Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

January 8, 1997, Page 28

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Good Old Days


By Dee Zimmerman


History of Logging in Clark County, Part II


The usual procedure in locating timber lands was to get a plat of untaken lands from the nearest land office showing that land in each government township.  They then either visited the land in person or sent their timber estimator into the territory where they expected to select timber for logging operations.


The county having been recently surveyed, it was easy to find the section corners, they being marked by a square hardwood stake or post about four inches square set at an angle of 45 degrees to the section lines with the number of the section cut in the wood of the stake opposite its face.  Halfway between the section corner was another stake called a quarter stake.


They first looked over the territory generally with several objects in view.  First: To determine whether there was enough timber in the tract to suit the needs of the prospective purchaser.


Second: The size of the timber in logging language the number of logs to the thousand board feet.


Third: Whether the pine was clear of punk knot and rim rot.


Lastly: Its accessibility to market, its distance from Black River and if it had to be driven on a tributary of the river the probable cost of clearing the creek of brush, fallen timber or other obstructions.  Whether there was a suitable site and the probable cost of building a flood dam.


These points having been determined then came to task of estimating the timber; this was usually done by three men working together. 


Commencing at either the section corner post one man following the line, the second man from five to six rods from the first carrying a compass and note book to enter the estimates and the third man with a compass and as to blaze a line at about the same distance beyond the first.  The distance between the men varied somewhat according to the thickness of the pine and the undergrowth, they having to be in plain sight of each other at all times.  They advanced across the tract of land to be estimated carefully counting the pine trees as they advanced.   When they reached the end of the tract they were working on, they moved over to a number three man following his blazes back, number two and one going on into the timber, number one now doing the blazing.


Knowing the average size of the trees and the number upon any government subdivision it was a matter of mathematics to determine the number of board feet in that subdivision.


If the estimate and the other conditions were satisfactory the prospective buyer then went to the nearest land office which was first at La Crosse and later at Eau Claire to enter such government subdivisions as he wished to buy.  If he wished to purchase a whole section as 22-35 or whatever the number of the section might be, it was entered as a whole; if a part of the section was small or inferior pine or ran into the hardwood which no lumberman at this time wanted, then he entered the land by the government subdivision as the SW of 10 or the SE of SE of 12.  Another thing to be considered was the building of a road from the nearest source of supplies to camp.  At the beginning the sources of supplies was La Crosse, supplies having been brought to this point by boat.


A road was cut through the brush and woods from La Crosse following the river by the way of Onalaska and Melrose to Black River Falls.  Later the road was extended on up the river to Hatfield and thence through the timber following the higher ground.


Gradually settlers began to settle along this trail and the trail grew into a road, by first corduroying the marshes and low spots.


In 1868 the County Board appropriated $7,000 for the improvement of the Black River road and thus came into the being the road in Clark County, now highway 73, known for many years to the older settlers as “the tote road.”  The greater part of this road was never legally laid out but like Topsy “just grew.”


As the loggers began to cut the timber back from the river, branches were made from this main artery of traffic to their camps; many of them were later improved and became permanent highways.


The railroad having been built in 1869 as far as Humbird the county board at its spring session in 1870 made an appropriation of $3,000 for the laying out and improvement of the road from Neillsville to Humbird.


After the pine was located and purchased much work must yet be done before logging operations began.


Camps to build, logging roads to layout, clear of timber and grade; stub roads to build and if the timber was back away from Black River on a tributary the streams had to be cleared of brush and fallen trees or other obstacles which would hinder the free floating of logs.


Flood dams also had to be constructed to raise a sufficient head of water to float the logs down to the main river.

About the first of September a crew of picked men was sent to the woods under the leadership of an experienced camp foreman.


First there was the location of the camp site; this was selected with reference to its accessibility to the timber.  As it was an advantage to occupy the same set of camps for more than one season they were centrally located as possible, on high ground on account of the sometimes January thaw and the spring floods and near a creek for convenience to water.


Germs hadn’t been heard of in those days so everyone drank creek water without any evil effects.  Perhaps the bugs came later, who knows?


The camp buildings usually consisted of a cook shanty, sleeping shanty, stables, black smith shop and in the larger camps a small building for an office.


