River-braving mutt made local history at the old Pelican River-Mill Pond swimming hole!

A victim of the brisk flow of the Pelican River; carried downstream and over the top of the Pelican Rapids city dam—lived to tell the tale. 

Actually, Bootsie the Wonder Dog survived to “bark” the tale, which dates back to about 1956. This would place the incident even before the arrival of “Pete, The World’s Largest Pelican.”

The only known survivor of a whitewater trip over the Pelican dam was a pooch, evidently with a sense of adventure—or maybe just a victim of circumstances and Mother Nature’s natural order. 

Local legend and lore, from down by the riverside, is being recalled and revisited as Pelican Rapids undergoes sweeping transformations—with dam demolition, river restoration, and temporary removal of Pelican Pete. 

Aging Baby Boomers well remember the old Mill Pond swimming hole, located at E.L. Peterson Park—before the city swimming pool was constructed in the 1970s. 

As the story goes, Bob Bowers and Robert Fladmark—a Huck Finn-Tom Sawyer pair of river rats, about age 12 or 13—were out on the raft that was anchored in the Pelican pond. 

Bootsie was on shore with Mary Fladmark, age 6 or 7 at the time; Robert’s little sister. Bootsie decided she wanted to swim out to the raft to hang out with the boys. 

“Pelican Falls” prior to the arrival of Pelican Pete in 1957.
Upriver from the dam was the Pelican Rapids Mill Pond swimming beach, which at one time featured a raft and a diving board.

Instead, she was caught by the current. A strong swimmer, the dog almost paddled its way out of disaster—but not quite. She was carried over the dam, with its 16-foot drop into the downstream river. 

“She swam to shore after going over the dam, shook herself off, and went on,” recalled Bob Bowers. 

Products of a very distinct era in Pelican and other small rural towns, Bowers and Fladmark, had those idyllic childhoods where you played baseball; swam at the local swimming hole; mowed lawns or delivered newspapers; played baseball; hiked and fished along the river; played more baseball; and then, you would return for an evening swim—whether the air and water temperature were pleasant or not. 

“There really wasn’t that much to do for kids,” recalled Bob—and it was a time long before video games and cell phones, or even reliable television transmission, for that matter. Not many families were fortunate enough to have the disposable income to even own a TV set. 

“Bootsie, the Wonder Dog” is the only known victim to survive a fall over the Pelican Rapids dam. Her adventure, in about 1956, reminds us of the first person to survive a plunge over Niagara Falls, in 1901.

Dogs roamed freely in the neighborhoods back then, which explains why Bootsie, a mutt of spaniel derivation, was leash-less on the shoreline. 

Another bit of local legend is contained in the story. A lifeguard was usually stationed at the old swimming hole, and the guy on duty that summer day was the late Bob Schultz—one of Pelican’s legendary athletes. He and his brother Ken, still alive and well, both went on to play football for the University of Minnesota Gophers. Both are inductees in the Pelican Hall of Fame. 

According to Bowers’ account of the story, Schultz launched a heroic effort to rescue the victim—until he realized it was only a dog, not a real human being.  

“With all the activity at the dam, and the move of Pelican Pete, everybody’s thinking about the olden days,” said Mary, who found a photo of Bootsie the Wonder Dog while cleaning up some old files. The photo reminded her of “the only one I know of who’s ever made that ride! She was our hero!”

Left, Bob and Mary Bowers offered first-hand accounts of the only known survivor of a plunge over the Pelican River city dam. The couple lives to this day near the shores of the Pelican River, in the background in this photo.

Sadly, Bootsie’s fate was sealed on the mean streets of Pelican Rapids a few years later. An unfortunate encounter with the bumper of a jalopy in downtown Pelican, not far from the Pelican Rapids Pool Hall, was the sad end for Bootsie. 

But the Bootsie story had two happy endings:

Number one: Bootsie survived the wild ride over the dam. 

Number two: Bob Bowers would eventually marry his childhood buddy’s sister, Mary Fladmark Bowers. Whether that mid-1950s adventure on the river was a factor in the couple’s future bond is unclear. But by most accounts, they lived happily ever after; and they are retired. 


Near the banks of the Pelican River—about a deep-right-field-throw-to-home-plate-distance from the old Mill Pond swimming hole of their youth … the scene of Bootsie the Wonder Dog’s great adventure.