Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Time and the River: A History of the Saint Croix
A Historic Resource Study of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
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River of Pine

For nearly 150 years European and American merchants had passed through the St. Croix Valley, attentive to the number and location of Indians within the valley, mindful of the presence of wild game, sometimes observing its agricultural prospects, but largely unconcerned about the timber resources of the region. The bright and articulate George Nelson, who first entered the river valley in the fall of 1802, was an exception. The "beautifully wooded" islands and hills of the valley struck him, and with a merchant's eye he predicted they could be as commercially important as the timberlands of the St. Lawrence valley. The St.Croix's "splendid groves of pine" he wrote "could as easily be floated down the Mississipy as from Chambly to Sorel." More typical, however, was the U.S. Army Lieutenant James Allen's terse dismissal of the upper Saint Croix landscape as "poor, and pine; none of it fit for cultivation." [1]

Interest in the region's forest resources dramatically increased during the 1830s. The French scientist Joseph N. Nicollet, who journeyed up the valley in August of 1837, reflected this new interest in the valley's forests. In passing the mouth of the Sunrise River he noted "The banks of the St. Croix are still covered with black alder, sumac five or six feet tall, white and red oak, soft maple and some walnut or oil nut or shagnut trees. White pines are mixed with deciduous trees, and there are wild plum trees on the ridges." Above the mouth of the Snake River he noted that the patches of tall dark pine became more abundant. "They crown the peaks of hills and mix with other species which border the St. Croix." Nicollet's heightened appreciation of the region's forest cover may simply reflect his educated eye, but it is likely that he understood that during the 1830s trees replaced furs as the most coveted commodity within the valley. [2]

Nicollet's journey up the St. Croix came at a critical time in the region's history, as federal agents were negotiating to clear Indian title to the valley. The impetus for this change was a rising chorus of voices demanding access to the pine forests of the St. Croix. Forests hardly worth noting a generation before had been rendered into promising assets by the growth of towns and farms in the valley of the Mississippi. The St. Croix, Chippewa, Red Cedar, and Rum Rivers, all tributaries of the Mississippi that boasted vast forests of pine became the wooded hinterland that helped to build downriver towns such as Winona, Rock Island, Davenport, and St. Louis. In the post-Civil War era the demand became even more insistent and the market more lucrative as the treeless plains were surveyed into 160-acre homesteads. The exchange of a sod house for a frame home built of Wisconsin or Minnesota pine was a badge of success for the homesteader and the basis of many a lumber baron's fortune. [3]

The fur trade had divided the St. Croix valley between a upper river dominated by the Chippewa and economically tied to Lake Superior, and a lower river, home to the Dakota and linked to St. Louis based traders. In terms of transportation geography the logging frontier would restore the unity of the valley. The entire river system would be harnessed to bring the winter's harvest of logs to the collecting booms along the lower river. Like a funnel the St. Croix River was used to concentrate the wealth of the entire valley at its mouth. The forests of the upper river played a large role in building towns and the industry along Lake St. Croix, as well as the nearby cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The logging frontier first made manifest the dichotomy of a thinly inhabited upper river resource frontier and the prosperous urbanized lower river. In the course of doing so it wrought a massive transformation of the valley's landscape and severely, in some cases irrevocably, altered its ecosystem. Through its involvement in the lumber industry the St. Croix played its most important role in American history, but at a cost still being exacted today.

Lumbermen attempted to transform the free flowing wild river into a disciplined industrial waterway. Never before and never again would the river be used so intensely. Mill operators began each day by studiously noting its fluctuations in level. Around blazing campfires log drivers endlessly debated the ebb and flow of its current. By building dams as assiduously as the all but eliminated beaver, by blasting boulders and constructing booms the lumber men made each mile of the St. Croix's 165 mile length serve the purpose of delivering logs to mill and market. Like the tentacles of some great industrial monster the lumber industry probed, damned and controlled even the remotest of the river's tributaries, bending their wild reaches to its commercial purpose. The early lumbermen more than doubled the natural transportation capacity of the St. Croix watershed to 330 miles of water capable of carrying logs to market. When the industry expanded further in the wake of the Civil War more splash dams and stream improvements brought the size of the St. Croix system to a staggering 820 miles of useable waterway. The St. Croix was more than a logging river. For better than a half century, when the ice went out each spring, from its headwaters to Stillwater, it became a river of pine. [4]

Figure 12. Snake River Valley Fur Trade Sites.
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

From Fur Trade to Fir Trade

Fur traders, as businessmen familiar with the region and its resources, seemed to be in an excellent position to profit from the rising market for lumber in the 1830s and 1840s. But turning the opportunity into an actuality proved frustratingly difficult. Some traders like Joseph Duchene, or as he was known to all, La Prairie, who had come to the valley as a young man to work for the Northwest Company, were too old by the 1830s to take up a new line of trade. After working for many years for the American Fur Company in the St. Croix valley, Duchene lived his last days near Pokegama Lake. He suffered from poor eyesight and was known to the Chippewa as Mushkdewinini, "the old blind prairie man." Duchene was cared for in those last years by his son-in-law, Thomas Connor, another Nor'Wester who was disinclined to pursue the opportunities offered by the logging boom. Connor operated a trading post on the St. Croix River, at the mouth of Goose Creek; content to continue trading with the Chippewa, and watching the pine float past his door. The Warren and Cadotte families that had so long controlled the trade of the valley from Lake Superior struggled to make the transition to logging. Lyman Warren saw the handwriting on the wall in 1838 when he left the American Fur Company. Leaving the Lake Superior country he settled on the Chippewa River, near the falls and established a sawmill. He was, however, struck with illness in 1847 and he died before becoming deeply involved with logging. His son William W. Warren was the best educated of the new generation. He was a young man with a scholarly disposition and weak health. He died in 1853 at the age of twenty-eight, after completing his manuscript history of the Chippewa people. [5]

Those fur traders who were in a position to profit from logging were men with trade contacts with the downriver towns that comprised the market for St. Croix pine. Logs unlike furs could not be carried over the Brule portage to Lake Superior. The bulky commodity had to follow the dictates of gravity and go south with the river's flow. Fur traders tied to Mackinac like the Cadottes lacked the market and supply contacts to make the transition from furs to logs. Joseph Renville Brown, the less than scrupulous trader who had lived among both the Dakota and Chippewa of the St. Croix had the necessary downriver contacts. He was a classic frontier man on the make, anxious to make his fortune, be it by furs, land, or timber. As early as 1833 Brown had been cutting pine on the upper St. Croix, most of it seems to have been for developing his trading posts and farm, but some may have been sent down to the Mississippi. Certainly by 1836 Brown had begun to log commercially. Located at the current site of Taylor's Falls, Minnesota, Brown had a crew of loggers strip the river flat of timber. He likely had additional logs cut upstream and floated down to the falls. Brown continued to trade with the Chippewa, which may have distracted him from pursuing the logging venture with vigor. Upwards of two hundred thousand feet of pine were cut by his men, but before the bulk of it could be floated down river they were burned in a forest fire. The remainder of the logs was simply abandoned on the riverbank when Brown, with a characteristic sudden change of direction, decided to quit the St. Croix and resume fur trading on the Minnesota River. [6]

Brown's early logging on the St. Croix had been an illegal intrusion on Chippewa land. Indian Agent Lawrence Taliaferro tried to ward off European-Americans cutting pine on Dakota or Chippewa land. But with pine boards selling for sixty dollars per thousand feet in towns like Galena, Illinois, the center of the lead-mining region, the number of people willing to violate the law was great. In 1836, Brown's sometime partner in the fur trade, Joseph Bailly, complained to Congress. "A few years back the labor of a few Lumbering parties operating with whip saws was sufficient to supply the wants of that market, but now that the country is settling with a rapidity unexampled in the history of our country it requires greater supplies." Was it the government's intention, Bailly asked, to let the whole population of the Mississippi valley "suffer for want of Lumber because a few miserable Indians hold the country?" [7]

Even without government sanction fur traders and others attempted to make their own agreements with the Chippewa to secure access to the pinelands of the upper St. Croix. In March 1837, three of the American Fur Company's former lions in the region, William Aitkin, Henry Hastings Sibley, and Lyman Warren brought together a conference of St. Croix and Snake River Chippewa for the purpose of securing a ten year lease on the forests of the upper river. William Dickson tried the same tactic and like the above-mentioned traders, agent Taliaferro foiled him. Men with more modest expectations simply discretely made their way up river with a handful of laborers and after offering gifts to the local Chippewa band, began to cut pine. One Joseph Pitt led one such party to the falls in 1836. He obtained the consent of the Chippewa only to be run off by the Indian agent Lawrence Taliaferro. [8]

Failure to come to terms with the Indians could be quite costly, as John Boyce of St. Louis discovered in 1837. He led eleven men past the falls in the autumn of that year. With logging equipment, six oxen, and a mackinaw boat he pushed up the St. Croix to the vicinity of the Snake River, where he established a logging camp. The Snake River band, which well understood the great value the white man placed on pine lumber, protested Boyce's activities. "Go back where you came from," ordered Little Six, a bandleader backed by more than one hundred of his people. Boyce sought the mediation of the Presbyterian missionaries at Lake Pokegama. They advised him to leave and the Chippewa threatened to prevent Boyce from removing any of the pine. "We have no money for logs; we have no money for land. Logs cannot go," was their firm policy. Boyce persisted in spite of all threats and harassments, although his efforts came to naught in any event. In May, after a winter of logging, Boyce tried to raft his harvest downstream. The Chippewa, in a manner Boyce regarded as menacing, followed the drive. High water and hungry, unpaid, thoroughly dispirited men led to the loss of most of the logs. With the Chippewa looking on Boyce also lost most of his logging equipment when the mackinac boat upset while being lined down the falls. The boat itself was saved when the shrill whistle of the steamboat Palmyra "broke the silence of the Dalles." Aboard were other lumbermen who rendered Boyce assistance saving his boat and recovering some of the logs. Perhaps most important, the steamboat bore the news that the United States Senate had radified the 1837 treaty of session, appeasing the Snake River Chippewa. It was too late, however, for Boyce. The few logs that were recovered and sold did not come close to meeting the expenses of the venture. Pioneer chronicler William Folsom recorded that "Boyce was disgusted and left the country." [9]

The Treaty of 1837 opened the St. Croix valley to European-American occupation and loggers surged into the valley to exploit the new frontier. John Boyce had paid a high penalty for beginning operations prematurely. As did a number of the other lumbermen who were on the river immediately in the wake of the treaty. In September 1837, Franklin Steele and several partners ascended the river in a bark canoe and a scow loaded with supplies and men. They built several cabins at the falls, filed land claims on the best mill sites, and scouted good timberlands up river. Four other groups of lumbermen arrived that fall. Steele's group organized themselves as the St. Croix Falls Lumber Company and construction was begun on a twenty thousand dollar sawmill. They controlled an important waterpower site, but retained inexperienced millwrights and lumbermen. Their mill was not completed until 1842, in part because the site posed considerable construction challenges. Franklin Steele soon sold his share of the company, and the firm fell under the control of absentee owners and men more interested in land speculation than logging. The most important of the former was Caleb Cushing, a prominent Democratic politician in Massachusetts and a veteran United States diplomat. As logging expanded on the St. Croix it became clear that the head of the Dalles was not the best place to locate a mill and subsequent lumbermen elected to drive their logs farther downstream to lower Lake St. Croix. This did not deter Cushing from continuing to make sizable investments in the site and in timberlands upriver, as well as wrangling with his partners in costly lawsuits. The latter worked their way up to the United States Supreme Court. Cushing was not able to establish his control over the company until 1857. By that time the bloom had long since left the bright promise of the falls site. Other towns had been platted and emerged as logging centers. The Polk County Press mocked St. Croix Falls's hopes of being the industrial center of the river. "The ruthless hand of time has made sad ravages, and though the industrious relic hunters might find there a dam by a mill site, they would not find a mill by a dam site." [10]

The ill-fated St. Croix Falls Lumber Company did succeed in making history in its career of failure and misfortune. Quite unintentionally the company caused the first rafts of lumber to be sent down river to St. Louis. In 1843, the company's boom below the falls gave way before high water. The entire corporate stock of logs was borne away on the flood. While this meant the newly completed mill could not cut the lumber, the company could still salvage something if the logs could be caught downstream. John McKusick a young logger just arrived from New England collected about two million feet of logs. These were assembled into rafts of five hundred thousand feet each and floated down the Mississippi to St. Louis. In the years that followed literally thousands of rafts of logs would follow in their wake. John McKusick used the proceeds from his share of that log sale to purchase the machinery for a water-powered mill. That mill was established at Stillwater where it played a major role in making that site, as opposed to St. Croix Falls, the lumber center of the river. [11]

The surest way to making money in this early stage of the logging boom was to keep things simple -- get a crew of men to the upper St. Croix, cut several hundred thousand board feet of trees, drive them over the falls, assemble them into a raft and float them to growing river towns, preferably one not too far south. In May of 1838 Lawrence Taliaferro reported that two hundred men were at work in the pineries of the St. Croix and the Chippewa, by October the number had grown to five hundred. These small-scale operators benefited from what amounted to a free resource. The patchy pine lands of the lower river were not surveyed by the General Land Office until 1847 while the tall timber of the upper river was not mapped until the 1850s, so even if an individual wanted to purchase the land he was logging it would have been impossible. Even preemption claims were not possible on unsurveyed lands in Minnesota until Congress extended that privilege in 1854. With federal land policy making legal purchase impossible and the market clamoring for more lumber, the pioneers of the pineries responded in the best, unscrupulous tradition of the frontier – they took what they needed and damned the consequences. The era of free timber on the lower St. Croix lasted at least a decade, from 1838 to 1848, and on the upper river private fortunes were made off public lands well into the 1850s. [12]

sketch of oxen hauling log
Figure 13. Oxen haul a big pine log to the river landing. From Harper's Magazine, March, 1860.

Frontier Logging: Life in the Forest

Logging on the St. Croix during the 1840s and 1850s was a primitive, small-scale, frontier enterprise. The size of a logging crew was small -- between ten and fifteen men. Typical was the eleven man team deployed by the ill-fated John Boyce in 1837. That year there were at least five crews operating on the St. Croix. By 1854 this number had swelled to eighty-two crews, twenty-two of whom were established along the Snake River where some of the finest white pine was to be found. Each of the crews included several oxen. In 1837 Boyce had six of the beasts of burden. They were used to drag felled pine from where they were cut to the river landing where they were stacked for transportation in the spring. The early loggers had the advantage of being able to work stands of pine adjacent to the river. Since the logs were only dragged a short distance, a simple wooden travois, called a "go-devil," attached to a single oxen, was the only equipment needed to transport logs. The crews were divided into a few specialized tasks. Most valuable were the choppers, men skilled with using an axe and in making a tree fall where they wanted. They were usually the best-paid men in the crew. Once a pine was felled, the swamper came in and cut off any branches. Another man called the barker peeled off the bark on the underside of the tree, to create a smooth surface for dragging on the snow. Next the chainer connected the oxen to the log and guided it through the drifts to the landing. What may be the location of one of these river landings can be found on the Upper Namekagon River above Hayward, Wisconsin (T40N, R11W, Sec. 14, NE1/4, NE1/4). At the site a ramp was clearly excavated into the bank of the river to allow for the easy sliding of logs into the river. During this early period of logging axes and handspikes were the only tools used. Brute strength and teamwork made up for the lack of technology. After a long day of working in the woods in sub-freezing temperature the men were bone-weary and cold. One contemporary remarked that the "boys" had been "transformed into men like unto Abraham of old" -- the black whiskers of youth having been made "white as the driven snow" by the frost. [13]

Logging camps from this primary, primitive period of the logging frontier are the type most likely to be found within the narrow boundary of the National Scenic Riverway. Camps from this era were built near the banks of the St. Croix and its tributaries although they seldom consisted of more than one or two structures. The men lived and ate in a single shanty constructed of rough logs cut on the site. "Took a look around to see what a camp was," wrote a journalist who visited a logging site on Wood Lake in 1855. "Found it to be about 25 feet square with a roof running almost to the ground. The gables were built up with logs, and no windows. A door opened into the domicile and was secured with a wooden latch." The bunks were aligned under the low hanging eves of the shanty, with the deacon's seat at the foot of each bed. "This is a seat running on both sides of the fire from one end of the camp to the other." In the center of the camp was a great open hearth while "on the roof was a chimney, and the smoke receded from the center to the cavity above without the aid of a back wall." Some of these camps were built without the aid of a single nail, from the materials available on the site. There was no illusion of building for the future, after a winter, or at most two, the buildings were abandoned. Remarkably, only a handful of actual logging camps sites have been identified within the Riverway. In many places archeologists have discovered the outlines of buildings from the mid to late nineteenth century but positive identification is difficult. One possible logging camp sites was identified on the Wisconsin side of the river near the site of Nevers Dam. Until further studies are made it will remain unclear if this site was actually a camp where lumberjacks cut timber or if it was associated with driving logs on the St. Croix. The physical remains found on the southeast bank of the Namekagon River in Sawyer County (T42N, R8W, Sec. 21) are more clearly associated with an early lumber camp. The site consists of the outline of four structures and a depression that likely was the site of a root cellar. Artifacts found at the site included clay pipes and portions of kerosene lamps. Archeologists dated the site as from 1850-1900. According to local tradition the site was known as Doran's Crossing and Lumber Camp. [14]

The biggest challenge to the early lumbermen was supplying their camps. An advance party would be sent up river in the late autumn, usually via a bateau or some other river craft. They would build the shanty and bring in a store of preliminary supplies. Later after the snow fell overland transportation to the camps became possible. Lumbermen maintained a large warehouse in Taylor's Falls that would be stocked by steamboat deliveries during the fall and would serve as the starting place for winter supply sleds. Platted in 1851, the village of Taylors Falls was an important supply center for the logging camps because it stood at the head of steam navigation on the St. Croix. The town's merchants had to literally carve their town out of the trap rock at the foot of the falls of the St. Croix River. Taylors Falls was also a useful supply center because of its locations on the Point Douglas-Superior Military Road. Completed in 1858, this road served loggers by providing partial access to the pineries along the Snake River with tote roads blazed by the lumberjacks branching out from it and leading deep into the forest to the camps. Crude shelters for man and beast were set-up at several spots along the road to provide a safe overnight site for the supply sleds. [15]

