"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 great number of lakes in Vilas County, and also in certain parts of a large amount of marsh land, considerably limit the area of good agricultural soil. More- over, the greater part is, geologically speaking, the sandy product of outwash plains, productive at first but demanding careful management in order to prevent exhaustion. But it was owing less to this cause that agriculture made a slow start in the county than to the fact that for many years most of the land was covered with forest and the logging and lumbering industry was the one that absorbed the first attention of the people and kept them busy. Since the clearing of the land many people have given their attention to farming. Before reviewing the progress made, it may be well to take a backward glance and so to begin at the beginning.

According to Mr. Finn Lawler, the first land cleared and used for farming purposes in Vilas County consisted of Lots I and 2 in Section 17, Township 42 north of Range 11 east; Lot I of Section 11, same town and range, and Lot 2 of Section 10, same town and range, the two latter lots being on an island in Lac Vieux Desert that was cultivated by the-Indians at a distant period in the past. The lots in Section 17 were cleared prior to the government survey made in May 1861, perhaps by agents of the American Fur Co. The name of the lake, given to it by the old French traders and voyagers, meaning " the deserted planting ground, or farm," is expressed in its Indian name, "Keteg-it-tee-gon-ing."

" Logging in those days," says Mr. Lawler, "was done with oxen and the oxen were left here during the summer months. The owners of the logging camps employed a few good axe men to clear some land, which they did around every camp-from two to five acres-and then planting potatoes and rutabagas, the rutabagas being used largely for feed for the cattle during the winter months. These same people, left here to clear the land and look after the cattle, also made marsh hay, which was the only bay used at that time for feeding their oxen during the winter months, with the rutabagas. Blue-joint was the grass which grew profusely in this part of the country, particularly on the Wisconsin River. One meadow was called Big Meadow, which produced hundreds of tons of blue- joint each year. On a recent trip down the Wisconsin I found that the 'Big Meadow' is now largely grown up to alders and other brush.

"These early loggers logged here around our lakes and streams for about ten years, but discovered that it did not pay, as it took two years to get the logs to market-one year to Pelican and another from that place to Stevens Point, there being no Rhinelander then. In 1856 Fox and Helen also started a farm on Section 24, Township 40 north, Range 10 east, east of Eagle Lake; at one time they had eight acres under cultivation. The property is now owned by Mrs. Kyes and was the location in early days of the Kee-mi-con Bank. A man named Blonduel also started farming in 1856 on the north side of the north inlet of Eagle Lake. This is a part of the old Young homestead. These people left the country in the early 60's when logging operations ceased. It was about 1858 or 1859 that Mrs. Draper and the grandmother of L. L. Thomas, with another woman, packed on their backs from Rice Lake (Muskequagamon) the seed rice which now form one of the largest rice beds in our northern lakes.

"A few of the white men who worked in the camps in those early days remained in this vicinity after the others had left, notably, Hiram B. Polar, Dan Gagen, Alex Draper, Theopolis Draper and Charles L. Perry. Polar settled on Virgin Lake three miles east of Three Lakes (in Oneida County), traded with the Indians and raised some cattle. C. L. Perry, nicknamed 'Kentuck,' settled at Long Lake, cleared three acres of land and trapped and traded with the Indians. Alex Draper settled directly north of Morey's resort on Lot 3, Section 14, Town 40 north, Range 10 east, and cleared four acres. His old clearing was used for raising potatoes by a man named Webb in the summer of 1882 and he raised a good crop. Dan Gagen remained in this vicinity on 'Gagen Hill' until the spring of 1872, when he removed to Pine Lake, near Hiles; he had about eight acres under cultivation at that time. He was the last white man to leave this vicinity.

"In the spring of 1873 some of the Indian bands began to plant some vegetables, as well as tobacco. Numgo, whose camp was on the ground now occupied by "TheMorey,"also raised vegetables and tobacco for five or six years. He also used some of the land formerly cleared by Dan Gagen for potatoes. In 1875 he must have had one am of potatoes, but some of the other Indians dug up a good deal of seed potatoes he had already planted and ate them. This ended Numgo's farming; he had become discouraged when they dug up his seed potatoes.

"Everything remained in status quo until 1875, when the writer (F. Lawler) with Charles L. Perry ('Kentuck') cleared four acres in the N. W. quarter of the S. W. quarter of Section 7, Town 40 north of Range 10 east, planted rutabagas and potatoes and a little garden stuff. He also built a house on the property, known as the Dairy Dollar Farm, and cleared two acres. Strange to say, all of the above- described land belonged to the government. Perry passed away to the Happy Hunting Ground in February, 1898. The writer is still alive."

Other land entries were: By Horace R. Foster, Nov. 2, 1885, on Section 21, Town 40 north of Range 10 east, (this is known as the Numerate farm); by Emmet Marco, Dec. 16, 1892, on his present place on Section 19, Town 40 north of Range 10 east; by Hugh Croker, Feb. 21, 1896, on Section 7, Town 40 north of Range 10 east, with other lands; by John Moran, Feb. 25, 1896, on Section 20, Town 40 north of Range 10 east (the farm now owned by Henry Smith); by George St. Louis, June 4, 1898, on Section 19, Town 40 north of Range 10 east. These lands all lie in what is known as the " Croker district" and have been continually used for farming purposes since their entry.

