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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"

Chapter  20 -
Eau Claire Prior to Its Incorporation as a City in 1872

The Dells Dam

(-as transcribed from pages 361 - 372)

The actual basis of the industries of the whole of Eau Claire was the immense forests of pine above it and tributary to the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers. The only method in those early days of securing the timber was to put it into the streams and float it down to the mills, which were located at Eau Claire and below on the Chippewa river. This method was confined to seasons of freshets or high water. In order to secure the supply of logs that had been or were to be floated down the streams it was necessary originally that piers should be constructed in the streams and booms attached thereto, thus making a reservoir from which the logs would be taken into the mill and manufactured into lumber. In order that those belonging to each concern could be thus secured, they had to be taken from the mass of logs coming down the river and turned into such reservoirs, permitting those owned by other parties, as well as those bound for a distance below to pass without hindrance. Such method of securing logs was not only expensive and difficult when large quantities were floating in the stream, but a considerable portion of those belonging to the mill owner could not be secured and would pass beyond his booms or reservoir down the stream and be lost, unless they were subsequently picked out and brailed or rafted and disposed of to parties operating on the Mississippi river.

In order, therefore, to successfully operate the mills at Eau Claire, it became imperative that some other means should be provided by which the logs destined for manufacture at Eau Claire could be safely secured and deposited, so that each mill could and would receive what was destined for it. At an early date this was attempted by excavating a canal from the river, commencing near the mill of Smith and Buffington, into Half Moon lake, a distance of 100 rods or more, such lake forming a natural reservoir for an almost unlimited quantity. This was not a complete success for two reasons. Firs was the fact that the lake was considerably higher than the river, and the river had to be at a flood of twelve or more feet in order to obtain a current through the canal. Second, when the logs were floating in the river in great quantities, the piers and booms constructed in the river for the purpose of turning the logs into the canal were inadequate, and the logs would become jammed, and the pocket thus made become full, and the logs not held therein would pass by and down the stream. It therefore became an imperative necessity to the operation of the mills and the growth and prosperity of Eau Claire, that other means must be provided for securing the logs. The Dells, so called, rapids in the Chippewa river, seemed to be a natural place for a safe and secure reservoir. At that point there were high and rocky banks; the river was narrow, with a rock bed, and hence a dam at that place would create slack water for several miles up the stream. The construction of a canal or flume from the dame to Half Moon Lake, a distance of nearly a mile, through which the logs destined for the mills on the west side could be passed when assorted, would solve the difficult problem of which we have spoken. In order to accomplish this, however, as the Chippewa was a navigable stream, not only for saw logs, but, in the extreme high water, for small steamboats, with great effort the consent of the legislature had to be obtained. At that time, though since exploded, it was thought that even the legislature was powerless to grant the right or privilege. That to stop logs destined for points below, even for the limited time required to assort them, was an obstruction to navigation, which, under the ordinance of 1787, providing that the waters of the Mississippi and its tributaries should ever remain free, could not be granted.

It would seem that the project would not have met with opposition from any source, other than such as was engaged in navigation. Not so, however. About ten miles above was the village of Chippewa Falls. Its citizens would not be affected by the proposed improvement which meant so much for Eau Claire. A large sawmill was located there, operated by the firm of Pound & Halbert, who had constructed a dam completely across the river with only a slide therein upon which lumber manufactured at points above, at Yellow River and Jims Falls, could pass. They also had piers and booms in the river by which logs destined for points below were detained until they were assorted from the mass and placed in their storage booms what was their own.

It was proposed by the interests at Eau Claire, to not only put in a slide for the passage of lumber in the dam, but also a lock through which boats, if any should want to ascend the river, could be passed through, and with this proposition they sought a grant or license from the legislature at its session in 1866, to construct such a dam, flume and necessary piers as has been stated.

It should be stated that there existed a rivalry between the two localities, Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, and that rivalry was so extreme on the part of the citizens of Chippewa Falls that it prompted them, at the instigation largely of Thad. C. Pound, to oppose the construction of such improvement at the Dells, not on the ground of any injury to them or their village, but solely on the ground that it would be the means of the building up of a large business center of Eau Claire, and make it the leading point for the manufacture of lumber in the northwestern part of the state. It would thus outstrip its rival in this respect. The opposition to the improvement, as stated, was one of jealousy, pure and simple.

