MISSION TOWNSHIP -- In a grove of popple and birch trees north of Merrifield is a small log cabin with wood shingles, three windows and a front door so low any one over five feet tall must duck to enter. There's no electricity or plumbing and the only source of heat is an old wood stove. The cabin is so primitive in appearance that one can envision a trapper coming through the door with a bundle of pelts over his shoulder and a muzzleloader in his hand.
The cabin may be too rustic for some but not the Crow Wing County Muzzleloaders. The club exists to bear witness to the lifestyle of the people who lived in our area before 1840. Members duplicate the handiwork of the artisans of that time. There's Ray Nelson with his self-made muzzleloaders, Larry Angrimson with wooden arrows and brain-tanned hides, Ted Elyea with a candle lantern, oaken bucket, canteen and fire-starting kit, Helen Angrimson with intricate necklaces and Bill Cronin with neck knives. A blacksmith, Robbi Gallant, makes fire irons, rifle stands, railroad spike knives and tent pegs at a shop in Pillager.
All of these items are made with attention to authentic detail. An Ojibway Indian or French voyageur who lived in 1840 might well have nodded his approval. Not surprisingly, these items are sought by others who share the same passion for the past. Nelson's guns, for example, have been purchased by six other club members and by several other muzzleloading afficionados.
All of these crafts will be displayed when the club hosts its annual Show And Tell meeting Saturday at the Brainerd Public Library. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public. Club members will be dressed in period costumes. If you have a question about any aspect of Minnesota's history chances are good at least one member of Crow Wing County Muzzleloaders will have the answer.
Arvid Williams (left) and Pam Barret made these buckskin clothes from scratch. This is the type of clothing often worn to rendezvous attended by the Crow Wing County Muzzleloaders.
Remembrance of things past
The club was formed in 1977 by Ray Nelson, Nick Bernier, Jon Schram, Fran Schram and Forrest Rothwell. It started as a branch of the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association but went its own way when membership dues got too high. Today's club includes a police officer, doctor, banker, county worker, lawyer, teacher and automobile repairman. All are history buffs who enjoy making 19th century crafts.
The cabin is where club members gather to have fun. The land was purchased in 1986 and includes a 100-yard rifle range built in 1993 with help from the Minnesota National Guard. It's open to any club member at any time, but leave the in-line muzzleloader with synthetic stock at home. Only cap-lock or flint-lock guns with open sights and round ball projectiles are allowed at competitive shoots. At other times, such as prior to deer season, members will bring their modern guns and sight them in. The club usually hosts four shoots each year: the Frosted Finger Shoot in February, the Fall Rendezvous in September and two others in the summer.
Two years ago the club celebrated Thanksgiving Day at the cabin. "It was a lot of fun and the food tastes much better out there," Elyea says. "We even did some of the cooking in the cabin. We expect more people next year."
The Crow Wing County Muzzleloaders use this cabin as an unofficial headquarters. It was built with methods that would have been used in the early 1800s. Left to right are club members Britta Nelson, Ray Nelson and Ted Elyea.(Dispatch Photo by Vince Meyer)
The biggest event of the year is Crow Wing Canoe Days, which takes place the first weekend in June at Crow Wing County State Park. Visitors can canoe downstream from Brainerd to the park, observe a camp as it would have appeared in 1840 and then be shuttled back to Brainerd by the DNR.
Rendezvous are get-togethers among similar clubs and take place throughout the nation on nearly every weekend throughout the year. Most members of the Crow Wing County Muzzleloaders take part in several each year.
One of the most popular is the Bemidji Rendezvous. Attendees are allowed to unload their cars on site, but then must park them out of sight. Authentic period clothes are worn. Watches are taboo. Don't smoke cigarettes if you can't roll your own. Want a can of pop? Open it in your tent and pour it into a tin cup. Wood and water is furnished but many people bring their own. A fee of $15 is charged.
Some clubs host trail walks. Four-member teams are escorted over a trail and along the way are tested on fire starting skills and their ability to identify plants and animal tracks. A scenario is presented and each team must describe the equipment and supplies needed to handle it. Teams are scored on their preparedness and the skills they demonstrate in handling the scenario.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.