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! Okay – So let’s get started!
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 historic context.
We would like to introduce Into the Heart of the Wild Woods Part II read by Bill Zuiker. If you haven’t already – check out episode 1 Into the Wild Woods Part I. This 1900 publication documents a guided 1899 hunting and fishing trip in the Manitowish Waters Area.
Read by Bill Zuiker:
I awoke about daylight thoroughly rested.
Allen and the two guides were sleeping soundly, so I quietly rose, and with my clothes and gun, quietly slipped out of the cabin.
A clearing in the wild woods — a spacious solitude, surrounded by the virgin forest. I now saw there were two shacks — one intended to house man, the other beasts. Tall, ragged weeds struggled against the foundation logs, growth which might have proven oats had the season been long enough and the sun strong enough to have helped it to maturity; empty boxes, tin cans, barrels– all in profusion and confusion. The space between the shacks in for a considerable distance from the doors, was strewn thick with the decaying chips. There lay a chopping log, which showed the scars of many of vigorous stroke of an axe, gone many a day. A typical desert logging camp.
But what is nature’s work? I looked around, and the enchantment of surroundings and atmosphere began its subtle spell. The sun was low and would not throw its beams above the tree tops for hours: the old logging road leading from river to camp ran due east and west, permitting the first genial genial rays of old Sol to light up the clearing like a sanctuary.
The grand unspeakable piece of it all! Oh, for the soul of a Thoreau and the pen of an Agassiz! But even I, untutored and ignorant of the ways of nature, much could I see and understand.
“I have seen a curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
Of inland ground, applying to his ear
The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell
To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
Listened intensely; and his countenance soon
Brightened with joy; for within were heard
Murmurings, whereby the monitor expressed
Mysterious union with its native sea.”
Nature was holding its secret with an open hand, and my eyes and ears were filled to overflowing. The following description, written by a naturalist and seer, fits here:
“Not indolent, soft, like that which sifts in green shadow through the leafage of a summer garden, but tense, alertly and mysteriously expectant, was the silence of the forest it was something like a vast bubble of glass, blown to a fineness so tenuous that a small sound, were it but to strike the one preordained and mystic note, might shatter it down in loud ruin, yet it had existed there flawless for generations, transmitting into its own quality such infrequent and inconsequent disturbance as might arise from the far-off cry of the panther, or the thin chirp of the clamoring nuthatch, the long, solemn calling of the taciturn moose, twice or thrice repeated under the round October moon, or the noise of some great wind roaring in the remote tops of pine and birch and hemlock.
The air that washed the endless vistas of brown-green shadow was of marvelous clearity, not blurred by any stain of dust or vapor. It’s magical transparency was confusing to an eye not born and bred to it, making the far branches seem near, and then near twigs unreal, disturbing the accustomed perspective, and hinting of some elfish deception in familiar and apparent.”
Birds everywhere; squirrels and chipmunks scolding worse than Socrates’ has Xanthippe. A stream of freshwater flowered within two rods of the camp. I went to it. There lay a glass; I filled it, held it between the sky and my eye and so very transparent was the liquid it could not be distinguished.
I drank again and again and each time raising my eyes toward the blue vault of heaven, I thanked God I was alive and permitted to enjoy what was so generously spread before me.
Performing my ablutions, I felt as if I could lick my weight in wildcats. Remembering the episode of last night, I laughed. Walking toward the door of the cabin, I found the body of the cat, and looking within, noticed all my companions were still sleeping soundly.
About ten rods from the cabin door, in line with the road, stood the large pine stump. It was a good spot to plant my dead wildcat upon. Taking the body, I propped it into his natural position as possible. I laid the body sideways and turned the round, furry head with the pointed tufted ears toward the cabin. Returning to the door you note the effect of my efforts at natural taxidermy. I was surprised at the result. Old Bobs looked natural as life, and by intently gazing I imagined I could see the glint of the pale yellow eyes, with fine black slits for pupils.
Satisfied, I walked along the road toward the river. Watching intently, about fifty rods in advance I saw three or four partridges playing where the sunbeams could strike them.
Instantly Mr. Nimrod appeared and Master Goodboy went a-vaulting. I walked slowly and carefully, taking out the shells from my rifle and replace them with miniatures. Following the brush closely I easily got to within 100 yards and then turning slightly out to see my feathered friends, I counted eight fat, full-grown birds. A pot shot with two No. 8 shells and 50 yards closer would have given me, perhaps, all of them, but with a rifle at 100 yards range was quite another problem.
I wanted four of them for breakfast. Aiming carefully at a fat old hen in the middle of the road, I fired. The hen collapsed, and the seven flew with a noise like thunder. I spotted them as well as I could, and walking through the woods in about five minutes came to a bunch of cedars where I hunted for my birds.
The partridge has the power to efface himself to his brown, mottled feathers are fairly one with the mottled – brown bark of his perch. And it takes the eye of an expert to detect them. The foolish birds will not fly even after you see them, but it took me a long time to locate them, and then to know that I had passed the tree that held them several times.