These were built of long slim logs usually from 12 to 16 inches at the butt and 8-12 inches at the top, spaces between the logs were chinked with three cornered pieces of split logs usually cut from 2 to 4 ft. in length and the hole then plastered with clay.


The buildings were low, not over 6 ft. in height at the eaves and the roof usually made of two thicknesses of inch lumber; the very early camps when lumber (was) unobtainable were covered either with a shake roof or a trough roof.  The former was pine split thin similar to shingles about 30 inches in length and nailed shingle fashion on small logs or poles the ends of which made the gable end of the building. The trough roof was made of hollow logs split in halves – two troughs up and then one laid into the others with the tight roof providing there were no knot holes in the troughs and when chinked around the eaves, with a covering of snow over the entire roof it made a more substantial, much warmer roof than one covered with shakes.


In the first camps before lumber was obtainable the floors were either of clay or puncheon which was split logs laid the split side up and smoothed with an ax.


The sleeping shanty was a long narrow building in length usually depending upon the number of men in the camp.  There were two tiers of bunks one above the other on each side of the shanty.


A board was nailed upon the projecting cross pieces of the lower tier of bunks forming a seat for the men; this seat was called the “deacons seat.”  The camp was heated by a huge box stove set near the middle of the shanty, poles were fastened overhead around the stove and on these poles the men hung their socks and mittens at night to dry.  Dry pine and hardwood made a hot fire.  Those who occupied bunks nearest the stove nearly roasted the fore part of the night and after the fire went down nearly froze before morning.  The bunks were either filled with marsh hay or straw, with a blanket over the straw and usually two blankets for covers.


Few camps furnished pillows but for the most part the men folded their clothes to use for pillows.  Not a very soft bed but the men were used to it and after a hard days work slept as well as we do today on the finest mattresses.


The real boss of the camp was the cook, in his domain in the cook shanty he was an autocrat.  A good cook was a necessity and he had to be an artist in his line to satisfy the men.


The men were not exacting as to gourmet specialties but wanted wholesome food well cooked and plenty of it.


In an early day the food was very simple.  The staple articles in its preparation were beans, salt pork, flour and syrup, not corn syrup put up in pails, no offense to the pails; but old fashioned cane syrup in 50 gallon barrels.  Plenty of corn meal, potatoes and rutabagas: when they could be had.  As for fresh meat, deer were plenty and with no game laws or game wardens, venison as a staple article diet.


For sauce and pie they had dried apples, and with these on hand it was really astonishing the dishes that the camp cook would concoct from the simple ingredients furnished. 


Cooking in the first camps was done over a fireplace, then and even later after stoves were in use, beans were baked from choice in a “bean hole,” a description of which is interesting.


A hole was dug outside of the camp in the ground before the ground was froze in the fall and when beans were baked, that hole was first filled with hardwood, maple wood if it could be had.  That wood was set afire and reduced to coals, part of the coals were raked out.  The beans were properly seasoned with plenty of salt pork, some syrup – all placed in a large iron kettle, well covered and placed in the hole with the remaining hot coals raked in to fill the spaces around the kettle; then a layer of soil was thrown over the top and all left for about four hours.  When the beans came out of the kettle hot, with all the flavoring of pork and seasonings in them there was no comparison with those cooked in the usual way.


Later, camps were furnished with a much greater variety of foods.  Bunks were equipped with springs and mattresses in place of hay or straw; tin dishes and iron handled forks, spoons were replaced with crockery and silverware.



Three times early rising makes one whole day. – Chinese Proverb



William F. Tibbett and crew are believed to have been the last loggers who floated logs down the Black River in Clark County, circa 1930.  (Photos courtesy of Dick and Joan Tibbett)


Load of 23 Pine Logs, scaling 13,159 feet, Hauled from the John Paul Lumber Co.’s Camp No. 3, Town of Washburn, Clark Co., Wis., March 1st, 1891, a distance of six miles to the landing, by ONE span of horses weighing not more than 3,000 pounds.  Usually, the sled road was iced to make easier sledding for the teams pulling the loads; Weight of load of 94,435 pounds, or over 47 tons



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