The agricultural development of the county went on but slowly so long as there was plenty of work to be obtained in connection with the logging and lumbering industry, but as that began to diminish some of the loggers, instead of following it to distant parts, took up land and tried their hands at farming; a few others did the same, and by 1900 there were in the county, out of the total land area of 597,760 acres, 13,171 acres in farms, of which 2,172 acres were improved. The number of farms was 83 and the value of all farm property $145,401.

In 1910 the number of acres in farms was 19,269, of which 4,605 acres were improved. The number of farms was 149 and the value of all farm property $668,187. Much more interest was being manifested in the subject and some of the farmers were getting good results. In September, 1913, a committee of three members was appointed by the county board to make an investigation and ascertain what desirable lands could be purchased for a county fair, and on the same date "a s= not to exceed $300" was appropriated to cover the expense of an exhibit of agricultural products grown in Vilas County at the State Fair to be held in Milwaukee Sept. 8 that year. The gathering, shipping and display of said products was placed in charge of Joseph T. Nemacheek of Eagle River.

The report of county agricultural representative Oscar Gunderson in December, 1914, alluded to Vilas County's limited farm population and the fact that many of the farmers had been either lumbermen or miners with no previous experience in tilling the soil, which fact, however, made them more open to suggestion and assistance than men who through long farm experience had acquired much self- reliance and conservatism. Twelve farmers' meetings had been held during the summer in schoolhouses, all well attended. Two potato growers' associations were formed, one at Eagle River and the other at Conover, and in this connection experiments were made with commercial fertilizer furnished by the University. Some farmers were trying to improve their herds by buying pure bred bulls. A car of crushed limestone had been purchased for farmers near Eagle River and Conover to try the effect of lime on the growth of clover and alfalfa. Two silos had been built during the summer, which made but four in the county, as only two had been previously erected.

A vegetable and potato show was held at Eagle River Oct. 30, with good exhibits and keen competition for prizes, the sum of $65 having been contributed by the business men for that purpose. In September potatoes from this county were exhibited at the Grand Rapids Potato Convention. A creditable exhibit was made, Vilas County taking rank as eighth among the 15 counties exhibiting. Tests of lime, and commercial and other fertilizers were made, and rotation of crops and plenty of stock, particularly dairy stock, recommended.

During the following year many cows were tested for cream and two herds tested for tuberculosis, but no disease found. The crop tests showed that with the use of lime alfalfa could be grown successfully three crops a year; also sweet clover; nine more silos were built and a creditable exhibit of grasses, grains, potatoes and other vegetables made at the state fair at Milwaukee. Some orchard work was also started.

On March 11, 1916, a meeting was held at the office of Lawler & Wiegand, in Eagle River, for the purpose of forming a Vilas County Agricultural Society. Charles W. Wiegand was chosen president of the meeting and Oscar Gunderson secretary. Those present in addition were Alex Higgins, Amos Radcliffe, Verne Richards, Nate Emmons, Walter Raymond, Charles Adams, Walter Arnold and Roy Beebe. A constitution and by-laws were drafted and adopted, all the members present signing. Hans Hansen of Conover was elected president, Stanley Korpal of Washington vice president, Oscar Gunderson secretary and Nate Emmons treasurer. At the next meeting it was resolved to hold a one-day fair Sept. 7, on the city common, to be called the Vilas County First Annual Fair, and committees were appointed to take hold of the matter.

The work of the county agent consisted largely of plot demonstrations, also assistance in the construction of barns, silos and other farm buildings, in livestock improvement and increase, and in food preparedness propaganda due to the war. Stump- pulling demonstrations had also been given at Eagle River and Phelps, which had helped to create an interest in land clearing. Five canning demonstrations were given during the summer of that year by Mrs. Nellie Jamieson of Madison, in which the women of the county showed considerable interest. The local fair, Sept. 20, was a decided success. There were 248 entries in the farm products class and 78 in the cattle class. Nearly eight hundred dollars were awarded in prizes, of which the state paid 80 per cent. An exhibit was made at the State Potato Show at Madison in November, and Vilas County ranked ninth in County Booth and fourth in Rural New York exhibits out of 16 counties represented a good record. 0. E. Gibson has been agricultural agent since the spring of 1919.

In May 1917, the county board was asked for an annual appropriation for the fair, which was subsequently granted, and thus activities went on, the Association becoming stronger with the advent of new members. In May 1919 a resolution was adopted to purchase the grounds known as the Hirzel Fields from the Lutheran Aid Society of Appleton for the sum of $1,500. It was decided to give the east field to the agricultural agent for an experimental plot and that the Eagle River ball team should be allowed to play ball in the west field. In 1919 it was decided to exhibit at the State Fair, and that the local fair be held two days, Sept. 3 and 4; also to make an exhibit at the State Potato Show in December. In June, 1920, it was decided that no exhibit be sent to the State Fair, on account of the early date, but that exhibits should be made at the State Potato Show, the Mid-West Horticultural Show and the International Stock Show if funds should be available. The local fair was set for Sept. 15-16.

