Dimich Outdoors Article: “Pines, Mines, and Lakes” “Take the jargo and go and lop off that sweeper, before a big butt jillpokes and jams the sny.”

“Pines, Mines, and Lakes”

“Take the jargo and go and lop off that sweeper, before a big butt jillpokes and jams the sny.”

By Nik Dimich

Okay…three guesses where this jargon comes from. No, not football. Nope, not rap music, either. And, no, it’s not “Anchorman’s” Ron Burgundy (“Do I sound like that?”). If your next guess was going to be “logging,” you would have been right. This sentence is the opening line of chapter four (“And Then the Logs Were Gone”) of James E. Rottsolk’s book on Itasca County, Minnesota, “Pines, Mines, and Lakes.”

Published in 1960 by the Itasca County Historical Society as a result of piqued public interest in the history of Itasca County following Minnesota’s Statehood Centennial in 1958, the book’s objective was to: “Publish a book of general history as an enduring memorial to those who have transformed a wilderness into one of the most attractive counties of the North Star State.”

To do so, according to the book’s preface, “The Historical Society employed Dr. James E. Rottsolk, an English professor at St. Olaf College and summer Itasca County resident, to prepare the history.” It took two years to collect material and then write and edit it into book form. Check around, someone in your family might have a copy. It is a fascinating read.

As Grand Rapids once again hosts its annual “Tall Timber Day’s Celebration” this weekend, talk of logging and lakes (we’ll leave the mining for a later date) seems appropriate.

So, what is the translation of the opening line? According to Dr. Rottsolk, “A ‘jargo’ was a flat-bottomed boat (like our duck hunting ‘john boats’ or ‘prams’), a ‘sweeper’ was an overhanging tree, and a ‘jillpoke’ was a log stuck across the channel.” To rectify the situation, as a logger, “You would quickly grab an axe, push the boat over to the overhanging tree and chop it off before the boss got any more angry and threw you into the icy river.”

If you have been to the “Forest History Center” in Grand Rapids, MN, you probably know some of the lingo, as the “Forest History Center” is an interpretive center (one of 26 the Minnesota Historical Society operates) that focuses on displaying the cultural and economic impact forests and the timber industry have on our area. Look it up, and then visit, you will be taken back in time. Thousands of school kids have visited. When you do visit, as Dr. Rottsolk tells it, “You will hear the blast of the cookee’s big tin horn and his earth shaking beller, ‘Daylight in the swamp, boys. Roll out!’” (a saying our Big Swamp Deer Camp has been using since it was built, ironically, in 1960).

Another irony was that Walt Dimich’s (third generation landowner of our camp) grandfather on his mother Marie (Smith) Dimich’s side, Walter Smith, who was the original owner of our shack’s land, was actually a logging camp big game hunter (among other duties, including his father’s inn) in Balsam, Minnesota.

Although some logging camps did bring in some pork, etc., according to the MN DNR’s website and author Mimi Barzen, “The earliest camps, located on major tributaries so the winter logs could be floated to the sawmills once the spring thaw took place, subsisted on game and fish as the main source of provisions. Camp owners supplied beans, peas, flour, sugar and salt, which in itself was a large contribution as the average logger required five pounds of food a day for stamina.”

Another thing Mimi pointed out is that in an effort to keep their loggers healthy and working, cleanliness was of the utmost importance. In addition, lard was not just for cooking, many men slathered it on to protect against the icy water and tobacco was not just for chewing; once chewed, it was put on minor cuts and scrapes as was balsam pine pitch (not chewed, however).

How did the logging companies get so much land to log? Dr. Rottsolk explains that much of Itasca County was procured by Civil War scrip: “Every Civil War veteran (Union) could homestead a quarter section or he could sell that scrip for whatever it would bring. Speculators bought and sold large areas under such scrip and logging concerns were often the largest purchasers.”

After the great white pine logs were cut, a new era in the wildlife world dawned; it was the beginning of the “cutover,” that wonderful place where sunlight creates veritable habitat paradises for whitetail deer and grouse and other woodland inhabitants. And speaking of habitat, starting back in the day and continuing to the present, unfortunately, the veterans of the Big Swamp Camp always like to ask what the best habitat for rabbits is? Don’t hate me for this or stone the messenger, but their howling answer is: “rabitat.” Oh, well. They also say you never see a dead crow on the roads because they have “lookouts,” two wily crows who shriek upon seeing an approaching car, “Caw, caw” (Boston accent). Pretty bad, huh? And we just have to grin and bear it.

