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Written by Marie Darrow
Compositor - Ben Penkivich, for the Gillett Public Library
Scanned and contributed by Jennifer Bumann
Family Site  Researching Oconto County surnames


(Page 18)
   Because of the heavy growth of lumber, mostly hardwood but some pine, cedar and tamarack, the earliest settlers had to be lumberjacks before they could be fanners. The first timber cut was hauled to the Oconto river and floated to the city of Oconto.

    By 1875, Rodney Gillett saw the necessity for a sawmill to supply the needs of the rapidly growing community. His mill began operating under his personal supervision. He did custom sawing as well as sawing his own timber and retailing it. Later he sold out to George High. Other sawmills sprang up, a large one owned by August Foelker and one on the corner of the Lake and First Street belonging first to Louis Runkel, later owned by the Foelker Brothers. It was here that Julius Oepke, son of the Lutheran minister, fell onto a saw and had his chest cut open.  He held the sides of his chest together while his fellow workers rushed him to Drl. Pinch's office. Julius watched the surgery performed and was able to see his heart and watch it beat by looking into overhead mirrors.  In spite of the lack of modern surgical equipment, Mr. Oepke recovered from his accident and lived for many years.

    In the fall, the "man catchers:" went to the cities to find help willing to stay in the woods all winter. The lumberjacks went north quietly to face a winter of hard work and austere living.

    There were no child labor laws, so, depending on financial conditions at home, many lumberjacks were in their early teens. Charley Darrow spent a full winter in the woods working as cookie and delivering noon lunches when he was eleven years old and driving a team of horses by the time he was thirteen.


(Page 19)
    Rules In the camp were strict, often limiting even the amount of calking the men could do.  There were no forty-hour weeks for a lumberjack.  Indeed, It sometimes seemed they worked a forty hour day. At noon food was brought to them on the job, and they sat on a stump or fallen log to eat meals that were sometimes frozen.  When It became too dark to see the woods, they returned to camp for a hot meal and a nights rest in the bunkhouse, smelly and steaming from men hanging wet garments over haywire to dry.  They tumbled into straw ticks and had no trouble sleeping after their hard day's work.  Even thee insects that were part of every bunkhouse failed to keep them

    The merchants who supplied the lumber camps bought box car  loads of standard items in the late summer and delivered to cook chanties, by bobsled, all winter.  The two articles most in demand were flour and salt pork, both of which were hauled out in barrels.  Supplying the lumber camps was big business because the lumberman could pay nothing until his logs were sold in spring.

    In the spring the lumberjacks emerged tousled, unshaven, sometimes in the same clothing they had worn every day all winter, and beaded for town.  On their backs they wore "turkeys" - grain sacks tied diagonally with ropes across one shoulder, under the opposite arm and tied together at their chest.  Said turkeys contained all of their personal belongings.

    Gillett was the first stopping place for those lumberjacks coming from northern camps.  They had a powerful thirst and an appetite for pleasure.  They wasted no time in seeking their fun and played as hard as they had worked all winter.  Many of them stayed in town until they had spent the last of their savings.  Then, once more, they tied on their turkeys, and trudged north, ready for another long winter in the woods.

    Many residents of Gillett made a living jobbing timber and running lumber
Among them were: Jacob Spies, Matt Finnegan, Alfred John and his son Calvin,  Billy Nelson, William Lambrecht, Billy Green, August Runge, and Sever Anderson.


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