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

October 8 — October 11: Grandfather Falls to Grand Rapids (modern Wisconsin Rapids)
Table of Contents
Introduction
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 8. — One mile below Goodrich's, Prairie river comes from the east, and just below its mouth a range of hornblende trap crosses the Wisconsin, having a local bearing east-southeast and west-northwest, and forming "Beaulieux's Rapids." At one point in these rapids there is a fall of four feet, affording excellent facilities for driving machinery. A saw mill is now in process of erection at this place, which will be completed during the winter, and go into operation next spring.

Seven miles below these rapids, near the mouth of Pine river, trap shows itself in the bed of the river, without obstructing navigation. About four and a half miles below the mouth of Pine River, "Trap Rapids" begin, and immediately below them a reddish colored, compact, fine-grained granite, shows itself in the banks of the river. Three miles further, a range of hills, from three hundred and fifty to four hundred feet high, and bearing northeast and southwest, skirt the river for some distance. They are, so far as observed, made up entirely of a greenish colored compact, petrosiliceous trap, fusible, with difficulty, before the blowpipe into a colorless enamel, resembling very much some trachytic specimens brought from the Euganean hills, and from the Cantal. This rock extends to within a short distance of "Big Bull" falls, and forms the most southerly range of hills in the eastern part of the Chippewa land district, the corner of which strikes Wisconsin river in latitude 45°, and about six miles above the falls.

We got to the falls early in the afternoon, and having made the portage around them, which is about one mile, devoted the remainder of the afternoon to procuring supplies for the further prosecution of our journey. It was with the utmost difficulty we could procure a pound of pork, and it was only after having made a number of unsuccessful applications that we found one individual willing to accommodate us. The reason assigned for refusal was the scarcity of provisions at this particular season, the spring supply being nearly exhausted, and the fall one not having arrived. I was informed that the cost of mess pork at this place, including first cost and the expenses of transportation, is about thirty dollars per barrel, while flour costs from ten to twelve dollars.

The village at the falls consists of a number of very good framed houses; and from its position, with regard to the lumber trade, in connexion with the productiveness of the soil in its vicinity, bids fair to become a place of considerable importance at no distant day. An effort is being made to lay out and open a road from Green Bay to this place, which, when completed, will materially accelerate the settlement of the country, not only by affording facilities for emigration, but also by reducing the cost of provisions, which, at present, is a serious matter to new-comers, who have to purchase almost everything for the first year.

One of the finest pine regions of Wisconsin enters the district at this point, from the south, and extends for some distance above Spirit River. The general character of the lands bordering Wisconsin River from near its source to the neighborhood of "Grandfather Bull's falls" has been indicated. Below that point, from a quarter of a mile to a mile back from the river, ridges, bearing maple and other hard woods, begin and extend back into the country for many miles, while between the river and maple lands good pine is abundant.

The rivers originating in the Chippewa land district, down which logs can be run, are "Rib," "Trap," "Rock" and "New Wood" Rivers. On all these streams first rate pine abounds, and on all of them "Logging Companies" have been established. The country between them is made up of maple ridges, interspersed here and there with marshes. No pines have yet been cut on this portion of the district above New Wood river, but it was expected that a "logging company" would commence operations on it the coming winter. There are from one hundred and fifty to two hundred men engaged in "logging" on the Wisconsin and its tributaries, above "Big Bull" falls, many of them, however, being employed in the land district east of the Wisconsin.

It is impossible to estimate satisfactorily the amount of timber which has been taken from the public lands in this neighborhood, as much of it is cut by the various mills situated below "Big Bull," but some idea may be formed of the pine trade of this region, from the statement that the three mills at these falls have, together, averaged about 17,000 logs a year, for the last six years. As already intimated, much of the timber cut on the Wisconsin and its tributaries above "Big Bull" is floated to the lower mills, while none of that which passes down "Rib" river, which is said to run through excellent pineries, is cut at the upper mills, that river coming into the Wisconsin below that place. I was informed by the oldest mill owner at the falls, that the mills have never been "stocked" until this, year, owing to the insufficiency of hands in the pineries. They consequently have not only remained idle during winter, but also a portion of each year during which could have operated, had sufficient material been afforded. During the last year, however, the influx of hands has been such as to [foment?] the belief that the mills will be kept in active operation during the whole running season; and the owner already referred to expects to run his mill through the winter, having erected a "percussion wheel" with that view.

