«September 30, 1955 by Helen McCann White ©Forest History Society Durham, North Carolina Original publisher’s notice: All publication rights to the ...»
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
with Mr. Wirt Mineau
at his home
St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin
September 30, 1955
by Helen McCann White
©Forest History Society
Durham, North Carolina
Original publisher’s notice:
All publication rights to the contents of this
oral history interview are held by the Forest
History Foundation, Inc., 2706 West Seventh
Boulevard, St. Paul, Minnesota. Permission to
publish any part of this oral history interview must be obtained in writing from the Forest History Foundation, Inc.
Mr. Wirt Mineau: One time when they was building Nevers Dam they had an old fellow working there scaling pilings that he was buying from the farmer, and this old fellow thought he was going to get a good standing' by stealing from the farmers. Mr. Sauntry was up there and visited the place and as he went along there he noticed this old fellow was stealing from the farmers. He went to the boss there, the foreman, and asked him, "Who is that man you got there scaling those pilings?" He says, "He's an old man by the name of McPherson lives up here at Wolf Creek." He said to him, "Discharge that man." Forman: "What for? He's a good man for us." "Yah? He was stealin' from the farmers." Forman: "Well, that's good for us." "Well," Mr. Sauntry says, "a man'll steal for you will steal from you."
Hope Garlick Mineau: Say, Wirt, was it up at Mullen's they sent the young fellow out to cut the round turn?
WM: That wasn't at Mullen's.
HGM: Was he working for Edmans?
WM: It was in that Clam Falls country there.
HGM: Tell Helen about that young fellow they sent out. He wasn't so foolish. They always used to play jokes on greenhorns.
WM: Greenhorns. They always used to play jokes on them. Sent him out to do something when he didn't understand the language. They sent this young guy out, told him to go out by the logging road there, cut a cross haul and a round turn. The kid went out and he cut down a great big tree right across the road. Just haul around it or cross it just as you please. You know, a cross haul is where they pulled the horses. You see, you have a skidway that would be on one side of the sled and a team on the other side, and the men would put a line around these logs and hook it on the sled, hook the team to the other end and load the logs on the sled. That's what they had the cross haul for. A round turn was where they turned around at the end of the road.
HGM: Was he the same greenhorn they sent in for a cant hook?
WM: And he brought out a muley ox (an ox without horns.) One outfit, I don't remember who it was, had a greenhorn who'd never been in the woods, didn't know how to do anything. Told him to go in town and bring out a left-hand monkey wrench. So he went to town and inquired around, innocent as the devil, about where he could find a left-handed monkey wrench. There wasn't any, of course. He asked, "Will ye ever have any?" "Well, I don't know. Wemay have some day." He went to a hotel and stayed there all winter and in the spring the boss had to pay his wages and pay his hotel bill. He had been ordered to stay 'til he found one.
WM: Well, I worked in the woods, some way, nearly all my life, the young part of my life.
HMW: When did you first go out?
WM: Oh, when I was about 16 or 17 years old. I'm 77 years old now.
HMW: Who did you first work for?
WM: First I worked for Mullen, C. E. Mullen.
WM: Well, it was up near Clam Falls. He landed about a mile from Clam Falls. The logs were landed at High Landing a mile below Clam Falls dam, called by old loggers "The Dan Smith Dam". Smith sold water to the lumber companies to float their logs.
HMW: Did they float logs down through Clam Lake, and then on out to the St. Croix?
HMW: How big an operation did Mullen have?
WM: Oh, he had four teams hauling. I don't know how many men he had cutting and scaling the logs. He had quite a crew there. The last time I worked for Mullen he had a mill there. It was about four miles east of Frederic.
HGM: Was that when he and Edmans logged adjoining tracts there? When they had the mill there?
WM: Well, I'll tell you, Mullen had a camp on McKenzie Creek.
HMW: A branch of Clam River?
WM: Yes, it comes in at Clam Falls. Edmans had a camp there and Mullen boarded his men in there. He boarded us fellows there. At Edmans' camp. Then Edmans had some timber down by Mullen's camp and he boarded his men at Mullen's. That's the way they worked it - all together.
