Minnesota Historical Society

Keeper of the Wild: The Life of Ernest Oberholtzer

$ 22.46

The first-ever biography of wilderness preservationist Ernest Oberholtzer, environmental pioneer, explorer, and caretaker of Minnesota and Ontario's boundary waters region.

Ernest Oberholtzer (1884-1977) is one of the great unsung heroes of the American conservation movement of the twentieth century. Selected as one of the 100 influential Minnesotans of the twentieth century by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a friend and contemporary of both Aldo Leopold and Sigurd Olson, and one of founders of The Wilderness Society, "Ober" was best known for his pioneering work to preserve one of the last remaining wilderness areas east of the Rockies--the Quetico-Superior region of northern Minnesota and southern Ontario.

 The long campaign by Ober and many others to preserve this area made a significant and lasting impression on conservation and wilderness preservation efforts around the world. Keeper of the Wild is the first book to document and explore the life of the man who led the fight to save the area that eventually became Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (today the most visited wilderness area in the United States), and the successful effort to preserve Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario as a protected wilderness area.

Drawing on a lifetime of notebooks, letters, and speeches, as well as interviews with the people who knew him best, Paddock maps Ober's transformation from a daring young outdoorsman and adventurer to an equally fierce defender of our country's disappearing wilderness areas.


Along with his desire to preserve the natural beauty of the boundary waters, Ober was also committed to preserving the culture of the native peoples of the northern wilderness. He befriended and traveled with them, learned to speak Ojibwe fluently, and began a life-long study of the legends and oral tradition of their culture. Because of his efforts on their behalf, the Ojibwe called him "Atisokan," meaning "legend" or "teller-of-legends."


  • By: Joe Paddock
  • Format: Paperback book, 342 pp., 50 b&w photos, 2 maps, notes, index
  • Publisher: MNHS Press
  • Product ##: 9780873517935


JOE PADDOCK is a poet, oral historian, and environmental writer. A founding member of the Land Stewardship Project, he is the principal author of Soil and Survival: Land Stewardship and the Future of American Agriculture. His poetry collections are Handful of Thunder: A Prairie Cycle, Earth Tongues, and Boars' Dance and he edited the oral history collection Things We Know Best.



Praise for Keeper of the Wild:


"A lively and engaging account of an authentic American hero. . . . An important story skillfully told." -- Charles L. Woodard, author of Ancestral Voice: Conversations with N. Scott Momaday


"We gain inspiration and take heart from Oberholtzer, a leader of the nation's wilderness movement for much of the twentieth century, and his philosophy of action, an acknowledgement that 'we never know our powers until we put them to the test.' His story continues to inspire wilderness activists." -- William H. Meadows, President, The Wilderness Society

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