When Tom Landwehr’s eight-year tenure as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ended in January, he suddenly found himself with time on his hands.
The lifelong conservationist and outdoors enthusiast put that time to good use, compiling a collection of Minnesota hunting stories that had been languishing for 30 years deep in the bowels of his computer.
The result is “Hunting Adventures on the Minnesota Frontier: Sportsmen’s Tales from 1850-1900,” a self-published book compiled from stories Landwehr gathered on microfiche files of Forest and Stream, a New York-based biweekly publication printed in a newspaper format and predecessor to Field and Stream magazine.
Charles Hallock, a wealthy businessman who founded Hallock, Minn., founded the magazine in 1873, and George Bird Grinnell, widely considered one of the founders of the modern conservation movement, became the magazine’s editor.
For Landwehr, the 30-year project started in 1989, when he was working as a wildlife biologist and field manager in Northfield, Minn., and came across an old Forest and Stream story about a long-ago duck hunting trip near Shakopee, Minn.
“I read the story, and I was just amazed because I’d worked in that area, so I knew exactly where they were talking about,” Landwehr said.
Hoping to find more stories, Landwehr in his spare time went to the Carleton College library in Northfield, where he found the whole collection of Forest and Stream on microfiche.
“I went through all these microche and found a bunch of stories related to Minnesota, which at the time was still unsettled, and I made copies,” Landwehr said. “Then I had to go back home and transcribe them to the computer.”
There they sat until this past winter, after he left the DNR and before he went back to work as executive director of the Save the Boundary Waters organization.
“I had six weeks, and I said, ‘Well, this is it — I’m going to make a big push to see if I can’t get this done,’” Landwehr said Thursday in a phone interview. “The stories were written; all I had to do was a little organization, a little introduction, pull some pictures together and in six weeks’ time, I was able to do that.”
Because the stories are more than 75 years old, they all were in the public domain, Landwehr says; he bought the rights to relevant historic photos from the Minnesota Historical Society.
Many of the stories have ties to western and northwestern Minnesota, and places such as Hallock and the “Roseau Bog” — today’s Roseau River Wildlife Management Area — Landwehr says.
“There was apparently quite a gold rush at one time southwest of Lake of the Woods so that gets a mention in there, too — that was in the 1850s,” Landwehr said.
The magazine’s target audience definitely was “upper crust” eastern businessman who had the time and money to venture to Minnesota, which at the time largely was undeveloped, Landwehr said.
“When you read the stories, most of these reporters or people who wrote the stories came from the East to come to Minnesota for a hunting trip and so they rode the train from Chicago and New York or whatever into St. Paul and then they took another train out to Litchfield or wherever and then they got in a horse and buggy and went further afield,” Landwehr said. “So really, it was a frontier, but the only people that could not only afford to do that, but also write well enough to get something published, they were the upper crust at the time.”
The stories also track the changes in hunting philosophies, from the whack-and-stack market hunters to writers who helped usher in the conservation era as game populations began to decline in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“I’ve hunted all over the state, and it’s really interesting — in my opinion — to read about how hunters experienced the same places a century and a half ago,” Landwehr said. “Of course, it is more than a little depressing to know how good it was, especially in the prairies where so little is now left, but I think we are fortunate that the sportsmen-led conservation movement has left us some pretty fair hunting.”
Landwehr is selling the book, which retails for $19.95, at Game Fair, which began Friday, Aug. 9, and continues through Sunday, Aug. 11, along with Friday, Aug. 16 through Sunday, Aug. 18 at the Armstrong Ranch Kennels 4½ miles west of Anoka, Minn.
The book also is available through eBay at https://tinyurl.com/y5rybc7q.