Chapter XX, 14 October 1909 -- Thorp Courier, Clark County, Wisconsin

Written by R. J. MacBride and transcribed by Crystal Wendt.







* * *

Thou didnít look down upon the naked earth and forthwith one rose all these fair ranks of tree."



For more then twenty-five years after the organization of the county, lumbering and logging was the most important industry, or as auxiliary to merely secondary, or as ancillary to the logging interest.

There were small farms and clearings in various parts of the county, but farming and dairying as we known it in the county at the present day, was practically nil.

Flour wheat and other grains, for breadstuffs and fee for horses and cattle, were brought in by teams, to supply the wants of the residents as well as to supply the men and teams, working in the many logging camps throughout the county. Logging was carried on in the county on Black River years before the lands were surveyed, and it is probable, that in very early days, that timber was cut from the government lands, without any thought of payment for stumpage, by those operating on the river at that time.

Among the very earliest of loggers on Black River were Nathan Myrick who lived where La Crosse now stands, Jacob Spaulding, Andrew Sheppard, Amos Elliot, and William T. Price, all of Black River Falls.

It is claimed that some of the timbers that were used in the building of the Mormon Temple at Nauvoo, Illinois, in the year 1841 were cut in southern Clark county, in the vicinity of the east fork of Black River.

In the early 40ís, Nathan Myrick had a hundred or more Mormons in his employ. They came up the Black River in the winters, and were engaged in logging for Myrick. In the summer they returned to where La Crosse is now located. A part of Black River, in Clark county, north of Hatfield, is called Mormon Riffle, and at or near La Crosse in Mormon Cooley (Coulee), both names were given by reason of the Mormons working winters in the woods at the one place, and their residing in the summer at the other.

In an interview had in October, 1907, with Amos Elliot, his statement as to his recollection of early times on the Black River, was taken down by a stenographer, but the same has never been published.

Much of the interview related to Jackson county and elsewhere, but there is considerable regarding the early days on Black River, in what is now known as Clark county, in those days Crawford county.

Mr. Elliot in his narrative, states that he was born in Chester county, Pennsylvania, in the year 1822. That he came to Black River Falls in 1845, Myrick of La Crosse was then logging with Jacob Spaulding, on the river above Neillsville. Mr. Elliot heir out as an ox teamster to Myrick who furnished four yoke of cattle, and board for men and team, and paid 50 cents a thousand for the work. He left Black River Falls in September, 1845, and went through where Neillsville now is, and found Henry OíNeill, brother of James OíNeill Sr. building a shanty on the creek.

Elliot logged the winter of 1845-46 on the east side of Black River above Cawley, and that same winter, William T. Price, logged below him, on the west side of the river, having his camp on the river bank.

The winter of 1846-47, Mr. Elliot states that he went up the river from the Falls, with Tom Wilson, an old Quaker from Pennsylvania, and put in longs for one Grover, just opposite the mouth of Cunningham creek; they stayed there all that winter, without a letter, a paper or any communication whatever with the outside world. They had no stoves in those days, and all the cooking wad done in the fire place.

In the fall of 1848 Mr. Elliot formed a partnership with William T. Price, which continued for several years.

The winter of 1848-49, Elliot run a camp for the partnership, putting in logs on the west side of Black River, four miles above Cawley creek. These logs were put in for Col. B. F. Johnson.

The winter of 1849-50, according to Mr. Elliot the snow throughout Clark county was very deep, deeper in his judgment, then it was some years after in 1856-57, a winter that has been called, the "winter of the deep snow."

In the fall of 1850 he took a logging job from Andrew Sheppard, on the east side of Black River, two or three miles above Eatonís (Greenwood). That winter T. J. La Flesh worked for him.

In 1851, Mr. Elliot, with a companion purchased ponies, and took a trip of inspection into the northwestern wilderness. It is best to give Mr. Elliotís own language with reference to it.

"In 1851," says Mr. Elliot, "I determined to take a trip of inspection up to St. Anthony Falls (now Minneapolis). With a companion, we went to where Eau Claire is, one Gage, had an up and down saw mil there, and also one at Chippewa Falls. We went from there to Hudson, and from there across the St. Croix on a little ferryboat. We rowed or poled it, probably both.

We went to St. Paul and stayed one day; there was very little there, only an Indian trading post. Then we went to St. Anthony Falls (now Minneapolis) and on the east side a little shanty, and that is all there was there. I then said to my companion, " This is a point steamboats cannot pass, they will never get over these rapids."

We left St. Paul on the steamer Dr. Franklin, came down the Mississippi, to a point about when Trempealeau is now located, and which was then called Reedsville, and then rode over the country to Black River."

If may be here noted that Reedsville mentioned by Mr. Elliot, (what is now called Trempealeau) was settled by a man by the name of James Reed, and was called Reedstown.

There was another Reed who located on the Mississippi farther north of the other bank in the now state of Minnesota, and his settlement was and is still called Reedís Landing.

Acknowledgment is hereby given to Judge Geo. M. Perry of Black River Falls, for permission to make extracts from Amos Elliottís narrative, Judge Perry being at present custodian of the same.

