"[History is] a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man." -Percy Bysshe Shelley

Friday, November 5, 2010

Interview with Mark Leistickow

Rudy and Rudy’s sister and brother in law were spending time fishing in the Plum lake area.  And had heard that a person named Henry Voss had bought some land around Manitowish Lake on which he was to establish a resort , that the fishing was fabulous and that they might just try this area.  Accordingly,they took the northwestern railroad to the little town of Powell where they were met by people from the Voss resort which is called and Voss’s  Birchwood  Lodge and  transported them from Powell down the old railroad right of way to the shore of Manitowish lake at a place where Jens Larson resided  and transported my boat over to the next lake which was Spider lake on which the Voss’s resort was located.  They spent several weeks there and decided they should purchase some land if available on one of the lakes.  They found a point of land on one of the lakes between Manitowish Lake and Little Manitowish lake which was really a flooded area full of logs and decided to purchase an approximately 16 acre site.  Unfortunately they had a family squabble because of the fact primarily fact that the Rudy and his wife had three children and fourth on the way and brother-in-law  Flancher and his wife had none and had more money available to purchase land.  This division never healed in the lifetime of the people unfortunately.  However, during the period around 1914 they contracted to buy similar pre-built cottages from Sears and Roebuck and have them shipped unassembled on the Northwestern railroad to the Powell station.  Then they were hauled on buckboards to the building site.  They were assembled in the year 1915.  Flancher acquired the larger parcel with 100 feet of frontage being purchased by Aunt Alice and uncle Rudy .That year they spent three months time at the cottage.  They hired a cook from Milwaukee  and shipped all the provisions up by the Chicago and Northwestern .My mother was the youngest of the family and came along for a while and took care of the children.  And while there she caught a 15 pound muskie.  In the succeeding years my mother and father and older sister and grandfather would spend time on the shores of Manitowish lake.  As did my  mother’s older sister and brother-in-law Lee and Anna. 

