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 Sawyer County Histories
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Walt and Gert Boettcher and the Deer Farm at Hayward, Wisconsin
Written by Norman Henry Tribbett, MLS-UW-Madison
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Donated by Norman Tribbett
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Walt Boettcher feeding pet deer
Gert Boettcher feeding pet deer
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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.
 
 


 

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