Living off the beaten path

By Elayne Crecelius



Tord and Vivian “Vee” Johnson got married around 1914. Tord had already made it through law school when he married Vee, but he gave it up and the couple decided to move into the northern woods of Minnesota. The couple lived a life of trapping and bitter cold winters. For 25 years, the couple learned of world events via the battery operated radio they owned or during one of their day trips into either Schroeder or Cramer. Ed Morris, a nephew of the couple, visited his aunt and uncle's house many times as a young child.

“When I was younger I thought it would be fun to live like that. My brothers and I dreamed about it. As I got older though, I thought not so much,” Morris said.

Morris’ aunt and uncle used to live at the lake year round. The house they lived in was an old town hall. To get across Lake Wilson, the town hall had to be taken apart and rafted to the other side of the lake. Built about 20 feet away from the waters edge, the house consisted of one room. In that room was a wood stove and some beds.

“The beds were there for us to sleep on. If there were too many people there, some would just sleep on the floor," Morris said.

Their trips into town might not have been classified as trips though. Treks would be more appropriate. With no form of transportation other than their feet, Tord and Vee resorted to walking in snow shoes to and from their cabin in the woods and into town. Larry Johnson, also a nephew of the couple, remembers spending many memorable times on Lake Wilson with Aunt Vee and Uncle Tord.

“They lived on Lake Wilson for the first 25 years of their lives together. They had an outstanding relationship. There were times they would spend three months at a time without seeing anyone [in the winter],” Larry said.

Entries from Vee’s diary talks about snowstorms and freezing temperatures:

"December 1, 1944 – 14 inches of snow – 10 inches fell in the last three days. [Lake] Wilson froze over last night – the latest recorded."

An entry six days later talks about attacks on the United States by Japan. This news was delivered to the Johnsons through that battery operated radio in their home – the only piece of technology they had in their house.

Larry said that of the two, Vee was the ‘trapper’ in the family. Fischer, minks, weasels and fox were caught and harvested for their meat and fur throughout the winter months. They caught wolves and deer as well.

“They would go their separate ways while trapping. When they trapped they stayed in different trapping shacks. They were made out of rustic, hand cut logs and were very small, about ten feet by twelve feet at the most. They could, and would, cook anything.”

Dory Spence of the Cross River Heritage Center said the Johnsons were not the only family living deep in the north woods in those days; there were many families around the Lake Wilson area that trapped and would walk into town only two or three times a year.

“There used to be a group of kids that would meet the mailman down here in Schroeder and then walk five to ten miles to deliver the mail to a lady. When they were asked why they simply replied ‘Well the lady always has cookies," Spence said.

The old town home that served as their house is still on Lake Wilson. After World War II the couple bought a house in Schroeder. The couple knew as they grew older they wouldn’t be able to make the treks into town during the winters.

Surrounding lakes of Lake Wilson serve as reminders of the legacies of Tord and Vee. Lake Vivian is slightly northwest of Lake Wilson and Lake Tord, to the north. While their personal names will be remembered by the lakes, for Larry and the rest of the family it’s the times at their homestead that will be remembered for years to come.

“It was just a joy to be around them, the little bit I was” Larry said.

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