It reminded me of a stereoscope. When you do get the focus, the picture stands out as pain as life, but until then everything is unseeming blurr.
Now that I have the focus, I could count seven birds, but not one move of a feather. The black, liquid eyes watched me closer than a brother. Walking away until I was within 100 feet of the tree, I aimed at the lowest bird and got him. Then the next I missed, and still the six remain. Again I shot and got another, but that evidently taxed the patience of the remainder, for they flew with that tumultuous whirring which is a warning to all inhabitants of the forest.
Picking up my birds, I now noticed a sudden and absolute silence which my shooting at effected. But by the time I reached the road and picked up my third bird, the citizens of the forest had again resumed the sang froid. “Gracious! What’s that?” Six shots, and apparently from three rifles! And that close to camp! I walked as quickly as possible, and as I passed the stump with Old Bobs upon it. I noticed he has lost his proud position of defiance and lies an inert mass, fairly riddled with bullets.
“Hello!” I shouted; “breakfast ready?”
“No. She ain’t ready, but soon will be. Fired to let you know it.” This from Joe Lavigne. Pete and Allen say nothing. Neither do I. Am satisfied to know that I fooled even the experienced eyes of the guides.
Pete is building the fire; the birds are cleaned and a breakfast of fried partridge, bacon potatoes, coffee, and bread and butter is ready in less than forty-five minutes.
Delmonico has no cook like Joe Lavigne in the wilderness. Why? Because the surroundings furnish natural sauce that is more piquant and tempting than anything that art can prepare.
Pete evidently is bent on some definite errand. He leave the road about a half-mile from camp, and in a few minutes we find ourselves upon an old Indian trail. Pete says: “Once a trail, always a trail.” And another woodsman once said: “A path once fairly differentiated by the successive passing of feet will keep almost forever a spell for the persuasion of all that go afoot.”
This trail we followed for nearly two miles, and though using every precaution, see nothing that looks like a deer, except numerous hoof prints, and fresh ones at that, which prove that we are on a runway. Soon we come to an open space in the forest. Not a clearing nor a burning, but a natural opening probably 200 yards in diameter, and nearly circular in shape. Pete tells me that this is a great place for deer to “yard” and winter.
“Do you know what this is?” Pete asks. He is pointing to a peculiar looking print, which looks something like the naked footmark of a human. Pete’s countenance is quizzical; his expression is not one of astonishment, but it is evident he has found something that he knew would be there. The answer comes to me probably through mental telepathy.
“Bears!” I shout.
“Correct,” says Pete and then we trailed, but not a bear did we find, but plenty of tracks.
At noon we rest for an hour or more, eat some biscuits and dried beef, find some running water and start again to work toward camp.
About 4 o’clock we find ourselves within two miles of our cabin. I am thoroughly fagged sitting on a log; you’re suddenly aroused by hearing two rifle shots. The sound is not more than half a mile away, and we immediately started the direction of the sound.
After not more than fifteen minutes’ walking we stop, and listening we hear Allen and Joe Leavigne talking very excitedly. We shout, and are answered. Getting our true bearings, we find the two standing probably over the dead body of a three-year-old buck.
“Who shot him?” I Inquired.
“Mr. Allen did,” answers Joe, and I can see by Allen’s expression in the tone of Joe’s voice that it is true.
Ed was very, very proud, and I did not blame him a little bit. The buck was a grand fellow, weighing easily 175 pounds.
“Tell us all about it, Ed,” I ask.
“Joe you do it,” requests Ed of Joe. And Joe does tell the story and here it is:
Joe is proud, and Pete, I’m afraid as a little jealous. His eyes are gleaming and he’s evidently concocting a scheme. I found out afterward I was right in my surmise. After all hands and the cook had taken a generous draught from Allen’s bottle, Joe began his story as follows:
“We saw more dan feefty deer today, sure. Why should I say so it not true? Meester Allen tell you so–ask him! Of course, we could not shoot at all. Oh, no: too many trees between, but we see dem. Only tracks! No, sir, de realt’ing. But maybe not fifty, but about twenty. All morning see not’ing. Work, Work, Work, and find only one ‘porky’ — a fox — but no shoot him; yes, we see bear track, but no bear.” (Pete is painfully attentive.) “Den we stop to rest, eat lunch and go to sleep before we know. Wake up, look around and see two does- biggest one in my life! Looking at me. Not move on bit. One big fool, he keep right on feeding. I wake Meester Allen, then deer scoot. About hour ago we come here. See dat brush? Good place to lay and wait. We do, and about half hour ago hear Meester Deer moving t’rough woods. Guess smelt our red bandannas. Meester Allen wide awake, he see buck quick as I. Buck stop not more than fifty years, right at dat point” (pointing to spot in woods). “Both raise our rifles, Meester Allen shoot, buck jump t’irty feet in air, den come down and try to run away, and shoot again Meester Buck falls dead__hit clear t’rough de lights. There she is.”
And sure enough it is a beautiful animal.
