Hunting stories, then and now
As deer hunting season comes to a close here in Minnesota, the Becker County Museum is sharing a few hunting stories from its archives.
Right about now, a lot of people are closing up their hunting camps and deer stands for another year — I’m not one of them, but I do know they very often come back with a “story” a little bit like fish tales — but for some reason the deer stories feel like they hover closer to the truth, maybe.
Ken Prentice has compiled some writings of various “yarn spinners” from Becker County, and had this to say while warming up to a story about Charlie Zeck: “His stories left one wondering if, just maybe, he’d exaggerated, only the tiniest bit.”
Working in the history business we also get to peruse a lot of stories, and we often get them sent in to us too. One of the things about stories from the past is the way they were told and kept alive, first hand. Many were eventually written, but there something about the nuances of a story told by the person involved, with all their vocal inflections and expressions and mannerisms on display.
Something really fun is to read a story that has been written to include a little detail of how the original teller might have told it, and what they might sound like. I rather enjoy imagining the character in my mind and making it sound like I think they would, or even imitating it out loud. We do that when we read a book, and sometimes different people have different interpretations.
With all of that said, a few weeks ago we received this note from Michael Leitheiser: "I was looking through my family books and papers and found this deer hunting story. You're welcome to post it if you'd like!
To me that sounded like a great idea, and it caused me to dig out some more as well.
This is that story that appears in “To Spin A Yarn” by Ken Prentice, complete with grammatical errors and all, to give the feeling of what it might have been like to be there.
Charley Zeck, by Ken Prentice
Charley Zeck came here in the 1880s, with his parents, who settled on "Detroit Mountain," a large hill northeast of Detroit Lakes. He had a German accent and the way he expressed himself added to the charm and humor of his yarns. He told stories with a straight face and innocent expression and the more you laughed the funnier he became.
He was a farmer who made his living from the soil and he always had time to enjoy life. For many years he played fiddle at dances that were held at farm homes. One of his favorite tunes was "Charley Overshoes" and people called him that as a nickname.
When he'd say, "Did I ever tell you about...?" people would quiet down and gather around him because they knew they were in for some great entertainment.
He enjoyed telling about the Leitheisers and Bimlers, who came to this area in 1878 and homesteaded on Detroit Mountain. During that first year they all lived in one log cabin. They cleared an acre of land and planted mostly rutabaga. That fall the two men went to North Dakota to work in the wheat harvest fields while the wives stayed home to take care of their claim.
Here's the way Charley would tell the story: "While the men were gone, the deers used to come in there at night and eat the rooterbeggers. So when they came home they said, 'Well, if the deers eat the rooterbeggers, why then we eat the deers!'
"So they got aholt of an old musket someplace and they get the thing loaded and the two men went outside. It was a beautiful moonlit night. There was no snow on the ground but you could see foot tracks in the white frost. They sneaked out to this little rock pile in the brush about 10 o'clock at night. They set on this rock in the moonlight for about an hour when this big buck come marchin' along. He marches out in the middle of the rooterbegger patch and Bimler says, 'Give it to him NOW!'
"Leitheiser, he puts the gun up and then he takes it down. The buck put his head down and started eatin' rooterbeggers. Leitheiser put his gun up again. Bimler's standing right behind him and they both aim the one gun at the deer. Finally Leitheiser pulls the trigger and down goes the buck.
"They went over and they each pulled the deer by a hind leg. They went down the pathway and dragged it right into the shanty. They were so proud ... and the women were proud they got a nice buck. The men filled their pipes lit them and leaned back against the wall.
"All of a sudden, the buck raises his head up and says 'Vhooosh!'
"He jumped to his feet and kicked beds over and knocked the table over with a lamp on and tore the inside of the cabin to pieces. Somebody had shut the door and the women rushed over to the wall with their hand to the wall and they screamed, 'LET THE DEVIL OUT!'
"Someone opened the cabin door and out goes the buck. The men grabbed their guns and went after him. When it got daylight they were still on his track fifteen miles north of town ... but they never got him!
"Did I ever tell you boys about the time I went bear hunting?" This is the way Charley introduced the next story. Men, women and children prepared themselves to hold their sides and roll on the floor with laughter.
Maybe I’ll share that one next time, but back to us in the here and now. If and when you head out to hunt deer or bear or whatever, make sure to come back with a great story!
More hunting tales
Another patron, Bruce Carlson, brought in some photos a while back, of a mount and some markings from Otto Zeck, Charley’s son, who was our first museum administrator, and Frank Long. I think this could be a more in depth look for another day as well. It’s fun to see the connections of all of these early folks.
I have had the pleasure of listening to some great stories from friends: Stu Omberg has regaled me with some pretty amazing tales from the trail, and he too has a fun way of telling them that keeps you tuned in. One was about two hunters in the same party hitting the same deer in different locations. Brian Anderson was also telling me some great stories involving his dog and how it had an “ah ha” moment while training, and I do like dogs, so that was extra special.
I can’t tell you how close to the truth your tale has to be, but whatever you do, make it entertaining so that 100 years from now, someone will tell the story of you telling the story. Storytelling is a big part of the history of most cultures, in some way. Long ago, before print and recorded media, it was often the only way things got passed on. Imagine how many great stories never made it all the way to now!
Much more recently, we also received some mounts — and stories — from former U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson here at the museum.
Now close your eyes and imagine that German accent while creating the images in your mind — and have fun crafting your story.