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In Northern Minnesota’s Bigfork River Valley, back in the days of the big timber camps, a man by the name of Wil Morgan and his wife raise a pair of orphaned kids, bringing them to adulthood. Wil tells of his life on the Bigfork and his time working in the timber camps. He was a hunter and a trapper, and as a long-time resident had many tales to tell. The children’s family was lost when a Canadian jack named Scooter Sherman, a man with no reverence for life, burned down their cabin in the middle of the night. He kills the parents and a small baby just to get revenge for his losses at a poker game. The book tells of the successes and failures of good, hardworking people and the trail to bring a bad man to justice.
The weathered looking man dipped his canoe paddle quietly into the dark water of the Bigfork River and pulled. As he lifted it to repeat the motion, water fell from the paddle into the river making a soft tinkling sound. Wil Morgan wore a wide brimmed hat and had a neatly trimmed beard that was a broad mixture of salt and pepper. His red and black plaid shirt gave him the look of a lumberjack which he indeed was.
He looked ahead down river and saw the first rays of sunshine peek from behind the cattails. It was an unusually warm morning and the colors of fall lit his world up brightly as the sun rose higher in the sky. The yellows of the birch trees and the reds of the sugar maples made the trip down river to the General Store one that he always enjoyed. Such simple pleasures were to his liking at this age, nothing to get his heart racing. He liked the little things like the smell of morning coffee over a campfire or the sound of a Loon’s lonesome call on a moonlit night. He had spent his life on this river and knew each bend and beaver lodge for many miles. The vast expanse of the Bigfork River Valley was his back yard, the place he called home.
A knock on the door one evening brought old friend Bill Parsons looking for a hunting partner. He asked Wil if he could get away on Saturday to do some duck hunting on one of the local lakes. Wil looked at him closely, trying to figure if he was sober or not.
A couple years ago Wil had agreed to hunt with him and it turned out to be a rather unforgettable trip. Bill had shown up in the early morning in his truck loaded with decoys and he was just as loaded as the truck. He hadn’t even been home yet from his latest trip to the local saloon. He was quite a drinker and Wil had little patience for imbibers. Bill had never married, most likely because he couldn’t find anyone that would put up with him.
As Wil went to put his gear in the back of the truck, he heard someone speak and it was his latest drinking companion still loaded to the hilt. Her name was May and the local joke was always “May or May not.” This time it looked like “may”. She was going to be their hunting companion for the day.
Wil thought to just forget the whole thing, but his word was good and he went along to see how things would go. She was huddled up in the sacks of decoys and had apparently found a comfortable place to get some sleep. Wil threw in his shotgun and his sandwich. This accomplished they headed down the road in the dark looking for Little Jessie Lake.
Wil wasn’t paying too close of attention to where they were heading so when they got to the lake, it didn’t quite look right to him.
In the dark, they got the boat out of the truck and loaded it up with the decoys. May found a soft spot in the boat and Wil started to row, Bill snoring in the back. It was getting some lighter and he found a spot in the reeds to set up his spread. The decoys were put out and Wil rowed back again into the reeds.
The sun was starting to lighten the fall sky and all of a sudden the ducks started to come towards them in large flocks. Wil brought his 12 gauge to his shoulder and took down the first big mallard. When the gun went off May jumped up and started to swing her fists like she was in a prize fight with an imaginary enemy. The first left caught Bill full on the chin and down he went into the bottom of the boat. She looked down at him and started to giggle. Wil couldn’t figure out what was so funny. Enemy defeated, May laid back down and soon was sleeping again.
Wil was having a good shoot and the combatants slept through the whole thing. Around 10 a.m. the excitement had faded some and Wil decided to pick up the decoys and the ducks. He had shot 6 nice mallards and that was a good day as far as he was concerned. Then he headed for the truck or at least where he thought the truck was. As he looked around, he came to the conclusion that he had no idea which lake he was on and Bill was in no shape to tell him. It darned sure wasn’t Little Jessie and he couldn’t figure what lake it was. He rowed for a long time around the lake and finally saw a mark in the sand where they had pushed the boat into the water. On closer inspection, he had indeed found the truck and he pulled up on shore. He looked down at Bill and he was still asleep or knocked out, he wasn’t sure which. He looked at May and she was asleep too, still with a big grin on her face.
Wil gave a shake to his sleeping partner and in time he came around enough to open his eyes.
“Are we dare yet Willy my boy?” asked Bill.
“Why you old fart, I been shooting ducks all morning! How’s your chin?”
“What do ya mean Wil?” he asked.
“About four hours ago, May knocked you one in the chops and you been out ever since.”
“May who?” he grumbled softly.
“Why you old scutter! You picked her up in the bar last night and brought her along with us hunting this morning.”
“Naw! I didn’t do that! Did I?” he said a bit perplexed.
It turned out that May had gotten drunk and when it was time to close the place, she crawled into the truck and fell asleep. Bill had been too drunk to even notice her. So as it turned out, May went duck hunting with them and didn’t even know it. Wil never forgot that whole thing and whenever Bill asked him to hunt, he had some rather dramatic flashbacks of a time he’d rather forget.