History: Logging in Clark and Jackson Counties, Wis.

Contact: Tiffiney Hill
Email: TiffineyH@email.com


By F. W. Draper

Among the early traditions relative to the early settlement of Clark county was one related by the older settlers that was of interest to me. Just how much of it was truth and how much was fiction I was unable to determine as no one seemed to know anything further than that on the banks of Black River extending north from about the southern boundary of Clark county to about six or seven miles north of Neillsville by the river were several old clearings made in a very early day and known by the early settlers as the Mormon clearings. Also the river drivers used to tell of driving logs through the "Mormon riffles" on Black river. Just why these old clearings were called the "Mormon clearings" or why the rapids below where called the "Mormon riffles" no one seemed able to say, but it was supposed by these early settlers that people of the Mormon faith had at some time at a very early day settled along the river, done some clearing and then abandoned them perhaps at the time of the exodus of the Mormons to Salt Lake City.

The first real information that I was able to get from any one who knew and had lived with in the present boundaries of Clark county at any where near the time these clearings were made was sometime about 1905, when I came in contact with E. M. Holden, who at that time lived in Neillsville. In a conversation with him he stated that he first came to what is now Clark county in the early 50’s and at that time there were still some Mormon settlers along Black river, at Hatfield and at Black River Falls.

As to why they were there and how they first came he was unable to state except that there was a rumor that they first came to cut pine logs for lumber to be used in the buildings of the temple at Nauvoo, Ill. and that these settlers were some that remained behind when their logging operations were suspended.

Here the matter rested for nearly 30 years. At the time of the publication of the last history of Clark county I tried to have the publishers look up the historical data if any was in existence and have it incorporated in their history but nothing was done.

During the summer of 1935, I commenced doing research work to prove as an actual fact that which before had only been a tradition. In this work I have been assisted by Prof. B.F. Draper of the department of History, University o’ North Carolina, who made a beginning in the work of research at the Wisconsin State Historical Library. This work together with further research work done by myself and with the aid of Joseph Fielding Smith Church Historian of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, to whom I wrote for what information their Church history had upon the Black River logging operation I have definitely established that the lumber used in the construction of the Nauvoo temple and the Nauvoo House was actually cut within the present boundaries of Clark county upon Black river and its tributaries and floated down to Black River Falls, where it was sawed into lumber then rafted down Black river to the Mississippi and thence down the Mississippi to the city of Nauvoo which is situated upon the Illinois bank of the river just north of Keokuk, Ia.

Before entering upon the story of their logging operation it may, perhaps, be of Interest to the readers to give a short account of the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of Mormons as they are more often called in this part of the United Sates.

The church was organized by Joseph Smith at Fayette, Senaca county, N.Y., April 6, 1831. Less than a year later the church whose rapid growth, exclusive claims and spiritual manifestations aroused the united opposition of other religious bodies, removed to Kirkland, Ohio. Meeting with opposition they again moved to Independence, Missouri, but in the autumn of 1833, they were charged by the older settlers with being abolitionists, and driven out by an armed force and took refuge in Clay county, Mo., where they were again expelled by force upon an order of the governor of Missouri. They went to Illinois where by 1840 they founded the city of Nauvoo.

It was at this time that in the search for lumber the advanceguard of pioneer loggers left Nauvoo, going by boat to Prairie du Chine, when afoot from Prairie du Chine to Black River, thence up the river to the lumber woods.

In searching the records in the historical library I found a pamphlet of correspondence of Bishop George Miller, one of the 12 Apostles of the Mormon church published by him in 1855. In which he gives a full account of the Black River valley logging operations.

He states that the purpose was to furnish lumber necessary in building the temple and the Nauvoo House, an Immense building used to shelter immigrants until they were established in homes.

Miller and several associates left Nauvoo some time in May, 1841 and came up the river to a point about 14 miles below Black River Falls. This would be approximately at the site of the present village of Melrose. There they bought a saw mill then owned by Crane and Kits, then proceeded up the river and commenced their logging operations at a point somewhere above rapids 12 miles above Black River Falls which would be north of the present village of Hatfield (the rapids referred to by Bishop Miller were ever after know by the river drivers and the early settlers as the Mormon Riffles).

