Goose Island Ramblers Documentation Project Collection, 1990-1991

Summary Information

Collection Summary

Title: Goose Island Ramblers Documentation Project Collection
Dates: 1990-1991

  • Wisconsin Historical Society
  • Wisconsin Folk Museum
Unique Identifier: CSUMC0010-CG

Contents: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives: 6 folders, 19 sound recordings, 37 photographs; UW-Madison Folklore Program: 14 audiocassettes

Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures
432 East Campus Mall, Room 332
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Web site:

Archival Locations:
Wisconsin Historical Society (Map)
UW-Madison Folklore Program (Map)

This project is one of numerous documentary efforts to capture the essence of the Goose Island Ramblers, an old-time "Norwegian hillbilly" band that was active in the greater Madison, Wisconsin, area, including Dane and Iowa counties, from 1963 through 1975 and again from 1990 to 1999. Folklorist James P. Leary interviewed band members Bruce Bollerud, George Gilbertsen, and K. Wendell Whitford, and with Phil Martin newly recorded songs, and produced a commercial recording, Midwest Ramblin'. Materials available from this project include original sound recordings, photographs, news clippings, published ephemera, and manuscripts from the band members.

Language: Manuscripts and sound recordings are in English.

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Collection Concordance by Format
Quantity Physical Description Location
Manuscript Materials
6 folders WHS Library-Archives Division
Sound Recordings
14 7-inch reel-to-reel tapes WHS Library-Archives Division
1 60-minute audiocassette WHS Library-Archives Division
3 90-minute audiocassettes WHS Library-Archives Division
1 commercial audiocassette WHS Library-Archives Division
14 90-minute audiocassettes UW-Madison Folklore Program
Graphic Materials
34 3x5 black-and-white photographs WHS Library-Archives Division
3 8x11 black-and-white photographs WHS Library-Archives Division


Bill Graham, founder of the W.T. Rogers Company, initiated the project through the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Folklorist James P. Leary collected research materials from and on the Goose Island Ramblers and recorded interviews with the group's three members. Leary and Phil Martin, then Executive Director of the Wisconsin Folk Museum, recorded new versions of favorite Rambler tunes at Marv Nonn's studio near Cross Plains, Wisconsin, and produced the commercial cassette, Midwest Ramblin' with liner notes.

Project History

The Goose Island Ramblers were an old-time "Norwegian hillbilly" band active in the greater Madison, Wisconsin, area-including Dane and Iowa counties--during the 1960s, '70s, and '90s. Band members K. Wendell "Wendy" Whitford, George Gilbertsen, and Bruce Bollerud used the stage names "Uncle Windy" Whitford, "Smokey George" Gilbertsen, and "Loose Bruce the Goose" Bollerud. Their repertoire combined Anglo-American country music, Norwegian-American fiddle tunes and dialect songs, an array of European dance tunes, regional transformations of American popular songs, and original compositions regarding life in Wisconsin. The Goose Island Ramblers recorded LPs for Sauk City's Cuca label when they were first active in the 1960s and 1970s, and attracted a large local following to their customary venue, Glen and Ann's in Madison.

Long-time fan Bill Graham, of the W.T. Rogers Company, encouraged staff at the Wisconsin Historical Society (then the State Historical Society of Wisconsin) to produce a video of the popular group. They enlisted the help of Phil Martin and James P. Leary, then both affiliated with the Wisconsin Folk Museum in Mount Horeb, who had long histories of researching and documenting the Ramblers. The Ramblers, fans, and officials agreed to support documentary work that would lead to a new commercial sound recording with substantial liner notes.

Leary recorded interviews with each band member and gathered other documentary materials including personal memoirs, photographs, and ephemeral publications. Then Martin and Leary recorded new versions of favorite tunes from the Ramblers at Marv Nonn's studio near Cross Plains, Wisconsin. They produced a 26-song commercial cassette, Midwest Ramblin', issued through the Wisconsin Folk Museum. The substantial liner notes include a history of the group, band member biographies, photographs, and performance details.

Funds from the National Endowment for the Arts-Folk Arts Program and the W.T. Rogers Corporation, and organizational contributions from the Wisconsin Folk Museum, UW-Madison Folklore Program, and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, supported this project. In 2004, a CD version of Midwest Ramblin' was produced under Leary's supervision, with support from the UW-Madison Folklore Program, through the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.

Scope and Content Note

Wisconsin Historical Society Archives holds the original sound recordings of the interviews, cassette copies of the recording sessions, and a copy of the commercial cassette recording produced during the project. The interviews cover each band member's musical career and reach back into the 19th century. Copies of the interviews are also held by the UW-Madison Folklore Program.

Wisconsin Historical Society Archives also holds copies of photographic prints and photocopied materials collected from the Goose Island Ramblers during the project. The photographs show the Goose Island Ramblers posed in costume with their instruments and performing live as a group and with other performers. Photocopies from the musicians' scrapbooks include newspaper clippings, letters, releases, photographs, song lyrics, and autobiographies. Consent forms and tape indexes are also present.

Related Materials

Additional information on the Cuca recordings listed here can be accessed through the Cuca Records Database. Mills Music Library. UW-Madison.

