Boettcher feeding pet deer
Boettcher feeding pet deer
Before Disney, Six Flags or
water parks, families traveled to entertainment attractions with a milieu
of relaxing venues. The Hayward area offered one such venue.
Walter and Gert Boettcher owned
a deer farm tourist attraction at Hayward, Wisconsin in the 1940s and 1950s.
The farm was located five miles northwest from Hayward off highway 77.
A sign along 77 at the cross roads where the former Blakey / Pfister home
was located, pointed south directing visitors to drive another mile along
the Deer Farm Road to the popular tourist stop.
Walter A. and Gertrude Boettcher
had moved to Hayward from Richfield at Washington County, Wisconsin. Walt
had been a Plummer before moving to Hayward. The Boettcher did have three
children : Ruth H., Dolores E., and son, Earl. Walt Boettcher was in his
early 40s when he came to Hayward.
The Hayward Deer Farm complex
was made up of a few small buildings set in a clearing with forests all
around. A small visitor’s center constructed of log served as a greeting
place for tourists. Walt or Gert were always there to greet visitors. The
center was a long narrow room or so it appeared, paneled in real knotty
pine with a ceiling of natural log trusses. The room had a twofold function.
At one end of the room, counters were covered with an assortment of north
woods / Hayward area souvenirs. This area also displayed historical pieces
of the north woods logging industry. There were cant hooks, and various
saws and axes propped on shelves or hung on the walls. Several stuffed
animals were on display. A stuffed baby deer was the most fascinating.
And a small display of a rail road line could also be seen.
At the other end of the room
were shelves of cigars, cigarettes, and candy across what seemed like a
long bar but actually only seated about six people. On warm summer days
there lingered the smell of stale beer and the ash smell of a wood stove.The
walls here displayed several sets of deer antlers (racks). On the wall
partition separating the bar area from the little museum / souvenir shop
area hung a shoulder mount jack-o-lope. Walt took great pride at teasing
a child who gazed upon the jack-o-lope for the first time, that yes, it
was real and this is how you hunt them. Such a story!
Across the other side of the
bar one would find Walt Boettcher in conversation with whomever was there.
He was a talker with a quiet mannerism. The bar area always seemed warm
and inviting but dimly lit. A child could get a soda for a nickel
or 10 cents. One thing which can only be described as amazing about Walt
is that he did allow his pet deer to walk in the back door of the bar.
His ‘pets’ would go right up to him expecting some treat. It did not matter
if the room was filled with people. Walt truly enjoyed when children were
around to see this. Walt always seemed old to children, but actually he
was young by today’s measure.
On a wall near the side door
which was the entrance out into the deer farm grounds, a deer feed dispenser
was located. Ten cents would fill a person’s hand with little pellets of
deer feed. The side door near the bar area always seemed to hold some magical
power waiting to be released as the visitor walked through it. This was
especially true for children. The inner emotion would build before going
through the door and this may have been no more than the excitement of
knowing you were about to be up close with one of nature’s beauties, a
deer. The deer farm’s magical world never disappointed. After walking through
the door into the sunshine, it took a moment for one’s eyes to adjust to
the sunshine. The visitor was almost always greeted by several deer who
were looking for treats.
The first building to be seen
was the Boettcher home. That two story natural log structure looked like
it came out of a story book about Germany’s Black Forest or so it seemed.
In reality, there was nothing usual about the Boettcher home other than
it was constructed of logs. Yet, that building mystified many a young mind.
Often Mrs. Boettcher would walk a short piece from the Boettcher home to
greet visitors, always with a smile. Both of the elderly Boettchers were
short, plump in stature, always friendly and reverend as the neighborhood
grandparents. Mrs. Boettcher loved to spend time sharing her knowledge
of her pets with visitors.
A short walk away stood a small
building with a fence around it. Here on display were kept a doe with her
fawn. One of Mrs. Boettcher’s favorite pets was used for this. And the
visitor needed to visit early enough in the season, because Gert would
release the deer into the woods at some point in the season. The entire
farm was encircled by a six or an eight-foot fence around it.
Out the back door and behind
the bar area, stood a rustic log building used by the family as a garage
and work area. The general public was not allowed into this area and the
only fascinating attraction of this building was the area above the garage
doors which were decorated with two dozen or so sets of deer antlers of
various sizes. Always the question, “Did grandpa Boettcher kill his deer?”
The visitor could walk a path
to a small, blue, clear lake in the woods not far from the Boettcher home.
Sunlight would beam through the trees as one walked along. The rays from
the sun flickering across the path made the walking experience seem mystical.
There were no formal trails, just the recognizable foot paths made by the
deer who too walked to the lake for a drink. Mrs. Boettcher sometimes would
join the visitor for the walk. And true to the Boettcher magical world,
the fish in the lake knew when Mrs. Boettcher was there. They would swim
up waiting for her to talk to them or feed them. The lake area proved to
be a wonderful area to talk to Mr. Echo. Mrs. Boettcher encouraged children
to listen for the repeating sound and often a game was made of just how
many echo repeats could be heard.
The final stop in the magical
Boettcher world of the deer farm was at another pet area. Walt had
built together two cages about eight feet high, constructed of logs and
iron bars. These held live displays. One year small bear cubs could be
found in the cages. The next year the cages might hold raccoons,
skunks or porcupine. Year after year, it was always a surprise to find
out what the cages held. Those cages were the closest to a zoo many local
children had experienced. Although many of the area children lived on farms,
and seeing a caged animal was no big thing, viewing the critters of the
forest up close provided each with a special magical experience.
NOTE: After the Boettcher sold
out in the late 1950s to a Mr. Mitchell, they divided their time between
Idaho where a daughter lived and Wisconsin where Earl maintained a home.
Mitchell ran the deer farm for many more years before he closed it.