Davidson's Island Cemetery

Donated by Burnett Co. Historical Society

The history and reading of this cemetery is a little different from the rest of our cemeteries.  In fact, many of the graves found in this cemetery are unmarked and, if it hadn't been for this article found in the 24 January 1962 edition of the Superior Evening Telegram, we might not know that this cemetery even existed.  The story from the newspaper is included here and was told by Herbert Anderson, who was 77 years old at the time of his interview in 1962.  We'll let him tell you the story:
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UNMARKED GRAVES TELL HISTORY OF LITTLE TRADE LAKE ISLAND
24 January 1962

Grantsburg (Special) -- "I'm the only one who can tell you about that island."  Those were the words of Herbert Anderson, Grantsburg, now 77, a native of Trade Lake township, Burnett County.  Anderson, has many interesting things to tell about a small island in the south end of Little Trade Lake, known as Davidson's Island long before it came into the possession of the Davidsons, who bought it from the Government in 1911.

Years ago there were no trees except for three large basswood grouped together on the northeast corner.  When Herbert was a small boy, his father, John E. Anderson, former postmaster at Trade Lake, was hired by a government man, Ole Johnson, to help survey the island.

"Do you see any graves?" Ole had asked.

"Yes," answered John.  "I see three."

"Those are of my wife and two children," Ole had told them.

Those were not the first graves on the island.  Although there is a dispute among old settlers.  Some say that the Indians also buried their dead there.  Others claim not, but the general belief is that they did.

The first white person who was buried on Davidson's Island was Lars Ahlstrom, who had come from Sweden about 1867 and died a short while afterward, according to his granddaughter, Mrs. Hazel Ahlstrom Addington, St. Croix Falls.  Soon after this, the island became a regular burying ground for white settlers.

When a man hanged himself, he also was laid to rest on the island.  There grew much discontent among relatives of the dead on Davidson's Island, because it was a common superstition with these folks that 'spooks' haunted a locality where one who had taken his own life was buried.

The "heat" grew so terrific that relatives of the hanged man dug his body up and "spirited" it away by moonlight.  If anyone knows where it was taken, he is not telling.  This open grave is located at about the center of the island, with blackberry bushes now growing from its cavity.

Land around Davidson's Island was heavily wooded 70 years ago.  Cemeteries were few and far between, therefore, it was a comforting thing for settlers to know they had government permission to use this bare island for a graveyard.

Coffins were next to impossible to acquire.  But there was a man named J. O. Akerlind, a sort of "Jack of all trades," who handcarved coffins out of the plentiful, soft basswood of huge dimensions.  He made them on the "buy now, pay later" basis.  These coffins were unlined except for what material was tacked in them by loved ones, if material was available.  Bodies were wrapped in a quilt or a blanket.

The settlers made a raft of 10-foot logs chained together and fastened at either end to join the island and the mainland.  It was called a "floating" bridge.  Anderson says he helped carry a number of bodies across this bridge for burial on the island.

At one time a prominent millionaire wanted to build a dance hall on the island, but the government would not allow it on account of it being a burial place.

A family, named Davidson, owned land around much of Trade Lake and claimed the island as their own, not knowing for certain about government regulations at that time.  Every spring they took their flock of 30 or 40 sheep to the strip for summer grazing.  The remains of a sheep shelter still exists.

There came a time when there had to be a settlement as to who owned the island.  When Manly Davidson found his father had not been actual possessor, he bought it from the government.  Court house records at Grantsburg list this sale made on Jan. 23, 1911, to Manly A. Davidson.  The price of sale could not be learned but records show the present taxes to be 50 cents per year, paid by Manly's widow.

Mrs. Davidson lives in a small house situated in the spacious yard of her daughter, Mrs. William Erickson, near Grantsburg.  She vividly recalls taking her husband's sheep to pasture on the island.  They transported them in a row boat, five or six at a time, she says, the adults becoming accustomed to their unique method of travel.

Never had the boat overturned, never had an animal jumped overboard, said Mrs. Davidson, who had come to her husband's farm some time after the 'floating' bridge was gone.

The Davidson family had a special site for their own burial place on the island, which probably has four graves, Manly's widow said.  Of the many graves on the island, theirs are the only ones which are marked.  These are crowned by a lilac bush, and lilies-of-the-valley cover them.  A rail fence, built for protection from the sheep, still enclosures the graves.

Neither Mrs. Davidson nor Mr. Anderson could give a true reason why there was a complete lack of markers, other than those mentioned.  Perhaps tomb stones were not available.  Exact dates of burials could not be obtained, except the first one, but the Davidson's were certain theirs had been the last.  Manly's father was buried there, they know, but who the other members of their family were they do not.

When Herbert Anderson, his father John, and Ole Johnson had finished with their surveying of the island, which court house records show as being 2.49 acres, the government man scooped some dirt away from the base of the largest basswood tree and hacked his mark in the root.  This was to show that the surveying had been completed.

The trunk of that tree still remains, part of it lying on the ground and covering an estimated hundred feet of space in length not allowing for the length which the upper branches might have added.  The truck is a good 10 feet in girth.  A part of this tree stands, broken off about 12 feet from the base.  The branches on this slowly dying section are green with growing, healthy leaves.  However this is not an unusually large tree for a virgin basswood.

After the bridge was taken away or worn out, which is estimated to have been over 40 years ago, folks no longer could conveniently get to the island to keep young tree shoots pulled out.  The trees growing there now are about a foot thick, which would mean they are probably about 40 years old.

Davidson's Island stands today, not only a complete resting place for, but also a monument to our pioneer dead.

 

Last Update Sunday, 07-Nov-2010 22:14:39 EST

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