Lust for lumber lures first settlers to valley

White pine trees well over 100 feet high dotted much of the area when the first lumbermen came. During a 70-year period forests were stripped, leaving a need to import lumber as early as the 1920's. This stand was located between Chippewa Falls and Long Lake. Billions of feet were cut by lumberjacks, sawed and shipped.

     The quest for furs brought the first white men to this area, but it was the great pine trees which attracted the thousands who came rushing in starting with the middle of the 19th century.
     Reports of tall timber along valleys of the Chippewa, Black and St. Croix rivers alerted the timber-hungry, expanding nation to the lumbering potential far up tributaries of the Mississippi.
    Growth and expansion of the new nation pushed men westward and across the Appalachians from western New York, Pennsylvania and the great Ohio River valley.

Lack of materials

     Settlers in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa and the southwest portion of Wisconsin found there was a lack of quality building materials.
     What was available was shipped from the east down the Ohio to the Mississippi, then by ox-drawn carts to Galena, Ill. and to the lead regions.
     The cost was so high and materials so scarce that many of the lead region settlers lived in caves and others in houses built from mud, bricks and stones.
     From living in these caves, the nickname "Badgers" is still given to state residents.
     There had been an awareness for years of the timber resources in this part of Wisconsin. A few detachments from Ft. Crawford at Prairie du Chien had made their way up river to obtain lumber for that fort and materials for shingles.

Indian land

     For the most part, the area was still Indian land belonging to the Chippewa, Sioux and Winnebago and no one before 1818 would try to bring out any of the pine.
     But in 1819, a Col. John Shaw made an attempt to establish a sawmill at Black River Falls, building on the southeast bank of the stream. Shaw wrote he had barely got it going when Winnegabos came to him in a starving condition and he gave them everything he had to eat and wear. Out of supplies, Shaw returned to Prairie du Chien.
     About the same time, Wilfred Owens of Prairie du Chien, financed by Gov. McNair of Missouri, teamed with two other men named Andrews and Dixon to build a sawmill on the Black River, but they, too, were burned out by Winnebagos who had recently moved into the area and claimed the land.
     The American Fur Company, main trapping enterprise in the area, also cut some timber from along the river valleys.

On Red Cedar in 1822

     The first attempt to build a mill in the Chippewa Valley came in 1822 and is credited to a Kentuckian, Hardin Perkins. Financed by trader Joseph Rolette and James Lockwood, Perkins obtained permission from a Sioux Indian Agent, Major Lawrence Tallaferro.
     Perkins, having used the influence of Rolette to win the agreement, started a mill on Wilson Creek where Menomonie is today. He had nearly completed his mill, according to Lockwood's narrative, and was about ready to saw logs when a flash flood washed out his dam and mill. Perkins, apprehensive of the rival Chippewa Indians, packed up his family and crew and returned to Prairie du Chien.

Won new agreement

     Eight years later Lockwood used influence of the Territory of Michigan delegate to Congress to win approval from the Secretary of War to renew the agreement with the Sioux to allow them and indemnity to build another sawmill on the Chippewa tributary.
     After fighting off several Indian scares and the threat of desertion within his ranks, Lockwood succeeded in building the mill by the end of March, 1831.
     With creation of the Wisconsin Territory and statehood around the corner in 1848, Indian lands became property of the state and development of the lumbering era dawned.

--- Arnie Hoffman

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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