In 1925 they decided to buy property  and then contacted Dr. E R Perkins ,a semi retired dentist who had a large tract of land on the south shore of Rest lake and on the Manitowish River.  Lee and Anna were the first purchasers of land he subdivided 1925.  For the astounding sum of $2500 for the site.  About 1938 by folks rented the Rudy and Alice cabin for a week which was my first recollection of a visit to the Manitowish waters area.  While the cabin was only 25 years old it had bats and I can recall my sister running down from the second floor screaming about there being a bat.  In the year 1939 I can also recall that an old Evinrude motor they had would not start and my father would row the boat all around for fishing  which was excellent.  In 1939 my folks rented Lee and Ann’s cabin on the river and we got a motor from a neighbor across the river but it too would not start so my father rowed the boat which was a Rhinelander which was quite easily rowed.  I recall most vividly finding a mail catalog with a Colt Woodsman which initiated my interest in firearms that has continued to date.  I can imagine the Woodsman strapped to my hip at eight years of age which seems a little illogical now.  In 1941 my parents took a vacation to ride around see if they might acquire some land in the same area.  Both of my aunts were out of the area by this time. Rudy and Alice had to give up their property because of financial problems which had occurred in the late depression years.  Lee and Ann had divorced and Ann had died some years previously.  Lee had however kept the cabin nearby where he still spent time in the summer.  When we arrived in Manitowish waters we went to Hanson’s hardware to inquire if there was land for sale and were told Doc Perkins on Rest lake had land for sale.  The directions were go down County road W to K at the oasis tavern and turn right and go about a mile to a set of mailboxes, turn right and continue on a dirt road past Charlie Nash’s estate , he being the owner of Nash Motors ,and continue on past Red Feather resort sign and about ½ mile on the right opposite a big open field is a drive away.  Red feather road was a dirt road at that time.  I can recall vividly driving into an Perkins property and seeing an old gentleman standing with his back to the car and as the car approached he  turned around and buttoned up is overalls and greeted us.  In due course he showed us two sites one was east of the last parcel he owned on the east shore of rest lake, a beautiful parcel two hundred by six hundred feet deep nicely wooded, asking price $2200.  My mother said the site would not work because little Marky might drown in the rather steep incline of the beach.  Also the fact that they had about $2500 to purchase land and building may have had some influence on their decision.  He then took us to a site on the south shore of the lake near its confluence with the Manitowish River 150 by 200 feet deep asking price $5.00 a foot or $750 which was within my parent’s budget.  It had the benefit of the afternoon sun which meant that it would have longer days than if we were on the other side of the lake where you would not have the sun so long into the day.  Its beach was gradual and my parents made an offer on the property which was accepted but it did not close until 1942 which I discovered sometime later through our abstract.  They hired a contractor by the name of Ken Tipple who had a small resort , tavern, restaurant and small contracting operation south of Tomahawk, Wisconsin.  He agreed to build a small cabin 18 by 20 with a side porch screened for a contact price of $1500.  $500 extra to get an excellent stonemason [by the name  of ] to put up a fireplace.  This was built during a period of October.....
And after the cabin was built my mother and sister and I came up to the cottage in the summer of 1942 for the first year of occupancy.  My father would take the train and we would meet him in Manitowish. This was during gas rationing and we had the lowest use card.  Fortunately we lived on a streetcar line in Milwaukee which my father used to get to his place of employment at Harnischfeger Corporation.  We used the car very little during the winter and accumulated gas stamps, 3 gallons a month, for a period of a year.  In addition we purchased white gas for our white gas light which we did not have which was freely available. With the white gas and  3 gallons per month we were able to travel the 300 miles to Manitowish and return by using the car very sparingly.
People today have no idea how remote and undeveloped Rest lake was in the 1940s. Our cabin was the last one on the lake on the south shore.  The next one to the north was the Perkins cabin and that was a half mile away.  And on the next point beyond them was the Younger cottage which was abandoned by reason of the owner’s death and had not been used since the mid forties.  The owner Clyde Younger  had had an animal menagerie and circus and was the younger of theYounger brothers the Oklahoma desperado days.  The next place was in the next bay and was red feather lodge which was a famous resort patronized by Fibber Magee and Molly.  One cabin being known as the Molly cabin.  There was just a private home beyond that and beyond that was the Charles Nash estate of 80 acres with a large boathouse , large log cabin, a very impressive property.  The next bay was called Finlander bay and two family’s occupied the cabins,the Latti’s and Stenbeck’s.  The next point, on the east side of the lake was owned by Peter  Kerbeck who was known as the doughnut king and had a large home with a caretaker’s cabin built on his property.  And this comprised the owner ‘s and occupiers of the east side of rest lake which  is approximately 2 miles long.  At night looking out over the lake the first light one saw was the light on the Nash property  a mile away.  There was virtually no boat traffic on the waters during those years.Gas was scarce and fishermen were mainly in the service.  My parents had purchased a wood scowl as we called it, 12 inch high 15 foot long wooden boat.  It was hard to row because of the shape of the flat bottom, however it was what we had.  No motors were available of course until after the war.

We had neighbors that were on the riverside.  At the intersection of our property road a family by the name of Sykes resided.  Which consisted of Homer and his wife Sophie who were in their seventies, and his son Homer junior and his wife Estelle and a son Homer the third and daughter Shirley.  They were not there during the year 1942 but they came up in subsequent years.  Homer junior worked in the early years at LaPort’s store as a meat cutter.  On a nearby cul-du –sac a man named Fred Dehl had a large holding which included a park, a nominal four acres plot, and two cottages.  He gained notoriety by the reason of the fact that in his lifetime he married seven times although one of the marriages was to the same woman twice so really only had six wives.  Unfortunately he had to pay alimony to most of these and consequently he was short of cash for most of the time.  He ended up selling his land in the 50’s and moved out of the area.  Coming from Red Feather road in a southerly direction before arriving at the Dehl property one came to the property of Tom Fairfield, who had been gassed in the first war had a cabin that overlooked the river.  Tom and  Francis Fairfield became friends of Mrs. Sykes and we would go the berry picking with Tom and Francis and thereby save gasoline which was in such short supply. Tom had better access to gasoline with his ration card.

