This two part series will highlight the beginnings of the dream that Martin Johnson had for his beloved land on Big Bass Lake and speak also of the faith of the man.
Condensed from Martin Johnson’s History
I struck out across the country to find Bass Lake or the Saubel Lakes. I found the Saubel Lakes in the afternoon and next day brought the young man, Herbert Bromen, and we camped a few days until I got our supplies packed in. At that time lumbering operations were at their height, and Peter’s headquarters were at Saubel Lakes, with a crew of 100 men. In a few days, we moved to Loon Lake, where we camped the rest of the summer. At that time Loon Lake was surrounded with virgin pine which was in its beauty, wonderfully majestic, the tall dark forest for miles around darkly solemn.
After we were well settled at Loon Lake I started to find Big Bass Lake. In this oak and pine forest it was pretty thick and dark; one could not see far ahead but I finally found it. I came to where the school house now stands and started to walk around the lake, but I could not see more than a small part of it at any time. I did not know that the lake was as big as it proved to be.
I could see the north part of the lake and some of the land I had seen when I first struck the lake, which proved to be islands. I sat down on a fallen tree to meditate and realized that this was the place I had been dreaming about all the time. In the fall of 1893 I put up a little log cabin and stayed all winter and did some chopping and clearing way of brush around the cabin where I intended to build my house.
In January, 1901, I said goodbye to civilization and came up to my little cabin and began to cut timber for my house. The snow was deep and the weather was bad, and it took me until March before I had enough material for the house. Before the ice went out I hired a man with a team to haul logs and poles to the place where I wanted to build. Afterwards I hired the same man to help me hew the logs. It took me all summer to build, as I worked mostly alone and as everything had to be made with the ax.
It is work that invigorates and gives one a good appetite. I think working in the open and learning the smell of smoke has added very much to my health and strength, as I was not nearly as strong when I first came as afterwards. The work was so slow that it did not look as if I would ever make any headway. If timber was as scarce as it is now the lumbermen would have taken all of it and my work would have been less, but then I would not have had anything handy to build with.
The third year I bought a team of horses and commenced to plow among the stumps. It was discouraging work; the plow caught in the roots and snags and I would have to pull and tug and the next minute would be caught again. So it was all the while I kept on clearing. I generally put in from 12 to 18 hours a day, and was many times discouraged but kept at it. If it had not been for this beautiful lake I could not have endured it, as many times I felt like giving up and would sit down and watch the water and shadows and reflections, and think and dream; then I would get at it again. I really never felt I wanted to give up and quite, so little by little the place was cleared.
People that have to be alone lose their reason in a short time they said. But I felt that I could because it was my calling, and if God sent me he would go with me. I can do all things with God in whom I live and move and have my being. The trouble with some people is that they have lost track of a personal God. The deeper things of God are revealed to man by the spirit of God.
Many people have given up the idea of a personal God because they can not work him out by an intellectual process. Can they by any such process help us to understand two of the oldest and most elemental mysteries, the mysteries of time and space? Can they make clear to us how time can be without beginning and end? They cannot. Nothing seems to have been put inside the skull of man that makes it possible for him to understand these mysteries. God has to be taken on faith, a faith that is grounded in instinct and reinforced by experience and common sense. God cannot be proved like a mathematical formula. One of the needs of our time is to have the simple faith of our fathers poured into a twentieth century mold. We feel the old fashioned religion dressed in a free and flowing robe and not in a straight jacket in which bigots would be encased. We need more sincerity, more simplicity, more tolerance, more reverence, and less smugness. We need more people who can say, “Our Father Who Art in Heaven” and really believe it.
I can’t understand how anyone can be lonesome in this beautiful place. It is God’s country. I see his wonders every day. But I pity those who have Nature for their God because although Nature is great and wonderful in its greatness and its beauty and majesty, Nature is cold and cruel Nature can teach us many things about God. It can teach us that he is a great and all powerful and noble father, but Nature can’t teach us all we need to know and what we know it is necessary to know about him, namely, that God is love.
At this time the lakes were full of fish and I could have all the fish I wanted without spending much time. I did not see a boat on the lake for years as the roads were not in condition so that people could get here easily and there were no cars. And so I lived on fish and potatoes, and would have fish and potatoes for dinner and potatoes and fish for supper. I lived cheaply and simply but well at the same time.
I had an awful time with rheumatism in my left hip which was so bad I could not rest night or day. It was no use to lie down; I could not lie down for five minutes and had to sit up for two weeks. Some times when I was completely worn out I would fall asleep for a while and wake up and feel as if I were on fire but I finally got well. Suffering does not spoil our lives it only raises us to a higher altitude, bringing us nearer to one another and nearer to God.
When I built my house I built a sky light in the roof against the time when I could do some painting again. I knew I would not have any time to paint for a number of years but I had a good opportunity to study the beautiful things of nature and at the same time find that although I have not handled a brush for more than a quarter of a century I have not lost anything but gained much if my eyes and mind were always on the beautiful things in nature. Of course, the hands became stiff and hard, and it required a little time to get them broke in again, but they would soon limber up and respond to ones will when I quit using them for hard labor.
One day I heard a most wonderful song of peace, it was like a choir of thousands of angels singing praises to God. The sound seemed to come from the skies in a southeasterly direction and every note had a beautiful color like the color of the rainbow that increased and diminished in volume as the sound increased or diminished. It was wonderful, at times soft and gentle and at times like the sound of many waters and indescribable. Most of this time I was travelling through space with beautiful lakes and rivers, and all things were perfect. All the waters were so very pure and clear.
From the day I heard this beautiful and wonderful song I commenced to get better and could soon sleep. After that I recovered fast, and in a few days felt better than ever, although I was weak. Although I believe God has something to do with this I don’t claim anything supernatural about it. After I got well I set to work to clear it up so that I could explain it to my own satisfaction. I always loved music and had in my soul the subjective starting point, also perhaps the birds singing and my imagination doing the rest. As for the colors, I know there were tears in my eyes as I looked in a southeasterly direction, having the sun on a slant I saw the colors of the rainbow and my imagination did the rest. The curve of the eye lid gave it the circle shape of the rainbow across the sky for a background. What wonderful gifts the Lord has given us, especially our imagination; but how often do people misuse and abuse this great gift by letting it run wild and on unworthy things.
In 1923, Mr. Ralph Cooke and a committee representing the Young Men’s Christian Association in Chicago came and looked the place over and wanted it for a summer camp for boys, and they wanted the whole place. Then I knew what I had been working for. I was willing to sell the place for very much less than I had been offered, but I finally made up my mind to take a life lease on the point where my house stands and give the Young Men’s Christian Association the whole thing. I took an annuity sufficient to keep me as long I live and when I pass away they will have it all. And now may the good Lord bless “Y” work here and may all the boys and all who come here be blessed. God grant that these boys may grow up and attain strong, clean, healthy manhood.
The world has need of strong Christian men, more now than ever before. What a blessed thing it is for boys to get away from the city where there is so much noise and so much that is misleading. So much deceit, shame, and temptation, and to be able to get out to God’s country where they can be nearer HIm and see more of truth and less of untruth and evil. May the beautiful things that they have a chance to see here in this wonderful place inspire them. May it inspire them to a love for God and humanity and all that is beautiful and noble and true. What a happy world it would be if from sin and unbelief people would turn to God and praise him for his wonderful works with the children of men. Most people are like the bees and grub worms, they live for today and tomorrow without desire for the deeper, broader, higher, and fuller life. The life they are living is not worth being called life; it is only existence.
Part Two on the Betrayal of Camp Martin Johnson