Foot Inn and has been a large factor in the popularity the resort has developed.  Mr. Christie is one of the most accommodating men connected with any of our resorts and has always been popular with patrons.  Cut Foot Sioux Inn will take no backward steps under his management.

Mr. Christie is hard at work getting things ready for the opening of the resort season, and when fishing season opens May 15, will have his hostelry spick and span and ready for business.  We predict that it will grow in popularity.  The new proprietor is a hustler of first quality.” 3-12-1925

The Christies advertised the sale of the resort that same summer, perhaps hoping to cash in on the popularity, but I haven’t determined whether it sold, or to whom.

Middle Years ~ New Buildings

Sometime after 1930, Fred and Emma Willman bought the resort.  The Willman’s had moved from North Dakota, and no doubt appreciated the woods and lakes of northern Itasca County. Willman’s son Alexander and wife Enid helped run things, then Enid’s mother Bernice joined them.  After the 1944 summer season, Willman sold the resort to Jack and Lena Majerus with a unique ‘deal.’  “The transaction provides that Mr. Majerus bought the property and will operate it, but Mr. Willman will remain there, have the use of a cabin as the quarters for himself and Mrs. Willman, and will help out when times are busy, or help is short. Willman said, ‘it will give me a chance to live here, where I have lived so long, have something to do with helping to make the guests comfortable, and when I want to, I can go fishing with my old friends, and really enjoy myself.’” Mr. Willman died in 1947.

The Majerus’s were instrumental in replacing the main lodge and many of the cabins. According to the Forest Service, most of the buildings now on the resort property were built in the 1950s.  It was probably at this time that some of the cabins were insulated and could be used in the late fall and winter.  I did not find when the Majerus’ sold, or who other owners were, but do know Kenneth and Arvella Clay were the owners from about 1968-1975. Marv and Dori Stanek followed them, 1975-1992.

The first time I stopped at the Cut Foot Inn in the late 1980s, it was Dori Stanek who greeted me. She and her husband Marvin had considered many resort opportunities over a year or two, before purchasing from the Clays. During the nearly 20 years Staneks were owners, many interesting things happened, but one story she shared with me was especially entertaining. 

“It was an August morning when there was a knock on our door at 5:00 a.m.  I opened it, and there stood Virgil, from cabin 11, in his boxer shorts.  Behind him was his wife in her nightgown, and the couple they shared the cabin with, in similar attire. They were locked out of their cabin.  Virgil explained that they had heard an animal in the trash, and went outside, hoping to see a bear.  It ran away, but they climbed in their car, to watch, in case it returned.  It did, and they enjoyed watching the ‘wildlife.’ Returning to the cabin, they realized the door had locked in their haste and not wanting to wake us in the middle of the night, they slept in the car.”  

Other owners included: Bob and Ruth Mohrman, and Matt and Kris Lind.

Today ~ Fishing AND Families

This may be only the second summer as owners of Cut Foot Sioux Resort, but Jake and Amy Perrington’s combined experience of 20+ years working at other local resorts is very evident. With two boys, Jack and Lee, their vision has been to encourage more families to spend their vacation fishing.  Jack and Lee love to fish, and they’re starting to guide for guests this summer.

Amy stated, “Our location is perfect for family fishing because we are protected from the wind and foul weather – more chances for kids to have a fun fishing experience. We are establishing traditions like a potluck early in the week so guest can get to know each other, and s’mores around the campfire.  Of course, some families have their own traditions as well – fishing contests and such.”

No one can remember any famous people coming to Cut Foot. “But,” Amy said, “we have a lot of guests who have been here forever. Since they have been children, a lot of families, lots of memories.  Last summer group staying here and at the campground that celebrated 75th anniversary coming here, over 100 people for their reunion.”  The machine shed, outfitted for barbeques, music, etc. is available to guests for large group activities.

Jake works for Minnesota Power but spends his time at the resort fully engaged with guests and in the winter months with cabin and equipment upkeep.  Amy oversees the day to day operations with the assistance of competent staff, and of course, the boys are eager to help in any way they can. 

Amy is energetic and has a great outgoing personality – perfect for a resort owner!  The Cut Foot staff have a comfortable comradery and obviously enjoy working together.  Guests come from all over the United States.  “Each state has its own personality and each week has its own personality. People who get to know each other come back same time year after year and some even see each other outside of resort at other times during the year.”

The Perrington’s plan on a long career as resort owners, and it may even become a 2nd generation endeavor. “It has been a good decision for us,” Amy said, “Jake and I love the opportunity to raise our family here.”

Gone, But Not Forgotten ~ Willow Beach Resort ~ Old Itasca County Resorts


As most everyone who lives in Itasca County knows, recreation and tourism have been important facets of our community since before World War I. There was a significant rise in the number of smaller, mom and pop type resorts in the 1930s and early 1940s.