An important stopping place on the Namekagon River was the hamlet of Veazie. Beginning in the 1860s it was a depot for camp supplies and a shelter for teamsters. Located on the river between Trego and Earl, Wisconsin, Veazie was given the name Trout Brook when a post office was established there in 1881. That name did not stick. Everyone called the place Veazie, after William Veazie, the Marine lumberman who built the first structures there. But after the logging camps exhausted the good pine near the Namekagon, they had to be established deeper in the interior and Veazie ceased to be a convenient stopping place and the depot was abandoned. In 1886, William Veazie himself left the St. Croix valley for the thicker forests of Washington State. [16]

Because of the rough track over which the supply sleds had to traverse, the goods they brought were only the bare necessities. These were purchased at a very dear price. The lack of agricultural development along the river in the 1840s and 1850s meant that most of the food had to come from downriver, often from as far away as Illinois or St. Louis. During his first year on the St. Croix, Franklin Steele had to pay four dollars for a barrel of beans, two dollars for a gallon of molasses, eleven dollars for a barrel of flour, and a whopping forty dollars for a single barrel of pork. Those lumbermen who did not send buyers downstream for supplies found it difficult to secure edibles at any price. In 1846 Stephen B. Hanks, a cousin of Abraham Lincoln, purchased supplies for a Stillwater lumberman. In St. Louis he bought several tons of beans, hominy, eggs, and dried apples. On his way up river he stopped in Bellevue, Illinois and secured fifty barrels of flour and several more of whiskey. This still left him short of a critical item–pork. [17]

Pork and beans was fuel that powered the pioneer logger. "Pork and beans are all the go," recorded the visitor to a 1850s camp in the valley. The cook would prepare these in a dutch oven over an open fire in the shanty. "He baked his beans thus wise: a hole made in the earth floor near the fire, was partly filled with live coals and the oven set upon them. In time the lid would be removed and beans would be nicely baked." Stick-to-your-ribs staples such as pork and beans and potatoes, washed down with black tea dominated the menu at breakfast, lunch, and supper. A crew of fourteen men had no trouble devouring ten bushels of beans and six barrels of pork over a season. One lumberjack later joked that when the men awoke they would "tremble and start from the land of dreams to the land of pork and beans." [18]

The demand for local produce by the logging camps on the upper St. Croix provided an opportunity for the Chippewa. With the decline of the fur trade the St. Croix bands had expanded their involvement in agriculture and looked to hunting and gathering to provide new products with which to procure European-American goods. Camp cooks sometimes exchanged maple sugar; wild rice, cranberries, and venison for salted beef, pork, and flour. Yet, these exchanges did not take place on the St. Croix with the same frequency as in the nearby Rum River valley. An early lumberman on the Rum River reported, "I must say that the Indians are very friendly and accommodating in various ways." The eagerness of the Mille Lacs band to trade with lumbermen made that area, in the opinion of the St. Paul Minnesotan, "the most desirable point for lumbering that has yet been discovered in Minnesota." [19]

On the St. Croix relations between the Chippewa and the lumbermen were more strained. This may in part be the result of the persistence of unsavory whiskey traders among the Snake River and St. Croix bands. The St. Croix Chippewa appear to have had fewer surpluses to sell and there were occasional incidents where hungry Indians broke into storehouses or slaughtered lumbermen's oxen. Such disputes led to an 1855 encounter that left two loggers wounded following "outrages perpetrated by the Indians." In March of 1847, loggers turned out enmasse when Henry Rust, who operated a whiskey shack on the lower Snake River, was found shot to death. They buried him, then destroyed his whiskey and burned his trading post. The lumbermen resolved to prevent further such incidents by destroying the whiskey of three other traders in the area. Two Chippewa were charged with the murder and in one of the valley's first trials were found not guilty. The court blamed Rust for his own death since he facilitated the drunkenness that led to his shooting. [20]

A more serious clash occurred in 1864 when two Chippewa shot and killed Oliver Grove and Harry Knight near Pipe Lake, in Polk County, Wisconsin. The incident was a crime of opportunity motivated by a desire to rob the two lumbermen, who had been cruising for timberlands. The bodies of the murdered men were cut into pieces, weighed with rocks, and sunk to the bottom of the lake. After they went missing as many as three hundred loggers participated in a search of the forest. After several months a rumor circulated among the Chippewa that soldiers were on their way to investigate, if necessary, and punish the perpetrators. This led to an unofficial confirmation of the identity of the principle perpetrator. Lumberman James Bracklin, supported by his loggers, took it upon himself to seize the suspect. A tense standoff followed in which Bracklin tried to prevent several hundred Chippewa from retaking the man. Fortunately, there was no further violence. The incident ended when the accused Chippewa shot himself, "fearing the vengeance of the white man." Several hundred dollars and the personal effects of the victims were recovered. [21]

While whites emphasized the murder and robbery aspects of this case, there were other reasons for tension between the lumbermen and the Chippewa. The dams built by loggers to ensure the transport of their winter's cut played havoc with the Indian's use of the river. Large amounts of logs sent down stream on a head of water damaged canoes, swept away fish weirs, and made river travel hazardous. In 1851, Indian Agent John S. Watrous experienced this first hand when a dam at the foot of Cross Lake was opened and his canoe was wrecked and all of his supplies were lost. The prolonged standoff over the fate of the Indian suspected of murder in 1864 was in stark contrast to the 1848 murder of Henry Rust where the two Chippewa suspects turned themselves in for trial. The 1864 standoff occurred at a time when the Chippewa were protesting a dam built on Rice Lake that had raised the water level and drowned the all important wild rice crop. Not only did lumberman James Bracklin refuse to do anything to modify the Rice Lake dam, he set to work that summer on a second dam at Chetek Lake knowing full well this would destroy more Chippewa rice beds. It required considerable restraint on the Chippewa's part for the incident to conclude with only the death of the one suspect. [22]

The potential for conflict with loggers and the abuses of the whiskey traders inclined the United States government to remove the St. Croix bands from their homeland. The Chippewa objected citing the provision of the 1837 Treaty that allowed them to hunt and gather upon the sold lands until they were needed for settlement. "We agreed to sell on the condition that we should not be disturbed for many years," they petitioned the President. After a poorly coordinated attempt to remove the Chippewa in 1851 the government abandoned that policy. Lumbermen and the Chippewa continued to share the river. Unlike in the Mille Lacs region, where lumbermen provided financial compensation to the Chippewa for the flooding of their rice marshes, the St. Croix and its tributaries were manipulated to suit the lumbermen with little concern for the interest of the Chippewas. [23]

Most of the loggers operating in the valley during the mid-nineteenth century had little contact with the Chippewa. They did not journey into the upper river valley until late November or early December, a time when most of the Chippewa had repaired to their family hunting grounds. Men from Maine, with a sprinkling of Germans, Canadians, and Swedes dominated the crews. They were mostly young men, in their twenties or early thirties. "Boys they were," recalled one pioneer from that period, "willing to toil at the most strenuous labor if it brought but a reasonable promise of return." During this pioneer era in logging only a fine line separated the crew from the boss. "Most of the early lumbermen," another early settler recalled, "were young men of limited means who came to better their condition. A man with capital enough to buy a couple of yoke of oxen could get credit for supplies and hire a crew of men and cut a million feet of logs or more in a winter." The result of such opportunity was hundreds of small camps operating independent of one another. The small size of the crews often made them close-knit and very efficient. In 1855, the foreman of a crew on the Groundhouse River, a tributary of the Snake River, wrote back to his hometown newspaper in Maine boasting that his men had put up between two and three million logs in 117 days, a record he challenged any of the eastern crews to match. Men looked out for each other in the conduct of their highly dangerous work and socialized in the crowded quarters after dark. [24]

Card playing, pipe smoking, and occasionally signing were recreations common in the shanty house after meals. "Some sang songs," recorded a journalist visiting a camp in 1855, "and it is but justice to them to say that we were agreeably disappointed in finding some fine singers there. The songs are principally of a love nature and usually to the better feelings of mankind and sympathy." Nils Haugen, a Norwegian immigrant, recalled the camp in which he worked during the winter of 1866-67 as "primitive" but the crew was "clean, and not a cootie or other bug was discovered all winter." He spent his winter evenings reading from the boss's collection of Sir Walter Scott novels. The linkage of lumberjacks and literature was not entirely exceptional. James Johnston, a Canadian immigrant who spent the winter of 1856-57 logging on a branch of the Snake River, was delighted to find in camp a copy of Ivanhoe and a collection of Captain Maryatt novels. Later he "made it a custom to have some book in camp and sometimes at the request of the boys would read aloud while the crew would listen." On one improbable occasion he was reading Jane Eyre to the men who sat in rapt attention as the young orphan Jane was humiliated by one of her teachers. One of the men, who regarded Jane Eyre as "one of God's little lambs," shouted out a curse "from the very bottom on his soul" at the insult to the heroine. The rest of the crew then "broke out in cheers and laughter." [25]

sketch of log raft
Figure 14. A lumber raft from Harper's Magazine, March, 1860. Rafts assembled on the St. Croix for transport down the Mississippi wre often much larger.

Frontier Logging: The Importance of Waterpower

The scale of logging on the St. Croix increased steadily through the 1840s and 1850s. The eight million feet produced by the valley in 1843 was typical of output during the 1840s. By 1855, production had greatly increased to 160 million feet. Less than ten years latter the amount of logs floated down the St. Croix topped two hundred million feet. Logging operations became both larger and more complex. To increase the harvest double camps, with crews of twenty-five to thirty men, became the rule. To move an ever-increasing amount of logs more men were required as river drivers and more and better dams were needed to increase the flow. By 1864, more than $600,000 was invested in forest operations along the St. Croix. The number of men employed in the woods swelled to fourteen hundred loggers, more people than had ever before lived in the valley. Little wonder the Chippewa were forced to yield before the advance of this axe wielding army. [26]

While hundreds of European-Americans flocked to the St. Croix to participate in the logging boom the bulk of the land in the valley was falling into the hands of a small number of men with access to capital. Typical of these was the partnership of veteran Maine lumbermen Isaac Staples and Samuel F. Hersey. Staples was the resident partner who oversaw operations from their Stillwater, Minnesota mill site, while Hersey was the out-of-state investor who used his profits from the Maine woods and capital connections in Massachusetts to purchase extensive pine lands along the St. Croix. Between 1853 and 1864 Hersey, Staples, and Company purchased forty thousand acres of timberland. They were too experienced in the ways of the industry to make all of these purchases for the government minimum of $1.25 per acre. Rather three quarters of their empire was secured much more cheaply through the use of land warrants. These were notes redeemable in public domain land. The federal government offered these to veterans of the Mexican-American War. Of course most veterans did not want to begin life anew on the frontier. Historians have estimated that only one in five hundred veterans cashed in their warrants for land. More commonly the warrants were sold at discount, on an average seventy-five per cent of the value, to real estate speculators. During the early 1850s land sales via warrants outpaced cash sales. By a combination of warrants and cash Hersey, Staples, and Company was able to secure vast tracts of contiguous land. When Knife Lake Township, in Kanabec County was offered for sale in 1859 the firm was able to secure twenty-one of its thirty-six sections. These block purchases were important to economical logging. Access roads and dams, and sometimes even camps, could be reused season after season because of the firm's long-term involvement in the area. [27]

While Hersey, Staples, and Company became the largest single owners of timberland in the valley; there were numerous other eastern born men who established themselves in the industry. The first sawmill at Stillwater was erected in 1844 by a partnership made up of John McKusick from Maine, Elam Greeley of New Hampshire, and Elias McKean of Pennsylvania. Socrates Nelson, another early mill operator in Stillwater, came to the town from Massachusetts as a merchant but soon joined the lumber rush. Daniel Mears another Bay State native followed the same progression from merchant to lumberman, first in St. Croix Falls and later at Hudson, Wisconsin. In 1839, Illinoisan George B. Judd partnered with Walker Orange of Vermont to establish the first mill in the valley at Marine-on-the-St. Croix. William Folsom, who came from Maine to the St. Croix valley in 1845, was also a typical frontier lumberman. In less than a year he went from being a hired hand to part owner of a small mill. Typical of the opportunity that existed in the valley, Folsom was able to establish himself in business simply by filing a preemption claim on a waterpower site on the west bank of the river a few miles above Stillwater. Three other partners provided the capital, while Folsom contributed the site and his labor. After a year working to establish the mill, Folsom sold out to his partners for a cash profit. [28]

In the minds of these first lumbermen waterpower sites were of paramount importance in determining were to locate their mills. Waterpower had historically been the principal forcing driving America's early industry. United States surveyors carrying out the job of locating section lines in the American wilderness were under orders to note all potential waterpower sites. Before the Civil War sawmills on the St. Croix were largely dependent upon a steady, fast flow of water to transform logs into lumber. For this reason St. Croix Falls was considered the prime location for industry in the entire valley and it became a bitter bone of legal contention. Another obviously good mill site was Marine and it, too, became the site of conflicting claims. Unlike St. Croix Falls, however, the partners who established the first mill at Marine quickly dispatched with their rivals. When Orange Walker and his Illinois partners arrived at the site with their milling and logging equipment they found two men camped on the site, ready to contest that had staked first claim to the site. Rather than squabble over the squatters assertion the Illinois partners paid three hundred dollars to establish their clear title to the waterpower site. It was a smart investment and within a few months they had built dwellings for themselves and their workers and erected the first sawmill on the river. An overshot mill with buckets attached to the wheel was built besides a small stream entering the St. Croix. The water wheel powered a heavy, slow-moving muley saw. It produced no more that five thousand feet of lumber per day, but it was the beginning of a revolution on the river. [29]

The lumber produced by the mills still was a bulky product and, therefore, expensive to move to markets located anywhere but downstream. St. Croix mill owners had their cut assembled into rafts that would then be floated to market towns along the Mississippi River. The rafts were carefully sectioned together through the use of large wooden stakes driven into holes augured into the boards. The holes damaged the wood and lessened its market value but they securely kept the raft together. Large oars, forty to fifty feet long at the bow and stern of the raft provided means to steer the makeshift craft. The completed raft might consist of a series of sections, together hundreds, sometimes thousands of feet in length. A steady river current was critical to successfully rafting boards to market. In this sense Lake St. Croix on the Lower River and Lake Pepin, a twenty-seven mile section of the Mississippi just downstream from the St. Croix, was the bane of the raftsman. Broad slack water was prone to heavy winds. When the breeze was in the raft's favor, sails could be put up and the craft could be easily advanced. Head winds could delay a raft for days, with the men helplessly hung up or struggling desperately with line along the muddy bank, trying to pull the raft to a point where the current resumed. The Mississippi's normal steady flow of a mile or two an hour was ideal for rafting, although fast places where a narrowing of the channel or obstructions in the river bed caused rapids to form could be as detrimental to rafting as slack water. The Upper Rapids on the Mississippi consisted of fourteen miles of fast rocky water ending at Rock Island, Illinois. The smaller Lower Rapids near Keokuk, Iowa were less of a challenge but still consisted of twelve miles of dangerous water, very capable of drowning a careless crew and busting up a raft worth thousands of dollars and scattering its boards on hundreds of miles of banks and sloughs. While on smooth water the rafts were kept moving twenty-four hours a day. A trip from the St. Croix to St. Louis, the largest of the downriver markets, would take about three weeks. [30]

Rafts of logs were much more difficult to control than lumber. The logs were larger irregular in shape, and harder to secure into a manageable craft. Both rapids and slack water were more difficult to manage with log rafts, yet skilled pilots could bring the logs down to St. Louis. Log rafting expanded the possibilities for milling St. Croix lumber from sites within the valley to virtually any likely location downstream from the pineries. St. Croix logs were regularly rafted to sawmills in Winona, La Crosse, Rock Island, Keokuk, Quincy, as well as St. Louis. The St. Croix valley's proximity to the unparalleled transportation opportunities offered by the Mississippi River, a virtue shared by the Chippewa River, made these areas extremely attractive to lumbermen during the pioneer phase of logging in the region. Later, in the 1870s, as railroads began to expand in the area, and offer an alternative transportation system, access to the Mississippi became somewhat less important. But during the era before the Civil War, when logging was dominated by the use of waterpower, rafting was the sole means for moving logs and lumber to market. [31]

The reliance of lumbermen on rafting logs and lumber created a strong seasonal labor market for men willing to work on the river. In the early days of the industry an unlikely relationship grew up between the little Illinois town of Albany and the lumbermen of the St. Croix. Located on the Mississippi River across from Clinton, Iowa, the town of Albany produced many of the best pilots on the upper river. Rivermen from Albany took charge of many of the early raft flotillas sent from the valley. Stephen Hanks, who piloted the very first raft of logs from the St. Croix to St. Louis, was from Albany as were all the rivermen in that flotilla. That summer of 1846 Hanks piloted three rafts down to St. Louis, each round trip taking close to thirty days. While the pilots had to be men who knew the river, the crews who manned the sweeps merely needed to be strong and willing to work long hours under the open sky. Scandinavian and Canadian immigrants often took to the rafts when the spring rafting season began. A crew of as many as ten men would be necessary to take a raft south. In rapids at least two men were needed to handle the long oars through powerful current. Between manning the St. Croix boom and downriver rafts the lumber traffic at Stillwater alone gave employment to more than twenty-five hundred men in 1860. [32]

The most vital use of water power was not sawing the logs or shipping the lumber to market, but the transportation of logs from the forests of the upper river to the mills and boom on the lower river. The pine forests of the upper St. Croix would have remained wilderness had the river not been harnessed to drive the winter's cut downstream. Nonetheless log driving was the most expensive, the most difficult, and the most vexing aspect of logging in the St. Croix valley. The main river was blessed with a strong steady current but also with numerous rocky passages that proved to be troublesome chokepoints. Save for the Namekagon, the St. Croix's numerous tributaries were small, winding forest streams with limited flow. Success at moving a winter's cut from the pineries to the mill required a mix of appropriate weather conditions, skillful planning, and exhausting, cold, wet work.

