Welcome to Discovering the Northwoods from the Manitowish Waters Historical Society. We will 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 for blog posts, show notes, our YouTube Channel, and a full transcription of this episode!
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. For this article, some offensive and outdated terminology have been changed but the rest of the publication remains in its entirety for educational purposes and accurate historic context.
We would like to introduce In Island Lake and Other Populous Bodies of Wisconsin Waters by J. J. Marlett. The original source was published in 1895. This episode is read by me, Brenna Reilley.
A Party of Evansvillians enjoys fishing. Capture of the muskellunge, the wolf of the waters. A fighter to the last beautiful scenery at Big Lake cause Mr. Thompson to inflict a speech on his companions – Mr. Marlett’s interesting letter
Island Lake, Wisc. Sept. 28 – We left Evansville on the evening of Sept. 19 bound for Chicago. Messrs. E. E. Wieland and R. Jenkins were in the cars with me, the rest of the party having gone up to Chicago the day before. We found the following parties stopping at the Gore hotel: J.W. Thompson, F. P. Jeffries, Bruce Jeffries, Sherman Jeffries, and Master Percy Jeffries, making a party of nine. After raking in Chicago and buying what fishing tackle and ammunition we needed, we left on the Chicago Northwestern railroad in the afternoon for Manitowish, Wisconsin. This is about 30 miles south of Lake Superior. We arrived there about 5 o’clock in the morning, taking breakfast at one of the hotels. Manitowish is not much of a place, consisting of a station house, which is a very pretty little building, two frame buildings being a hotel, saloon, and dwelling combined, and one other house unoccupied. There was also a house back in the woods, a rough frame affair, which was formerly used for lewd purposes, and is probably one of the lumber camps of which we have read so much in the papers, where young girls are enticed away and kept against their wishes. This matter was discussed among some of our party there and they had never heard of anything of this kind. They said the girls were at liberty to go at any time they wanted to. The place is now deserted, and nothing goes on, as the lumber business is only carried on in the winter and spring.
We left Manitowish by road, following the bed of the Manitowish river about eight miles where there is a dam in Rest Lake, built by a corporate company. The woods here are very thick with underbrush they are with great difficulty captured. On the way to the dam, Mr. Thompson killed a grouse and a muskrat. After our arrival our party got into the boats and proceeded to our destination, which was Island Lake, about 12 miles from the dam, making 20 miles from the railroad station. On our way we passed through Rest Lake, then through a small thoroughfare, then into Stone Lake, into Spider Lake, then through a long thoroughfare into Island Lake. These lakes would probably cover from 300 to 500 acres of ground. They are very pretty and clear and you can see the bottom in several places from the surface.
Our trip to Island Lake was an uneventful one, we met with very poor success in trolling. We prepared our lines with spoon hooks but only had a few strikes, (This is the term used for bites). We arrived at the island, which was our destination, where we were to stay during our trip. The proprietor of the island and buildings is Abe Lafave. After dinner we proceeded to work, Mr. J. W. Thompson, the guide, and I in one boat, and the other parties divided up into about two or three to each boat. Our first afternoon was not a very good introduction for it rained very hard, although we had a number of strikes and succeeded in landing a number of muskellunge, or, as it is spelled by others muskellunge. You can take your choice, as it is spelled both ways in the book issued by the Chicago & Northwestern railroad. The other parties had very fair success and landed a number of muskellunge and a few pikes. The next day we took a ride on the boat, going up Big Creek to Big Lake. It rained and hailed very hard, the hail coming down on our ears and noses, making them sting.
On Monday we trolled through Rest Lake thoroughfares, Spider Lake, Stone Lake, into Rest Lake, and Donohue’s Bay in Rest Lake. We had very fair success, again capturing a number of muskellunge and quite a lot of pike. We of course took lunch with us, and at about 12 o’clock we landed on the bank. Our guide built a fire, made coffee, fried some fish and breakfast bacon, and with bread and butter, we had a first-class meal, for which that climate gave us an excellent appetite. We returned to Island Lake about dark.