In his book Early Resorts of Minnesota, Ren Holland provides information regarding the resort population. “In June 1916 the Minnesota Game and Fish Department published a list of 564 summer hotels and fishing resorts. By 1930 there were 1,176 resorts listed in the Ten Thousand Lakes Association’s Minnesota Book.” [Early Resorts of Minnesota, Ren Holland, pgs 7-9]

After World War II resorts of all sizes flourished, but not all are in business today. “Gone But Not Forgotten” is a companion to my “Resorts With A History” series. I had intended to feature two resorts in this column until, during my research, I discovered that the Jack-the-Horse Resort near Marcell is still in operation! For sixty years my family has driven past the stone entryway of the resort with such an intriguing name. Gramps told the story of how the lake was named and explained that there had once been a resort. I was thrilled to learn the resort has stood the test of time and will feature it in Reminisce later this summer.

Willow Beach Resort

In the mid-1920s, Charles and Ruth LeMaster, along with their son Glen and his wife Oda, took a vacation trip to Northern Minnesota to explore resort possibilities. The LeMasters were from Ottawa, Kansas where they jointly owned a successful automobile garage business. It was on that trip that they met Levite and Anna Daigle who lived on the south end of Ball Club Lake just north of highway No.8 (now highway 2). The Daigles had homesteaded on a 46-acre parcel and received a land patent for it in 1916.

Charles and Glenn thought it was an excellent location for attracting visitors and proposed an agreement that would be advantageous to both the Daigles and LeMasters. In April 1926 construction of the Willow Beach Hotel was well underway. It had ten rooms on the second level and a large dining room and kitchen on the main floor.

“In addition to the hotel, seven cabins of latest improved type have been built, and another will be added within a month. These cabins are 16 x 18, with a screened porch addition of 8 by 16.  The cabins are built of selected tamarack logs about seven inches in diameter, peeled, and carefully fitted tongue and groove fashion so that chinking with plaster is unnecessary. All cabins are lighted by electricity, and each is so arranged that a stove can be installed for cooler weather in the fall of the year.

The resort has a bathing beach that is second to none. There is a splendid white sand bottom, and one may walk hundreds of feet from the shoreline without getting to a depth of waistline level. This makes it especially suitable for little children. There is no drop off, which makes the beach extremely safe. A 14-booth bath house has been built.

The owners have a fleet of 23 row boats, flat-bottomed, which they have built of special type, with high seats and oarlocks, and which ride the water remarkably well. Each boat is equipped for outboard motor, and in each is an enclosed fish box which does away with the nuisance of fish flopping in the open boat.” [5-27-1926 Itasca News]

The LeMasters planned to introduce a specialty to the tourists and locals – barbequed meats. They had a large brick oven built outside near the hotel. The inside dimensions of the oven were three feet by six feet with a height of six feet. The Itasca News described what barbeque was. “The principle is somewhat that of a fireless cooker.  In the oven it is possible to roast large portions of meat, or even entire carcasses.  Barbeque lunches will be a specialty at Willow Beach and will prove a pleasing and appetizing novelty.”

And indeed, Willow Beach became well known for its barbeque.

By July 1, the hotel and restaurant were fully operational. Eager to familiarize the locals with the new restaurant and barbecued meats, Willow Beach advertised their location as a “Fine Place to Spend a Safe and Sane Fourth.” For two days dancing, airplane rides, and a lunch stand where “deliciously barbequed meats of all kinds will be served,” were available.The airplane rides must have been a significant draw. The pilot, Clarence Musser, was to make a nonstop flight from Kansas City, Missouri and land on an aviation field at the beach. “He will take you up at unheard of low prices. You can afford to go up if you want to.” Row boats and motors were available to rent, and a launch would take parties for trips on the lake.

The resort’s grand opening was held on July 31, with the focus on the barbequed meats (including chicken), and dancing to music furnished by a first-class orchestra in the fifty-foot screened-in porch with a brand-new hardwood floor.

In 1927 a campground was added which included a kitchen and two shower bathrooms. The kitchen was screened-in and contained a wood range, gas stove, and hot and cold running water. The following year, the Willow Beach hotel and restaurant were winterized and remained open throughout the winter.

Charles LeMaster died in 1930, and Levite Daigle died in 1938. Whatever arrangement the gentlemen made regarding the partnership remained in place until 1946 when the cabins were sold to Tony Daigle, one of Levite’s sons. They were renamed Willow Beach Cabins.

In 1947 Paul Christian bought Willow Beach Cabins. At the time of the sale two of the original log cabins had been dismantled and removed. Three frame cabins had been added. Two years later, Glen and Oda sold the Willow Beach Hotel and restaurant to Paul Christian. The land continued to be leased from Anna Daigle, wife of Levite.

There were numerous owners during the next fifty or sixty years. Eventually the cabins were gone, and for a while there was a small mobile home park. At some point there was a fire in the upper floor, where the hotel rooms were. Because it could not be salvaged, that portion was removed, and the roof was lowered.