Throughout the winter logging season the wool-clad lumberjacks stacked the pine logs in large piles at a streamside landing. When the ice went out in April, that tributary stream would be used to carry the logs to the main river. Some of these streams were so small that a logger could nearly straddle them with a foot on each bank. The ideal size for a logging stream was for it to be just slightly wider than the longest log at the landing. For streams of such size to move thousands of feet of logs, and even more so for those that were smaller, "improvements" were needed. This meant straightening several ox-bow bends and sometimes removing a few boulders. It was expensive, time-consuming work and the lumbermen always tried to get away with undertaking the most minimal improvements. Their goal was to remove logs from tract of land perhaps on a single occasion, at most for only a few years. They were not interested in investing in long-term commercial improvements. One expense that could seldom be avoided was the construction of dams to raise the water level of the stream in its narrow banks and increase the rate of flow enough to move the bulky logs. Ideally the dam could be a crude, hastily constructed splash dam that could quickly backup a head of water and then be chopped open to release its flow. Frequently, however, a formal dam with a lift gate that could be opened and closed would be required. The cost of a formal dam could be substantial -- from hundreds of dollars during the 1850s and thousands of dollars by the turn of the century. The outlet of a pond or small lake was the ideal site for such a dam, as the lake could be used as a reservoir for the backed up water. A couple of days of high water would usually be enough to clear a landing of its harvest of logs and send the mass down to the St. Croix or one of its major tributaries such as the Snake or the Kettle River. Where small watercourses had to be driven long distances, it was necessary to build an additional dam halfway downstream. When all the logs reached the second impoundment that dam would be opened and the logs surged on with the crest of the flood. [33]

During the early years of logging in the St. Croix valley, the value of even the best pineland was greatly influenced by the location and character of the area's watercourses. Hersey, Staples, and Company, the Stillwater logging giant, made large purchases in Kanabec County, Minnesota with the intention of using the Groundhouse River to carry the logs down to the Snake River. Some of the firm's partners were dubious of this plan. "I trust Genl Hersey before he consents to have any more land entered on the G House [Groundhouse river]," wrote Dudley C. Hall, "will be satisfied himself, as to the capacity of that river for driving logs." During the winter of 1855-56 the company set two teams of oxen and about fifteen men to work logging about halfway up the Groundhouse. A dam was built near the camp, and when spring came, the company tried to drive the winter's cut to the Snake and from there down the St. Croix to Stillwater. But things did not go as planned. The head of water from the dam dissipated before the log drivers could get the bulk of the logs down the torturous stream. Precious weeks went by as the drivers struggled to refloat logs left stranded by the drop in the water level. Partners like Dudley Hall peppered the company's managers with requests for updates on the disastrous drive on the Groundhouse. The delayed drive, according to Hall, was "a thousand times more important than the mill. . .I trust you will. . .get them in if money can do it." Disgusted with the problems on the Groundhouse, Hall plainly stated, "I for one will never give my consent to cut any more logs on that river." [34]

The only thing that prevented the Groundhouse problems from ruining the entire season for Hersey, Staples, and Company was the fact that they had operated camps on other more manageable streams and that harvest gave the mill a modest supply of logs. That year they also operated a camp on the Beaver Brook and another on the Namekagon River. These camps successfully sent their logs down to the St. Croix. Once they reached the main river, however, their logs became mixed with the winter's cut of scores of other lumbermen operating camps on the Sunrise, Kettle, Clam, Tamarack, and Upper St. Croix Rivers. This was a problem that lumbermen in the eastern states had faced before and they transferred their solution to western waters. Every log put into the river was impressed with a distinctive mark hammered into the butt end. To sort out the logs lumbermen working along the river pooled their resources to fund a common retrieval system. Initially this was a simple association in which each lumberman reported how many logs he put into the river. When the mass of timber reached the lower river, it was assembled into rafts and counted. If a lumberman rafted more logs than he put into the river, as often happened, then he owed the others a debit to be paid in cash or logs. The system relied upon honesty and trust and could not survive the expansion of logging during the 1850s. [35]

sketch of sawmill
Figure 15. A primitive water powered sawmill. During the 1850s and 1860s single sash saws were replaced by multiple cutting surfaces known as gang saws. As gang saws became more popular steam power replaced water power.

The St. Croix Valley

The formation of the St. Croix Boom Company, chartered by the Minnesota Territory in January 1851 marked the beginning of a new, more sophisticated approach to the management of a common waterway as a conduit for thousands of individually owned logs. The boom company was given the right to capture all logs passing over the falls of the St. Croix, sort them according to the owner's mark, and then give them back to the rightful owners in return for a fee of forty cents per thousand board feet delivered. Initially men from Marine, Osceola, and Taylors Falls dominated the boom company, so they located the collecting pens near those towns. This site retarded the development of the boom company because it was too far upriver to effectively serve loggers on the Apple River. This stream that enters the St. Croix south of Marine drains a large area, reaching deep into the lake country of Polk County, Wisconsin. Loggers were operating along seventy-two miles of improved river and its output in the late 1840s and 1850s was second among St. Croix tributaries only to the Snake River. An even bigger problem with the original site of the boom was that it was inconvenient to Stillwater, Minnesota, the town that emerged during the 1850s as the valley's lumber center. Stillwater mill owners had to pay twice to receive their logs -- once to the boom company for collecting and sorting their logs and then again to the rivermen who organized and floated their logs twenty-one miles downstream to the Stillwater mills. Isaac Staples, a partner in Stillwater's largest mill, was anxious to manage the river to his advantage. His opportunity came in 1856 when the original St. Croix Boom Company went bankrupt. Staples and a group of Stillwater based partners took over the boom for fifty cents on the dollar and relocated its main operations to a site just outside the limits of their town, at the head of Lake St. Croix. Until its demise in 1914 the boom company controlled the upper river, taking charge of every log, making every lumberman pay its fees, bending the St. Croix to its will. [36]

The inspiration for the St. Croix boom had been the efficient organization of log transportation by the citizen's of Oldtown, Maine. Isaac Staples, who had lived in Oldtown, had seen its boom in operation. With an experienced eye he selected a superb location for the new St. Croix boom, a narrow, high-banked stretch of river where the stream was divided into several channels by small islands. The boom itself was made up largely of logs chained end to end, anchored to piles driven into the streambed to form a floating fence. There were a series of these fences that acted as a conduit, leading logs to holding pens. Into these pens went the logs of a particular company. Collected there would be the logs splashed several weeks before into some remote tributary stream in the upper valley, minus those logs lost in back channels or sunk to the bottom of the river. Catwalks were built along the boom, allowing loggers to easily move from one part of the boom to the next. [37]

Very little of the St. Croix Boom has survived. The vast system of log and chain channels are, of course, long gone. What remains, located on the Minnesota shore, are a house used by men who managed and worked on the boom and a barn that was used for storage and animal care. The banks of the river are thickly forested with aspen and birch and suggest the appearance of the area at the time the boom was constructed. The site of the boom has been a National Historic Landmark since 1966. The boom house and barn are listed on the National Register.

The St. Croix boom was the most profitable in the Midwest region. This was partially because the State of Minnesota had written a generous fee into their charter. But just as important was the unique construction of the boom that allowed for the bulk of it to be closed off when the number of logs in the river was low. The boom could be expanded or contracted by opening or closing channels. This meant that during slack periods the boom could operate with only a skeleton crew, holding down labor costs, but maintaining a continuous service for lumbermen. The true measure of the boom's effectiveness, however, was its ability to handle a high volume of logs. In 1853, the river at the head of the boom constituted a solid packed mass for three of four miles. This was a common site during the 1850s and one year the owner of a particularly nimble horse offered "to cross the St. Croix River. . .on horseback, driving his horse over upon the floating saw logs that in some places absolutely covered the face of the stream." By the 1870s the mass of logs waiting sorting during mid-summer stretched for fifteen miles. Hundreds of men worked long hours to sort through the mass and send the logs downstream to waiting mills. But with two to three million feet of lumber to sort for some 150 to 200 different lumber companies the backlogs were inevitable. [38]

The highly profitable boom company in time became a hated, if powerful, influence on the St. Croix. Lumbermen anxious to start milling their winters cut fumed over delays at the boom and resented that they had to dig deep into their pockets to pay the boom for sorting their logs. More irate still were the steamboat men who often found the channel above Stillwater completely blocked with logs. Towns like Taylors Falls, Marine, and Franconia suffered economically as they were shut-off from down river trade. Farmers between Stillwater and Taylors Falls were upset to have a low cost means of shipping their crops to market endangered by the powerful boom company. Those located directly on the river suffered a further indignity when the mass of logs so blocked the river as to cause the stream to over flow its banks and flood their homes and fields. During the 1860s and 1870s, the boom company tried to moderate these problems by constructing a shipping canal on the Wisconsin side of the river that would by-pass the bulk of the boom works. At times the company would furnish teams and wagons so that cargoes could be portaged around the logs. It also made available to travelers its small steamboat positioned above the jam. This willingness to work with people and communities impacted by the scale of logs in the river went far to holding down the volume of discontent. In the end the townspeople and farmers inconvenienced by the boom were forced by the boom's economic importance and Stillwater's political muscle to accept that logs and lumber were crucial to the region's growth. [39]

In 1865, the editor of the Taylors Falls Reporter captured the dependence upon the lumber industry that was gradually settling over the towns, both below and above the boom.

Merchants furnish men who go into the woods to cut the timber, with supplies, and wait the arrival of the logs in market for their pay. Laborers work in the pineries, and eagerly watch the coming of the logs to secure their wages, while their better halves wait until the logs come in, for the minor luxuries, which succeed such occasion. If the water is low business is dull, money is scarce, consequently, Lawyers, Doctors, Editors, Ministers, Office-Holders, &c. have to ‘live on the interest of what they owe,' until better times are here.

Equally as interested in the success or failure of the lumber industry were the farmers of the valley. Providing food and fodder for the lumber camps was the critical local market that made pioneer agricultural activities viable within the valley. As long as the boom company expressed a willingness to try and moderate their interference with river commerce the majority of people within the valley supported transforming the St. Croix into a river of logs. [40]

In latter years the St. Croix Boom Company would be referred to as the "Octopus" because of its power over the river. Yet, in actuality the St. Croix boom had much less power over the river than the boom companies organized by lumbermen in Michigan and Wisconsin. The St. Croix boom only handled logs that came over the falls and had no authority to operate on the upper river. In contrast the Menominee River Boom Company in Michigan not only sorted all logs to reach the boom but it took charge of driving all logs put into that river from its headwaters to the boom near Lake Michigan. The same was true of the famed Tittabawassee Boom Company and the Muskegon Boom Company. Eventually all log driving on the Chippewa River in northwestern Wisconsin was put under the control of a single company. But the St. Croix lumbermen remained determined to control the fate of their logs for as long as possible. An attempt in 1872 to form a company to drive all logs on the St. Croix came to naught when the loggers working in the upper valley could not agree on a fair price to pay. Special log driving companies did successfully operate on the Apple River and the Snake River, but on the upper St. Croix scores of independent loggers resisted the control of a single authority in charge of the river. Frequently lumber companies operating in proximity to one another might band together on a temporary basis to drive their logs to the boom, but these were just short-term alliances. Log driving was the most colorful and adventurous aspect of lumbering and on the St. Croix it remained in the hands of rugged individualists. [41]

cook boat
Figure 16. A wanigan, the cook boat used on log drives, tied up at the bank of a log filled stream. From Harper's Magazine, March, 1860.

Industrial River

The Civil War marked a significant benchmark in the development of the lumber industry in the St. Croix valley. From 1837 to 1865 a pioneer industry gradually took root in the valley and flourished. During this time the role of the various towns in the valley was determined. Marine and St. Croix Falls, which had been so promising during the 1840s, had been forced to take a secondary position as production centers to Stillwater and other towns on Lake St. Croix. Land that had belonged to the Chippewa and Dakota had been acquired by the United States and then hastily transferred to private hands, most of it for the minimum price. Under the Indians the valley had been shared, sometimes quite grudgingly, in common by whole communities, now it had been privatized with the will of a few industrialists shaping the future of the land and the river. The demand for St. Croix lumber grew during the Civil War, in spite of the massive disturbance of military operations on the life and economy of the lower Mississippi valley. Three major developments, each enhanced by Union victory in the war, helped to drive the St. Croix lumber industry in the years after 1865: 1) The settlement of the sparsely treed Great Plains; 2) The expansion of the national rail network which created the conditions for a genuine national lumber market; 3) The industrialization of American life that created both the demand and the means to realize greater lumber production.

The expanded reach and inflated ambition of St. Croix lumbermen had a direct and immediate impact on the character of the river and its tributaries. Between 1849 and 1869, for example, the lumbermen greatly increased the amount of water they needed for log transportation. On the Snake River the river driving company charged with managing the flow of logs expanded the driveable length of the river from fifty miles to eighty miles. The Wood River was expanded from sixteen miles of useable stream to fifty miles. The main branch of the St. Croix itself was expanded from a mere eighty miles to well over one hundred. Just as important were the new tributaries that were damned and channelized to fulfill the needs of loggers. Within a few years of the close of the Civil War lumbermen were driving logs on seventy-five to eighty miles of the numerous side streams, lakes, and branches of the Kettle, Yellow, and Namekagon rivers. Simple forest streams such as the Tamarack and the Totogatic were made navigable for logging, the latter utilized for better than fifty miles of twisting streambed reaching through what is today Burnett, Douglas, Washburn, Sawyer, and Bayfield counties, Wisconsin. Dams and stream clearing teams ensured that no sooner did loggers open to use a small tributary of the St. Croix than they would begin to employ the tributary's tributaries for the same purpose. The main branch of the Kettle River, for example, was used for more than eighty-five miles, deep into the Minnesota wilderness, to within less than twenty-five miles of Lake Superior. Its principal tributaries, the Pine, Willow, and Moose Rivers, hardly capable of floating a canoe today, were used to reach even further into the interior. [42]

The experience of the lumberman Elam Greeley on the Clam River in 1875 is illustrative of the manner in which logging was expanded on the St. Croix's numerous tributaries. Greeley's lumberjacks had made a large cut that winter but by June, when most of the region's harvest had been passed through the boom at Stillwater, his logs were hung up on the Clam River. Greeley ordered his foreman, Andrew McGraw, to put the driving crew to work cutting out a canal eighteen feet wide, twenty-five feet deep and two hundred yards long between Beaver Lake and the river. An additional eighty-foot long canal connected Greeley Lake with the river. Controlling dams were put in where the canals reached the lakes. When the dams were opened and the canals were connected to the lakes the flow of the river was powerfully augmented. On this head of water the lumberjacks were able to drive all of the logs down to the St. Croix River. While the Minneapolis Tribune toasted Greeley as "a most enterprising lumberman," no one recorded what the Chippewa, who had harvested wild rice from the lakeshores for generations, thought of the sudden drop in water levels. [43]

What made this expansion of the log transportation in the valley possible was the increased number and sophistication of the dams constructed by loggers. By 1889, there were between sixty and seventy logging dams within the St. Croix watershed. Small headwaters dams, such as five located on the upper Snake River which cost only between five hundred to two thousand dollars, were typical of the majority of the river improvements. Dams located on the St. Croix or its principal tributaries, however, required considerable engineering skill and a formidable capital investment. In 1871, Isaac Staples invested ten thousand dollars to have a dam built on the St. Croix River just downstream from Upper Lake St. Croix. The dam facilitated the transportation of logs from the Moose River, an area highly prized for the superiority of its pine. Logs sluiced through the dam were assessed a fee to allow Staples to recoup his sizeable investment. Sometimes lumbermen would pool their resources to undertake such construction activities. The Namekagon Improvement Company, for example, was capitalized at twenty-five thousand dollars to operate a logging dam on the main branch of the Namekagon River (a few miles downstream of the current Hayward dam). Typical of the post-Civil War era dams used to control the St. Croix was the twelve foot high Namekagon and Totogatic Dam. It was a four hundred-foot earthen dam anchored by 326 wooden piles driven deep into the streambed. It took as long as eleven months to raise a six-foot head of water. During the time the dam gates were closed it was necessary to station a dam keeper on site to monitor the water level. When the driving season began the dam's three eight-foot sluicing gates would be opened to float the logs down to the Namekagon on the flood. Working under a charter from the state of Wisconsin the company went on to construct seventeen more dams along the tributaries of the upper St. Croix. [44]

The remains of old dams can be seen throughout the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The most common remains are those of wing dams or as they were more properly called pier dams, navigation aids built out from the bank into the river that were designed to concentrate the flow of the river and guide logs past potential obstructions. A good example of these works can be found on the Namekagon River near Cable, Wisconsin where the remains of five wing dams are found in the river. The dams are constructed of cobblestone and are ten feet by thirty-five feet in dimension. The Namekagon at this point is shallow and the riverbanks are low and flanked by swampy ground. The pier dams here prevented the logs from meandering into the near by swamps. Another set of pier dams can be found in the St. Croix River a mile north of the Burnett-Polk County line, on the Wisconsin side of the river. The wing dam here is 120 feet by five feet and prevented logs from being hung up against a small island in the river. The remains of larger control dams on the St. Croix and Namekgon have mostly been destroyed to allow for the passage of boats and canoes. This was the fate of a dam on the upper Namekagon just above Hayward, Wisconsin. For many years canoeists were forced to portage around the decaying wood and cribbed rock structure. In the early 1990s, the National Park Service removed most of the dam to allow for the free flow of the river. At the outlet of Pacwawong Lake canoeists pass remains of Pacwawong Dam. In 1990, at the request of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the National Park Service removed over forty feet of cut logs held together by square spikes that still remain in the river. The Coppermine Dam on the Upper St. Croix also boasts the remains of what was once a gated dam on the river, but here too most of the old logging structure has been removed. [45]

River improvements were not the largest single cost faced by lumbermen but they did represent a formidable portion of the price of doing business. Between 1879 and 1884 lumberman Edwin St. John logged on the Lower Tamarack River, a tributary of the upper St. Croix in Pine County, Minnesota. In order to bring out a total harvest of close to forty million feet of logs St. John had invested $3,000 in camp buildings, $3,000 in road building, $16,000 in horses, oxen and logging equipment, and $5,000 in getting the Lower Tamarack and its tributaries in shape to drive logs. In 1880, the Burnett County Sentinel estimated that to build the thirteen biggest dams in the St. Croix watershed loggers invested a total of $385,614. The most expensive was Big Dam on the upper St. Croix, a twenty-four foot high barrier that cost $94,319. Dam building was not a one-time expense. These works required annual maintenance and usually needed to be rebuilt every ten years. Therefore, a figure of more than one million dollars would be a conservative estimate of how much money lumbermen invested in St. Croix dams between the Civil War and the end of river driving. [46]

Of necessity dam building in the St. Croix watershed became more sophisticated because of environmental changes wrought by the first generation of loggers. Smaller dams beget larger dams in part because the volume of logging also accelerated greatly during the 1860s and 1870s. Another factor was the effect of repeated logging driving on rivers never intended by nature to carry large volumes of logs and a rapid flow of water. The surge of water flowing downstream from logging dams had the effect of eroding natural riverbanks. The Snake River and its tributaries such as the Anna and Knife Rivers, as well as the Upper St. Croix itself, became wider streams after a decade or so of log driving. Yet, while the streams became wider they also became shallower during the bulk of the year when log driving was not taking place. Logging also accelerated siltation. In 1875, for example, the drive on the Snake River was disrupted near Pokegama by sand blocking the channel. More of a problem was the disruption of the natural flow of water downstream by dams closed for long periods to build a head for log driving. The broader shallow rivers, deprived of the protective shade of large pine forests, lost more of their volume to evaporation. An increased investment in dam building was part of the legacy bequeathed by the pioneers to those businessmen who followed them into the pineries. [47]

Figure 17. A logger removes a tree from a tote road. In the late nineteenth century hundreds of crudely made tote roads were cut through the forest in order to bring supply wagons to logging camps. From Outing Magazine, April, 1907.

