Wisconsin: What once a northern forest of ancient white pine…

Once a region thick with white pine, Northern Wisconsin’s forests are
peppered with hardwood.

Although it’s been more than 150 years since logging hit what would
become Chetek, the industry’s prints are stamped in the land. Effects
on the soil, tree species and waterways, not to mention the
inhabitants, linger. “The Chetek area has been valuable for 10,000
years,” says Chetek native Timm Severud, now a resident of Winter.
Severud has spent the past 25 years studying the area’s history. The
birthplace of an Ojibwe “trickster” god, the Rice Lake/Chetek area is
sacred to the tribe.

Prior to the damming of waterways to control the
passage of logs, rice beds supplied enough wild rice to feed 50,000
people for one year. “Chetek was a rice community,” Severud adds.
After the pines were replaced with stumps, fires raged through the
forests. It was all part of the “grand plan” to clear the land and
build agricultural settlements, Rucinski remarks.

“The European
settlers were going to follow the Paul Bunyan types.” “There always
were fires,” naturalist Rod Gont points out. “The soils [in some
areas] are fairly dry and rocky.” The dried-out tree bits, draughts
and undergrowth contributed to flare-ups both natural and man-made.
“The Depression was the worst time for fire, as people had no money
and were setting fires to earn .15 cents an hour fighting the fire,”
Bob Ringstad recalls. Ringstad’s father Sigwald was a forester with
the Wisconsin Conservation Department beginning around 1928. “He told
me they finally took one man from each family in areas where fires
kept cropping up, and then split them into three eight-hour shifts,
keeping them on the job even after the fire was out,” he says. “If
they sent them home, they would set another fire.”

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Comments (2)

davidOctober 26th, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I’m a student in Chetek Wisconsin and I am working on a project about Native Americans in the Chetek area before the Europeans. I’ve been working out of a book called “History of Baron County” but it was published long ago. I was wondering if you have published anything recently about Native Americans in the Chetek area before the Europeans. If you have please send me the title of the book and maybe a website where I can access this information. My project is due very soon so if you can get me this information sooner than later it would be appreciated. Thank you for your time.

davidOctober 26th, 2011 at 1:16 pm

I was directed here by a man named Randy Bohl, he said he went to school with you and that you know everything about this area.

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