Welcome back to the Manitowish Waters Historical Society’s podcast, Discovering the Northwoods. During each episode, we take you on a journey through our local history with the help of primary source documentation. To learn more about this rich history or about the historical society – check out our website at mwhistory.org. There you will find blog posts, our YouTube Channel, and Show Notes for the podcast with full transcriptions including photographs and maps.
As with many historical works from this era, there are phrases, terms, and descriptions that are inappropriate to our modern sensibilities. The Manitowish Waters Historical Society in no way condones these offensive remarks or passages but chooses to read this publication in its entirety for educational purposes and accurate historical context.
We would like to introduce an episode on Frances C. Badger from the handwritten notes on the Keego Lodge alongside newspaper articles from the Lakeland Times in 1920. Kay Krans brings this story to life as the narrator on today’s episode.
The summer I was four years old, to be exact, 1908, was the first time my parents took our family to visit their newly acquired property in the North Woods of Wisconsin. My father had purchased this land, with its twelve separate log cabins, from the Laflin Estate. Mr. Laflin had established his own particular Shangri La, in this camp for himself and guests, in what was then almost wilderness. Besides the log cabins, there were other unique factors to make the Tamaracks, as it was called then, unique.
One particularly enjoyable feature was the pavilion, a most unusual retreat out in the water. It was built on pilings, securely anchored not too far from shore on pilings filled with good-sized rocks. A platform ran around the central structure, and a sturdy, elevated walk with railings led to the shore. The pavilion itself was screened in and open on all sides, with a roof, and was a most delightful retreat on a summer afternoon. One could solace oneself into a good book there, listen to the drowsy slapping’s of the waves, and just be plain lazy, and enjoy the ineffable pleasure of being on the water without any effort whatsoever. Mr. Laflin must have been a Sybarite, a voluptuary who knew how to enjoy life himself and offer his guests a gracious hospitality. The pavilion always had comfortable chairs in which we could relax and during my parents’ time a chair which they had brought back from Holland on their European trip in 1902.
Among the effects discovered when we took over the place were various photographs, one of Mr. Laflin in a chaise lounge enjoying his pavilion. Near the pavilion, moored at anchor was the sailboat, a cat boat which couldn’t be used much because its mast was too tall to get under the telephone wire which stretched across our end of Big Lake. I do not remember whether the telephone wire was there that first summer, but during our years there it presented a problem, during the severe thunder and lightning storms of that North Country. The telephone was in the dining room-kitchen cabin, #8, and some valiant soul would have to brave the elements and disconnect it outside the back of the cabin. Otherwise, the lightning would play around the dining room and present a fire hazard. This so terrified me as a small child, that I was afraid of a telephone and would not answer when my schoolmates later called me at our winter home in Kenilworth, Illinois.
The 12 original cabins acquired from the Laflin Estate, were identified by the simple device of numbers. Cabin #1 was my parents, and had two bedrooms, one of which was mine. Cabin #2 was small and nearby. It became my playroom, and later my art studio. Cabin #4 housed my brother, Ned, and his friends. Number 5 was the original living room cabin. In Mr. Laflin’s ownership it housed many souvenirs from his around the world trips. Tent hangings from Egypt, photographs of the celebrities of Europe from that Edwardian Period. These were on the doors, which presented the only flat space. The original cabins were built of logs, most of them built of peeled logs in the English settler’s fashion, with the logs laid horizontally; several in the French fashion, logs upright. These were built of cedar logs with the bark left on. (Many years later, our black cat, Cy, used to delight in clawing off the cedar bark; lots of fun for him!)
My mother soon changed the name of our place from The Tamaracks to Keego. This name she found by doing research at the Crerne Library in Chicago. Keego means fish in the Chippewa Indian language, the Indians of the region, and thus our new summer home became Keego Lodge. The Tamaracks had seemed inadequate to mother, for there were only two of them on the lake shore, which was rocky; no sandy beaches on Big Lake. The two tamaracks had survived on this rocky shore where they looked scraggly and out of place among the White and Norway Pines.
That first summer, and until a road from Big Lake to Boulder Junction was put through, we came on the overnight through train from Chicago, to a little place called Manitowish. This wasn’t much bigger than a “whistle stop” on the main line of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, which ran from Chicago to Ashland. One left the city at 5:00 p.m. The stops I remember were Milwaukee and Wausau. If my father was with us he always managed to find time to get a bottle of beer for my mother and himself. My mother, being always a good provider, would produce sandwiches and a thermos of coffee to cheer us before we got off at Manitowish in the cold crisp dawn of a North Woods early morning. Here a regular hearty breakfast was served in Lee Doriot’s home. Mr. Doriot was the guide who acted as caretaker of the Laflin place.
After breakfast a team of horses was waiting to drive us over a “corduroy road” to a place called the Dam, where lived some people named Plunket. Here all embarked in a Navy Launch, operated by NAPHA, and proceeded through three lakes until we left the launch and portaged about 2 miles to Big Lake. Even then we were not there, as Big Lake is about 2 miles long, and everyone had to get into a small fleet of row boats and row or be rowed to our destination. All supplies had to come this way from the R.R. to the camp. If supplies did not arrive when we expected, someone had to go out and catch enough fish for a meal, or in the early days one of the guides would produce game of some sort, or perhaps a haunch of out of season venison he had stashed away. Fishing was not difficult. Still fishing provided large and small-mouthed bass and northern pike, or we could cast or troll for that magnificent northern fighting fish, the muskellunge or muskie. Thus, my enterprising mother made sure we had enough food at the camp.
The general location of our new camp was in Vilas County, Wisconsin, on the Manitowish Waters. This area is about 50 miles south of Lake Superior, considerably north of Rhinelander, nearer Minocqua and 10 miles “as the crow flies” from Boulder Junction. There were no roads then, except a few stretches of corduroy. When we left the railroad, travel was by water. Our lake was called Big Lake, and was distinguished from many other “Big Lakes” by the fact that Rice Creek was its inlet. Rice Creek contained the second largest wild rice bed in the state, and the Chippewa Indians from the Lac du Flambeau Reservation came each August to camp up the inlet and harvest the wild rice. Our place was on a promontory on the NE shore of Big Lake just around the bend where the inlet flowed into the lake. On the SE shore was the outlet so that all canoe traffic whether Indian or summer campers, passed right in front of us.
The tradition was that all campers were welcome to get water at our pump, up from the shore and next to the dining room-kitchen cabin. One day one of our birch bark canoes was not where normally located. A few days later it was returned with pounds of fresh gathered wild rice as a thank you for its use by an Ojibwe rice gatherer.
As Frances Badger grew older spending her summers at Keego Lodge, Her parents decided to create a camp for girls so Frances had playmates and that camping became important to her. As I read the vignettes, you’ll gain a little insight into the summer camps.
Badger Girls Leave – The entire summer population of the A.S. Badger Summer Camp for Girls donned their city togs and left Wednesday evening on the Northwestern. The girls were taken to Woodruff with automobiles. They occupied three special Pullmans which were left on the siding for their occupancy.
Most of the girls weighed themselves at the depot scales before leaving and although no official record was made it is safe to say that the average was far above that of last June when they arrived.
Lakeland Times 1920
Mr. Badger made a visit to the resort for girls, situated near Boulder Junction which is conducted by his wife. The trip was made by auto, A.E. Harris making the drive.
Lakeland Times, 1920
Badger Girls Arrive- The A.S. Badger Summer Camp for Girls on Big Lake north of here opened for the season on Thursday.
Fifty girls arrived in Minocqua Thursday and motored to the camp eight miles above Oxley where they will remain until September.
Lakeland Times, 1920