The Log Drives

Dams made possible the most colorful, dangerous, and difficult phase of logging in the St. Croix valley–the annual spring log drive. In April of every year the best of the lumberjacks were engaged to escort the winter's cut down the small winding headwaters streams to the main branch of the St. Croix and from there to the head of the boom at Stillwater. It was a job where time was of the essence. The long drive had to be completed before the water level, swelled by melted snows, splash dams, and spring rains, fell, leaving valuable logs stranded in water too shallow to float the fallen monarchs of the forest. It was cold, wet work performed by rugged men clad in two or three red woolen shirts and fitted with caulked boots. The most experienced of the rivermen were outfitted with long pikes and they rode the slippery logs in the van of the drive. They were know as "river pigs," a title in which they took perverse pride, and their job was to keep the logs from snagging on sand bars, sharp river bends, or shoals. At obviously difficult spots on the river several men would be stationed throughout the drive to prevent logjams. These men together with those who floated majestically on their logs were known as the "jam crew." The least experienced men were given the coldest and meanest work on the drive, the "sacking crew." This entailed following in the wake of the drive and wading into the shallows to wrestle stranded logs back into the current. Several wooded boats, know as bateaux, sharply pointed at the bow and stern to ward off floating logs, were part of the drive and could be used to transport men to trouble spots as they developed. Even more important was the wanigan, a covered flat-bottomed boat that served as a mobile cook shack. The wanigan provided hot food each morning and evening, although many of the men in the jam crew took their midday meals with them in little back packs they knick-named "nose bags." [48]

The rivermen had to be exceptionally hardy fellows. In what sounds today like the perfect conditions for triggering hypothermia they labored in air temperatures of thirty to forty degrees while regularly plunging into snowmelt waters that were even colder. In 1867 Nils Haugen, a young Norwegian immigrant won a place in the jam crew. He prided himself on his ability to ride a log but on the second day of the drive received a "good wetting." He remembered the "water was icy cold," although his first thought was:

Fortunately no one saw it, so I was saved from being guyed. It was always a matter of merriment to see one fall in. I had on three woolen shirts at the time; I took them off and wrung them out, put them on again, and wore them for the next three weeks, never suffered a cold or other inconvenience from the mishap.

How men coped with the sudden chill of a spill in the river was more important than finding river men who did not fall from their logs. A rookie river driver who had fallen into the Willow River came out of the water cold, badly frightened, and begragled. "I had lost my hat and hand spike and must have been a pitiable looking object." He was sent to warm up by a fire, but after his dunking "I was so scared that I was not much good on the drive." Some men felt that "whiskey helped them to stand the cold water, ice and snow of the early spring," but few foreman allowed their men regular access to strong drink for fear of the consequences to work force discipline. [49]

At night the drive crews would establish a camp on the riverbank. The evening meals generally featured better fare than camp dinners, fried fresh pork was a favorite, although like camp meals the men received as much as they wanted. Nils Haugen recalled:

We slept in tents. The blankets were sewed together so that we were practically under one blanket, the entire crew, the wet and the dry. Steam would rise when the blanket was thrown off.

The workday would begin for the rivermen about three in the morning. This allowed the lumbermen to take full advantage of the water conditions but exposed the crews to considerable danger working among the rolling, grinding logs in pitch-blackness. [50]

River men were paid substantially more than other forest workers because of the hardships and dangers they endured. Young James Johnston recalled his first day trying to ride logs on the Willow River. A branch hanging low over the stream swept him from his precarious perch and he fell "head first into the river." Before he could rise to the surface "some half dozen logs ran over me." Gasping for air he swam for a break in the mass of logs. "When I came up I grabbed the side of a log and, of course, my weight rolled the log toward me and I went down again and a few more logs rolled over me." Only the fact that the current took him to a shallow place in the river saved Johnston's life. An accident recounted in the Stillwater Lumberman in May of 1875 underscores the danger faced by the men working the drives:

Last night Ed. Hurley was brought down from the drive on Clam River in a badly mangled condition. A log rolled on him and broken [sic] his right leg in several places. Dr. Hoyt, of Hudson, was examining him this morning in consultation with city physicians, and found it necessary to amputate his right leg close to the body, which was done this forenoon. It is thought he cannot survive this day. He is a married man and his folks reside here. He is a first class lumberman and will be sadly missed by the river men.

The prospect of earning as much as two dollars and fifty cents per day ensured that there were a steady stream of men willing to take their chances with the rolling, churning logs, and replace Ed Hurely and the other men who went down on the drive. Even the most skilled log riders fell at some point, most trusted their luck that it would not be where the logs could crush or drown them. [51]

The danger and difficulty of trying to harness the natural power of the St. Croix to move millions of feet of bulky, heavy logs encouraged lumbermen to work cooperatively on the drive. Lumbermen who sought to pursue their success at the expense of others were a menace to the industry. On headwaters streams a logger with a heavy cut could ensure the success of his drive by getting all of his logs into the river ahead of his rivals. The result, however, might be that those rival's logs would be blocked from heading downstream and were in danger of missing the high-water and being stranded in the forest, far from the lumber market. To avoid this unpleasant prospect foreman were tempted to begin their drive at the first sign of the break of the ice. Premature drives forced the men to work harder in lower, colder water conditions, with misery and risk as the reward. Cooperation was much more desirable for the men who worked on the river and for the lumbermen anxious to get their harvest safely to the Stillwater boom. One method of cooperation was for all of the lumbermen working that winter on a certain stream to agree to pay one of the firms to take charge, for a certain per log fee, of all of the cut. In 1877, for example, the lumbermen working on the Knife River all contracted with Charles F. Bean to drive all logs on the river. Bean had operated his own camp that winter and in addition to all of the other logs had 1.7 million feet of pine stacked on his own rollaway. When loggers did operate their drives independently they would establish informal, ad hoc alliances with rival crews they encountered on their downstream journey. In 1875, P. Fox and A.P. Chisley cooperated with each other and jointly drove their logs down the Snake River. Once on the St. Croix they encountered Charles Bean and his crew of rivermen driving seven million feet of pine from the upper river. It was agreed to combine their crews and proceed down river with fifty drivers managing twelve million feet of pine. [52]

The goal of the rivermen was to bring most of the log cut down to the boom by the end of May. Much more skill and cooperation were necessary to bring a large amount of logs downriver in June and July. In 1877, some twenty million logs were brought down the Snake River in late June. It was necessary to boom the logs at the junction of that river and the St. Croix due to low water on the main river. There the logs waited several weeks until heavy rain brought a rise in the water level. As more and more dams were built throughout the river system lumbermen learned how to extend the log-driving season by coordinating the opening and closing of dams throughout the valley. In July 1875, a drive of eighteen million feet of logs from the upper St. Croix was hung up near Rush Creek in Chisago County, Minnesota. There simply was not enough water in the river to carry the logs farther. The foreman in charge of the drive arranged to have dams on the Snake, Yellow, Clam, Namekagon, and upper St. Croix opened in sequence, providing a head of water sufficient to bring in the valuable drive. [53]

The numerous large lakes connected to the tributaries of the St. Croix were critical to logging in the valley. The lakes were natural reservoirs for storing large amounts of water for logging purposes. The logging dam built in 1848 by Elam Greeley at the outlet of Cross Lake was one of the first important dams in the valley. Its ten-foot head of water was critical to logging on the Snake River. But the dam was also a bottleneck through which all logs cut in the Snake Valley had to be laboriously sluiced through the works of the dam. This operation greatly slowed the process of bringing Snake River logs down to Stillwater. In 1875, thirty-eight million feet of pine were hung up in the lake. The week required to sluice through these logs occupied a full one third of the time required to complete the entire drive. Another problem posed by large interior lakes such as Yellow Lake or Clam Lake or Balsam Lake was the task of moving a large volume of logs across their slack surface. Small steamboats operated on some of the lakes to pull hastily assembled rafts to the outlet. The lumber concern of Gore & Stinson, for example, had a marine boiler and engine hauled overland by teams of horses to Clam Lake. They installed the machinery on a sixteen-foot by sixty-four foot barge. They dubbed the resulting vessel a "steam wanagan," and utilized for as many as forty trips per season. Each of those trips entailed a load of a million or more logs. [54]

rafter dam
Figure 18. The upstream face of a small rafter dam. This style of dam was very common within the St. Croix and Namekagon valeys, including the lift gate. From Ralph Clement Bryant, Logging (1914).

A River Jammed With Logs

Every spring the newspapers of towns along the lower St. Croix River and in the various trade journals of the lumber industry all fixated on a single question, "whether or not the logs will come out." Most lumbermen entered the months of May and June heavily mortgaged to pay for the costs of a winter of cutting and hauling logs and preparing their mills for sawing. All chance for profit was hostage to the delivery of the logs by the drive. All news concerning the status of the drives was eagerly grasped at and widely repeated. Lumbermen fretted when a low snow fall over the winter inhibited hauling to the river bank because it directly impacted the amount of logs harvested and indirectly made the task of driving all the more difficult due to less snow melt and lower water levels. Speculation concerning the status of the drive on a major river like the St. Croix or the Chippewa had a direct effect on the price of lumber in St. Louis and Chicago. Among the most discouraging and dismaying reports that could be received in Stillwater, Hudson, and other mill towns was the news that there was a logjam on the St. Croix. [55]

There were many locations throughout the St. Croix valley that were notorious among the river drivers as likely spots for a logjam. The Big Falls on the Apple River and the Kettle River Sloughs were regularly anticipated to hang up logs and men were stationed there to try and keep the pine moving. The most troublesome location in the valley, however, was on the St. Croix itself at its dramatic rock walled Dalles. Some of the most spectacular and untractable jams in logging history occurred in the St. Croix Dalles located below St. Croix Falls. The Dalles are a very narrow stretch of river where fast water confined by the sheer walls of trap rock created the conditions for a tremendous bottleneck. Frequently jams resulted at a spot known as Angle Rock -- a large promontory that juts out from the Minnesota shore into the channel and forces the river makes a sharp right angle turn. During high water years when the river pigs were able to quickly and with relative ease bring down the harvest from the upper river; jams were more likely to occur. Under such conditions the river was crowded with more logs and it pushed them with greater than usual power. Small jams could occur more quickly and each had the potential to become a massive pile-up as millions of board feet of pine flowed relentlessly toward the blocked channel. [56]

The first great jam on the river occurred at Angle Rock in 1865. It was a high water year and the river below the promontory became clogged. The current kept trying to force sixteen-foot long pine logs forward. With the full force of the spring freshets pushing the pine, logs were sent shooting upward piling high atop the jam. Others were driven below the surface of the churning water, abutting the bottom of the streambed, and all but damming the river. Behind the tumult of Angle Rock millions of feet of logs accumulated. The Clam River Drive crashed into the Kettle River logs, while the Snake River Drive and all other logs on the river were borne relentlessly toward the jam, which with each day became larger and larger. The 1865 jam extended from Angle Rock to the falls of the St. Croix, a distance of one and a quarter miles. [57]

The 1865 jam attracted attention throughout the region. Excursion boats were run up the river from Hudson, Prescott, and St. Paul to allow town folk to gawk at the mighty river of logs frozen in suspended animation. Photographers set up their cumbersome box cameras on the shore and the more adventurous of the tourists clambered out to the middle of the river to have their pictures taken amid expanse of timber piled pall-mall. Unfortunately for the lumbermen of the Upper Mississippi the 1865 jam was not a freak occurrence. It was rather the warning of what would become an annual danger as more and more logs were forced into the narrow river and more and more dams, all opened at the same time, forced a greater flow down the stream. During the 1870s the St. Croix Lumbermen's Board of Trade pooled their resources and dispatched crews of lumberjacks to choke points like Angle Rock. These men usually broke up jams before they could blockade the entire river. Although in 1877 and 1883 two greater jams occurred, closing the St. Croix for several weeks and backing the river up to the falls. [58]

The mother of all jams occurred in 1886, after the lumbermen had nearly a half-century of experience driving the river. Angle Rock was again the culprit, although in 1886 more than 150 million feet of pine were pent-up behind the jam. The masses of logs extend all the way to falls and two miles beyond. The great clog in the lumbermen's main artery sent a panic through the valley. Apoplectic mill owners hurried to the scene and shouted themselves horse. A babble of instructions rained down on the rivermen desperately trying to break the jam, and echoed through the St. Croix country, repeated by every small-town newspaper. A journalist for the Stillwater Gazette described the mess as "the jammedest jam he had ever saw." From the humblest mill worker laid off by the dearth of pine to the banker holding lumbermen's past-due notes the entire valley fixated on the mammoth jam, their lives, like the river, held motionless by the impasse. This threat to the livelihood of most, however, was a boon for the village of Taylor's Falls. It had never been much of a mill town and during the 1880s its commercial significance as a local farm service center was rapidly eclipsed as new villages sprung up in the interior, along railroad lines. Jams like that in 1886 gave the village a foretaste of what life could be like as a tourist destination. Special railroad excursion trains brought as many as a thousand people per day to view the site. "Give us each year our yearly jam," became an innkeeper's irreverent prayer. The boarding houses of the town were jammed with overnight guests and their dining rooms were crowded for three luncheon seatings. [59]

Sharing center stage with the miles of log-clogged river was the sight of hundreds of men laboring to break the jam. Six weeks of work went into the effort. No technology was spared to open the river. The head of the jam was repeatedly dynamited to no avail. Steamboats were brought up river to try and pull the logs free. Overhead wires were installed to lift logs up out of the chaos. Teams of horses as well as two steam donkey engines supplied the necessary power while large electric lights, the first many country people had ever seen, shined down from the overhanging rock ledges, allowing the men in the gorge to work in twenty-four hour shifts. All the while the weekend excursionists opined loftily on how the men where missing the mythical "key log," the single strategically located straw in the haystack that would release the jam. Few river pigs believed in the key log myth and it was doubtful that there were any believers among the weary crews who sought to break the 1886 jam. They cleared the river through the consistent application of ingenuity and determined labor, gradually pulling logs off of the pile at an accelerating rate until the mass once more began to move. [60]

mosaic of logging sketches
Figure 19. During the heyday of logging in the valley in the 1880s Harper's Magazine saluted the lumberjacks and rivermen with this illustration titled: "Wisconsin—On the Lumber Drive in the St. Croix."

Industrial Logging

Jams such as the 1886 disaster were a reminder that using the St. Croix to transport their logs left lumbermen at the mercy of natural forces. The acceptance of natural cycles and adaptation to their fluctuations had been an important part of life in the valley from the days of the Dakota. First fur traders and later farmers bowed to the seasons. The first generation of lumbermen also learned to adjust to the fluctuations of snowfall, water level, and river flow. But by the 1880s the patience and resignation that was necessary to work with nature had been replaced by a restless determination to bring an industrial efficiency to the business of logging on the St. Croix. The building of sixty or more dams in the valley was only one example of an application of technology to expand the logging industry's rate of output and margin of profit.

