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Menominee museum presents logging legacy

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KESHENA, Wis. - The Menominee Tribe has a long history of logging, dating
to as early as 1872; thus a museum dedicated to logging is in keeping. Not
only is it a logging museum, it also contains the largest collection of
logging artifacts in the world. Seven log buildings - filled with some
20,000 items - make up the Menominee Logging Camp Museum.

Those early years of logging were primarily for pines. The only way to
remove logs was to float them down the Wolf River, as roads were small and
primitive then and the railroad was yet to arrive. As hardwoods don't float
well, the emphasis was on pines. One mill operated near Keshena Falls, but
most logs were transported all the way to Lake Winnebago, where more than
40 sawmills ringed the lake. Tribal members would work the river drives,
including the 13 rapids within the reservation where the river drops about
900 feet in 20 miles.

Later, after a railroad was pushed through in 1908, hardwoods contributed
greatly to the harvest, particularly oaks, maples and ash. The tribe also
built a mill in 1908 which lasted till 1924, when it was destroyed by fire.
A new mill was soon built and remains active to this day.

At one time there were 33 different lumber camps within the reservation
where about 30 men would eat, sleep and work. Logging remains one of the
major employers on the Menominee reservation.

The tribe's original lands covered over 9 million acres of prime forest.
The present reservation measures 235,000 acres, of which about 97 percent
is in timber stands. Pine, hemlock and several hardwoods make up the bulk
of the harvest, but 46 different timber varieties grow here. The tribe has
harvested over 2.5 billion board feet of lumber while maintaining a
"renewable cut" philosophy that keeps the standing timber harvest higher
than when the reservation was established in 1854.

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It was Jacque Vallier who came up with the idea of a logging museum and
provided the funds to create a complete reproduction and restoration of an
early Wisconsin logging camp. He also donated much of the collection of
logging artifacts.

The buildings were constructed of trees harvested from tribal lands and cut
at the Menominee tribal sawmill. Construction lasted from 1969 - 1972, and
five more years were required to place artifacts in each of the seven
buildings: at which point he turned it over to the Menominee Tribe.

The buildings include a bunkhouse, an old-time camp office, saw filer's
shack, cook shanty, blacksmith shop, wooden butcher's shop and a horse
barn. Guided tours are led by tribal member Roxanne LaRock who easily
responds to questions on the old tools and the history of the area. LaRock
said nearly 1,000 students from nearby school visit each year, a
substantial number for this region of fairly low population.

If an item was used in early logging, it's probably on display here. The
collection includes axes and saws of many shapes and sizes, cant hooks,
lanterns, spuds and man-yokes that allowed a person to haul heavy cans of
water, plus huge skidding wheels for moving large logs.

Visitors will find lodging a short distance away at the 100-room Menominee
Hotel which adjoins the Menominee Casino. The Forest Island Restaurant
serves excellent meals in the same set of buildings, along with a 30-site
RV campground that is free to casino and hotel guests.