Opening Day of Fishing

Opening Day of Fishing

It’s a beautiful day in May. The sun is high over the lake, and thirteen gulls circle the water.  The wind blows a soft, but steady breeze that rolls the water into gentle waves that slap at the side of a boat in which two old fishermen sit.  It’s opening day, and the lake is full of other fishermen, yet the men in the boat pay little mind.  They are focused at the task at hand, to catch some walleye.  They’ve been fishing together since they were kids, and this is their 75th year.  They’ve had many good outings and some that didn’t go so well.  They’ve caught big fish, and they’ve caught no fish.  For the man piloting the boat, he’s still looking to catch his fish of a lifetime, the one that’ll hang on the wall above his fireplace.  He came close once, but the line broke just as he was landing the monster.  Like so many others, his “big one”, was the one that got away.

Another boat, a newer boat, races through the water.  Its aluminum sides are bright with fresh paint.  Its large outboard motor hums as the boat cuts across the water at high speed.  The two old fishermen look up.  The sight of this new, fast boat stirs emotion in one of the old timers, the one who owns the boat they’re sitting in.  It’s an old boat, one with bench seats made of wood – one that has that old familiar smell of sweaty marine plyboard.  Its sides are faded from the sun, the paint chipped away from dock posts and rock outcroppings.  The bottom, too, has grooves cut along the keel from rubbing against gravel flats and sandy shorelines.

Like the boat, the motor is old.  It was once painted, its bright colors visible from across the lake, but nature had long ago chipped and faded the paint to little more than a film over top of a metal shell.  The motor is a tiller, the kind that needs to be started by pulling a cord that’s wrapped around a greasy flywheel.  The owner of the motor has thought often of replacing it with a more efficient model, yet though it smokes a bit, it still pushes the old boat across the water.  Like the boat it’s attached to, it still gets the job done.

This certainly isn’t the first trip the boat and motor have had.  They were once new, the prized possession of a young man with visions of catching limits of fish and trophies to hang on the wall.  As the years passed, “it” became a “she”, and finally an “old girl”.  A quick bit of math and the owner realizes it’s the boat’s 50th year on the water.  With this thought he wonders how many trips his prized boat has left, and how many trips he has left before he no longer hears the waves slap against her hull, or the hum of his old, smoky motor.  It’s a deep thought, but as every fisherman knows, deep thinking is always a companion on the water.

The only thing not old is the newly bought Rapalas that the two men are using – a tradition they have held up for years.  The old timer piloting the boat is using a “shallow-dive” Rapala, he feels the choppy water will bring the fish closer to the surface.  Soon, he’ll find out just how right he is about his hunch.  Behind his lure is a trophy walleye, the kind he always envisioned would hang on his wall, yet the one that has always eluded him.  On this day, the day that could possibly be his last opening day, he’ll finally catch his fish.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but when it comes to a painting, I would say that it’s worth a thousand thoughts.  The aforementioned scene of two old fishermen is one frozen in time, created from the brush of none other than Les Kouba.  The story that jumps out of the painting, at least to me, is the one I write down today.  With opening day of fishing at hand, I thought this would be the best time to describe one of my favorite prints at the McLeod County History Museum.  It’s titled “Opening Day on Lake Mille Lacs”, and was painted by both Les Kouba and Bud Grant in 1995 during a period of conflict between the State of Minnesota and the Mille Lacs Lake Band of Ojibwa over treaty rights and walleye harvest quota for non-band members.   It was donated a number of years ago by a friend of Les named John, one of many on display in the museum’s Les Kouba collection.  When John donated the painting, he said that one day Les borrowed some clothes to go fishing.  When he returned the clothes, Les said “John, now I know what it’s like to be in your shoes”.


New on Display

The MCHS now has, on display in the Media room, a number of artifacts from Silver Lake, MN.  In addition, we’ve updated and enhanced our 1950’s Living room-Kitchen diorama.

Museum Hours

Our apologies, but due to construction, we are open for research only until mid-February 2019.

New Membership Levels

The McLeod County Historical Society is pleased to report that we now have a new membership structure with new, and more member benefits than ever before. We now have
Settler –$25 Basic Membership

Admission to Exhibits
• Admission to Research Center
• Subscription to Monthly Newsletter
• 10% Museum Gift Shop Discount
• Free admission to Breakfast Club
• Discounted rates for special programs and events
• Reciprocal Time Travelermembership
Pioneer – $60 Family Membership

*Benefits same as above+

2 adults plus free admission for children ages 18 and younger

Patron – $150 Enhanced Membership

*Benefits same as above+ discounted facility rental+ free admission for up to 2 museum events.

