Dead Lake Historian - Ernie West


Stories from The Dead Lake Historian: Ernie West

First off, my pocket dictionary just shows how “historian” is spelled, not what such a person is.  If I’m correct, the term refers to someone who collects historical information. In my case I think a more accurate description would be that I just relay information that’s been provided by other people or organizations.

Now unlike the minute disclaimers at the bottom of your cell phone contract, I’m going to print it full size right here:  None of what I write here is necessarily the absolute truth.  Like all stories, just one word can change the whole story.  Then, have that story told and retold many times spread out over decades or even centuries, and you can see the possibility for error.

With that said, here’s some Dead Lake historian comments.  For some reason I’m intrigued with cemeteries.  For each gravestone I suspect there’s some history that’s been lost.  Even in a small town cemetery there has to be hundreds of untold stories that are silent forever now.   What’s even more sad is the numbers of unknown and unmarked graves that have no relative’s left alive and even their exact locations are unknown.  What’s this got to do about our area?  Well, there are three such gravesites practically within sight of where I’m setting and writing right now.  At one site there is a grandmother and a child (no more information than that).  At another site there are two children and two adults.  In most of these, the cause of death was the untreatable diseases of those early 1900’s or late 1800’s.  At another site at least two Indians are buried, possibly a mound burial.  One of the burial sites was well marked and when that farm was sold the agreement was that the cemetery would not be farmed over.  But the very next year the new owner broke his promise and tilled it under.  And that’s how simple and quick a cemetery can vanish.

One last thing.  Do you have an unexplained patch of lilac bushes on your property?  Well, guess what.  That was a very common way to mark a family cemetery a long time ago.  So don’t garden too deep.

Now for some Minnesota history:  Minnesota is a strange place.  Its history is a blend of fact and fiction.  For instance did you know that Paul Bunion had a son?  For that matter did you know he even had a wife.    All of this is hard to believe being that there’s a gravesite complete with head stone that says he died in the 1890 era but at another site he was married in the 1990’s.

Changing stories, did you know that Ely, MN was once at the North Pole, and also once at the Equator.  There is evidence from crocodile fossils and lava that all the area was under water and had under water volcanoes.   The area was under more than a mile of ice not long ago too.  Not to long ago at least as far as history goes.

Did you know Minnesota has the only two-story out house in the whole mid west?

 Did you know that in World War II that there was a camp (Camp Savage) that had Japanese U.S. citizens teaching our soldiers the Japanese language?  Minnesota people befriend these people so much that their home communities didn’t want them back.  Said they were to changed.

Credits due to: Louis Bruns, Dorothy Sperry, The Ottertail Historical Museum and its members.