"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.


"The first logging in Vilas County," says Mr. Finn Lawler, "was done on the Eagle Chain of Lakes in the spring of 1856 by the firm of Fox & Helms, of whom Fox was the practical woodsman and logger and Helms the business man and financier. John Curran, then of Rhinelander, was their foreman. Their first logging camp was just west of where the present iron bridge crosses Eagle River as you approach Hemlock Resort. In 1855, or thereabouts, Mr. Fox erected a good dwelling house on the east side of Eagle Lake, where he and his family resided; this place is now called the Eagle Waters Resort. Mr. Fox had two daughters and one son. He cleared several acres of land and developed a remarkably fine garden. In fact the first loggers were the first farmers, among them those who worked around Lac Vieux Desert in 1856-57. After trying logging for some ten years, they found it did not pay, as it took two years to get their logs to market and hence they gave it up, some of them taking to agriculture instead.

"A little prior to the time when Fox built his house on Eagle Lake, his partner Helms had received an appropriation from the then Marathon County' for the purpose of cutting a road from jenny (now Merrill) to State Line. 'Old Man' Draper, father of John Draper who died recently, and grandfather of Louis L. Thomas, drove an ox-team through Wausau to Lac Vieux Desert when the road, so-called, was completed. One of the requirements was that a road suitable for the passage of teams was made. It has been reported that Draper drove the ox- team through with a wagon, but the wagon had only two wheels. " Helms also started a bank, which was called the Marathon County Bank and it was supposed to be where the Fox dwelling-house stood; nothing except the sand bank, however, has ever been seen. Money was actually issued--as other wild cat money was about that time-and passed. " A three dollar bill of this bank is now in possession of the Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Eagle River.

" In 1878 the lumbermen of the Wisconsin Valley erected and built a dam on the Wisconsin River at the head of Otter Rapids. That same year John Phelps, who owned an interest in a lot of timber, erected some very nice logging camps on the bank of Eagle River at or very near the present site of George O'Connor's residence. The foreman of the camp was one Otis Saunders. The logging was done with oxen as the motive power. Along in February, 1879, the Otter Rapids darn broke; the water had washed around the south end of the dam. Saunders lost a yoke of cattle in the Eagle River, directly north of where the power-house now stands, on account of this washout.

" On Sept. 20, 1879, Frank C. Tambling and Al Bradford moved into these same logging camps; this camp was run by Tambling and Bradford. In the fall of 1880 Bradford built a logging camp on the north shore of Duck Lake, of which he was the foreman. In his employ were a lot of old-time residents: Bill Murphy, blacksmith; Lon Merical, who drove oxen; Hi Dunfield, an old-tine woodsman and logger, and Buck and Mike Miscal, all of whom, including Mr. Bradford him- self, have passed to the Happy Hunting Grounds. Tambling and Bradford also had another camp that same winter on the north side of Cranberry Lake, and employed Dan Ketchum as foreman. Dan and Finlay McDonald also had a large camp on the northwest corner of Silver Lake (now within the village limits). They had in their employ Jim Thompson as cook, Justice Brand from Wausau, Wis., who scaled for them and who wore spectacles and looked very venerable. Every Saturday evening court was held and the writer appeared as attorney for either the plaintiff or defendant, Jim Thompson being the attorney for the opposite side. Court was conducted in an orderly manner, and the guilty party was always fined a certain amount of smoking as well as plug tobacco, and also invariably received corporal punishment, which was administered by husky fellows who used a stick of plug tobacco, about 12 inches in length, in administering same, and as the culprit had to remain on his hands and knees on the floor of the camp, you can imagine for yourself which was the most vulnerable part of his body. Of all the people who then worked around these several camps Clinton Croker and the writer seem to be the only ones left. From this time on logging became general until all the good pine timber had been cut and removed. Then followed the shingle mills which operated in this vicinity for a number of years."

According to an item noticed in an old issue of the "New North" newspaper of Rhinelander, the timber cut in Eagle River District in the winter of 1885-86 was estimated at 58,200,000 feet. Speaking of the old dams used by the early loggers, F. Lawler, who saw them first in 1872, says that invariably they had been patched up and used by the beavers. " There was one dam below Long Lake, another between Cranberry and Catfish Lakes and one -near where the old dam was on the Eagle River, near the present residence of John Drager. There were three of those dams on the Deerskin River also."

The successful exploitation of the forests was made possible after the railroads had been constructed into this territory in the 80's. It was then that Rhinelander was started and logging operations were soon proceeding on a large scale in Oneida, Vilas and neighboring counties. They were continued on that scale for' a number of years and then, with the exhaustion of the timber, gradually diminished. They have not yet, however, -entirely come to an end, as several lumber 'companies are still operating in Vilas County, notably in the vicinity of Phelps, Winchester and Winegar (see history of those villages). But logging in this part of the state is no longer the business it was once, and to that cause is due the decreased population of some of the villages and the practical disappearance of others once flourishing and widely known, of which little but the name now remains. The development of the summer resort business, however, during the last 25 years or so has gone far to compensate for the rapidly diminishing timber industry and has proved the basis of a new prosperity, probably of a more permanent kind.

