"[History is] a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man." -Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

how wisconsin is very near china

On a recent foray through our shelves, Janelle handed me a massive green volume ("tome" seems an appropriate word). Called History of Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas Counties: Wisconsin, it was compiled in 1924 by George O. Jones, Norman S. McVean and others, and published by H.C. Cooper, Jr. and Co. of Minneapolis, MN.

The volume writes up a history of Wisconsin (since European settlement), and more specifically, history on the three aforementioned counties. In a unique twist, the "prominent" folk who lived in these counties could pay to have their names and information entered into the volume. I will share some of these accounts in a later post -- a fascinating look at how people wanted themselves to be remembered.

I personally have always wondered why so many things up here, and generally in Wisconsin, are named Nicolet. There is the Nicolet National Forest and Nicolet Area Technical College. Nicolet High School. Nicolet Bank. One might deduce, in etiological fashion, that Nicolet must have been a Frenchman. But who was he?

Nicolet's arrival in Wisconsin: no wonder the natives wanted to throw things

The green book supplies our answer in Chapter 1: The Explorers.

The first white man to set foot on the soil of Wisconsin was Jean Nicolet, a young Frenchman of Norman birth* who had come to New France, or Canada, in 1618, when both Quebec and Montreal were infant settlements. He was then a very young man of an intrepid and adventurous spirit, and the Governor of New France, Samuel Champlain, saw in him the material for an able lieutenant in the work of advancing French interests in the New World. For that purpose Nicolet was sent to live among the Indians, to learn their language, manners, habits and customs, which he did very satisfactorily, residing among them for a number of years, during which time he suffered many hardships, especially from hunger. With such apprenticeship he was well fitted to become an explorer. About 1632 he returned to Quebec, where for two years he was employed as a clerk and interpreter.

Champlain was obsessed with the idea, prevalent at the time, of a short route westward to India and China, and being anxious to discover it, both for the honor and glory of France and his own advancement, sent Nicolet to prepare the way by making peace among the warring Indian tribes, and also instructed him to penetrate as far as possible westward in the hope of discovering the long sought route. Accordingly, in July 1634, furnished with a very imperfect map, Nicolet set out in a canoe from Montreal. He followed the Ottawa River westward, then up a branch of that river and by portage to Lake Nipissing, which he crossed and then went down the French River to Georgian Bay. After stopping there for a while with the Hurons, he proceeded westward along the coast of the bay until he reached the Sault Ste. Marie, the river or waterway connecting Lake Huron with Lake Superior. At the rapids he rested, then, without exploring Lake Superior, which was in part at least depicted on his map, he turned southward, passed through the straits of Mackinac and coasted the northern shore of Lake Michigan until he reached the mouth of the Menominee River, which empties into Green Bay. There from an [Algonquin] tribe he heard about certain "Men of the Sea," who were not far distant, and jumped to the conclusion that he had almost reached China. In order to properly impressed the luxurious Orientals whom he expected to meet, he arrayed himself in a gorgeous robe, with which he had come provided for the express purpose, and pushed his way forward to the head of the bay. He must have been greatly disappointed to meet there only a band of Winnebago [Ho-Chunk] Indians, whose language he could not speak or understand. Making the best of the occasion, however, through his Indian followers he urged them to be at peace with the Hurons and to bring their furs to Montreal to exchange them for the white man's commodities. The occasion was celebrated by a great feast, at which much wild game was consumed.

Nicolet then ascended the Fox River southward to Lake Winnebago and went beyond it to a village of the Mascoutin Indians [a tribe extinct now] which stood probably about where the city of Berlin, Green Lake County, does now. There he first heard of the Mississippi River, but not realizing the importance of the information, and having, besides, fulfilled the main purpose of his mission in making peace between the tribes, he went further southward, visited the Illinois, later returned to the Fox River and Green Bay, and thence to Montreal, which he reached in July 1635, his journey having taken about a year. The discovery of the Mississippi was thus left to others.
*Jean Nicolet de Belleborne was born in Cherbourg, Coutances, Normandie, France in 1598 -- according to Wikipedia. He would have been about 20 when he started his apprenticeship. Check out the Wikipedia page.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the resort era in full swing

Resort guests in the first few decades stayed longer than most guests today: from a month to a whole season, and there were more men, generally, than women. Cottage owners often came for the entire seasons, bringing along the season's supplies -- "Kerosene lamp chimneys by the hundred," recalls one lady. Or they ordered things like from mail order grocers like Pieper's, Steinmeyer's in Milwaukee, and other things from Sears.

