Bill Callies became a DNR conservation officer on Jan. 11, 1961. He was assigned to the station at Waskish (pop. 32), on the east shore of Upper Red Lake. The station had been vacant for two years.
"Nobody else put in for it," Callies wrote, "partly on the advice of the last game and fish enforcement man to occupy the station. In fact, he let me know I would be out of my mind if I bid on it."
Inclined to use his own judgment, Callies bid on the station anyway and soon moved his wife and two children to that remote northern Minnesota town, where he found his true calling.
The former owner of a floor covering store in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Callies later said that being a conservation officer was "the best job in the world." His daughter, Ivy Hanson, who lives in Hibbing, remembers it this way: "The state of Minnesota gave him equipment and he got to play cops and robbers all day and all night. He absolutely loved his job and worked hard at it."
Bill Callies worked as a DNR conservation officer back in the days when they were called game wardens. Before his death in 2003, Callies wrote about his days as a warden. The stories are collected in two books and recall his experiences at DNR stations in Waskish, Crosby, Orr and Baudette. The books are available at Mills Fleet Farm or by phoning (218) 258-7831.
After he retired in 1980, Callies (rhymes with police) began writing his memoirs. Today they're collected in two volumes titled, "They Used To Call Us Game Wardens," published by Bang Printing in Brainerd.
The stories are written in a straightforward, unsentimental style from notes Callies kept throughout his career. He kept the notes in the event he was called into court to testify. The following are excerpts from his two books:
Lock 'em up, you rookie!
"One night early in my career I arrested two men for poaching a deer. Because the arrest took place in Lake of the Woods County, I had to take them to the jail in Baudette, the county seat. But when I got there the night cop was nowhere to be found.
"I was told, later, he had some woman he shacked up with, hiding his patrol car in her garage. So I went to the house of Harlan Pickett, the local game warden, and pounded on the door until I heard someone holler inside. I hollered that I had two shiners in the car and didn't know what to do with them.
"Pickett hollered back, "You damn rookie! Lock 'em up in jail!" I explained that I had checked out the whole town before bothering him.
"I had to auction off the car in front of the Lake of the Woods courthouse the following March."
Trouble on the Wickham farm
"During the 1962 deer season I got a call about trespassing on the Wickham farm near Kelliher. When I got there I was met by the wildest unkempt woman you would ever want to meet. Her hair stuck out straight and filthy from her head. Her clothes were covered with mud, blood and deer hair.
" I asked her what happened, but she just shouted, 'I want you to arrest two men, Silver Anderson, the cattle buyer, and Norm Florhang, the bartender at the Kelliher Municipal Liquor Store.'
"I told her to calm down and relate her story. She said Anderson and Florhang had shot a buck on the neighboring land and it had jumped the fence and died on her property. When they came for the deer she told them they were trespassing, that the deer was hers and they should get off her land. But the men grabbed the deer by the horns and began to drag it away. So Mrs. Wickam threw herself on the deer and wrapped her arms around its neck.
Roy Blomker, an artist who lives in Thief River Falls, painted this cartoon when he was in high school. His parents had a resort on Upper Red Lake. Bill Callies saw the painting one day and laughed. Blomker said he was relieved that he wasn't offended. Later, he gave the painting to Callies and today it belongs to his daughter, Ivy Hanson.
"When the men stopped for a breather, Anderson asked Florhang, "How will we get her off the deer when we get to the road?"
"Florhang said, 'I'll get the car and drive it to where the deer and Mrs. Wickham are. I've got a tire iron in the trunk. If she's still hanging on I'll hit her over the head with the iron.'
"That was too much for Mrs. Wickham. She let go of the deer, ran back to her house and called the game warden."
Can we keep his walleyes?
"It was always my assignment to weigh and tabulate the fish at the annual Red Lake Ice Fishing Derby. One year after the derby was over, Ann Manthei, the warden's wife from Blackduck, ran up to me and told me a big man near where she was fishing had fallen down and seemed to be having a heart attack. Could I help?
"About an hour earlier I had seen Dr. Reed and his wife fishing at the derby. He was still there, so we enlisted his help. The doctor and his wife did everything they could to bring the man back. There were several people fishing nearby. One man and woman said this man had come with them from Grand Rapids.
"Dr. Reed finally announced that the man had passed away and that I should call the coroner and have him come and pick up the body. While we waited, the man who had brought the dead man to the derby came up and asked if he and his wife could keep on fishing and catch and take home his limit of walleyes. How about that?"
Short-time justice of the peace
"Eric Leonhardt, better known as Gabby Leonhardt, owned and operated Gabby's store in Waskish. He had 10 boats he rented to fishermen, sold bait, groceries and tourist trinkets and also rented cabins.
"One spring on the day before the walleye season opened I stopped in his store. On his shirt was pinned a highly-polished brass deputy's badge for Beltrami County. How he conned Sheriff John Cahill out of that piece of jewelry is more than I know. I assume he made a super-generous donation to Cahill's election campaign fund.
"Later that summer, Gabby commented on the number of people that had been arrested by me and run through justice court in Kelliher. He asked me, 'Does the judge get paid?' I said, 'Yes, usually five dollars. Each fine is split between the county and the state general fund.' Then he told me, 'I've been elected as the Justice of the Peace by the people of Waskish and Konig Township. I would like for you to use my services and keep that money in the area in which it was generated.' I told him, 'I'll be glad to use your services. It will save me 30 miles of driving plus the time to make the trip.'
"Later that afternoon I picked up an Arthur Duhamel of Brooklyn, Mich., for angling without a license. I booked him into Gabby's court that same day. Later, I called our new justice and said, 'I picked up an individual who was angling without a license. Justice Quale usually charges $10 for this type of violation, and that will be your fee.'
A few days later I stopped at Gabby's to see how our new Justice of the Peace had made out. He said, 'Bill, we've got to make some improvements in this court system. Did you know that Mr. Duhamel had rented one of my cabins and one of my boats? You created an awkward situation for me. In the future, check and see if anybody you pick up on a violation is one of my tenants, or a tenant at Davidson's Sunset Resort, or one of the locals, or a relation of a local.'
"I said, 'Gabby, it doesn't work that way. Either you take any and all misdemeanor cases or I won't send any to you to be heard.'
"That was the first, last and only case our fearless Justice of the Peace, Eric (Gabby) Leonhardt, ever handled."
VINCE MEYER can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5862.
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