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Recorded October 2022
October 23, 2022:
As Halloween approaches, I’d like to reread this story written about the Ghost of Roseau Lake, which was published in the St Paul Pioneer Press in 1948, and written by Earl Chapin of Roseau County.
In a bypassed corner of northern Minnesota, near the wayside hamlet of Ross, is a slight eminence of ground on which stands a plain monument of unhewn stone bearing a simple inscription: “Site of Old Indian Village, Abandoned 1896.” Thus are ghosts interred.
The eminence of ground, the granite stone and the marker look out over a dreary vista which changes only from the monotony of waving grass to the monotony of driven snow. This is a dead lake, and it is on the western shore of this dead lake that the stone commemorates the dead village. Not even the Indians stop here anymore to lament, as was their custom, upon the graves of their fathers.
Only those who have interest in local history have remembered. And possibly one other thing remembers and keeps a lone vigil over this place – the wendigo of the Ross Indian village, or, as the white man knew it, the ghost of the Roseau Lake.
For it was here that the ghost of the Roseau lake wandered from time unremembered. For generations it terrified the inhabitants of the Indian village, not so much by its spectral appearance, but because its coming presaged death.
“Ghost come, Indian die,” said old Jim Cobenas once, before the wendigo came to gather him in with the rest. “My own father, he take him.”
Cobenas told of a spring day in his youth when the family was curing fish at a camp up the river. Suddenly the father was stricken, and the two older boys were sent back to the village for the medicine man, Oshwash. The waters of the river were swollen and dangerous from the melting snows, but the boys skillfully manipulated the canoe and arrived safely at the village. They found the populace in tumult. The people were crying and lamenting and Oshwash was anxiously peering into the face of each individual, asking as he scrutinized: “Are you sick?” Upon receiving the negative answer he would proceed to the next person.
Then the boys knew that the ghost had appeared again. They gave Oshwash their message, and the medicine man cried out to the people: “Cease your lamenting. No one here will die. It is old Cobenas. Even now he lies sick upon the fishing ground.”
Not only the Indians, but their white neighbors saw this apparition on several occasions. An eye-witness description is included in a manuscript history of the Roseau valley by the pioneer, Jacob Nelson. Jacob Nelson homesteaded land near the Indian village. He firmly believed in the reality of the wendigo. Other members of the family also saw it. They, too, insist that it was no hallucination.
The village and the lake are dead, but the ghost is restive still. For as recently as the early thirties it appeared again, trailing its spectral draperies over the heaths of the lake bottom. Many persons saw it. It created nearly as great a stir as it did in the days of Jim Cobenas.
Unhappily for the hard-headed, no Horatio ever spoke to the ghost of the Roseau Lake, so nothing is known of its origin. The scant literature of the region offers only one conjecture. In 1857, S. J. Dawson, on an expedition of exploration for the Canadian government, visited the Ross Indian village, and this observation was duly communicated to his government:
“An idea of the country about this point may be inferred from our guide’s description of his attempts to destroy the monotony of his life when stationed at Roseau Lake (in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post there). He was in the habit of mounting to the roof and from the top of the mud chimney enjoy the view, which consisted of reeds to the north, reeds to the south, and reeds to the west as far as the eye could reach; and to the east Roseau Lake. On the bosom of this retired sheet of water, in the spring and fall, he watched countless millions of ducks and geese, and the noise of their shrill cries, with the flapping of wings as they would rise to take their morning flight, were almost the only sounds he heard save the sighing of the wind through the reeds during his dreary abode in the waste of the Roseau Lake.”
Possibly it was the troubled and lonesome spirit of that trader that returned to plague the Indians. Who knows?
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