In a special edition of the Vilas County News, published in May, 1923, there appeared an article entitled "Changes in Lumbering," which described in an interesting manner the difference between the methods of 40 years ago and those of today. It read substantially as follows: Changes in Lumbering.- Forty years ago a man entering a camp by the tote road would have seen a set of log buildings differing in size according to the size of the crew which was kept there. Upon entering them he would find each to have a different purpose and construction. The first would be an office where all the necessities of the men would be kept; such as rubbers, tobacco, clothing, and a few other little odds and ends of less importance. There would be someone here who would keep the time of the men, how much money each had drawn, how many logs were but and hauled each day, and he would take care of the men's vans or charges.

" The next building would be the cook shanty, containing two long tables made of rough lumber, and covered with a white oilcloth. The tables were set with tin dishes. The "chuck", as the men call it, is put on the table in large dishes heaped up until they will hold no more. Although they do not have a very large variety of foods at the table, the men never leave it hungry because then they couldn't be expected to do a full day's work. The cook's house is not open for admittance except at meal times or when some one of the sleigh teamsters cannot get back in time for his meal. The cook does all the pastry work and all the planning for the meals and the" flunkies" take care of the other work; that is, keeping the house clean, setting the tables, washing the dishes, and waiting on table. The cook and his helpers are most generally men; very seldom is a. woman ever- seen cooking in camps or even helping. The reason for this is that the work is too heavy, and could not be done by the ordinary woman.

"The next building would be the bunk house where the men sleep. There is a row of double wooden bunks all the way around -the wall, placed one above the other until they reach the roof. They-are spread with heavy woolen blankets and ,quilts on top of plain boards which serve for springs. The boards are covered with straw about six inches deep. There is very little ventilation and the only means .of heating is a large box stove in the center of the room, with wood piled -around it. After one has inspected the camps of the men, and continued on the road which seems to have the most traffic on it, he will come to the barn. There are several stacks of hay alongside the log barn which is only one story high. If he enters the barn he will find two rows (if stalls-one on each side of the barn; which is partitioned off by small poles, one on top of the other.

"When he continues on the trail he will find himself headed for the woods, 'Where the men are working. There are many skidways of logs along the road, which will be iced if in use. The sleigh tracks are rutted into the ice bed about four inches, to keep the sleighs from jumping out of the road. The men are at work loading logs on a sleigh with the single chain. A long chain, called the decking line, is fastened on the sleigh by means of a swamp hook. Then it goes down around the log which is to be loaded on the sleigh, from the front side, and back over the sleigh to the crosshaul team which pulls the log up on the sleigh. The logs are then fastened to the sleigh by means of stakes, instead of comer binds and wrappers, which are used now. All that could be heard in those days was the click of the ax, and the voice of the ox-driver as he drove his team skidding out the logs. They did not have cross-cut saws then as they do now, but had to cut down all the timber, and cut it in log lengths with the ax. All the timber was hauled out of the woods by oxen with yokes, in place of horses with harness. The oxen had no heavy skidding rigging to haul around. All they had was a large chain. They were shod the same as a horse is shod now except that on account of their split hoof, the shoes were nailed on in halves. They didn't haul the logs to the railroads then as they do now, but hauled them either direct to the mill or to some river which flowed past the mill. Then when the spring freshets came they would roll the logs into the river and float them down to the mill.

" The same person entering the camps lumber of today would find many changes in them, and also in the work. He would find the office with a bookkeeper, and a place for the foreman to stay. The office is very clean. All the furniture is made, not of rough lumber, but of good material. Nearly every camp has a telephone connection with town or with the adjoining lumber camps if they are all owned by the same company. Instead of having the roofs made from split logs hollowed out, they are made of boards covered with roofing. "In the sleeping quarters for men other changes are noticed. In place of the -old wooden bunks there are steel bunks with good springs, mattresses, and good bed clothing. The bunks are still arranged around the wall in the same order, but the stove is of a newer model. This camp is property ventilated, and provided with sanitary wash bowls. Perhaps it has also another improvement, which is @coming into use more and more where the camps are used for more than one winter, and that is the electric lights. The lighting plants are made cheap enough now so that each company can easily have power in its blacksmith shop, and running water in the camps. When the visitor goes in to dinner he will be treated to a meal of good healthful food fit for a king. Here will be a great variety of vegetables, several kinds of sweets, and good bread and butter. The tables will be set with heavy earthen dishes, and covered with a spotless white oilcloth. There win be noticed also a change in the cook's work, because most of the pastry is now bought from bakers, and the cook does more cooking for the meals in place of doing just pastry work. 'The camps now buy their cookies, and sometimes even their bread.

