Western Emigration & Speculation

Tall Timber Photo WHS.060

Tall Timber

Western Emigration and Speculation

Bayfield Mercury

August 22, 1857

“My father and mother were among the early settlers of Bayfield, coming here in 1857.  Father, a victim of tuberculosis, came primarily to regain his health.  He told me that when the steamer he was on came into the Bayfield harbor the odor of the balsam and pines was so poignant and pleasant that he felt sure he was going to get well, which he did.  One solid belt of pine, hemlock, cedar and hardwoods extended for hundreds of miles, with only Indian trails through it.  Hardly a day passes that I do not regret the loss by careless lumbermen, and the fires that followed, of this wonderful belt of timber.  One hundred years of forestation can never produce another anywhere like this virgin tract”. [1] 

In June of 1857 the developers of the Bayfield Land Company, headed by Minnesota Territorial Senator, Henry Mower Rice, published their own newspaper. Their proxy, R. W. Hamilton & Alonzo Hatch established and published “The Bayfield Mercury”, Bayfield’s first newspaper.  On July 4 this paper made its first appearance and was published about a year.

Hoping to entice prospective capitalists to purchase timber lands here after follows an excerpt descriptor of the virgin lands located along the shores of western Lake Superior, the Bayfield ridge, and inland to the great waterway rivers of Wisconsin.

“In this era of, the resources and prospects of every section of the West are fully canvassed, and the inducements that each offer to the emigrant and capitalist are fully discussed. Some are claiming the superior advantages of the rich prairies of Illinois and Iowa, others the noble forests and rich agricultural lands of lower Wisconsin and Minnesota, or the fine climate and extensive grazing lands of Kansas and Texas. Against all these we enter the lists and challenge the whole Union to produce a section of country of the same extent, so rich in elements of wealth, so well calculated to support a large population or that gives promise of such large returns to the capitalist who invests his means, as this our county of La Pointe.

It comprises an area of upwards of two thousand square miles, extending from township 40 north on the line of latitude 40° to Lake Superior, and from Montreal river on range 1 east, to the line between range 9 and 10 west. The interior of the county being a portion of the great water shed of Northern Wisconsin; it is well watered by the head waters of the St. Croix and Chippewa rivers and the several streams flowing northward into Lake Superior. Through an extent of more than one half of the county, these streams interlock and together with the numerous small Lakes interspersed throughout the county contain upon their shores some of the best timber to be found in the Northern States, also afford facilities for transporting it, on the one side to Lake Superior, and on the other through the St. Croix and Chippewa rivers to the Mississippi as well as an almost unlimited supply of water-power.

In addition to the lumbering and mineral wealth, the county contains agricultural resources surpassed by few sections of the country. On the bottoms of the numerous small streams and even the entire ridges between many of these streams are farming lands that will compare favorably with the best locations in Minnesota or South Wisconsin. Our winters are not longer and are milder than in Central and Southern Minnesota. — Every agricultural production used north of the Ohio River thrives here and for cereals, grasses, and potatoes and other root crops, the county is not surpassed if equaled by any other portion of the West.

[1]  Excerpt written by Harvey Nourse, printed in The Lake Superior Country in History and in Story, Guy M. Burnham [first print 1929], and re-published by Browser Books Copyright 1974, p. 287

[2]  The Village, later Township and City of Bayfield and Bayfield County present were no more than a block of land sitting on a pretty sand point, formerly in La Pointe County until 1866.

This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.