Doin' the Hurley Hop, Cuca K1112

From Bluegrass to Russian Gypsy, Cuca K1110

Session with the Goose Island Ramblers, Cuca K1111

All Time Polka Greats, Cuca KTV1

Country Collector's Album, Cuca KTV4

Sounds of Syttende Mai, Cuca K2010

Polka from Cuca, a video by Dave Erickson (Ootek Productions, 1994)

Down Home Dairyland: A Listener's Guide and Down Home Dairyland Recordings. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Reissued in 2004 by the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.

Wisconsin Folk Museum Collection, Wisconsin Music Archives at Mills Music Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 5 7-inch reel-to-reel tapes related to a "Simply Folk" radio program on Wisconsin Public Radio featuring the group.


Goose Island Ramblers. Midwest Ramblin'. 1994. Mount Horeb: Wisconsin Folk Museum. Sound cassette. Reissued as a compact disc in 2004 by the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.

Key Subjects
Groups (Ethnic, National, Cultural, Religious, etc.)

  • British Americans
  • European Americans
  • Norwegian Americans
  • Yankees


  • English language


  • Middle West
  • Illinois
  • Wisconsin
  • Dane County (Wis.)
  • Iowa County (Wis.)
  • Dickeyville (Wis.)
  • Hollandale (Wis.)
  • Madison (Wis.)
  • Stoughton (Wis.)
  • Waunakee (Wis.)


  • Accordion
  • Fiddle
  • Violin
  • Guitar
  • Mandolin
  • "Electric" toilet plunger
  • "Eight banger" (eight-string instrument, mandolin neck mounted onto a fiddle body and played with cello bow)
  • Jug
  • Bandoneon
  • Dobro


  • Bollerud, Bruce ("Loose Bruce the Goose")
  • Gilbertsen, George ("Smokey George")
  • Whitford, K. Wendell ("Wendy," "Uncle Windy")


  • Goose Island Ramblers


  • Accordion music
  • Country music
  • Dance music
  • Dialect songs
  • European dance tunes
  • Fiddle tunes
  • Humorous songs
  • Jug band music
  • Old-time fiddle music
  • Old-time music
  • Skits

The sound recording masters, related documentation, and research materials were deposited in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives upon completion of the project.


Contact records custodians for access information.

Wisconsin Historical Society
Library-Archives Division
Reference Services, Archives
816 State St.
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Phone: (608) 264-6460
Web site:
UW-Madison Folklore Program
Prof. James P. Leary
2315 Sterling Hall
475 N. Charter Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Phone: (608) 262-8107
Web site:

Please consult repositories for use guidelines. For UW-Madison Folklore Program documents, duplication of the materials for non-profit personal, educational, and research purposes within the scope of the Folklore Program's jurisdiction may be arranged. Duplication of materials for public presentation, publication, and production requires negotiation with the Program Director, the fieldworkers, and the people documented.

Preferred Citation

Please consult repositories for guidelines. We suggest the following citation form when using direct quotes from a person documented: [Name of person documented]. [Date]. [Tape/video/other]-recorded interview by [Fieldworker name]. [Place interviewed]. [Name of collection/project]. [Repository, city, state]. When using a specific image: [Identify subject matter/people in caption]. Photo/image by [Photographer/fieldworker name]. [Date]. Courtesy of [repository]. To quote fieldworker, follow bibliographical style.

Collection Inventory and Description
Series: I: MANUSCRIPT MATERIALS. Wisconsin Historical Society Library-Archives Division. Goose Island Ramblers Oral History Interviews, Music, and Photographs. PH 5070.
Box   1
Folder   1
Bruce Bollerud
Note: Inventory of photographs/ scrapbook content; tape log cover sheet and tape index
Box   1
Folder   2
Bruce Bollerud
Note: Copies of photographs, newspaper clippings; handwritten autobiography, 1988; releases
Box   1
Folder   3
George Gilbertsen
Note: Inventory of photographs/ scrapbook content; copies of photographs, letters, newspaper clippings
Box   1
Folder   4
George Gilbertsen
Note: Tape log cover sheet and tape index; 45-page essay on Goose Island Ramblers; releases; copy of handwritten notes
Box   1
Folder   5
Wendy Whitford
Note: Inventory of pictures and clippings from Whitford; copies of photographs, flyers
Box   1
Folder   6
Wendy Whitford
Note: Tape log cover sheet and tape index; type "Introduction to Old Oscar's Cannon Ball"; list of old songs; releases
Series: II: SOUND RECORDINGS. Wisconsin Historical Society Library-Archives Division. Goose Island Ramblers Oral History Interviews, Music, and Photographs. Audio 1234A.
Gilbertsen, George interview, 1990 June 27
Whitford, K. Wendy interview, 1990 July 12
Bollerud, Bruce interview, 1990 July 16
Down Home Dairyland radio shows
Note: Goose Island Ramblers and Wendy Whitford featured.
Songs and tunes recorded, studio session, 1990 July 19
Studio session, 1991 July 24
Midwest Ramblin' (commercial release), 1990
Series: III: SOUND RECORDINGS. UW-Madison Folklore Program. Goose Island Ramblers Documentation Project Collection.
Copies of interviews with Gilbertsen, Whitford, and Bollerud (1234A/1-15 listed under Audio 1234A in Series II)
Physical Description: 14 90-minute audiocassettes 
Series: IV: GRAPHIC IMAGES. Wisconsin Historical Society Library-Archives Division. Goose Island Ramblers Oral History Interviews, Music, and Photographs. PH 5070.
Photographs of the Ramblers together as well as with other performers

Some of these images are available online; search for "Goose Island Ramblers."