On Tuesday we went up Big Creek to Big Lake. Our guide was Fred Scholz, as he is a first-class fellow I think he must be related to our treasurer, F. J. Scholz as he spelled his name the same way. I do not think he knows he is a relation if such is the case. We went up about six miles to Calvert Doriet’s homestead and there Mr. Thompson and I took the trail over to Big Lake, our guide having to portage to Rest Lake for about two miles to the lake. We found Big Lake a beautiful body of water, the foliage going down to the water’s nice graveled bank and bottom. Nothing could be more beautiful than this lake. We found a camp there, but no one seemed to be at home. On looking through one of the windows, we saw guns, fishing, tackles, and sporting suits. They had a nice house, a number of canoes, and a kitchen. The grounds around the house were swept and cleaned up as though it had just been done, being as clean as a broom could make them. A number of beds were nearby showing that tents had been erected over them. These beds consist of balsam boughs piled up to a thickness of about three or four inches, and all a fellow has to do is to wrap a blanket around him and lay down. Our guide was some time reaching us, but after doing so we strolled around the lake until 12 o’clock where we had our dinner on a very beautiful spot.
Mr. Thompson became so enthusiastic over the scenery that he commenced making us a speech saying that we were the first white men that ever tramped that particular place and that we were on virgin waters and in virgin forests. Before he proceeded any further one guide called our attention to a great flaming advertisement on our particular rock, announcing the sale of Armistead’s Tonic. This made Mr. Thompson feel as though he would rather have kept quiet. But the scenery was very beautiful and the variety very great. After dinner, we trolled across the lake and succeeded in lauding a beautiful Muskalonge weighing about 12 pounds. This was the largest one we had caught up to this time. The muskellunge, you must understand, is called the “Wolf of the Waters” on account of its ferocity. They have a very large mouth, are very strong, and will fight to the very last moment.
After capturing a muskellunge, we went up Rice Creek, trolling through the waters, where we succeeded in catching another muskellunge, although a much smaller one. We saw a number of ducks of the blue teal species. There were a number of larger birds flying in the air and when I asked our guide if they were not buzzards he said he knew nothing about buzzards as there were none in that part of the country. He said here these were eagles and we afterward had the pleasure of seeing a fine specimen sitting on the banks of the lake, probably watching for chipmunks or squirrels. After proceeding up Rice Creek to Rice Lake about four miles we there saw Native Americans in a canoe. They had their boat loaded down with birch bark preparing for winter. This bark had no doubt been gathered in the spring and left there for them to get when they wanted it. The birch bark is used for wigwams, for building canoes, and for a number of other things. Rice lake and Creek are so named from the quantity of wild rice growing on them which Native Americans gather for winter use. We trolled back on our way to the trail on the banks of Big Lake, the guide taking the boat through the portage and meeting us at Doriet’s homestead. On our way through the trail, Mr. Thompson killed a number of grouse. These birds are very fine eating, being something like the partridge and about as large as a prairie chicken. We arrived at the Island Home about dark, very tired and after eating a good meal went to bed to sleep sound and prepare for our trip next day.
Wednesday morning we had an early start. Our trip was through Rest Lake, then through another thoroughfare into Manitowish Lake; again into a thoroughfare into Altar Lake. Just as we entered Spider Lake I captured a large pike, the largest caught during our trip. There were more pike caught than any other kind of fish. They are very game fish, striking at a spoon hook and also at still fishing. Their mouths are not as large as the muskellunge yet they have teeth probably one-half inch or more long. There’s no taking the hook out of the mouth of the fish until the fish is dead. The result is that you have to knock the fish in the head as soon as caught in order to get the hook out of its mouth. We also captured 11 ½ pounds of Muskalonge in a bay off of Spider Lake. Spider Lake is also named on account of the many bays it has, their legs reaching out in all directions like a spider. Manitowish is one of the largest lakes in that country, being probably four miles long by two miles wide. We then entered Altar Lake through the thoroughfare, where our guide prepared a good meal having muskellunge as the principal dish. After dinner, we trolled Altar Lake with only partial success. This seems to be the lake that is the favorite of Dr. Howard of Chicago, who goes up there very often and camps on the bank. His camping ground was where we had our dinner.
We returned home from Altar Lake a little after dark having captured a muskellunge weight about 11 and ½ pounds and a 10-pound pike, besides a number of others of smaller weight. Thursday morning we started up the thoroughfare and creek to Boulder Lake, but after proceeding with the entire part about 5 miles we found the rapids so strong that we concluded to return, and came down through Island Lake into the thoroughfare and fished for bass, as our bass catches to the present time had been only a few. We fished the rest of the day with the entire party, the wind meanwhile was blowing very hard. We landed many a few fish, but. Mr. Thompson succeeded in killing a number of ducks of the blue-winged teal species.