The legislature, after the most stubborn opposition on the part of Mr. Pound and his followers, defeated the measure. The measure was defeated again in 1870. In 1871 the franchise was granted by the legislature, but was promptly vetoed by Governor Fairchild. It should be stated here that Mr. Pound was not only a lumberman but a very prominent republican politician, a genial fellow and of considerable influence with his party. At the next session of the legislature the franchise was granted and the bill signed by the governor.

The separate villages of Eau Claire, Eau Claire City and North Eau Claire, the latter not incorporated, were incorporated as a city in March, 1872. The effort at this time was in the name of the city, ostensibly for the purpose of creating a waterworks system for the city. Incidentally for the booming, assorting and storing of logs, as well as the improvement of the navigation of the river. This bill was attacked in the Supreme Court by the opposition, and by the court declared invalid on the ground that the primary purpose of the bill, as appeared from its text, was the booming and storage of logs, and the matter of waterworks was secondary. At the next session this defect in the bill was remedied, the waterworks being made the primary purpose, and the lumber interests the incidental purpose. To remove all question as to the validity of the latter measure and to forestall any further effort on the part of the Chippewa Falls people, the writer obtained the consent of the attorney general and in behalf of Ely and Vail, non-resident owners of land in Eau Claire, applied to the supreme court for an injunction to prevent the building of the dam by the city on the ground that the act was void, using all the arguments of the Chippewa Falls people in prior contests, and succeeded in being defeated (a paradox), the court upholding the validity of the act.

It may be of interest to here refer to the circumstances attending its passage and showing by what a narrow margin it escaped defeat. Mr. Pound had succeeded in postponing final action upon the bill in the Senate until the evening of the last day of the session, the bill having passed the Assembly early in the session by a large majority. In the Senate the friends of the measure lacked one vote of the necessary two-thirds to suspend the rules, and hence it appeared almost hopeless in the evening before the session to make any attempt to pass the bill.

To say that its friends were discouraged is putting it very mild, indeed. The writer alone insisted upon continuing the fight to the last ditch, but with only the slight hope that some accident or unforeseen event might occur to our advantage. Senator Rice, of Waukesha, had charge of the bill, and the writer was to assist him in the parliamentary fight. Mr. Pound's tactics was to talk the bill to its death, and the senator from Columbus was selected to obtain the floor and talk and not sit down until both hands of the clock was at the hour of twelve. He obtained the floor, commenced his harangue, when it was noticed one of their supporters, Senator Barny, was not in his seat. The sergeant-at-arms was dispatched in haste to bring in the delinquent senator. He was finally corralled and brought to his seat, the senator from Columbus in the meantime still holding the floor. As Senator Barny reached his seat he immediately began addressing the chair. The senator from Columbus, knowing he was friendly, slowly dropped into his seat, the chair recognizing Senator Barny. As Barny concluded, quick as a flash, and before the senator from Columbus could rise, the writer prompted Senator Rice to rise and obtain recognition from the chair (the late Judge Barron occupying it), which he did, and moved a suspension of the rules. This created a flurry in the enemy's camp, L. C. Stanley, of Chippewa Falls, immediately springing to the side of Senator Quimby, from Sauk county, and engaged his attention. In the meantime the call of the roll proceeded and the clerk announce that the rules were suspended. It appeared that Senator Quimby was so engaged with Mr. Stanley that when his name was called he did not pay attention to it and did not vote. After the vote was announced Quimby claimed the right to vote. The chair ruled that he had no authority to grant him that right after the result had been declared, but he would leave it to the Senate whether he should at that stage be permitted to vote. This, of course, required a majority vote, and hence not having a majority, the majority, disgusted at the method of filibustering to defeat the bill, voted against the motion. Senator Rice stood in his position to the end, the rules were suspended and the measure passed in regular order in quick time.

We all thought that danger of defeat was passed. The friends of the measure, after an elaborate banquet, departed for their homes, except the writer and one other, the duty of having the bill properly signed and placed in the office of the Secretary of State being imposed upon the writer. Eau Claire was all ablaze with joy and enthusiasm. The most elaborate preparations were being made for a monster celebration. It was complete and the people in mass assembled on the day the word was expected that the bill had been signed.