WM: Charlie and John Edmans, two brothers.
HMW: They were from St. Croix Falls?
WM: No, they was from Balsam Lake. This Charlie Edmans was county clerk for quite a good many years. He had a hand as big as a ham, but you'd see him writing so very fine - well, it'd be taken for a lady's handwriting. He was a very good writer.
HGM: There may be some of their records out there. I wouldn't be surprised if you'd find something out there.
HMW: Do you remember the first winter you went in the woods?
WM: Oh, yes.
HMW: Was it exciting for you?
WM: Yes, it was, but of course I'd been around logging all the time I was growing up. It wasn't so new to me because I'd been around the river drives. When Nevers Dam was finished I was twelve years old.
HGM: He used to go with his father down there. They used to buy rocks to fill cribs and, you see, the farmers hauled rocks down there and sold to the company.
HMW: Your father was a farmer, here in Polk County?
WM: Yes. Eureka Township.
HGM: Homesteaded in Eureka in 1870.
HMW: Did he ever send his horses to the woods in the winter?
WM: Yeah, he did. He took them to the woods. When I was a kid.
HMW: Somebody was telling me that a horse didn't last very long in the woods.
HMW: Didn't it kill a horse in one season?
WM: No. Depends on who drove them.
HGM: And if they were well taken care of. I can remember when I was a little girl seeing as many as forty head of horses harnessed and, with wagons and sleds, go through Osceola from Stillwater up to the logging camps, in one group.
HMW: They say a Mr. Scott at Hudson used to bring a lot of horses up to the woods. Did you know about him?
HGM: No, I didn't. Staples used to send horses, men, and so on every year to his camps.
WM: Turnbulls down here always had horses.
HMW: Turnbulls? Who are they?
HGM: They lived south of town here. Old settlers. They have always had horses, even Dick Turnbull's son, Charlie Turnbull.
WM: Billy Turnbull.
HGM: All of them.
WM: They all went to the woods.
HMW: Did you have good food at the camps?
WM: Oh, the best you've ever seen.
HMW: What did you eat?
HGM: Hot biscuits and pancakes, you might know.
WM: One camp I was in - Nels Simonson's, about five miles from Kingsdale, Minnesota - the last time I was in the woods, had a cook there and every morning they had sourdough pancakes and every night we had sourdough biscuits.
WM: No. Sourdough.
HMW: Did you have lots of beans?
WM: They used to. Years ago they didn't have potatoes or turnips or anything that'd freeze. They didn't have those, but they did there at Simonson's.
HMW: Oh, is that why they had rice?
WM: Yes. You could always tell the night before at supper what kind of pie you was going to have for dinner the next day because if they was going to have raisin pie, they had raisin sauce for supper the night before.
HMW: I see. Did you have lots of raisin pie?
WM: Oh, we had all kinds of pie.
HMW: Pumpkin pie?
WM: Yes, after they got so they had canned pumpkin.
HMW: When did they start having canned goods?
WM: Well, they had nearly everything, had a lot of canned goods in those days.
HGM: But not in Father Mineau's days they didn't. See, he was a lumberman in Canada before he was ever married.
WM: He was born in Canada. My grandparents came from Paris.
HGM: That's where he gets his style from. The lumbermen, there were a lot of them that were superstitious. Here in the early days there were so many of the Scotch and Irish from New Brunswick and Maine and they had these ghost stories and told them in all camps. Wirt, where did you hear the story about the Dongolian Whooper?
WM: I heard that from Joe Arnold, an old resident neighbor of the Mineaus in Eureka who worked in lumber camps until he lost his leg by slipping under a sled runner and getting his leg
HMW: Was that an old story?
WM: A story about logging in Miramachi.
HGM: Back in Canada.
WM: Maine and Miramachi were like Wisconsin and Minnesota, you know, on either side of the river.
HGM: And, by the way, it was a St. Croix River, too.
HMW: The Dongolian Whooper, what on earth is that?
