The Voyageur’s Story – part II

(the following piece was written by Wilma Gilman circa early 1970s)

During the busy fur-trading years, Harding (Crane Lake’s former town name), was the center of much activity. One fur company built a combined fort and trading post below the Vermilion gorge where it empties into Crane Lake, and during the following winter, the other company burned it to the ground.

During the first 200 years, like much of mid-America, this border waterway was under four flags…French, English and now Canadian and United States. The national boundary lines were always in question, until 1842, when the Webster-Ashburton Treaty finally clearly defined the line between the United States and Canada. Meanwhile, the Yankees had raided into Canada, and vice versa, with much enthusiasm, that at one time the Canadian government sent Major Dawson with a detachment of soldiers from Winnipeg to Lac La Croix, to make sure the Yankees had not pre-empted the country. The well-known “Dawson Portage” (from Sandpoint Lake to Lac La Croix) was cleared at that time so artillery could be taken overland. It is still a clear trail, a handy short-cut between the two lakes, but five miles long… a long way to carry a canoe.

As the demand for furs shrank, the water traffic disappeared for a long period of time. During these years the Chippewa Indians continued to be the inhabitants of the area around Crane Lake. By 1898 Crane Lake (Harding) had a Post Office, Customs Station, and two commercial fisheries seeking to ship fish from surrounding lakes to the larger cities. Neither proved to be very good business ventures. At this time Crane Lake became an overnight stop for many people pouring into the area north of Crane Lake where gold mines were opening at Mine Center, Ontario. Travelers were lodged both at the Booth Fisheries and a lodge run by Johnny King. For a number of years Crane Lake was the main access route to this busy mining area. Earliest claim to what is now the main area of Crane Lake appears to be in the name of Lena Anderson. Other settlers around the year 1920 included Bill and Kate Randolph, Mr. and Mrs. Gunn, Mr. Josiah Chase, Mr.and Mrs. Goodell, Ben Christianson, and Leonard Justice.

A Scotsman, Lord Selkirk, greatly moved by the poverty of his Scotch and Irish tenants, financed the migration of many families, sending them to this untenanted country, in the hope they might better their lives. They settled in the Arrowhead country long before anyone knew where the proper border was, or cared. Thus Minnesota, on this northern edge, received its first pioneer farmer-settlers by this waterway.

The next movement into the area came from logging operations, and the lumberjacks. The major lumber companies operating in this area, sought to denude the forests on both sides of the border from Grand Portage to the western plains, In 1921, the Backus-Brooks lumber company planned a sixty-foot high dam at the narrows (near what is now Sandpoint Cabins), where Little Vermilion Lake flows northward into Sandpoint Lake. Timber cruisers were seen scouting for dams all along this chain of lakes leading to Rainy Lake, and conservation groups and individuals quickly alerted Senator Henrik Shipstead and Congressman Walter Newton, to start investigations into these actions. Both men led parties, guided by Forest Ranger Les Beatty, through these waterways to check the plans. As a result, a series of hearings were held in St Paul, Duluth and International Falls, which led to the Shipstead-Nolan Act, passed and signed by President Herbert Hoover on July 10, 1930. This took the timber of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, out of the hands of the private individual, and put it under the State Forestry department…and later under Federal management.

stayed tuned for part III

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