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Home > Langlade County History Part 2

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The History of Langlade County, Wisconsin

The following history appeared in the 1928 Antigo High School yearbook "The Graduate."
The year 1928 was the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Antigo.

Part Two: Langlade County's Pioneer Industry

During the past the development of Langlade County was almost entirely dependent upon the lumbering industry, and this disappearing occupation was ushered in by the development of the famous pineries of Wisconsin.

When Francis Deleglise and Mr. Joseph St. Louis first made their way up through the wild unbroken country north from Green Bay, they were interested not only in finding a region suitable for homes, but also in locating good timber, which at that time meant large, straight, flawless, white pine, all other timber being considered useless. Timber cruisers were scouring the woods in attempts to find tracts of valuable lumber. Probably several passed through the region adjacent to Antigo; but though there was a good deal of excellent pine of the Antigo "flats," the big difficulty was that it lay a long distance from the Eau Claire River, and a still greater distance from the Wolf River. In view of this fact timber claims were taken up somewhat slowly in this intermediate section.

An interesting account is told by Oliver Shadick, Sr., of a visit he made to the Springbrook region accompanied by Jesse Armstrong, an expert timberman, and Harlan Giddings, an ordinary woodsman. They departed from their homes in Menasha and drove as far as Shawano, where they took the mail stage, which traveled the Old Military Road as far north as Gardner's dam. From here with the aid of the compass they reached Springbrook, later the site of Antigo, but then only a silent body of giant timber. They camped here for an interval of four or five days while they did some scouting. The next year they returned with the intention of looking for some timber worth taking. They located five forties of excellent pine directly east of the present Langlade national Bank, and, fearing lest they would be too late, they hastened to Menasha to file claims. They found that large tracts had been entered by a St. Louis firm in 1854, but that none had been entered since that time. During the next four or five years they acquired timber in the vicinity of Springbrook, and in 1875 Mr. Shadick took out the first homestead in the town of Norwood.

The richest pine lay in the northeastern section of the county, but adjacent to the valley of the Eau Claire, in which the embryonic Antigo was located, was found an area of about ten square miles containing excellent white pine and hardwood. About three miles to the east lay a formation of land known as 'the hills', and between these and the Wolf River the land was covered with some of the finest hardwood timber of this entire region. Scattered through the massive basswood, birch, rock elm, and maple were choice bits of oak, ash, cherry, and butternut. Around the Wolf River could be found considerable amounts of beech also. Although the hardwood timber across the flats between the East Eau Claire River and the 'hills' was as dense as that upon the higher ground, it was of inferior quality. Westward from Black Brook and the west branch of the Eau Claire the land assumed a gently rolling nature and was covered with a mixture of hemlock and hardwood with some white pine on the flat spaces.

As the Wolf River was larger than the Eau Claire, it was of the greatest importance in logging. In those days Oshkosh was a thriving mill town, known as the Sawdust City. The Wolf River furnished it with a great many logs. Loggers worked themselves up towards its source taking at first the pine adjacent to the banks. Most of the early pine lumbermen who were responsible for the early exploitations of the Wolf resided in Oshkosh.

Senator Philetus Sawyer, in later years a frequent visitor at Antigo, was one of the most important of these early lumber operators, but such men as Leander Choate, Matt Bray, Dan Fitzgerald, Seymore Hollister, Lyman Rummery, Asa C. Hicks, Col. Hanson, George Rich, George Buckstaff, Timothy Crane of Shawano, Peter Graton, Dewey George of Shawano, George Gery of Appleton, and George Gilkey of Oshkosh, were also prominent.

When one considers the number of operators who used the same watercourse to transport their pine, the problem of sorting and booming the logs seems tremendous.

There were many important dams on the Wolf River, the most important of these being a dam below Pine Lake, two dams below Rice Lake, Pelican dam, Little Chute dam (just outside of the county boundary line), Upper Post Lake dam, which was the principal reservoir for the entire river as far as Oshkosh, Lower Post dam, Gardner dam, and the Keshena Falls dam. On the Lily River, an important branch of the Wolf, there were several dams: the Lake dam at Robert's lake, Lake dam number two (slightly below the one at Robert's Lake), Bowser dam, Choate and Bray dam, Tourtillotte dam, Big Roll dam, Hayter dam, and Crane dam. On Bob Brook, a small tributary of the Lily River, was also a dam, while pickerel and Swamp Creek each claimed two. Practically all of these were owned or operated by the Keshena Improvement Company.

The Eau Claire River was the scene of operations from a different angle, but its white pine resources were not developed as soon or as fast as were those of the Wolf. The first mill on the river was built by a lumberman named Kelly at the site near which Kellys, a small town near Wausau, is located. At the point at which the Eau Claire River empties into the Wisconsin slightly below Wausau a man by the name of Schofield later built a small mill which sawed a great deal of the pine timber that came down the river. Schofield and Kelly were probably the first men to operate on the river. "Curly Joe" of Wausau, Jack Cotter, and Jim O'Connor of Merrill were some of the first men to push on up the river in their quest for pine. Brooks and Ross Lumber Company of Schofield became almost the sole operators on the river until the Antigo Screen Door Company built a mill in about 1893 at the site where William Ackley located.

