I consider myself one of the lucky sportsmen in life…I own my own farm that has roughly 160 acres of rolling hills, meandering river, and patches of woods scattered here and there. Most hunters would likely conclude that this farm is a whitetail hunter’s paradise, and you wouldn’t find much argument there from me, either.
Even so, I don’t take any of this land ownership for granted because my family has a history that is rooted as deeply into the soil as many of the mature trees that now tower over me in the stand. Indeed, when I sit out in the deer stand I can’t help it think about life in the future…as well as life in the past.
When my great-great grandfather first immigrated to America back in 1856, it was an interesting struggle. As his son, Ole Olsen Braaten, mentioned in his memoirs:
“The western part of Goodhue County…was for the most part settled the year before we came, so there was not much land to choose from. The lucky ones had a little to get started out with, but most of us were short of money. Father had only $50 left…. For this money he bought a cow for $40; a flour sack, an ax, and a shovel for the rest. With winter at the door, the outlook was bleak. Three weeks later Father found 120 acres of land, where he built our home. Little Cannon River flows through the land, and the fish we caught there were our main sustenance for that first winter.”
Today as I leaned against a tree near the river bank I could see in the clear water some nice sized suckers or red-horse fish swimming in the stream. The very sight of those fish brought back fond memories of my youth spent fishing for these rough fish, but it also made me think long and hard about the sacrifices my ancestors made just for my family to even be here today. Knowing that those fish played an integral role in my family history and survival somehow makes the outdoors where I recreate a little more significant to me than I am sure it means to most sportsmen who do not have the same lineage with the land.
But later in his memoirs is one of my favorite passages that truly has the most significant meaning to my sportsman tradition with this family farm:
“We were in daily contact with the Indians, but they were a friendly tribe of Chippewa’s. Father traded them a rifle. Right after that they had killed three deer and decorated the rifle with three silk ribbons. We traded several things with them, and often were given venison. Usually they came by our house in the evening, carrying a deer. They had their winter camp a half-mile into the woods. It was very good hunting ground for them here…the landscape was magnificent: you could call it ‘Norwegian.’ There was an abundance of wild grapes, plumbs, choke cherries, gooseberries, and other fruit.”
Each time when I go out hunting in my woods I read and re-read that passage in my mind several times. I can’t tell you what an incredible feeling it is to know you are deer hunting on the very land that your ancestors hunted and commingled with the Indians on a mere 148 years ago. How many sportsman can say they have such a connection with their past…and even so, how many of those sportsman know any of the hunting history of that land? I bet very few actually are as lucky as I am.
Today, even though a deer never did pass my way I still had plenty to think about. Oh sure, there’s all the things that are currently going on in one’s life…but then there’s also the many truly fascinating historical events that I know about this farm where I hunt. Others who hunt here might just see this land as an opportunity to connect with nature for a few hours during the year. Yet for me, I not only have the connections with nature to contemplate…but I also have that one that links me to my ancestry. Yes, indeed, I truly am one lucky sportsman and I don’t take any of it for granted.
© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.