"History of Lincoln, Oneida, and Vilas Counties Wisconsin"

Compiled by George O.Jones, Norman S. McVean and Others. Printed in 1924 by H.C.Cooper. Jr. & Co., Minneapoli-Winona MN. ill. 787 pages. The first two hundred pages are history of the three counties, the remainder of the book is biographies.


In May, 1923, the Vilas County News published an article entitled "Historic Military Road," which, as the subject is closely concerned with Vilas County, is here reproduced practically verbatim: " Many questions have been asked concerning the military roads which pass through the northern part of Wisconsin. The most important road is the one from Fort Howard at Green Bay to Fort Wilkins at the mouth of the Ontonogan River on Lake Superior. In 1863 the Unites States Government made a land grant to the states of Michigan and Wisconsin for the purpose of building a military wagon road from fort to fort so that supplies, ammunition and mail could be transported from Green Bay to Lake Superior in case the passage around was cut off by an enemy in a future war. In 1872 this road was completed and after that mail was transported regularly from Green Bay to Fort Wilkins by means of men on foot in summer and dog teams in winter. There are some very interesting stories related about these times, especially of the hard times they had in getting through in winter with the dog teams. Whenever the road got too bad for the dogs to haul the load of metal, the drivers would take the sacks of papers and hang them upon some tree where they would stay until the next summer, or until a dog team came along which was not loaded very heavily and could convey them. They drove cattle through to Lake Superior from down the state for food during the year. Whenever these cattle were being driven through they had to be led, so the men at the trading posts were hired to cut marsh hay and stack it along the trail about every half-day's travel. The marshes being numerous, there was always enough hay to supply the cattle on their journey. Sometimes, however, when the stacks were far apart the cattle were made to carry their own food by strapping a small bundle of hay to their horns, out of their reach. The drivers and the mail carriers could usually get enough partridges along the trail to supply their wants. ' They carried blankets, and whenever they could not reach the next trading post for night, they slept with the cattle. When this route was first opened there was very little game in this country. There were so few wolves in the early days of traveling that the mail carriers carried only a revolver, but as the country began to be settled the game came also. The wolves followed the deer; then came the fox, the coyote, and other flesh-eating animals.

" The military road which started from Green Bay went first to Shawano, where a fine town has grown up. Then it went to Virgin Lake, where now a summer resort takes the place of the old trading post, which furnished a partway station for the travelers on their way to Lake Superior. The next place the road is known to have struck is Anvil Lake, about nine miles east of Eagle River. Here some of -the men from Eagle River had a hunting cabin where they spent some of the happiest days of their lives. They killed the deer in those days not for the sport of it but for meat. The road went almost north from Anvil Lake around the east end of Big Twin Lake, where Phelps now stands. Here also a small town has grown up through the lumber industry. The road west went from this point to Lac Vieux Desert, where there was a trading post and trading with the Indians was carried on. This was once the chief battle ground for the Indians of this section. * * * * This place is at the head of the Wisconsin and is known to all the Indians of northern Wisconsin. There are some old ruins of battle grounds still there, although they are scarcely noticeable until they are pointed out by some one who knows the grounds. There is one place in particular which can be seen from the car as one drives along the old military road, and that is the old breastworks of rocks which have all crumbled into just a mound about 20 feet wide. One would judge from the width of it that it must have been at one time a very high, strong structure.

"Prior to the time of the government survey there was a road which started at the present city of Wausau, ran through jenny (now Merrill), then north through Pelican Rapids (sometimes briefly referred to as 'Pelican,' but which is now Rhinelander, thence north along the west side of Columbus Lake (an old'bach' named Alex Columbus built a log shanty on the west side of Columbus Lake, hence the name); thence north to Gagen Hill and crossed the Eagle River near Morey's Resort. Stations-the word 'station' meant in those days a stopping place-were established along this route, where also a mail route between Wausau, Wis., and Ontonagon, Mich., was established. Mail was carried in those days by dogs on dog trains in the winter and by men packers during the summer months. The late George Sturdivant made several trips as a mail packer between the present city of Rhinelander and the Kee-mi-con post office at Eagle River.

"John Curran, formerly of Rhinelander, kept the Pelican Rapids station. Dan Gagen's was the new station, which was here at our Gagen Hill, the two being only about 30 miles apart. A good many trappers used to come to this country about that time and fur buyers used to follow them up and try to purchase their several catches near spring time. It is related of one fur buyer that after he had had his lunch put up by Mrs. Gagen, and having nothing else to carry, he asked a French packer, who had about 50 pounds of mail to carry, if he would also carry his lunch for him, and the packer said that he would just as soon carry it as not to Pelican. Needless to say the fur buyer never overtook the packer and his lunch.

" Dan Gagen's place was always a good place to stop at, at any old time or times; you could always be sure of a welcome, a clay pipe or two and a plug of good old black tobacco, if necessary, and something good to eat. - Dan was a man of good education, could put up a good argument on 'most any subject and could quote Shakespeare by the yard. Mr. Gagen passed to the 'happy hunting grounds' in the fall of 1908 at Three Lakes, just ten miles south of here, where Mrs. Gagen still resides with her son Henry. She occasionally visits the 'Old Place,' as she calls it, during the summer months. Gagen Hill is now owned by John E. Mitchell of St. Louis, Mo., one of nature's noblemen, who is preserving and beautifying it. At the western point of the hill he has a 32-foot log canoe, well painted, and on a good foundation which will last for years, with the letters'W. A. B.' painted thereon. This canoe was presented to him by our old-time friend, William A. Bradford, who passed away in August last. The writer with Mr. Bradford had made man), trips with this ofd canoe. Mr. Mitchell is preserving many of the old landmarks."

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