St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Upper St Croix Valley 1849

Sketches of Minnesota 1849   I include an excerpt from this book about St. Croix Falls and the river valley to the north.  

Sketches of Minnesota: the New England of the West : with incidents of travel in that territory during the summer of 1849

    Logging in the Pineries north of St. Croix Falls

 The time occupied in the pinery is generally about six months, viz., from November until the disappearance of the snow. Last winter was a favorable winter for business in the pinery. The snow was from one to two feet deep, and free from crust. In milder winters a hard crust is sometimes formed by the melting of the snow by the sun, causing a considerable obstruction to business. There is generally no pine timber on the immediate banks of any of the tributaries. It is mostly obtained from half a mile to two miles from the rivers. The trees average three logs, of sixteen feet in length each. On Clam River there is considerable maple and other hard wood growing among the pine.

This business, unless prosecuted with a good deal of system, proves unprofitable to those engaged in it. A detail of the modus operandi of "logging" may not be uninteresting to those who live far from the pine region. Ten laborers make a full compliment of hands, viz.: two choppers, who cut down the trees; one barker, who strips off the bark from one end of the tree that it may slide on the ground; he also cuts off the branches; one sled-tender, who helps to load, and also aids in cutting off the limbs; one teamster, with an ox team for hauling the trees to the river; one swamper, or road-breaker, who is constantly employed in keeping the roads open; two sawyers, who saw off the logs on the bank of the river; one cook, and one extra hand. In this way the business goes on like clock-work, each being confined to his own department. Two things most essential to success are a heavy, well-trained team, and a good driver. The common wages paid to laborers in the pinery, are $26 per month to experienced hands, and $20 to those inexperienced.

The only species of pine obtained here is the white pine, technically called the "timber pine." It is said, however, that there are groves of the yellow, or Norway pine, on the Nemekagon River, an eastern tributary of the St. Croix. The quality of the pine on the St. Croix is not so good as that of the Wisconsin River. The trespasses made upon the timber of the unsurveyed lands, by private citizens, have been frequently a subject of complaint to the General Government. But when we take into consideration the amount of timber that may have thus been rescued from destruction, and appropriated to a beneficial use in building up the cities and towns in the Mississippi valley, these alleged trespasses may not, perhaps, be a matter of regret, or worthy of censure. It is said that fires are annually burning the pine timber, and that millions of lumber are thus destroyed. There are extensive pine barrens where only a few scattering trees are left standing, the remainder having been probably destroyed by fire. Brule, or Burnt Wood River, derives its name from the destruction of its pine forests by fire.

The Dells, one mile below the Falls, are at the head of steamboat navigation on the St. Croix. Above this point there are several series of rapids, and the river, as you ascend, decreases rapidly in volume. Snake River is an important tributary. It is connected by an easy portage with Rum River, and forms the favorite route of the Indians to Mille Lao and Sandy Lake. Yellow River and Namekagon Rivers are two considerable tributaries of the St. Croix, which are connected, by lakes and portages, with the Red Cedar branch of the Chippewa River. The St. Croix is connected by a portage of two miles with the Brule of Lake Superior. There is another portage of seventy or eighty miles, from the head waters of the St. Croix, just above Clear Water River, to La Pointe, on Lake Superior. There are several Chippewa villages on this river; and although the Indians have relinquished the title to the land, government has suffered them still to occupy it. The estimate of the Indian population on this river and its tributaries, in 1832, by Schoolcraft, was 900 souls. The population of Indian villages remain so nearly uniform in numbers through a long series of years, unless the small-pox, or some similar calamity, sweeps off the inhabitants, that the census now would not probably vary much from that of 1832.

The Falls of St. Croix may be regarded as the dividing line between savage and civilized life. Beyond that point on the river, white traders and others have Indian wives; and the entire population,' with few exceptions, is Indian or half-breed. A monthly mail is conveyed on foot by half-breeds, between the Falls and La Pointe (or Fond du Lac), on Lake Superior. There is also a semi-monthly mail between this place and Stillwater. I was present at the arrival of the mail from the south, and was amused not only in witnessing the excitement which such an arrival produced, but also by an exhibition of the genuine democracy of the citizens. The mail matter was emptied out upon a bed, about which all the citizens who were present gathered, and aided in assorting the mail, and selecting their own papers or letters. There seemed to be no distinction between the postmaster and others, as all seemed to be equally engaged in distributing the contents.

Only about half a dozen farms are cultivated in the vicinity of this place. The land is generally covered with timber of a large growth. There are two small prairies, some three or four miles east, on which there are cultivated farms. The soil is of a good quality, and susceptible of a high state of cultivation.

The land on which the town-site is situated is not yet in market. Below the Falls, the land on both sides of the St. Croix, and between the St. Croix and the Mississippi, extending above the Falls of St. Anthony, was exposed to sale, for the first time, in August, 1848.
This is a fine country for sportsmen. Deer are killed here in great numbers. The elk is now seldom *seen, although formerly very plenty. The bear and the large gray wolf are often seen. Wild geese and ducks resort here in great numbers. The small rivulets and spring branches in the neighborhood are well stocked with the brook trout. In the St. Croix, cat-fish, buffalo, and other species of fish, are very abundant. The country abounds with raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, etc. Some ripe strawberries were gathered while I was there (June 8th), being the first of the season. The cranberry grows abundantly in the tamarack swamps, within a short distance of St. Croix.

The healthiness of this place can not be questioned. A single death by sickness has not occurred among the white population within the last year. The only death was that of a young man, killed by the falling of a tree. The winter diseases are inflammatory, such as lung fevers and pleurisy. The only summer complaint is the diarrhea. Opthalmia, and various diseases of the eye, are frequent, owing to the reflection of the sun from the snow in winter, and new lumber in the summer.

I walked up to the burying-ground, which is on an elevated situation, in the rear of the village. Here are seen about half a dozen Indian graves, protected by a tight covering of boards. These graves are near the shade of a tree, from which a Chippewa was hung last summer, by authority of Judge Lynch, and to which a white man was tied, and severely whipped. The Chippewa had been guilty of the murder of a white man; and, as there was no legal tribunal in this part of the country, Judge Lynch was regarded as fully competent to pronounce sentence of death, after a fair trial had been granted to the Indian, before a jury of twelve men. The white man, who was whipped, was implicated, to some extent, in the same transaction.

There are several causes of an incidental nature, which tend to interfere with the prosperity of this place. First, its isolated situation. Although connected by steamboat navigation with the Mississippi, yet steamboats seldom ascend as high as this place; and the difficulty of getting up here by batteaux or by land is so great, that few travelers attempt it.