Fury’s Island one of Nobles County’s earliest settlementsDUNDEE — Along the trail that leads out to Fury’s Island County Park in northeastern Nobles County stands a stately burr oak tree that is more than 200 years old. It is a testament to the long and storied past, not only of Nobles County, but of a family that has called the parcel home through five generations.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
DUNDEE — Along the trail that leads out to Fury’s Island County Park in northeastern Nobles County stands a stately burr oak tree that is more than 200 years old. It is a testament to the long and storied past, not only of Nobles County, but of a family that has called the parcel home through five generations.
Fury’s Island itself is about 10 acres, long accessed only through the Fury family homestead located a short jog up the hill. Today, the island is a public campground, owned and managed by Nobles County, with a public access on the west side.
“It’s not truly an island — I never saw it completely enclosed with water,” said Pat Fury,who was raised up the hill from the land that is mostly surrounded by East Graham Lake.
Pat Fury is the grandson of John Fury, who purchased the property in Graham Lakes Township in 1920. The elder Fury was a prominent individual in Nobles County history, serving as a county commissioner from 1929 to 1952.
Back then, the island was used mainly by livestock.
“When I was a child, it was just pasture land. There were cattle over there,”recalled Fury.
It was also a popular fishing destination.
“It was always a beautiful place,” he said. “People could go over there, but they had to go through our farm yard. They’d pay a quarter, and then they’d drive down along the lake and over to the island. People would go over there mainly to fish.
“I can remember one Labor Day, it started to rain and my dad had to pull numerous cars that couldn’t get up the hill (after driving off the island),” Fury added.
It wasn’t until the county purchased the island from the Fury family in 1965 that people were allowed to camp on the property. That same year, the county purchased land for Maka-Oicu park, located on West Graham Lake.
“I was in college, and in the summer of 1966, I worked on Maka-Oicu clearing the brush,” said Fury. “Then they built the roads into the park.”
Shelters were also built on each park, though the one on Fury’s Island was eventually taken down.
“The first one won awards for architecture. It had big stone pillars on the corner, and the roof was real high,” said Fury, adding that while the design was appealing to the eye, it did little to keep out the wind and rain.
“The roof rotted away, and they took it down. They left one of the corners and built a tin building,” he said.
Campers today have access to a shelter as well as restroom facilities, electricity and running water.
“Most (campers) on the island itself, they rent it for the whole summer,” said Fury.
Rich in history
Former Daily Globe editor Lew Hudson wrote an article in the newspaper on Oct. 29, 1965, detailing the history of Fury’s Island. The land was part of the sixth homestead filed in Nobles County and was home to one of the first trapper’s cabins in the area. Centuries before that, it was inhabited by Indians.
In the summer of 1964, Minnesota State Archeologist Eldon Johnson spent some time on Fury’s Island searching for artifacts. What he found there was enough to warrant further investigation, and a pair of archeology students visited the site the following year.
Wrote Hudson, “Preliminary analysis of the findings yields some reasonable conclusions about Fury’s Island. (Archeologist Charles) Watrall said it was probably the site of an Indian village and that it was inhabited over a long period of time, although not necessarily on a continuous basis.
“He said it probably was not a major village, but was more likely to have been one in which groups of Indians spent portions of the year before moving on to other hunting grounds.”
Watrall believed the artifacts found on Fury’s Island dated back to 1,000 B.C. to 850 A.D. Among the finds were pieces of pottery, bone fragments, bison teeth, projectile points and a stone knife blade.
“On the highest part of the island they found pottery, cooking utensils and lots of arrowheads,”said Fury.“You can still occasionally find them. At one time, you could find them anytime you went out and walked around the lake.”
While it isn’t known exactly when white men settled on Fury’s Island, historians say it was before 1867. B.W. Woolstencroft, one of the earliest Graham Lakes area settlers, was quoted in Arthur P. Rose’s “Illustrated History of Nobles County” as having seen the remains of a cabin there.
The first known settler was B.F. Tanner, who homesteaded the island with his family in July 1867 and built a cabin on the property.
That cabin is believed to have housed the first Sunday school in Nobles County. Wrote Hudson, “It was in the spring of 1870 that John Crapsey, a Lutheran minister living in Cottonwood County, organized the school and held it in Tanner’s island cabin.”
Average attendance ranged from 25 to 30 students. However, the school was disbanded the following winter and replaced by one on the north shore of the lake.
The island was also home to the first public school in Nobles County, with classes conducted beneath the shade of a giant elm tree. That, too, was short-lived.
“After the first few years of white settlement had passed, Fury’s Island no longer held an important place in the lives of the new settlers,” wrote Hudson. “It eventually became nothing more than a pasture on the Fury farm.”
Tied to the past
In August 2003, a granite memorial was dedicated on Fury’s Island in a celebration that included approximately 75 descendants of the Fury family. The memorial tells the story of the rich history of Fury’s Island and its importance in Nobles County lore.
Though the island has been under the county’s ownership for nearly 45 years, the Fury family still holds it dear to them. Each summer, they gather for a reunion on the island and celebrate their family’s history.