This story was reprinted in the July 2, 1976 bicentennial special issue of the Alpena News. I have always liked it in spite of its rather florid prose at times. It seems that Eular Thorne must have seen some version of the article in the winter of 1934 because his note to the editor of the Alpena News mentions Col. New and his writings about Lew Pake.
The Alpena News, July 2, 1976
Editor’s note: The following article appeared May 27, 1934 in the Detroit News. According to Pake’s great-niece, Harriet (Pake) Burke of Alpena, the lumberman’s picture still hangs in the Doctor’s Club. Pake died September 5, 1942.
High on the banks of the Thunder Bay River the logs have been piled helter, skelter, as they slid from the skidways.
Winter has locked them in an icy embrace. But now that spring is here then times ten thousand logs – and then some – are ready to get a divorce from the other 99,999.
But someone – and that one must take his life in his hands to accomplish it – must snake out the key log which, yanked from its strategic position, will spill the whole rollway into the river.
“Lou Pake!” murmer the townsfolk gathered on the banks as, in the group of mackinawed men walking out on the thin ice of the river, they note the red sash of the leader. “Lou Pake is to bust her!”
“Sure and who else would it be?” retorts “Uncle George” Masters, owner of the timber trove locked in the rollway. “Who’s slicker or livelier than Lou Pake? The log that can wet him hasn’t been cut – yet.”
“Touch wood, Uncle George,” shouts one of the crowd.
Grinning, “Uncle George” Masters, benevolent boss of the north woods stoops. Rips off his glove and with his bare hand picks up the nearest bit of wood.
An invocation in the gesture, perhaps, to the grim monster that within a few moments will kill or spare Lou Pake – the great rollway breaker of the Alpena district.
Ice still floats in the northern river. Swirling waters seize stray slabs of timber, plunge then below waves, lift them above it, pile them one on another, and then, in a new caprice, toss them apart. The spring time sun washes with gold the crystal of the snow patches remaining on the locked timber.
At first a half dozen men poke tentatively at the sleeping monster. These are exploratory jabs. They are intended to show which log is the key controlling the mass. Sometimes the jerk precipitates a miniature avalanche of a few score logs. The spectators laugh or shout jesting advice as the mackinawed, high-booted men leap nimbly our of the path of death.
One by one, as the trail of the key log gets “hot” the assistants retire.
Now Lou (Lewis) Pake prods on alone – a human mute, pitifully brave in his scarlet sash, pitting his less than 200 pounds of sentient flesh against thousands of tons of logs.
Silence now at the great spring social event of the
northwoods of half a century ago – the breaking of the rollway!
No laughs. No facetious advice. For
Life, represented by the slim man in the red sash, is daring our great mother,
Death, to snatch him to her arms. The
face of “Uncle George” Masters is taut with fear for the fearless man,
facing a horrible end alone.
Like some giant disturbed in his sleep, the monster of the rollway is grumbling. The grind of logs is heard – dim, far away.
Lou Pake yanks vigorously with his peavey at what he assumes to be the key log; leaps back; then, as the low growl fades into a diminuendo, returns to the attack. The monster, it would appear, is merely turning over in his sleep. He must be prodded into passion.
As Lou Pake yanks the pile the women grow tense
with horror. For many of their men have died this way in years gone by.
They prodded, even as Lou Pake is prodding now – as valiant, husky men.
Then, as the taunted monster struck, they emerged – as mangled bodies
that in decency must be hurried to the grave.
The low growl is heard once more. It is punctuated by loud stacatto notes as a mild cascade of perhaps a dozen logs falls. Other cascades add their grace notes to the symphony.
Then, suddenly, the murderous mass bellows. It is as though all the brasses in an orchestra unanimously trumpeted forth in angry competition.
Ten times ten thousand logws fall in an avalanche of fury into the icy river! But where is Lou Pake?
“Uncle George” Masters leans far over the bank.
