Paynesville Press - September 11, 2002

Community Perspective

The good old days...or were they?

By Bill Korman

As I grew up in Eden Valley, my main interests were fishing, hunting, and being outdoors.

I remember a lot of people telling me I should have lived in the frontier days. My brother, Dan, told me many times that I should have had his name because I would have fit in living just like Daniel Boone.

Would I have wanted to live in the pioneer days? Let's examine this a little closer.

Let's start with my favorite activity (other than eating), which is fishing. The amount of fish in the lakes in the old days must have been staggering. We have all read stories of fish running so thick in the streams that they could be scooped out with pitchforks.

I've read about workers in the 1800s who received room and board as part of their wages) stipulating that they could only be fed fish a limited amount of times each week. (Fish being so plentiful then that they would get tired of eating them so often.)

Moving up to more modern times, I remember the late Art Henfling telling me about his fishing trips as a child. The time, I think, was around the 1920s. He said that they would take a full day off of work and travel from their farm near Manannah to Mud Lake near Eden Valley. They would then rent a row boat from a farmer living on the lakeshore to fish in.

Art told of the reeds that ringed the lake, being so tall they were over his head as he stood in the boat. These reeds had to be pushed out of the way for over 100 feet to be able to reach open water.

I've read where a local farmer in the old days used to commercial fish in this lake, shipping barrels of fish packed in salt to the cities via rail. Yes, the fishing must have been great in those days, but I think the equipment was so poor that it probably was frustrating.

Even as a youngster in the 1960s, I remember how poor the fiberglass rods were. The fishing line we used would break and snarl regularly. I lost a lot of fish due to inefficient reels and sticky drags. I remember when a 14-foot slab-seat board with a five horsepower motor was state of the art. Now I go out with a board capable of traveling at 35 miles per hour, sitting on a cushioned seat, while looking at the bottom of the lake with my depth finder. Some fishermen even use underwater cameras to see their fish.

My equipment is so dependable I rarely break a line of have a reel break down. I would have loved to see and experience the lakes and fishing in the old days, but I wouldn't want to give up my modern conveniences!

Now let's look at my next favorite activity: hunting. Can you imagine the eastern half of the country being unbroken forests for as far as the eye could see? I've read that the woods were so mature and the trees were so large that an ox cart could not be driven between the trees. The woods were full of chestnut trees, and chestnuts were an important food source. Passenger pigeons were so numerous that they broke tree branches with their weight. Moose, elk, buffalo, bear, and mountain lions were plentiful in what is now Minnesota.

The amount of waterfowl, I"m sure, was unimaginable. I had one old timer tell me that as a child in the early 1900s he would lay awake at night unable to sleep because the ducks and geese in nearby ponds were so numerous and loud during migration. It would have been great to experience that.

Remember, though, that in the frontier days you had to hunt for food daily. That means that you had to hunt no matter what the weather. Can you imagine running out of food and having to go hunting in 95-degree weather with the mosquitoes as bad as we've had this summer? The mosquitoes were probably worse then, when most of the wetlands were not drained.

After the hunt, you would have to salt down whatever meat you couldn't eat that day to prevent spoilage.

I imagine that carrying enough black powder and lead for a couple of months on the frontier must have been a real pain. Trying to survive with just a flintlock rifle seems almost impossible to me.

I remember as a boy in the 1960s using paper shotgun shells, which would swell when wet, and I remember having misfires and shells that wouldn't chamber. Nowadays my guns and ammunition seem to be almost perfectly reliable. Even though there isn't as much game around as there was in the old days, I still have a lot of success hunting in modern times.

Could I have lived and enjoyed life in the old days? The answer is NO! First of all, I need eyeglasses or contact lenses just to be able to see good enough to function. If I would have been born in the frontier days, I couldn't have survived because the whole world would have been a fuzzy blur! Could you imagine having to hunt for food while only being able to see clearly about three feet away?

That's assuming that I would have survived all of the illnesses and injuries that modern medicine has changed from deadly killers to mere inconveniences.

There is also the sobering fact that at age 50 my life expectancy in the frontier days would have been exceeded! In these modern times, I should be able to expect 20 to 30 more years of life, if I behave myself.

As I write this column, I'm sitting in air-conditioned comfort on a soft recliner. Even though it is dark outside, I can see perfectly with electric lights and my bifocal glasses. I'm watching the Minnesota Twins wallop the Detroit Tigers on color television while eating a bowl of tin roof sundae ice cream.

Although I would give anything to see what the country looked like in the frontier days, I think I like living right here, right now.

Bill Korman lives in Irving Township.

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