Trip to Lake One and the Kawishiwi River area, near Ely Minnesota -

 June 9th-12th  2005 & May 14-17, 2008

 The below clips are video of the area Dan L Kenny died. These WILL take a while to load but are worth the wait.  Watch in order to get full story.

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My father died while on a fishing trip near Ely Minnesota, on May 17th, 1954 with 4 of his friends; Dr. O. Neligh,  a business associate that ran a collection agency, Izzy Kraft, his brother, Nate Kraft, and Dan’s brother-in-law, Frank Vlock.

They entered in at Lake one, on the north end, with Dan and the Kraft brothers in one boat, and Frank and the Doctor in the other, and traveled through Lake One till they got to Lake Two, Three and Four.  It is important to mention that the waters from the early spring melting cause the waters in the small areas of the river and between the lakes to be extremely fast, with "white water" and visible rocks and boulders, so portaging was not desired, but a necessity in some areas. 

After passing through Lake Four, they entered the Kawishiwi River. They had one more portage before they were to make camp on Lake Hudson.  They thought  that where they landed, was the place of the portage, but it wasn’t.  My dad thought if he could make it to this small island, they could cross to the next lake there.


Leaving Frank and the Doctor on the shore, Dan and the Kraft's continued toward this island, into some pretty strong cross-currents, coming from both their sides.  The currents were running from East to West, so they were traveling up stream.  As these two currents met,(about 15 feet from this island), it caused the boat to turn.  If the motors were a bit more powerful, there wouldn’t have never been an accident.  Nate Kraft was in the front of the boat, Izzy in the middle and Dan in the back, at the motor.  They supposedly got caught up in two currents causing the boat to turn to the right, causing the Kraft brothers to fall out on the right side.  It's uncertain why Dan didn't fall the same direction, but it's believed he hung onto the motor to get it back into control.  As that was impossible in this current, the boat tipped, throwing Dan to the left.  The upset boat went in the current that the Krafts were in and they hung onto the boat and made it to the north shore.  Dan appeared to swim a few strokes then floated on his back, head up, showing no signs of trying to save himself.  There were no yells, swearing or plea's for help. 

 Frank tried to start his motor, but in the excitement broke the shear-pin.  So they set up stream in a circular motion to try to intercept Dan, by use of paddles.  Frank and Dr. Neligh kept calling for him to keep his spirits up.  When the boat got as close as a boat and a half length from Dan, he went under.  Frank dove in and felt around to see if he could find him.  He made several dives, feeling around for him, then went to shore.  He found a rope and tied himself off and went in again.  After several more dives, they knew he was lost.   The water was iron water, rust in color and one couldn't see in it,  It was 12'-15' deep where Dan went down.  

Many things could have caused Dan's death.  The boat could have hit him, the extremely cold water could have put him in shock, or he could have hit his head on the canoe.   I had heard speculation that Dan has hip waders on, but according to any records that I had read, this was un-true.  Franks records stated that,  ‘the men were heavily clothed with overshoes on.’

The remaining party set camp.  It was still afternoon.  Frank recalled looking at his watch after he got back to shore; it was 2:00PM.  His watch stopped working about 12 hours later.  

They managed to salvage much of their supplies from the capsized boat.  Most of the gear were in water tight containers and seals sacks and were floating in this large whirlpool about 50' in diameter. They had some matches that were dry to start a fire.  At the campsite, they continued to look for Dan.  They didn't get much sleep that night.  Here they were, out in the middle of nowhere, virtually lost, and were uncertain how to get their way back.  They got up early the next day, and tried to find their way out.  A half day went by when luckily, they spotted a boat and it was a Ranger. He guided them back to the resort, where they called the sheriff's office.  The following day, Tuesday, they found Dan's body.  The original purpose for this trip was fishing, but according to Nate Kraft, these men never once set a line in the water.  Their goal was to reach Lake Hudson and fish there because they knew it was so remote and felt the fishing would be best.  

The Kraft's were badly bruised from this mishap due to rough waters as they returned home.


The last several years, I had wanted to go to this place to see where my dad drowned.  I asked a small group of guys to join me for this trip and they all gladly agreed.  These were not just random people asked to come along.  I had specific people that I wanted to go with me.

Joe Vlock- because his father was with my dad when the accident had happened, and it was Frank Vlock who gave us the detailed map and explanation of what had happened.

Pat Stevens – because Pat is a seasoned outdoorsman and was familiar with the Lake One area, not to mention, my dad brought his brother-in-law with him ; so did I.

Steve Kenny – Steve’s dad, Jerry, had a huge hand in the post death of my dad.  Uncle Jerry not only had to show my mom how to pay bills and handle a budget, he also helped her with her money in investments.  Jerry also went after every “Tom, Dick and Harry, that may have played a hand in my dad’s death, to see if there was a lawsuit that could be used against someone.


On June 9th, 2005, Joe Vlock and I headed to Des Moines, where we picked up Steve.  From there, we drove to St Paul and picked up Pat.  From there we drove up to Ely MN, and stayed at the same Outfitters that my dad stayed with.  This trip took about 11-12 hours.  Once at the Canoe Country Outfitters, (formerly known as Bill Rom’s Outfitters), we stayed at a little cabin in the back of their store, most likely the same cabin my dad and company stayed at.  click click on picturesEly Presentation.jpg (669486 bytes)  Ely Presentation (1).JPEG (9097 bytes) click on pictures

The following morning they took us and all of the gear we rented from them, to Lake One, where we loaded our things into canoes and set off. We decided that because Steve and Pat had the most experience with canoeing, They would be the “rudder guy’ in their perspective canoes, and Joe and I would be in the front on each canoe.

