Rusk County, WI Memories

Rusk County, WI

History of Rusk County, Wisconsin

-Written in 1957 by Martin Dahlquist of Tony, Wisconsin

To find the history of Rusk County, we must go back to the time when this territory was dominated by the French government, about the year of 1689. About this time Father Louis Hennepin and his companions, Michael Accu and Antoine Augel were the first white men to travel the Chippewa River by boat from the Mississippi River to the Lake Court Oreilles (Couderay, Wis.) from there by Indian trails over land to La Piento on Madeline Island to Lake Superior. It was years later when the French and Canadians, fur traders and hunters, were the first white men to travel the Flambeau River.

Michael Cadotte, born in 1790, was the first hunter on the Flambeau River. It was these white men, seeing the Chippewa Indians spearing fish at night with flaming torches, that called it the Flambeau in the French language. This was the name given to the River as we know it today.

At the mouth of the Flambeau River where it empties into the Chippewa River was a large Chippewa Indian Village. To this village came Mr. and Mrs. Adolf Larenge, born in Canada. They were given the credit of being the first white residents of this region. It was in the year of 1847 when they bought some land near this Indian village and made a farm home for themselves. This same couple started the development of the well-known Beebe Farm, now owned by the Wisherd's. Many years later came some other white settlers such as Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Diamond, Alex Gourdeau, Mr. and Mrs. Savord and many others.

Chippewa Indians of the Flambeau and Chippewa Valleys, including Rusk County, ceded their lands by treaty to the U.S. Government in 1842. The State of Wisconsin was admitted to the Union April 5, 1848.

Otto Foss of Exeland has records of the story of Old Abe, Wisconsin's famed Civil War Eagle. The historical data says that Old Abe was captured in 1861 by Chief Sky, on the north fork of the Flambeau River and was given to the U.S. Army. A great battle was fought between the two Indian tribes, the Sioux and Chippewa Indians for the south shores and territories of Lake Superior. The battle was fought hand-to-hand in mid-stream, the battle being so terrific that the waters in the river ran red with blood. The Chippewa Indians were defeated and had to retreat down into the Chippewa and Flambeau Valleys.

Frederick Weyerhauser, born in Niedersaulhein, Germany, November 21, 1823, came to the United States in 1852 at the age of 18 years, a penniless immigrant boy. He worked a few years in a brewery on the east coast, came later to Illinois and worked on a farm.

A few years later in 1865, he worked as a laborer in a saw mill at Rock Island, Illinois. Some years later he bought interest in the mill. This is where he obtained his first training in mill work and lumbering business.

In the year of 1881 he came to Chippewa Falls, Wis. and explored all the virgin pine timber in the Chippewa and Flambeau valleys, bought up many acres of pine timber, had contractors and jobbers to cut the pine for him. He bought a saw mill at Chippewa Falls for one million, two hundred and fifty dollars, made it into the largest saw mill under one roof in the world and with many men and many logging camps, started to log and cut all the pine in the Chippewa and Flambeau valleys.

All logs were landed on the rivers or their tributaries and driven down stream to the mill at Chippewa Falls. Into this mill went the great virgin pine logs felled all along the Chippewa and Flambeau valleys for the next ten years.

When Frederick Weyerhauser first explored and saw all this virgin pine timber he said he realized at once what a financial empire he could create. He also said later that his discovery of the pine was to him like a man finding gold.

For the next ten years the fires never died out in the mill furnaces. The shifts worked night and day, turning out 400,000 feet of lumber, shingles, and of lath in a single day. Man's common wages were $1.00 to $1.25 per day, being no overtime nor compensations. A man crippled or injured was replaced with a fresh immigrant, for men were plentiful those days. They were pouring into the northwest every day just looking for work.

Frederick Weyerhauser was to lumbering what Carnegie was to steel and Rockefeller was to oil. As the timber line got further from the rivers and northward, the tote roads and supply trails got longer and longer. All camp supplies and hay had to be transported by sleigh in the winter and wagon in the summer from Chippewa Falls, Wis., to keep the camps operating the year around.

Such places as Bloomer, Long Lake, and Island Lake were overnight stopping places along the tote road. There were also smaller ones in between. The large ones were headquarters for supplies and tools, etc.

