Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

September 27, 1995, Page 28

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 



Good Old Days


Early Clark County Settlement


By Dee Zimmerman


The vast pine forests which with other species of timber; occupied not less than 65 percent of the surface of Clark County, the incentive which attracted pioneers to seek out the great timber resources in the early 1800’s.


Old settlers in the early 1900’s often referred to the “Mormon riffles” when talking about the Black River area in southern Clark County.  The banks of the Black River extending north from about the southern boundary of Clark County to approximately six or seven miles north of Neillsville and by the river were several old clearings.  The river log drivers also told of driving logs through the “Mormon clearings” and “Mormon riffles” (near where the community of Hatfield now stands) were named after the first settlers who were people of the Mormon faith.


In the fall of 1836, St. Germain hired out in Canada, to the American Fur Company, made his way to the Territory of Wisconsin, by the Lake Superior route.  He was sent south the same fall with a party of traders, (region plentiful with otter, mink, beaver and martin), passing the ensuing winter on the east fork of Black River, in southern Clark County.


The second white men to come up the Black River, this group searching white pine timber, were the Mormons, arriving in Clark County area in the early 1840’s.  As they made their way up the river, they stopped when seeing large pine trees, staying long enough to harvest the big trees. 


It is believed the Mormons sole purpose for coming to the Clark County area was obtaining lumber for building the tabernacle at Nauvoo, Ill.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or Mormons as most often referred to today was organized by Joseph Smith at Fayette, Seneca County N.Y., April 1831.  Less than a year later the church whose rapid growth and exclusive claims aroused the united opposition again, they moved to Independence, MO., living there until 1840 when they went to Illinois, founding the city of Nauvoo.


Settling in Illinois, they made plans to build a Tabernacle for worship which required timber not available at their location.  It was at that time that a group of loggers were sent on a quest for suitable lumber.  Leaving Nauvoo; going by boat to Prairie du Chien, then to the Black River, boating up stream until they found the pine woods.  Historical library records reveal a correspondence of Bishop George Miller, one of the twelve apostles of the Mormon Church published by him in 1855, in which he gave a full account of the Black River Valley logging operations.


Miller stated that the purpose for the logging was to provide lumber necessary in building the temple and the Nauvoo House, an immense building to shelter immigrants until they were established in homes.


Several associates accompanied Miller leaving Nauvoo in May 1841, making their way up the river to a point about 14 miles below Black River Falls.  That would have been approximately at the site of the present city of Melrose.  There they bought a saw mill from Crane and Kits, then proceeded up the river and began their logging operations above the rapids approximately 12 miles above Black River Falls which have been north of Hatfield.  (Those rapids were referred to by Bishop Miller, the river drivers and early settlers as the Mormon Riffles.)


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


Sometime during the spring or early summer of 1842, they traded their mill to Jacob Spaulding for a mill he had built at Black River Falls and from then on their entire manufacture of lumber was at that location. 


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, continuing to reside there until his death in Jan, 1876.


On Oct. 13, 1842 a raft containing 90,000 feet of boards and 24, 000 cubic feet of logs arrived at Nauvoo from the Black River.  Bishop Miller reached Nauvoo on May 12, 1843 with a raft of 50,000 feet of pine lumber.  In a letter written by Brigham Young:  “Bishop Miller arrived today (July 18, 1843) with 157,000 feet of lumber and 78,000 shingles, all sawed in two weeks.”


During the winter 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, wheat grown on the clearings.


In that 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 members who fell in the creek near its mouth and was drowned.


The Mormons extensive lumbering operations created jealousies among other lumbermen wanting to operate along the river.  The Mormons were told that they could no longer take timber from the area as that all of the timber belonged to the Chippewa, Menomonie and Winnebago tribes.  The three tribes and Mormons had always been on friendly terms so it was decided that Bishop Miller and Chief Oshkosh would travel to the Federal agency upon the Wisconsin River to see if some peaceful arrangements could be made with the agent relative to the future cutting of timber upon the tribes’ lands. 


They traveled across the county afoot in the middle of a winter, a distance of 40 miles through an 18 inch depth of snow to reach the agency.


Upon arrival they found the agent hostile to any agreement which they tried to make but Chief Oshkosh remained friendly and finally the agency reluctantly agreed to confirm any agreement the tribal members made with the Mormons that had already cut but the agent refused to consent to any further cutting of timber upon the Black River until he had time to consult the authorities in Washington D. C.


A satisfactory arrangement was made with the tribes 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 feet.


That was the last lumber received at Nauvoo from the Black River pineries.  Bishop Miller stated that shortly after the arrival of those 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 operations had sold the mill and their other holdings to Black River Falls lumbermen and most of the families had returned to Nauvoo.


In the Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol. 111 No. 2 Dec. 1919 – an article written by James H. McManus, “A Forgotten Trail” speaking of Alfred Brunson, 1843, Pioneer of Wisconsin Methodism – “Upon reaching the falls (Black River Falls) the party found a company of Mormons operating a saw mill getting out lumber for their colony at Nauvoo, IL.  That was the white men’s outpost on Black River.  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 knows 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.  (J. H. McMagnus was a Methodist minister of the West Wisconsin conference, well known to many of us, returning, filled the pulpits at Neillsville, Spencer, Merrillan, and other nearby points.)”


The last Mormon families to abandon the Black River area left about the time they received news of the exodus of the Nauvoo colony to Salt Lake City.


(Last week’s unidentified photo was recognized by several, the old Kleckner elevator purchased by Cenex and in the process of remodeling, building the store/offices in 1959-1960.)


The late Walter Grottke held a rock which the Mormons used to wall up an open well on farmland where he lived near Ross’s Eddy, Black River, a mile south of Neillsville.  Mormons settled along the Black River in Clark County, temporarily, as they harvested white pine lumber.  Logs and lumber were floated down the Black River and Mississippi River to Nauvoo, IL in 1842 thru 1844 for the purpose of building a Tabernacle and the Nauvoo House.  After Joseph Smith was murdered, the Nauvoo and Clark County groups of Mormons moved west to Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Photo courtesy of Eva Grottke)


A logging scene with the name Ted Bornholdt, as the only identification: The year of operation is unknown.


The Greenwood State Bank and Post Office shared the same building 1910-1920, the Farmers & Merchant’s Bank was also in business at that time.


A 1911 view of the Merrillan High School located on the east side of Merrillan.

(Photo contributed by Joan Buddinger)



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