Outdoors in Maine: Legendary guide Bill Sewall

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If you enjoy reading about the life and times of the early Maine lumberjacks and guides, don’t miss Becoming Teddy Roosevelt: How a Maine Guide Inspired America’s 26th President. The new book, published by Downeast Books, is by Andrew Vietze. An editor-at-large for Downeast Books, Vietze is a Maine Guide and a ranger at Baxter State Park.

The focal point of this book is Aroostook County guide and lumberjack William Wingate Sewall. In Teddy Roosevelt’s formative years, when he was working hard at transforming himself from “a thin pale youngster with bad eyes and a weak heart” into the rugged, legendary outdoorsman, Bill Sewall became TR’s woods mentor. In time, they were destined to cultivate a deep and lasting friendship.

During my reading of a number of books about President Roosevelt, Maine Guide Bill Sewall’s name pops up. Sewall was from Island Falls and TR eventually hired Sewall to manage his Elkhorn ranch in the Dakota Badlands. Naturally, being a Mainer, I began to wonder about this man in TR’s life. Vietze’s timing could not have been better. There seems to be a lot of writing and public interest in TR’s legacy to America (River of Doubt, Wilderness Warrior and In Trace of TR) so Becoming Teddy Roosevelt is the perfect sequel. Vietze has done a thorough job, not only in his historical research, but in using his information and anecdotes to illuminate the budding friendship between TR and Bill Sewall.

With or without Teddy’s friendship, Bill Sewall was a big man literally and figuratively, a respected leader in the emerging town of Island Falls and a capable woodsman. In Vietze’s book, you come to see how Roosevelt, who revered all hardy outdoorsman, particularly idolized his friend Sewall and didn’t hesitate to say so. It was through his association and friendship with TR, that Bill Sewall himself became an iconic figure, especially in Maine. Vietze writes:

He held outdoorsmen in the highest esteem and equated them with patriots. “Hardy outdoor sports, like hunting, are in themselves of no small value to the national character and should be encouraged in every way,” he wrote in his autobiography, adding that” men who go into the wilderness, indeed, men who take part in any field sports with horse and rifle, receive a benefit which can hardly be given by even the most vigorous athletic games.”

All of us, even Presidents of the United States, are who we are partly because of other people. Veitze, a fine writer and researcher, succeeds in building a case for his premise, as suggested by the book title, that part of who Teddy Roosevelt was can be attributed in no small measure to William Wingate Sewall, Maine outdoorsman. In fact, this is born out by TR’s own kin who, according to Vietze, wrote:

For three autumns and one winter, Roosevelt hunted and trapped with Sewall. Those days in the pines, among the bears and deer,changed him from a delicate youth into a sturdy man, and the strength he gained up there was his making and served him well in his later years.

Becoming Teddy Roosevelt: How a Maine Guide Inspired America’s 26th President is available at book stores for $22.95.

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Branch Lake Stocking

Spring fish stockings in Maine lakes and ponds by regional fisheries biologists are generally a pretty routine undertaking. But when the state released 1,350 fingerling landlocked salmon into Branch Lake in Ellsworth on May 13th it was anything but routine. In fact, it was a cause for celebration. Branch Lake, once a thriving sport fishery, hadn’t seen a state stocking truck since 2000. For 10 years, the fishing stocking of Branch was put on hold because the municipality steadfastly refused to allow the state to build a new boat-launch site on its town water supply. ( There was no public access to the lake and state law prohibits fish stocking in Maine waters that have no public access).

Over the years, there was much acrimony generated by the ongoing dispute. Fortunately that’s water over the dam now. Branch Lake anglers can be thankful that ultimately cooler heads prevailed and the stalemate was resolved without a major court struggle. Beneath the relief and festive atmosphere, however, is the sobering reality that sport fisheries, ignored for a decade, don’t bounce back overnight. It will take many years and careful fisheries management to rejuvenate this once-wonderful sport fishery.

There is no small irony, though, in the fact that, as we celebrate the Branch Lake reprieve, there remain a number of other state lakes and ponds that are not being fish stocked for lack of public access. And often, the lack of public access is a political problem, not a financial one.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned by the protracted Branch Lake dispute. We can all hope that its final resolution will be used as a template for the future.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal and has written his first book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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