Getting here, in those days, wasn't any too easy. North Western Railway Pullmans sped guests up from Indianapolis or Chicago or Milwaukee, but when they clambered down from the trains into the Manitowish dawn, it was a horse and buggy that awaited them, and a rough ride paralleling the river bank on the little lane to the dam site... the end of the road. Most resorts and some homeowners had big, gasoline-engined launches, and at the Rest Lake dam travelers and their baggage transferred to those for the last leg of the trip. (For travelers to Big Lake, two more transfers were ahead: an overland portage from Clear Lake to Big and then a boat trip on Big. Can you imagine moving up a piano in the face of such handicaps? One party did -- and it took days!)

A look back at resort era activities

The Teens or even 1909 brought three or four more resorts on the American plan format, and the Twenties added several others, but then the development trends turned toward furnished housekeeping cottages.

Most likely the first host to rent furnished cottages without pairing them with a dining lodge was Henry Voss around 1911. He supplied some of his guests' needs from his garden, chickens and cows -- and added American plan facilities around 1920. By 1930 there were half a dozen housekeeping cottage resorts, and the early 1930's witnessed the first clusters of complete little homes with city conveniences built for housekeeping rental.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

the resort era begins

"Manitowish Waters Area History: A Look Back," continued...

The Chicago & North Western Railway main line may have been the key to the development of this area.

It was built north in 1888 and where the track crossed the Manitowish River, the settlement of Manitowish developed (even before Mercer did!). It was a cluster of general stores, liveries, hotels, post office and homes. Supplies for the dam building crews, lumber camps and residents now could be wagon-hauled easily from Manitowish, or poled or rowed up the river in the bateaux that the Chippewa Lumber & Boom Company favored. For decades afterwards the railroad remained a lifeline, bringing up settlers, vacationists and supplies. Passenger train service ended just after New Years's later.

From 1906 till World War I, travelers could ride a small connecting train directly to the waters of the Manitowish chain at a landing at Rice Creek Bridge. The train, which often handled freight and log cars ahead of his little coach, linked Buswell, Rice Creek, and Boulder Junction with teh main line of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway at Star Lake (near Sayner).

Logging, rafting and even river driving were still going on when the first adventurous vacationists began coming up to enjoy the Manitowish Waters, and the trend eventually spawned several forms of hospitality or enjoyment: resorts, camping, summer homes, even group camps.

Resorts, as a result, have been an important part of the Manitowish Waters scene for over ninety years [since the original writing does not have a date], and there have been resorts at over one hundred locations on the chain or nearby lakes during that time, divided between American plan resorts and housekeeping cottage resorts.

It was the American plan idea that the first area resorts adopted, usually in the form of a central lodge with dining room, lobby and perhaps a few sleeping rooms, along with a few separate sleeping cottages, and all with the trademark of the era: screened porches.

The early host chose picturesque settings for their resorts. Abe LaFave perched his hotel and cottages on a little island in Island Lake around 1895, making him the first resort operator on the chain. Within less than five years George Washington Buck had opened a lodge at the narrows between Spider and Manitowish Lakes (a resort better remembered as Koerner's), and J.A. LaMotte had chosen the eastern shore of Manitowish Lake, facing the sunset, to begin Deer Park Lodge. He blended ruggedness with gentility as he equipped it with a launch, fishing boats, a cow and a piano. Peter Vance ran a little "resort" about the same time, before burning out in 1903, but his was more a roadhouse or little inn with meals downstairs and a few sleeping rooms upstairs, on the shore of Rest Lake near the dam.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

looking back at the logging years

Manitowish Waters Area History: A Look Back, continued.

Every few days a gate in the dam was opened and a large batch of logs was sluiced through, followed by a dose of water large enough to assure that the logs would float freely downstream but not enough to wash the logs ashore along the river's wandering course. The sluicing lasted only a few weeks, but took place every spring for ten to fifteen years.

