Shadow dancing and the cool history of our Wisconsin Woods

We own a quiet chunk of heaven in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and, when we go tramping through it, I like to imagine what life might have been like there before we came along.

Thanks to a thoroughly researched paper Molly recently wrote for her University of Wisconsin Botany Class, we now have a pretty good idea.

She told some stories, identified some trees and kept us thoroughly enthralled last week as she walked us through the property.

Turns out our land sits on a place once called Kak-awani-kone, roughly meaning “crossing the portage” in Menominee. Various creeks made it the shortest portage between the Oconto River, which borders our property, and Shawano Lake, roughly 10 miles away.

The Menominee made camps in Kak-awani-kone from 4000 BCE to about the time of the Civil War, when European settlers began logging in the area.  In an 1848 land survey Molly found, one large creek and one small one passed through our land and loggers made good use of them to transport people and product. The large creek is still there today with footbridges over it my dad built back in the early 1990s.

In 1912, part of the land along the river came under the ownership of a W.C. Zachow, who appears to have built its first structure, on the northeastern corner of the current property right along the river. People from town approached Zachow’s structure via a dirt path called Jeep Road. They came to gather sand for mortar or cement from the dunes located deep in the woods. The road doesn’t exist anymore but still shows up on navigation apps, and confused drivers have mistakenly driven on our property following Jeep Road.

A series of dairy farmers owned the property until my dad purchased it (because it reminded him of the Pennsylvania woods of his childhood) in 1979.

Today, we own the property, along with my sister Jenny and her family. On quiet summer afternoons, we haul old rubber inner tubes to the north end of the property and float down the river to the cabin on the south end. With little traffic on the river, it’s easy to rest your head on the sun-warmed tube, look up and the clouds and think about what life must have been like 100 or even 1,000 years ago.

Thanks to Molly’s research, we now have a more vivid picture of all the people who once called that woods home.

I took this picture of Molly and my shadows on the edge of the woods last fall because I like the lines the twilight sun produced. I think it’s a perfect picture for this post because, now that I know who once lived on that land, I’m going to be thinking of all the cool shadows they left behind.
Vince and our niece Erin (who is dressed appropriately for tick season) survey the land during Molly’s guided tour.
I lagged behind a little to take pictures, but this is Molly, Vince and my mom enjoying the Botany Tour of our farm.
Oh man, I love this river and all of the cool stories it tells.
Second to the river, this is my favorite spot to listen to coyotes sing and think about what life must have been like right here on this spot long ago.

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