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Island Folk

Island Folk: The People of Isle Royale

Peter Oikarinen
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Island Folk
    Book Description:

    The history of a working fishing community comes alive in this collection of stories from the people who made a life on Isle Royale. In Island Folk, candid photographs illuminate the experiences of the unique individuals who chose to live in this beautiful and isolated setting. Recalled memories tell a familiar tale of the transformation of the island from a working fishing village to a national park haven for tourists.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5671-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. [Illustration]
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface: Then and Now
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. A Pinch of History
    (pp. 1-4)

    Four thousand years before I stepped onto Isle Royale, hundreds of unknown workers extracted tons of copper from surface fissures. Over a thousand mining pits, some up to thirty feet deep, have been discovered on the island. These “ancient miners” left only stone hammerheads, one-quarter to forty pounds, as clues their methods. As far as we know they were seasonal workers, for evidence of soil cultivations, burial mounds, roads, and homes has never been found.

    These miners labored for over a thousand years then for some reason mysteriously vanished, abandoning hammerheads and unused copper at their mining sites. Radiocarbondated wood...

  6. John T. Skadberg
    (pp. 5-13)

    “I understand that you’re Swedish,” I said, smiling and trying to be friendly. His answer came quickly. “No-no. I’m Norwegian.”

    “Oh.” What a great beginning, I thought. But he invited me into the kitchen anyway, curious as to what I wanted. We were six miles north of Grand Marais, Minnesota, along the sharp and jagged shoreline of Lake Superior. I pulled out a map of Isle Royale as John pulled up a chair and began to talk about his life as a commercial fisherman.

    “I fished mostly in Hay Bay.” He pointed to a wellprotected bay that lies inside the...

  7. Ingeborg Holte
    (pp. 14-25)

    As I turned into the yard, six deer looked up from their food, stared at me with a rigid alertness, and then flashed away, white tails waving good-bye behind graceful leaps. Uneaten grain remained on the ground.

    I was near Grand Marais, Minnesota, to meet a spirited lady named Ingeborg Holte. Any woman who’d take the trouble to feed deer, chipmunks, woodpeckers, and pesky blue jays must be a special person. She was.

    With a burst of bustling energy she invited me inside. Before anything else, I noticed her artwork—several oils and watercolors that hung on the walls. One...

  8. Einar Ekmark
    (pp. 26-33)

    Einar Ekmark once grabbed a fellow fisherman with a boisterous hug and cracked two of the poor man’s ribs. Imagine what he could do if he were angry.

    Spending an afternoon with him on Washington Island, I had no opportunity, nor did I want one, to see him in an agitated state. At seventy-three, with piston-like arms attached to a hunk of snow-capped mountain, he still appeared impressive and imposing.

    I had nothing to fear. Though shy at first, Einar was open to any approach. “Just ask me what you want to,” he said with a Swedish accent, a slight...

  9. Stanley Sivertson
    (pp. 34-48)

    “Oh, there are so many stories, so much history,” said Stanley Sivertson, captain of the 65-footWenonahand former commercial fisherman at Washington Island. I soon found that his Isle Royale life encompassed an engaging part of that history. I also discovered that he wasn’t afraid to express his views on a topic that some others had hesitated to speak about—the oftenstrained relationship between park personnel and residents during the early years of Isle Royale National Park.

    But first, as always, the problem was where to begin, what to ask. Stanley solved that for me.

    Almost before I sat...

  10. Roy Oberg
    (pp. 49-59)

    Captain Roy Oberg smacked the 63-footVoyageurinto a growling September sea and decided he didn’t want to challenge the southwester. As the echoed pink and orange in the deceptively calm skies, glided back down the harbor to the refuge of Windigo Ranger Station. That day the full boatload of forty passengers would not make it to Grand Portage, Minnesota.

    For Roy it was just another common incident in his long years of scurrying around the reefs and islands of Isle Royale. Since 1937, he’s been piloting passengers and cargo vessels. His face is as familiar to island residents as...

  11. Milford and Myrtle Johnson “You’ll Never Make a Fisherman”
    (pp. 60-81)

    The morning sun burst open like a muskmelon shattering on cement, orange light scouring the calm sea. Milford Johnson gazed out of his log cabin window and wondered if the predicted west wind gales would materialize. Weather dictates his life: Milford is a commercial fisherman.

    Entirely surrounded by fickle Lake Superior, he lives toward the northeast end of Isle Royale on Amygdaloid Island. Each summer he and his wife-partner Myrtle return to try their luck at probing the reefs. Milford came in 1906, and Myrtle came in 1908. Traditionally, they are among the first to arrive in early May and...

  12. The McPherrens
    (pp. 82-90)

    Wayne McPherren once climbed the spar of the wrecked steamerEmperor, which smacked into the Canoe Rocks in 1947, to salvage the running lights. Dangling precariously thirty feet above the water, he held on with one hand and managed to free them. That light now hangs on his boathouse at his summer residence on Captain Kidd Island, a typically long island on the northwest shore of Isle Royale.

    Since 1934, when he and his wife first came to Isle Royale, “Mac” has continued to cruise the shoreline. One year he found a heavy wooden platform dock formerly used in logging...