In forest operations the increased productivity was realized by the adaptation of the crosscut saw. During the mid-1870s the axe, long the symbol of the skilled logger was replaced as the principal tool for felling trees by a new type of saw. Loggers had used crosscut saws to "buck" or saw in half felled trees, but such saws were not used to topple great pine trees because the sawdust would be packed by the weight of the trees against the teeth of the saw. During the 1870s a new type of saw blade, six to seven feet long, with "cleaning teeth" was introduced. The teeth of the blade were made of alternating size and shape, some designed to cut others to rake away the sawdust. The result was a major increase in productivity. J.C. Ryan, a veteran Minnesota logger, contended that two men with a crosscut saw could bring down one hundred white pine per day. Just as important as the fact that a team of sawyers could fell many more trees per day than a man with an axe was that they did so with less waste to the but end of the log, ensuring a small but appreciable portion of the log that had been lost could now be made into board lumber. [61]

Loggers were able to move the greater number of trees cut from the forest to the stream by the use of another improvement in forest operations, the ice road. Once the pine adjacent to rivers and streams had been cut, roads became essential to expanding into the remoter sections of the forest. Turning the harsh North Woods winters to their advantage loggers covered over the crudely grubbed and leveled rights-of-way with a coat of ice. Sleighs pulled by a four-horse team were capable of handing between 10,000 and fifteen thousand feet of logs. A full time road crew operating a water tank sleigh, for laying down a new coat of ice, and a rut-cutting sleigh, for grooming the roads, worked constantly to keep the ice roads in top condition. During the 1870s heavy draft horses, most of them Percherons weighing more than a thousand pounds, replaced oxen as the principal draft animals in the camps. After the fall harvest farmers from throughout the valley and from as far away as Illinois would ship their horses by barge and rail to the St. Croix to be leased by the logging camps. [62]

Logging camps became larger and the structures more specialized. In addition to the men actually engaged in cutting logs and crews maintaining the ice roads there were full-time filers keeping the crosscut saws sharp, teamsters, and blacksmiths. In February of 1877 the St. Croix Lumberman reported several logging camps containing as many as three hundred men. Camps such as these were a far cry from the simple one-shanty operations of the 1850s. During the later decades of the nineteenth century St. Croix logging camps were small settlements with numerous special purpose structures. One or two bunkhouses, depending on the size of the crew, were the center of the camp. A separate cookhouse was the domain of the bull cook and his chore-boys. All meals were prepared and consumed there. In keeping with the emphasis on efficiency many of the larger camps observed a rule of no talking at the dinner table. This lessened the opportunity for brawls and got the first shift of dinners out of the cookshack quicker. An office became a feature of the big camps. It was the headquarters for the foreman and the log scaler. This executive staff was sometimes expanded to include a camp clerk to take charge of all record keeping. Sometimes the clerk also operated a small store in the office, selling men tobacco, stamps, and clothing. One or two barns were necessary for the horses. These would be equipped with stalls and a storage area for hay and oats. Occasionally the barn might have a small bunkhouse attached to it for the special use of the teamsters or road crew. A blacksmith shop, maybe a filers shack, and of course the latrines, would round out the complement of camp buildings. All would be made of rough-cut timber. [63]

There are a handful of logging camp sites from that late nineteenth century within the Riverway. Big Brook Landing on the Namekagon River in Bayfield County (T43N, R8W, Sec. 26) is one such site. Here Ross-Owen Lumber Company maintained a cook house and a bunkhouse in the 1890s. A wannigan was kept moored in the river for use on the spring drive. There may have been other structures associated with this site but modern construction destroyed the historic integrity of the location. Another site, near the outlet of Pacwawong Lake (T42N, R8W, Sec. 2) shows minimal structural remains but a large number of logging artifacts have been found on the site, including logging chains, horseshoes, and files. [64]

A large camp of three hundred men operated on a grand scale. The camp would be situated to exploit a large area all around its central location. The Stillwater Lumberman noted that "three hundred men will cover and cut a section of about three miles square, taking off over 60,000 logs, which would measure about 10,000,000 feet, each season." Large camps with a considerable investment in buildings would be operated at the same location for several seasons before being disassembled and the logs shipped to the mill or reassembled at a new campsite. As the scale of logging increased so too did the emphasis upon efficiency. As efficiency became a virtue of management logging was increasingly mechanized. During the late 1880s and into the early twentieth century some logging operations augmented their use of horses on the ice roads with specially designed steam haulers. Essentially they were traction engines equipped with treads and used to haul a virtual train of sleighs over ice roads, from the cuttings to the river landing. Many of the early steam haulers were manufactured in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, although it has been speculated that the first ones were merely converted threshing machines. Around the same time steam power was also harnessed to operate jammers whose job it was to load or unload logs from sleighs to riverbank or railway car. [65]

Lumberman William Hanson employed one of the first steam haulers used in the valley. In 1888, he brought one to his camp near Lake Namekagon. A lumberjack with the colorful name of "Wild Bill" Metcalf was one of the men trained to operate the hauler. Metcalf was more than willing to take on the new technology because the responsibility carried with it a salary of twenty-five cents an hour, a big improvement over the dollar a day he had been making driving horse teams on the ice roads. The hauler would handle an average of eight sleighs per run and because the iron horse never became tired it was on the go during the peak period twenty-four hours a day. Metcalf counted his pay and tried to keep himself awake during the long days, taking naps while the hauler was being loaded or unloaded. As the season wore-on, however, he found it harder to keep up with the machines relentless schedule, particularly in the spring when the afternoon sun made him warm and drowsy. "I'd go to sleep steering the hauler," recalled Metcalf. "The engineer'd toot his whistle and I'd jump a foot." [66]

In numerous and often inventive ways lumbermen experimented with the "high tech" possibilities of mechanized transportation. Even river transportation was improved by the application of steam power. The large lakes of the valley had always been a challenge to river drivers. Steam donkey engines made it much easier to warp large booms of logs across the open surface of lakes. The puffing of the little stationary engines on the deck of a barge replaced a cumbersome string of ponies operating the windlass that pulled the boom across the lake. Small steamboats also became a common sight on headwater lakes. The Katie R's shrill whistle was first heard on Cross Lake during the 1880s and it became a fixture of the Snake River drive through the end of the century. During the 1890s lumbermen used a small steamboat on the Upper St. Croix, speeding the movement of logs as far up river as Upper Lake St. Croix, more than one hundred and twenty-five miles above the pervious head of navigation on the river at St. Croix Falls. As early as 1876 Martin Mower, the iron-fisted power behind the St. Croix Boom Company, tried to develop a steam powered ice boat that he hoped to operate on the frozen river. Mower eventually built and operated a prototype, but its lack of success ensured no further experiments along those lines. [67]

The railroad was the most obvious application of steam technology to impact the St. Croix. In many parts of Michigan and Wisconsin railroads replaced rivers as the principle means of transporting logs to mill and market. This did not happen within the St. Croix valley. A few logging railroads were established in the valley. The Wisconsin Lumber & Manufacturing Company operated a network out of Cable, Wisconsin while the Drummond Southwestern operated an extensive network of standard gauge track along the headwaters of the Namekagon River. [68] Still, for all the problems with dams and jams the river was still the cheapest means of moving the great sixteen-foot white pine logs that were stacked at forest landings throughout the logging season. Yet, the iron horse was integrated into the forest operations of the St. Croix logging district in a variety of ways that fulfilled the lumbermen's growing passion for efficiency.

The first railroads completed in the St. Croix valley were the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad (1871), which linked Stillwater with Duluth, and on the Wisconsin side of the valley, the Northern Wisconsin Railroad (completed 1883), that ran from Hudson to the Lake Superior town of Bayfield. The right-of-way of each line was laid out well away from the river, creating rival transportation corridors and a string of new towns. The villages of Pine City and Hinkley soon boasted new steam powered sawmills, although their production did not come close to rivaling the volume produced by the Stillwater mills. As a class, nineteenth century lumbermen were not particularly distinguished for their foresight so it is not surprising to find that the majority of them opposed the expansion of railroads into the remote region of the upper valley. This was particularly true for men who owned extensive tracts of Wisconsin forestland and who feared the cost of county bond initiatives to encourage railroad construction. On the other hand, lumbermen were pragmatists and they began to make use of the Northern Wisconsin Railroad long before it was ever completed. During the long construction phase of the line lumbermen provided cordwood, poles, lock-downs, and thousands of railroad ties. Even with the line only partially completed it gave the lumbermen an inexpensive and timely means to supply their logging camps operating on remote headwaters and the upper Namekagon River. The Northern Pacific Railroad whose main terminus was at Duluth, ran a spur line to Grantsburg, Wisconsin. This now abandoned line crosses the St. Croix River in Burnett County (T37N, R20W, Sec. 8) the grade is clearly visible within the Riverway and the old pilings from the bridge can be seen by passing canoeists. [69]

While railroads did not supplant the river for log transportation, the train did augment the network of natural and improved waterways. The railroad could be pressed into service when there were problems with driving logs by water. In 1877 low water made driving on the Willow River problematic for large logs. The solution was to have 350,000 of the best logs pulled out of the river where it passed under the tracks of the North Wisconsin Railroad and shipped by rail to the mill. In a similar fashion Snake River loggers occasionally made use of the railroad when faced with difficult driving conditions. Lumbermen also used the railroad to provide a steel extension from the farthest reach of the waters to the untapped reserves of white pine in the interior. During the 1890s the Empire Lumber Company operated in Douglas County, Wisconsin, beyond the headwaters of the St. Croix. They built a short haul railroad between their camps and the river. Logs would be loaded on to this railroad and hauled to the river where they would be dumped into the stream and driven down to Stillwater. At the boom the logs would be formed into rafts and then floated down river to Winona, Minnesota, where the company built a new steam powered mill. While the railroad was used to bring logs to the St. Croix, it was also used to send them from the valley. The movement from rails to river by the Empire Lumber Company reflected the economic advantage of moving logs by water. The cost of shipping logs by rail was sixty percent greater than conducting a river drive. [70]

Yet, if railroads could be used to bring logs to the river, they could also be used to take them away from the St. Croix valley. As the value of St. Croix pine increased and mills in other parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota began to suffer from a shortage of logs, the economics of the lumber industry began to dictate new applications of the rail network. The rapid destruction of the vast forest of Pine County, Minnesota was greatly hastened by the opening of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad. Only two years after the line was completed twenty-one million board feet were shipped out the valley to St. Paul. By the late 1880s several railroads bisected the St. Croix, including the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie and the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha railroads. These and other lines created numerous small sawmill centers that could tap the flow of pine that previously had flowed uninterrupted to Stillwater. Forest products firms were established at Turtle Lake, Comstock, Shell Lake, and Hayward. Railroads spread the impact of the St. Croix pinery outward, like ripples on calm water. By 1895, those ripples had reached as far east as the northern Wisconsin town of Rhinelander, where St. Croix logs kept the local mill humming through the use of Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railroad. Diversions such as this became increasingly common and eroded the link between the logging camps of the upper river and the mill towns downstream. [71]

By the end of the nineteenth century the towns along the lower St. Croix, from Prescott up river to Taylors Falls had made a substantial investment in large modern steam powered sawmills. The old reliance upon waterpower ended in the 1860s, a causality of the need for a more powerful and consistent energy source. With this change came a substantial increase in the scale of investment needed to compete in the lumber industry. In 1825, James Purinton built a sawmill and waterpower dam at Hudson, Wisconsin for $25,000. By the 1890s the cost of a new mill might exceed $300,000. For that price tag the lumberman bought a sophisticated industrial complex including mammoth steam engines and boilers, a network of specialized mill buildings, including facilities for making dimension lumber, shingles, and posts, kilns for drying lumber, and extensive yards for storing the finished product. The heart of such a complex was the giant band saws -- the last word in fast and efficient lumber production after 1880. Scores of mills such as these, from Stillwater, Winona, and Red Wing all the way down the Mississippi to Muscatine and St. Louis were dependent on St. Croix logs. The biggest mill complex were those along the river itself. Between 1860 and 1900 sixteen steam-powered mills were built on the St. Croix River. In addition to these large mills were scores of smaller ones built in interior sections of the county, some merely to provide lumber for settlers, others positioned to use the railroad to ship their product. Between the Civil War and the turn-of-the-century at least fifty-five such mills were established. [72]

sketch of log rafting
Figure 20. An imaginative depiction of the dangerous job of the river driver, from Outing Magazine, April, 1907.

Corporate Control of the St. Croix

Of all the lumber barons of the St. Croix the most powerful was the barrel-chested, bald-headed, Isaac Staples. A contemporary described him as "restless, alert, far-seeking, systematic, and persistent." No single man controlled more of the vast pine forest than he did. No single man logged as much timber each year. No single man milled as much lumber. He had virtually created the powerful St. Croix Boom Company and controlled its vital operations through his ownership of its stock. He was the valley's biggest and most successful farmer, and as President of the Lumberman's National Bank one of its most important bankers. Minnesota politicians anxious for advancement courted Staples favor while throughout the valley thousands of breadwinners traced their paychecks to his enterprises. He arrived a stranger in 1853 and remained to flourish as the presiding patriarch of St. Croix logging for the next generation. [73]

Isaac Staples came to the St. Croix as the representative of eastern investors. It was their financial resources that allowed him to build a firm foundation for his logging venture. His share of the profits, however, was substantial enough that over time he was able to purchase a controlling interest in Hersey, Staples & Company, in partnership with Maine businessman Samuel F. Hersey. With Hersey in Maine Staples had a free hand in handling the firm's business on the St. Croix, nonetheless, he eventually cut his ties with the Hersey family and by the 1880s operated his extensive business interests with complete independence. Of all the young Maine men who came to the valley in the wake of the 1837 Indian treaty, Isaac Staples had scrambled to the top of the sawdust mountain. This success and his overarching influence made him as resented as he was respected.

Yet, for all his success by 1885 Isaac Staples, perched in his Victorian mansion high on a bluff with the valley spread out before his feet, represented the past not the future of the St. Croix lumber industry. The sixty-nine year old magnet perceived issues from the older, frontier era perspective of individual ownership and influence. The patriarch did not appreciate that since steam power had welded the entire nation into a single market, the real opportunities in business would in future go to those who could combine small local producers into efficient and rational combinations. Most of his rivals made the same mistake. During the 1880s the parlors, restaurants, and exchanges where Stillwater lumbermen met were abuzz with speculation that Isaac Staples was vulnerable. In looking so intently for the patriarch's weak spots, the Stillwater men did not see their own vulnerability. When Staples allowed the erasable and eccentric Martin Mower to purchase a controlling interest in the St. Croix Boom Company, it seemed to confirm that the patriarch was losing his grip. In 1885, the Stillwater lumbermen fought a prolonged duel over who would hold the lucrative post of Surveyor General in the Stillwater District. The surveyor scaled all logs entering the St. Croix boom. Although it was a state position, the surveyor was paid by the lumber companies a hefty price for all logs scaled. The Lumberman's Board of Trade favored Judson McKusick, a member of a clan of mill operators and politicians involved in the city since its founding. Isaac Staples sought to demonstrate his suzerainty over his rivals by forcing the appointment of Adolphus Hospes, his son-in-law. When both men tried to carry out the office, the shipment of lumber downriver was disrupted by sheriff's actions, court orders, and law suits. The dispute ended with Staples imposing his will upon his rivals and forcing them to capitulate. [74]

While the Stillwater lumbermen wrangled amongst themselves, a new force began to assert itself on the St. Croix -- the Mississippi River Logging Company. Formed in 1870 by mill owners along the Mississippi between St. Louis and Winona, the company's goal was to guarantee a steady flow of logs from the forests of Wisconsin to their large steam powered mills on the great river. During the 1870s they had fought a bitter duel with lumbermen based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin for control over the Chippewa River. The Eau Claire men resented that the Mississippi River Logging Company intended to take the lion's share of Chippewa River pine to out of state mills. Wisconsin timber, they reasoned, should be used to provide Wisconsin jobs and build Wisconsin communities–and enrich Wisconsin businessmen. But after a decade of cold war on the river and all out opposition in the courts the Eau Claire lumbermen finally agreed to accept the Mississippi River Logging Company. The man behind this successful campaign was a German immigrant of true business genius, Frederick Weyerhaeuser. Not only did he harmonize the diverse interests of the many Mississippi mill owners, Weyerhaeuser was able to convince the Eau Claire lumber companies of the advantages of bringing the entire Chippewa River valley under the control of one rational, systematic management. Under Weyerhaeuser's guidance Chippewa River logging was done in the usual independent manner. But once logs were put into the river, the jointly owned company that controlled all aspects of the river managed them. Mill owners were delivered a guaranteed percentage of the drive. Conflict was minimized and everybody made a healthy profit. [75]

Mills involved with the Weyerhaeuser combination had long purchased lumber from the St. Croix valley. Unlike the Chippewa River mill owners, the St. Croix lumbermen expressed no jealousy about logs being milled downstream, perhaps because by the time Mississippi rafts were being formed, valley businessmen had already derived a profit from cutting and driving the logs. But as the Chippewa River valley was transformed into a cutover wasteland the partners of the Mississippi River Logging Company began to look to the St. Croix as their principal source of supply.

One of the first steps taken by the Weyerhaeuser partners into the St. Croix involved the founding of the town of Hayward, Wisconsin. It was merely a railroad siding on the recently completed North Wisconsin Railroad until the flamboyant lumberman Anthony J. Hayward convinced the Weyerhaeuser associates Liard, Norton, & Company to help him form the North Wisconsin Lumber Company. Hayward's grand style and constant interest in new ventures led to him to be dubbed by his associates as "the Grand Duke." He was supposed to provide the practical experience necessary to get the operation up and going, but he was too often absent from Hayward or inattentive to important details. For example, in 1883 he was gone to Madison, Wisconsin for several weeks. During that time he successfully lobbied the legislature to create Sawyer County out of Ashland County, but failed to secure such necessities as an adequate cook and oxen for his logging camps. Hayward also secured the legislature's permission to build a dam across the Namekagon River, but then after selecting an appropriate site for the works allowed it to be carelessly constructed with brush and earth. The dam, which would later fail spectacularly in 1907, created Lake Hayward to serve as a millpond for a water-powered sawmill constructed at the site in 1882. It took years of constant effort to make the North Wisconsin venture successful. In 1885 Frederick Weyerhaeuser bought out "Grand Duke" Hayward's share of the venture, although it was not until 1891, ten years after they started, that the partners began to see a return on their investment. [76]

Weyerhaeuser and his associates became involved in St. Croix logging slowly and discreetly. In November 1883, Weyerhaeuser purchased from Isaac Staples ten thousand acres of forestlands on the Moose River, a branch of the Kettle River. The sale netted Staples the princely sum of $262,819. Purchases of stumpage were usually handled with little fanfare. This transaction did not arouse great curiosity in part because it was made not by the Mississippi River Logging Company itself but by two downriver partnerships, Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann and P. & P.M. Musser, in cooperation with a Stillwater business, Sauntry & Tozer. The local men, however, were just a front. David Tozer was a grizzled old veteran of St. Croix logging, successful enough but never one of the major figures in Stillwater. William Sauntry, although younger and less experienced, was the key figure. He was ambitious, able, and anxious to win Weyerhaeuser's trust. It was he who first acquired the option on Staples's land and although he seemed to be the lead figure in the purchase, he and Tozer put no capital into the purchase. Sauntry became, in effect, Weyerhaeuser's agent in Stillwater. [77]

The Moose River deal proved to be very profitable for all of the parties concerned. Sauntry & Tozer eventually delivered 9.8 million board feet of logs to their downriver investors. In 1886, Weyerhaeuser took another larger step into the St. Croix valley when he engineered the formation of the Musser-Sauntry Land, Logging, & Manufacturing Company. Capitalized at one million dollars the company began to make pineland purchases throughout the St. Croix valley. Once again the Mississippi mill men supplied the bulk of the money and Sauntry took charge of forest operations. Between 1888 and 1907 the company produced nearly eight million board feet of logs. Through these deals and numerous smaller ones he participated in with Weyerhaeuser, Sauntry had advanced to the front ranks of lumbermen in Stillwater. The opportunity for the biggest coup of all, however, came in the fall of 1887. Sauntry informed Weyerhaeuser that Isaac Staples was prepared to exit the field. If the right offer were made, he would liquidate his 50,400 acres of pineland, his river improvements, and his shares in the St. Croix Boom Company. Here was an opportunity to control the future of logging on the river and the downriver mill owners did not hesitate. With the Liard, Norton, & Company, one of Weyerhaeuser's staunchest associates, taking the lead Staples was bought out for the princely sum of $650,000. [78]

The Weyerhaeuser syndicate made its move into the St. Croix valley at a time of growing anxiety within the lumber industry concerning the future availability of timber. The old myth that the Lake States forest was inexhaustible had been belied by the speed with which trees fell during the decades after the Civil War. During the 1880s a scramble ensued within the industry. Prudent lumbermen realized that only by securing large tracts of forestland could they guarantee a future supply of logs. The speed and scale with which Frederick Weyerhaeuser and his associates moved into the St. Croix valley, securing a half dozen major tracts, surprised and dismayed their rivals in Minneapolis and Stillwater. Minnesota newspapers compared their arrival to a sudden "scourge of locusts."

