Ervin Leihy Incidents: At the Falls of Bad River #2

March 31, 2017

By Amorin Mello

… continued from Our First Visitor.

Transcribed and shared by Robert J. Nelson
from the July 7th, 1900, issue of the Bayfield County Press :

Incidents of Early Days on Lake Superior

At the Falls of Bad River # 2

By Ervin Leihy

[Note – my communication in your issue on June 2, starts out with the date, November 1864.  This is a mistake of the printer. The date was 1846]

These tools were likely purchased at La Pointe during the 1846 annuity payments.   Possible merchants include Julius Austrian and Vincent Roy Jr.

About the middle of October, 1846, after our return from LaPointe, our list of tools and implements was about as follows: two serviceable saws, one or two old ones, well past their days of greatest usefulness, one broad ax, one crosscut saw, two shaving knives, one handsaw, one square, and one nail hammer, a few pounds of nails and two or three heavy grub hoes.

There were four of us in camp; Captain Joseph Wood, Charlie Rowley – the linguist – John Smith and myself.  Question arose: what shall we do?  Let’s build a house.  Where?  Let’s go up to the Falls.  Captain Wood and the writer went.  We found a romantic and lovely spot surrounded by dense forest, on the east of high bluff covered with tall pines, on the North and West with Maple, Elm, basswood and other timber of heavy growth.  The rumble and rippling on the falls with the surrounding scenery was almost enchanting.  Well, a place was selected, a stake was struck, and the next day work was commenced.  Captain Wood took the broad ax, Smith and I an ax each, Rowley – the same linguist – he was suffering with the cut foot, was selected as cook.

Detail of Ervin Leihy’s mill on the La Pointe (Bad River) Reservation from Charles Whittlesey‘s 1860 Geological Map of the Penokie Range in Geology of Wisconsin: Volume III; plate XX-214.

Work was now the order of the day.  The plan of the house was 20 x 24, squared timber 6 inches thick, floor and all.  No friction or delay.  Timber for the floor and walls was soon produced.  Now, how to get the timber to the stake?  There was but one way; no choice.  Smith and I must do the job.  A rude sled or go-devil was made, one end of a stick of timber was placed on this and away it went to its destination.  The process was kept up until the timber was all on the ground.  The sills, and 24 feet long, were placed 20 feet apart outside to outside, on these the flooring 6 inches thick, was placed; on top of this the walls went up 11 feet without friction.  Now comes the tug-of-war; the gables and the roof.

Talk about Robinson Crusoe, he didn’t have to build a house.  He found a cave and only he had to do was crawl in.  But the gables went up, a beam across the center and a pair of rafters, 6 x 6 on top of this for roof boards.  Norway pine poles 24 feet long, hewn nicely, 2 inches thick and placed 10 inches, center to center, and on top of these A No. 1 singles, 2 feet long.  Now for the last and worst job of all, fireplace in the chimney.  Sand rock in the opposite bank of the river was plentiful and the old ax’s, the same old team in the same old go-devil was in active operation, sand, clay and ashes were mixed up for mortar and the fireplace went up.

Wood, Smith and I often talked, mourned and dreamed about a grindstone.  During our quarrying operation one day, down came the slab of slatey sandrock about 2 1/2 feet in diameter and 4 to 5 inches thick.  “Holy Moses!” said I, “Smith, if you will help me make a grindstone I will help you make three potato baskets next spring.”  “Agreed” was the prompt reply.  One grindstone ones known to exist in the Lake Superior area and that was in the government blacksmith shop at LaPointe for use of the Indians.

List of mid-1840’s La Pointe Indian Sub-Agency employees including Peter Chouinard, William E. VanTassel, and the previously unknown Carpenter.
~ Thirtieth Congress – First Session. Ex. Doc. No. 26. House of Representatives.  Persons Employed In The Indian Department.  Letter from The Secretary of War, Transmitting a statement of persons employed in the Indian Department.  January 26, 1848.

Before snow fell we had picked up a number of worn-out and castaway Indian axes, some with the initials P.C. – Peter Chounard – who was probably the first man to pound hot iron on Lake Superior, and some of them the initials W.E.V.T. – W. E. Van Tassel – for many nights and Sundays thereafter, those axes might have been heard pecking away at the old sand rock until finally after many days a frame was made, a crank adjusted and a grindstone came into existence.

Wood’s eloquent remark: “a pretty good mechanical job, boys.”  It did good service for many years.  The chimney was finally completed and on the eighth day of January, 1847, we moved into the second house built in Wisconsin, Northup Chippewa Falls, outside of LaPointe.

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