The tradition of barbeque continued through many owners. In the 1970s and 1980s Willow Beach was a very busy restaurant which boasted seafood and steaks along with their specialty, barbequed ribs and chicken. Although I did not eat in the restaurant, I do know that my grandma Marcotte was a cook there, for at least one summer. She lived in the mobile home park, and I got to spend a couple of days with her when I was eleven. Grandma made me one of her favorite meals, and one I had never had before nor since – frog legs. I wrote a short memoir piece that has been published about her and our meal. If you would like to read it, send me a message and I will share it with you.

Jim Daigle, grandson of Levite remembers the years when the restaurant was busy. As a teenager living next door, he was sometimes called over in a pinch to help with dishes.  His brother Jerry worked there for a while and had the title of maître d’. Maybe a bit fancy for Ball Club, but Hugh and Mary Cain had a lucrative business, and Willow Beach had an established reputation for fine dining.

And speaking of reputation, if you heard that there were go-go dancers at Willow Beach, you would be correct. That was in the later years. Eventually it was more of a bar than restaurant, and last summer the vacant building was taken down. Owners include, but are not limited to: Ray and Inez Gardner, Hugh and Mary Cain, Erik Meyer, Larry and Sharon Leonard, and Joe Villeneuve.

The name and barbeque sauce recipe live on. Old Willow Beach BBQ Sauce became available to the public about ten years ago. Jim Daigle grew up enjoying the barbeque sauce and learned to make the recipe years ago. In about 2010 he began making bigger batches and bottling it for family and friends. Those who had eaten at Willow Beach were thrilled to use it at home. Those who tried it for the first time and liked it, were pleased to be able to purchase it.

Jim’s Old Willow Beach BBQ Sauce took second place in the 28th Annual American Royal World Series Barbeque Contest in Kansas City, Missouri in 2015. The contest is the largest of its kind in the world. His entry was in the tomato mild category where there were 150 entries. Old Willow Beach BBQ Sauce also placed fifth overall against 390 entries. Jim was delighted that he won in such a prestigious competition and proudly labels his BBQ sauce as award winning! And it is. Yes, I speak from experience.

If you have a favorite Itasca County resort that is no longer open, but has a fun history and a few memories, please let me know ~

Law & Order ~ Can Mrs. Whitt Match Wits with Cochran?

6.5.2022 [archived ~ originally published 6.1.2017]

On May 16, 1907, Allan Whitt was shot and died almost instantly.  There were three individuals with Whitt at the time of the incident.  Mrs. Mary Whitt – his wife, Fred Anderson – a neighbor and Dave Cochran – a neighbor.  Who fired the fatal shot, and why?

Cochran Fired Shot Says Coroner’s Jury ~ Bemidji Daily Pioneer 5-24-1907

“Grand Rapids, Minn., May 24 (Special to Pioneer.) – Coroner Russell unexpectedly held an inquest yesterday in the case of David Cochran, a prominent attorney, who is accused of murdering Allen Whitt, a homesteader, residing near Deer River.  The verdict was that Whitt came to his death as the result of a bullet wound, shot from a gun held in the hands of the defendant, David Cochran.”

Cochran Hearing is Held Yesterday ~ Itasca News 6-1-1907

“The preliminary hearing of David Cochran for the killing of Allan Whitt near Wirt, came up at the Rapids yesterday morning.  The case had not been finished last night, and it was expected that it would be completed today but up to the time of going to press no news of the decision had been received.

Cochran is accused of having killed Allen Witt a week ago at the house of Fred Anderson near Wirt.  Cochran claims that the shooting was in self defense.

The story which comes as near the truth, probably, as any, is to the effect that Anderson and Cochran were to locate Whitt on a claim and while on their way to it they had a quarrel in which it is alleged Whitt said he would shoot Cochran.  Late in the day while Cochran was cleaning his gun, Whitt is alleged to have come to the house and Anderson, who was in the rear end of the room heard him say he was going to shoot Cochran.  He heard a shot and then another following.  It seems that Whitt had fired through the door and Cochran had also shot through the door, his bullet entering Whitt’s heart.”

So, the two questions answered.  Cochran fired the fatal shot and stated the reason was self-defense. Anderson’s testimony concurred with the above explanation, but that of Mrs. Mary Whitt did not.  In fact, after her testimony, Fred Anderson was also arrested.  Both men were charged with murder in the first degree, a charge to which each replied, “not guilty,” when the indictment was read.

In the weeks between the indictment and the trial, “there were sides to this case.  The people in Deer River and along forty miles of railroad to Wirt, where the tragedy was enacted, believed the story Cochran told them: that he killed Whitt purely in self defense.