The whole of Mr. Elliottís statement should be published, and preserved. It is considerable length, so much so, that the few extracts made, were such only, as could be compressed within the limits, necessary to be observed in an article like the present.

Saw mills had been built in the early days at various points on the river in Clark county, from the mouth of the east fork, on the south, to Rock creek on the north. These mills however were of little consequence so far as the amount of lumber sawed was concerned.

The predominant business on Black River in the pineries was and always had been the cutting and floating of pine logs down the river to the booms at Onalaska.

The men engaged in this business were termed "loggers", as contradistinguished from "lumberman", the late term being more generally applied to those manufacturing lumber, or mill men. Some of the men engaged in logging, notably at La Crosse and on the Mississippi below had saw mills where they manufactured their own logs into lumber.

Among the La Crosse loggers were: C. L. Coleman, G. C. Hixon, C. C. Washburn, Alex McMillan, D. D. McMillan, Ruel Weston, S. L. Nevins, Abner Gile, N. B. Holway, Levi Withee, John Paul, N. H. Withee, W. C. Root, W. C. Bussell, W. W. Crosby, Hiram Goddard, and others.

In Jackson county among those logging in Clark county were H. A. Bright, Jacob Spaulding, E. L. Brockway, William T. Price, L. G. Merrill, D. J. Spaulding, Sawyer and Austin, W. H. Polleys, and several others were engaged to a more or less extent.

In Clark county in the latter sixties the tree principal logging operators were Hewett, Woods & Co., Leonard R. Stafford and Robert Ross.

In later years other residents of Clark county engaged in the business, but not of them operated to the magnitude of the ones named.

There were of course many contractors who put in logs for various parties, but reference is now made only to those who furnished their timber, and cut and floated it down the river.

During the length of the logging business Hewett, Woods & Co. would cut and back each winter from twelve to eighteen million of feet of saw logs.

Both Stafford and Ross would each annually cut and bank from one-half to two-thirds of that amount.

Among the early contractors who put in logs for Hewett, Woods & Co. were Ed. Allen, John Dwyer, Richard Hawks, Charles W. Hyslip, Jones Tompkins, Hiram Palmer, and numerous others.

Richard Hawks lived at Neillsville and had some little pine on OíNeill creek close to its bank. The pine was large and would go two and one-half to three logs to the thousand feet. It was the very best quality, and would saw out a great deal of it, into clear lumber. In 1867 he put in these logs, and sold them for three dollars and seventy-five cents per thousand feet, board measure. Such logs today are simply priceless, for the reason that they cannot be obtained, because they do no exist.

John Dwyer lived in the town of Grant; he was the father of ex-sheriff John Dwyer. The elder Dwyer was short in stature, but exceeding stout. Notwithstanding his heave weight, he was very light on his feet, and could execute a double shuffle with rare agility. He was a most jolly man, addicted to whistling, and like Silas Wegg; he would occasionally drop into poetry. His rhymes always had some local or personal flavor, and were always make on the spur of the moment. He died at his home in the town of Grant in the year 1882.

Hewett, Woods & Co. usually put in most of their timber themselves, that is it was not let out to others. They would build their own camps and put in their own foreman to oversee or "run" the camp as it was termed. Prominent among these foremen were Chet Olson, Hiram Palmer and S. B. Hewett.

There were many others engaged in logging in Clark county in later years mostly in putting in logs on contract for the owners, some of them however put in logs on their own account, although the main portion of their business was generally done under contract.

Among them were Henry Huntzicker, Jacob Huntzicker, Richard Dewhurst, Jones Tompkins, B. F. Thompson, Homer M. Root, S. C. Boardman, Geo. L. Lloyd, Hiram Palmer, Daniel Gates, Joseph Gibson, Anson Green, J. L. Gates, Andrew Emerson, and many others. In fact at one time or another, most of the adult male population of the county have been engaged either directly or indirectly in the logging business.

Nearly ever farmer in the county has at some time, sold a part of his timber to be converted into saw logs.

A logging camp on Black River in the days when the business was at its best, was well worth miles of travel to visit. Here camped in log shanties, and with log stables for oxen and horses, were congregated together anywhere from twenty-five to nearly a hundred men, according to the size of the winterís work laid out for them.

Some of the men would be engaged in cutting down the pine trees, and were called "choppers;" some were engaged in sawing the logs into lengths, varying from 12 to 18 feet or more, the average being sixteen feet, others with oxen were busy in skidding the logs and others called teamsters engaged in hauling great loads of logs on immense sleighs, from the skid way, down to the river, when they would be unloaded either on the ice on the river, or else put in rollways on the river bland, from thence at the opening of the river in the spring to be tumbled into the swift running stream. The last work mentioned being termed "breaking" the rollways."

Before the logs were landed, they were marked on the bark on the side of the logs, with the ownerís log mark, and stamped on the ends of each log several times with what was known as the "end mark." each logger had his own marks, which were registered in the Lumber Inspectorís office at La Crosse.

The log mark for Leonard R. Stafford was a long line cut across the back, with four smaller lines cut across it at a certain angle making it have the appearance of four X, and was called the long forty.