One of the larger overnight stopping places and headquarters was at the junction of the Flambeau River with the Chippewa River, now know as the Flambeau Farms. This was headquarters for the Flambeau River project of pine logging by Weyerhauser.

At this point a tote road crossed the river and followed the west bank of the Flambeau River, coming into Flambeau Falls, (Ladysmith) from the south, up West 2nd St. to Peterson Avenue, out northwest along the river bank, and crossed the river just north of the golf course, then on northwest to Little Falls, Big Falls, Hackett Farm on into Park Falls. This tote road was known as 101 Tote Road, or 101 miles from Chippewa Falls to Park Falls, Wis. At Park Falls the Wisconsin Central Railroad had a turn-a-round for their trains from Spencer, Wis.

On the south end of the 101 Tote Road lived some old time settlers, and they also were overnight stopping places for men and horses. 101 Tote Road had a branch road that went northwest into the lower Thornapple River region to Beebe's farm.

All these tote roads were nothing but trails between the stumps and trees, there being very little underbrush. One could see for long distances, when a piece of road to rough and cut up, a new one was started by swerving around the roughest parts and making a new trail. When a swamp was to be crossed, it was done on what is known as corduroy, of which poles were laid side by side and covered with dirt on top.

Another river and on up north between Amacoy Lake and the river, then north to Apollonia (named after Frederick's daughter) on up to Murry to south of Radisson and Couderay. (*something seems to be missing in the original I have) The first post office was opened at Emet on Brainerd's farm southeast of Amacoy Lake.

First locomotive rails and cars were hauled by sleigh and horses from Chippewa Falls to the big bend in the Chippewa River, in the year of 1884. Ten months before the Soo Line Rail Road entered into Rusk County. The engine was assembled and track laid, starting at the big bend, going west and north of Island Lake, Potato Lake, and on up northwest of Weyerhauser to Bass Lake where Frederick Weyerhauser had the saw mill.

This railroad was called the Chippewa River and Menomonie Railroad (C.R. & M.R.R.). It branched off later at the big bend and went northward past Amacoy Lake on up to Apollonia, Murry, Couderay, and Radisson, Wis.

At first the logs were landed in the river at the big bend, later south of Bruce, and years later at Murry. After a winter's logging and landing on the ice, the river was so full of logs that one could cross the river on top of the logs without falling into the water.

The C.R. & M.R.R. built a round house and shops for their firewood burning locomotives at Apollonia. The four wheel log cars were of the link and pin type with hand brakes. Moving along the railroad, the engineer would blast on his whistle, and the brakeman would have to climb over the log cars either to set or release the hand brakes. This was very dangerous work, especially on icy days. Two brakemen were run over in one day coupling up log cars with line and pin.

Whenever the locomotive was low on water for steam, they would stop on some bridge and fill the water tank.

This railroad employed many men, such as engineers, brakemen, firemen, trackmen, office help and shop men. These men built homes in the new booming Apollonia, built stores and blacksmith shops, warehouses for logging tools, and hauled supplies for the camps.

On up the river at Murry were the same accommodations; a three story hotel and barns for 200 horses, with blacksmith shops, saloons, stores, and warehouses. Sometimes the hotel accommodated as many as 500 lumberjacks; housed and fed them. The hotel operated the year around.

The C.R. & M.R.R. terminated at Murry, known in those days as the Grand Rapids House. This was the headquarters for all the pine logging in and around Murry and up the west and east branch of the Chippewa River including Couderay River. There was a ferry boat crossing the Chippewa River at Murry for summer use.

Jim Murry had the first water powered saw mill at the mouth of Weirgor River. He cut lumber to build the logging camps with. All this time the pine logging was going on in the Flambeau River Valley, either by Weyerhauser men or contract jobbers for the lumber king, Frederick Weyerhauser. He also bought pine logs from individual loggers and farmers in this territory.

All logs were driven down stream on numerous rivers and creeks, such as Jump, Deertail, Thornapple, Big and Little Weirgor, Burnett, Main, Couderay and the east west forks of the Chippewa River.

At Josie Creek a contractor built a dam in the fall and flooded Josie Meadows. He landed all his logs on the ice that winter. In the spring after the ice was melted, he blasted open the dam with dynamite. The water rushed out so fast that half of his logs were left high and dry on land. His men were not able to keep the logs moving with the water down Josie Creek and into the Flambeau River.