On the other side, the woman in the case, claiming to be the wife of Whitt, claimed that only one shot was fired, that by Cochran, and that the other shot passing through the house and out the rear window was done long after the first shot, by Cochran or his friends, to be claimed in defense.  At Grand Rapids this story carried… and a few men could be found at Grand Rapids who did not believe the plain ‘straight’ story of the woman, or who would believe Cochran would be free.” Itasca News 7-20-1907

Thursday, July 18, 1907, the trial was to begin with the selection of the jury.  Prosecuting attorney Thwing made a motion to dismiss the defendant, Cochran and his alleged accessory, Anderson.  George H. Spear, the attorney for Cochran, was diligent in his cross-examination and brought up several points that caused the state to do some investigating on their only witness. 

“By crossing herself several times in the stories the woman told prosecuting attorney Thwing, that official was led to believe that the case would be lost, and he made a searching investigation as to her character and became thoroughly convinced that further trial with only her as state’s witness would be useless expense and time.” Itasca News 7-20-1907

The reasons for the motion to dismiss included:

[1] Mrs. Whitt was in fact, not the wife of the deceased, but had been married to Harry Rosen. “The claim that she was the wife of Whitt was naturally a very material fact for the state, especially since she said she was the only witness to the tragedy, and that as Whitt died [she said] he murmured, ‘My wife.’”

[2] Witness’ testimony regarding the shot lodged in the window sill (which the defendant claimed was filed by Whitt) did not make sense.  “The Rosen woman swore in the preliminary trial that only one shot was fired, and that was Cochran’s.  She claimed that the other shot must have been made the next day and aimed through the window back of where Cochran stood.  It was on this story that the falsity of the woman was proven, as well as her lie that she was the wife of the dead man.”

[3] Witness had a questionable past. “The defense also was in a position to show that the woman was known all through Northern Wis.; that she had participated in various escapades at Cadott and Abbottsford, and also Curtis and Chippewa Falls; that her husband was Harry H. Rosen, who obtained a divorce from her in the district court of Hennepin county in April of this year, on the ground that she had committed statutory offenses with Allen Whitt, Geo. Stacy, Tony Olson and other persons.”

After hearing the basis for the dismissal request from the prosecution, Judge McClenahan immediately discharged the two innocent men and ordered the woman jailed and to be held for trial for perjury.

Cochran and Anderson Freed ~ Itasca News 7-20-1907

County Attorney Moves Dismissal.  Whitt Woman Jailed on Perjury Charge

“…Those who knew Cochran best believed in him, and they said the law of nature did the work well.  As evidence, the woman now occupies the cell he vacated, and a trial for perjury may land her in prison.  This was one case the newspapers can gladly say they did not try.

Judge Cochran is known in Minnesota, having lived in Wright country for twenty-five years before coming to Deer River two years ago, and in Wright county was judge of probate for many years… Mr. Cochran and his daughter arrived at Deer River yesterday, and the judge has been busy receiving congratulations and thanking his many friends for the kind assistance they tendered him in his trial.”

First Comes Love ~ Erick & Viola Carlson

5.29.2022 [originally published 2.12.2015

Viola and Erick Carlson’s Wedding photograph ~ August 11, 1953

It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight, but almost.  Erick Carlson and Viola Wass met at the infamous VFW roller rink at Talmoon in 1951. Erick was twenty-one, and had dated a little, but thoughts of other girls were gone from his mind once he got the shy gal from Bigfork talking and laughing.  Their long distance (it was 25 miles of mostly dirt road) relationship continued while Erick farmed, logged and worked in the commercial fishing operation at Cutfoot; and Viola helped her mother with four younger children at home. 

About two years later, Erick sauntered in to the jewelry store in Deer River with his hard earned cash.  He took Mr. Samela’s advice on his selection, and while dining at the Sportsman restaurant, Erick pulled a small jewelry box from his pocket.  He extended it towards Viola and said four very special words, “Will you marry me?”   Viola’s heart was all aflutter and she nodded affirmatively before the word “yes” came out of her mouth. 

Erick is the younger of two sons.  His birth was uneventful, but the journey from the hospital in Grand Rapids to the family home in Sand Lake took a week. “Doctor Hursh, who cared for Agda and delivered Erick, brought them by car as far as Ted Alzen’s home in Jessie Lake.  The roads were blocked by a snowstorm, so they remained there for one week.  A. D. Grant, a missionary pastor who lived at Jessie Lake started out and got as far as 4½ miles west of Spring Lake.  Travel by car became difficult and the mailman, Pete Ostlund came along with a team of ponies and small cutter with a small shelter on it and brought them the next 4½ miles by US Postal Delivery.” Excerpt from Erick’s memoir written in 1995.

Erick had lived and worked with his father and brother on the 80 acres farm on Little Sand Lake for as long as he could handle the tools needed for the job.  His parents, John and Agda, had emigrated from Sweden in 1923 and were pleased with his decision to marry Viola, for they knew she was a farm girl and understood what it meant to keep a farm going.