So what was there to do in Manitowish Waters in those early years during world war two?  We had no electricity so there was no radio or television or computers that we could listen to our work at. And as we had no electricity we had to have other means of cooking and lighting.  My mother had purchased from Sears and Roebuck a two burner kerosene stove on top of which she had a sheet metal oven in which she would bake a pie.  This stove had glass kerosene pods on each end that would supply the wickes which were under each stove burner.  You lit it with a match.  The wicks would eventually burn down and would have to be trimmed off carefully to get an even flame so they wouldn’t smoke up the bottom of the pan.  And we had kerosene fumes in the room so that it was necessary to let air in the room or otherwise you would die of carbon monoxide poisoning.  The heating we had was a fireplace in the living room which provided adequate heat for the summer.  In the living room was a pump which was on top of the driven well 18 feet deep. We would prime it by pouring a little water  down an opening in the top of it.        

The prevailing wage in the late forties and fifties was 75¢ an hour which included jobs at gas stations, grocery stores and other types of work.

The matter of a shootout at Little Bohemia and subsequent killing of a Federal agent in front of Ted Koener’s house has been discussed at some length.  I had the good fortune to spend two 4 hour sessions in two separate years with a survivor of that shooting.  This was Constable Carl Christianson.  He was living in Florida when I interviewed him and he had known many people  in his middle age than that I had known as a young man.  And we had a fine conversation about what had happened to these friends.  Most were in the graveyard.  He told me what actually happened at the time.  He and two Federal agents where in a coupe searching for gang members of Dillinger’s and they saw a strange car in front of the Koerner residence  which is now the Blue Bayou.  When they stopped at the car in front of the house a short man came up to the car with a drawn 45 and said something to the effect  ” I’m going to shoot you bastard’s high and low because you’re wearing bulletproof vests”.  At which point he fired the first shot at the first Federal agent who was driving the car.  A  that precise moment however the agent opened the door causing the muzzle of the 45 pistol to be raised from its original holding and the bullet hit the agent in the top of the head splattering blood all over the car but not inflicting a fatal wound.  The agent slumped over the wheel.  The second shot hit the agent who was sitting in the middle in the neck.  A wound which was fatal.  Babyface Nelson then shot Carl Christiansen who was hit several times and rolled out of the car with the Tommy gun in his hands.  He had the Tommy gun of the agent in his lap because the agent was sitting  astride the gearshift and wasn’t able to hold it.  Babyface Nelson then walked around car and emptied the gun into Carl Christiansen who was lying on the ground.  Christianson said his large shearling coat saved his life because a number of the bullets went through the coat but missed him although the he was hit a number of times. The coat is on display at the Koller memorial library.  I  asked Christianson why he did not shoot Babyface Nelson and he said ” I did not know how to get the safety off the Tommy gun , it was just handed to me  with a safety on.  If I'd had my deer rifle I would have killed that little runt”.  Christiansen was subsequently carried up to the hospital in Iron wood and put on a gurney. One of the nurses he later was told said,” he’s going to get blood all over the floor and I just cleaned it.  However he’ll be dead anyway in the morning so don’t put him on a bed”.  So all were surprised when he was still breathing the following morning and after some weeks time recuperated.  The Congress of the United States offered him and honorarium for his part in the Dillinger affair of $3000 which, however, President Roosevelt cut to 2000.  Carl Christianson said that he would never vote for another democrat for the rest of his life.

In the summer of 1949 there was a considerable windstorm which downed many trees in the Manitowish Waters area and Roy   ?   of the New North tavern in Mercer was looking for someone to cut up dead trees for pulp.  I consulted with an old man of nearly 60 years of age named Billy Anderson and asked how many chords of wood he could cut up in a day any said two cords and of course this was a full cord of 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet.  I figured that I was young and strong and could do at least as well.  So I embarked on employment with Roy   ?   and started cutting the trees, unfortunately many of these were balsam and had to be limbed which took a lot of time in addition of course in a summertime deer flies,blow flies, mosquitos are all to be found in the words the miserable time to cut wood.  And then when I got the trees cut I found I didn’t have the strength to drag the logs which may have and 10 or 12 inches in diameter at the butt to the place where the truck was.  So I had to hire a horse and the horse probably made more than I did in this venture.  Which when figured out worked out to about 35¢ an hour for miserable work.