Within the last two years, five farms have been opened in the neighborhood of Big Bull falls. The principal crops, so far, have been potatoes, turnips, and oats, all equal in point of yield and quality to any produced in the Union. Wheat has not yet been tried, but the "settlers" seem to think both climate and soil admirably adapted to its cultivation. The farmers meet with [ready?] sale for all their surplus produce at good prices. Potatoes are valued this season from 75 cents to $1 per bushel, turnips 50 cents per bushel, and oats $1 per bushel. Wages in the pineries are $15 to $20 per month.

"Big Bull Falls" are made by a ridge of syenitic granite, about thirty feet high, traversed by a dike of greenstone, and crossing the river with a bearing east-north-east and west-southwest. The river is divided by an island, upon which three mills are erected. The perpendicular fall of the east chute is about four feet, that of the west chute about eight feet. The rocks have a dip of 24° to the northwest.

Big Bull Falls, 1840 survey. In 1836, a section of river from modern Wisconsin Rapids to modern Wausau was ceded by the Menominee Indian nation to the federal government in the Treaty of the Cedars. Within months George Stevens and others erected saw mills at prime mill sites. In this 1840 federal survey map, two mills and a dam are shown. Norwood's detailed description of the settlement elaborates on the rapid progress that was made in the 1840s. Big Bull Falls was incorporated as Wausau on 1850, simultaneous with the establishment of Marathon County by an act of the legislature introduced by Walter McIndoe, very likely the mill owner that Norwood speaks of in his report.

It is worth emphasizing a theme of Norwood's report that comes up again in this entry, namely the difficulty the expedition party was having obtaining supplies. While it does seem that Norwood did not plan very well — they were already beginning to run out of food shortly after leaving Lac du Flambeau, even though they knew ahead of time that no supplies were going to be forthcoming until reaching Big Bull Falls — there were shortages even within the settlements, due to the infrequent supply runs. This presented both a problem and an opportunity, because enterprising farmers had a ready market among the mill hands. From the 1840s to the present, Marathon County's economy is characterizeded by coexistence and interdependence of industrial commerce and agriculture.

October 9. — Seven miles below "Big Bull," a high granite range shows itself on the west side of the river; and at several other points, between that and "Little Bull Falls," a distance of thirteen miles, are exposures of the same rock.

At "Little Bull" there is usually a portage made, three-quarters of a mile long, on the west side of the river, but our voyageurs descended the whole rapid in the canoe, with the exception of a few yards at the mill-dam. There is no perpendicular "fall" at this place; it is a mere rapid, falling, in its whole length of over half a mile, as nearly as I could judge, eight or ten feet. The rock is a dark grayish and greenish-coloured compact syenite. The range is rather low, the rock being elevated, at the highest points observed, only about ten feet above the water-level.

October 10. — Nine miles below " Little Bull," a low range of gneissoid granite is exposed, extending along the western shore of the river for the distance of one hundred and fifty yards, bearing east-northeast, and west-southwest with a dip of 6° to the south-southeast. The rock is traversed by numerous quartz veins, from one to four inches wide, and running in the direction of the line of strike. The direction of the cleavage joints is 15° west of south, and due east and west. The rock is overlaid by twenty feet of fine drift, with a thin soil of sandy loam.

The country is gently undulating prairie, with clumps of very small pines scattered over it.

One mile below this we reached Du Bois's trading house, where we expected to replenish our small store of provisions, but were disappointed, in consequence of the "fall supplies" not having arrived. About five miles below Du Bois's, the greyish colored gneissoid is again exposed for some distance along the west bank of the river, succeeded by a very fine grained reddish granite. The rock is covered here with about ten feet of fine drift, with a thin soil, supporting a small growth of oak, elm, and aspen, on the west side, while east of the river a beautiful undulating prairie extends as far as the eye can reach.

John Baptiste DuBay was a well-connected fur trader of mixed Menominee and French heritage. He spoke French, English and all the Indian languages in Wisconsin fluently. He was an interpreter at the Treaty of Saint Peters, as well as at other negotiations between the federal government and the Indians. He was respected and trusted by both sides.