Yet, when the downriver men inspected their St. Croix lands they found that some of the tracts had been subject to a scourge. A Liard, Norton, Company cruiser complained that the St. Croix lands were "poorly located, inferior, and picked over." Instead of finding tracts of fine, strait white pine, much of the land contained tamarack, balsam, and hardwood. The best of the pine was not white pine but its inferior cousin, red pine, or as it was known in Wisconsin, Norway pine. White pine was present on the lands but not in stands as dense as had been formerly sought by loggers. With the lower value of the timber on their lands the mill owners needed to be very efficient in their logging operations to turn a profit. Great jams such as occurred on the St. Croix in 1886 were an anathema to men with thousands of dollars invested in giant steam powered mills. They watched the spectacular jam of that year with a disbelief that turned to disgust when they heard the Stillwater lumbermen ruefully predict that a similar jam would likely occur again. Having secured control over a vast portion of the valley's forest resources the Weyerhaeuser syndicate turned their attention to seizing control over the river. [79]

Although it was a bigger and more complex river system, Weyerhaeuser wanted the St. Croix to be run with the efficiency and regularity of the Chippewa River. On that river Weyerhaeuser controlled the driving company that manipulated all 149 dams in the valley and took responsibility for the delivery of all logs put into the water. To prevent any disruption of the flow of logs during dry seasons Weyerhaeuser had a massive dam, the biggest logging dam in Wisconsin, built on the Chippewa River at Little Falls. The structure could send a fifteen-foot head of water into the river; enough water to refloat logs one hundred miles down stream. The dam cost the lumbermen $147,457, but Weyerhaeuser believed it was better to make the upfront investments necessary to ensure smooth operations, than suffer uncertainty and delay later. The problem with trying to bring a new emphasis on efficiency to the St. Croix was that the industry had been too long under the control of the same men. Weyerhaeuser had already shown old Isaac Staples the door, but to improve log driving on the St. Croix he had to get around Martin Mower. [80]

Even his friends and associates had to admit that Martin Mower was "somewhat eccentric." Erasable, "grouchy," and litigious were words that most outsiders found an accurate description of the veteran lumberman. Mower had come to the St. Croix with his brother back in 1842 and within five years he was the proprietor of a string of logging camps. For more than thirty years he had been intimately involved in the management of the St. Croix Boom Company, and after 1879 he was the controlling owner. In personal appearance he was a disheveled bachelor, "sot" in his ways. But woe to the rival who failed to appreciate that he was a "capable and shrewd" businessman. Mower ran the St. Croix Boom Company, not to facilitate logging or milling endeavors but with an eye to his personal prosperity. Since he controlled the funnel through which all logs cut in the valley had to pass, Mower sat atop a money making machine. Under his management the St. Croix boom, unlike most boom companies in Minnesota and Wisconsin during the 1870s, did not increase its investments in river improvements. While great jams regularly delayed for weeks the shipment of logs, Mower awarded generous dividends, often over thirty percent, to the boom's stockholders, of which he was the largest. For several years Frederick Weyerhaeuser had tried to prod the gray-bearded old man of the river to improve and expand the boom company's operations. Throughout the 1880s the Weyerhaeuser syndicate tried to purchase Mower's stock, but he would not part with his guaranteed source of wealth. There is every reason to believe that he would never have sold to the downriver mill owners. But once more Weyerhaeuser's stealthy approach won the day. In 1889, Mower was approached by a group of young lumbermen, headed by William Sauntry, to "lease," not sell, control of the boom company for twenty years. In return for a generous annual fee Mower yielded to the younger generation, probably not knowing that in doing so he was giving way to Weyerhaeuser. [81]

Immediately upon securing Mower's exit the Weyerhaeuser syndicate met and authorized extensive river improvements on the St. Croix to prevent future jams. The plan was to build a large dam that could control the rate of flow in the river and regulate the passage of logs over the falls and through the narrow confines of the Dalles. Weyerhaeuser's model was the dam he had built at Little Rapids on the Chippewa River. But he would not be able to achieve his dream for the St. Croix without a legal battle. Weyerhaeuser's opponent was as unexpected as he was formidable, Isaac Staples.

Although it had appeared to all that Staples had retired from business when he sold off his forestlands to the syndicate, the old patriarch of the St. Croix had one last bolt to shoot. In 1887, Staples sunk fifty thousand dollars into the purchase of property and water rights at St. Croix Falls. It was the site of high expectations and grandiose dreams since the days of Caleb Cushing's failed investments. The hardheaded old lumberman had fallen under the spell of those dreams, but typically he dreamt with his eyes open. Staples planned to build a toll dam just above the falls. He would prevent logjams, but more importantly he would be in a position to collect substantial fees from every logger on the river. Even in his rocking chair Isaac Staples sought recognition that he was the "boss logger" on the river. It was a likely plan save for the one element in the equation that Staples had failed to reckon on, Weyerhaeuser. In the German immigrant turned "Robber Baron" Staples finally met someone who could out muscle and money him on the St. Croix. Weyerhaeuser insisted that if there was going to be a dam on the river, he would control it, and he used his established ties with the Wisconsin state legislature to secure a charter for his dam, then used that as leverage to prevail upon the Minnesota legislature for a similar charter. Then with construction crews already at work on his dam, Weyerhaeuser beat back Staples' last-ditch court challenges. Had Weyerhaeuser sought public notoriety he could have used the struggle to prove that he was now the "boss logger" on the river, instead he let William Sauntry take the credit while he merely drew contentment for being able to impose a more rationale, harmonious, and efficient order on the river. [82]

The new dam was a milestone in the lumber industry's campaign to transform the St. Croix. It was built eleven miles upriver from St. Croix Falls near Wolf Creek at the farm of homesteader Charlie Nevers. Joseph Brown, who operated a trading post near the site sixty years before, would have truly been shocked to see the massive works of the dam rise up twenty feet from the bed of the river. It stretched six hundred and fourteen feet across the St. Croix and backed up the river for between ten and fifteen miles. Although it was much larger than any other dam in the valley, it was constructed in a manner similar to other logging dams. It was secured by wood pilings and was controlled by a Bear Trap Gate. [83] But such was the scale of the structure that it was widely regarded as the largest wood-piling dam in the world and the eighty-foot gate was the largest in the world. Lumbermen had talked about such a dam for years. In fact, Seth Ayers a lumberman from the 1850s claimed to have erected a makeshift dam of rocks and tree stumps at the site. His purpose had been to build a head of water for his logging operations downstream at Osceola. What ever Ayers may have done it was nowhere near the scale of what Weyerhaeuser had ordered into existence. The Nevers dam cost close to $250,000 after the construction fees, legal expenses, and riparian rights were totaled. It was the most expensive logging dam ever built in the north woods. [84]

What the lumbermen got for this huge investment was a structure made of wood and stone that helped to manage the flow of logs from the upper St. Croix to the lower river. The broad waters impounded by the dam became a vast holding pen for all logs cut in the valley. When the men at the St. Croix Boom were ready for more logs word would be sent up to Nevers Dam and the lumberjacks there would open up several of the fifteen sluicing gates and pass the appropriate number of logs into the river. Similarly if the men on the boom experienced low water the great Bear Trap Gate could be lowered and within hours the level would rise on the lower river. In May of 1890 the St. Croix Valley Standard boasted about the impact of the new dam:

The benefits of the Nevers Dam are already being felt. . .Only one day has the Boom (here at Stillwater) shut down this season so far, and today all the gaps will be at work again. . ..The success of the mills this year is phenomenal, not a break to detain them. . .the cut will be large, several of the mills showing much better record at this date than for several years past.

Upon command the river drivers stationed at Nevers could send as many as four million feet of logs down to the boom each hour. Electric lights installed at the dam provided the option of operating the sluiceway twenty-four hours a day. With the completion of Nevers Dam the lumbermen took a large step away from being bound by the irregular patterns of nature and toward the industrial management of the St. Croix. [85]

The site of Nevers Dam might well have been the most important historic site from the logging era located within the Riverway. Unfortunately there is little that remains from the lumbermen's dam. In 1955, the Northern States Power Company dismantled most of the dam. What survived that process are the remains of several wing dams that can be seen protruding from the shore as well as several old log pilings and rock cribs farther upstream–hardly enough to meet the integrity provisions of the National Register of Historic Places. Nonetheless to the visitor with a sense of history the picturesque site can help conjure up visions of when the St. Croix was a river of pine.

When the great Bear Trap gate of Nevers Dam was closed, it was possible for lumbermen to reduce the flow of water in the St. Croix River to a mere trickle. Although this was rarely done, the lumbermen's new power over the river reignited their lingering feud with the steamboat men on the river. The feeling that the lumbermen had become overweening in their power had grown during the 1880s among residents of the villages upstream from the boom. Martin Mower's crabbed management of the boom company had made a bad situation worse. Unlike his predecessors he did nothing to try to ameliorate the inconvenience caused to river traffic by the mass of logs at the mouth of the boom. In April of 1891, the steamboat men won an important victory when the Wisconsin legislature amended the Nevers dam charter to provide some protection for steamboats on the river. Twenty-four hour notice was required before the dam could completely shut its gates. Steamboat men tried and failed to force the lumbermen to ensure a three-foot navigation channel in the river as far as St. Croix Falls. An attempt at more aggressive action to curb the logger's control of the St. Croix began in 1900 when steamboat men and their supporters in the villages above Stillwater tried to involve the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Major Frederic Abbott of the Corps proposed restricting the times when either boom or the dam might be able to limit other river users. The lumbermen, however, were once again a match for their opponents. They were able to document that thousands of mill and boom workers in Stillwater and numerous other towns throughout the Mississippi valley would lose their jobs if the flow of timber were interrupted. The attempted revolt against the lumbermen eventually led to the creation, in 1909, of the St. Croix River Improvement Association, an organization that would foster public concern for the well-being of the river. But at least till 1912 the needs of lumber continued to dominate the St. Croix. [86]

The clash over navigation on the St. Croix indicated that while logging remained very important to the St. Croix valley, it was by no means the only economic interest vying for control over resources. By the beginning of the twentieth century farmers, steamboat men, a growing tourist industry, and sportsmen all began to challenge the lumber industry's hegemony over the valley. In 1886, an event occurred that would have been unthinkable a generation earlier. When Liard, Norton, & Company tried to drive their logs on the Clam River they were forced by legal action to suspend the drive. Local farmers claimed their lands were inundated by logging dams and demanded compensation. Although there was little farming activity apparent from the river, nearly twenty-five settlers claimed damages. With the high water level rapidly passing, the company had little choice but to satisfy the claims as quick as possible or face the prospect of having their winter's cut hung-up till next year. The "settlers" proved to be tough negotiators, with one securing a nine hundred dollar payment–much more than his land was even worth. Land speculators bedeviled loggers further by buying the rights to likely dam sites on tributary streams and then holding the land until their price was met. [87]

For lumbermen who chose not to negotiate with their litigious neighbors the cost could be high. In 1903, the Chengwatana Dam, at the outlet of Cross Lake, was mysteriously dynamited in the middle of the night. The dam was the most important on the Snake River. It was built in 1848 when the area was wilderness. But by the time the dam needed reconstruction in the 1870s the lumbermen had to share the area with farmers who complained that the annual log drives flooded their fields. Little was done to address these complaints in the years leading up to the explosion. The explosion hit the operations of lumberman James McGrath hard. He had forty-five million feet of logs ready to go down the Snake only to be suddenly left without the water to do the job. His costly solution was to take the logs by river as far as Pine City, pull them out of the water, and ship them by rail to Stillwater. There the logs were dumped into the St. Croix and rafted down the Mississippi to the waiting sawmills. [88]

Figure 21. Lumber Industry Sites on the Lower St. Croix.
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The Failure of Government Regulation of the St. Croix Pinery

While disputes such as these became more common as the population of the North Country became denser, it is nonetheless striking how little legal and legislative action inhibited the activities of lumbermen. Legal issues were almost always restricted to local courts, even on a border river like the St. Croix. Legislative regulation by the States of Minnesota and Wisconsin was largely restricted to the granting of charters for dams or the passage of laws designed to facilitate the lumber business. The regulation of log marks or the establishment of inspection districts for the scaling of logs were both state regulations that provided a structure conducive to the expansion of the lumber industry. There was remarkably little interest on the part of either Minnesota or Wisconsin in conserving the forests of the St. Croix valley. The states used neither taxation policy nor their investigative authority to try to promote greater efficiency in forest operations. Instead tax policy actually promoted the "cut and get out" tactics of the loggers by presenting hefty tax bills to the owners of uncut forestlands. Two prevailing cultural assumptions inhibited a more creative role for government in forest management. The overwhelming majority of Americans believed that the appropriate disposition of land was private ownership and that the highest use of that land was for farming. Most residents of the Upper Midwest believed that the lumber boom was only a temporary phase of settlement that would in time yield to new and greater opportunities. [89]

Aside from the occasional involvement of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in navigation issues, the federal government was even less of a factor in regulating St. Croix logging. As the largest landowner in the valley the United States government proved a poor steward of some of the finest forestlands in the nation. For at least a generation, from the 1837 Sioux Treaty to the Civil War, pine timber on federal lands was there for the taking. Large-scale operators like Isaac Staples purchased land to secure their long-term futures, but men without access to eastern capital had the option of stealing public timber as a means of establishing themselves in the industry. In hushed tones over steins of lager beer, loggers debated how extensive was the larceny, but no one doubted its existence. Finally in 1855, Thomas A. Hendricks, the United States Commissioner of Public Lands issued a circular directing public land offices to collect the value of all depredations brought to their attention. Typical of federal efforts of that era, Hendricks provided no means to investigate thefts. The result was that only trespassers who had been turned in were ever approached for compensation and the General Land Office often relied upon the trespassers themselves to report how much timber was taken. Typical was the July 1859 case of two Hudson, Wisconsin men arrested for timber stealing. The only reason they were brought to trial was that they had fallen out with a third accomplice who "out of pure maliciousness" turned informant on them. The Wisconsin legislature protested such prosecutions on the grounds that theirs was a frontier state and such logging should be allowed "in view of the necessities of the people." In twenty years only $150,000 was collected in all of the lumber districts in the country. Federal legal expenses required to collect that money topped $50,000. [90]

A more determined effort to deter timber thefts was launched by the General Land Office in 1877 at the behest of Carl Schurz, the independent reformer who served as Rutherford B. Hays's Secretary of the Interior. Schurz sent special agents to several of the most active logging regions with the power to investigate trespasses and to seize illegally cut logs. A wave of panic swept over the industry when Colonel E.A. Pratois arrived in Minnesota to begin his investigation. In May the federal agents were at the Taylors Falls land office "ascertaining the amount of trespassing on the St. Croix River and its tributaries." There was great fear that "a good many prominent lumbermen will be found to have their hands in the grand scheme of denuding the public domain of its valuable timber." The St. Croix lumbermen loudly proclaimed their innocence and complained that the real abuses had taken place on the Chippewa and Upper Mississippi rivers. "That any of the first families of Stillwater were engaged in this business is preposterous," complained the Stillwater Lumberman. "But Lord, how those Minneapolis and St. Cloud fellows did steal!" In the end the agents determined that 81.7 million feet of pine logs had been plundered from public lands, just between 1868 and 1876. [91]

One single case of trespass found thirty-five million board feet, with a dollar value of over $75,000, feet stolen. All told there were twenty-nine cases brought to trial in Minnesota because of Schurz's probe. Unfortunately, thanks to the United States Congress the prosecutions never lived up to the build up of the investigation. The House refused to increase the Department of the Interior's total investigatory budget above its paltry twelve thousand dollars. Which made it impossible to build cases for prosecution, even though the penalties from those cases would have returned hundreds of thousands of dollars to the federal government. Schurz tried to drum up public support for broad changes in United States public land policy. He called for an end to preemption rights and homestead privileges for forest lands on the grounds the lands were not suited for family farms and that current policy encouraged very valuable public lands to be privatized at next to no return to the public. He advocated managing forestlands for sustained yield by keeping them in public hands and leasing cutting rights. Such a policy would have created the equivalent of the national forest system in the 1870s. Unfortunately, neither Minnesota nor Wisconsin was ready for reform. "I found myself standing almost solitary and alone," Schurz complained. "Deaf was Congress, and deaf the people seemed to be." Actually, Congress was worse than deaf. The House, slavish to the interests of timber industry, passed the Timber Cutting Act that made it legal for homesteaders and mining companies to cut public domain timber. More importantly the act gave St. Croix lumbermen facing prosecution or investigation a giant loophole. Anyone who was found to have stolen timber from the public domain in the past, or accused of doing so in the future, simply was required to pay a fee of $1.25 per acre. The prospect of any future investigations of timber fraud vanished with this legal absolution for past sinners and the shameless invitation to "go and sin some more." [92]