Hewett, Woods & Co. mark was a large notch cut in the bark, and three smaller ones extending, diagonally, north east, and south west from the large notch or blaze. Their end mark was a barred $ having much the appearance of a figure 8 or like a dollar mark or symbol.

J. S. Keater & Sonís log mark was the letter K, enclosed in a diamond, the end mark was the same, and was known as the diamond K mark.

Lindsay, Phelps & Co., of Davenport, Iowa, had the figures 41, both for the side and end mark.

The log mark of Bright and Withee was BXW with BW stamped in the ends.

A full collection of all the various log marked used on the river by the various loggers would show considerable ingenuity in their make up, no two of them being alike, and the purpose also was to design a mark that could be easily cut upon the log with an axe.

When the logs were banked at the landings they were visited periodically by a "scaler" who measured the longs, with the Scribner rule, and estimated the number of feet in each log, afterward giving the owner a "scale bill," stating the number of logs scaled with their marks, and the number of feet board measure that they contained, and filed a copy of the same with the Lumber Inspector at La Crosse.

Work in a logging camp was no sinecure. No union labor there, nor eight hours a day work. The hours commenced at daylight, and only ended with darkness. Teamsters generally continuing their duties long after daylight had gone, in the care and attention that was necessary to give to their teams.

The nominal boss of the camp was the foreman, but the real czar was the cook. He was a veritable "autocrat of the breakfast table," he had a helper who was termed a "taffel" or "cookee", a sort of an assistant cook.

The cook had none of the distinguishing characteristics of the French Chef, nor of the English butler.

When meals were ready he did not announce that "dinner" was served," but he announced the same face, in two stentorian words, "Grub Pile."

The menu had a sameness about it that bordered somewhat on the monotonous. Breakfast consisted of pork, beans (with or without vinegar) not biscuit with molasses, tea generally, but occasionally coffee. Dinner was the same as breakfast varied occasionally with stewed dried apples, and supper was a duplicate of breakfast, except that on Sundays, stewed prunes would appear on the bill of fare. Salt, pepper, and mustard were served at all meals, there were called "knick knacks."

There was an entire absence of olives, chicken salad, and salted almonds, but the men all seemed to thrive and do well on the plain but wholesome far furnished them.

The drive in the springs when the ice had gone out, the river full of water, and the rollways broken, was a scene and a subject to inspire both the painter and the poet.

A crew of men furnished with boats or bateaux, with tents, blankets, and provisions, would follow down the river behind the floating logs, and with pike poles and cant hooks endeavored to keep the immense sea of logs floating down the river, in constant motion. Often the logs would be piled up against some obstruction like a rock, or the pier of a bridge, and they would become, what was termed jammed. Some times these log jams would extend fro more then a half a mile up the river, and the problem was how to break it.

The dexterity that the men showed in accomplishing this was marvelous.

The work was done at the head of the jam and the drivers attacked the logs, that like the keystone of an arch bound and held the great mass together. The work was dangerous but was well paid, log drivers in the late sixties and early-seventies, received from three to as high as seven dollars per day.

When night came the "Waunegan" boat that carried the tents, blankets and supplies, was headed into shore, camp was made, fires were built, and after a heart meal, tired out with days hard work the men slept the sleep of the just, to be routed out at daybreak for a repetition of the labors of the day before.

There was a flavor or resemblance in these men, with their boats and camps, and their songs, that called up at once, their protypes and old French Canadian Voyageurs, but the days of them are now past and gone.

The amount of pine cut and floated down Black River during the forty years of logging, according to the records was eight billion of feet board measure. At a value of twelve dollars and one-half per thousand, It was worth one hundred million dollars.

At it must be borne in mind that this vast amount of timber does not embrace the many millions of feet cut in Clark county, that were landed in the tributaries of the Eau Claire river, nor the large amounts of pine that came from this county that was landed in the Yellow river and other tributaries of the Wisconsin river. Neither does it include the large amount that has been taken out by railroad, nor sawed in the numerous saw mills.

The largest cut in any one year to be floated to La Crosse, was three hundred and fifty million feet.

To realize the stupendous figures of eight billion feet board measure, it may be observed that if these logs averaged two hundred feet each, or five to the thousand, of sixteen feet logs, that a thousand feet board measure, in the longs placed end to end, would extend eighty feet, and eight billion feet board measure would extend over 121,000 miles or about five times around the world.

The last logger to do any business on Black River was Alvin S. Trow, of Merrillan, Jackson county, who died in September, 1909.

The last large tract of pine in the county was cut and hauled by train in Town 26, on the F. & N. E. Ríy a few years ago. A photograph of this pine before it was cut, may be found on the walls of the office if Oscar Fricke, Register of Deeds, at Neillsville.

[Table of Contents]




© Every submission is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.


Show your appreciation of this freely provided information by not copying it to any other site without our permission.


Become a Clark County History Buff


Report Broken Links

A site created and maintained by the Clark County History Buffs
and supported by your generous donations.


Webmasters: Leon Konieczny, Tanya Paschke,

Janet & Stan Schwarze, James W. Sternitzky,

Crystal Wendt & Al Wessel