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 So in other words, Pat and I were in one canoe, and Steve and Joe in the other. We had a map in both canoes, with Steve and I as the navigators.  It was fortunate that I brought a compass, because it would have been easy to get lost without one, while orienteering the maps.

There were only two portages on the route that we selected, one about a block long, the other a block and a half.  Each portage, would require landing, pulling all of our gear and packs from the canoes, then carrying all the gear to the other side of the trail, coming back to get the canoes.  The equipment packs were extremely heavy.  The reason we were required to portage is the lakes are all at a different level up there and therefore where one lake would meet another, there were very fast rapids and rocks.  There were trails cut into the woods that allowed people to carry their canoes around these rapids. 

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On the way in, we were heading upstream, though I should say the whole journey, we paddled flat water. The upstream was at the rapids.

Paddling in took about 3 ½ - 4 hours to reach one of the selected camp sites that  we chose.

Looking at Frank’s map at the point where it says, “We came up here”,  we camped 2 portages before this, or about ½ mile down stream.  This section was after Lake Four and into the Kawishiwi River.  Our camp was close enough to the accident site.  We wanted to avoid that 3rd and 4th portage with all of our gear, so we dumped all the gear and tents off, totally set up our camp, then headed through the last two portages with only canoes.

As we went through the second portage, we stopped and read Frank’s notes and looked at his map. 

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It didn’t quite make much sense, but this did seem like kind of a dangerous area and we did see two groups of rapids running there and an island, all that was written in Franks notes.  Things just didn’t make sense though according to what was written, though we all tried to justify that this must be the place.  I looked up river about another 2 blocks and saw some more rapids.  We decided to check it out before fully ruling that we had already found the place where my dad died.

Sure as shootin’, as we approached  this second area, there were two more sets of rapids and an island right between them.  As we paddled in, I received confirmation that this was the place.  It not only was a perfect match to Franks map and explanation, I literally felt chills, as if the Spirit was telling me that we were at the spot. 

We stopped and re-read the notes and we all were 100% in agreement;         This was the area.  

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Pictures of the Island showing rapids on both sides.  Left current is what took my father.  In 1954, I suspect that it was much faster.

My observations while there;

Frank wrote that they landed at a spot where they thought was a portage spot.  We clearly saw at least two spots that looked like portage trails, but weren’t.  The actual portage spot was beyond this, 100-150 hundred feet, unseen from the area that Dan and company landed.  From this spot, Frank and the Dr. got out of their canoes, and Dan and the Krafts went toward the island to see if they could get across from there. 

While we were there, the water was moving pretty good near the island but it must have been much faster when my dad went because there was no way that current would upset a boat unless someone stood up or made a sudden jolt in the boat, which could be possible, since three were in his boat.  They did say the waters were extremely high when my dad was there, therefore it could have been way different.

We paddle the same course that Dan took and went to the actual spot where the boat tipped and where Dan went in.  I asked Pat not to paddle, to see where the canoe would float to on its own.  Much to my surprise, the canoe floated the exact path that the map showed my dad’s body took.  

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Surprisingly, the canoe past back across the moving water, head right for the land, near where Frank and the Dr. were, but of course by this time, Frank was paddling towards Dan’s body, then jumping in after him to try to retrieve him.

We spend a bit of time at this spot, then headed back toward the camp.  Joe and Steve went on to camp, and Pat and I wanted to go fishing a bit, so we took our time heading back.  We found a nice spot near the end of the first rapids that we though was the place of the accident.  Just about every time we would cast in, we caught a small mouth bass. I was fortunate to catch our dinner ;  a 4-5 pound small mouth bass, which we decided to keep.  We put all the other pan sized ones back into the river.  

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Back at the camp.

I will mention that the entire time we were there, it was raining or misting with an occasional break from the rain.  This made the mosquito population horrendous. At any given time (while we were on land) each of us would have an average of 200-400 mosquitoes swarming each person.  This is without exaggeration.  There were also a large populations of ticks present.  Fortunately, we were pretty protected with DEET.  I only suffered one mosquito bite and one tick bite, on the whole trip, but talk about annoying ...  It was perfect of Pat to say what became the quote of the trip.. “This is camping at its worse.”  

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We all will agree even though it was truly “camping at its worse”, that we all will never regret this trip and the rewarding impact that it had on all of us will never leave our minds.  I think that we all felt a special “something” while we were in the same waters that my dad past away.  Each of us couldn’t help but feel how terrible it must have been for the four remaining men, after the accident, where they had to paddle their way out of there, leaving one behind.  What was going through their heads?  What were they going to tell Dan’s wife and kids? Who would make the call?  How do we get out of here, since Dan brought us in?  The fact was, they were totally lost.  They wandered most the next day before they luckily saw a ranger and waved him down.

We didn’t stay very long on this trip.  In at Lake One at about 7:30 AM on June 10th, out of Lake One by noon, the following day, June 11th, but the purpose of the trip was accomplished;  we saw the spot where my dad drowned.                No more time was needed.

We reported back at the Outfitters to let them know that their gear was resting on the shore, used their showers, had lunch, inquired about the small church that reportedly, my dad insisted on attending prior to their trip in;  then headed back to Pat’s near St. Paul.  By the way, the small church was torn down and a new one had been built.

Once at the Steven’s home, Susan and Mary O’Harra had prepared a dinner for us and we had a little party afterwards.  BJ and his girlfriend were there too.  We were able to give a full account of our trip to them.

The following morning, Sunday, June 12th, Joe V, Steve and I headed to Des Moines, where we dropped Steve off at Rosanne O’Harra’s, the place  his car was, and Joe and I headed home.   We were back in Omaha by 5PM.                   

  Joe Kenny