The Schurz investigation was greatly resented not only by the lumbermen of the valley but also by the people of the St. Croix. As an earlier investigator had lamented "local sympathy sealed up sources of information." Yet, the image painted by the investigation of the lumber baron plundering public lands would linger. It would later resonate quite strongly in the valley when a lack of timber forced once busy mills to close. Then public ire would be directed against Weyerhaeuser and Liard, Norton. This is ironic because the big downriver timber companies did not become deeply involved in the valley until after the vast majority of the upper St. Croix forest was no longer in the public domain. In fact Liard, Norton, & Company was never involved in a single trespass case in Wisconsin, nor did it resort to filing fraudulent homestead claims. On the other hand the names of some of the richest of the original Stillwater lumbermen are listed on homestead applications in Burnett County, Wisconsin, including Isaac Staples and Frederick Schulenberg. By the 1880s the forest had been privatized by lumbermen, who controlled thousands of acres and railroads, due to the land grants offered by state and federal legislation, which owned hundreds of thousands of acres more. These large corporate owners tried to protect their holdings from the type of depredations that had previously been directed against public lands. Rather than being timber thieves the Weyerhaeuser syndicate were themselves victims of fraud. The job of protecting corporate lands from theft largely fell to men known as timber cruisers. [93]

The job of the timber cruiser was to estimate the amount of board feet of lumber that was present in a tract of standing timber. Many of the first cruisers were former government township surveyors. One of these was Albert C. Stuntz, who traveled all over the Upper St. Croix valley in the 1860s and 1870s. Sometimes he traveled alone, on other occasions he was assisted by Chippewa canoemen. He camped out in the woods in all seasons, although when he came across a logging camp he was grateful for its hospitality. In 1864 he visited a logging camp on the Namekagon River. "Laid over at Mackey Bros. Camp in Sec. 27," he wrote in his diary, "nothing to read or amuse myself about camp. Life is carried on as usual Some mending Boots and Fiddling Some reading Some Sleeping & Some Talking." A handful of large lumber companies maintained a salaried cruiser; the holders of railroad land grants usually required a staff of such men. There were, however, a number of experienced landlookers based in Stillwater who were available for assignment as needed by any lumberman. Accuracy and integrity were crucial requirements for timber cruisers. Upon their reports a company might base its entire winter logging program, or determine the price at which it would buy or sell land. Timber cruisers were most often the first to discover a timber trespass and their familiarity with what went on in the forest over many years, plus their knowledge of tract books made them the most effective investigators of the crime. During the 1880s William M. Croom, timber cruiser for Liard, Norton, & Company discovered numerous signs of "old cuttings" in what the company had thought was virgin St. Croix valley pine forest. Little could be done to seek redress for depredations committed in the indefinite past, but cruisers were kept busy accessing the value of ongoing trespasses. Yet, while these abuses were very common, by the 1880s they were generally the result of error not larceny. William Sauntry made a practice of firing foreman who "cut a round forty." He told one of his employees "a man who'll steal for you, will steal from you." Most trespass cases were the result of errors made in laying out boundaries or the result of deep snow obscuring the lines between tracts. Damage claims were generally settled promptly and amicably, short of court action. [94]

Figure 22. Logging Dams on the Upper Valley (Source: Army Corps Report, 1880 and U.S. Surveys 1852-55)
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Fire in the Forest

On September 1, 1894 the acrid smell of smoke was heavy in the air about the sawmill town of Hinckley, Minnesota. That was nothing unusual for the town's twelve hundred residents. For more than a month the threat of fire hung over the town as the dry swamps and cutover lands of Pine County smoldered, unchecked by fire crews or precipitation. In fact no rain had fallen for more than a month. For weeks trains traveling between Minneapolis and Duluth had been delayed by the blankets of smoke that obscured the track. While the situation was worrisome to the people of the St. Croix Valley, it was not unique. August and September were the driest months of the year and fires often broke out amid the cuttings. In the course of logging swampers cutaway all branches from the logs. These slashings were left where they fell and over the course of a season would become dry and very combustible. Fires frequently broke out in such terrain, but rainfall usually put them out before they could cause much damage. As morning turned to afternoon in Hinkley the sky darkened and the air became still, as if before a thunderstorm. But there would be no rain that day.

Hinckley was a mill town on the northwestern edge of the St. Croix valley. It was located on a small tributary of the Kettle River known as Grindstone Creek. It was thanks to the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad that it owed its existence, however, not its meager creek, nor the Kettle River. The railroad had sped the rate of cutting all along the western fringe of the valley. Instead of loggers merely working their way up toward the headwaters of streams such as the Snake and Kettle from the St. Croix River, the harvesting of pine also proceeded from the railroad toward the river. This two pronged attack of pine plains of the region ensured that, in spite of density and quality of its timber, the area was striped of its trees faster than any other part of Minnesota. By 1894, the town of Hinckley was surrounded by vast stretches of combustible cutover land. As the summer fires spread unchecked from one field of slashings to the next they merged to form one great-unrestrained storm of flame, surging to the east then the west, directed only by the whims of the wind.

Incredibly, there were several Hinckley residents who had lived through the terrible Peshtigo Fire twenty-three years before in 1871. That blaze, caused by a similar set of circumstances, killed more than one thousand people in spite of the fact that the residents of Peshtigo had both a river and Lake Michigan available as a place of refuge. As they saw the smoke darken the sky these veterans, like those who knew no better, continued to work at their jobs, but surely they must have given some thought as to how they would save themselves if holocaust again stalked them. [95]

All thought of work was cast aside a little after noon when word came over the telegram that the town of Pokegama, just nine miles to the south, had been engulfed in flames. As word spread that most of Pokegama's inhabitants had been burned people at last awoke to their own danger. But it was too late. Almost as soon as they entered the street, they saw an ominous black cloud boil up on the horizon and quickly spread its shadow over Hinckley. The volunteer fire department barely had time to deploy to the edge of town when the monster fire struck. A wave of scorching, overwhelming, heat swept over the fire fighters as building after building broke out in flames. In an instant the town was lost and people fled to save themselves. The foolish sought valuables, the prudent gathered up loved ones and immediately fled to the train station. With Hinckley transformed into an island in a sea flames the steel rails were the only way out. Hastily a train was assembled from a collection of cars sidetracked at the village. By the time several hundred panicked people filled the train, the heat was so great that the paint on the passenger cars was beginning to blister. The train sped through the blazing forest till it reached the town of Sandstone where it warned the inhabitants of the coming conflagration. The firestorm, however, was hard on their heels and within minutes of the train leaving Sandstone, that town was destroyed with the loss of forty-five people. When the train reached the trestle bridge over the Kettle River, they found it in flames. If the Hinckley refugees could be gotten across the river, they would be able to out run the fire, if not, they would be trapped and killed. The engineer opened the throttle and the train made it across just before the bridge collapsed into the inferno. [96]

For those in Hinckley who missed the train horror and death stalked them. Many fell dead in mid-flight, killed by the "suffocating choking gases" that preceded the flames. A contemporary reported that:

Dogs, cats, chickens and stock were stricken instantly and died in their tracks without serious burns. In one instance a man was stricken down, but not burned enough to destroy his clothes, and in one of his pockets was found a small leather purse in which were four silver dollars welded together in one solid piece.

Those killed by the gas were said to have fallen "in the twinkling of an eye." Others suffered the ravages of fire. More than ninety discreet piles of gray ash, in human form, were later found along a railroad embankment. An equal number who had sought refuge in a partially flooded gravel pit near by survived. Another group of about two hundred people ran for their lives up the track of the Mississippi and Lake Superior Railroad. As the flames gained on them the slow of foot perished one by one. Most of them, however, managed to keep running until they met a train. The train was unable to outrun the flames and it caught fire, but not before unloading its terrified passengers near a bog, into which they sought refuge. [97]

The great forest fire of September 1894 became known as the Hinckley Fire. It wiped out the Minnesota towns of Hinckley, Sandstone, Pokegama, Mission Creek and Partridge and killed 413 people. But it was not restricted to Minnesota. The conditions that caused the fire, dry weather, combustible cutovers, and high winds, existed across the Upper St. Croix valley. On the Wisconsin side of the valley a wave of fires swept up the track of the North Wisconsin Railroad. Fires born by bad logging practice consumed little mill towns that had lived off the harvest of the forest. Phillips, Wisconsin was consumed in July 1894, while the town of Barronett was burned on the same day as the Hinckley disaster. At the time of the fire the manager of the Barronett mill was in Minneapolis holding forth before a group of lumbermen how his mill was in no danger because it was surrounded by cleared ground. He was brought up short by a telegram that informed him the fire had leaped cleared land and consumed the mill. The refugees of Barronett no sooner found shelter in Shell Lake than flames surrounded that town. Although more than fifty buildings burned, Shell Lake was able to save its mill and the lives of its citizens. Among the other mill towns devastated that fire season were Comstock, Benoit, Marengo, and Mason. An estimated 1.4 million acres of pinelands and cutover was consumed by the fire. [98]

Although the 1894 fires were the worst that swept over the St. Croix valley, they were neither the first nor the last. Forest and brush fires had been a regular feature of life in the valley from the time logging developed as a large-scale commercial enterprise. During the 1870s and 1880s virtually all residents of the valley understood that if there was a dry spring a bad fire season was likely to follow. In 1877, for example, a lack of snowmelt had hampered the spring log drive. Water was so low in the river that in Polk County boys were wading across to Minnesota. By July massive fires raged across the valley. The Stillwater Lumberman estimated that "fire on the upper St. Croix has destroyed more timber than was cut last winter." Nothing would be done to restrain such wild fires. In 1879 fires ranged all around Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Only when buildings in town were threatened did "all the men and boys" turn out to fight it. The fires in the hinterland were ignored until "the rains put most of them out." [99]

A common misconception of these massive fires was that they burned up thousands of acres of pine timber. This occasionally happened with very intense fires. The 1877 fire on the Upper St. Croix and Namekagon generated heat "so terrific" that it burned "out all traces of stumps." Usually what happened was that a forest fire passed through standing timber fast enough that it only badly singed the trees. A fire-ravaged forest was reduced in value but it still boasted most of its board feet. The trouble was that fire killed most of the trees. This meant that the charred timber had to be harvested within a year or be severely degraded by insect damage. Forest fires reduced an asset that was rapidly appreciating to one that had to be immediately liquidated. In this way forest fires increased the pace of logging and accelerated the diminishment of the valley's future as a lumbering region. Massive salvage logging ventures worked against time to get the damaged logs out of the forest and were necessarily more wasteful. An increased pace of logging in kind increased the likelihood of more fires as more of the forest was replaced by fields of slash. The risk of forest fires discouraged lumbermen from sitting too long on their standing timber assets. This cycle of destruction was the long-lasting damage wrought by forest fires. [100]

The Hinckley Fire was particularly devastating not just because of the loss of life and standing timber, but because it forced the big lumber companies that now dominated the valley to accelerate their logging activities. The construction of Nevers Dam indicated that they were building for the future when they moved into the St. Croix. The Weyerhaeuser syndicate had discussed cutting back on forest operations due to the fallout from the Panic of 1893. With the market for building materials depressed they had thought it best to keep their pine in the forest. The fire, however, forced their hand. "It is too bad to have such timber as that wasting," lamented the head of Liard, Norton, & Company, and he ordered a massive salvage operation. The 1894 fires may have destroyed five hundred million board feet of timber, but equally as damaging were the impact of scorched earth for future forest growth and the loss of pine seedlings and saplings. [101]

The loss of life that accompanied the Hinckley Fire necessitated some type of political response. The Wisconsin state legislature passed a bill designating township officials to organize fire fighting crews with compensation pegged at $1.50 per day, per man, but for no more than ten days a year. Minnesota appointed a statewide fire warden and gave him the impossible charge "to prevent and suppress forest and prairie fires." The man appointed to the task, Christopher Columbus Andrews, worked tirelessly to make something of the job. He appointed deputy fire wardens and surveyed the state's forest resources. He eventually convinced Minnesota to create a School of Forestry, although it was not until well into the next century that Andrews was able to lead the state to establish state forest reserves. By that time the St. Croix had been thoroughly logged over and annually bedeviled by fires. [102]

Fires continued throughout the 1890s and into the 1900s because of the reluctance of loggers to change their practices. The big downriver mill owners would have liked to have held their pinelands for better prices but they were unwilling to force changes on the way logging operations were conducted. Most of their timber was cut by contractors squeezed into operating at a low margin of profit. These small businessmen were not inclined to take on the extra cost of piling the branches and brush left behind after logging and conducting a controlled burn. Although a generation of experience taught them better, they left behind the fuel for future forest fires. Farmers who purchased logged over land were confronted with acres of slash that could be removed economically only one way -- by fire. A farmer working alone on his homestead lacked the ability to contain a blaze once it began. He merely doused his cabin with water and waited for the fire to stop of its own accord. Hundreds of fires set in this manner swept over the upper valley each year between 1890 and 1910.

sketch of log jam
Figure 23. The chaos of the almost annual log jam at the Dalles of the St. Croix. From Outing Magazine, March, 1890.

The Last Days of the Lumber Frontier

Each logging season and each fire season took its toll on the forest resources of the St. Croix valley. In Burnett County, Wisconsin, for example, by the 1880s all of the white pine and most of the Norway pine was gone. "The cry went up," a local historian wrote in 1909, "and has been a by-word with lumbermen every winter since that ‘this will be the last one for logging in the county.'" Reports of the logging industry's demise were greatly exaggerated throughout the last years of the nineteenth century. Year in and year out logging continued to dominate life along the St. Croix. While it was broadly recognized that the valley's timberlands were nearing exhaustion, there remained an immutable aura of permanence about the seasonal cycle of the industry. Life on the St. Croix was locked in a familiar, comfortable rhythm, a three-part harmony of the long winter logging season, the dramatic spring river drives, and the sawdust summers of mills humming at full capacity.

To be sure, the names and faces of the lumberjacks changed. The men from Maine and Ireland gave way to Swedes, Poles, and Finns. The name "shanty boys" also faded from the scene, replaced by the less jaunty "lumberjack." Although it is a name we associate today with colorful images of burly men in red woolen shirts, there was a more ambiguous understanding of a lumberjack at the time. On one hand, they were lauded as men of the frontier, tough enough to challenge nature in her own domain. Yet, in the minds of many valley residents a lumberjack was "a new sort of animal," crude, dirty, and potentially violent. At the turn of the century, with the frontier all but destroyed the lumberjack was often seen as the lowest form of migratory worker, a hobo without a home. There was little Paul Bunyan romance in the way woods workers were viewed. [103]

In reality, woods workers in the last days of pine logging on the St. Croix generally came from one of three broad categories, the immigrants, cutover farmers, and the hard-core, itinerant lumberjack. Immigrants were drawn to the Upper Midwest by seasonal labor opportunities as harvest hands, mill workers, or lumberjacks. Some settled into the life of a woodsman with a relish and stayed at it as long as there was work. For most, however, life in a logging camp was a way station on the road to Americanization and better paying jobs. Finnish lumberjacks expressed their distaste for life in a lumber camp with the following verse,

A wretched home, this cheerless camp;
And "finer people" sneer, make cracks:
"You ruffians, bums,
bearded lumberjacks!"
Our wages are the rags we wear,
Our scraps of food no one digests.
Our beds are bunks
And fleas our only guests.

Finnish lumberjacks sometimes brought old country experience with an axe or saw to their job; others such as Poles or Hungarians merely brought a strong back and an empty stomach. [104]

A second broad category included some of those immigrants who moved into agriculture and tried to make a living on a cutover farm. It was rare for a cutover farmer, American born or immigrant, not to resort to work as a lumberjack at some point in the process of establishing a homestead. Carl Kuhnly, who grew up on a Burnett County farm in the 1890s remembered, "The first three winters Dad worked in the logging camp. He would walk about ten miles to come home on Saturday evening, then back again on Sunday evening." His mother had to care for both the farm and six kids during the long winter. Families who lived farther from the camp had an even more difficult time. One farm wife remembered her husband worked at a camp twenty miles away. "The Camp could just as well have been a thousand miles away. There were no roads, only snow-buried trails. I never saw my husband till spring." Late in life she bitterly asked the question, "Why was I left alone to carry the whole load while my husband was away destroying the forest for a big lumber company who never knew we existed?" Another "old timer" recalled that necessity drove the men into the woods. "The family owed bills at the store for winter groceries and some of the money was used to pay these bills." [105]

A hard core of lumberjacks were men who had spent most of their lives in the woods and intended to finish their days felling trees. They had initially taken work as lumberjacks for the same reasons of necessity as the immigrants or cutover farmers but had long since given up any dream of another life. They liked the freedom of having limited responsibility. While in a camp they slept where and when they were told. When it was time to eat, the food was put down in front of him. The comradeship of a lumber crew provided pleasant association with men of similar disposition without the demands of family. A hobo lumberjack cherished the freedom to quit a camp at any time, collect his pay and go–perhaps because the cook was bad, or his bunk mate snored too loud, or he did not like the foreman, or simply because he wanted to go to town for a drunk. Similar to sailors on a ship or soldiers in a barracks, the logging camp was a predictable, structured, male world governed by well-established, easily-discernable rules of behavior. The bulk of these lumberjacks for life were highly skilled men. They often were specialists, such as sawyers. In fact, it was not uncommon for sawyers who worked well together on a crosscut saw to team-up and work together for years at a time. There was, however, a number of this class of men who were simply malcontents, dissatisfied with any situation and unlikely to lay their head to rest in any place very long. A competent foreman took the measure of his crew fairly quickly and worked to keep in camp the skilled and hard-working jacks. Often men would become regulars, year after year, with a foreman. All lumberjacks shared in common, however, the ability to put up with ill-lit bunkhouses reeking of sweat, bunks with only a "snort pole" between occupants, and dirty clothes infected with lice. [106]

The hard life of the lumberjack, the misery of camp life, the labor day after day in below zero weather, all took place in the remote forests of the valley. Townsfolk had little direct interaction with the working woodsman, save when the logging season ended and the thirsty lumberjacks headed for town. Stillwater was a prime destination for woodsmen when spring came, and their arrival was viewed with a mixture of curiosity and dread. In 1856, the morning after a group of lumberjacks painted the town red, the editor of the St. Croix Union sought to lecture the woolen shirt brigade:

Our town is now filling up with lumbermen. They have been cooped up all winter in the woods; and when they get down here they feel like having a sort of jollification. We would have them understand that we are their friend; we know how to sympathize with them; for at one period of our life we were engaged in a humbler calling than theirs. . .It is not the dress, or the occupation, that makes a man; but the motives and principles by which he is actuated. But while we are a friend to the lumbermen, we are also a friend to law and order. Gentlemen, take your fun, but let it be innocent and harmless.

