Where have all the forests gone?

The Bayfield hillside 1911 South 5th Street and Wilson Avenue Robert J Nelson Collection

The Bayfield hillside 1911 – South 5th Street and Wilson Avenue
Robert J Nelson Collection

Where have all the Forests Gone?

Gone to the cutover graveyard one by one,

By way of the crosscut saw my son,

Gone to eastern, western and southern cities everyone!

In the Lake Superior region the rise to civilization meant that timber resources, like millions of animals among the trees and the brush, had to vanish.  Coming on then was a different kind of drama, with sawyers and axmen at work from dawn to dusk in a huge coniferous forest.  Until this destruction was complete, the loggers did not quit. The Chequamegon Country 1659 – 1976, Walt Harris, pg.1       

Reported on January 19, 1933, in the Bayfield County Press, there were a crowd of old-world lumberjacks gathered at the Sebastian Feldmeir wood lot in Russell Township.  The purpose was for reunion and picnic. Speakers recalled the olden times and told their stories of the lumber jack days. Dr. J. M. Dodd was the first speaker followed by the oldest active lumberjack Jimmy Trainer of Happy Hollow/Belanger Settlement, then came Will Garnish and John Roehm of Ashland, and Guy Burnham the noted Chequamegon Bay Historian.  Last to speak was William Knight, then 89 years old and a pioneer lumberman of Bayfield whose efforts played a huge role in the harvest of Bayfield peninsula White Pine, Hemlock, Cedar and hardwood clear cuts.

Wrote the Press, Mr. Knight recalled with sorrow the tragedy of the passing of Wisconsin’s pine forest.  He said, “I know!  I know it is a difficult matter to make people always feel that we have caused a tragedy in stripping these hills and making them now look vacant.  There is not a tree left that is worth five cents. Too bad, too bad.

“When I came here (December 1869) it was a solid forest and it was beautiful. Many days I roamed the woods just to see the beauties of the timber and enjoy the solitude.  It cheered me.  I would sit down with my back against a large tree and eat my lunch.  While I sat there I used to wonder what this vast region was like before it became a beautiful forest. What was it thousands of years ago? I wonder thus as I sat.  

“All those things, the working of nature, we have looked and them and enjoyed, we dream of them and we are sorry we cannot have them with us always”.

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Photo United States Department of Agriculture - Forest Service
“Timber” was yelled as the tree crashed to the forest bed.
Photo: United States Department of Agriculture – Forest Service
The Devil’s Whip
The “Devil’s Whip” i.e., this style of “Michigan tooth” crosscut saw made many men wealthy at the great expense of slaughtering the great pinaries and hardwood forests of Northwest Wisconsin.

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