However, there was not only delay, but danger. Taylor was Governor. H. S. Palmer was the leading democrat in the state. John C. Spooner was a leading republican. They appeared before the Governor and made a plea for a veto. They had the ear of the Governor. The writer was there alone to oppose. Palmer and Spooner argued that the bill was  unconstitutional. The writer not only argued the contrary, but tried to impress upon the Governor that the able lawyers in both branches of the legislature on the judiciary committee had determined the bill was valid, and it would seem highly injudicious for him, not being a lawyer, to disagree with them. The Governor hesitated. I knew the influence against us was strong. We were all democrats but Spooner. I urged him not to weaken our party. After we had left the executive chamber, I returned. I felt the Governor would veto the bill, and I asked him if there was any lawyer in the state whose opinion he would respect, and eliminate what Palmer, Spooner and myself had urged. He finally said there was one man, and that was Judge Miller, of the United States Court, in Milwaukee. He consented to wait until his opinion could be obtained. I immediately went to Milwaukee, say Judge Miller. He kindly consented to come to Madison. He came that night and I received word late that night to meet the Governor at eight o'clock in the morning and he would sign the bill. I was there promptly and the Governor signed it and handed it to me and I personally carried it into the office of the Secretary of State.

The most critical period in the history of Eau Claire was the spring of 1867. During the previous winter parties represented by one Bacon and Davis had put into the upper waters of the Chippewa a considerable quantity of saw logs for the purpose of driving them down the Chippewa past Eau Claire and turning them into Beef Slough, through which considerable of the water flowed, the slough leaving the main stream a few miles above its mouth and entered into the Mississippi a short distance from Alma, the slough forming a natural reservoir for logs where at its mouth the logs could be rafted and floated to mills on the Mississippi. It was the purpose, and such would be its effect, to make a long-driving stream of the Chippewa and destroy the manufacturing industries along the Chippewa river. It would not necessarily have this effect if there were facilities along the river at manufacturing points lawfully exercised to hold logs a sufficient time to allow them to be sorted, passing those destined for points below. But the purpose was, as stated, to make the stream, as had been done with Black river, exclusively a log-driving stream where logs could be driven throughout its length and without any hindrance or delay. In the spring of 1867 Bacon and Davis started their drive. The first obstruction they met was at the mill of French and Giddings located at Jim's Falls, several miles above Chippewa Falls. They had employed a large force of drivers, and without any ceremony cut the booms of French & Giddings, thus releasing all their logs as well as those of their own. They came down the river doing the same with all the booms as far as the Eau Claire county line, intending to do the same with all booms in Eau Claire and below, of which there were a large number. The result was that the river at Eau Claire was one mass of floating logs extending from bank to bank, which made it impossible to any great extent to utilize the Half Moon lake canal. The owners of the mills on the Chippewa realized that unless something was done to stay the operations of this lawless band that financial ruin was the inevitable result; that their mills were worthless; that manufacturing lumber on the river was at an end. It was pitiful as we stood upon the dam at the inlet of Half Moon lake canal on that Sunday morning to see, among others, Daniel Shaw, C. A. Bullen, O. H. Ingram, Donald Kennedy, George A. Buffington and Stephen Marston, each with pike pole in hand, attempting to push a few of their logs through the canal into Half Moon lake. The writer had never seen logs floated, assorted or secured before. He had but recently come to Eau Claire. As he stood upon the dam in wonder and surprise why such operations were permitted which caused so much destruction and such ruin, he asked why it was permitted to be done, and received the reply that advice had been taken and they were powerless to prevent it. He replied that was strange. If there was no law in Wisconsin to prevent such lawlessness it was no place for him. He was asked if he could stop it, to which he replied he could or would move out of the state. To be brief, arrangement was made to meet him at his office at a later hour. In the meantime he had satisfied himself there was a remedy under Wisconsin laws of which he did not have much doubt at any time. At that meeting the parties were told that in view of the situation not only prompt but severe measures must be resorted to. He outlined his plan. To issue warrants for the arrest of Bacon and Davis and put them under bonds to keep the peace. To have the sheriff call out a posse commitatus, arm them and be present at the first boom in Eau Claire county, which was that of L. W. Farwell, and as the lawless band of drivers reached that boom to arrest them all as being engaged in a riot which the statutes clearly defined. Bacon and Davis were arrested at two o'clock Monday morning as they came to the Eau Claire House from the scene of their operations above. The crew of drivers had not reached the Farwell boom at this time. The sheriff had called out more than 250 men, and every man was armed with a rifle or shotgun. Not one shirked. The remaining booms in Eau Claire were to be protected at all hazards. Bacon and Davis were early in the morning brought before R. H. Copeland, a justice of the peace, who fixed their bonds at $20,000. They saw the temper of the people, the 200 or more armed men parading the street; they realized there was not only danger to their crew but possibly to themselves. Dr. W. T. Galloway, a personal friend of Davis, became their bondsman. Finally they agreed, if their men would not be molested and their personal safety guaranteed, to withdraw their men and resume their drive only at the southern extremity of the county.