About this time the virgin pine logging was coming to an end. The Grand Rapids House burned down at Murry. It was during the last ten or more years that Weyerhauser logged that the mighty pine fell and the gold poured into his pockets. When he left Chippewa Falls, he was the richest man in the U.S. with $100,000,000. Thus ended the virgin pine logging in the Chippewa and Flambeau Valleys. Frederick Weyerhauser died in California in the year of 1914, at the age of 80 years.

Civilization followed in the wake of the logging crews. Some bought up cut over lands and settled down, working their own timber into wood products and sold to the mills to get some ready cash to pay for their lands. Many worked in lumber camps and mills, and in their spare time they would clear land, and raise hay either for their own stock or sell to lumber camps.

Every spring, after the ice and logs had gone down stream, many logs would hang up on rocks, sand bars, and islands causing large log jams. Each spring men were hired (called river pigs) who could ride along in the water with calked shoes to pry these log jams loose and start them on their way to the mills again.

On these log drives the river pigs used pike poles to pull and push the logs with, a can't hook called a peevey, boats called batteaus, house boats called wanagans which carried the food, kitchens, cooks, bull cooks and supplies. A pack jack carried his extra clothes and belongings.

The last Flambeau River drive was in Falls, after the hemlock and hardwood timber had come to an end.

In late 1884, the Soo Line was completed as far east as Bruce, having started that section of line from Cameron Junction, working east and west out of Cameron. For about one year the eastern terminus of the Soo Line was at Bruce. The roundhouse of the Soo Line into Bruce, doomed the greater part of the trade at the overnight stopping places along the tote roads, all the way back to Chippewa Falls. Supplies and materials were rerouted to Cameron then east to Apollonia, via Soo Line.

It was in Apollonia where Mr. Frank Monroe published the first newspaper in Rusk County, later moving to Ladysmith.

Lehigh and Strickland never developed much more than railroad sidings for trains.

The village of Weyerhaeuser later became the Soo Line division point, where many of the railroad men built homes. The village of Weyerhaeuser was named after the greatest lumber genius, and the greatest bearded tycoon, Frederick Weyerhaeuser. He left that community with his name, but he left little else but timber slashings.

It was the Soo Line that played a predominant part in building up of the northern half of Chippewa County (now Rusk). During the period of 1884 to 1888, the Soo Line was in the midst of a great expansion program that was to provide a short cut route from Minneapolis to the Atlantic Seaboard. Under the dynamic leadership of W.D. Washburn, then the Soo Line president, the goal was to push it's railroad from Turtle to Sault St. Marie, Mich.

In the Year of 1885 the railroad was completed to Deertail (now Tony, named after Anthony Hein). Again a roundhouse was built where now Christman's Feed Mill stands.

By September 6, 1886, the steel rails were extended to Pennington, named after another executive of the Soo Line, then the following year mad junction with the Wisconsin Central Railroad at Prentice, and continued on to Rhinelander.

In the fall of 1888 the railroad entered the billage of Sault St. Marie. Many a mile of the Soo Line was built by hand with shovel and wheel borrow. As fast as the Soo Line moved east with the railroad, lumber companies followed, and about every five or six miles the companies would set a saw mill and start logging and lumbering, thus creating small villages all along the Soo Line.

These numerous lumber companies came in to log the remaining standing timber of hemlock and hard woods. The greater part of the hemlock logs were driven down the Flambeau River each year to the four mills at Ladysmith (two saw mills, one heading mill, and one paper mill).

During the 1900's as the timber got too far beyond sleigh hauling distance, each company built its own private railroad to haul in the hardwood logs. These hardwood logs exotically could not be transported by water. This kind of logging continued on from 1900 to 1920, when this type of timber came to an end, the same as the virgin pine era did in the 1880's.

It was in this period of time that the Soo Line was booming. In one day there were four passenger trains, two freight trains, two logging trains and two extras or freight trains, besides two way freights. Again the immigrants and new settlers followed the railroads to these small lumbering towns to work in the lumber camps or the mills. Some took up homesteads, others bought cutover lands and built log houses and barns, cleared land started farming on a small scale at first.