I was employed for a short while by Irwin Roe who was a local carpenter contractor of considerable talent.  I think that pay was 50¢ an hour.  I was employed to dig a hole for a septic tank which was 7 feet deep and as long as the shovel. However the army intervened and half way through I had to go register for the draft.  I had a chance also to work with Frank Knopp who I considered to be the premier carpenter in the area.  He was a man of few words but an excellent carpenter.  He had me help with a remodeling job for Claude Webb on a north end of rest lake.  This job paid 75¢ an hour and was in 1950 or 51.
One of the highlights of the summertime was the Winchester picnic which occurred the first week in the August in Winchester Town hall.  There was food served and conviviality.  We had a friend who lived near Winchester and would go with her to this affair.  At that time the post office was located at Chuck’s bar which was the located right across from Rupena’s bar which was destroyed by fire some years later.  Chuck’s is still standing just east on County hwy W.  The road that ran through Winchester went over an old logging bridge which was a rather rickety affair which vibrated as the car to rolled over it.  The pilings of the bridge can still be seen on south Turtle lake.

Right after the Second World War a man by the name of Eric Worm who was quite a prognosticator and real estate developer and a man of some vision went through the Winchester area and purchased a number of the old loggers homes which were situated on the site of the Winchester Town.  Walter Winchester had developed this town at the turn of the century complete with small frame homes for his workers.  These were sold for $500 as I recall two Eric Worm who moved them to the north shore of south Turtle lake and established and Worms resort.  He operated there for many years very successfully and was one of the earlier resort on that lake.  The other resort was Walter Mienel ’s which is probably better known then Worms.  It was noted for the large muskies that were caught out of it by numerous guides who worked there.

I  remarked that I was told by Doc Perkins that forest fires had raged prior two and during the first world war.  One can see evidence of the fires by looking in the woods east of red feather road and seeing charred pine stumps.  Obviously the victims of a forest fire in earlier times.  Despite the fact that over 100 years has passed since they were logged.  Also they give you an idea of the size of the trees that existed at that time considering that the size of the bark had to be added to the stump to see the full size of the tree.
The name Homer comes to us in classic Greek mythology.  Section town 42, five east has been the home of five homers, which is unusual in my way of thinking.  The first one I met was Homer Sykes the first whose wife was Sophie.  He was a furrier from the south side of Chicago who had bought property on the MANITOWISH River adjacent to its confluence with rest lake, about six lots to My recollection.  He had a son whose name also was Homer whose wife Estelle.  They had built a home in the twenties which was on the cul du sac now called Oak street which was as Sears and roebuck prebuilt home.  It still stands today and is owned by Mr. Eidemiller.  They had a son named Homer the third who has been a friend and acquaintance of mine for 60 odd years now.  I played with him as a boy and played bridge with him last night.  And have enjoyed the pleasure of his company and assistance over these many years.

The second family of Homers was the family of Homer Malone.  Homer Malone was a brilliant engineer who held a number of patents.  He held a high position with the Milwaukee firm of   ?    .  He was slated to be president however he lost his hearing.  I implored him to learn lip reading so that he could communicate as he became very reclusive in his later years.  This interesting gentleman had a place that he inherited from his parents on spider lake.

The last Homer was Homer Sexton who was a handyman.  After Homer’s wife of many years died he married Halomae Riddle.  Halomae was the granddaughter of Scott Younger.  Scott Younger was the concessionaire, circus operator and animal menagerie owner from the Tulsa Oklahoma area who was the youngest child of the Younger clan that terrorized the Texas panhandle and Tulsa area in the early 1900s.  He came to the east shore of rest lake around 1910 and  bought some land from C R Nichols who was the party that built red feather lodge.  This holding was just south of the Nichols property and comprised approximately 40 acres of land with considerable frontage on rest lake.  He built a cabin, boathouse, and garage.  In that garage a 1918 Cadillac reposed after his death.  The cabin was vacant from the early 1940s until approximately 1947 when his granddaughter Halomae came to live.  She was divorced and had a couple of children.  She met Homer Sexton who was somewhat older than she and they eventually got married.  He then left the country as they say.  She subsequently married Johnny Snyder.  She now lives in Tulsa.

