"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.


As the villages in Vilas County, like those of neighboring counties, owed their origin to the lumber industry, which in its nature is transient in any particular locality, they have in general to a large extent followed its fortunes, flourishing as headquarters for supplies, or as locations for sawmills, when logging operations were carried on with vigor in their vicinity, and declining or passing out of existence when the timber in their neighborhood became exhausted and the loggers moved elsewhere. Eagle River, as the county seat, and as a larger supply depot than the others, has survived the general decline of the industry, but it still has a large lumber company as one of its chief business enterprises-under outside control, however and has profited perhaps to a larger extent than the others by the increasing summer tourist trade. Phelps and Winegar, both at the present time good-sized and flourishing villages, are also lumber-mill towns and the respective headquarters of logging operations, as also is Winchester, a somewhat smaller place. To eliminate the lumber industry from any one of the three would mean its immediate reduction to a very small hamlet, or possibly its total extinction. Though summer resorts are numerous all over the county, the trade of the tourists, campers, or sportsmen who frequent them can be depended on for but a few months in the year, and a few stores dealing in general merchandise can supply most of their wants; besides, they are not sufficiently numerous or so concentrated in one location, as to prove a strong factor in building up any such center of population as a good- sized village. Hence, with the exception of those specially mentioned above, all the villages in the county are very small, the chief business being that of the general store which supplies the surrounding farmers and a few summer visitors.

There are several, however, which though now mere hamlets, were once places of some importance. To make suitable mention of all that have cut any figure in the history of the county is the object of this chapter.

Arbor Vitae, once a populous and busy village, but now a small hamlet, is situated in the town of the same name, on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, or, to describe the location more accurately, it is in Section 30, Township 40 north of Range 7 east. It is picturesquely situated on the southwest shore of Arbor Vitae Lake, while farther to the southeast is Little Arbor Vitae Lake, another pleasing body of water. State Trunk Highway No. 32 runs through the village. Arbor Vitae was opened up in 1893 by the John D. Ross Lumber Company, of which J. D. Ross was president and 'W. H. Bissell secretary and manager. after 15 years the Ross company sold out to the Yawkey-Bissell Lumber Co., which included Walter Alexander, C. C. Yawkey, Mr. Bissell, B. P. Hammond and others, Mr. Ross also being a stockholder in the concern. The J. D. Ross Lumber Co. originally owned the site, but the timber was held by the Land, Log & Lumber Co. of Milwaukee. The Ross Company bought the timber and took 55 per cent, the Log, Land & Lumber Co. taking 45 per cent, this arrangement continuing for 15 years, after which the respective percentages were reversed. While the logging operations were at their height-from 1893 to 1908-Arbor Vitae was a very lively place, containing some 200 families, and with a total population of over 1200. The village had a club house for dances, a Young Men's Association, a Woodmen's hall, and a ball park, besides a good store, and a fine social spirit prevailed. The people were satisfied and wished to remain, and it was only with great reluctance that they went away when the lumber operations were finished, some of them even subsequently returning in the hope that the place would start up again. One or two business places still remain, J. Mykleby & Sons operating a general store, with A. J. Mykleby as postmaster, while D. Paquette & Son are conducting a livery business.

Boulder Junction is a little village containing several stores and a hotel, situated on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, 37 miles from Eagle River and 18 from Minocqua the most accessible banking point. -It is in Township 42, north of Range 7 east or in the northern part of the town of Arbor Vitae and on the southeast shore of Boulder Lake. Logging operations were carried on in this vicinity in the early 90's by the Mississippi River Logging Co. and the Dells Lumber Co., both companies having their headquarters at Woodruff. There was a station two miles west of the junction, which was called Boulder. A store and hotel were started here nearly 30 years ago by Dennis Paquette, and he and his wife are still conducting them. Their son William conducts a summer resort on the adjoining lake. There are a number of other summer resorts in the vicinity, the location being attractive to tourists.