Such condescending editorials had little impact on the young men with full pockets and high spirits. Besides, as a rival newsman lamented, the business community profited handsomely from the jacks, "there is always room and welcome for a new saloon or strychnine whisky depot." A resident of Marine later recalled that Stillwater was "a good place for a rough-and-ready lumberjack to spend his money" with "about 25 licensed saloons" and plenty of "Woman of easy virtue were also available." After a few five cent shots of whisky many lumberjacks were ready for a visit to "Red Nell," the leading madam of the lower river. Together with "Perry the Pimp," Nell operated one of several well-frequented bordellos across the river at Houlton, Wisconsin. [107]

As the lumber industry spread to the upper reaches of the valley new "whoopee-towns" were developed. Barron, Wisconsin, although one would hardly know it today, was reputed to be a rough town during the 1880s when lumberjacks frequented it each spring. In 1880 the small town of Chandler, Wisconsin boasted fourteen saloons and two gambling houses "hastily nailed together of rough boards or logs. . .giving evidence that few, if any, of its citizens went there to stay." Lumberjacks in Grantsburg were known to "a make quite a racket, quarreling and fighting among themselves and with the citizens, there being no one to interfere with their pleasures," until the town invested in a hard-fisted marshal. No such threat from the law existed at Hayward. A common saying in the north woods a century ago was that "the three roughest places in the world are Hayward, Hurley, and Hell." Certainly in the 1890s Hurley, a town on the Wisconsin-Michigan border, deserved its ill fame with the wall-to-wall saloons and flophouses along Silver Street. Hayward operated on a smaller scale. It was only a village of about one thousand residents and even in its roughest days never had more than seventeen saloons. In fact, the "good people" of the town voted on at least one occasion to make the town dry, although that prohibition did not last long. Hayward's worst blind pigs and brothels were located away from the main town, easy for lumberjacks to find but not flaunted in the face of decency. "No lie about it," recalled one former lumberjack, Hayward was "one of the wildest little towns in the state." Men who had too much to drink could be found on almost every corner "bucking up." For years after the lumber trade had slackened, the proprietors of Hayward saloons delighted in pointing out to gullible tourists bullet holes and caulk marks, from loggers boots, on the floors of their rundown bars. [108]

While there may be considerable local color in tales of wild "timberbeasts" cavorting in saloons, modern readers need to remember that hundreds of lumberjacks, perhaps the majority, departed for home strait from the logging camps, or after having only a single drink with their winter's comrades. For men waiting for a train, a saloon was one of the few places in most towns a dirty lumberjack would be welcome. Most saloons put out "free lunches' for men who would buy a drink. Saloons were also a good place for a laborer to find out about new jobs. Certainly there were plenty of lumberjacks who lost their entire paycheck on one wild spring spree, but these tended to be the hobo lumberjacks -- men who lacked, or chose to neglect, family responsibilities and had few ambitions in life other than doing what they pleased, as long as the money lasted. These men took pride in their physical prowess in the woods and their capacity for alcohol in town. Their life followed a pattern of long periods of hard work and short periods of riotous living. Sherman Johnson, who grew up in the valley recalled a friend who went to work as a lumberjack at the age of fourteen. "He then made the logging and harvest field circuit for 14 successive seasons, each year spending his money for liquor and women." Only when he gave up logging was he able to turn his back on the bottle. More than a few who stayed on that path ended up as old men shaking through delirium tremens. [109]

Logging never really ended in the St. Croix valley. Just as white pine yielded to Norway pine, so to did jack pine and cedar forests become the focus of the lumberjacks. Hemlock, which was regarded by Isaac Staples as scrap, became a very important forest product during the 1890s. The editor of the Bayfield Press proved an accurate prognosticator when he wrote in 1883, "While laying no claim to being a possessor of the gift of prophesy the writer would, nevertheless, hazard the opinion that ten years or less hence will see this once despised timber take high rank in the markets of the land." Unlike the buoyant white pine, hemlock and hardwood would not long float and it could not be driven via the St. Croix to market. Logging railroads and steam haulers were the only way to transport the logs and bark from the forest. [110]

The harvesting of hardwoods and hemlocks in the region climaxed in the 1920s, after which time the few remaining sections of virgin forest were nothing but a handful of wood lots. The Edward Hines Lumber Company of Chicago was one of the few big lumber companies to operate in the valley in those later years. In 1902, they purchased remaining forestlands of the North Wisconsin Lumber Company, including the big mill at Hayward. The Hines Company operated a logging railroad that ran spurs all through the upper Namekagon valley. Fred Etcherson, who worked as a lumberjack for the company, described the way they built their spur tracks:

Didn't take them long to build a railroad anyway. Had their own crew and made their own ties right there; they had a tie maker with them and I made ties for them one summer. The timber stood right in the right of way, see, fall the timber and make the ties, down they lay, then they put the rails on.

Railroad logging operations generally harvested all trees within hauling distance of the track. By increasing the volume of timber cutting the company could compensate for the lower quality of timber available and the increased cost of logging that stemmed from building logging spurs. Pine, hemlocks, other hardwoods would be gathered for lumber. Poplar or scrub oak, that was useless for dimension lumber would be harvested for pulpwood. Hines operated out of Hayward until 1922 when a fire burned their mill. [111]

The final phase of logging in the St. Croix valley featured the rise of the rubber tire lumberjacks. It began in the 1930s and continues to this day and features small-scale logging on selected private wood lots or public forests. During the bleak depression years the backwoods townships of the valley were very hard hit. Many a cutover farmer kept food on the table only by harvesting cordwood from personal wood lots or by working for a logger cutting a tract of "weed trees"--second growth stands of poplar and balsam. Only after several decades of professional management of public forestlands did logging begin again in earnest through government timber sales. By this time logging camps were a thing of the past, as lumberjacks commuted to work in their automobiles. Heavy equipment operators replaced the physically demanding work of a sawyer or swamper. The term "rubber tire lumberjack" refers to the diesel powered skidders used to harvest wood as well as the impact of such equipment on the lumberjack's physique.

Through the long twilight of the logging industry in the St. Croix valley, from the days of river driving to railroads to truck trails, the one consistent feature was the lumberjack. As long as there was work to be done in the woods, there were men willing to take up what has always been one of the riskiest jobs, in terms of personal injury, in America. In 1970, Fred Etcherson, who cut pine at the turn-of the-century and scraped by through the depression hauling pulpwood, tried to explain what drew men to work in the forests. Although most lumberjacks just barely made enough to live on, he was confident that they were happy with their lives because they, "didn't care to get rich." When he tried to explain his personal motivation eighty years later, he said:

I just love to be in the woods. I'd just love to go down there in these woods right now. Lay down and go to sleep, I love to be in the woods. Wonderful place to be.

Etcherson had spent his life trying to destroy that which he loved. Ironically, cutting trees gave him a chance to develop a love of the forest. [112]

Figure 24. A profile of the Bear-trap sluice gate used on the Nevers Dam. This type of gate was developed in Pennsylvania although Nevers Dams was the largest dam structure for which it was ever used. From Ralph Bryant Clement, Logging (1914).

The Impact of Logging on the St. Croix Valley

Like the fur traders before them the lumberjacks embrace of the St. Croix valley transformed it. They had turned the forest they all valued, many appreciated, and a handful loved, into lumber, a utilitarian if prosaic commodity. The volume of lumber produced by this single valley was staggering. During the peak year of 1890 the St. Croix valley, as either logs or lumber, had produced 450 million board feet. The total production between 1840 and 1912, if loaded on to standard log cars would have required 2.2 million rail cars. As a single train such a span of cars would be long enough to reach across the continent more than six times. The transfer of this wood from where nature intended it along the Upper Mississippi valley to the treeless region to the south and west made the agricultural settlement of the Great Plains possible. The majestic white pine of the St. Croix lived again–in some cases still lives–as homes, barns, corn cribs, fence posts, doors, from the support beams in great public buildings to lowly outhouse seats. While the establishment of grain farms on the plains was not in itself an unmixed ecological benefit, in the balance the loss of a vast forest for the gain of a breadbasket was a trade nineteenth century Americans would have been pleased to accept. [113]

Masked behind the balance between the Upper Midwest's loss and the Great Plain's gain is the enduring impact of the logging frontier on the St. Croix valley. The sudden, dramatic loss of the valley's forest was an ecological change unrivaled since the last descent of the glaciers. The vast plains of old-growth white pine, an area exceeding four thousand square miles and boasting trees two to three hundred years old, have never been replaced. White pine had dominated the presettlement forest because of its ability to adapt to a wide range of conditions. But the impact of intensive logging and forest fires was to destroy the natural reseeding mechanism of the forest. Well-meaning, but misguided efforts to reseed white pine led to the introduction of an Asian tree disease known as blister rust that devastated white pine seedlings and led to the elimination of most efforts to replant the forest's most valuable and beautiful tree. A generation of hardy immigrants broke their lives trying to follow the axe with the plow on the cutover lands. Only a persistent handful, blessed with a patch of rich soil, survived. The homesteads of the rest are today lost amid succession forests of poplar or plantations of jack and Norway pine. The myth of the upper river as a land of inexhaustible forest resources was quickly replaced by the myth of the region as future agricultural cornucopia – each myth burdened with tragic consequences. Much of the Upper St. Croix is again a forest, but it is not, nor can it ever again be, a wilderness. It is rather a curious mix of the failure of agriculture and the success of sylvaculture, as much a product of human design as a Kansas wheat field. [114]

Logging vastly changed the valley through urbanization. While logging took place at widely scattered, only temporarily occupied sites, milling and transportation concentrated the harvest of wood on specific, reoccurring locations. Initially these were waterpower sites on the lower river such as Taylors Falls and Marine. Eventually most of the energy of the logging frontier focused upon Stillwater and it grew to a city of more than a dozen mills and thousands of inhabitants, the majority of whom were beholding to the forest for their livelihood. After the Civil War a new pattern of town development followed the blueprint of the steel rail. A string of new mill towns sprouted along the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad and along the North Wisconsin Railroad. Hinckley, Minnesota and Hayward, Wisconsin each came to symbolize the success and failure of the logging frontier. These hinterland towns did not displace Stillwater's importance as the principle funnel through which the bulk of the pine flowed. Pine remained largely oriented to the river, but when the softwoods had been cut, the railroad towns became the focus of hemlock and hardwood production. These towns and much of the cutover countryside turned their backs on the St. Croix River. [115]

The St. Croix River itself was left vastly changed by the logging frontier. What had been in 1837 a wild river, disturbed only by a handful of Chippewa fish weirs, had become one of the most controlled and manipulated river systems in America. There were between sixty and seventy gated dams in the St. Croix watershed and uncounted numbers of splash dams, hastily constructed of brush and earth. When combined with the loss of forest cover to logging and frequent brush fires, the dams left as their legacy a river that flowed much less clear and whose banks were more prone to erosion. The habitat of brook trout and other native fish that favored clear, cold waters was gradually destroyed. The strong current of the Upper St. Croix River, the flushing action of the multitude of dams, sent waves of turbid water to the lower river. Where the current slackened, the sand and earth suspended in the river settled into bars and shoals. Where steamboats easily navigated in the 1840s, commercial vessels repeatedly were grounded in the 1880s. Even when the loggers did not hold back water at Nevers Dam, dredging and wing dams were necessary for boats to effectively navigate between Stillwater and Taylors Falls. In addition to all of the silt and sand sent down river the lumbermen infringed on the St. Croix at Stillwater with extensive landfills. The mill owners had created more than ten acres of new waterfront land either by accidentally creating the conditions for mudslides or by consciously trying to increase their river frontage by dumping massive amounts of slabs and sawdust into the St. Croix. Such annual depositions further clouded the water. [116]

While logging as a business continues and will continue to linger in the valley in the twenty-first century, the logging frontier ended in 1914. In that year the boom at Stillwater, the great net of wood and chain that captured and sorted all of the pine driven on the St. Croix, handled its last log. It was a demise that had been long expected. More than a decade before William Folsom, one of the valley's first pioneers, who had lived and prospered long enough to become its first historian, observed:

The business has been a wonderful one; it has enriched many; it has furnished and is still furnishing a means of livelihood for thousands but is going rapidly and like the sands in the hour glass that keeps running, ever running on, its day will soon come. And then what?

Most of the men of Folsom's generation, had come as young men from New England to make their fortunes in the woods. Reflecting on their lives before marble clad hearths, in the comfort of homes paneled with finely grained wood, they took satisfaction in their accomplishments. The white pine boom had lasted long enough to see them into plush retirement or honored internment as founders of prosperous communities. [117]

Younger men were left to ponder the question posed by Folsom, "then what?" Many men cast their lot with the business of logging not the valley of the St. Croix. From the boss logger of the river Frederick Weyerhaeuser to a modest lumberman like William Veazie, many a man who made his fortune on the St. Croix gambled he could make another in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. Some who stayed moved into farming, which by 1900 supported more people in the valley than logging. Others looked to tourist excursions, manufacturing, or mining to be the next boom for the valley.

The men who prospered in the lumber boom left behind ravaged forests and splendid Victorian homes. Visitors to Stillwater can today see the homes of Roscoe Hersey, the partner to Isaac Staples, and that of Captain Austin Jenks, who made his fortune rafting St. Croix timber down the Mississippi River. The lumber barons of Stillwater had the financial means to build in whatever style struck their fancy and they did so with the intention of erecting not only a comfortable home but a monument to all that they had accomplished in their lives on the frontier. John McKusick arrived from Illinois in 1840 and stayed on in Stillwater, eventually founding its first sawmill. His brothers Jonathon, Ivory, and Noah joined him in Minnesota all joining in the lumber business. Today the Ivory McKusick house in French Second Empire splendor stands in Stillwater as an example of how well the family did. Albert Lammers celebrated his success in the lumber industry by building elaborately with wood. In 1893, he chose the Queen Ann style, with its elaborate millwork and hand craftsmanship, for his new home, which still may be seen today at 1309 S. Third Street in Stillwater. Like the McKusick, Jenks, and Hersey houses, the Lammers mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places. William Sauntry was not one of the founding generation of St. Croix lumbermen, but he did so well through his association with Weyerhaeuser that he was able to join the elite in 1891 with his own fine residence. It was not, however, a place where Sauntry lived out a prosperous and contented retirement.

The young men of Stillwater could take little comfort from the fact that their fathers had done well. On the frontier social mobility moved in two directions and the challenge for those who stayed in the St. Croix valley was to find a path to profits that did not lead to the played out pineries. Among those who stumbled in pursuit of illusory new ventures was William Sauntry, the most successful and promising of the second-generation of St. Croix loggers. Although he lacked formal education and polished manners, Sauntry had convinced Frederick Weyerhaeuser to trust him with management of some of the timber trust's biggest projects, from the boom company to Nevers Dam. In the years that followed those coups Sauntry demonstrated again and again his mastering of the business of logging. He directed the Ann River Logging Company, the large and multifaceted company that cut the bulk of the remaining pine on the St. Croix. There was a swagger and, what one historian called an esprit de corps, about the lumberjacks who worked for the Ann River Logging Company. In 1891, for example, they showed off their prowess by loading a sled with a mountainous 31,480 board feet of logs and then hauling it for their own ice-rut roads for one mile. Sauntry was the hardriving, tireless, and inspirational leader of the company. When the Ann River outfit cut its last log, Sauntry invested his sizeable fortune into a variety of mining ventures. But he was in a new field in which he lacked an intuitive grasp of what spelled success or failure. His energy and drive only plunged him deeper into losing investments. By 1914, he had lost all that he had won from the forest–money and reputation. His splendid house on Fourth Street in Stillwater became just another asset to be wagered on an increasingly bleak future. When even his old associates from the Ann River Logging Company turned their backs on him, William Sauntry purchased a revolver and put it to his head. [118]

That same year in Stillwater Frank McCray, the master of the St. Croix River Boom, hopped on to the last pine log to ever enter the boom. Workers watching from the cribs and log channels sent up a hallow cheer. More than thirteen billion board feet of logs before that, in 1856, a much more spry Frank McCray had guided the first log through the Stillwater boom. To mark the occasion the lumbermen invited all of their old employees to the boom company boarding house for a farewell feast on the banks of the river. The old timers slapped each other on the back and told again the stories of their youthful antics and the epic scenes of a river of logs. The St. Croix River had remained an important logging stream much longer than any of its Lake States rivals, longer than Michigan's fabled Tittabawassee or Muskegon, longer than Wisconsin's Chippewa River. Yet, the era opened and closed within the course of one man's working life. "It makes one sad to realize," a veteran of the logging era later wrote, "that a great industry has absolutely faded, like a mist before the sun, largely because of the greed and hurry and lack of foresight of the generation that is gone." [119]

Back in 1837, during negotiations with the United States Government, the Chippewa had proposed not to sell their lands, but to lease them to the Americans. The Chippewa were aware that the desire of lumbermen for access to St. Croix pine was pushing them off the land. "It is hard to give up the lands," lamented Chief Flat Mouth. "They will remain but you may cut down the trees and others will grow up." The Chippewa proposed a lease of sixty years. Although the American negotiators brushed their offer aside, the Chippewa had rather accurately predicted how long the lumber frontier would last. They missed the actual ending of logging by only seventeen years. But when the St. Croix Boom closed, it was not the native people of the valley that inherited the deforested lands. New people from old lands across the ocean were already reimagining the St. Croix as a cutover cornucopia, a North Star of opportunity. [120]

Figure 25. This map of the natural division of the St. Croix watershed into farming and forest regions is based upon soil types. In the late nineteenth and twentieth century farmers coming into the valley had no idead that the St. Croix's agricultural potential was so restricted.

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Last Updated: 17-Oct-2002