My step-grandfather, George MacKenzie Sr., hunted Swan Lake in Nicollet County from a tent camp on Nelson Point in the late 1890s. Swan Lake, commonly referred to in past years as a prairie jewel, was one of three premier duck-hunting lakes in the state.
In 1920, he rented a site on the point and constructed a duck hunting shack. It was 24 by 26 feet and had four double bunks with an attached screen porch. Utilities at the time were a dry earth privy, kerosene lamps, a small wood-burning stove made of cast iron and water brought from home. The insulation was a coat of paint on the outside wall.
When the lake dried up during the big drought of the 1930s, the cabin was abandoned and remained so until 1941, when my parents, Norma and George MacKenzie Jr. (my stepfather), went to the cabin and found it reasonably intact. The linoleum floor was covered with about 2 inches of sheep manure as the landowner had used the point as a pasture. But my parents bent to the task and scrubbed the place clean, then straightened and cleaned the leaning outhouse to facilitate its use. My mom was a farm girl and knew what she was doing. I was 10 years old at the time.
We moved in and hunted the 1941 season. I recall it being an incredible opener. I grew up with that cabin and hunted from it every year except for three years while serving in Korea.
Those Swan Lake years were, and are, wonderfully full of memories which I have dutifully recorded in over 80 stories in two books, “Fowl Stories” and “Fowl Deeds,” which were written about our own and others’ adventures at the lake.
In 1969, I was fortunate to marry a wonderful outdoor woman, Theresa Malley, who fell in love with the place. We raised our two children to understand the lake’s incredible wildlife resources.
My wife and I are now in our 80s and continue to reap the wonders of the lake and our little shack. We have made repairs over the years when needed but maintained the original atmosphere of the cabin. The most significant additions were electricity, a gas stove, a heater and a new outhouse which, much to my wife’s pleasure, is wired for electricity, giving her a light in the dark night.
Because our children live too far away to use and keep up the old place, it will someday be sold and probably destroyed and forgotten.
SEND US YOUR HUNTING SHACKS! Cabin Country is celebrating your beloved hunting shacks through the fall. Please send your photos and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit online at www.startribune.com/hideouts. Come wintertime, we'll turn our attention to ice-fishing houses.