In chapter nine, “Hunting, Fishing and Resorts,” Dr. Rottsolk explains, “As early as 1834 when Henry Sibley (Minnesota’s first governor who also married in 1839 a Dakota chief’s daughter, Red Blanket Woman) was fishing and hunting in Minnesota, he recognized Minnesota as a sportsman’s paradise.” Sibley acknowledged that, “Lumbermen undoubtedly made use of the 34 species of waterfowl, the huge bass, the tremendous muskies and plentiful pike as well as the deer, elk, caribou and moose they found in the woods.”

Just like they do today, “tourists” back then seemed to want to go that step beyond to find the best and most remote hunting and fishing they could. Even in the early 1900s, those seeking “wilderness” fishing and hunting outings ventured as far north as Bigfork where in 1906 the railroad tracks only reached five miles south of the town and the rest had to be done by “teams” (I am pretty sure horses, etc., not football and the like, although Bigfork does produce some pretty tough football players).

Interestingly enough, from what I have been able to find, the term “tourism” seems to come from the Greek “tornos” meaning a lathe or circle, hence returning to the point of origin. Speaking of being a “tourist,” which most of us have been or will be, here are a couple of my favorite “tourist” quotes. “Kilometers are shorter than miles, save gas, take your next trip in kilometers” (George Carlin) and, “There ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them” (Mark Twain).

Although there is enough in Dr. Rottsolk’s book to fill many columns, because of limited space, here are a few gems. For example, “The Bigfork newspaper of June 15, 1911, reported, ‘The party of fishermen arrived home this Tuesday and said fishing was good, mosquitoes plentiful, roads bad, provisions and water sufficient and game wardens running at large.”

This was the beginning of the wonderful world of resorts in the northland, a world that has ebbed and flowed for decades, and where, even today, Wi-Fi and swimming pools and satellite television demands have re-sculpted the resort paradigm. The “man-fishing camps” of yesteryear have all but disappeared.

Never the less, maybe it’s a good thing when compared to a trek an Indiana party of three men had, according to Dr. Rottsolk, in 1907 when they first arrived in Deer River and managed to hop a logging train to near Marcell where they walked along a tote road to Potato Lake (now known as North Star Lake).

According to Dr. Rottsolk, “When the men got to Potato Lake, they found a big stand of (white) pine and pitched their tent on a carpet of needles under 100 foot trees, three-foot through at the bottom. Greenhorns, they were frightened and stacked their belongings around the tent flap, kept their rifles loaded and revolvers handy. At the slightest noise of squirrel or bird, they grabbed their guns. Still, they stayed a week and using bacon rind for bait, they hooked enough six-pound northern pike to keep the railroad section crew in fish for quite a while.”

As a side-note, in the early 1900s a cabin rented for $10/week and the Grand Rapids Gun Club had held several big shooting tournaments since the late 1890s. And finally, Dr. Rottsolk, at the end of his book has a 1959 photo of the Grand Rapids Air Force Base with the caption, “On the hill above Grand Rapids, radar beams scan the skies” and he ends with, “Pioneers would be awestruck.” Little did he know, but we were in the middle of what was to be called the “Cold War.”

Ultimately, however, Dr. Rottsolk assures us that in our northland, “Blue waters will sparkle in clean air under a bright sky and the trees will once again tower high.” And they have…

Nik Dimich is a year round Grand Rapids, MN and Lake Winnie area fishing guide and outdoor communicator. To book a trip or media event please contact him at 218-259-8459 or at www.DimichOutdoors.com and “like” Dimich Outdoors or Nik and Becca’s Outdoor Promotions on Facebook.


Photo Caption: Mike Enich proudly displays a walleye caught and released while fishing with Ed Matonich from Hibbing, MN and Matonich-Persson Law. Mike recently won the 12 million dollar Serbian lottery and will receive one dollar everyday for the next 12 million years. It’s hard to say who’s been luckier on the water between Mike and Ed.



 Photo Caption Loon: “Blue waters will sparkle in clean air under a bright sky and the trees will once again tower high.”



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