The very first sawmill in Ladysmith was in the year of 1885 or shortly after the Soo Line passed through. Robert Corbett of Cumberland came to what was then know as Flambeau Falls (Ladysmith) and set up a saw mill on Corbett Lake, southwest of town.

For the next five years, until 1890, the business centered around Corbett's logging and lumbering. He built a large barn for his livestock and horses where now is the Lake Superior Power Office. He built a large boarding house for his employees where now stands the County Normal School, owned by the Hope Lutheran Church. He also built a hotel called Corbett's Hotel, later called Manly Hotel. In this building was the first school room and the first postoffice. Mr. Corbett was the first postmaster in Flambeau Falls and had the name Flambeau Falls changed to Corbett. (It was changed again in 1891 to Warner.)

From third street east to the river Mr. Corbett had thirty acres of grain and pasture for his livestock. Much of his sawmill burned to the ground. By this time there were other small sawmills operating in the neighborhood sawing logs into lumber; Shaw Dam being one.

The next era to show signs of development was Deertail (Tony). The Hein Company moved its mill up from Neilsville in 1897, built a stave and heading mill, a sawmill, hotel, store, and number of company houses.

Tony surpassed Ladysmith in population and in size. Tony was first to have electricity in the County, produced by the Hein Company's steam powered dynamo and generator in the mill. The lights were on during the early part of the evenings and turned off at the mill during the nights, and on again in early morning.

Tony, at this time, was widely known and called the Klondike of railroad to their timber holdings in and around Big Falls. This railroad was known as the Tony North Eastern (T.N.E.R.R). It reached north to Big Falls and east to Glen Flora. This railroad was taken up after the Big Falls dam was completed in 1923. Hein Co. had completed its stave and lumbering, logging in this territory by then.

Miller"s siding (Glen Flora), Ingram, and Hawkins all had their private railroads to bring in their saw logs to the mills. At Hawkins was a sawmill operated by Mr. C. K. Ellingson Lumber Co. For a number of years they sold their cut over lands to the new settlers. A private railroad owned by the Axpin Lumber Co. went out north of Bruce. Ladysmith had Fountain Railroad; later Bissell Railroad. All brought in saw logs to the mills.

Conrath and Sheldon had their smaller sawmills and developed early into dairy farming, although the Bruce territory was a few years ahead of the eastern half of Rusk County to go into Agriculture and Dairy.

It wasn't until 1900 that Warner got its real push and started to grow. The Menasha Wooden Ware Co. of Menasha, Wis. quietly bought up the water rights in the river at Flambeau Falls one mile east of Warner from Robert Corbett.

When the company's plans of damming the river and building a stave mill got into the state papers or new papers, people began to flock in from all over looking for work. Carpenters and stone masons worked night and day to provide shelter for then. Population zoomed from 100 to 1000 in a short while. Hotels did a thriving business, a number of stores were quickly built and opened at once for business.

Warner was booming by now. It was in the year of 1900 that the name of Warner gave way for the name of Ladysmith. It was named to honor the bride of Charles R. Smith, head of the Menasha Wooden Ware Co. who had recently been married.

It was C.R. Smith that built the Mason's Lodge near the Fair Grounds. The name became official on July 1, 1900 when the postoffice bestowed in on its postoffice in Ladysmith. At the same time the Dll Line followed suit with the same name on it's railroad station in Ladysmith.

Until 1901, this territory was part of Chippewa County. But with the help of J.L. Gates, land owner from Milwaukee, the northern twenty-four townships were separated from Chippewa County. Governor R.M. Follette signed the bill. Thus the new county of Gates was created and born, being the last and the youngest of the 71 counties to be added to the state of Wisconsin. Then again in 1905, the Legislature changed the name to Rusk County after Jeremiah Rusk, former governor of Wis.

It was in 1901 that the County courthouse was started, and it was finished in 1902. There were two other villages that contested Ladysmith for the County seat: Tony and Bruce. For a number of years the Rusk County Fair was held in Bruce and finally it came to Ladysmith. More bitterness was created throughout the county about the fair grounds than the division of the county or the location of the county seat.

It was the following year, 1902, that Ladysmith got it second boost or boom, when the Menasha Paper Company of Menasha, Wis. decided to build a paper mill in Ladysmith. First paper run off was in 1903. All hotels were full of real estate men selling land and timber.

