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8th Book Excerpt: Thad Thayer Arrives in Pahquahwong

The following is the eighth of several book excerpts the LCO News will feature from local author, John Dettloff. The excerpts will be from his  new book.


Detloff has lived on the Chippewa Flowage, near New Post, for over 50 years.  His family has had a small resort just east of New Post for 56 seasons and for 40 years he has been writing historical articles about the flowage, tribal history (especially Old Post), old guides, old resorts, and fishing.


His new book called Whispers of the Past, A History of the Chippewa Flowage, released on November 1st, gives a comprehensive history of the flowage going back to the fur trade era. 

According to Detloff, the book profiles in great detail the people of the "Chippewa Basin" (the area that became flooded by the flowage) and talks about the 300 plus people who were affected by and displaced by the flowage.  There were probably 250 plus tribal members and nearly 100 non-tribal members that were affected. 


From the Book:


Thaddeus Thayer, the first white settler at the village of Pahquahwong.

     Thaddeus Adams Thayer Jr. was born at Hampden, Maine around 1833, one of four children born to Thaddeus A. Thayer Sr. and Elizabeth A. Hardy.  Because the pioneers of Wisconsin’s budding lumber industry during the 1840s lacked the required expertise to make such a complex business run smoothly, they looked to New England’s experienced lumber kings for guidance by putting out mass advertisements which extolled the great potential of Wisconsin’s new lumber market.  The publicity paid off and by the 1850s numerous established lumbermen – as well as those who wanted to work in the industry – flooded into Wisconsin from New England.  Two young easterners who were to be lured to the Chippewa pineries were the Thayer brothers, Thaddeus and Joseph. 

     According to Thaddeus Thayer Jr., he first arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota, on October 13, 1850.  Whether his younger brother came with him, or Thad had sent for him a few years later is not known.  However, both Thaddeus and his brother Joseph were living and working as lumbermen in Stillwater, Minnesota, by October of 1857.  By 1863, the brothers had moved to the northeast, into Wisconsin, where they encamped and befriended former members of the Prairie Rice Lake Band (who had recently been consolidated into the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of the Ojibwe).  There, they each met and married the daughters of two of the band’s chiefs. 

     Joe Thayer married Bimosekwe (Martin), the daughter of Chief Ke-che-waw-be-shay-she (the Big Martin) and Bagine.  While Joe had worked as a logger for many years, by the 1880s, he settled down and was farming in the Trade Lake and Bashaw areas – to the west of Shell Lake, Wisconsin – where he and his wife (who came to be known as Elizabeth) brought ten children into this world between 1864 and 1884: Frank Howard, Henry, Mary, John J., George, Kate, Bell, Minnie, Albert Joseph, and Sister Madeline.  Joseph and Elizabeth and some of their adult sons eventually moved closer to Pahquahwong.

     Thad Thayer had married Waabikwe, the daughter of late Chief Nenaaangebi (known as the Dressing Bird) and Niigio.  Waabikwe, who later came to be known as Charlotte or “Lottie,” was born around 1841.  She had been married before, to a man named Edward Dingley, with whom she had a daughter named Mary.  On June 10, 1861, Dingley enlisted and went off to fight in the Civil War.  After he was reportedly killed in action, Waabikwe married Thayer and they had two daughters together named Sarah and Margaret.  On July 11, 1865, Edward Dingley – whom the family presumed was dead – was discharged from the Union Army after the close of the war and returned home to his wife…. and her new husband.


Thad Thayer built his trading post and home up from the east bank of Pokegama Creek, right where these two buildings are located in this pre-1920 photo.  It is likely that the building on the left was Thayer’s original trading post and the building on the right was his first home.  After Thayer vacated his trading post and first home and built his hotel on the other side of Pokegama Creek in 1882, Mary Miller (who was allotted this land in 1881) took possession of the property.

     Thad Thayer did the honorable thing and bowed out, separating from his wife and deciding to move on to greater opportunities.  But move on to where?  Somewhere along the line, he had made up his mind to move to the remote village of Pahquahwong, located up on the West Fork of the Chippewa River.  Having already been living in Lac Courte Oreilles, Thayer most likely had visited Pahquahwong a number of times before. 

     Once he had all his gear packed, Thayer took the portage trail from the Lac Courte Oreilles village to the western shores of Chief Lake, where tribal members had established another settlement.   From there, it was just a matter of paddling across the lake’s expanse and exiting through its outlet into the Little Chief River (as it was referred to back then), where the current of a nine mile long stream took hold of Thayer’s craft and gently guided it through the lush wild rice fields of Tyner and Rice Lake – as well as past numerous other pockets of wild rice along the way – towards its junction with the West Fork of the Chippewa River. 