WM: There was a man killed in camp. The cook killed him. The rest of the men were all out to work and this fellow wasn’t feeling well and was going downriver, so he drawed his time that morning and the men all went out to work before he packed up and got ready to leave. This cook killed him for his wages - he settled up and had his money - and this cook buried him under the floor in camp. Then the whoop commenced every night; it sounded like it was in the camp and yet they couldn’t locate it, couldn’t tell where it was, and it went on and went on for a long while. The cook, he kept getting more nervous and more nervous and frightened and excited.
Finally they got the story out of him.
HGM: Didn’t the cook leave?
WM: Well, yes, he did leave. They got part of the story out of him and then they dug the corpse up. After they dug the corpse up there was no more whoops.
HMW: Oh, my!
WM: It wasn’t true, I don’t suppose.
HGM: That’s a typical ghost story but it was told in the camps. That was the kind of story. Their fun was a lot of horseplay and some of it was pretty rough.
WM: Oh, and they had stag dances and that, and fiddles and accordions, mouth organs, and some of them had guitars. Of course they sang and played cards.
HGM: Sometimes liquor caused trouble?
WM: No, there wasn’t any liquor allowed in the camps, but sometimes they had some. They’d have the tote team bring it in when it was hauling supplies.
HGM: Did you know those two men who buried the Indian who came to their camp?
WM: Yes, I knew them both but we better not name them.
HGM: This was told to me by a party that really knew the incident, and it was true. These two men had the tote team that stayed on the road and hauled. Every camp hauled their own supplies. They used to fill orders here for them at St. Croix Falls. At Osceola they filled orders for the camps, too, and the lumbermen from Stillwater usually toted most of their supplies from there.
WM: Shell Lake and camps up that way toted from the St. Croix settlements.
HMW: They toted from here?
HGM: Yes, St. Croix Falls. They toted from here. There was a government trail on this side of the river and one on the other side, and the last creek north of town here is called Whiskey Creek and that is where they would get their jugs filled. You see, they’d get their jug of liquor and that was the last place where they’d mix it so it was fit to drink. They would drink quite a bit on the tote, you know, going out of town. They pretty nearly all did and when the drive came down, why, people stayed inside pretty much. I know the old settlers from Taylors Falls told me that.
There was very little violence but a lot of rough talk. They were pretty rough, so when the drive was in people stayed off the streets. If they saw a light and they were drinking they might shoot at it or something like that, but if folks stayed off the streets and left them alone, why, those men wouldn’t molest you. But these two guys were driving a tote team and they both of them drank. I knew one when I was a girl; the other one I didn’t know, but I knew the family. They were going upriver and had an open camp one night. They had their drinks, and when an Indian came to the camp, they gave him some liquor and he got laid out. All three of them got laid out. But the two white men woke up in the morning and, though not sober, were ready to go. The Indian was still out. One of them said, “What’re we going to do with him? We can’t leave him here.” The other one said, “I think he’s dead.” “Oh, I guess he’s dead all right,” the first fellow said. (He wasn’t really sober enough to know.) “I guess he’s dead all right, but what are we going to do with him?” “Well, maybe we better bury him,” the other one said. “No,” the first man said, “then the Indians wouldn’t know what become of him. We can’t do that.” 7 WM: He might have come to. They couldn’t be there and didn’t dare take a chance.
HGM: Yes. So they buried him, but left his head sticking out so the Indians could find him. The Indians came through there during the morning and found him. You can imagine how they followed the tote team into the camp, but the men were out when the Indians came and demanded to see them. The boss kept them hidden at the camp until the Indians went away after the crew pacified them in some way. Though he wasn’t hurt, it was a serious insult to them.
HMW: He was sober by then?
HGM: He was sober, but those guys never dared go back into that section of the country again.
The Indians would have done something to them, and they were not sure what it would be.
HMW: What camp was that?
HGM: I believe it was up on Yellow River.
HMW: For the record I would like to know what other camps Mr. Mineau worked in. You worked for Mullen first, and then?
WM: I worked for Lee Hammond. He was the man that logged there when Frederic was first built. The railroad was built in 1900, north from Dresser to Coon Lake and up there.
HMW: You worked for Hammond, and then who?
WM: I worked for the Nevers Dam Company.
HMW: You said you worked for Nels Simonson?