by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor
History stories hide in the most unexpected places. I was recently out walking in my neighborhood and stopped at one of those Little Free Libraries, which are small public repositories at which anyone can place an unwanted book or pick one up. I saw a title that caught my attention: Six Months in the Wilderness: The Adventures of a Young Trapper in Northern Minnesota by Michael W. Raihala.
I pulled out the book and turned to the author’s photo on the back cover, anticipating someone who looked like Kit Carson. Instead, I saw the portrait that accompanies this post. This was the young trapper? This man spent six months in the wilderness?
As I learned from paging through this book, which was issued by the vanity publisher Exposition Press in 1955, here was a history tale. Mr. Raihala was a retired banker and accountant who made a discovery while going through his possessions in storage. On the back side of an old roll of wallpaper, he found a diary he had kept as a teenager. In barely decipherable writing, it described a trip he had taken into the woods as a 16-year-old in the company of a weathered trapper named Joe. Together they hunted, trapped, and camped in the wilderness. The experience deeply influenced the boy and gave him a fierce love of the outdoors, but poor health forced him to abandon his dreams of living in the wilderness. Instead, he moved to Duluth as an adult and went into desk work. I Googled the author and learned that he died in 1961.
Only after bringing the book home did I notice that Mr. Raihala had signed my copy on the title page under the handwritten inscription, “To Gracie, Don and David, from Pops.” I’d love to find out how this book ended up discarded in a box along my afternoon walk.
Raihala, Michael W. Six Months in the Wilderness: The Adventures of a Young Trapper in Northern Minnesota. Exposition Press, 1955. [Good luck finding a copy!]