“There! I see him out on the logs in the river!” he shouts. “I told you folks that the log that could wet him wasn’t cut yet.”
“You saved him by touching wood,” one of the crowd suggests.
All this was 50 years ago, but in Alpena the other day Lou Pake, 79 years old on June 23 of this year, recreated the old scene for me.
Lou Pake is what you might call Exhibit A of the
Doctor’s Hunting Club, whose 800 acres of woodland adjoin the famous Turtle
Lake Club, 38 miles from Alpena. They
have built him a cabin on their grounds. Each
year, at a birthday dinner, they either pile his plate with gold, present him
with a new rod or fishing tackle, or give him some bit of hunting or camp
For Lou Pake, the great – and rollway breaker of half a century ago is still the raconteur deluxe of the north country.
More than that: he is, at close to 80 years of age, one of the most remarkable rifle shots of the state. Lat year, at 78, he killed at better than 200 feet, a buck with the one and only shot he fired during the entire hunting season.
“No log ever wet him and no deer or bear or wolf at which he aimed his gun ever escaped him,” they say of this amazing old man.
“He has lasted,” says Col. Harry S. New, former Postmaster-General of the United States and now president of the Turtle Lake Club, “far beyond the generation he adorned as hunter and woodsman.”
In the old days, when the deer were a nuisance to the scattered farmers, but a dependable source of meat supply to the lumber camps, Lou Pake was a professional hunter. In less than a month he killed – each with the one bullet, which he says is enough – 134 deer.
Legend has it – and legend in this instance is supported by scores of eyewitnesses to Pake’s remarkable marksmanship – that in a long life of shooting game not more than one bullet has ever been used for one animal.
Lou Pake denies the complimentary fiction and
points out instances where, having wounded an animal, he used a second bullet to
end its misery.
To balance this, however, he has the memory of three occasions when two deer, standing close together, side by side, were killed by the one shot. Even today, this hunting lumberjack trims the heads off partridges as rapidly as they rise from cover.
Add to these distinctions the fact that Mr. Pake has never been further south from Alpena than Sanilac County, his birthplace, nor farther north than Rogers City, 62 miles away, and has never been in a motion picture theater in his life. Add another, a true distinction in this day of constant moving: He has lived in the same house, 827 River Street, Alpena, continuously for 58 years.
For his first bear slain, Lou Pake, then a lithe
young lumberjack, got none of that public acclaim the youthful hunter craves.
Back over the tote road, usually crowded with teams, he toiled with Mr.
Bear over his shoulders. And met
not one man to whom he could show his trophy.
“Jerry Meredith was with me that day,” he says. “I had a 14-pound muzzleloading gun my father had fetched from England. Jerry went into a sink-hole to get a drink of water. Soon, from the shrubbery below, I heard a shot. A minute later a big black bear, unwounded, climbed up the steep sides of the hole, paused at the rim with his two paws on the ledge. As he paused, I fired. My shot was a bit too low, but it broke his shoulder. The bear ran. I shot again. The bullet got him in the same place. He still ran. I ran, too. It was quite a job to run, pour powder in the muzzle of my gun and put on the cap. “
“Every once in a while the bear would slow down. I would catch up with him. He’d rise on his hinc legs, wheel and turn toward me. Then I’d back away. Finally he scuttled under a log. I made a wide detour to get on the log from behind. I killed him with a hatchet when he was sticking his head out to see where I was. It was the trick of a foolish kid. No one with brains would do that. I wouldn’t try it now.”
On the last day of the hunting season of 1933 Mr. Pake left camp with an empty gun, but with four cartridges in his pocket.
“I was sitting on a log, when I thought how foolish I’d feel if a deer came along with me holding an empty gun,” he says. “So I dropped one in. Soon a doe came out of the woods, some 25 rods away, and stood on the other side of the clearing.”
“She raised her head, looked back where she came from. Soon a beautiful buck, with wide, spreading horns, came and stood beside her, just as though waiting for her signal that the coast was clear.”
