Doug Moe interviews Martha Greene Phillips about her book "Border Country"

Wednesday, November 08th

7 pm

Border Country, the Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906-1916, by Martha Greene Phillips, with a foreword by Peter Geye

A unique archival account of the early twentieth-century north woods, with friends and family, canoes, a ready wit, and a Graflex camera

Border Country is a collection of the remarkable, handmade journals from businessman Howard Greene’s early 1900s canoe trips to the north woods of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Canada. Reproduced with numerous photographs and maps, these journals are a window into a world at once familiar and strange, the wilderness caught on the verge of becoming the North Woods we know today. 

a word from the author...

"Long before my arrival, quite late in my father’s life, he was a Milwaukee businessman, married to a college classmate, raising four children, becoming a community leader, and dealing with the events of his time, such as the Spanish American War. During his younger adult years he had devoted his time and energies to developing the family’s wholesale drug business.  Approaching mid-life, he believed that he could, at last, take time off. Beginning in 1906, he made extensive canoe journeys into the wilderness with his young sons, a few of his outdoorsman friends, and a few of his sons’ school friends.

Each summer they went on a different wilderness journey, going out into what is now the Quetico and Boundary Waters, or on rivers, such as the St Croix, Wisconsin, Presque Isle, or Chippewa. On each trip he wrote detailed daily notes and took dozens of photographs with a large format camera, often using glass-plate negatives. Each winter he typed his notes, mounted his photographs, and made large, elaborate leather-bound journals for each member of the camping party.

His set of those journals has always been very special to me, and I was fortunate to inherit them. They clearly needed to be shared with the public; they are, perhaps, one of the only comprehensive recordings of canoe camping in the Northwoods wilderness before the advent of recreational camping which followed the First World War.

Border Country, the Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906-1916 is an annotated compilation of eight of my father’s journals. It is richly illustrated with 376 original black and white photographs, and bound in the traditional look of the original leather-bound journals.   The University of Minnesota Press immediately grasped the value of these journals, and made it possible for my wishes and my work on this project to become a reality."


Martha Greene Phillips began writing after retirement from a career in the mental health field.  Her first book, The Floating Boathouses on the Upper Mississippi River, their history, their stories, was self-published; with the success of that book, she was ready to take on the more personally significant task of working on her father’s journals, now published as Border Country, the Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906-1916.  She worked for over five years on the project, researching the background of the journals, travelling to many of the locales in the Northwoods, interviewing family and friends, and going thorough family papers that shed light on the cast of characters that made up “The Gang” in the narrative. On completion of the manuscript, she was surprised to learn how deeply ingrained the canoe trips, the campers’ personalities, and the era had all become in her life.

Martha divides her time between a home on the Wisconsin River and a home in Madison, Wisconsin, continuing to enjoy an outdoors life style in the woods and on the water, as well as all the assets that Madison offers.

In the future, she hopes to write a more personal chronicle for family and friends, about the process involved in writing this book.

Martha holds both B.S. and M.S.S.W. degrees from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.