In 1920 there were 417 farms in Vilas County, one of which contained more than 1,000 acres. The value of all farm property amounted to $2,578,793, this value being distributed as follows: Farm land $1,294,357; farm buildings $784,233; implements and machinery $192,408; live stock $307,775. There were 390 farms, operated by owners, 12 by managers and only 15 by tenants.

With respect to live stock, of horses there were 725, valued at $113,843; mules 9, valued at $1,475; cattle 2,293 valued at $144,324; (beef cattle 102, valued at $4,953, and dairy cattle 2,191, valued at $139,372); sheep 1,475, valued at $21,663; goats 21, valued at $196; and swine 681, valued at $15,439. The number of chickens was 9,788, other poultry 157, with a total value of $10,522. There were also 13 hives of bees with a value of $138.

The census reports on dairy products showed the following items: Milk produced (as reported), 500,430 gals.; milk sold, 38,631 gals.; cream sold, 13,154 gals.; butter fat sold, 39,178 lbs.; butter made on farms, 53,603.lbs.; butter sold, 10,470 lbs.; cheese made on farms, 855 lbs.; value of dairy products, $79,167; receipts from sale of dairy products, $57,370. The number of eggs produced (as reported) was 48,525 dozen; eggs sold, 18,984 dozen; chickens raised 13,374; chickens sold, 3,335; value of chickens and eggs produced, $34,626; receipts from sale of same, $11,859.

The total value of all crops was $570,197, divided as follows: cereals $57,159; other grains and seeds $2,402; hay and forage $149,958; vegetables $357,021; fruits $2,302 -, all other crops $1,335. The figures showing the respective number of acres sown to the various kinds of cereals together with the respective quantities harvested were: corn 112 acres, 3558 bushels; oats 1,448 acres, 44,515 bushels; wheat 205 acres, 1,769 bushels; barley 114.acres, 2,193 bushels; rye 210 acres, 2,979 bushels; buckwheat 64 acres, 1,040 bushels; mixed crops 18 acres, 341 bushels.

There were four acres planted to dry edible beans, with a resultant crop of 26 bushels, while 31 acres were planted to dry peas, the crop amounting to 432 bushels. The amount of land devoted to hay and forage was 4,2 1 5 acres, which produced 7,552 tons. The principal kind was timothy and clover mixed, to which 2,736 acres were sown, producing a crop of 4,430 tons. The number of acres planted with Irish or white potatoes was 1,346, the crop amounting to 136,459 bushels. Fifty acres were sown to other vegetables in regard to which there was no detailed report. There were 2,978 maple trees tapped, the production of maple sugar being 2,330 pounds and that of maple syrup 171 gallons.

The total number of acres sown to small fruits was 13, the crop amounting to 11,839. These were mostly strawberries, of which there were eight acres, producing 9,634 quarts. One acre was sown to raspberries, producing 605 quarts, and one to cranberries, producing 230 quarts.

Of orchard trees there were 560 not of bearing age and 191 of bearing age. The greater number were apple trees, of which there were 445 not of bearing age and 159 of bearing age. Of plums and prunes there were 58 trees not of bearing age and 24 of bearing age; of cherries 53 trees not of bearing age, 3 of bearing age.

These statistics show that in spite of some natural disadvantages, Vilas County has some land very suitable for agricultural purposes and that it is being developed in a manner highly creditable to the local farmers. There is room for more farms and still further improvement, as the records for future years will doubtless show.

In potato growing the county's record is particularly good. In 1922 eight car loads of certified seed potatoes were distributed among the farmers through the creamery at Eagle River, the Rural New York being the chief variety, with some Green Mountains and Cobblers. Yields of from 200 to 300 bushels per acre are quite common. The county has never had a crop failure. The rainfall is ample, especially during the season. As clover grows wild on large tracts, and there is an abundance of wild flowers, some farmers devote their spare time profitably to the apiary business and the production of honey is increasing. Tobacco raising has also been tried successfully, though that industry is still in its infancy here. One farmer planting a trifle less than an acre, produced and sold 800 pounds of the cured leaf. Land clearing and dairying have received close attention and a number of farmers have bought pure bred cattle and are improving their stock.

Membership in the Vilas County Agricultural Society, as it is now called, is limited to inhabitants of Vilas and adjoining counties, males and females above the age of 18 years being eligible. There are four classes of membership, Honorary, Life, Sustaining, and Annual. The honorary members are those who have honor- ably served four full terms of office or rendered conspicuous service in the society.

The life membership is granted to everyone who pays $25 to the society. The sustaining membership includes those who pay $15 to the society. The annual membership is obtained by paying the annual fee of two dollars. Fairs and cattle shows are held annually at Eagle River.

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