The logs were cut upon the banks of Black River and its tributaries and driven down the river to their mill; there they were sawed into lumber and as the river was too low by the time they had their lumber manufactured they had to wait until the spring of 1842, before rafting the lumber to Nauvoo.

Some time during the spring or early summer of 1842, they traded their mill to Jacob Spaulding for a mill that he had built a Black River Falls and thereafter their entire manufacture of lumber was a this point.

Jacob Spaulding, a millwright by profession, joined an expedition organized at Warsaw, Ill., in 1838, and made the first permanent settlement at Black River Falls, and so continued a resident until his death with occurred in January, 1876.

About this time Bishop Miller tells of some trouble which his party had with the Winnebago Indians who were numerous in this part of the state at this time, who, according to his account, were persuaded by traders dealing in whiskey to make them trouble. Miller and his associates called the Indians in council and explained their object in visiting this territory. Gifts of food were given the Indians, and the matter ended by some of the Indians embracing the Mormon faith and the tribe as a whole becoming friendly, much to the discomfiture of the whiskey traders.

May 12, 1843, Bishop Miller arrived at Nauvoo from Black River Falls with a raft of 50,000 feet of pine lumber from the Black River Falls mills, and also reported that the snow in the pineries had been 2 ½ feet deep the previous winter.

During the summer of 1843, there were 150 men in the pineries besides the women and children; clearings were made north along the river, scattered from the falls to seven or eight miles north of the mouth of O’Neill creek. In the fall of 1843, they threshed 500 bushels of wheat.

During this season timber was cut upon the main river, the East Fork, Wedges Creek, and the Cunningham and probably some upon O’Neill creek. The Cunningham was named by them for one of their number, by that name who fell in the creek near its mouth and was drowned.

July 18, 1843, Bishop Miller arrived at Nauvoo with 157,000 feet of lumber and 70,000 shingles which he states were all sawed in two weeks and brought down the river in two more.

These extensive lumbering operations created jealousies among other lumbermen operating along the river and they informed Bishop Miller that all of the timber in the Black River Valley belonged to the Chippewa and the Menomonie Indians. Evidently they also informed the Indians for in January, 1844 members of the Menomonie, Chippewa and Winnebago tribes headed by Chief Oshkosh, came to Black River Falls and informed them that they were trespassing upon tribal lands and that an order had been issued by the Federal Indian agent, whose post was on the Wisconsin River for the removal of all trespassing lumbermen. The Indians were very friendly to the Mormons and it was decided that Bishop Miller and a companion should return with Chief Oskosh to the agency upon the Wisconsin river to see if some arrangements couldn’t be made with the agency relative to the future cutting of timber upon Indian lands.

They traveled across the country afoot in the dead of winter, a distance of 40 miles through snow 18 inches deep to the agency.

Here they found the agent hostile to any agreement which they tried to make but the Indians continued friendly and finally the agent reluctantly agreed to confirm any agreement which the Indians made with them as to logs already cut, but refused to consent to any further cutting of timber upon Black River until he had time to consult the authorities at Washington.

It appears that a satisfactory arrangement was made with the Indians as the records show that during the summer of 1844 two rafts of lumber were landed at Nauvoo one containing 87,000 feet and the other 68,000.

This was the last lumber received at Nauvoo from the Black River pineries. Bishop Miller in his memoirs states: that shortly after the arrival of these rafts he was sent on a mission through the southern states and upon his return he found that those left in charge of the Black River logging operation had sold the mill and their other holdings to Black River Falls lumberman and most of the families had returned to Nauvoo.

The Foregoing account is taken principally from Bishop Miller’s account of logging operations upon Black River.

To this I will add some interesting side lights taken from other authorities.

In the Wisconsin Magazine of History of December 1918:--An article entitled Alfred Brunson, Pioneer of Wisconsin Methodism by Ella C. Brunson (Quote) "1843: Following one stream after another he reached the settlement of LaCrosse, under going hair-raising experiences en rout, thence he went upstream to Black River Falls where he arrived before the caravan did. The mills at these falls were then in the hands of the Mormons who were preparing to build a city and temple at Nauvoo. They were prevailed upon to ferry the wagons, horses and men across while the cattle swam." End of quotation.

In the Magazine of History Vol. III No. 2, Dec. 1919 - an article written by James H. McManus, "A Forgotten Trail," speaking of Brunsons trail pages 142-143, (quote) "Upon reaching the falls (Black River Falls) the party found a company of Mormons operating a sawmill getting out lumber for their colony at Nauvoo, Ill. This was the white man’s outpost on Black River at this time.

