News: Log drives in Wisconsin
Contact: Tiffiney Hill



I am an old–time lumberjack who has worked in the logging camps in northern Wisconsin at every job in the woods from a "road monkey" to a timber estimator. That log drive The Journal wrote about recently is only a small bubble compared to the big annual drives on the Flambeau and Chippewa rivers some fifty years ago. Thirty-six years ago this winter I worked in a logging camp near the Chippewa river a short distance from Bruce, Wis. There were five contractors working in a tract of big white pine and each had an average crew of 100 men. The tract was all cut during the winter and after being landed in the Chippewa river, it scaled something over 40,000,000 feet.

There were 13 large saw mills on the Chippewa river from Bruce to Merrideau Slough in Wisconsin, each with an average daily sawing capacity of 80,000 feet. In six months those 13 mills would saw 160,000,000 feet. A like amount was driven direct to the Mississippi river where logs were brailed in a raft and towed by boat to the owners farther down the river. After the main drive was completed the "dry roll" was then started. This consisted of rolling back into the river all logs that were left on dry land after the high water had receded.

A picturesque part of this work was "running the river". Several large companies had markets for their manufactured lumber near St. Louis. Large rafts about 32 feet wide, 80 feet long and containing about 150,000 feet of lumber were floated to the Mississippi at Reed’s Landing and Beef Slough and then towed by boat to their destinations down the Mississippi. Each raft was steered by four large oars the size of small telephone poles. Each oar was pulled by two men six feet tall and weighing well over 200 pounds. These eight oarsmen the pilot, the snatch pole man and the cook ate and slept on the raft while making their six day trip to the Mississippi. The oars were needed only in making the turns in the river, but when they were used they required strength and speed. In those days everyone wore red flannel underwear, and those crews going down the river dressed only in their red flannels made a striking picture. Arriving at their destination they were taken by boat back up the river where another raft was waiting for them.

* * *

There were two classes of lumberjacks. One class made its appearance in the late years. Its members went to the woods and worked in the camps for a few days or a week and quit their jobs and went to the next camp, working a few more days. They put in the winter going from camp to camp, looking for work but praying they would not find any. The old-time lumberjack was in a class by himself. He went into the woods when the camps first opened in the early fall and worked until the camp broke up in the late spring. He was of a race of honest, hard-working men who took pride in their work. Their time clock was daylight and dark and at times light was furnished by lanterns and torches.

They were responsible for several of the large, fine hospitals we see today in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. When those hospitals were first constructed there was a large debt on them. Hospital agents, sent to the logging camps, sold tickets to the jacks for $10 each entitling the holder to one years hospital benefits. Every lumberjack carried a hospital ticket but because jacks were a healthy lot of fellows they hardly ever went to a hospital except in case of injury or a serious sickness

When the camps broke in the spring the lumberjacks returned to their home towns, some with full beards and hair that hung below their ears. After a visit to the barber they went to the company office and drew their winter'’ wage and, knowing their own weakness, made the rounds of paying their bills before starting their celebration. As they considered it a disgrace to quit a camp, it was even more of a disgrace to by a lone drink. On entering a saloon it was "Come on, boys, everyone have a drink on me". Each jack in turn bought a drink for the house. They made the rounds of all the saloons. It was money hard earned and easily spent. When members of the rival crews met, arguments started. The arguments soon became fights and in a few seconds a free-for-all would be in session with 20 jacks taking part. They would work themselves out of the door into the street. And when the fight was over, all the windows in the saloon would be broken. Jacks who survived the fight would pay for the windows and the drinking would continue. In a few days, with all their money gone, they would stand in groups on the street corners, waiting for the big river drive.

* * *

When the first ice began to move, jacks were soon at work. The work was hard and hazardous. Some of the log jams were 40 feet high and contained several hundred thousand feet. Logs were standing on end, crossways, and recrossed. When a key log was removed, hundreds of logs toppled into the water and it was thrilling to see the jacks jump from log to log and scramble to safety. When the last log was released, each jack jumped a log and rode to the next jam.

Only the more experienced drivers were used on those big jams. All others were sent further down the river. Under the direction of a straw boss they watched the river bends to keep the logs from forming new jams. Their work was called sacking. The jacks, or river pigs, had to wade out above their knees in the icy water and with pike poles keep the logs moving. At night they wrung the water out of their clothing and in the morning started the same work again. I never could understand how men could endure that hardship.

When the drive was over some men went on the "dry roll", others went back to the camps and made marsh hay for the horses and cattle for the coming winter’s use. A few went to the harvest fields in Minnesota, but all were back and ready when the camps opened in the fall. In receiving their checks from their different jobs they put on another celebration, but on a smaller scale than the one in the spring.

An important person in every logging camp was the camp cook and his helpers, the "cookies". Those men worked longer hours that any others in camp. Breakfast was served at 5:30 a.m. It had to be prepared for the fire the night before. Cooks usually go to bed at 10 p.m. They were up again at 4 a.m.

The faithful old shanty boss must not be forgotten. His job was to cut and carry in the wood for all the shanties, keep the lamps and lanterns filled with kerosene, keep plenty of hot water on the stove and the barrels filled with cold water for washing. He washed and changed daily the long roller towels and kept the shanties clean. He slept in the teamsters’ shanty and woke the teamsters at 4 a.m. He then went to the other shanties fixing the fires, looking after the hot water, carrying in fresh drinking water and a 5 a.m. he turned up the lights and hollered: "Roll Out!". The jacks lost no time in rolling out and getting ready for the breakfast call and a the first sound of the gong, they made a rush for the door and walked single file to the cook camp. Every jack had his own place at the table and the meals were eaten in silence.

A sign on the wall read: "No talking allowed at the tables." The cook explained why he had that rule. A little talking starts a general conversation and sometimes a noisy discussion, which greatly prolongs the meals. Since he must have his meals on time, he cannot get started on the next meal until the crew has left the tables. Too many delayed meals May cost the cook his job.

While the jacks ate, the "cookies" walked between the tables refilling empty dishes. As each jack finished his meal he went back to the sleeping shanty. The loader’s landing man and sleigh teamsters started for their work a once. Others of the crew-sawyers, swampers, skidding teamsters and chainers-waited in the camp until daylight. At the first streak the foreman called "Turn out". The jacks lost no time in getting on their jackets. It was full daylight when their day’s work was started.

* * *

After breakfast the "cookies" started gathering up the leftover food and storing it away. They carry the dishes to the sink, where they are thoroughly rinsed in boiling water. The knives, forks and spoons are put in a clean grain sack and shaken and a good job of drying is accomplished in that way. The oilcloth on the tables is washed and the floor is swept and the tables are reset. Then they have potatoes to peel for 100 men. The meat is brought in and cut up and put in the large dripping pans, ready for the fire. Since three hungry jacks will eat a loaf of bread, 33 loaves must be baked daily; 100 jacks require 25 pies daily and cookies by the pailfull. Baked beans are on the table twice daily. The cook is allowed only three helpers and we cannot blame him for wanting the use of the tables as soon as possible.

I will give you a typical menu: Coffee and canned milk, fresh baked bread but no butter, oleo margarine is used here. Then we had boiled potatoes and [?]beggies—meat and baked beans—and canned corn, cookies and fresh raisin pie. This was an everyday dinner. So if you are around this way some day, stop in and have a meal with us.

Robert McNulty

Lake Nebagaman, Wis.




News: Log drives in Wisconsin
Contact:  Finnegan


It was great reading this! Thanks:) My Greatgrama was a cook in a lumbercamp and having just learned this, in the last year, I am devouring all I can find to read on the subject. Keep up the good work:)



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