flying duck logo Oberholtzer – TimelineChildhood

Childhood: 1884–1902
(Ober's birth to age 18)

Note: The information in this Timeline is drawn for the most part from Joe Paddock's Keeper of the Wild: The Life of Ernest Oberholtzer (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001).

1884 (birth)

  • February 6, Ernest Carl Oberholtzer is born in Davenport, Iowa, a thriving Mississippi River town of 30,000 residents, to Rosa Carl and Henry Reist Oberholtzer.

1889 (Ober age 5)

  • The Ojibwe sign a treaty ceding the area south of Lake of the Woods and Rainy River to the United States government. In 1900 the Army moved the Indians out of the Basswood Lake area. Some were moved to La Croix, some to Seine River, some to Nett Lake, and some to Lac des Millac.

1890 (age 6)

  • Rosa files for divorce from Henry Oberholtzer on the grounds of desertion.

1891 (age 7)

  • Ober's 5-year-old younger brother Frank dies from inflammation of the brain, possibly the result of a severe head injury caused by a fall. Ober and his mother Rosa move in to the large and gracious home of his maternal grandparents Ernest Carl and Sarah Marckley Carl on the corner of Sixth and Perry, Davenport. Ober never sees his father again.

1891–1900 (age 7–16)

  • Ober is raised in an upper middle-class, cultured household, spending his time reading, studying German, attending the neighborhood Unitarian church, delivering the Chicago newspaper, biking, hanging out with his best friend Harry French, and exploring the Iowa countryside.
  • In addition to his mother Rosa, Grandfather Carl, and Grandmother Sarah—all of whom dote on him—influential people in Ober's life include his grandfather's employer, the Harvard-educated banker and entrepreneur Frank Griggs, his Unitarian pastor Arthur Judy, and an illiterate, philosophical Irish gravedigger, Tom Burke, “a real pal of the first order” who often accompanies him in his explorations of the wild areas around Duck Creek and around the cemetery where his brother is buried.
  • Of his childhood Ober later says, “But what probably impressed me more than anything were the long rafts of logs . . . out of that vast unknown North!”

1895 (age 11)

  • Ober is given a three-quarter size violin by his Grandfather Carl, and he begins a lifelong study of the classical violin.

1898 (age 14)

  • The United States Forest Service is organized with Gifford Pinchot as its first director. It is charged with protecting watersheds and ensuring the even supply of timber.

1899 (age 15)

  • April 4, canoe outfitter, educator, conservationist, wilderness advocate, and writer Sigurd Olson is born.
  • October, Ober's Grandfather Carl dies at age 58; Ober's Grandmother Sarah dies the following spring.

1901 (age 17)

  • Still grieving the loss of his grandparents, Ober is bedridden for three months with a severe bout of rheumatic fever, causing him to drop out of high school and fall half a year behind his class and leaving him with a heart condition. He is told by his doctors he is unlikely to live a year. His heart is a concern to him for the rest of his life. At times, it causes chest pains, makes him feel fatigued, and causes his heart to beat at a dangerously high rate.

1902 (age 18)

  • June 30, Minnesota's Forestry Commissioner Christopher Andrews sets aside 500,000 acres of public domain in Lake and Cook Counties from logging, mining, and homesteading. Much of the area is now part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

1902–03 (age 18–19)

  • Ober studies Greek for six months in preparation for the Harvard entrance exams. He scores high marks on the exam in German and Greek, but unsatisfactory marks in geometry, chemistry, and history. He is conditionally admitted.

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