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The 1847 geological survey trip of J. G. Norwood, MD — Part III

October 3 — October 7: Wisconsin River to Grandfather Falls (includes vicinity of Tomahawk)
Table of Contents
Part I.La Pointe to Lac du Flambeau
Part II.Lac du Flambeau to Wisconsin River
Part III.Wisconsin River to Grandfather (includes vicinity of modern Tomahawk)
Part IV.Grandfather to Grand Rapids (modern Wisconsin Rapids)
Part V.Grand Rapids to Prairie du Chien

October 3. — We left camp at 8h. 30 min. this morning, and at 1h. 30 min. reached the first rapids. They are made by a low range of gneiss and gneissoid granite, bearing northeast and southwest, and are half a mile long. The fall is not very great, but the navigation was rendered rather difficult by the great number of boulders, some of them very large, which cover the bed of the river for nearly the whole distance. Above the rapids the river is fifty yards wide, below them it contracts again to thirty yards in width.

Three other rapids occur in the distance of one mile and a half. The first one is short, but difficult to pass. The river is divided by a small island at the foot of the rapid. The channel for canoes is on the east side of the island. The second one is made up of granite, with gneiss resting on it; and the third of gneiss and hornlende. In the forenoon the river was much obstructed by drift wood, and very crooked, except in the vicinity of the rapids, where its channel lay, for some distance, between the elevated ridges of rock. The country for a short distance above and opposite these rapids is open, bearing thickets of small birch, and a few stunted pines scattered through them. Occasionally, a solitary large pine was seen standing on a sandy knoll, twenty or thirty feet above the level of the river. Below the last rapids the country is made up of sand, apparently destitute of pebbles, with sandy loam on top, and supporting a tolerably good growth of pine, birch and aspen.

October 5. — Ninety-six miles (according to our estimation of distances) below the mouth of Muscle river, we came to a high range of rocks, consisting of hornblende, gneiss, and gneissoid granite. This range is about one hundred and fifty feet high, bearing northeast and southwest. The rapids formed by it have a descent of about thirty feet in a quarter of a mile. The portage path is on the east side of the river, and is about five hundred yards long. At this place we found a squaw with a quantity of dried fish, a most fortunate circumstance, as we had had no meat for the last two days, and the men had been unsuccessful in their attempts to spear fish.

On a small prairie, half a mile from these rapids, I measured a granite boulder seventy-eight feet in circumference, and ten feet high.

The rocks continued to show themselves until, ten miles below the last range, we came to one about three hundred feet high, composed of syenite and greenstone trap, traversed by veins of feldspar, quartz, granite, and titaniferous iron. The granite veins are from two to three feet in width, and porphyritic.

The average width of the river yesterday was from forty to fifty yards. The banks were of sand, from ten to thirty feet in height and exhibiting, at some points, extensive slides, similar to those seen on the Chippewa, below the Dalles of that river.

I made an excursion into the country yesterday, commencing the foot of a large island, the first one of any size met with in descending the river. I proceeded directly west, and found the country to present a succession of low ridges and tamerack swamps. The ridges are sandy, with a thin soil, and from a quarter to half a mile wide. On the more elevated grounds are some first rate pines, and a great number of second rate ones. I also noticed a greater number of large white birch than I have have with in any other part of the district.

A few miles south of this, the Kewaykwodo Portage begins. It passes, for some distance, over a rolling sandy country, which is the general character of the region bordering the river for some miles above and below the beginning of the portage. A narrow strip at small pines lines the banks of the river at intervals; but, as you recede into the country, there are few trees of any size to be seen. Clumps of very small birch and pine are scattered over it. This portage leads to Lac du Flambeau, by way of Swamp, Kewaykwodo, Leech, Sheshebagomag, Mishekun, and La Roche qui Traine lakes. Just below the Kewaykwodo portage, the river is filled with boulders, some of which are very large.

The banks of the river to-day were of fine drift, generally from three to eight feet high, and resting on a bed of red clay, the thickness of which is not known, as it only rises from twelve to eighteen inches above the water level. It is stratified, exceeding compact, and in seams about an inch thick. Some of the ridges, sections of which are made by the river, are from fifty to sixty feet high, and composed entirely of sand, with pebbles and a few small boulders near the top.