“To myself I says, says I, ‘Old fellow, you
ain’t going to get that big boy if you get rattled and raise your gun too
fast.’ So I swing my body and the
gun, too, into a position where I was facing the two deer.
But I didn’t lift it to my shoulder.”
“Then I waited what seemed hours, but was only
moments, so the doe would get away and leave the big buck standing by himself.
By and by she did step a few feet off and started to nibble grass.”
“He seemed to be wise that there was someone near. For he held his fine big head up, sniffed the air and looked straight at me, sitting there rigid on that log. But the wind was not carrying my scent. You know, of course, that at better than 200 feet a deer will look straight at a man and not recognize him as dangerous unless the man moves. I sat as still as a log while that buck looked over me. Maybe he thought I was a stump. As long as he held his head high and was looking I sat as still as stone.”
“Then satisfied that he was safe, he lowered his
head and was just starting eat grass when I flung the gun to my shoulder and
fired. The bullet took him between
the horns. He never even
Mr. Pake no longer likes to kill deer. He shot this one, on the last day of the hunting season, but on the first occasion when he left camp with a gun, merely out of deference to the tradition that each year he must get his deer with his one bullet.
“I have shot more than 1,000 deer in my life, and now I’d rather make friends with them than kill them,” he says.
In the Doctor’s Hunting Club grounds are three deer tamed by the famous Nimrod. They come to the kitchen door for potato and apple peelings and, if the cook doesn’t notice their approach, will poke their heads through the open window in a mute suggestion that he get busy and give them snappy service.
When the rollways of 50 years ago were spilled into the foaming rivers of the north, the river crew – of which Mr. Pake was a mighty member – worked from dawn to dusk hustling the logs through lest the streams, swollen by the spring rains, dry up on them.
On the running logs leaped these big men who, in
their faiety, good humor and utter lack of responsibility, were rather like
little boys. Of all lithe lads that faraway day the man now 79 was one of
the lithest and nimblest. It was
said of him that he never took a foot-path when there was a log to ride and even
took the frightful chance involved in riding his wooden mounts over the dams.
Like the boys they were, these men dressed for the glory and excitement, blended with the piquant possibility of sudden death, that was part of the huge adventure known as the Spring Drive.
The sober-hued mackinaws of winter were exchanged
for others with screaming checks of scarlet, green, yellow, orange, purple and
all the shades between. The
trousers were “staged” below the knees, and were stuffed into high boots.
On the soles of these boots were steel caulks, carefully sharpened to
provide a grip on the slippery logs.
Life or death depended on these caulks, for once tossed off the log and thrust beneath the churning mass, the lumberjack had little chance. All along the rivers of northern Michigan are the humble graves, often unmarked, of the men who died when the logs they were driving closed over their heads.
About their waists these lads twined the bright insignia of the river driver – the red sash that distinguished Lou Pake when he stepped up, alone, to taunt death latent in the rollway. Always it was a vivid scarlet, wound tightly about the slim waist many times and then tied so that its brilliant tassels swung gracefully from the hips.
Two points of high peril there were – the forward end or the rear of the drive. At either might occur those “jams” which piled up the otherwise swiftly moving freight in a tangled confusion that might take days or weeks to straighten out. While the jam lasted, rival lumbermen were getting their logs to the mill for early cutting and shipping. This and the danger that the river itself might turn sluggish with the cessation of the spring rains kept the boys straining to drive the logs through while the tempestuous current was running fast.
Pake was boss the boss of the rear guard in this dangerous business. When jams threatened, Pake’s job was to attack the offending logs with feverish activity, snake out the “key” log from the mounting mass and drive it on its way with his peavey.
“When a log we were riding headed, as logs will, straight for rocks on the river bank we had to jump or be thrown high in the air on an upending log. Many ma man has been killed merely by waiting one second too long on a log headed for rocks. Often these contrary logs traveled with such force that hey broke in two the riverside trees they struck”