Largest Log Drive Saved by Camp Cook

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 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.

We would like to introduce a story from the “Tales of a River” series titled Largest Log Drive Saved by Camp Cook. The article was originally published in the Chippewa Herald-Telegram on February 3rd, 1997.


This is an installment of the “Tales of a River” series which ran from July 6, 1959, to July 25, 1960. Each installment was a complete story. The series is attributed to John Harmon.

Chippewa Lumber and Boom camp on Vance Lake, 1909. Catalog Number 2019.8.1.

The largest log drive ever shuttled down the mighty Chippewa river almost didn’t make it to the giant gang and circular saws located in the largest mill under one roof in the world here at Chippewa Falls.

But for one man, some 90,000,000 feet of logs (the largest ever banked off the Chippewa) might have rotted in jams, miles from the carriages of the mill that could (and did) outsaw any other in the world.

That man, Albert (Cookie) Adams, a head cook who knew both menu and men – or ‘min’ as he put it.

Oddly enough, the largest drive on the Chippewa came in the spring of 1901, when the mighty monarch White Pine was fast disappearing from the forest.

Frederick Weyerhaeuser, referred to at the turn of the century as the “richest man in the world” had already turned to the great forests of the Pacific Northwest. Others, seeing the timber fast fading in the vast Chippewa Valley followed.

William Irvine, manager of the Chippewa Lumber & Boom Company of this city, looked to the last great forests in the state (in the Manitowish Waters region) and plunged. He purchased 75,000,000 feet of standing timber. The logs were cut during the winter of 1900 and 1901.

But the timber was banked more than 200 miles from the saws. Irvine had a problem. He chose one of the top men in the valley for the task of getting the logs to the mill. That man was Butler Lewis, a big raw-boned foreman who knew timber and water.

The drive started at Manitowish Waters with 150 men on the job. The date was April 27th, 1901.

Lewis encountered trouble almost as soon as the great drive started. The north fork of the Flambeau was not the Chippewa. Logs jammed by the thousands at practically every turn of the river. In some spots the water was high, in other it was too low.

But what was even worse, the men started grumbling. Experienced river men believed the drive should have been handled differently. They displayed open resentment toward Foreman Lewis. Thirty of the best hands walked out from under pike poles at Park Falls.

Lewis clenched his big fists and drove his men hard. Irvine was waiting at the big falls on the Chippewa. The Chippewa Lumber & Boom Company manager had hired him to do a job and do it he would.

More men left the drive as Lewis ordered more work per hour. The river crew was down to 97 men. Some 15,000,000 more feet of timber joined the drive below Park Falls.

Lewis scheduled a long-distance telephone conference with Irvine. Both men were at a loss in knowing what to do.

Adams, generally considered the best bull cook in the Valley, had a complaint too. He confronted the foreman.

“The food isn’t good. Min grumble at every meal. I know min. Give ‘em a good meal and they’ll work.”

Lewis flared. “I eat the same grub as the men and you don’t hear me grumbling,” he glared at the bull cook.

“Git me a side of fresh beef every day and I’ll see that the min work. Tain’t none of me business, but if’n I was you I’d give the min a day off once in a while. Go into the Falls (Park Falls) and fetch back a barrel of Black Strap (a popular brand of whiskey).”

Dam at Manitowish, circa 1905. Catalog Number 2018.2.100

Lewis studied the suggestion. He scrubbed a tough beard in his hand. It was worth a try.

“Take two men,” he told the cook, “go out into the country and buy up a few beef. I’ll take care of the Black Strap myself.”

Cookie Adams returned with several heads of beef. Some of the animals were purchased from farmers in the area, the others just seemed to follow along.

Foreman Lewis ordered the men to knock off for a full 24 hours. Whole sides of beef sputtered on spits over live coals. The barrel of Black Strap held just about enough whiskey to make the rounds three times.

The men went to work with a new vigor. In exactly 84 days from the start of the largest log drive in the history of the Chippewa Valley was nestled in the Flambeau flowage, ready for the short jaunt down the mighty Chippewa river into the saws.

William Irvine met the drivers at the Flambeau flowage. He smiled and waved a hand from his carriage. Then he offered free fare to Chippewa Falls for every man of ‘em.

Ninety men got to Chippewa Falls in the quickest possible way. Some took special rigs brought from the Falls. Others rode boats and logs to the important saw city on the Chippewa.

Not only was the drive of 1901 the greatest ever. The celebration that followed in Chippewa Falls outshone anything previous.

Irvine and Lewis joined in the celebration quietly.

“You know, Bill, I learned something out there on the Flambeau. And it took the best goddamn bull cook in the Chippewa Valley to show me,” the foreman laughed.