EAST GULL LAKE -- What began as genuine interest in discovering the rich history of his own lake community has developed into a 178-page book about southern Cass County, written by a Sylvan Lake retired school principal.
Richard Wickmann, East Gull Lake, spent two years researching the history of southern Cass County, including Sylvan Lake and the city of Pillager. It took him eight months to write the book, which was finished in May.
The idea for the book began when Wickmann was talking to a neighbor, Joyce Steinke, about the history of the Sylvan Lake community. Wickmann and his wife, Carol, have lived on Sylvan Lake for the past 32 years but Steinke had lived on the lake many more years than they had. The Wickmanns are from Walnut Grove and both are retired educators; he is a retired middle school and high school principal from Glencoe and she was a teacher.
Wickmann encouraged Steinke to write an early lake history, something she developed into about five or six pages. That information sparked Wickmann's interest in delving headfirst into the community's history, starting from the first glacial period to the lifestyles and customs of the Ojibway people who lived here, railroad expansion, the logging era and the growth of tourism.
"It reached the point where I thought it should be shared with others," said Wickmann.
Wickmann's wife provided the photography for the book. In addition to historical research in St. Paul and in the Brainerd lakes area, Wickmann interviewed families who live on Sylvan Lake. Those who live on Sylvan Lake receive an additional 40 pages in the book featuring photographs of them and their neighbors, many of whom have owned a cabin on the lake for generations. He left a few blank pages for them so they could document their own family histories on the lake. The Wickmanns and their children built their A-frame home themselves starting in 1973 and realize the significance of life on the lake.
Wickmann said the neighbors he interviewed demonstrated a strong protectiveness and deeply-rooted feelings for Sylvan Lake. For many, the lake was the only place where the family relaxed and spent time together boating, fishing and swimming.
"I'm sure every lake has this same degree of affection," said Wickmann. "It's a place where the family comes together and I don't think it's unique to Sylvan."
At one time, the Pillager area was 130 feet underwater, forming the glacial lake bed of Lake Wadena, Wickmann learned during his research for the book.
Wickmann believes there are three important early figures in Southern Cass County history that most people may not be aware of. They are Chief Hole-In-The-Day, Charles Kindred and Edward Bacon.
Chief Hole-In-The Day, said Wickmann, had a vision for the Ojibway people and was a dynamic leader who traveled six times to Washington D.C. to negotiate treaties. In 1868 Pillager Indians, reportedly paid $2,000 each to kill Chief Hole-In-The-Day, laid along the Gull River to wait for the Indian chief to return in his coach to his home from Crow Wing. He was shot, stabbed and clubbed to death.
"He was such an exceptional individual in terms of leadership," said Wickmann, of Chief Hole-In-The-Day. "He was a great orator and a powerful leader in the area."
Sylvan Lake's first residents were Charles and Sarah Kindred, who moved to Brainerd in 1874. He initially worked as a land agent for the railroad and then began to develop business opportunities in the Brainerd area.
For More Information
--"Between Then and Now," a historical look at southern Cass County, including Sylvan Lake and the Pillager area, is available at area stores, including CatTales Books and Gifts in Brainerd, Rainy Days Bookstore in Nisswa, Northwoods Cafe in Pillager, the Corner Store on Highway 210 east of Pillager, East Gull Lake City Hall and Sylvan Lake Town Hall.
-- Cost is $20.
--To have a copy of the book mailed to you from the author, send $20 for the book plus $2.50 for postage and handling to Richard Wickmann, 1806 Sylvan Birch Lane, Brainerd, MN 56401.
--Wickmann would like to hear from area residents who have interesting stories to share and historical information about the area featured in his book.
Kindred's achievements in Brainerd include bringing water into Brainerd residents' homes, building an electric generating plant for street lighting, building a bridge across the river, building and operating a street railroad with horse-drawn trolley cars, building a dam across the Mississippi River to obtain electrical power, building a band shell at Gregory Park and buying uniforms for the city band, building the Villard Hotel in Brainerd and securing the right-of-way for construction of the Brainerd and Northern Railway. He also ran for and held political office. Kindred left Brainerd in 1889 after his Villard Hotel was destroyed by fire and his finances were in ruin after the bank called his loan due and he couldn't pay it.
Wickmann said Kindred recovered after he left Brainerd and in 1898 returned here in a leased railroad car to throw a big party for his friends in the Brainerd lakes area.
Edward Bacon came to Pillager in 1882 as a boy with his parents and was one of the first homesteaders in the area, according to Wickmann. For 60 years he was deeply involved in Pillager's transition from a backwoods community to a pre-World War II community. Bacon was a successful businessman and community leader. He developed the Pillager Herald newspaper, which he edited until 1915; he helped organize the Pillager creamery; the Cass County Fair in Pillager; the Security State Bank and other interests. He was a Pillager postmaster from about 1898 to 1915 and was active on the village council and involved with school issues. He also served as a Justice of the Peace.
"I wanted to write about the small town because I'm from a small town and I think sometimes we forget about the contributions of small towns," said Wickmann. "We need to pay more attention to outer Minnesota."
Wickmann said many things surprised him about the history of the area. He said he believes many area residents don't appreciate the historical significance of the Brainerd lakes area. If things continue as they are, much of this history could be gone. There are many Indian burial mounds in the Sylvan Township area and historical artifacts continue to be found today. Wickmann said a portion of the original Crow Wing to Ottertail Road and the Red River Ox Cart Trail from 1845-1870 remains preserved in an area of Sylvan Township. The indented tracks of the ox carts that traveled here before the railroads came to the Brainerd area remains preserved in hard-to-access areas but he fears all-terrain vehicles could eventually destroy these historically significant places in the community.
"I didn't do this for the money," said Wickmann of his book. "I love the area here. It's been a part of our lives for a long time. I'd just like people to know more about our area and take better care of our area, to preserve and protect it if we learn more about it."
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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