The Life of Ernest Oberholtzer 1884 to 1977 (93) < compare to Aldo Leopold 1887 to 1948 > “ Ober’s might just be the greatest uncelebrated environmental story in North American history… We have too few environmental heroes to allow one so important as Ernest Oberholtzer to slip from our collective memory.” --Joe Paddock, biographer, Keeper of the Wild , 2001
Born in Davenport, Iowa
Influenced by an Irish gravedigger, “Burke”
Rheumatic fever - told ‘one year to live’ @ 17.
Harvard in 1903, Landscape Architecture, + studied violin
Traveled in Europe.
1906, train to Ely and canoed in future Quetico Superior region - got lost.
Discovered the healing power inherent in wilderness.
Ober in Quetico Superior
Canoed some 3,000 miles in summer of 1909 in the Rainy Lake area
Began to learn Ojibwe, met Billy Magee
Intended to write and map new territory for the Railroads
Back to Europe, became American Vice Consul to Germany (1910) yet…
Hudson Bay Trip 1912
Hudson Bay - an Epic Journey
Ojibwe guide and friend, Billy Magee
Ober is 5’6”, 140 pounds and then age 28
Billy is 160 pounds and age 50 in 1912.
Carried a Graflex camera
Paddled June to November, 2,000 miles, many unmapped. Nearly froze (they did not hunt).
Missed steamboat at Norway House by 2 days, another 260 mile paddle down Lake Winnepeg!
Inuit Women (never before photographed in 1912)
Woman with Sticks
“ We got off in the boat at high tide (Hudson Bay) about six o’clock, carrying our baked fish and boiled rice… This is a laborious life. I saw the old woman go over for a load of sticks, which she carried on her back, hobbling along with two sticks.” -Ober’s journal, Sept. 16, 1912
Billy Magee and Oberholtzer decades later… with Snippy (and a cabbage)
Oberholtzer and a young friend, Bob Hilke, returned to Lake Nueltin in 1966
He found the can he left in 1912 with a farewell note to his mother, thinking then that he’d not likely see her again.
Lived on Mallard Island, Rainy Lake (near International Falls)
Ober, based on the island, 50 years.
Designed buildings, Emil Johnson built
Nature & culture…
Walked or boated to nearest town of Ranier, MN
Collected used books (thousands)
Became an advocate for the preservation of the border lakes region
Oberholtzer’s Big House in winter
Same House in Summer (from the lake)
Nine-year standoff with Edward Wellington Backus, lumberman and industrialist
Backus’ vision = a series of dams controlling border lakes for hydro-power production
Ober - support from Chicago, Mpls lawyers and friends. Frances Andrews, Sewell Tyng.
President of the Quetico-Superior Council
Not against use of the land-- a balance
Contemporary of Gifford Pinchot, Sigurd Olson, Leopold.
Befriended the Native peoples, learned their language and customs-- called “Atisokan”
Helped pass the Shipstead Nolan Act on July 3, 1930. (one of first officially recognized wilderness areas)
Wilderness Act passed in 1964
Voyageurs Nat’l Park - est. 1972
Boundary Waters Wilderness Act - passed in 1978.
Ernest Oberholtzer, 1964
Mallard Island - Nine unique buildings
Now a study and retreat center May to Sept. for week-long programs
Capacity = 12 on island at any one time
Mallard is 1000 feet long, maybe 200’ wide at widest
Offers programs for writing and the arts and building community
4 islands, 11,000 books!
The Living Room in Big House
From Ernest Oberholtzer, 1929 American Forests Magazine
“ Our population has increased… <with> even faster growth in wealth and leisure. No other people ever had so many worldly goods or so much freedom of movement.
“ It’s all the more significant that manmade things are not satisfying the restless… they find about them skeletons of lost beauty, shrunken streams, scraggly woods, shanties, rubbish…
“ No wonder they are showing an appreciation for unspoiled nature… The demand is one of the instinctive wants of body and spirit.”