Soldier– $25 Veteran Membership

*Benefits same as Patron.

Grubstaker – $500 Top Tier Membership

*Benefits same as above + one free facility rental + free admission for up to 4 museum events.

Old Timer/Lifetime – $500 Age 65 an older

*Benefits same as above + honored for life.

All members receive our 7 page monthly newsletter

A Real Frontiersman

With bullets cutting through the air, and whizzing over his head, Albert H. DeLong ran for his life.  The Indians were attacking, firing bullets that ripped at the ground in front of his path, bullets that sent dirt and rocks flying through the air, yet he and the rest of the scouts of the Ninth Minnesota proceeded up Kelley’s Bluff, intending to take what high ground was available to fend off the attack and make way for the rest of the Ninth.  As he reached cover on the bluff, and gazed down into the tree line, he heard the bloodcurdling war whoops of the attackers charging out of the woods.  Greatly outnumbered, he and the rest of the scouts could only watch in terror as they prepared themselves for what might have been their last day on earth.

Albert H. Delong was born on April 12, 1842, in St. Lawrence County, NY.  At the age of seven years, he and his parents became part of the westward expansion.  It was 1849, the year of the westward 49er.  While a great number of people were heading to California, however, the Delong family set their sights on Wisconsin in the North Country.  For ten years they stayed put; then in 1859, they again headed west, this time heading for Minnesota.

There could be no better place for a young man of seventeen to live.  Minnesota abounded with northern wilderness.  The hardwood groves, vast prairies, wild game, and a Native American presence made the young state a mecca for boyish adventurers, and Delong quickly took advantage.  In the communities of Green Leaf, Cedar Lake, and Hutchinson, the young man gained a reputation as a hunter and trapper, and befriended a well-known Mdewakanton Chief named Little Crow.  In addition to all this, he paid for a claim in Ellsworth Township and leased a flour mill at the outlet of Cedar Lake.

Albert DeLong was twenty years of age in 1862, and like many in Minnesota, was skeptical at first news of trouble with the Dakota Indians in 1862.  In fact, he ignored a warning given to him by a friend known as Charley Minnetonka.  He later remarked how Minnetonka had always worn civilian clothing, but on the day of his warning, was wearing a bright red robe and acted strangely when he warned Albert of a “Big fight coming”.  He finally realized the truth behind Minnetonka’s warning on August 18, when he learned that five settlers were killed in Acton by four Dakota men from the Rice Creek band.

Because of his knowledge of the countryside and of Little Crow, DeLong was made a scout for the Ninth Minnesota, a Union regiment of local volunteers and new recruits created to defend the region from warring bands of Dakota.  The regiment reported to Glencoe on August 31 and was given orders to march to patrol Forest City, Acton, and Hutchinson.  September found them camped in the front yard of an abandoned farm near Kelley’s Bluff.

It wasn’t long before the camp realized they were in the midst of a large force of Dakota under the leadership of Little Crow.  It was decided that the encampment should break camp under cover of darkness and retreat from the area before they were ambushed.  They were late, however, and it was dawn before the Ninth was ready to push out of the area.

DeLong and some other men were scouting ahead of the Ninth.  They followed a trail that left the woods and went onto the prairie.  While heading up Kelley’s Bluff, DeLong and the other scouts spotted rifles glistening in the sun below, meaning Little Crow and his men were waiting to ambush them.  In mere moments, a yell came from the wood line and the Indians charged, waving blankets and firing muskets at the scouts ahead of the main force.  While DeLong and the scouts ran for cover, twenty men from the Ninth charged Little Crow’s force to allow the rest time to climb the bluff.  Once the entire force was in position, it was debated whether to entrench themselves on Kelley’s Bluff, or try and retreat toward the stockade in Hutchinson.  Before the decision to retreat was made, DeLong had stolen away from the battle, snuck through Dakota lines, and was heading toward Hutchinson for reinforcements.

The Ninth began their retreat south.  The wounded were placed in wagons, the dead left behind as they fled.  They made it as far as Cedar Mills where the Dakota caught up with them and the fighting commenced.  In an attempt to slow the advance of the Indians, food and other goods were thrown from the wagons in hopes that the Dakota would stop their chase and pick them up.  It worked, and the pursuit began to lag.

A short way out of Hutchinson, a group of reinforcements from the stockade, with A. H. DeLong in the lead, met up with the rest of the Ninth.  By nightfall they made it to the safety of the fort.  The wounded were brought into the hotel, outside of the stockade.  The following day, Little Crow regrouped his forces and attacked Hutchinson, destroying all but the stockade and one home.

