IAGenWeb Project

Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team






 JULY 30 1896


  The raft of which Surveyor Bruce had charge had some trouble in Sawyer Bend.  An immense sycamore tree had fallen into the river and left a big limb pointing upstream.  He ran afoul of this and ripped his raft in several pieces with many loose logs.  These lodged along and below the city and I was left to pick up and get them back to the mill at the upper end of the city. I had a couple of helpers out of the crew and hired additional men and a tug and went to work.  The water was swift and the tug could handle only a few logs at a time in the small booms in which they were held.  It took about two weeks before I felt that all had been done on the job that could be done.

  On the return trip to the upper river we met the second fleet of rafts that were commenced immediately after we started with the first fleet, and I was the one of the rafts as second pilot and once more was en route down the river.

  We made the run without incident until we came to the lower rapids.  Here we found the water so low that a raft could not be floated over the lower rapids.  We ran them all down to Emily’s chain, some three or four miles below Nashville, and there cut them to pieces; that is the logs were cut loose and started over singly to float and roll over.  Medium and small logs would generally float without much help but the big logs were not so easy and would often have to be set to rolling and many of them would roll nearly the entire distance but a great many had to be helped along a great part of the way, aloof which took arduous work.  We would cut loose in the morning what could be handled during the day and ---of a ---were located at different places to handle them, assisting then along, picking them up at the lower end and rafting them again.  It was in the month of August, the weather was very fine, no wind and very little to hinder us so we got along very expeditiously and the job did not last as long as it looked as though it might at the start, but for all that we were glad enough when we were through.  The big Wangan, which we had built a couple of years before, was along with this fleet and was utilized in carrying the poles down to where the logs were re-rafted.

  It might be interesting to know how steamboating was done at the rapids in low water at this time.  Boats were running above the rapids and some of them were light enough to go over the rapids.  In any event the freight was all taken off the boats at each end of the rapids and placed in flat boats called lighters which were floated down over the rapids and on the up trip were pulled over along the west ban by horses as is done on canals.  In our operations we had to keep our logs away from this bank and this contiguous channel and we also used these lighters to get our Wangan, bateaux and tools back up over the rapids, and often ourselves as well.

  When the rafts were once more ready to go the crews were divided and several men and myself were sent back up river.  It was now September, as near as I can recall, as I remember that peaches were ripe and we were getting an abundance from the farms along the shore.  We went by steamboat to Galena and there transferred to the steamer Rock river which landed us at the foot of Lake St. Croix with our supplies and camp equipage where we got a company boat, or bateau and worked our own passage the remainder of the trip to the mill.  The company had been cleaning up the scattered logs during the summer and had done a little swing but it had been badly crippled by the spring freshet and there had been no general rebuilding during the summer.  However I think they had cut lumber enough for one raft, which was sent out.

  During my connection with this company, commencing in the fall of 1841, it had enlarged its power by building a dam at the top of the falls and added a lath machine, shingle mill, and a money saw.  For a year or two there was a scarcity of water, but this year we had plenty, as already stated, and the damage done nearly wrecked the company.

  I had contracted chills and fever during the summer so I lay by for a time as I had little ambition for work so it was sometime in November before I again became actively engaged, meanwhile I lived at the Company boarding house.

  Sometime in November, snow having come, some crews of men and teams were made up for the winter logging.  Mark Moore was boss of the camp where I was going.  Jonathan McKusick, Smith Ellison and one Sawyer each had a team and supplies.  Some men came up from Marine mills and some had already gone into the woods.  We left the St. Croix Falls Mill some time in November and went up the west bank of the river and we had good road up to this time there was no road between the mill and sunrise.  The first night out we made camp at a wild meadow where a bit of hay had been cut during the summer for our use the coming winter.  Here we found a stray bull that had taken up his winter quarters there.  He was supposed to have come from St. Paul and as the wolves would get him when it became cold we concluded to kill him, which we did and the meat divided among the party.

  One member of the party had a leg of whiskey and in the morning he could not find it.  Some of the party were already showing the effect of the liquor and it was not long before the keg was located and the balance of the liquor returned to the owner.  Various excuses were found during the day for a drink for example, one man had a narrower sled than the others and he would get ahead and cut a narrow track then when the owner of the whisky would stick and call for help, he would be told to first tap his keg, so it did not last long.  Later another keg showed up which went in the same way and created a good deal of fun.  None of it for me, however, as I tasted none of the stuff.

  The second night was spent at Sunrise. Sawyer dropped off at Pokegema and McKusick went farther up.  Our camp for the winter was about twenty miles north of where we were the previous winters and was on Fish Lake.  It had been built by men who had preceded us and we were ready to begin logging as soon as the tools were put in shape.

  The winter passed away very quietly and the cut was the largest I had assisted in making and we averaged over one hundred logs a day for the entire winter.  The bank of the lake was very high and we could dump a long time at one landing.  One new article of diet we had this winter in great quantities was cranberries which we could get by scraping away the snow and raking them up among the vines on the frozen ground.  They took lots of sugar, but his we got from the Indians, maple sugar of course.  I met with one slight accident but it did not lay me up long.  Was struck in the mouth by a hand spike and had a gash cut in my lower lip.

   There was a mound of prehistoric origin on the ground we cut above and a full grown pine tree grew on the top, which we cut with the rest of the trees.  One Sunday we opened the mound in the center and found some bones and broken crockery of the usual Indian patterns that crumpled to pieces on exposure to the air.  Toward spring the wolves became ravenously hungry and occasionally would chase a deer right up among our cattle.  One night they chased one up to our water hole, probably where it had been accustomed to come for a drink, and we could hear the snarling and fighting among them as they killed and devoured it.  Next day when we looked for the remains there was absolutely nothing left, not even scraps of hide or hair and they had even licked up the blood until there was hardly a stain left.

  We had quite a time getting our logs started for the drive.  Many were in huge piles on the slope of the bank of the lake and it was a perilous undertaking to find the Key log that held the pile.  Sometimes when found it would be necessary to put a rope on it and pull it away with a block and tackle.  Even then many times we had to fly for life as the big piles would slide into the water and spread out like oil, and it took quick work to get out of their way.

 My last work before going down to the mill that spring was helping build a dam at the outlet of Cross Lake in place of the one that went out the year before in the big freshet.  While there we made a scout for a route for a road around the south end of the lake, which proved fruitless as we got into an impassable tamarack swamp through which a road was impracticable and we had a very exhausting tramp and camped out one very cold night with little or not protection.

  Almost the middle of March, now 1845, I went down to Still water which had now become a town or village with a name; heretofore known as Mrs. Carley’s.  The previous fall I had made arrangement with John McKusick to run rafts for him to St. Louis and was to commence when he was ready for me.  When I got there the ice was still solid in the lake and I went back to the mill and worked building piers to hold booms for logs until about the middle of April.

  McKusick had bought a raft that had been taken to the foot of Lake St. Croix the fall before and this was to be the first run on the new contract, which was a verbal one, was that I should do all the running he had to do and was to continue as long as mutually agreeable.  It lasted about ten year during which time the business increased enormously and we employed hundreds of men.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


back to History Index