My first deer hunting trip was about 1949 I was 17 years of age.  I stayed at the Fairfield resort where all I had room board.  I spent the hunting trip with Frank Roffers who was Haiti Perkin’s son in law.  He had a crew of men with him of five or six.  I was to meet them early opening day and then we would go out to our various locations in the woods.  I recall this whole episode quite vividly.  I was at the cabin at Fairfield’s which was approximately ½ mile west of the cabin at Haiti’s main house where these men were staying.  I walked up to the cabin with my rifle at approximately 4:30 AM excited as one would be on his first hunting trip.  I got to the cabin and the lights were on and I pounded on the door and no one responded.  I looked in the window and I thought they were all dead because there was one man lying on the floor.  However if they were dead it was dead drunk.  I noticed in his outstretched hand was an empty bottle of whiskey.  I pounded again more loudly and eventually someone came to the door and five or six groggy men got to their feet and  got ready to go hunting.  Mr. Roffers told me that what we would do. Several men,not to include myself, would be stationed at the field across the road from the Perkins homestead and the others would be taken to the west and would drive through the heavy woods and drive all the deer out into the open field. The deer would be shot by the people stationed at the edge of the field.  I noticed that Fank’s rifle was a rather unusual one.It was a Remington model 81 semiautomatic.  He said that he would shoot anything that came out of the woods.  I took note of this despite my young age and when I came out of the woods I was yelling so that he did not mistake me for a deer.  There were six deer shot that day and the idea was that we would share the deer.  And since there were six of us each one should in theory get a deer.  When it came time for me to put my tag on one of the deer I found it already had a tag.  And a man said that’s my father in laws tag, we’ll get one for you tomorrow.  Well we hunted tomorrow and not one deer were shot.  I learned a lot that day.  I learned you could not trust the word of deer hunters and also to watch out for yourself.

In the forties and fifties the length limit for Muskellounge was 30 inches.  The limit is quite a bit longer than that now and as a result there are not as many muskies caught.  Now many muskies that are under the new limit are caught and many are injured and possibly die.  A similar situation occurs with the Muskie the marathon.  The fish are caught ,landed hooks extracted, fish weighed, measured, pictured and this handling I suggest results in the death of many muskies.
I did manage in those early years to catch a few legal size muskies.  On one occasion I had a larger one hooked and had a friend in the boat.  When I had the fish tired out and up to the side of the boat I said to him get the gaff hook.  No he said I’d rather use the net.No I said use the gaff it will be better.  You can stun it better with the club on the gaff than in the net.  No he said I wanna use the net. He made a swoop with the net and the fish moved at that precise moment and the net hooked only the treble hooks that were in the fish’s mouth in the net.  And of course when he tried to pull the fish in he pulled the hooks out of the fish’s mouth and the fish was lost.  Well, he was very disgusted with himself and asked me if I was disappointed and I said well you just don’t have enough experience landing muskies and that accounts for that.  On another occasion I was fishing at the mouth of rice creek where it enters island lake fishing with a girlfriend.  I managed to hook a Muskie and play it up to the side of the boat and she said what shall I do in I said do nothing.  So I hit the fish over the head with a canoe paddle and stunned did and netted it and got it into the boat.  She watched this whole operation which took about 5 minutes and said well that looks like there isn’t much to it to catch a Muskie.  Unaware of the Countless hours I had spent and other fishermen have spent casting and casting and casting without so much as a rise or a strike from a Muskie.
In the forties and fifties there were no northerns in the lake.  Consequently the walleyes prospered to a greater degree than they do now.  The northerns spawning earlier than the walleyes and the northern fry eating the walleye fry.  I think the DNR in its infinite wisdom saw to it that northern got into the lake and thus the walleye population seems to have declined though some say it is this spearing of the breeder fish that has had an adverse effect as well.  I choose not to make commentary in this regard.

In 1942 the war was on and we required additional lumber to finish some benches and tables and attempted to find some lumber.  We were told that all the lumber was going to the war effort but that there was a mill on crab lake that may have some lumber.  So we drove to this mill which overlooked armour lake.  It had a number of shacks and one had a large circular saw on a carriage.  Some 40 years later my wife and I decided to go see what the site looked like.  We drove up crab lake road and back and forth a number of times and look for the site of which my mother had taken a picture.  We were unable to find the site.  We stopped off at a resort where there was an old timer and I described the situation to him.  He said that he didn’t know of any site like that however the crab lake road had been changed some years back and realigned and that at the old road location we might be able to find where the mill had been.  And so we drove to that area and found the exact place where the mill had been.  The trees were now a foot thick growing on the site.