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Cass Lake author pens his first history book

Gregory Chester of Cass Lake researched the War of 1812 to produce "The Battle of Big Sandy," a turning point in the war. The battle was fought in the mouth of Sandy Creek on the eastern side of Lake Ontario. Chester will be signing his books from noon-3 p.m. Saturday at Book World in downtown Bemidji. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Books make great presents and are even better when they relate to well-loved and familiar locations.

The six books recommended here are all by Minnesota authors. They range from a crime novel to history, travel, children's and practical field guides. All are available at Book World, and all but "The Battle of Big Sandy" are available at B. Dalton.

Cass Lake resident Gregory Chester said he spent 30 years researching and writing "The Battle of Big Sandy." His efforts have paid off in a book to thrill both history buffs and people who like an exciting true story.

The book is divided into three parts. The first section tells the story of the historic 10-minute battle May 29, 1814, on Lake Ontario that turned the tide of the War of 1812 in favor of the United States. Huge American warships, such as the 64-gun USS Superior, drove the British fleet across the lake into Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

"They wouldn't come out after that," Chester said.

The second part is a collection of stories Chester discovered during his travels to New York State and Canada researching the book. For example, he records the journals of some of the British prisoners of war as they were confined in Cheshire, Mass.

He also tells a wonderful story of "The Oneida Bowl." In the 1930s, a dairy herd inspector became friends with a man who told him the story and bequeathed the bowl to him. After the Battle of Big Sandy, a group of Oneida Indian men, who had taken part in the battle as U.S. allies, stopped at a farm on their way home. The woman of the house gave the men a meal, and one of the men gave her a hand-carved wooden bowl. The bowl was passed down into the family until just one member was left. He gave it to his dairy inspector friend with the understanding that he would never sell the artifact, but would take care of it and pass it to another person for its care.

The third part is a lengthy appendix of primary documents Chester used in his research. Chester has also illustrated the book with drawings and maps.

Chester said the climactic Battle of Big Sandy on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario had not been much explored by historians. And, although the battles took place in the eastern United States, there are connections to Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, he said.

"They were fighting out East to get access to the resources here," Chester said.

Chester and his wife, Heidi, a physician with the Indian Health Service Hospital in Cass Lake, have lived in the area for 20 years. Their elder son, Patrick, is a Cass Lake-Bena High School graduate attending the University of Minnesota, Morris. Their younger son, Geo, is a Cass Lake-Bena senior.

North Star Numbers: A Minnesota Number Book

By Kathy-jo Wargin; illustrated by Laurie Caple

Sleeping Bear Press, 2008

38 pages, $17.95

Kathy-jo Wargin's new number book follows her children's alphabet book, "V is for Viking."

This picture book with Laurie Caple's colorful paintings and a number verse on each page begins with "1 reddish peace pipe, It's sacred and known as a beautiful symbol that's carved out of stone," and concludes with "100 herring gulls dip, float and glide above Split Rock Lighthouse. Count each as they ride!" In between are entries such as "2 Red River ox carts," "3 doctors Mayo," "10 ancient petroglyphs," "11 morel mushrooms" and "70 river otters," all items to count with connections to Minnesota. Wargin was born in Tower and Caple lives in Faribault, so author and artist are familiar with the state's landscape and lore.

The counting game is simple enough, at least on the early pages. But the information on each page about the Pipestone quarries, ox cart caravans, Minnesota animals, vegetables, minerals, manufactured items and people is sophisticated enough the adults can learn something from reading aloud to young children. The illustrations also make the book a pleasure to page through.

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes, An Explorer's Guide

By Amy C. Rea

The Countryman Press, 2008

317 pages, $19.95

Amy Rea has researched and written a comprehensive travel guide to her home state starting with the metro Minneapolis-St. Paul areas and extending to all corners of Minnesota.

Beginning the book with a "What's Where" section, the author covers pertinent information from area codes (Minnesota has seven) to wineries, including the northernmost Forestedge Winery in rural Laporte. This section offers travelers advice on hotels and dining with symbols indicating whether the businesses are pet- and child-friendly, wheelchair accessible and have a bar on site.

Outside the Twin Cities, the guide is divided into the Mississippi bluffs country in the southeast, the St. Croix Valley, southwest prairie lands, central lakes, North Shore and Arrowhead, and Red River Valley and northern lakes area. Rea details festivals, special attractions, including quirky sites such as Paul Bunyan's grave in Kelliher, eatery recommendations and entertainment opportunities.

Rea, a resident of Eden Prairie, has obviously spent much of her time exploring the state and seeking out points of interest off the beaten path.

In the Absence of Honor

By Jim Proebstle

Emerald Book Company, 2008

330 pages, $21.95

Jim Proebstle, who spends summers in the Cass Lake area, combines his familiarity with northern Minnesota and the American Indian culture to build a novel of suspense and intrigue.

This is the author's first novel, and he has woven a compelling, if violent, story. The plot revolves around an investigation into whether a family's resort lodge had been built on an ancient Indian burial site - sacred ground. The investigation uncovers corruption in tribal government, landowners power struggles, rape and a gruesome murder.

The book concludes with a question-and-answer "conversation" with the author and a series of discussion questions that would be useful for a book club.

A Field Guide to Ticks, 108 pages with index; Guide to Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac, 93 pages with index.

By Susan Carol Hauser

Falcon Guides, Globe Pequot Press, 2008, $14.95 each.

Susan Carol Hauser, chairwoman of the Department of English and professor of English at Bemidji State University, has written the Field Guides about some of Minnesota's least pleasant outdoor experiences - being bitten by ticks and their relatives and developing the itchy rashes of poison ivy and its relatives.

These books, small enough to fit in a pocket or backpack, include photos, drawings, diagrams, information on preventing exposure and responses in cases of rash or bite.

Hauser opens the tick book with the story of her first encounter with wood ticks while visiting grandparents at their cabin in northern Minnesota. She had been playing with her dolls under a shady pine tree when she found ticks crawling up her arms and legs.

"Nature was not the same for me after that," she wrote.

When her publisher asked her to write a book about ticks, her first reaction was "Ewww." But the research gave her comforting knowledge, she said.

The poison ivy book also came about from personal experience. Hauser was middle aged before she succumbed to a horrible case of dermatitis caused by poison ivy oil (urushiol). In response to her bout with the rash, she decided to research everything about the poisonous plant and its cousins, poison oak and poison sumac.

She had assumed she wasn't allergic, that she was among the chosen immune. "Such hubris can come back to bite you in inconvenient places," she wrote.

The poison ivy book also features many stories from poison ivy sufferers. Hauser wrote that she was surprised so many people wanted to tell her their own experiences and suggest remedies, both homemade and commercial.