The end, however, was not yet. The next year they threatened to drive the Menomonie river, but learning that Knapp, Stout & Co. had secured a stand of arms from the state, and realizing that any such attempt would be met by force, they abandoned it. However, they threatened the Chippewa again, and this time to cut the booms of the Union Lumber Company at Chippewa Falls. The writer was called in and in a stormy interview with Mr. Bacon the latter was told that Chippewa Falls was prepared with arms that had been sent to Menomonie, and that the temper of the people at Chippewa was the same as that of Eau Claire,
which he had seen. The result was that all attempts thereafter to cut booms and make a log-driving stream, except a little threat made by one Alonzo Shrinker, who was president of the Beef Slough Company or Mississippi Lumber Company, was abandoned.

Referring again to the Dells dam, in order to comply with the decision of the Supreme Court, it was thought to be necessary that the city be clothed with all the rights and property, not only such as were essential to the construction and operation of waterworks, but also the booming and assorting of logs. To this end the Half Moon Lake Canal Company conveyed its rights to the city. The millowners had spent a large amount of money, in the aggregate at least $75,000, in the several attempts to obtain the franchise and the litigation growing out of it. The city issued its bond to the amount of $95,000, the proceeds to be used in construction of the proposed dam.

A corporation was formed to construct the dam and to operate it, the city to construct its own waterworks except certain waterwheel in consideration of the $95,000 for which the city was bonded, and also when completed the works were to be leased to the company for the sum of one dollar per year for the term of ninety-nine years, and in addition the water rights and privileges other than such as was required by the city for waterworks. The flowage rights were to be obtained by the city but paid for by the Improvement Company. The works as constructed comprised a dam sixteen feet in height across the river, necessary booms and piers for holding and assorting logs, and a canal or flume from the west end of the dam to Half Moon lake. The expense of the dam and works was considerable in excess of the $95,000 which was paid by the Improvement Company.

The Mississippi River Logging Company, a corporation created under the laws of Iowa, succeeded to the property and rights by lease or purchase of the original parties holding and operating Beef Slough. The millowners on the Mississippi river still longed for the volume of pine adjacent to the Chippewa river. Some of them had made large purchases on their own account. Realizing that any further attempt to drive the Chippewa by force would be futile, they resorted to another scheme which proved eminently successful. The plan was for practically all the Mississippi millowners to join with those at Eau Claire in a common pool. That is, the operations should be carried on in the name of the Mississippi River Logging Company, in whose name the purchase of timber and logs should be made, each subscriber to have a certain interest in the assets according to his subscription, and entitled to a certain quantity of the logs to be manufactured by him to be taken from the common mass. This scheme proved attractive to the millowners at Eau Claire. It saved part of the expense of handling logs. It assured to them at all times a stock of logs. It removed all opposition to holding logs in check at the Dells for a sufficient time to turn logs as required into their reservoir, principally Half Moon lake. By reason of the extensive holdings and purchase of logs by the company, its immense resources in the way of money, logs could be secured at practically their own price. There was no other market for the independent logger. He must sell his logs to the pool or not sell at all. It was the most complete monopoly that ever existed in any branch of trade. Its restraint of trade was never equalled. The advantage on the part of the millowners upon the Mississippi was in thus being able to get their supply of logs from the Chippewa without serious opposition on the part of the millowners upon that stream. In securing all that interest as friends instead of foes, their interest in the concern was practically in proportion eight to one. The result was not only the making of millionaires of those who became members of the monopoly, but to rapidly denude the forest of pine, some eight hundred million feet passing out of the state each year to be manufactured, and thus to limit the period in which manufacture of lumber could be carried on within the state. To deprive the state and locality of the incidental benefits arising from manufacture in the way of employment of labor, the increase in population, the increase of manufacture, and the revenue by means of taxation. It was a partial paralysis of the growth and development of Eau Claire.

To be able to successfully carry out this scheme, the extensive mill and works and the large holdings of pine of the Union Lumber Company at Chippewa Falls were purchased by the same interest, but in the name of a separate corporation, the Chippewa Falls Lumber and Boom Company. Extensive dams were constructed on the main Chippewa and its branches for flooding purposes, and to further obtain complete control of the stream, another corporation, merely in name, was formed to monopolize the floating of the logs, named the Chippewa River Log Driving Company.

