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Oconto County Times-Herald
February 16 , 2000
A History Of Logging In Oconto County

The Times Herald continuing their publication of excerpts from the book, "A History Of Logging In Oconto County"  from the McCauslin to Jab Switch. The author is Della Rucker. Photos and editing is by Diane Nichols, Oconto County Historical Association. The project coordination is by Bruce Mommaerts of the Oconto Co. Economic Development Corp.


Oconto County's peak logging era extended from the 1850s into the 1920s During that time the types of logs, harvested, and some of the specifi methods of, logging, changed a great deal, but the basic characteristic of logging work and the logging economy remained much the same. Ocont was one of several northern Wisconsin counties that participated heavil in logging. The basic pattern of events in Oconto County was repeated with some variation in methods and time frames, across norther Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In all o these places, pine logging started in the mid- 1800s, continued to abou 1900, and was replaced by hardwood logging, which lasted through th first decades of the twentieth century. Logging methods in the same tim period were often very similar from one state to the next. Therefore many lumber businessmen and lumber- jacks could move on to work in man different regions.
Loggers in Oconto County and elsewhere began cutting pine in th mid-1800s for many reasons. First, pine was the type of Wood mos popular in the United, States for constructing buildings, as well as fo making other basic necessities, such as plows and wagons. Pine is a sof wood, which makes it easier to cut and carve, and pine trees tended t produce long, straight pieces of wood with relatively  few knots. In a era when few items could be made solely by a machine, and even doors an window frames were often made by hand, this workability was ver important. Pine also floats well, which made transportation much easier since pine logs could be floated down river to a mill. Other types o logs would often sink to the bottom. No roads or railroads existed yet so transporting logs overland was almost impossible.
Additionally, by the 1830s and 1840s, southern Wisconsin and Illinoi were drawing thousands of new settlers, many of whom started farms o the prairies. These prairie farms had good soil, but not enough timbe to build houses and barns. Settlers on these farms desperately neede sawed lumber. The older sawmills in the eastern United States could no meet their demand. As a result, mills in Oconto County and elsewhere i the Upper Midwest were able to sell all the pine lumber they coul manufacture to these fast growing areas to the south.
Most importantly, Oconto County was part of a huge area that wa naturally forested with millions of huge pine trees, many of which wer over six feet in diameter and several hundred feet tall. Many of thes trees rose straight up 100 to 200 feet before branching out. Ocont Countys early lumbermen could get a great deal of long, clear boards ou of such a tree with relatively little work, and could often demand good price for their lumber. As a result, lumber camps almos exclusively cut pine during the 1800s. Very few pines such as the, one they cut are left today, but there is one stand, known as the Cathedra Pines near Archibald Lake, that still has several of these origina giants. This woods was left uncut at the request of the owner's wife Looking at these huge trees helps a person understand how much pin timber must have come out of Oconto County


Almost all lumberjacks, cruisers, and other logging camp employees wer men, as were most people in most paying jobs in the late nineteenth an early twentieth centuries. The physical demands of logging and the roug wilderness lifestyle led most men and women of that era to believe tha women could never do logging work, since Americans commonly thought tha all women were weaker than men. Gender stereotypes such as this exclude women from many jobs, not only in logging but in most other fields a well. It is clear however that women in Oconto County and elsewher during this period did a great deal more than many people thought the could. Women filled essential jobs in lumber camps, while other wome did demanding work that made it possible for their husbands and brother to work in the woods during the winter. From a very young age childre also worked hard, both in the logging camps and in the home.

One of the most common ways that women participated directly in loggin was as the camp cook or cookee. Few books on logging mention this fact but historic photos and first person accounts make clear that many camp had a female cooking staff. This was particularly true in jobber an independent camps. In many cases, the cook was the jobber's or cam foreman's wife, while the bull cook might be the cook's adult daughte or sister. Women tended to fall into the cook's roles because, of th domestic cooking and cleaning they commonly did in the home, but cookin for a logging camp demanded stamina and considerable physical strength Staples such as flour and salt pork were stored in barrels that ofte weighed over one hundred pounds each. The large kettles and pots wer usually made of cast iron, also extremely heavy. Camp cooks often worke over an open fire, fireplace, or wood burning stove, and cooks had t make most items, such as bread, completely from scratch. Logging cam cooks had to prepare meals for anywhere from ten to sixty or more peopl per day. Such meals included a wider variety of foods and a large quantity of food than would be prepared in virtually any household. I addition, the quality and quantity of the food served in a camp ofte determined whether its owners would succeed or go bankrupt, since camp with poor food could not keep their lumberjacks for long. As a result women who cooked for logging camps had a great deal of influence ove the camp's operation. The wife of popular logger Herman Dieck of Suring for example, often cooked in the camps her husband operated. The qualit of his camps' cooking was cited as one of the reasons for his success.

Women also frequently visited logging camps as representatives o religious and moral issues organizations. Nuns, for example, frequentl traveled to logging camps seeking donations to orphanages and schools Representatives of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, a nineteent century organization devoted to stopping the sale and consumption o alcohol, convinced hundreds of lumberjacks in northern Wisconsin to sig a pledge stating that they would never drink liquor again. Such wome took serious risks in order to bring their messages to lumber camps since travel in the unsettled wilderness was difficult and dangerou even for experienced woodsmen, let along visitors from more civilize areas. Although individual lumberjacks may not have agreed with such visitor's values or requests, most accounts claim that such women wer almost universally treated with respect.  

Children also worked in logging, often as assistants to the cook or as the camp's "chore boy." Depending on the size of the camp, pre-teen and teenaged girls often helped their mothers or older sisters with the cooking and cleaning. Again, this was particularly common in jobber and independent camps where the foreman or operator was likely to be the child's father and the cook was often her mother. Boys of the same age also often worked in their parents' camps, but boys whose parents were not in logging could also hire on as a camp employee. Although chore boys' work days were long and strenuous, and their pay usually much less than that of the other camp employees, the job allowed them to learn a great deal about the work of a lumber camp, knowledge that often helped them land a better paying job in later years. Many chore boys were sent to lumber camps in order to earn cash for the family; a chore boy's pay often bought his brothers' and sisters', and even his parents' shoes, farm tools, and other necessities. Working children of all kinds, whether in logging camps or other places, often had to send most of their pay directly to their parents. It should be remembered that most rural Wisconsin children ages thirteen or fourteen during the logging era were expected to work at a job or on the family farm full- time. Few children completed more than eight years of schooling; families needed their children's work, whether paid or on the family farm, to help support the family as a whole.

As mentioned previously, most lumberjacks had homes and farms elsewhere and spent winters working in the camps. Although logging often provided most of the family's camp income, this seasonal work also required that women and children take over many of the farm and community tasks that men generally did in non logging areas. Tending livestock, maintaining farm buildings, and doing other farm work required that women and their families have considerable strength and stamina. Women also had to take care of children, and sometimes dependent elders while keeping the farm in operation; much of the care of smaller children often fell to older siblings who were not yet large enough to help with the heavy farm labor. In rural communities where the men were absent much of the year, women also did much of the work needed for the community to function. Several rural post offices in northern Oconto County were operated by women.Mary Roblee Gillett, for example, ran the post office from her home in the 1870s, while her husband Rodney, who had been appointed postmaster, was absent for months at a time as he operated his camps. Other women worked as midwives and nurses, providing essential medical care in rural locations where a visit to the nearest doctor might require a trip of several days. In these ways women and children made certain that families and communities continued to function, even when the male labor that much of the country considered essential was virtually absent from the local setting.


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