Cook County was Once Reindeer Country!
Editor's note: Woodland Caribou were once native to Cook County, but survive now only in geographic and business names. But reindeer made a brief comeback, too, thanks to local entrepreneur Charlie Boostrom.
In January 1928, Cook County seemed headed to a new economic venture --reindeer! N.H. Dimond and P.A. Mullen, who had a Santa Claus reindeer show in Duluth and a reindeer ranch north of Duluth, had decided to move it north of Grand Marais.
Utilizing the 3,000,000 unoccupied acres in the Arrowhead country, it was figured that 10,000 families could live on this industry alone! According the math, each reindeer required 3 acres and was worth $60.00--an asset of $60,000,000 was projected!
While this venture did not materialize, on Clearwater Lake Charlie Boostrom had already gone into the reindeer business.
Beatrice Ogren, in her book Gunflint Trailblazers, writes about his experience. Another import from Alaska was the purchase of five reindeer for $7.00 apiece. They came crated; he had to pay $57.00 apiece freight. Just like horses, they were difficult to break, but, once trained, they were kind and gentle. Later he purchased four more and a sleigh; during the holiday season, he dressed as Santa Claus and toured around the country.
One reindeer was white and he had her trained so that when he laid his hand on her head, she would shake her head vigorously from side to side until he scratched it and then she would contentedly nod her head slowly up and down. He used this trick to make people think she was saying "yes" or "no" and he worked up an act in which the animal would apparently answer questions, such as whether a child had been good or not. He amused many school children with this act; he would visit hospitals with his pet reindeer even taking her in elevators.
The reindeer had to be kept in a corral during spring and fall because these were the times the instinct to migrate asserted itself and once loose they were hard to collect. Once a reindeer roundup had to be conducted on Gunflint Lake because they were in the process of migrating. The rest of the time they stayed happily around the lodge. During the depression years, Charlie had to let them all go because he could not afford the feed and they were never seen again.
Gunflint Trailblazers is available from many local merchants or from the Cook County Historical Society for $5.40, plus $4.00 shipping and handling.
At Clearwater Lodge, Hallie Carter Congleton (later a teacher at the Maple Hill School) and Minnie Larson seem fascinated by Charlie Boostrom's reindeer
For more articles on Cook County History, visit the archives.