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Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
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These previously unpublished photographs are gathered from private family archives and used with the permission of the owners. They are of the people living and working in the Oconto County, Wisconsin,  lumbering industry. They give a small idea of life in those times - 1823 to 1920. Perhaps you will recognize your ancestors among them.

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Big Wheels were horse drawn and used to move logs without having to lift them up onto a wagon or drag them long distances to the rivers that carried the logs in Spring. Itinerant and local photographers visited the camps to take photos for the residents to purchase.

Indian Wrestling - 
a favorite camp pastime to "work off steam". Throw your opponent to the ground. No biting, punching, kicking, or "stomping" with  hobnail boots. Lumber men tried to deflect the other person's hands with their forearms, while grabbing the other person's clothes. Tripping was an important part of the strategy.

Suring's first bridge over the Oconto River had a short life due to a Spring river logging drive. The court ruled in favor of the lumber company and the community had to rebuild the bridge using their own funds for a second time.

Temporary cabins were constructed right after the harvest season in fall, by the woodsmen, in the area to be worked. These log buildings housed the loggers and other camp residents for that particular winter. These were typical of the late 1800's from the Wheeler area, which is now known as Lakewood, in the northwestern part of the county. Often they were dismantled and rebuild the next fall in a new location.

The teamster was an important, hardworking and impressive part of logging. He knew his animals well and took the best possible care of them, since he was responsible for getting the harvested logs out of the woods to the rivers or railroads.
Stacking the logs was a serious and dangerous business. If one log shifted or rolled, it could easily take much of the stack with it, and the lives of all the men on or nearby it. There was a science and a skill to handling logs, learned over the years. Newer members of the logging crews found the seasoned members hardened and tough to work with. The old hands knew well that the graveyards were filled with men who let their attention drift.
This is the virgin pine forest that lured the woodsmen from places like New Brunswick, Canada, and New England, USA, to Oconto County, Wisconsin, starting in the 1820's.
Camps contained more than logging staff. These three young girls put on their "Sunday Best" and stood in front of a more permanent logging camp home to have a photo taken. They were daughters of the cook and camp foreman. Schooling was irregular, and these girls were kept very busy 6 days a week with camp and home chores. They were not paid. 
Often, if the men did not have farms to go to after the winter logging, they were employed in the many sawmills set up near the logged areas in spring. The mill in this photo was built with the intention of being used here more than one season. It was powered by stream boilers (see the tall chimney, center). 

A typical winter camp on a quiet Sunday morning. Sundays were the only days off that the camp staff had. Every other morning of the week saw activity start well before dawn.

By the age of 19, in 1902, Jack Philippi was a 10 year veteran of winter logging camps. At age 9 he worked for 35 cents a week sawing the discarded limbs and branches into firewood for camp use and to sell to village people. He went on to learn all the logging skills and become crew foreman before "retiring" to dairy farming near Suring.

The long hard winter shows in the faces of this camp crew, most of whom had "cleaned up" in anticipation of leaving for home that spring. The long, thick beards and heads of hair that helped to protect the head from cold winds are shaven off.

The farm wood lot was not only a very important source of all the cut wood needed to keep family life going, it was also a source of winter income as logs were sold to nearby mills. This team of horses, near Stiles, was used year round for logging and farming.

This is a spring river driving crew who have probably posed on their Sunday off. Winter cut logs were floated down to the mills or to landings where they were "fished out" and taken to the mills.  The cook's family, children included,  followed the log run in a floating raft with cook house and sleeping quarters on board.

The end result of the Oconto County lumbering process is seen in these stacks waiting to be shipped by boat  and train to places all over the world. Articles from the newspapers of the late 1800's bragged about the superior pine of Oconto County being found in buildings on "every major continent in the world".

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