October 6. — About eight miles below the last high range, we came to one about one hundred and fifty feet high, composed of the same kind of rocks, — syenite and hornblende. The rapids at this place are half a mile long, with an island dividing them at the lower end. At the foot of the island, the water falls two and a half feet perpendicular. There is a portage path on the east side of the river. One canoe, however, descended the rapids without much difficulty.

There is a succession of small rapids for the next four miles, the rocks showing themselves in the borders of the river, at short intervals, the whole distance. The river is very shallow, very wide and the bed covered with boulders, many of which are from thirty to fifty feet in circumference. In the afternoon, we reached a point where the river is from four hundred to five hundred yards wide. Up to this point it has been so shallow, below the last rapids, as to allow the canoe to pass with difficulty. Here it is deep, with no perceptible current, and continues so for about six miles, when it is again obstructed by boulders and a succession of rapids, which continue for about eight miles, the rock showing itself in place, at several points, in the middle of the river. The rocks are fine-grained granite, hornblende, trap, and porphyritic syenite, in low ranges, all bearing northeast, and traversed by wide quartzose veins. The country, with the exception of the primitive ranges, is, in the immediate neighborhood of the river, mostly broken sand prairie, with a few small pines scattered here and there; occasionally a few shrubby oaks, small birch, and aspen, show themselves. The ridges are densely timbered with hard and soft woods; among which, when the rocks approach the surface, a great deal of fine cedar is found. The river bottoms, which are sometimes from a quarter to half a mile wide, are timbered with oak and elm of good size, or covered with a luxuriant growth of grass.

There is some inaccuracy in the report, which is understandable. In order to interpret locations properly it is necessary to carefully analyze what Norwood says.

In the entry of October 5, which also covers October 4, Norwood reports traveling 96 miles to a "small range" and another 10 miles to a "higher range." Then in the entry of October 6, he reports:

These add up to another 26 miles. Then they camped on the night of the 6th at a point 3 miles up stream from Grandfather Falls. In total, after three days of travel from Buckatabon, Norwood estimates that they went 135 miles.

According to Richard Durbin (The Wisconsin River: An Odyssey Through Time and Space, 1997: Spring Freshet Press, ISBN 0-9658559-0-2) the actual river distance from Buckatabon Creek to Grandfather Falls is 92 miles. Durbin gets his numbers from a 1988 DNR river survey, and in the book he discusses probable discrepancies between the DNR number an the actual historic distances. He estimates the error as being about 10 miles short for the entire length of the river — an amount that is not enough to explain Norwood's 40 mile discrepancy. For whatever reason, Norwood was just plain off.

We can still reasonably pinpoint the locations he describes, however. Using a scaling factor of 92/135 as a guide, but with some sense of the topology and what Norwood described in the report, the rapids "ninety-six" miles below Buckatabon are in fact Whirlpool Rapids, near the point where the river crosses the Lincoln County and Oneida County boundary. The next rapids that he describes as "half a mile long, with an island dividing them at the lower end" are now flooded by Lake Alice. They were located where the Wisconsin River crosses the boundary between ranges 6 and 7 east in township 35 north.

All dams are built just below rapids in rivers in order to maximize the "head" without over-flooding the surrounding land. In the immediate vicinity of Tomahawk, there are three dams, all built over historically well known rapids. Jersey Flowage floods Tomahawk Rapids on the Tomahawk River. Tomahawk Dam (often called Pride Dam locally) is built just downstream from a set of rapids that used to be in the river approximately where the kraft paper mill is presently located.

Kings Dam, as mentioned above, was built over a set of rapids that also formed a ford in the river — river fords were very commonly at the top of rapids. Eventually Albert King built a farm and way station — a place for humans to get food and drink and for draft animals to get hay — near this river ford. The location was also the fork between a road which ran to Pelican Station and a road which went to the logging camps north of Manson Lake.

