American and British negotiators of the Treaty of Paris, attempting to set the northwestern boundary of the new United States, agreed on a line following Rainy River "to the Lake of the Woods, thence through said lake to the most northwestern part thereof." Another 60 years would pass before an accurate map, astronomical calculations, and political compromise would secure U.S. claim to a peninsula of roughly 100 square miles jutting out from Manitoba and above the 49th Parallel.
Separated from the remainder of Minnesota by a large body of water and surrounded on the other three sides by Canada, the Northwest Angle enjoys a kind of isolation that is rarely found in continental America today. Until a decade ago, it could only be reached by plane or boat. Today, a 40-mile drive through Manitoban forests and a new township dirt road link the Angle to civilization.
This relative isolation has kept the Angle in a kind of time warp. Indeed, its 60 year-round residents, mainly of Swedish and Norwegian descent, are today living out themes more attuned to the mid-19th century than to the age of computers and Purple Rain.
The frontier remains a reality here. Nature is not something to be protected. Rather, it is to be respected, feared, and used. Log cabins are being cut out of the forest, raised up by the hands of those who will live in them. Trees are felled along the peninsula's northern coast to make room for new settlers. Yet the...