Viola was one of nine children.  She was born in Long Prairie, but her family moved to Bigfork when she was 8-years-old.  Yes, Erick’s parents were correct, as Viola’s father had farmed and she was used to helping him with chores along with her older brothers.  In fact, she admits that she was quite a tomboy, and loved summer when she didn’t have to wear shoes.  She had a great fondness for farm animals, especially cats and would spend many hours in the barn with them as a youngest. 

Viola’s mother and sisters helped her plan her and Erick’s wedding.  The date of August 11, 1953 was set with Reverend Dean Carlson (no relation) officiating at the parsonage in Bigfork.  Rusty Wass was the best man and Carol Hansen the maid of honor.  After the wedding Erick spirited Viola away for a trip up the North Shore in his 1946 Chevrolet.

Upon their return, they lived with Erick’s folks while Erick and his father built a second house on the property.  The following year, John and Adga moved into the new home.  Erick and Viola settled into the “big house” as it was now called and started a family.  By the end of 1960 they had two daughters and a son.  Erick always maintained a day job, but also worked on the farm with his father.  He and Viola had a large garden which they supplemented with woodland products of wild rice, maple syrup and game as time and the seasons allowed.

From the beginning of their life in the “big house” Erick and Viola worked well together.  Viola was resourceful and organized.  She used what she had on hand to make good home style meals (frequently meat and potatoes as that is what her family preferred) and always had cookies or cake and coffee like every other Swedish family in our county.  She was proficient on the sewing machine and sewed dresses for herself and daughters Cindy and Sherry; and shirts for Erick and son Curtis. 

When the children started school, both Erick and Viola took an active role, and soon became a part of the Parent Teacher Organization.  It didn’t take long for others in the area to see the leadership of the Carlson’s and between them, during the past fifty years Viola and Erick have represented the communities of Sand Lake and Squaw Lake in just about every capacity possible.  “Finally,” Viola says with a relieved sigh, “I think I am done volunteering.”

Always ready to try something different Erick and Viola took square dance lessons, and were a part of the North Country Swingers club for many, many years.  “I made all our outfits,” Viola said, “They had to match, and we had to look good when we gave exhibitions.  She and Erick laughed recalling the time an exhibition at Showboat required them to step lively and NOT get too close to the end of the platform or they’d land in the Mississippi River!

Erick has played the accordion since he was six years old.  He loves music and enjoys performing with others.  In 1983, he and Viola thought it would be fun to have a big music jamboree with all the musicians in the community, and held the first Pick’n’Post event in a pole barn on their property on that 4th of July.  “We didn’t advertise, except for a cardboard sign at the end of the driveway, but always had close to 100 people who attended,” Erick explained, and Viola added, “It started right after supper and went on late into the night.  We’d clean out the pole building, stack hay bales for seats and we even bought a sound system.”  This much anticipated musical endeavor became an annual event for 17 years!

Viola and Erick agree that their marriage has been a good one.  Viola believes that it this is in part because they have tried to live by the Ten Commandments.  “We give and we take,” Erick says.  “We talk things through and we listen to each other.”  He looks at Viola, she nods in agreement so he continues, “She is the organized one and I rely on her to keep me on the right page.”  

This is certainly true as I listened to both of them talk.  Viola has kept a journal for 56 years.  She began it in 1959 and has written in it nearly every day.  When they started Carlson Excavating in 1974, Viola was in charge of the bookkeeping.  They ran this business together, though Viola also worked outside the home.  The excavating company  is now in the capable hands of their son Curt.

They learned at the time of Viola’s cancer diagnosis in the early 1990s just how much they depended on each other.  Thankfully, Viola was part of a clinical trial that worked very well and she has been cancer free for 24 years.  In 1995 Erick experienced several health problems, but her support and his determination brought them over that hurdle together.   They began taking things a little slower about this time and did some traveling.  The Carlson’s have been to Sweden for three extended vacations, meeting more relatives with each visit.  A few winters in Arizona was a relief from the Minnesota cold, but as of late, winter or not, Minnesota is home and that is where they are.

Erick had a stroke in the spring of 2013 and though they managed at home for a while, by the end of the year he was moved to Homestead.  Viola talks to Erick everyday and visits several times a week with their little dog Duke, who has become a favorite four legged creature of all the residents.  Each Sunday Erick spends time back at Sand Lake, attending the Northwoods Chapel where Chris Reed is pastor, and eating one of Viola’s home cooked meals.

One of the wonderful things about the Carlson marriage is that that have celebrated the milestones in style.  On the 25th anniversary they dressed up in the square dancing outfits Viola had made, and had a party with family and friends. In 1993, on the 40th anniversary they renewed their vows with Reverend Dean Carlson once again officiating, and had a garden party at the lake on a beautiful summer day.  Erick looked good in a new suit, but he says that Viola was stunning in her 40 year-old wedding dress and said that no alternations had to be made!