As a temporary bait to the citizens of Eau Claire and to stifle opposition on their part, it was proposed to locate the office of this great concern at Eau Claire. It was never intended to be permanent. The office of the Chippewa Lumber and Boom Company was necessarily at Chippewa. The business and interest of the two concerns was common and it would not be good business judgment to have the offices of the two concerns at different places. However, the greet of this giant monopoly is not only apparent from the immense profits realized, but was made apparent at that day and continuously thereafter by the fact that it refused to pay taxes upon its property. It was found that it had 125,000,000 feet of logs that year by the records, although it had in fact twice that quantity. The authorities at Eau Claire, as was their bounden duty, assessed it for this holding of 125,000,000 feet. Then came the direct threat in which the members from Eau Claire joined, that if the assessment was insisted upon the office would be removed to Chippewa Falls. Not attention was paid to this threat, the assessment stood and in a few days the clerks, typewriters and the few articles of furniture of the office of two small rooms were taken to Chippewa Falls, leaving behind only the threat of Weyerhauser, the chief organizer, that he would make the grass grow in the streets of Eau Claire. When the tax thus levied became due, payment was refused, and it was only after the safe and its contents of the company then at Chippewa Falls was seized for the tax that the tax was paid, amounting to nearly $12,000. The common council of Eau Claire, all but one of two-thirds of the members of that body, were either interested in the pool or controlled by some of the local members, adopted a resolution to refund the money thus collected. The mayor promptly vetoed it. The attempt to pass it over the mayor's veto failed only by the lack of one vote. No reason was ever given or argument advanced why the tax should not have been paid except that the citizens would derive an incidental benefit from having the office at Eau Claire. That the property was subject to taxation was never questioned. The rates of toll were fixed at seventy-five cents per thousand feet of logs and timber, two cents for railroad ties and one cent for fence posts. The works were completed with a capacity of 200,000,000 feet.

The music hall at the corner of Barstow and Kelsey streets was erected in 1867 and destroyed by fire in 1871. After a lapse of three or four years, what was known as the Music Hall Block was built on its site, and that part of it which was devoted to amusements was called the City Opera House until the Eau Claire Opera House was built in 1883.

A volunteer fire department was organized on the west side as far back as 1868, with the following officers: First foreman, James Tarrant; secretary, W. E. Demming. Engine Company No. 1 -- J. Scott, Fred Rawlins, Jerry Murphy, Benjamin and John Wells. Wailes H. Willard was the first engineer. The engine was named after Hon. W. F. Bailey, president of the village. The village afterwards became merged into the city of Eau Claire. Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 was organized.

At a meeting held April 29, 1873, at the then city rooms in the Gleason Block the following officers were appointed: William Bonell, Sr., foreman; Peter Girneau, first assistant; W. F. Cook, second assistant; H. Slingluff, secretary; John Joyce, treasurer, and Captain John Kelly, fire warden. Among the members were John Bubser, John Hancock, John Foster, Hugh Fitzpatrick, Philip Fitzpatrick, George Sebenthal, William Bonell, Jr., D. C. Whipple, William Dean, Andrew Oleson, John McCool, Charles Lang, M. R. Brown, Matt Stoddard, A. D. Wyman, T. E. Johnson, S. Brackett, W. M. Bell, M. H. Donaldson, Henry Hendricks, Den Callahan, W. G. Butterfield, F. B. Buell, I. Norman, James Graves, l. Barnard, George Wyman, D. Merriman, Elisha Ross, James McMahan, D. H. Murphy, T. Gilbertson, D. G. McDonald, Jacob Kuhn, P. Yeager, J. H. Hartman, John Hallman, N. Sloggy, John Hancock and Charles Mabbit.

At a meeting of the fire-fighters held June 25, 1873, at the west side engine house, the City Volunteer Fire Department was organized when the following officers were elected: Eugene Bullard, chief; William Bonell, Sr., first assistant; Jerry Murphy, second assistant; W. E. J. Demming, secretary; and John Joyce, treasurer. In 1874 Capt. A. M. Sherman was chief. The changes in 1875 were the appointment of W. F. Cook as chief, and Edward Oliver as second assistant. John T. Tinker was chief in 1876, and Julius Churchill held that position in 1877. The city purchased an additional steamer in April, 1875 -- G. E. Porter No. 2. It was assigned to the members of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, and they changed the name of their organization to Hook and Ladder Company No. Engine Company No. 1 was continued up to the time the city took charge of the department.

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