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December 1, 2002

The death of Knife Lake Pete marks end of an era

From: Ely Echo, MN - 1 Dec 2002

Echo editorial
December 01, 2002

He was the last of three hardy wilderness dwellers in the Knife Lake area, the other two being Dorothy Molter and Benny Ambrose.
Pete Cosme, age 91, made it over the Long Portage last week. Most newcomers and younger folk may not have known Knife Lake Pete, but those of us who have been here for 40 years or more were well aware of Pete. He was the last of three hardy wilderness dwellers in the Knife Lake area, the other two being Dorothy Molter and Benny Ambrose. Dorothy, who lived on Knife Lake for over a half century, inherited Bill Berglund's tiny resort.

Benny homesteaded up on Ottertrack at the end of World War I. Both were threatened with eviction when the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964. That story has been told many times over the years, but sufficient to say, a means was found to allow Dorothy and Benny to finish out their days in the woods they loved.

Pete was an altogether different case. Born and raised in Chicago, he was known far and wide as a bowling alley hustler who made enough money in the winter to carry himself through the next summer, a period of several months annually spent camped on Knife Lake.

Pete headquartered at Bernie Carlson's Quetico-Superior Outfitters on Moose Lake. His expeditions originated and were outfitted from there. Bernie provided Pete with a piece of land and a housetrailer to live in when he was out of the woods. Pete regularly traveled to Knife Lake with a 17-foot square stern Grumman canoe and a three horse outboard, a mode of travel he continued to use long after motors were banned in the Boundary Waters.

Pete usually set up a comfortable camp somewhere on the north arm or south arm of Knife Lake, and stayed there all summer. The fact that canoe camping permits were good for only 14 days bothered Pete not one bit. Indeed, he was sometimes to be found on the Canadian side of Knife Lake, camping out with no permit at all.

Bud Dickson, outfitter at Atikokan, Ontario, tells about hunting for Pete back in the 1970s when Bud was a staff member of the Ontario Lands and Forests Trail crew. He was told to find Pete and either order him to move off crown land or arrest him.

Pete had one handicap. He was darn near deaf. Thus when Bud and his trail companion found Pete, well over on the Canadian side, they had a hard time conversing. As they landed their canoe Pete met them at the shore with his booming voice inviting them to come up by the fire for hot coffee and fresh blueberry pie. Bud tried to tell the deaf camper his mission without much success. In addition, Pete heaped more pie and bakery goods on the two Canadians, who mumbled thanks and left.

"How are we going to report this?" Bud's companion asked.

"We can't. We just report that we looked all over Knife Lake and couldn't find him."

That's about how it went. Pete continued to fudge the laws and the law enforcement people sort of found other things to worry about. The last couple of years Pete was going downhill and couldn't get up to Knife Lake like he did earlier. Recently, he had a hip operation, was apparently healing but took a turn for the worse. He died Sunday, Dec. 1. He will be cremated; a memorial service is scheduled for next summer and his ashes will probably be spread on Knife Lake by friends.

First Benny, then Dorothy and now Pete. It's the end of an era and a pretty good one it was, too.

©Ely Echo 2002