As the logs moved downstream, log driving crews shepherded them to prevent jams and to get stray logs back into the flow. The most colorful fixture of the log drive was the wanigan that accompanied the drive. It was the kitchen boat that was built on the flat below the dam: A scow with a house on top to enclose the kitchen, supply space and sleeping quarters for the cook. Each evening the log drivers would gather at the wanigan for a hearty supper and maybe a little singing before they separated to sleep in little tents or just under the stars. All the dams below the Rest Lake Dam had gates big enough to allow it to be sluice through, guided by its big oars.

The logs were boomed and sorted and fed into the huge sawmills of the Chippewa Falls or Eau Claire area, or some of them were sent on toward the Mississippi mills, and the wanigan was abandoned or dismantled.

Back at the dam here, when each drive was over, two and a half billion gallons of water had been penned up and then released; the lakes were down to their original pre-1887 levels; and raw, ugly scarred new margin of erosion and stumps marred fifty some miles of the shoreline.

Penning the water for the next drive began the next fall or winter; but after the very last drive around 1904 or 1905 there was consistent policy about water levels, and that often infuriated local residents -- some wanted water high, some wanted it down, and one person even sabotaged the dam. At stake were fishing, esthetics, convenient access to the water.

Things were finally settled when a reservoir company bought the dam in 1912 and the state began prescribing water levels. The summer level is set at 8 1/2 feet above the original level, and the winter level is five feet. [unsure if this information is still current]

The reservoir company replaced the wooden dam with the present masonry dam in the mid-1920's.

Left behind by the white pine loggers were all the other species of trees, many of which were also valuable for lumber. So the white pine lumbermen sold their "cutover" lands for another round of harvesting by different loggers.

Again the lakes figured in the harvest.

Two logging railroad spurs were pushed to the shores of the chain on Rest and Little Star lakes. Norway pine and other logs were put into the lakes of the chain and rafted by gas or steam tugs as quickly as possible to these two railroad landings and hoisted onto flatcars. These other species do not float as well as the white pine, so there was always a sense of urgency in rafting them, and rafting sometimes went on day and night. There was also a side track at Rice Creek Bridge where a self-propelled log loading crane could come and load logs rafted from the lakes of the chain or floated down from above Big or Round Lakes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A look back: the 19th century and earlier

Having unearthed another article by Michael J. Dunn, III, on the history of Manitowish Waters, I think it's appropriate to share most of it on this blog. I will, of course, split the content over multiple posts!

The Lake Superior Chippewa [Ojibwe] Indians were the first people to leave a significant imprint on this region. The Chippewa people had moved westward along the Great Lakes in quest of better hunting during the 1600's and 1700's, had become involved in the fur trade with Europeans and had come to depend on [European] trade goods, like guns, iron vessels, woven fabric, even whiskey. They were now venturing farther and farther inland from the Lake Superior shoreline to find supplies of fur-bearing animals to meet their trading needs. Between 1700 and 1750 they had routed the Sioux [their sometime rivals] and had established .... a settlement at Lac du Flambeau.

Native people building a birch bark canoe
Their traditional lifestyle was a cycle of moves with the seasons of the year: in spring they made sugar in their maple-sugaring grounds. In summer they moved on to their fishing grounds, where they fished for present sustenance and dried fish for later use, planted and harvested corn, and picked and preserved berries. In late summer they progressed to their wild ricing grounds, and in fall they moved on to their hunting grounds.

They traveled in birchbark canoes and when they stayed any length of time, they covered sapling frameworks with birchbark to make wigwam-style homes, rolling up the precious bark and taking it with them when they moved on.

In the waning decades of the 1800's, though, the Chippewas were playing out the final years of this drama, perhaps without realizing it at the time, for the later 1800's would see a movement to cluster them all on their government sponsored reservation at Flambeau and settle them there.

Until then, however, some of the Chippewas had a favorite encampment spot on the east shore of Manitowish Lake where Deer Park Lodge was later developed, and here they camped, fished and even buried some of their dead. They also gathered wild rice not far away up near Big Lake, which they were able to reach by canoe via Island Lake and Rice Creek, and they continued to gather rice there into the 1900's, well after they had ceased camping on Manitowish Lake. (Their impact upon the area is evident in the fact that Manitowish Lake is almost the only body of water labeled by name on the map made by the first surveyors in the 1860's. Manitowish is the word for weasel or muskrat* in the dictionary of Chippewa language that Father Baraga compiled and published during his long career as a missionary among the Lake Superior Chippewa in the mid-1800s.)