Their children and grandchildren planned, organized and honored them for the 50th anniversary in 2003.  There were poignant and humorous memories shared by Cindy, Sherry, Curt, the spouses and children.  There was music (of course), friends and plenty of food. The Carlson’s have four grandchildren Andrew, Elizabeth, Ashley and Travis.  Last November, the first great grandchild, Adeline Rose was born.  On August 11th of this year, Viola and Erick will have been married for 62 incredible years.  That is almost the same as a fancy box of Crayola color crayons!

Itasca County Bear Tales

5.15.2022 [archived ~ originally published 6.2.2016]

This is Boo-boo, the bear that made a second visit in 2016!

Like most of us who chose to live in Northern Minnesota, I pay attention to the wildlife.  In fact, I record the activities around Chase Lake in the months there is no ice on the water.  Two weeks ago, was the first time I saw a black squirrel.  And last Tuesday was the first time I saw a black bear, and I don’t mean a fleeting glance, I mean right outside my window. 

He ambled over to a suet feeder like he’d already cased the place and was just waiting for the right opportunity. In one neat swipe he had ripped it down, moved under a large pine and proceeded to eat the remains of the woodpecker’s suet.  I snuck outside and watched in awe from a safe distance, until he left ten minutes later.

Boo-Boo as we dubbed him, was not wearing his customary bow tie, but a fancy radio collar.  He also had tags of orange and blue in his ears.  I read on MN DNR website that to keep bears from becoming a nuisance, bird feeders should be brought in at night, which I have since made a habit.  When I saw Boo-Boo checking my deck for handouts again on Thursday, I made a visit to the “bear guy” at the DNR in Grand Rapids to find out more about the biggest furry critter to come into my yard 

Based on their records and my description, we believe this was one of the recently collared bears in the Suomi-Deer River area.  Apparently Boo-Boo has a range of about 100 square miles, and though he and other bears are still living off of winter body fat, they are struggling somewhat because of the late spring.  As soon as the sarsaparilla is blooming, I was told, the bears should spend more time feeding in the woods. 

In honor of Boo-Boo, who I hope to see only from afar in the future, I found a handful of articles from the Bigfork Settler newspaper, between 1903 and 1908.

The first is simply called “A Bear Story” and though published in December, it is assumed the event described took place in late autumn.  “The most interesting story we have heard for some years comes from one of a party of land lookers in the region north of Deer River.  A party of six ‘tender feet’ started out last fall to secure homestead and stone and timber claim on lands not yet opened to entry, intending to squat upon the soil and make entry as soon as declared open. 

The party was camped one night on a hardwood ridge north of the Big Fork River and soon after the evening meal was partaken of, the young men and one woman were snugly curled up under the blankets for a nights rest.  Sometime in the night, our informant does not know the exact hour, a rustling was heard in the bush just back of the camp and the warning danger signal was given to the party. 

‘That’s a bear,’ said one of the campers, a dapper red haired clerk in a Minneapolis department store and this opinion was readily assented to all because none had experience and neither had ever seen or heard a bear in the forest.”

The story continues in great detail, but in summary, the very wide-awake campers chose the man with the steadiest hands to be in charge of the double-barreled shot gun. Another rustling in the woods, caused a yell of fright and two creatures could just barely be seen scrambling up a nearby spruce.  When daylight came, there was no sign of the bears, not even cubs, but there were two porcupines!

And speaking of bear cubs, years ago there was an occasional woodsman, or maybe several trying to ‘best’ each other and that is probably what happened when these cubs were found.  “Last Monday Will Norberg and  John B. Rahier were on their way to Effie when they came in contact with an old bear and two cubs near Axel Damgren’s place.

The cubs were up a tree and Mr. Damgren was called who came with his rifle and then the three men proceeded to capture the cubs alive.  Mr. Norberg climbed the tree after them and being unable to handle them both in the tree, he threw one to the ground which made its escape taking with it a red handkerchief belonging to Mr. Damgren, that had been tied around its neck in order to hold it.  The old bear ran off through the woods and also escaped uninjured.  Mr. Norberg gathered the remaining cub in his arms and started for his home. 

Mr. Damgren now advertises as follows:

LOST – One black cub with red handkerchief tied around its neck.  If the finder will return same, he can have the neck wear for his reward.” [12-31-1903]

I especially enjoyed this story from exactly100 years ago.   “John Duff and Chas. Larson, two well-known and successful hunters in this vicinity, had a little experience last week which caused them considerable astonishment.