From now on Ladysmith got to be a paper and lumbering town with its two sawmills, one stave and heading mill, and one paper mill. In two separate years, 1905 and again in 1910, the Menasha Paper Co. built two other dams and paper mills downstream on the Flambeau River. The first one at Port Arthur and the other at Thornapple, being connected by their own private railroad with junction on the Soo Line three miles west of Ladysmith.

On October 13, 1920, the Menasha Paper Co. sold all its mills and dams to the Great Western Paper Co, with Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska for the sum of $3,200,000. The net profit from the mill at the time of the sale was $100,000 per month. A few years later the boom burst, and paper prices fell.

In 1924, the Great Western Paper Co. sold all its mills and dams, with the water power right to Lake Superior Power Co. for one million dollars. The paper company demolished the sulphate mill, sold its larger paper machines, and removed all the rail from the Thornapple and Port Arthur to the Soo Line. At present the (1957) Peavey Paper Co. operates the paper mill manufacturing toilet tissue, toweling and news print.

By 1915, most of the hemlock and hardwood timber had been cut and processed. The big and small sawmills along the Soo Line started to fold up and came to a halt. So did the lumberjack lingo stop. Such words as road monkey (one who repairs logging roads), cookie (assistant cook), bull cook (chore man), wood butcher (carpenter), skinner (teamster), sky hooker (top leader), pup (loading hook), bunk shanty (sleeping quarters), and a few others such as skid ways, cross haul, and skidding trail.

After the timber had disappeared about 1915, it was up to the dynamite to remove the large stumps from the land. The farmers increased the cattle herds to get more income, they sold their milk to cheese factories, being one in every town, some on cross roads. These small cheese factories were taken over by the present two large creameries. Only two cheese factories remain and operate in the county in 1957.

It was not until Lake Superior Power Company had completed their electric power plant at Big Falls in 1923 that the villages along the Soo Line got electric lights for their homes and streets. In 1950 when the $6,000,000 REA dam electric plant was completed northeast of Ladysmith the farmer did get electric power and lights on their farms.

Starting from Ladysmith, going northeast on the Flambeau River, these dams have flooded such scenic places as Flambeau Falls, Wild Car Rapids, Burnt Rock, Little Falls, Josie Island, Big Falls, and Twin Island above Big Falls.

This History was provided by the Rusk County Historical Society to be included on the Rusk County GenWeb pages.

Martin Dahlquist passed away in St. Mary's Hospital, Ladysmith, WI in 1965. The following is the obituary found in the Ladysmith News at that time.

-Martin Dahlquist Obituary-

Funeral services for Martin W. Dahlquist, 72, pioneer resident of Tony, will be held today (Thursday) at 2 p.m. from the Hope Lutheran Church, the Rev. William Hood to officiate.

Mr. Dahlquist died Monday. He had been bothered by heart trouble for a number of years. Burial will be in the Tony Cemetery under the directorship of the Ritger Funeral Home.

Mr. Dahlquist was born October 24, 1892, in Chicago. In October, 1898, at the age of six, he came to Tony with his parents and spent the first winter in an old logging camp built in the 1800's on the banks of the Flambeau River near Little Falls. The following spring his father bought some wild and timbered land north of Tony and constructed a log house. Mr. Dahlquist often recalled that the old logging roads were highways in those days and the first road built north of Tony was in 1900. He attended school until his teen years and then worked in lumber camps in the winter and on the Soo Line in the summer. He lived with his parents until 1926 when he was married to Ella Lunde and moved to Tony. Mr. Dahlquist worked for 30 years for the Soo Line Railroad until his retirement in 1948. He was a World War I veteran, having served overseas from May 25, 1918 to July 15, 1919, with the H.Q. Co. 341st Inf. 86th Div. Signal platoon. His wife, parents, two sisters, and a brother preceded him in death. His church affiliations were with the Hope Lutheran Church.

Surviving are nieces and nephews.

NOTE: After Mr. Dahlquist's passing he left a will leaving his home in Tony, car, and household goods to the Hope Lutheran Church. The church sold the home to Mr. and Mrs. Joe Peterson, who remodeled and add to it and it is now their home. (1965)

Email Webmaster

©  Copyright, 2000 by R. Marie Mickalunas, Webmaster
Last Revision Date: 03/18/01