Albert DeLong lived in Greenleaf for a number of years before moving to Hutchinson.  He married twice and had one son.  DeLong was the first chief of the Hutchinson Fire Department when it reorganized in 1893, and was a charter member of the Gopher Campfire Club.  In 1935 he was the last survivor still living from the battle of Kelley’s Bluff, the last survivor of the battle of Hutchinson, and the last living member of the Litchfield G.A.R.  In 1936, the long and adventurous life of Albert DeLong ended.  He was a man among men, and the last true frontiersman of central Minnesota.

Martin McLeod: A Man of Exceptional Quality

He wasn’t used to the snowshoes.  The snow was deep, and the cold, blowing wind around him made walking in the shoes increasingly difficult.  He didn’t walk so much, but rather dragged his feet through the snow.  The rawhide thongs on the shoes cut into his moccasins, chafing his feet.  Each step was excruciating – more excruciating than the last –  so much that his blistered feet began to bleed, leaving behind a trail of blood on the hard outer crust of snow he walked on.

Martin McLeod was new to the region.   He was in his early twenties, a clerk from Montreal and unprepared for the rigors of the Minnesota wilderness.  He came west with a group of explorers headed by a man named James Dickson, an impractical idealist with visions of ruling over a self-constructed kingdom.  They broke trail from Lake Superior and found themselves at the Red River Colony.  However, within a year the group had become disillusioned with Dickson and began to scatter.  McLeod and two others accompanied a guide south toward the mouth of the Minnesota River.  It was to be a long, arduous journey of seven hundred-fifty miles through the Minnesota wilderness, in winter, and on foot.

The trek south was hard.  McLeod nearly drowned, nearly froze to death, and he was often on the verge of starvation.  In his journal he recorded “Out of provisions, obliged to kill one of our dogs; “dog meat excellent eating.”    During one instance, the small group was waylaid by a wet, snowy blizzard from which they were separated and forced to survive on their own.  McLeod was one of the lucky survivors.  Using his snowshoe to dig a shallow trench in the snow, he wrapped himself in a waterlogged buffalo robe and waited out the storm in clothes that froze to his skin.

Martin McLeod came to the North Country at a time when the promise of wealth came through the fur trade.  With the help of Henry H. Sibley, as well as a number of other prominent traders of the time, McLeod soon became a well-known fur trader in the region.  Few white men found themselves trapping or hunting for furs, but rather became merchants who depended on the Indians for labor.  McLeod was one of these, traveling between trading posts and Indian encampments encouraging the natives to hunt and bring in more and more furs.  This tactic was successful in bringing in high quality furs, yet it played a role in overhunting as well as oversaturating the fur market, both of which helped to usher an end to the trade.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, as the fur trade came to an end, McLeod as well as the other trade merchants began looking toward treaty negotiation between the United States and Native Americans as a means to create wealth.  Many of them, McLeod included, ran for public office as a way to lobby officials in an attempt to buy land from the Indians, who in turn would receive stipends from the government with which they could buy goods from the trade merchants.  With money guaranteed from the government, many trade merchants began selling on credit and inflating their prices.  When the Indians’ money ran out, the traders would lobby for new treaties.  It became a vicious cycle that ultimately led to war between factions of Dakota Indians and white settlers in Minnesota.

Martin McLeod was one of the few who took umbrage to the way treaty negotiations were made with the Indians.  Never one to approve of the whiskey traders pushing their product on the natives, McLeod resented the fact that his peers pursued treaties that benefited them at the expense of the tribes, going so far as to distance himself from his peers to the point of being reclusive.

The late 1850’s saw McLeod discontent with the direction Minnesota was heading.  He withdrew to his home and fell deep into debt.  By 1860 he was broke.  On November 20th of that year, Martin McLeod died.  It was a quiet end to an adventurous life.

History Quest (formerly Spotlight on the Collection)

Our first episode of History Quest!  Check it out on HCVN Channel 10 Tuesday June 5th-6pm and Thursday June 7th-10am.  You can also view it on the museum’s facebook page, as well as the “links” section on this webpage.

Historical Happenings

Our monthly radio spot will be returning on June 29th to feature MCHS’s new Executive Director, Brian Haines.  Make sure to tune in!

History Quest

The McLeod County Historical Society’s monthly television spot on HCVN will feature a new name with a new twist.  Formerly known as “Spotlight on the Collection”, History Quest goes out of the museum to literally walk in the footsteps of McLeod County’s historic figures as we travel to legendary sites in the county.  Watch us on cable access channel 7 & 10!