Government surveyors were the first [Europeans] who left a record of their passing through the area we know as Manitowish Waters; one party passed by as it established the boundaries for townships in 1860 and a second party crisscrossed the township in 1862, establishing interior section lines. They made systematic notes, and these notes acknowledge the valuable timber resources here and even note the fact that the logs could be floated down rivers to sawmills elsewhere. By 1872 people were putting in applications for lands near the chain of lakes and by the 1800s [?] the lumber people were jockeying in earnest for control of large timber tracts.

By 1884, if we can rely on Peter Vance, one of the participants, a little flotilla of canoes paddled up the Manitowish River from Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls area[.]

They were sent to evaluate, or "cruise," the woods for timber and help plan the assault on the white pine forests, and their arrival also established a permanent white presence in township 42 North, Range 5 East: the present Manitowish Waters. The 1800's also brought [pioneers] who were not directly involved with this timber cruising.

What the lumbermen found -- and coveted -- were virgin forest so tall and thick that while they still stood uncut, a person could walk six miles downstream from the present dam toward Manitowish, on the little road that developed parallel to the river, and never leave total shade for direst sunlight!

In contrast, when all the loggers were done, twenty-five years later, a person could stand, say, at Boulder Junction, and could see all the way across the logging and fire-ravaged landscape to Trout Lake or almost to the Manitowish chain.

A little rapids formed a threshold for the chain of lakes. In 1887 the state legislature authorized the lumbermen to build a dam there to pen up waters of the chain for logging and river driving. In 1887-88 crews built a camp below the dam site and began freighting in the first supplies upriver from the railroad at Fifield and Park Falls. They also began grading the earthworks on either bank and began building rock crib and timber dam tall and strong enough to hold back water fifteen feet deeper than the chain had ever seen before!

White pine was valued for its fine lumber, but besides that, it was light enough to float infinitely, and logs put into the water on the Manitowish chain could certainly stay afloat long enough to reach mills almost 200 miles away at Chippewa Falls or Eau Claire. So crews began cutting the pines in winter and putting the logs into the swollen lakes at break-up; and paddle-wheel steamboat herded them to the dam end or Rest Lake from all around the chain.

*Another translation of Manitowish might be "playful spirit" -- perhaps more otter than weasel! [C.B.]

to frighten an angel or intimidate a Caesar

A final excerpt from Malhiot's journal, written during his time at the fort in Lac du Flambeau. If Malhiot felt that Flambeau Lake was "worthier of the name of swamp," I can only imagine that he would have felt much the same about the Manitowish Waters chain!

Voyageurs at Dawn, Frances Ann Hopkins, 1871
[O]f all the spots and places I have seen in my thirteen years’ of travels, this is the most horrid and most sterile. The Portage road is truly that to heaven because it is narrow, full of overturned trees, obstacles, thorns, and muskegs. Men who go over it loaded and who are obliged to carry baggage over it, certainly deserve to be called “men.”

This vile portage is inhabited solely by owls, because no other animal could find a living there, and the hoots of those solitary birds are enough to frighten an angel or intimidate a Caesar.

As to Lac du Flambeau it is worthier of the name of swamp than of lake and at this season it would be easier to catch bullfrogs in the nets than fish. I have had the nets set three times since my arrival without catching a fish. Today I am sending Gauthier to cast his nets in another lake; perhaps we shall get some crawfish. With regard to the river I will never call it anything but a small stream, because in many places a mouse could cross it without wetting its belly. All the Savages I have seen so far seemed to me to be good providers; another time, when I shall have seen them all, I will speak of them more at length.
Next time you hop on your pontoon or climb in a canoe, think of those wiry Voyageurs paddling across the lakes and struggling on the narrow portage trails in between, carrying 90 pounds of gear. Monsieur Malhiot, suffering from toothache. The so-called Savages, whose culture we have at last learned to respect. The 200 years that separate us is not, in the scheme of things, so very far. It certainly puts our lifestyles in perspective!