Logging & Lumbering

The following article appeared in the Summer 1999 issue of the Morrison County Historical Society’s newsletter. It was written by the first director of the Historical Society.

The first traces of timber being cut, in history, in Morrison County was by Lieut. Capt. Z. Pike, United States explorer in the year of 1805 who built two block houses and a log cabin home for his sick and disabled men.

The first commercial logging that has been done in this county appears to have been done in 1848 on the Crow Wing River near as it empties into the Mississippi River on the West side of the “Father of the Waters” when some lumbermen from St. Anthony Falls, now Minneapolis, bought pine trees at fifty cents per tree from the Indian Chief “Hole In The Day” (No 2) in that year and at that time only the very largest and the best trees were selected.

The trees were chopped down or sawed down and then cut into proper lengths of logs then these logs were dragged or skidded into large piles or “Roll Ways” and from these large piles the logs were loaded on extra large sleighs, both by man power and horse power, they were hoisted up to thirty feet high on these sleighs and the sleighs would follow deep grooves on the roads generally called “Ice Ruts”.

These “Ruts” were sprinkled with water in the evenings and at night and the water would freeze at night making it very slippery and easy to convey the load to the landing on the banks of the Mississippi River or its tributaries.

On these landings the logs would be scaled (board feet of timber estimated) bark marked and stamped at each end with a stamp hammer by the party who bought them or who owned them and as soon as possible the logs would be rolled into the river to be floated to the destination.

Cruisers, timber estimators, or locators would select a place in the center of the timber tract or forest owned by the lumbermen for the logging camp or “Home Sweet Home” for the “Lumber Jack” or “Timber Beast” as they nick named (sic) the men working in the forest or woods in the Pioneer Days.

The Camp would consist of one eating house where they would cook and dine and then a number of sleeping houses generally called “Bunk Houses” and barns to keep the horses.

In the camp they would employ a cook and a cookee (sic) to prepare meals and a “Bull Cook” or “Roustabout” or a “Flunkee” to do chores.

The camp buildings would be generally built of frame work and covered with tar paper some times called “Tar Paper Shacks” or out of medium sized logs and the barns for horses would be built of about the same material.

Ordinary labor was paid from $10 to $18 per month and board and the teamsters up to $35 and board.

In those days conditions were different then today and the loggers and lumbermen were looked upon as benefactors in 1893-94 for they helped to open up the county for the coming farmer and dairy men.

The height of logging in this state was reached in the years of the winters of 1892-93 when there was 674,000,000 feet cut on the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries North of Little Falls and in the year of 1893-94 there were 500,000,000 or 1,174,000,000 feet for the two winters according to the records of the Surveyor Generals’ office at Capital building St. Paul.

In the year of 1893 and 1894 there were about 2,000 men employed on the Mississippi River from the source down to Minneapolis and below that city the logs were “Rafted” down to the city of Winona, Minn., Muscatine, Iowa and other river towns and down as far as St. Louis, Mo.

Booms, of long logs, have been strung along for several miles up the river and these were securely fastened together by big boom chains and then to piers.

The men working on the rivers driving the logs or breaking up jams called each other, affectionately, with nick names such as “River Hogs” or “Slough Pigs”.

In the early pioneer days the “Rivermen” wore heavy calfskin or cowhide boots about sixteen inches high with “Spikes” in the soles called “Chalks” (Pronounced corks) about one inch long and later they wore shoes with lace tops from eight to fourteen inches high also with “Chalks”(caulk) so that if it was necessary to ride a log they would not slip off from it and no matter if the log would roll, most of them would stay on top and ride it in swift current, while the “Cruiser” or timber estimators would wear about fourteen to sixteen inch lace shoes with shorter “Chalks” (Calks [Käk]) in the soles.

In 1891-92 the Pine Tree Lumber Co. built the very largest saw mill in the county and in United States and probably the largest in the world at that time and when built it was regarded as the most up to date known to man.

This company was established at Little Falls by a number of lumbermen throughout Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, the lumbering section of the middle West at that time.

Here more then sixty million of Northern Pine was cut annually besides ten million lath and many million of shingles, and during their stay from 1891 to 1919 they sawed about One Billion Three Hundred million feet of timber, according to the records in Surveyor Generals’ office at capital building.

For many years this great mill gave constant employment to four hundred men during the sawing season. The season usually lasted seven months of the year.

This company ceased to operate their plant in Little Falls in about 1919 due it was said that the timber tributary to Little Falls had been exhausted.

When this company had closed their operations in Little Falls, they paid out to their men who had been with them for many years and as a reward for their faithful service a “Bonus” which amounted, we are told, many thousands of dollars, thus carrying out the second greatest commandment, to a great extent, not only in words but in deeds namely: “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

While the mill had been in operation and since it started in 1891 it had doubled, tripled the population of this Morrison county many times over by attracting laborers, loggers and farmers into this county from the East and Europe.

“Charley” or “Charles” as Mr. C.A. Weyerhaeuser was affectionately called by men, possessed that happy faculty of giving orders to his associates and the men working for the company without the slightest offence or superiority and the word spoken through him, led men to want to render excellent service to his company and they did.

Today (1938) when men meet who worked for him and his company and who are old and gray, gladly relate and beam with delight the many experiences they had with “Charles” which now are just “Memories” of the past and express their regrets with tears in their eyes at his early demise.

by Valentine Kasparek
Copyright 1938, Morrison County Historical Society

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