On the other side about 10 miles above the falls the river emerges from what at that time was the Southern boundary of the Wisconsin Forest tract in which it has its source and in which it flows to the head of what is known as the Mormon Riffles a two-mile reach of "white water" confined within high walls of the oldest rocks, just below the present Village of Hatfield now the site of a great power plant. It must have been at this place and above that the Mormons cut their logs and floated them down to their mill at the Falls. That act is commemorated and their sect perpetuated by the name given to the long stretch of swift water." End of quotation. (Note J.H. McMagnus was a Methodist minister of the West Wisconsin conference, well know to many of us, returning filled the pulpits at Neillsville, Spencer, Merrillan and other nearby points.)

To the foregoing I will add a letter confirming the foregoing account from another source which I think will be of general interest and of a historical value, written as it is from the historian of the church, of the L.D.S., and is as follows. CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS.

Office of Church Historian, Salt Lake City, Utah.

November 19, 1935

Mr. F. W. Draper,

Loyal, Wis. Dear Sir:

Your letter of inquiry regarding the logging operation of citizens of Nauvoo, Ill., in Wisconsin in the early forties has been referred to this office and I take pleasure in sending you the following notes on the subject culled from our records:

"October 5, 1841, Alpheus Cutler, Elias Higbee and Renolds Cahoun were appointed to superintend the construction of the Nauvoo temple.

January 19, 1841 George Miller, Lyman Wight, John Snider and Peter Haws were designated as building committee for erecting the Nauvoo House.

Pursuant to instructions from the authorities of the L.D.S. Church Alphens Cutler and Peter Haws, left Nauvoo September 25, 1841 for the pineries of Wisconsin to get timber for building the Nauvoo Temple and the Nauvoo House. With them they took the following company of workers: Tarlton Lewis, Jabez Durfee, Hardin Wilson, William L. Cutler, Horace Owens, Octavius Pauket, Blakely B. Anderson, James Flack, Nathaniel Child, and Peter Conover. Child’s wife and daughter also accompanied this expedition.

These people spent the winter in the pine country, toiling diligently and together making good progress, although they suffered greatly from the rigors of the northern climate and lack of adequate provisioning. The following July they succeeded in bringing down the Mississippi to Nauvooo a large raft of good pine lumber.

While hiding from his enemies who were seeking to extradite him into Missouri, Joseph Smith wrote his wife, Emma, August 16, 1842, telling her to prepare herself and children to flee with him, in accordance with the advice of the brethren, including George Miller to the safety of the pinery in Wisconsin. It is not probable, however that Joseph Smith carried out this design, but used a small island now submerged, in the river between Nauvoo and Montrose as a hiding place.

A raft containing 90,000 feet of boards and 24,000 cubic feet of logs arrived in Nauvoo from Wisconsin October 13, 1842.

April 23, 1843, Peter Haws, called for 25 hands to go with him to the pine country to get lumber for the Nauvoo House. Haw was unable to accompany these men to Wisconsin, however, for the next day he was called to go into Alabama and Mississippi on a mission to collect funds to continue the building of the Temple and the Nauvoo House. While on this mission he was joined by George Miller. They returned to Nauvoo with their collections October 27 of the same year. Bishop George Miller arrived at Nauvoo a sunrise May 12, 1843, with a raft of pine lumber from Black River. He reported that the snow was 2 ½ feet deep at Black River Falls the previous winter.

The following is copied from a letter written by Willard Richards to Brigham Young, dated July 18, 1843: "Evening, Bishop Miller arrived with 157,000 feet of lumber and 78,000 shingles. He says that it was all sawed in two weeks and brought down in to more; says that he has bought all the claims on those mills for $12,000 payable in lumber at the mills in three years; one third is already paid for. Two saws did this job; change for as many mills as they have a mind to build, and every saw can run 5,000 feet per day, the year around. The two saws now running can deliver 157,000 feet every fortnight; all that is wanting is hands. I understand the "Maid of Iowa" starts for Black River Thursday."

July 20, 1843 Joseph Smith furnished Bishop Miller $290 for the expedition to the pinery.

