Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Ladysmith, Wisconsin - A Brief History

A Brief History of Ladysmith | Wisconsin Historical Society
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Ladysmith, 1910 ca.

View of Ladysmith. View the original source document: WHI 36329

Ladysmith is located in northwest Wisconsin and is the seat of Rusk County. The town grew up on two major industries, logging and farming. In 1840, almost all of Rusk County was covered with six million acres of white pine and hemlock, and loggers made their livings harvesting these trees. The mouth of the Flambeau River lies near Ladysmith and was an ideal spot from which to float logs down to mills at Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls.

The logging industry fell off sharply after 1915, and farming then rose to take its place. After all the trees had been cut, farmers would burn the pine stumps to the ground before clearing it. Older residents recalled seeing the stumps burning at night like great torches all over the fields.

Ladysmith is also known for a famous hoax concerning a "Petrified Man." In 1926, two loggers reported finding a petrified man in the center of a tree they were cutting down, complete with clothing and documents. They said the man was named "D'Artagnan" and that he had been part of Marquette and Joliet's 1673 exploration. They claimed to be shipping the body to the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison. Despite the fact that it was obviously a hoax, the petrified man story seized the public imagination, and the Wisconsin Historical Society had to issue a press release saying that it possessed no petrified corpse and that Marquette and Joliet had never gone anywhere near Ladysmith.

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Source: WHS Library-Archives Staff, 2009