The rapids above the location of Tomahawk Dam (that is, near the shoreline where the PCA mill now stands) were the first of what Norwood describes as eight miles of rapids. This eight-mile stretch included Grandmother Falls and Kanadas Rapids, both now flooded by the Grandmother flowage. Upstream of this eight mile stretch, Norwood describes a six mile stretch of languid river. In other words, the river was always fairly calm in the bend where the present City of Tomahawk is located, even prior to the creation of Lake Mohawksin.

October 7. — We left camp this morning at 7 o'clock, and two miles below came to a low range of trap rocks, bearing northeast and southwest, and making rapids. One mile below this, we reached the largest rapids of Wisconsin river, known among the traders and lumber men as "Grandfather Bull Falls." A fine section is exposed at this place. The top of the range is about one hundred and fifty feet above the level of the water, which cuts through the rocks for the distance of one mile and a half. The fall of the water in this distance I have no means of ascertaining. At the upper part of the rapids the river is divided into three chutes, by two chains of rocks, which rise from ten to fifteen feet above the water, and continue for some distance below the commencement. The rocks on the north side of the range are greenstone trap, overlaid by gneiss and hornblende slate, while the lower part of the rapids is made by gneiss, interstratified with mica slate and talcoss slate. The stratified rocks above the rapids have a dip of 20° to the northwest. The river falls, for a greater part of the distance, on a succession of small cascades, made by the tilted strata extending across the river in the line of bearing. A few of the cascades are seven or eight feet high, but generally from two to five feet, and from sixty to eighty yards apart. At the foot of the falls, the gneiss and mica slate dip 57° south-southeast.

Four miles below the falls, we reached the mouth of Skakweya or New Wood river; and, much to our joy, found a trading house established there. The person who occupies it intends opening a farm, and has already made a small clearing. We obtained from him some pork and a lot of fine potatoes. As we had been without meat for several days, we found the sour pork quite palatable. The potatoes, which were raised here, are equal to any I have ever seen.

About one mile and a half below the mouth of New Wood river, a number of springs, strongly impregnated with iron, burst out of the west bank of the river. As the springs are but a few feet above low water mark, every rise of the river carries away most of the ferruginous matter deposited; still there is a deposit of considerable thickness lining the shore for the distance of a quarter of a mile. The hill in which the springs originate is about eight feet high, and extends back from the river from a quarter to a half a mile, to a deep ravine, into which springs discharge from the same hill, but present no indication of iron whatever.

At the mouth of Copper Rock River, five miles below the mouth of New Wood river, a trap range crosses the Wisconsin, making an island in the river thirty feet high, known as "Rock island." This range makes dalles on Rock river, several miles above its mouth. The walls of rock at the dalles are from forty to fifty feet high, and, at one point, approach within six feet, through which contracted space the water rushes with great swiftness. There is a portage of twelve miles from the mouth of the river to a point above the dalles; the river is then navigable for canoes to the lake, of which it is the outlet, a distance of about forty miles. Greenstone continues to show itself in the river, without forming rapids, for the next three miles.

Once again Norwood is probably getting some of his facts mixed up. Although he calls the Copper River the "Copper Rock River," the river that he subsequently refers to as the Rock River is the Rib River, whose dells are located and appear just as Norwood describes. See "Wisconsin's lost missionary: the mystery of Father Rene Menard" by Albert Schmirler in the Wisconsin Magazine Of History, Volume 45 Number 2, in which Schmirler concludes that Father Rene Menard got lost on the Rib River just above those dells, while attempting to reach a band of Huron refuges who had encamped in the vicinity of Rib Lake, a strategic location being also near the headwaters of the Black River. Schmirler's analysis is consistent with Norwood's description of the portage to the dells. Since the Rib River runs at approximately north-northwest, a portage from the Copper River to the Rib River dells would have made sense as a short cut to the Rib Lake region.

Five miles below the mouth of Rock river, a farm has been opened by a Mr. Goodrich, on the east side of the Wisconsin. We camped at this place, and were indebted to the proprietor for the first good supper we had had for nearly a week.
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