July 21, 1843 The "Maid of Iowa" a steamboat owned jointly by Joseph Smith and its captain, Dan Jones, left Nauvoo for Wisconsin. On board were apostle Lyman Wight and Bishop George Miller and a large company of men with their families bound for the pinery on Black River. Bishop George Miller returned to Nauvoo from the pinery September 23, 1843. He reported Black River so low that the brethren couldn’t float their raft of lumber down into the Mississippi.

Sometimes during the month of January, 1844 members of the Menomonie, Chippewa and Winnebago Indian tribes came to the little colony of Mormon lumbermen at Black River Falls and informed the brethren that they were trespassing on tribal lands and that an order had been issued by the Federal Indian agent on the Wisconsin River for the removal of all trespassing lumbermen.

The Indians, however were friendly to the proselyting overtures of the Mormons. Some of the Indians joined the Church. They were willing to let the timber already cut be removed at a low rate, and this was finally arranged with the more or less friendly Indian agent. Lyman Wright expressed himself as being opposed to continuing the lumbering operations on Black River as a commercial enterprise after the Temple and Mansion needs were supplied because timber might be obtained free from other localities.

A letter dated Black River Falls, Wisconsin January 30, 1844, informed the general authorities at Nauvoo that four members of the L.D.S. church had been excommunicated for lying, stealing and cursing the Bishop. One of them was also accused of having given false oath at Prairie du chine. This communication was signed by Lyman Wight, Pres.; George Miller, Bishop; and David Clayton, Clerk.

The following letter from Lyman Wight and others was read at a meeting a Nauvoo, Sunday, March 10, 1844:

"Black River Falls, February 15, 1844. To the first presidency and the quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are permitted to write and send by a special messenger, a concise account of our lumbering operation, together with the apparent prospects of the introduction and spread of the gospel among the Chippewa and Menomonie Indians, and also the projects of our hearts in regard to future operations in spreading the gospel south in all the extent of America, and the consequences growing out of the same all of which we beg leave to submit for your consideration.

Laboring under many clogs and hindrances, we have been able to accomplish and have in progress, so that we can deliver in Nauvoo about one million feet of lumber by the last of July next, which will be a great deal more than what is necessary to build the Temple and the Nauvoo House besides all this, we have made valuable improvements here, all the results of labor done under trying circumstances.

We have recently ascertained that the land from the falls of the Black River to its source is the property of the Menomonie Indians and the general government having urged them to move off of the lands in the vicinity of Green Bay onto their own lands. The Indians cry they will, providing the government will remove all strange Indians and trespassing white men off their lands; consequently the agent and Superintendent of Indian affairs are taking such steps as will stop all further trespassing on the Indian lands, on the Wisconsin, Black and Chippewa rivers, under the penalties of the laws relative to the case.

We sent Brothers Miller and Daniels, in company with the principal chief of the Menomonie Indians, over land to the Wisconsin river, to ascertain more about the matter. They saw the agent, found him a gruff, austere man, determined to stop all trespassing on Indian land.

The Indians are willing to sell privileges to individuals for lumbering and cutting timber, as they have hitherto done; but the agent is opposed to it. Thus a difficulty arises among themselves.

Now as regards the introduction of the gospel of Christ among the Indians here, it will require more exertion to all appearances, to check the enthusiastic ardor of these our red brethren until the full principles of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shall be reasoned into their minds, than to urge them on to receive it. They have great confidence in us.

The country belonging to these northern Indians is a dreary, cold region and to a great extent cranberry marshes, pine barrens, and swamps with a small amount of good land, scarce of game, and only valuable in mill privileges and facilities for lumbering purposes.

As to mineral resources, they have not been fully developed. There is no doubt an abundance of iron ore, but uncertain as to quality.

Now under all of these circumstances, a few of us here have arrived at this conclusion in our minds, (such as can undergo all things), that as the gospel has not been fully opened in all the South and Southwestern states, as also Texas, Mexico, Brazil, etc., together will the West Indies Islands; having produced lumber enough to build the Temple and the Nauvoo House; also having an influence over the Indians, so as to induce them to sell their lands to the United States, and go to a climate Southwest, more congenial (all according to the policy of the U.S. Government;) we have it in our minds to go to the table-lands of Texas, to a point we May find most eligible, there locate, and let it be the place of gathering for all the South, (they being encumbered with that unfortunate race of beings, the negroes) and for us to employ our time and talents in gathering together means to build according to the commandments of our God, and spread the gospel to the nations, according to the will of our Heavenly Father; we therefore our beloved brethren, send our worthy brother Young, with a few of our thoughts, on paper; that you May take the subject matter under consideration, and return us such instructions as May be according to the mind and will of the Lord our God.