Near Mr. Duff’s place on Coon Creek fresh tracks were seen in the mud and the discoverers thinking they were bear tracks hastened to inform the two experienced bear hunters of the fresh signs. After making careful examination the two men started in hot pursuit after their game stopping occasionally to make sure they were on the right track and after they had covered several miles through the swamps and brush they began to feel quite anxious as the shades of night had begun to fall upon them and still no bear had yet been seen when suddenly two dark objects were noted ahead and with a look of triumph and determination written in their features the pursuers grasped their rifles firmly and cautiously drew near their eagerly sought prey but imagine their chagrin when they found our two old dusky friends, Busti and his wife who had been traveling through the woods wearing moccasins.” [5-31-1906]

And finally, bear meat for the supper table. “Arthur Gilbert and Fred Peloquin came in contact with a bear while out boating on the Rice River last Sunday and when they returned home Mr. Bruin rode in the boat with them with an ugly wound in his body which was the cause of his death.” [8-6-1908]

Boo-Boo and his friends are certainly not as numerous in our woods as they were back when these stories were written, but I am still glad the DNR is keeping a close watch on them.  And I checked, and according to John Latimer’s phenology report on KAXE, the sarsaparilla is starting to bloom.

Itasca County Resorts with a History: Georgene’s Haven


This is the twentieth Resorts with a History column I have done since I began them in 2017. All the resorts featured started early in Itasca County’s tourist industry and are still in business today. Georgene’s Haven on Bowstring Lake has the unique distinction of being owned and managed by George and Jean Thom for fifty-four years!

Dr. George Fredrick & Esther Hawes 1932-1946

This little piece of paradise was first referred to as a resort in the mid-1930s when Dr. George Fredrick and Esther Hawes bought four hundred feet of lakeshore on Bowstring Lake from Maley and Rose Johnston. Hawes had served as an Army surgeon in France during WWI and resumed his medical practice in Omaha, Nebraska, until he began looking toward retirement. It is not known if Hawes had learned of Itasca County fishing lakes from a buddy in the army or a patient, but it didn’t take much to convince him and Esther it was where they wanted to spend the rest of their years.

In 1933 they began the construction of their log home and a guest cabin for their friends. The following year Hawes re-enlisted and spent three years at a Medical Corps Field Hospital in Pennington, North Dakota. Of course, he was at Bowstring Lake as often as his schedule permitted. By 1936, Hawes added a second guest cabin and named their place “OmaHawes Cabins.”

The 1940 United States Census lists George Hawes occupation as proprietor of a summer resort. Others having summer resorts on the same census sheet are Rose Johnston, Olaus Coffman, Keith and Amy Scott, and Rose Williams. The Hawes lived in their log home until their deaths in the late 1960s. They are interred at the Pine Ridge Cemetery, Deer River. The house is still owned by a private party.

In-between Years 1946-1967

OmaHawes Cabins stayed under that name through two more owners, and sometime after 1958 was renamed Skoog’s Cabins.

In 1946, the Hawes sold the property to the west of their home, along with the two guest cabins and an icehouse to Charles Perry and his wife from Hammond, Indiana. George and Esther continued to live in their home on the lake. The Perry’s referred to the first two cabins as #1 and #2. They remodeled the old icehouse for their living quarters and a small store. They also built cabin #3, invested in a deep freezer so guests could take part of their catch home, and continued to call the resort OmaHawes Cabins.

The Perry’s sold the resort to Elmer Robbins and his wife in 1951. The Robbins owned the resort for only two years and did not make any changes.

Oscar and Isobel Skoog were owners for more than thirteen years and eventually renamed it Skoog’s Cabins. They updated and winterized the living quarters (former icehouse), built cabin #4, and purchased a sixteen-foot alumacraft boat for each cabin. In the late 1950s the Skoogs bought an additional five hundred feet of lakeshore which included a house and garage. The Skoogs built cabins #5 and #6. They also renovated the additional property (built in 1942) as cabin #7.

In the early 1960s, the Skoogs built a two-bedroom house on the sloping hill overlooking the lake. The home that had been previously occupied by the owners (the icehouse) became the final cabin, #8. At that time the Skoogs modernized all eight cabins with gas heaters, gas water heaters, showers, etc. They also purchased additional fishing boats. Adjacent land came up for sale in 1965, so the Skoogs purchased another one hundred feet of lakeshore. Two years later, they sold the resort to the Thom family.

Thoms & Georgene’s Haven 1967-

Bernett and Thelma, along with their son George, his fiancée Jean, and her young son, had no trouble selecting Skoog’s Cabins as the perfect resort for them. Bernett wanted to do something besides farming for the last years of his life, so he and Thelma moved from Jamestown, North Dakota before the start of the summer season in 1967. They loved the size of the resort and didn’t plan on adding cabins.

George and Jean married in 1968 and worked side by side with George’s folks as their summer schedules allowed. George was a teacher and Jean a registered nurse. “When Dad died in 1972, we took over,” George said. “My mother was a nurse, like Jeanie, so she moved to Grand Rapids to be closer to work, and we settled into the house here. That’s also when we decided on the name, Georgene’s Haven.”

The name was distinct from the other thirteen resorts that were on Bowstring Lake about the time the Thom’s purchased it. There are now only four (others are Trails End, Northern Acres and Bowstring Shores). “Owning a resort is a tremendous amount of work,” Jean said. She smiled, “but a great place to raise our three kids. They all had a hand in cleaning cabins, lawn care, boat maintenance and selling bait.” George and Jean, both in their eighties, have help with all of the above now, but they aren’t ready to give up the resort life.