He was very successful as a trader and in other general frontier enterprises, such as a stage line between Portage and Stevens Point, and in land speculation and lumbering.

In 1857 he shot and killed a mill owner in Portage in a property dispute. It was a sensational news event, and opinions were very split. On the night of the murder, the townspeople formed a lynch mob, yet three former governors, along with many other distinguished character witnesses, testified on his behalf. Despite mistrials and retrials he was never convicted, although he lost most of his money and died in poverty.

The trading post that Norwood refers to was a popular stopover point for Wisconsin River travelers. It was located near the Portage and Marathon County boundary, now flooded by Lake Dubay.

We got to Stevens's Point at 2½ o'clock. The village contains about twenty very good framed houses, several of which are stores. There is also a saw mill here, erected this year. All letters for the upper Wisconsin have to be sent to the post office at this place, from which they are carried to the mills and pineries above by private conveyance.

One mile above Stevens's Point there is an exposure of hornblende slate for half a mile, succeeded by gneissoid granite, which extends for some distance below the village, forming rapids. The bearing of the rocks is N. E. and S. W.

The country in the vicinity of this place is undulating, with a tolerably good soil, supporting a growth of oak, elm, maple, and a few pines.

Two miles further, brought us to Conant's Rapids. This point is exceedingly interesting, not only on account of the great exposure of rock, but also in consequence of the foldings and contortions which have been produced in the stratified rocks, at the time of the intrusion of the lower mass. The prevailing rock is a very decompoundable amphibolic gneiss, passing into a highly ferruginous mica slate, green, brown, and reddish grey, in different localities, and associated also with a very light colored granitic gneiss. These rocks all have a vertical dip, and are compressed by lateral force into almost every possible wavelike form. Between the layers of gneiss, veins of feldspathic granite, or leptynite, from six inches to twenty-five feet in width, have intruded at intervals, and, at many points, overlies for a long space the vertical edges of the gneiss. Some of the veins are porphyritic. The direction of the plane of stratification N. W. and S E. Numerous veins of quartz and of feldspar, from an inch to an inch and a half in width, traverse both the stratified and intrusive rocks, and have a N. E. and S. W. direction. Camped one mile below the commencement of the rapids.

October 11. — There is a fine display of gneiss on an island opposite our camp. It is a grey colored, very fine grained, compact rock, with a few crystals of glassy feldspar disseminated through it, bearing east-northeast and west-southwest, with a dip south-southeast of 19°. It is traversed by many granitic veins, following the curvatures of the strata; and these veins are traversed in turn by veins of quartz, from half an inch to an inch wide, having a northeast and southwest direction. The gneiss is overlaid for a considerable space, at many points, by a very fine grained reddish colored granite.

About two miles below the Conant's Rapids, and about one-fourth of a mile below the mouth of Plover River, the gneiss is again exposed, bearing northeast and southwest, with a dip of 45° southeast There is no bending of the strata at this place, nor did I observe any intrusive rock. Below the mouth of Plover river, the drift banks rise on the east side of the Wisconsin to the height of thirty and fifty feet above the level of the water; and, at the bends of the river, sand slides occur, precisely like those seen on Chippewa River, some of which are more than half a mile in length. Very few pebbles are mixed with the sand. The country is a rolling sand plain, with a few pine bushes and dwarf oaks scattered over it.

The next exposure of rock is at the commencement of the Grand Rapids, about twelve miles below the mouth of Plover River. These rapids are nine miles long. Their "grandeur" consists not in cascades or bold escarpments, but in their length, and the great number of low picturesque rock islands, covered with trees, which dot the river and divide it into numerous narrow channels or chutes. The rock is a very compact feldspathic gneiss, with occasional wide veins of granite traversing it; gradually assuming a true porphyritic character about the middle of the rapids; and, toward their termination, merging into a gneissoid granite; and, finally, at the village of the "Grand rapids," into a fine grained reddish colored granite of precisely the same character with that which overlies the gneiss at Conant's Rapids. The bearing of the rocks is east-northeast and west-southwest.

The village at this place contains a number of good houses, and, from the air of business and comfort about it, I should judge it to be a prosperous one. There are three mills on these rapids, which give employment, directly and incidentally, to a large number of men. The river banks in the vicinity are low. The country is covered with a good growth of oak, elm, poplar, birch, sugar maple and pine.
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