  13. Glen Merritt
    (pp. 91-101)

    I was introduced to Glen Merritt with a joke. Even before I stepped out of the boat at Tobin Harbor, one leg on his dock, he began a story:

    “Do you have any Cornishmen where you live? Well, you ever hear of Harry Hicks? ’arry ’icks as the Cornishmen would say. This ’arry ’icks considered himself a good bass singer. He was visiting with his friend Bill one and telling him about a dream he’d had. ’arry said, ‘hi dreamed hi went to ’eaven and was singing in the ’eavenly choir. There were a thousand sopranos, a thousand haltos, thousand...

  14. Grant Merritt
    (pp. 102-112)

    I first met Grant Merritt in Tobin Harbor at camp “Dig Inn.” I was there to see his flamboyant father, a man not noted for long silences. After talking to and photographing Glen, Grant approached me. “Let’s go and get supper.”


    He waved for me to follow. “We’ll get a fresh fish.”

    “Just like that?” No one can be that sure of catching fish, I thought. I’ll have to see this. We took a 16-foot boat and roared up the harbor, past Mattsons’, Kemmers’, Edwards Island, and other places Glen had mentioned.

    Near Blake’s Point, Grant dropped a line...

  15. Elizabeth Kemmer—E.K.
    (pp. 113-120)

    Bursting white water forms a jagged line along the sheer grey rocks northeast of Rock Harbor. Beyond these, turning past Scoville Point and into Tobin Harbor, past the aging cottages and wind-whipped shacks and shanties, you’ll find a fine ol’ gal named Elizabeth Kemmer—“E.K.” as she’s commonly called.

    “Hi!” I shouted from the boat that brought me on that route to her dock. “I’d like to talk to you!”

    Emerging from the door, she looked like Mrs. Claus. “Well, come on in!” She yelled.

    When I stepped into the small home, she seemed a little uneasy. Who was this...

  16. Westy and Bylo Farmer
    (pp. 121-130)

    “It seems as though everybody who drew their spiritual nourishment from Isle Royale’s early days has become an achiever,” Weston Farmer said as he leaned back and looked out over Lake Superior from his home a half-mile down the shore from Rock Harbor Lodge. “Hugo Johnson down at Star Island became a vice president of Chevrolet. Our number three son is chief engineer for International Harvester. Milford and Myrtle Johnson’s boy, Bobby, is the skipper of the coastal ferryMatanuskain Alaska. . . . Others are professors and executives.”

    Westy didn’t include himself, but he is one of the...

  17. Clint Maxwell
    (pp. 131-137)

    Under the orange glow of a brilliant dawn I hummed along Washington Harbor in a 14-foot boat. I was going to rendezvous with Clint Maxwell, the last big-boat commercial fisherman on Isle Royale.

    We approached Washington Island just as flaming orange rays skipped across the harbor. We docked alongside the old grey-board fish house. Sagging buildings and wave-worn docks were the norms here just like in other areas of the park. Down the path, thermos in hand, sleepyeyed Clint strolled toward me. Fishermen, on shore, never seemed in a hurry.

    “I’m glad you came,” he said, and walked off to...

  18. Howard “Buddy” Sivertson
    (pp. 138-143)

    More than anybody I know, Howard “Buddy” Sivertson has captured the spirit and emotions of Isle Royale and its people. An award-winning painter, he has also written and illustrated five books. All of them have Isle Royale ties, but the gem and most inclusive isOnce Upon An Isle. In it, the island’s uniqueness and great people come alive. His detailed renditions of welland lesser-known events on Isle Royale are not only historically accurate, but they also stand alone as excellent works of art. His other books areIllustrated Voyager; Tales of the Old North Shore; Schooners, Skiffs, and Steamships;...

  19. Pete Edisen
    (pp. 144-160)

    White-haired Pete Edisen held the pencil in both hands, slowly scrawling out the message that he wouldn’t be returning to Isle Royale, where he’s been a commercial fisherman for over sixty years.

    “What? Absurd! Never!” his galaxy of friends have said. “Pete will be back. He won’t stay away. He can’t stay away.”

    No one could believe it.

    Neither could I. Since the start of the park, he has been the most visible symbol of man’s presence on Isle Royale. Many people have images of him with a seagull perched on his head or of boy scouts circled around him,...

  20. Elaine Rude
    (pp. 161-168)

    Elaine Rude used to hate Isle Royale. She married a quiet fisherman, Sam Rude, in 1935 and two years later moved to Fisherman’s Home on the southeast shore of Isle Royale. At first, she felt isolated and disappointed with the place.

    A young bride of twenty-two needed some socializing, and Sam could provide little of that. He was a fisherman, sometimes working from four in the morning until late night. And keeping the nets, fish house, nethouse, and cottage in running order left the couple scant time for freewheeling visits, picnics, or berry picking. Love and work sustained them.


  21. A Typical Herring Net Setup
    (pp. 169-170)
  22. Lake Trout, Whitefish, and Ciscoe Nets
    (pp. 170-171)
  23. A Typical Hook-Line System
    (pp. 171-172)
  24. Map of Isle Royale
    (pp. 173-173)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 174-174)