We returned home that night not feeling very jubilant over our success for the day. I forgot to mention that during the morning hours it rained while the sun was shining, and a rainbow with the ends visible appeared over our heads. I had never seen anything of this kind before. During my boyhood days I used to be told that if I was to go to the end of the rainbow I would find a pot of gold, but seemingly both ends of the rainbow at once I was undecided to which one to go, but before I had made my start the rainbow disappeared, so I lost my pot of gold.
On Friday we got an early start and fished the entire day in the thoroughfares between Island and Spider Lakes, with only partial success. The party probably landed about 40 pike and bass. The largest bass was caught by Mr. E. P. Jeffries, which weight about 4 ½ pounds. The wind blew the entire day and we were somewhat disgusted with the day’s sport when we returned to the Island. On Friday night we commenced making preparations to return home on Saturday and in the morning we commenced packing our fish with the law of Wisconsin when fishing out of the state. No one can ship over 20 pounds in one box, but he can ship 20 pounds a day during his entire stay in the state. No fish is permitted to be exported for the market. The deer can only be. Killed for 20 days, from November 1st to the 20th. Dogs for all purposes are prohibited, not even to catch rabbits or for any other purpose. Each of us packed a box and loaded it up in our skiff with our guide and returned to the dam in Rest Lake. It rained the entire distance, but we were pretty well prepared for rain. Mr. Thompson and myself landed the largest muskellunge of the party, it weighing about 28 pounds, and we had to shoot it before we could take it into the boat. He was a beauty, and we will probably place him on exhibition when we reach Evansville. Mr. Bruce Jeffries in one of the other boats also caught a nice muskellunge on his way down the thoroughfares. These two fish were packed together in one box.
The state laws in regard to shipping fish are such that one cannot pack two fish in one box, no matter what the weight may be. Although there were only two fish in this box it weighed about 40 pounds. We arrived at the dam cold and chilled, the wind having shifted to the north, blowing pretty hard during this rain. After drying ourselves and eating our dinner at Mr. Peter Vance’s, the proprietor of the hotel at the dam, we left in a spring wagon for the Manitowish railroad station. Mr. Thompson killed several more grouse and a fine large crane on our way to the station. We arrived at the station about dark, having experienced the coldest weather since we left home.
Our entire trip may be summed up as follows: We caught 20 muskellunge, the largest one being that caught by Mr. Thompson weighing about 28 pounds, the next largest caught by Mr. F. P. Jeffries which weighed 24 pounds. Our entire catch of muskellunge was 160 pounds an average of eight pounds. We also caught altogether about 200 pounds of pike and after filling our boxes we left 60 fish in the ice box for the proprietor to use. We killed any number of ducks and grouse but did not bring any home. The following are the parties who acted as guides and assisted us in our stay up there: Peter Vance, who lives at the dam and Rest lake and keeps a good hotel: W. K. Henderson, an old-time guide, who knows every nook and corner of the country: Fred Scholz, our guide, a reliable and true man, but not so well acquainted with the country as some of the rest: Calvert Doriet, a competent guide, who has located a claim that we visited on our way to Big Lake: John Foster, also a guide, but is generally locating claims for homesteaders. There is lots of land in this territory that can be located yet. Abe Lafave, who owns the building on the island in Island Lake, is a very fine specimen of the average French Canadian. Most of these we find here are of that nationality. We also came across a peculiar creature named Dan Devine, an Irishman who served his time through the army and then commenced railroading, after which he settled in this country, married a young Indigenous woman, and now has 10 children.
There were camping parties in a great many of the lakes. There were some Indianapolis parties at the Island home two of the gentlemen with their wives. There were also some ladies out fishing with their guides who succeeded in landing quite a number of fish, although they said their experience was limited to the day before. They were thoroughly prepared for fishing, having on short dresses, leggings, and waterproofs overhead and body. They were fishing in the rain the same as the rest of the men the day that I saw them. There are no roads or vehicles in this part of the country, everything being done by boat. One can take the trail through the woods and go in most any direction without danger of being lost. In the wintertime, Big Creek is frozen up and is then dubbed Doriet’s road, and here the lumberman hauls his logs down to the rocks ready for the spring rise. I believe this part of the country is the sportsman’s paradise. I do not know of a better place for all sports, fishing, and hunting.
I have extended my letter much longer than I intended when I began. I will probably be in Evansville Monday morning on the early train.
J. J. M.
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