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|
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.]