Early Clark and Jackson Counties History

An Unwritten Page
Transcribed by Ken Wood

Author: Fred W. Draper


Among the early traditions relative to the early settlement of Clark County, Wis. 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 the Black River. Just why these old clearings were called the “Mormon clearings: or why the rapids below where the village of Hatfield is now stands was 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 anyone who knew and had lived within the present boundaries of Clark County at anywhere near the time these clearings were made was sometime about 1905, when I came in contact with F. 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 building 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 came of it.

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.E. Draper of the department of History of North Carolina, who made a beginning in the work of the 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 Latter Day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, to whom I wrote for what information their Church history had on the Black River logging operations. 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 the Black River and its tributaries, and floated down the Mississippi to the city of Nauvoo, which is situated just north of Keokuk, Ia.

Before entering upon the story of their logging operations 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, or Mormons as they are more often called in this part of the United States.

The church was organized by Joseph Smith at Fayette, Seneca County, N.Y., April 6th, 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 Co., Mo., where they were again expelled by the 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 advance guard of pioneer loggers left Nauvoo, going by boat to Prairie Du Chein 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 his 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 sawmill, then owned by Crane and Kits, then proceeded up the river and commenced their logging operations at a point somewhere above the 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 known by the river drivers and the early settlers as the Mormon Riffles.)

The 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 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 mille that he had built at Black River Falls, and thereafter their entire manufacture of lumber was at 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 which 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 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 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 where all sawed in two weeks and brought down the river in two more.

These extensive lumber operations crated 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 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 Oshkosh to the agency upon the Wisconsin River to see if some arrangements couldn’t be made with the agent 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 the 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 feet.

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 operations had sold the mill and their other holdings to Black River Falls lumbermen 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 sidelights 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, “1843: Following one stream after another he reached the settlement of La Cross, undergoing hair-raising experiences enroute, 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.”

In the Magazine of History Vol. 111, No. 2, “Dec. 1919 – an article written by James H. McManus, “A forgotten Trail,” speaking of Brunson’s trail, pages 142 -143, “Upon reaching the falls (Black River Falls) the party found a company of Mormons operating a sawmill, getting lumber for their colony at Nauvoo, Ill. This was the white man’s outpost on the Black River at the 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 the 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 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.” (Note: J.H. McManus 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.”

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, Nov. 19, 1935:

Mr. F. W. Draper, Loyal, Wis.

Dear Sir:

Your letter of inquiry regarding the logging operations of the 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:

“Oct 5, 1840, Alpheus Cutler, Elias Higbee and Renolds Calhoun 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 Sept. 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 Conver. Child’s wife and daughter also accompanied this expedition.

Theses people spent the winter in the pine country, tiling 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 Nauvoo a large raft of good pine lumber.

While in hiding from his enemies who were seeking to extradite him into Missouri, Joseph Smith wrote his wife, Emma, Aug. 16th, 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 probably, 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 on Oct. 13th, 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 Oct. 27 of the same year. Bishop George Miller arrived at Nauvoo at sunrise May 12, 1843, with a raft of pine lumber from Black River. He reported 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 two 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; chance 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 piner.

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 piner on Black River. Bishop George Miller returned to Nauvoo from the pinery Sept. 23, 1843. He reported Black River so low that the brethren couldn’t float their raft of lumber down into the Mississippi.

Sometime 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 friends to the Mormons and responded readily to the proselytizing 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 Wight 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, Wis., Jan. 20, 1844, informed the general authorities at Nauvoo that four members of the Black River Falls branch 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 Chein. 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 at Nauvoo, Sunday, March 10, 1844:

“Black River Falls, Feb. 15, 1844. To the first presidency and the quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:

“Dear Brethren: Through the goodness and mercy of God, the Eternal Father, and the grace of our Lord and Avior, Jesus Christ, we are permitted to write and send by a special messenger, a concise account of our lumbering operations, 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 leaves to submit for you 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 say 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 the 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 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 with 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 tablelands 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”

February 20, 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 Menomonie and Chippewa Indians sent delegations to the Branch at Black River Falls, asking for missionaries to come to preach to them. The Chippewa’s 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. With desired instructions.

Joseph Smith returned the messengers with the advice that since Wight was on the ground he must use his 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, March 4th, 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 8th, 1844 Bishop Miller arrive in Nauvoo from the pinery.

May 1st, 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 5th, 1844 a raft containing 87,732 feet of pin lumber was landed at 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 establish a settlement. Most of their followers later joined the Saints in Utah.

Trusting that the foregoing will be of use to you in preparing you article on the 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 operations 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 some to my knowledge.

Source: Neillsville Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., Wis.) 01/23/1936



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