We have thought it best to sell the mills here, if you May think it expedient. We feel greatly encouraged to spend and be spent in the cause of Christ according to the will of our Heavenly Father.

Holding ourselves ready under all circumstances in life to try to do all things whatsoever commanded or instructed to do by those ordained to direct the officers of the church of Jesus Christ.

Subscribing ourselves:

Yours very truly, while life shall endure,

Lyman Wight, Phineas R.Bird, George Miller, Pierce Hawley, John Young

Select Committee to write expressive of the views of the branch of the Church at Black River Falls. Joseph Smith, P.C., Brigham Young P.T., Willard Richards, Clerk.

February 30, 1844, two brothers, Mitchell and Stephen Curtis, arrived in Nauvoo having been sent from the pineries by Lyman Wight to tell Joseph Smith that the Menominee and Chippewa Indians sent delegations to the Branch at Black River Falls asking for missionaries to come and preach to them. The Chippewas brought gifts of wampum in token of their peaceful intentions and the Saints in return had given the Indians an ox and half a barrel of flour to keep them from starving. Wight desired instructions.

Joseph Smith returned the messengers with the advice that since Wight was on the ground he must use him own judgment as to the advisability of undertaking a missionary work among the Indians and the authorities at Nauvoo would back up his decision.

From Joseph Smith’s Journal under date of March 4, 1844.

George Coray came in and said that he was sent by Lyman Wight to get sheep etc., to carry to the pine country, to receipt for it, or agree to pay lumber.

May 8, 1844 Bishop Miller arrived in Nauvoo from the pinery.

May 1, 1844, Lyman Wight and George Miller arrived in Nauvoo from the pine country in Wisconsin. A few days later Miller, a Brig General in the Nauvoo Legion presided at a court martial in which Wilson Law and R.D. Foster were cashiered.

Soon thereafter Wight was sent into Maryland and Miller to Kentucky to electioneer for Joseph Smith’s candidacy for the presidency of the United States.

July 5, 1844 a raft containing 87,732 feet of pin lumber was landed a Nauvoo. Shortly after another of 57,952 feet was received.

After the murder of Joseph Smith neither Wight or Miller would subordinate themselves to the authority of Brigham Young and carrying out the plan developed while they were together in Wisconsin, they led a small colony to Texas where they established a settlement. Most of their followers later joined the Saints in Utah.

Trusting that the foregoing will be of use to you in preparing your article on Mormon Logging in Wisconsin, and that this office will be favored with a copy of the same when completed, I remain, Yours truly, Joseph Fielding Smith

This concludes the history of the logging operation of the Mormons in the present limits of Clark and Jackson counties.

Perhaps I have gone more into detail than necessary but as this is an item of our early history now nearly forgotten I have felt in view of the fact that both the Mormon church and the State Historical Society have asked for the article when published it is well to incorporate all of the details so far as they have come to my knowledge.

Pictured above are Clark County loggers who worked in a camp owned and operated by Fred Buker in Mead Township.


History: Logging in Clark and Jackson Co., Wis.
Contact: Tiffiney Hill
Email: TiffineyH@email.com

This article, and many others, is part of a collection gathered in a scrap book by Essylath Andrews in about 1939. (was sent to me by Janet Schwarze)


History: Logging in Clark and Jackson Co.
Contact: Arlene Peil
Email: rpeil@charter.net

My sister and I will be visiting Greenwood WI in April 2005 doing family research. Essalyth Andrews is our great-aunt. Would there be any chance we could see any of these historical documents she collected? We are particularly interested in Martin and Karen Mathison and their extended family and also the Dan Cook-Phoebe Ann Hubble families. Dan and Phoebe's daughter Carletta married Martin and Karen's son John C. Mathison. John C. and Carletta Mathison were the parents of our father. We are so excited about our trip. Our grandmother Carletta took my sister on a visit to Greenwood 67 years ago. We want to find the old homesteads, the Greenwood City Cemetery and other places of interest. Do you have any suggestions?



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