"When he goes to the woods to watch the men work he will hear the ring of the ax, and the sound of the cross-cut saw. There will be heard no longer the voice @of the ox driver. In his place there is a teamster driving a team of horses, and when he speaks it is in such a low tone of voice that he can be heard only a short distance. The horses are used now because they are faster on their feet, and can do more work in a day than oxen. When the visitor goes to see the men load the sleighs he will be surprised to find them using a "jammer." This jammer is a device for hoisting logs up into the air, and over on top of the sleigh. The jammer is made of two stout straight poles about thirty-five feet in length. These legs are set upon a set of two runners with heavy beams between them, and balanced there with a third leg about ten feet long braced from one side of the runners to a brace (connecting than two large legs) which is about ten feet from the ground. When the jammer is in use there is a cable fastened from the top of the two legs to some solid tree or stump straight back from it, so that it can hold the top of the jammer in place over the sleigh. The device that is used for hauling the logs up, is the block and tackle. One end of the cable is fastened to the top of the jammer, while the rest of it is threaded through a block at the crotch of two short cables which have "pups" or hooks on the other end of them-then back through another block at the top of the jammer, down through another block at the foot of it, and out to the horses which pull the logs up onto the sleighs. The pups or hooks at the end of the short cable are held against each end of a log until the team tightens up the slack. Then they are pulled into the log by the strain put upon them. The sleigh load of logs is hauled to the railroad instead of to the river this time, either by horses or tractors. The road is grooved as before with a deep rut to prevent the sleigh from leaving the road. The large logging companies now generally have railroads which they run into the woods. This enables them to log the year round. In the old days, whenever they wanted to haul logs in the summer they had to use two large wheels with a strong axle between them, and a tongue fastened to the center of the axle. - The logging of today has changed in. other ways also. Instead of taking nothing but pines more than a foot in diameter at the top, as they did forty years ago, they take everything down to six inches in diameter at the top. The lumberjack has changed with the time also, from the rough, coarse man to a more high spirited person who would rather be quiet on Sundays than out quarreling, or listen to the phonograph instead of just spending his time in his bunk."

Forest Fires. -The Milwaukee journal on Nov. 11, 1923 published an article on forest fires and how the state has planned to fight them. It was furnished to that paper by Elmer S. Hall, chairman of the State Conservation Commission, from Boulder junction, Vilas County, while on a trip investigating the state holdings in northern Wisconsin. Although not always carried into practical operation, the method planned is a good one.

According to Mr. Hall, big steel towers have been erected by the state and from these a watch is kept during dry weather. The towers are connected by telephone lines and a compass arrangement, which makes it possible for two towers to locate a fire with mathematical certainty. The Journal article says further: "The extent of the state's land holding in northern Wisconsin is not generally under- stood. These state forest lands lie chiefly in Vilas, Oneida and Iron Counties, where they are fairly well blocked, facilitating their protection and administration. In Vilas County 23 per cent of the land area belongs to the state. The supreme court decision in the state forestry case has limited the work on these lands mainly to fire protection. To prevent forest fires an effort has been made to educate the public and notices have been posted over the region cautioning campers, hunters and fishermen to be careful with fire. Reduction of fires set by locomotives is secured by spark-arresting devices on locomotives, a man being detailed to this work. He is authorized to require needed repairs or even to order a locomotive out of service, if necessary. Sighting fire, a lookout telephones it in, with his estimate of the location with reference to some lake or other landmark. ' Perhaps it has already been reported from another tower. If not, the man in charge at head- quarters telephones the other towers form which it should be visible. With numbers from two towers he can, by means of his map on the wall locate the fire by intersection. Then the nearest ranger is notified to take charge of the fire. There are four ranger districts, besides the one around headquarters, and these are responsible for about 400 square miles of land.

"The ranger usually has a small crew during the fire season engaged in building roads and fire lines, or planting, and these men are at once ready to go. Small fires are controlled by throwing sand on them, or water it if is available. A long handled shovel and an axe are the most useful tools. Larger fires must be checked on some strategic line, as a fire line already cleared; a narrow place between lakes or wet swamps, or an old logging road where several furrows can be plowed. A backfire may be set, if advisable, but the line must be held and finally the entire line must be surrounded. There has been only one bad fire season in the last few years, but dry weather, especially in spring and fall, when there is no green vegetation, means trouble in the forest region. Many think that so long as no merchantable timber is consumed fires cause no loss. They speak of 'brush' fires, not realizing that the brush is largely composed of small trees, which, if protected, will form the-forests of the future.

"One of the most serious injuries, seldom even considered, is the injury to the soil. The organic matter is reduced to ashes and it requires years for such soil to regain its fertility. Fires also kill the few remaining seed trees, leaving the area to grow up to inferior species. In addition there is the destruction of wild life in the area, only fully realized by one who has seen the remains of a partridge hen burned on her nest, or a doe searching for her fawn over a valley white with ashes. Wisconsin has confined its efforts only to the state land region of Vilas and adjoining counties and to the jack pine barrens of Bayfield County and vicinity. * * * Protection doubtless will be extended to other regions, as the legislature has authorized the organization of not more than eight fire protective districts of 1,000,000 -acres or less."

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