Conover is situated in the town of the same name, or in Section 4, Township 41 north of Range 10 east. It is on the Chicago & Northwestern Railway, which here sends off a branch line to the bustling village of Phelps some eight miles or more to the eastward. The place was named after Seth Conover of Plymouth. In 1902, aside from lumbermen, there were not more than two or three actual settlers in the surrounding town, the Reed Brothers--Chas. P. and Gust-being about the first, though in the village there was a Catholic mission served by the priest at Eagle River. In 1913 George C. Dobbs and his brother Fred H., under the firm name of Dobbs Bros., established a general store in Conover and operated it together until February, 1921, since which time George C. has been the sole proprietor. He has been postmaster since 1921 and has seen the office advance from fourth to third class. His present store building, a substantial brick structure, was erected in 1918. Mr. Dobbs also keeps a hotel. Charles H. Blohm, the present sheriff of Vilas County, also resides in Conover, having moved to the village from a farm in 1917. His ordinary business is that of well drilling and the installation of pumps and water systems. It was through his efforts that the town of Conover was set off in 1907. The village is ten miles north of Eagle River, which is the banking point. It enjoys the convenience of telegraph, telephone and express service. It is small but boasts a name well known in Vilas County. The Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in Section 23, town of Conover, was organized Oct. 26, 1903, at the home of August Ostenberg, by Rev. N. Gibson, then pastor at Ironwood, Mich. Four families united at the organization. The Blue Grass Land Co. donated 40 acres of land, upon which the cemetery is located. For years the organization remained as a mission and pastors from Ironwood and Bessemer, Mich., and from Rhinelander and Prentice, Wis., took care of it until 1919, in which year a pastorate was formed with the Immanuel Church at Rhinelander, which union still exists. The Rev. Walter Lindberg was its first permanent pastor, coming to the pastorate in 1920. Rev. R. J. Alstatt came to the pastorate in 1922 and is still serving. In 1915 a four-acre tract was purchased on Pioneer Lake, with a 300-foot frontage. On March 16, 1916, ground was broken for the building of a church. As the pioneers affiliated with this church were not financially able to push the work very fast, work on the building has been done little by little as funds were raised, and in 1919 the church was used for worship, although not finished at that time, and at present not fully completed. The church has experienced a steady growth, numbering at present about 100 communicant members and a total membership of around 150. The Sunday school has an enrollment of about 50. The Ladies' Aid and the Luther League are very active organizations.

Lac du Flambeau, or "Torch Lake," as the French appellation may be translated, is in the extreme southwestern part of Vilas County and within the Indian reservation of the same name. The main village--for there are two Indian villages-lies about two miles southwest of the Lac du Flambeau station on the Chicago & Northwestern Railway and is reached by a branch railway track and a parallel stage line road. Or, to describe the location with more exactitude, it is in Township 40 north of Range 5 east, which brings it within the limits of the political town of Flambeau. The reservation covers about 144 square miles, of which 34 square miles are in Iron County and two square miles in Oneida County, the rest being in Vilas.

This area, like practically all others throughout this entire region, has witnessed the restless activities of the lumberman, and about 1885 it was a great logging center. Herrick & Stearns came in from Michigan and made a contract with the government to cut the Indian timber. They organized the Lac du Flambeau Lumber Company, put in logging gangs and operated a sawmill and also a store. Their work kept them busy until some ten years ago, and finally, having finished their cut, they closed out their business in 1914, the store being bought by Edward Oldenberg, who is now conducting it.

The village has several stores and good hotel accommodations, and in the summer time is visited by many tourists and sight-seers, the Indians on the reservation and their handicrafts, specimens of which they have for sale, being the main attractions. There is an Indian school on the reservation, reliable information in regard to which has been furnished for this volume by Mr. J. W. Balmer, the superintendent. His account, which embraces many interesting details as to the manner in which the government is taking care of its Indian wards, reads as follows:

The Lac du Flambeau Indian Boarding School was founded in 1895. and is located in a region of beautiful lakes in the southwest part of Vilas County. It is a reservation boarding school maintaining the primary and prevocational divisions of the course of study for Indian schools. The primary division consists of the first, second and third grades; the prevocational includes the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The academic work alternates with industrial training, each pupil spending one-half day in academic work and one-half in industrial training. It is the purpose of the school to keep constantly before the pupils the importance of character building, self-support and good citizenship. A school farm is maintained for elementary instruction in agriculture. At the present time the plant consists of 33 buildings, with a capacity of 180 pupils.

