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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Trod Wisconsin

Hiking this weekend? You follow in the footsteps of some famous Wisconsin residents. Read their personal accounts of hoofing it in Wisconsin in the sources linked below. Print them out, take them along, read them by the campfire, and know youíre in good company as you nurse blisters at the end of a day on the trail.

In the fall of 1659 the first French fur traders hiked from modern Ashland to near Lac Courtes Oreilles, where they nearly starved to death over the winter. The first Jesuit priest to reach our state, Father Rene Menard, tramped from Lake Superior to Lac Vieux Desert in 1661. In 1820, geologist Henry Schoolcraft hiked miles back into the woods to see a famous boulder of solid copper near Lake Superior (chapter VI). Future governor James Doty was along on this trek, and his diary recounts their difficulty hiking up the Ontanagon June 28, 1820. And in 1858, another Wisconsin geologist, Increase Lapham, walked through much of Ashland and Iron counties exploring the Penokee Iron Range.

Further south, lead miners such as Theodore Rodolf thought nothing of hiking in the 1820s from Galena, Illinois, up into Iowa and Grant counties. Abraham Lincoln walked in 1835 from Milwaukee to Sheboygan. This was after he had been here as a soldier in pursuit of 1,200 Sauk and Fox Indians led by Black Hawk. They vainly fled on foot for 16 weeks throughout the summer of 1832, while U.S. forces repeatedly spurned their surrender offers.

During the 1830s, surveyors such as John Brink traipsed in straight lines six miles apart over the southern half of the state, recording what the landscape was like before it was settled. In 1846, teenager Sarah Foote traveled by foot from Ohio to Fort Atkinson and then to Winnebago County, keeping this diary as her family progressed. Between 1846 and 1852 Increase Lapham surveyed Wisconsinís Indian mounds on foot, trying to measure and sketch as many as he could before they were plowed flat by white settlers. Finally, in 1857 surveyor Andrew Davis hiked from Portage to Eau Claire so that a railroad line could be extended to Minneapolis-St. Paul, keeping this diary of his days among the mosquitoes and the muck.

By the turn of the 20th century, thousands of city residents were fleeing urban smog and grime each summer to get back to nature. Progressive state leaders thought they ought to be guaranteed unspoiled places and hired John Nolen to write this report, the book that laid the foundations of Wisconsinís state park system. If you go to Devilís Lake, Interstate, Wyalusing, or another of the older state parks this weekend, youíre probably hiking on trails first cut and bridges constructed in the 1930s by employees of the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the early 1960s Gov. Gaylord Nelson, who would later lead the effort to create Earth Day, started this program to vastly increase the amount of land protected by the state for posterity - - which means you and me.

:: Posted in Curiosities on May 5, 2005

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