In less than twenty minutes he is cleaned, his limbs tied. A strong hemlock sapling run between the tied limbs, each end of the sapling on one of Pete’s and Joe’s shoulders. And leading Allen and I follow the true Indian style to camp.
Arriving the buck is tied 10 feet up a pine; dinner is prepared, eaten, and now it is dark. Our beds of Balsam Fir have been prepared by Pete while Joe was cooking dinner, but we are not ready to go to sleep, so we make a roaring camp-fire– one that lights up the entire clearing. And a weird, somber scene it is. We smoke, exchange hunting yarns, and then we prepared to retire.
Joe is asleep before Allen Allen or I have laid down, Pete takes the lantern says he’s going to the boat. Forgotten something. I noticed he takes an empty grain sack with him, which he finds in the barn shack. However, soon we are all asleep and do not even hear Pete when he returns.
Again we are up with the day, breakfast and make an early start. We agreed to be back at camp at 3 o’clock, game or no game, for tomorrow morning we return to our Big Lake camp.
Pete leads toward the clearing of yesterday. Imagine my astonishment to find a portion of the intestines and the heart and lungs of Allen’s buck on the spot. This explains Pete’s night voyage. He has spread the bait from the clearing to the river, and the bag was used to carry this stuff in.
A bear is by nature a scavenger, and loves refuse and offal. Whenever bears are found in northern Wisconsin, it will be in the vicinity of camps.
We hide and wait. But no Bear shows himself, but Pete says he is hopeful. Because Bruin has not been around that day, so he will be sure to come.
At noon, after eating, we take a skirmish through the woods and about t2 o’clock work again toward our clearing and bait.
Oh! Oh! Oh! There is Mr. Bear, a big black one, and he does not see, hear, or wind us; we get to within 50 yards of him and stop. No, I am not frightened, but if there is such a thing, I have the bear fever.
Bruin is busy with the flesh pots; now Pete tells me to get my rifle to my shoulder, and when the bear turns to plug him through the foreshoulder or about 3 inches back to the heart. I am ready, then Pete gives me a growl like an angry dog. For a lumbering brute, Mr. Bruin whirls around mighty lively, and seeing us, stops with his head toward us, his side advantageously exposed. I aim quickly and fire. The bear growls, raises himself on his hind feet and slashing the air with his forepaws comes towards us.
He stops short when he is gone about 20 feet, drops on all fours and has half a dozen trees between us before I’m ready to shoot again. Pete says he is seriously hurt, and then it is our bear. So we follow the bloody trail and occasionally see his lordship not more than 60 or 70 yards ahead. Now he darts into the thick underbrush. We follow close, but it is very hard work to go through such thick brush, and we emerge, only to find we have lost the trail. No more blood nor tracks, so we go on, hoping to again find the lost thread.
Coming to a small clearing, we cross it in separate directions, Pete going due north and I taking a westerly course; here we part, having arrange signals so we can call to one another.
I had not gone more than half a mile when, bear tracks and blood now and then plainly showed. Eagerly I followed, and had not gone but a few rods when I almost fell upon Bruin, laying stone stark dead at the foot of a large pine. I prodded the animal with a stick to see if he would move or show any signs of life, but he was in all reality dead. I had shot him through the fore shoulder, and that he should have gone so far was a physical surprise. He looked a huge beast, and Pete afterward stated he must have been at least 10 years old– in fact, he was a very large bear, and I was proportionately proud. I shot three times with my rifle, and soon received a response, and within thirty minutes Pete was at my side.
The bear was making for the river; in fact we were not three rods from its banks. The animal was skinned, keeping the head intact, leaving on the claws, for I intended to have a bear rug of my own providing.
The skin was taken to the river thoroughly washed and cutting off some desirable pieces of bear meat, we followed the river for about three-quarters of a mile to where are boat was hidden, put our hide in the boat, and then walked four miles to camp.
It was dark before we left the river, but the sky was clear, and my guide could walk the woods as well at night as in day time, so by 7 o’clock we were at camp, to find dinner ready and Allen just a little anxious about us.
Allen and Joe had no more deer but six partridges were fried for our supper.
“Well, what luck?” inquires Joe Lavigne. Now listen to Pete; proud, haughty Pete:
“Oh, pretty fair; here is some bear steak, Joe, which you cook for our breakfast.”
Both Joe and Allen look surprised. Joe took the meat, examined it carefully and the ejaculated:
“Oh, yes, she’s bear meat all right!” And then we had to repeat the entire day’s work.
So far we have proven up our wildcat, our bear. And one deer. That leaves two deer unaccounted for. We will leave that for another day. It is late and time to sleep.
Thank you for listening to Discovering the Northwoods podcast by the Manitowish Waters Historical Society. Make sure to check out our website at MW history.org for the Show Notes which include a full transcription of this episode, photographs to accompany the story, and citations back to the original Into the Wild Woods article.
Paul, Tarbel. “In the Heart of the Wild Woods II.” Forest and Stream; A Journal of Outdoor Life, Travel, Nature Study, Shooting, Fishing, Yachting (1873-1930), Jun 09, 1900. 446.