The subjects included in the primary academic program are reading, spelling, writing, oral language, arithmetic, drawing, history, geography, physiology, ethics, civics, current events and music. The same subjects are continued under the pre- vocational program, with instruction in various industrial occupations, which may be divided into two general groups-those for boys and those for girls, each em- bracing a number of different industries. Those taught the boys during the first year are farming and stock raising, gardening, dairying, engineering, blacksmithing, carpentry, painting, masonry, and shoe and harness repairing. General work is also classed as another subject, boys being detailed to that work being assigned for duty wherever they are needed, as the boys' building, kitchen, laundry and such irregular work as is necessary to maintain the institution. The work for the second and third year includes the same subjects or occupations, but carried to a more advanced point. The greatest amount of time is given to those occupations likely to be of most use to the pupils; for instance, to farming and stock raising 40 weeks in the year are assigned; ten weeks each to gardening, dairying, engineering, blacksmithing and general work; and five weeks each to painting, masonry, and shoe and harness repairing.

The same general plan is carried out with respect to the girls' industries, which differ only in character, including sewing, to which 30 weeks each year are assigned; laundering, 20 weeks; cooking, 20 weeks; home training and poultry raising, 10 weeks; general work, 10 weeks. The classes in home training are formed at the end of 10, 20. and 30 weeks and are made up of girls from the sewing-room, who return to that room after ten weeks. Girls assigned to general work are de- tailed by the matron for duty wherever they are needed. The calendar of the institution gives a glimpse of various other interesting activities. It shows the time and number of hours and minutes assigned to the different branches of study; mentions an Academic Teachers' Meeting held from 4 -00 to 5 -00 P. M. on Mondays; a Study Hour from 7:00 to 8: 00 P. M. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; and on the same days a Physical Training Hour from 8:00 to 9:00 P.M.. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons an hour is devoted to piano lessons. A Literary Society meeting is held on Fridays, alternating with socials held by the pupils. On Saturdays, in the forenoon, the Industrial Departments hold a session in double detail working, while in the evening there is religious instruction from 7.W to 8,00 P. M., and an Employees' Social on the last Saturday of each month.

On the second and fourth Sundays of each month there is General Inspection at 9:00 A. M.; instruction and Mass for Catholic pupils from 10:00 to 11:30 A. M., and Sunday school and services for Protestant pupils from 10:00 to 12:00 A.M., and at 7:00 in the evening there is a General Assembly.

The Inspection Committee consists of the superintendent, chief clerk and physician. There is a Library under charge of the primary teacher, the library being open from 7:30 to 8,00 A. M. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Pupils living on the reservation are permitted to visit their homes once a month.

A report (Circular No. 1819) issued by James W. Balmer, superintendent of the Lac du Flambeau School and Agency, dated Nov. 8, 1922, and addressed-to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington, D. C., contains a large amount of information in regard to the Indians and the work that is being carried on to educate and civilize them. It takes up the four principal subjects of Schools, Health, Law and Order, and Industrial activities, under the first head furnishing additional data in regard to the boarding-school, showing that it is "providing facilities for the Indian children of the Lac du Flambeau Reservation, the needy Potawatomies of the Laona Reservation, the destitute Rice Lake Chippewas and a few of the needy children of the Lac Vieux Desert Reservation." It is no wearing for 185 children, but is over-crowded. It was planned to prepare by July 1, 1923, a card index of each child on the reservation showing briefly but definitely its educational status, and to keep such card up to date by new entries each year.

In addition to this, other schools are mentioned, one being a public school located on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation. This is a one-room building, 35 by 45 feet, and including from the first to the eighth grade. It has (or had at the date of the report) one teacher and.44 pupils-39 Indians and 5 whites. The building being old and inadequate, it was planned to replace it by a new one of two rooms, and to place as many Indians in the public school as it would accommodate.

Two mission schools are mentioned, located respectively at Odanah and Bayfield, Wis., and are attended by a few of the Indian children. All children who have completed courses in the boarding-school on the reservation are transferred to the non-reservation schools. During the past two or three years educational campaigns have been conducted on the reservation, the Indians having learned to appreciate the great value of schools and are willingly sending their children to them. The superintendent's report showed satisfactory health conditions, there being little disease on the reservation, and wit4 respect to such as there was, the cases, were mild and carefully watched and treated by the local physician, and also by the traveling physician who visits the reservation periodically. The boarding- school being located on a peninsula surrounded by three lakes, has an ideal situation from a sanitary point of view. There is no hospital for either the school or agency. Such a building was constructed at the school some years ago, but being found inadequate after being in use for some time, it was abandoned as a hospital but continued to house the physician's dispensary, a part being also occupied as residence quarters. As many of the Indians on the reservation are pagans, they are disposed to apply for aid to their own medicine men when sick, but the more intelligent members of the tribes consult the white physician, and even the medicine men themselves sometimes resort to him for treatment.

