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Town of Day, 101 years

Down through history,   pp. 6-10

Page 9

them of being in the lumber business for charitable
reasons, were doing a job of furnishing an evergrowing
nation with cheap building materials. The competition
was fierce, and more went broke than ended up rich. And
no one else cared.
But the results were sure and devastating.  The
logging operations spread from the Wisconsin River,
up the tributaries, like the Little Eau Pleine River, and
then into the smaller streams. As long as a log could be
floated on the stream during the spring floods, the logs
could be harvested.
Lumbering was a seasonal industry. For that reason
many farmers were also lumber jacks.  The spring,
summer, and fall they tended their crops, and in winter
they supplemented their income with the meager wages
they earned in the woods. And the work was hard, the
hours long, the living conditions primitive, and the
diversion scarce. Drinking and gambling were strictly
forbidden in the bunk house, which reeked of wet wool,
dirty socks and unwashed bodies. But this did not stop the
gambling, drinking, and the inevitable fighting that
followed both. Miles from the nearest settlement, they
spent their small amount of leisure time devising ways to
make life miserable for the greenhorns, or swapping tales
of ghosts, and their folk hero, Paul Bunyan.
Millions of board feet of lumber were pirated out of the
state by the unscrupulous. In fact, they were the loggers
that were considered "shrewd" and were admired for
their ability to "steal a log out of the bark with a man
a-straddle of it." They "skinned off" land bought from
the government, they let that land revert back to the
government for back taxes when they no longer needed it.
This was a legal practice, however.
As valuable as the timber was to Wisconsin, the
industry would never had developed without the rivers.
They needed navigable water to float the logs to the mills,
and the lumber to the markets of the midwest. But, as
important as transportation was, these rivers furnished
the power that ran the mills that made the logs
marketable. All winter the logs were driven to the banks
of the streams by oxen and sled. Then, just as the spring
thaws made the movement of logs over land impossible
because of mud, the rivers opened up. Rising water made
the ice go out, and the small streams became deep enough
to float the logs. Loggers then pushed the logs in and
began the long ride with the logs down to the mills. Before
that, however, each log was branded so that it could be
retrieved at the mill by its owner. After the lumber was
cut, it was rafted down the river again, often going as far
as St. Louis or other port cities, making it accessible to a
rapidly growing West.
In 1845 an important act was passed allowing a dam to
be built at Little Bull Falls. It was to raise the water to the
level of the river at the top of the falls, and a slide was
built around the dam so that rafts and logs, and boats, as
well, could obtain passage. The owners of the dam could
exact a toll for the lumber, shingles, and timber that used
the slide, as well as to profit from the power produced. So,
the water power industry, that made Wisconsin so
attractive to other industries in the following century, was
By this time, the land we know as Marathon County,
which had been part of the original area of Crawford
County when Wisconsin had become a territory, became
known as Portage County. Later, when the area around
old Fort Winnebago became a county, they took the name
Columbia County, calling their city Portage, instead. By
1824, six years after the territory was established, Portage
County had 658 inhabitants, and stretched from the city of
Portage to the Michigan border.
In 1842 a road was authorized from the Fox River
opposite Green Bay to the Wisconsin River at Plover, and
then on to Little Bull Falls. It may have been built no
farther than Plover, however. In 1850, Marathon became
a county and in 1854, the people of Marathon County,
feeling a need to connect themselves with Stevens Point,
voted to build a plank road. They built their share to the
county line. But, for lack of need to travel into the
wilderness, Portage County did not complete the road.
Thus, an enmity grew between the two communities, that
affected them for more than twenty years.
The growing nation was turning its thoughts toward
developing a system of railroads. Land travel by wagon
was slow, and the canal system used so extensively in the
East, was not very practical in Wisconsin. A new way of
travel needed to be developed.
In Wisconsin it was Henry Dodge, governor of the
territory, that recommended to the first legislature that
met in Belemont, that a railroad be built from a "suitable
place on the Mississippi to Lake Michigan". This would
allow the lead to be shipped eastward to the industrial
East at a great savings in time and money, as opposed to
the Wisconsin River, Mississippi-Gulf route they used at
that time. A munificent sum of $2,000 for the survey was
appropriated. Realizing the value of that railroad if it
would pass through their town, the village of Sinipee" in
Grant County, asked that the route pass from Milwaukee,
through their town, and on to San Francisco!
The financial problems created by the Panic of 1837
delayed progress in the building of the railroads. Many
plank roads with toll gates were built instead.
The first company to construct a railroad in Wisconsin
was the Milwaukee and Waukesha Rail Road Co.,
chartered in 1847. Its charter read in part that they were
to "locate and construct a single or double track railroad"
between the two towns "to transport, take and carry
property and persons upon the same by the power of force
of steam, of animals or of any mechanical combination of
them." It was opened in 1851, and went twenty and a half
miles.  Two years later two railroads were partly
completed, the Milwaukee and Mississippi, and the Rock
River Valley line between Madison and Beloit. The latter
was the beginning of the Chicago and Northwestern Line.
But all was not easy in the building of the railroads.
Wisconsin's constitution forbid the investing of public
funds in such ventures. However the need for cheap
transportation continued to grow as markets for farm
produce could not be reached over the rutted, muddy, and
often impassible roads. The budding farm industry often
had to let their crops rot for lack of transportation.
Railroad companies would not finance lines through
sparsely populated areas, because of lack of prospective
revenue. They simply could not afford the risk.
So federal grants were the only way left for Wisconsin
to obtain the transportation it needed. These grants were
in the form of large parcels of land in alternating sections
along the proposed route. This way the railroads would be
able to attract settlers into an area to make the road
profitable by selling them land. Only one-third of the land
granted to the railroads was ever used to build railroads.

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