As the Eau Claire did not possess a great deal of water with which to provide a suitable 'head' for driving, many dams became a necessity. Slightly above the dalles a dam was built to facilitate driving, while the Three Roll dam a short distance above Hogarty became important. Up the east branch of the Eau Claire from the junction of the east and west branches the Nelson dam was built. At the present location of Deerbrook another dam was located, while still another became a necessity at Old Neva. The very last dam on the river was known as the Indian, and was situated slightly below Crystal Springs.

Black Brook was also the scene of extensive operations by the Brook and Ross Lumber Company of Schofield. This company also operated on the Pine River in the western part of the county and drove many pine logs down to the Wisconsin River where the two rivers join slightly below Merrill. The Ferguson dam on this river was an important one.



It would not be fitting in a historical work of this nature to omit a description of the way in which log driving was carried on. It is as distinct a pioneer institution as can be found, and one which has all but passed out of existence. As the method of driving was generally the same on any watercourse, we shall describe it as applying to any of Langlade County's rivers.

The typical lumber jack originated in the pineries. As the work was hard, the hours long, and the environment devoid of comfort, the lumberjacks found little else in life but the company of the pines. The fall meant to them merely the time to go into the woods, and the spring presented a radiant hope of the time to "go out." A 'stake' was the wages that were given to them in the spring in compensation for their grueling work. After the drive was completed and they had acquired a pocket full of money, they immediately set out to spend it in the small towns of northern Wisconsin. But although the lumberjacks encountered trying conditions among the pines, and although their wages were small, they loved the big woods and were restless until they could get back to the pineries again. The stately pines and the frosty air had an appeal to them that could not be found elsewhere.

The early day logging camp was usually located as close to the river as possible and was made accessible to the outside world by an improvised trail known as a 'tote' road. Weary oxen made their journey over this road often with a necessary supply of the lumberjack's indispensable provisions: prunes, beans, and salt pork. No one complained as long as 'chuck' of this kind was present in the cook's shanty, which was a rude affair not designed for beauty. The early bunk shanty was often merely a suggestion of a shelter. Bunks often were made of spruce boughs placed under the folds of a blanket. The call of 'daylight in the swamp' brought men tumbling out into the frosty air ready to begin their day of toil.

Logs were with few exceptions cut and hauled in much the same manner as they are at the present time. Before the crosscut saw came into use, the pines were felled by a pair of axmen. Often the huge logs were 'rossed' - that is, stripped of bark - so that they might be removed from the woods more easily. At the river banks the logs were rolled off directly upon the ice, or, if there were a great many, they were decked into large 'rollways' lining the river bank.

As soon as the wintry blasts subsided and the ice in the river showed signs of breaking up, the drive was on. Each lumberjack who hired out to go through with the drive equipped himself with a lunchsack and a peavey, which resembles a modern lumberman's cant hook with the exception of having an iron spike driven into the end. Pike poles were also indispensable, for the unruly logs demanded a great deal of heaving and turning in making them keep their course.

The driving force was divided into two separate crews, the 'jam' crew, which went ahead and broke down the 'rollways,' and the rear driving crew, which brought the logs downstream. A small driving crew such as was used on the Eau Claire consisted of about twenty-five men, seven or eight on the jam crew and eighteen or twenty in the rear crew, while a large driving crew such as was used on the Wolf often consisted of eighty or one hundred men. The men who made up the 'jam' crew were considered to be the best, as they had to be unusually dextrous in handling and riding the logs. It also became their task to extricate lodged logs that might be apt to form a jam. A jam was often difficult to avert as one log obstructed would soon mean a rapid accumulation of logs in criss-cross and up-ended formations. Jams formed very easily in gorges or rapids such as the Dalles of the Eau Claire or the Wolf. By accumulating a head of water in the dam above such places as these the logs could be hurried through on the high water.

In order to feed the hungry 'river hogs,' a rough house boat perhaps thirty feet long and eight feet wide called a wannigan had to be built; it drifted down the river as the drive progressed. When breakfast or supper became a reality, a table was placed upon the banks, and the men helped themselves. Breakfast was usually eaten at five o'clock in the morning and supper at seven at night, and two meals were eaten during the day, one at ten o'clock and one at two o'clock. Both of these midday meals, however, were carried over the shoulder in the lunchsacks, and the riverman very rarely saw his wannigan in daylight. Regardless of whether it was two or ten miles, the men had to walk back to camp after dark.

Tents pitched upon the cold and icy ground were the only shelter provided the wet and fatigued men at the end of a strenuous day. If handy, fir boughs provided a bed for a short night's rest. According to the old rivermen it was not at all unusual to awake and find one's hair frozen to the ground.

Very often logs would become stranded upon sandbars or low flat ground: it then became necessary to drag, slide, or roll them back into the stream by hand.