During their ownership, they have learned to be a Jack (and Jill) of all trades. The first septic systems, they put in by hand. After hearing Jean recount the experience, I would say that was a true test to their marriage commitment! Cabin #2, one of the oldest, was taken down early in their ownership. The other seven are all the original cabins (built between 1933 and 1960). Of course, have been renovated and updated as necessary to meet the needs of the families.

Raising their children while running a resort and working took a tremendous amount of cooperation and patience. Their children. Ronald, Rebecca, and Ryan attended school at Spring Lake and/or the Deer River High School. George worked at Blandin Wood Products (Blandex), which later became Potlach for 30 years, retiring in 2003.

Thirty years ago, Jean chose to continue her education and was accepted into the medical program at UND in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She obtained both her nurse practitioner and physician assistant certifications. Most of her practice was at Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital. Her last three years were at Essentia Health in Deer River, where she retired at eighty years of age.

In the 1970s the Thoms added a swimming pool and game room. Later they established four campsites. Most recently they put up a large building with bathrooms and plenty of storage. They are proud of their resort. “We own Georgene’s Haven, we don’t owe it,” Jean said.

Over the fifty plus years, their guests have come from Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, southern Minnesota, the Twin Cities, and Duluth. And, they return year after year. Even through the two Covid summers their numbers were good because guests could maintain their distance. As with so many of the resorts that I have written about, resort loyalty is generational. And of course, each family has its preferred cabin.

Lee Kruger and his brother Mark have been coming to Bowstring Lake with their father, Bruce, and grandfather, Roland for as long as they can remember. Lee said, “My dad’s paternal grandmother was related to the Spierings who owned Snug Harbor, so that’s where they first went. When Spierings sold it, we just slid over to Georgene’s. I was six years old in 1977, our first year there. And except for a time or two I’ve been there every year since.”

One of the many memories Lee recalled about the early years was that it would take a long time to get to the fishing spot from the resort in the boats with a 9 hp outboard motor. He liked to curl up in the bow and take a nap to the lull of the engine and lapping of the water.

“We must have stayed in cabin #2 for many, many years,” Lee said. “My grandfather wanted to stay there because it was closest to the dock (and only forty feet from the lake). He loved watching the boats come in as he wanted to see what others had caught. He reluctantly moved to a bigger cabin as the family grew. Our family has been coming to Georgene’s for five generations now and we need two cabins!  We always have a fish fry on Saturday night with an open invitation for George and Jean to come.”

Another long time and multigeneration family are the Schjenkens from St. Louis, Missouri. This summer will be Kelly and Vicky Schjenkens forty-second year at Georgene’s Haven. If the name sounds familiar it’s because there have been, and still are, Schjenkens in the area. In fact, Kelly’s grandfather, Knute Schjenken, owned a farm in Oteneagen Township, as did his great grandfather, Thor Gullickson. Both farms are just south of Bowstring Lake. When Kelly’s father was growing up, he, his brothers, and cousins rode their horses to the lake to fish. “My dad recalled that they used a community boat left by a neighbor,” Kelly explained. They trolled by rowing the boat and caught crappies, northern, and walleyes.” 

Kelly and Vicky originally chose Georgene’s because they wanted a quiet place near their family farms. They keep returning because they loved it. “Most years we have stayed in cabin #8, which is the largest cabin, but as our family grew, we have needed two cabins and sometimes camp sites!” Kelly said. “Our grandchildren each have a bed they call their own and look forward to George and Jean’s ice cream socials.”

“One of my favorite memories is when my grandparents, Knute and Alma, joined us at Georgene’s to fish, visit and of course have a fish fry. With my parents, Ken and Vi, we’d have four generations together. And now with our grandchildren, we still have four generations.”

“My father included me in his fishing adventures, and I have passed on the love of fishing, hunting and the outdoors of northern Minnesota to my family. I hope they will continue the tradition started six generations ago of fishing Bowstring.”

The Thoms go out of their way to ensure their guests have what they need for an enjoyable and memorable vacation. “We love all the people we meet and look forward to seeing them every year,” George said. Jean added, “Many have become close friends. George and I had our fiftieth anniversary a few years back, here at the resort because we wanted to include our resort guests, as well as family in our celebration.”

When asked about their resort honed skills, George says, “Jeanie is an expert at taking out a fishhook.”

“I learned how from Dr. Goodall.” Jean explained. “I say it’s going to hurt, and it does. But its fast and it works every time. George’s skill, sometimes to a fault, is that he’ll drop everything to take care of anybody at any time.”

George agrees. “I do go overboard sometimes, but I really enjoy taking care of the people that come to Georgene’s Haven.” If you have any memories to share about Northern Itasca County resorts, please contact me 218-244-2127, or at my blog chrismarc