Under the head of Law and Order are placed such subjects as -dress, marriage and divorce, Indian dances, liquor traffic, social and moral improvement and gambling. Though many of the Indians do not speak the English language, they dress like the white man and are adopting the usual customs of civilization. The superintendent of the agency, Mr. Balmer, having been appointed court commissioner by the circuit court judge, is empowered to perform the legal marriage cere mony, and whenever citizens or non-citizens are found who have not complied with the state laws relating to marriage and divorce steps are taken to see that they are placed on a proper legal status.

The Indian dances, involving various superstitious rites and ceremonies, pre- sent a difficult problem. The older Indians still indulge in their religious dances, which they are allowed to do on condition that they are held at a time when they will not interfere with the planting of their gardens or their farming operations. As a method of combatting the dancing, the Indians of the reservation are invited to attend moving-picture programs of an educational and entertaining nature, which are held at the reservation boarding-school once a week. A two-day Farmers' Institute, with instructors from the University of Wisconsin, has also been held each year, which has proved very helpful.

Since the nation-wide prohibition law went into effect, there has been very little trouble on the reservation with respect to liquor. Indians who are found making or procuring "moonshine" are arrested and prosecuted, and similar measures are taken against those who transgress the state laws against gambling. Special attention is given by the superintendent and all the employees of the school and agency to improvement in moral and social conditions; the uplift of Indian mothers and higher ideals for the young people, both single and married, are given very careful attention.

The industrial activities are carried on as well as they can be in view of Indian nature and the natural difficulties to be overcome. The lands of the reservation are poorly adapted to farming. Most of the allotments were logged some years ago and are now covered with a dense growth of young timber, brush, decayed logs and stumps, which makes the clearing of them very expensive. The land is very sandy but is good for clover and potatoes and most of the Indians have been allotted 86 acres. A good garden can be raised by adding fertilizer, The present generation of the Lac du Flambeau Indians are small house holders, and while some of them cultivate gardens, it is hard to arouse their interest in more extensive farming, particularly as they can earn seven dollars a day by acting as guides to summer tourists who flock to this region in large numbers yearly; and this kind of work, which is just adapted to their nomadic habits, is much more to their liking than the steady drudgery of general farming. Many of them, however, own milkcows, poultry and hogs, and a large number have ponies. There is quite a demand for ponies by the "reporters" in the vicinity, who pay the Indians from $60 to $70 for each animal. The superintendent finds trouble, however, in getting the Indians to house their ponies and other stock and care for them properly, especially during the winter months.

Most of the Indians have fairly good homes, though many of them need improvements, such as paint, good root-cellars, good fences, more satisfactory out-buildings and the digging of wells in convenient and suitable places, all of which things are being urged upon them, the children in particular being encouraged to make home improvements during their vacations. The many beautiful lakes on the reservation abound in game fish, and a fish hatchery is maintained by funds received from selling fishing permits to summer tourists. A permit for two weeks costs $2.00, for one month, $3.00 and for the season, $5.00. In this manner $1,400 was secured for the season just previous to Superintendent Balmer's report already mentioned), while the cost of running the fish hatchery was only $835.

Among the native industries manufactured by the Indians are the articles made from birch bark and buckskin, such as baskets of all shapes and sizes, beaded moccasins and other bead work, reed and woven mats, etc. The Indian women are very proficient in this native handiwork, which brings in considerable revenue for the family during the summer months when the tourists visit the reservation in great numbers. The Indian men canoe makers are able to sell every canoe they make at prices from $35.00 to $50.00 each, but it is Becoming harder each year to secure desirable birch bark.

There are still standing on many of the allotments various kinds of timber, such as would make good pulp wood for the paper mills and fuel for domestic purposes, and the Indians are being encouraged to sell these forest products and use the proceeds in clearing-more land and developing better homes. Legislation is now pending before Congress to allot the 24,000 acres of swamp and school lands recently relinquished by-the state of Wisconsin to the children and other of the Lac du Flambeau band who heretofore failed to receive allotments on this reservation. There are several kinds of timber standing on this acreage, but the proposed bill provides that it is to be cut under Government supervision and sold, and the proceeds derived therefrom distributed per capita to each allottee. Most of the land to be allotted and money to be distributed will go to minors. According to the testimony of Superintendent 13ahner, the Indians are not lazy, but on account of their nomadic disposition, cannot confine themselves to one particular thing for a long time. Their future is full of possibilities and their condition in general is slowly and steadily improving.

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