Wild always wins

Posted on April 27, 2010


There is a saying in the north country, generally applied to encounters between domestic animals and denizens of the woods, but sometimes applied more broadly.  Wild always wins.  This means that no matter how fierce your Rottweiler (or my spaniel) may be, it will not win a fight with a coyote.  Stand warned.

I have come to believe that the saying applies equally well to encounters between fierce capitalists from Away and the “woodsy” denizens of Torch Lake Township in its wild youth.  Here, for example, is a snippet from the memoirs of Merritt Hodge, published in the Central Lake Torch and reprinted in the Elk Rapids Progress in 1915:

In 1882 a firm from Grand Rapids came to Eastport with a mill that used to cut from one to two hundred thousand [feet of lumber] a year. After [it had been] running two years, I met the junior [m]ember on his way out of the country. He said to me, “Hodge, that is a  hard bunch up there. I came here with some money, and I am going out with none. They have cleaned up on me and got all I had.”

Just today I came upon another example.  In this instance, contemporary technology was bested by the wily ways of a Wild West photographer.  I’ve written before about the pleasures of delving into Nora Metz’s photos.  One of the items in her collection is this Buffalo Bill postcard.  I snapped a picture of it with my trusty point-and-shoot.

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was wildly popular during the first decade of the 20th century.  He traveled the country, and the world, with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, an exhibition of riding, roping, shooting and storytelling skills interspersed with dramatic scenes.  Pulp writers churned out tales of his derring do at an enormous pace.  Young people especially thought he cut quite a heroic and romantic figure.  (According to my mother, my grandfather claimed to have ridden in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, but I have my doubts.)

The postcard was in an album that Nora’s mother, Maud Evans, received for Christmas in 1904, when she was 11 years old.  Nora lent me the album so that I could scan the contents.  When I scanned the postcard, something very interesting happened.

It looks for all the world as if the long-ago photographer devised an effective anti-piracy technique!  I have no idea why taking a digital photo with my camera produced a different result than taking a digital photo with my scanner, but it did.  Smart photographer, eh?  Even 87 years after his copyright expired, you can try to mass produce copies of his postcard, but you might be disappointed. 

I love Maud Evans’s album.  It is exactly the sort of thing that would appeal to an adolescent girl, don’t you think?  And she saved a souvenir postcard of Buffalo Bill.  That’s not something you see every day.  I wonder why she did that.

The album presented me with more mysteries than answers, but that is precisely what is so compelling about a quest. Look at the extravagant, florid design. Look at these tintypes that were tucked in beside the Buffalo Bill postcard and the family portraits.    

That handsome fellow in back on the right is Nora’s grandfather, Wendell Evans.  The beautiful doll-sized woman in the center front is her grandmother, Nora Smith Evans.  We haven’t figured out who the rest of the people are, but we suspect they are family.

I think these might be photos of some dramatic pieces.  The backdrops, the costumes, the studied poses, the direct, challenging gazes.  But we don’t know.  Not yet.   But these are not people who sat quietly at home, no indeed.  They craved–and achieved–Excellent Adventures.  Naturally, as is the way with adventuresome souls, they had some other life experiences as well.

Nora has said I may write the story of her life.  She is 93 years old, so it is going to take us some time just to cover the highlights.  On the other hand, even though she is part of a long line of long-lived women, she feels that it is likely she will not live forever.  We will therefore not waste any time getting started. But we will succeed in the end. Wild always wins.