     A mile and a half before Thayer reached the West Fork, he noticed the North Fork of the Chief River flowing into the river from the left (north), making the Chief River just a little wider and its current a bit faster.  At that point the river made several very sharp turns as it carved its way around some high ridges of land – the tallest of which loomed into view, off to the right, high above the water just as the Chief River met with the majestic waters of the West Fork of the Chippewa.  Unbeknownst to Thayer at the time, atop that high plateau was an eighty plus year old Indian burial ground where the villager’s loved ones had been laid to rest.

     Finally, just as Thayer had glanced off to the right, the first wigwams of Pahquahwong availed themselves to Thayer’s anxious eyes.  These scattered dwellings were perched along the west shores of the upper end of a long, banana shaped, slack water lake which the downriver section of the West Fork had morphed itself into.  This lake had long been known as Pa Kwa a wag (Pahquahwong) Lake.  With high ridges of land to both the west and east of most of the length of Pahquahwong Lake, abundant stands of virgin pine towered overhead on the high ground.  Further beyond the ridge to the west was a very large area of wetland, marshes, and meadows where seemingly every variation of waterfowl and birds were gathered.  

     The year was 1865, and it was likely late summer or early fall when Thad Thayer pulled his canoe ashore near some of the dwellings of Pahquahwong, contemplating on making a new life for himself there and becoming the village’s first permanent white settler.  Maps which are nearly two centuries old indicate that the primary site of habitation of Pahquahwong up until 1840 was located near the upper west end of Pahquahwong Lake, near the confluence of the Chief River and the West Fork.  By the time Thad Thayer arrived in Pahquahwong, its residents had begun to spread out and scattered – both upstream and downstream – some distance from the village.  About a mile and a half downstream to the south, at the big bend of the West Fork of the Chippewa River, was a small creek called Pokegama Creek which flowed out of Pokegama Lake and emptied into the river.   Pokegama Lake was a fair-sized lake that was just over a mile in length.  On the east end of this lake, near its outlet into the creek, was an abundance of wild cranberries growing on marshy bogs.  There were already some dwellings (wigwams) near this creek and along the shores of Pokegama Lake by the time Thad Thayer had arrived at the village, but it wasn’t until he chose to settle and engage in commerce there “at the bend of the river” when this part of the village would grow to become the epicenter of Pahquahwong. 

     Thad Thayer built a fur trading post along the east edge of Pokegama Creek, not far from where it emptied into the Chippewa River.  Built atop a high bank overlooking both the creek and the river, it was clearly visible to river travelers coming from either direction.  Being the only trading post established above Belille’s stopping place, this served as the last source of supplies for those traveling upriver on the Chippewa.  Becoming a licensed Indian trader, Thayer could legally do business on the reservation and barter with the Indians, who would bring in their furs and, possibly, other items like wild rice, maple sugar, or berries to trade for items such as guns, gun powder, tobacco, foods, blankets, gaily colored clothes, beads, and jewelry.  With no road access into the area for years to come, all his stores of goods had to be shipped upriver from Chippewa Falls.

     Whether or not Thayer initially lived in the back of his trading post cabin or built a separate house for himself right away is uncertain; however, it wasn’t long before he built a sturdy log home nearby to live in.  The presence of Thayer’s log buildings in the village encouraged residents to construct log houses for themselves, and eventually, there came to be quite a number of small homes in Pahquahwong.  Many of the Indians progressed to using their wigwams primarily as summer dwellings or for storage, retreating into their more comfortable log houses once winter approached. 

     Around 1869, Thad Thayer married Mary Anibish James Bert, likely formalizing their union with a traditional Indian ceremony.  Mary (known as “Gogi”) was born around 1851 to Henry Bert, a white man, and Catherine “O’Kwegan” James, an Ojibwe woman.  O’Kwegan, likely born in the 1830s, was the daughter of Omashkos, who was the son of Metakosige.  Between 1870 and 1895, Thad and Mary Thayer had nine children: Charles, Annie, Minnie, Kate, Lucy, Frank (Connie), Nellie, Jessie, and Florence, most of whom were born in Pahquahwong.  Thayer likely enlarged his log home, as needed, to accommodate his growing family. 

     Over the years, Thad Thayer’s trading post remained as a solid enterprise within the village of Pahquahwong… which eventually came to be referred to as “The Trading Post” or, more often, “Post.”  In addition to his Ojibwe patrons, ever increasing numbers of lumberjacks began to filter into Thayer’s trading post.  They came from logging camps that were both upriver towards Moose Lake and downriver towards Belille’s, as well as other places.  Men like Thomas McCarr, Alex Bellile, Henry Tiner, Walt Hutchen, Dan Thomas, and William Gordon were just a few of the characters who visited the Post during the 1870s. 

     (To order a copy of John Dettloff's new book, send a check or money order for $29.95, plus $6 shipping and 5 1/2% sales tax, made out to Trails End Publishing and send it to: Trails End Publishing, 7431 N Flowage Rd., Couderay, Wi 54828.)

2 Comments


Jessie, the eighth child listed was my grandmother.

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That's my ancestor...the start of the Thayers in lco

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