Booms were used to separate the logs of one company from the logs of another. The first boom on the Eau Claire River was at the Antigo Screen Door Company's mill, which was built in about 1893. Any logs that belonged to this company were sidetracked here while the rest were allowed to go on downstream. The same method of separation was necessary upon the Wolf also. Each company's logs were distinguished by a watermark placed conspicuously on the log. In the case of the Antigo Screen Door Company this watermark consisted of a mitten-shaped blaze on the side of the log.

Probably the most responsible position on the river was that of the 'water boss.' He had to be a good judge of the speed at which water travels as he was the man who controlled the dam and let the water out when it was needed most. This operation had to be performed at a time which would insure the water's reaching the point at which the head of the drive was located at exactly the time when the drive would be commenced. As the drive progressed slowly down the river, it would become necessary to operate the gates of the dam in use just that much earlier each day.



The coming of the railroad was largely responsible for the disappearance of log driving. Then, too, it was impossible to drive hardwood logs, which were slowly coming into demand as the pine disappeared; so either railroad transportation or mills became necessities.


The first mill brought to this region was a small portable outfit owned by Thomas Dobbs, in 1873. It was situated on the old Military Road, which ran along the Wolf. The second mill in the county probably was built and operated in 1879 by John Evans on the Evergreen River south of White Lake.

Antigo's first sawmill was constructed in 1879 by Novotny Bros. On the present site of F.B. Kellogg's mill. Early settlers utilized this mill whenever possible to get lumber sawed for building purposes.

Weed's Mill was erected in 1882 and devoted itself exclusively to the cutting of white pine. It was located one mile south of the village of Antigo and utilized the pond known as Weed's, which has long since disappeared. (Webmaster Note: This pond was located directly south of the Edison Street and Tenth Avenue intersection. The "one mile south of the village" actually meant one mile south of the Superior Street and Fifth Avenue intersection. School district tennis courts and a track & football field are located there now at what is called "JC Park".)

The Antigo Screen Door Company constructed a mill on the Eau Claire River in about 1893. It was later taken over by B. Heinemann Lumber Co. of Wausau but burned a few years ago.

A number of years ago on the west branch of the Eau Claire at a point which is at present known as Ormsby, considerable operations were contemplated by a concern known as the Union Lime Co. They erected a mill and dam there in 1893 and were interested almost solely in getting out kilnwood for their extensive lime kilns in southern Wisconsin. The 'Kilnwood town' and its operations ended quite abruptly, however, when the mill burned.

Several concerns became interested during the early years of Antigo in manufacturing hardwood products such as broom handles, butter bowls, excelsior, hubs, and barrel staves. The excellent hardwood adjacent to Antigo and the fine hardwood of the Phlox country provided the raw material for these mills.

An important lumber product of the early days was spruce pulp, which was slowly coming into demand for paper making. As there was some good spruce at different points about the country, many concerned themselves with getting it out at as low a price as two dollars a cord, at that time considered to be an excellent price. Neils Anderson, the first merchant of Antigo, handled hundreds of cords of spruce pulp, accepting it in trade for the early pioneer's necessities of life.

It would be well in concluding the account of Langlade County's pioneer industry to mention a man who was in every way typical of the type of men who devoted themselves to the conquering of the rich forests that we might be able to take advantage of the richness and fertility of this region.

This man was Dave Edick, who was not only splendidly developed physically and inured to the forest hardships, but was also a man of fine intellectual capacities and fully aware of the opportunities in this new region. He first entered this wild region in the fall of 1875 and spent his first night at the old Henry Strauss 'stopping place.' His first winters were put in for Timothy Crane, while for an entire quarter century he lived at Lily. For ten while years he was a dam tender for the Keshena Improvement Co. before the beginning of his striking career as a log buyer and cruiser for the Paine Lumber Co. of Oshkosh in 1893. He was their right-hand man throughout their long period of operations in Langlade County, and when they disposed of their holdings in 1915 to the Langlade Lumber Co., he was included in the bargain. He was engaged in active work until May 20, 1925, when he died suddenly while crusing near Lawrence Lake amid the sighting hardwoods and hemlocks which he had always loved so well. He spent an entire half century of his life in the forests of Langlade County, and because of his wide experience and first hand practical knowledge he was undoubtedly one of Wisconsin's foremost woodsmen and pioneer citizens.

Dave Edick was not the only pioneer and cruiser of this region to devote his life to the great forest, but we take David Edick as the most typical and the most outstanding of his day.

Thus rose and passed Langlade County's pioneer industry, which until only a few years ago held such an important place in the county's progress and development, but which has been gradually supplanted by the more permanent and stable industries of dairying and agriculture.

Part One: The Building of Langlade County

Acknowledgment should be made of our indebtedness to those who have helped us in our research work: to the citizens of Langlade County for their aid by means of personal interviews and questionnaires, to the public library for the use of filed clippings, to the "Antigo Daily Journal" for access to their files, and to the county officials for the use of records in the Langlade County Court House. The chief source books used have been "The History of Langlade County," by Robert Dessureau and "The making of Wisconsin" by Smith and Calahan. The 1928 Antigo High School Graduate Staff.

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