The Chippewa: Biography of a Wisconsin Waterway

By Richard D. Cornell

Paperback: $20.00

ISBN: 978-0-87020-780-8

200 pages, 50 b&w photos, 1 map, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 An e-book edition is also available.


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Inspired by August Derleth's seminal book, "The Wisconsin," memoirist and paddler Richard D. Cornell travels the Chippewa River in Wisconsin from its sources south of Ashland to where it joins the Mississippi. This collection of river tales uncovers the heart of the Chippewa and chronicles the history of a northern waterway.

Cornell's accounts include stories about legendary Ojibwe leader Chief Buffalo, world-famous wrestler Charlie Fisher, and supercomputer innovator Seymour Cray, along with the lesser-known stories of local luminaries such as Dr. John "Little Bird" Anderson, founder of the Ojibwe Community College, and Cheryl Treland, a third-generation resort owner on the Chippewa Flowage.

For media review copies, author interviews, or more information, contact the Wisconsin Historical Society Press marketing office at

Richard D. Cornell wrote the 2006 Wisconsin Magazine of History article "Knights of the Spike-soled Shoe: Lumbering on the Chippewa," and co-wrote with Jerry Poling the news feature "Greats of the Gridiron," about the undefeated 1906 Eau Claire High School football team. He also self-published the memoir Finding My Father, which about his quest to learn about his father who was killed in World War II when Rich was thirteen months old.
The river flows throughout the stories you tell in this book in almost a nostalgic way – what gives The Chippewa its nostalgic importance in the North?

The Chippewa is not just a river; it's a story. The river [literally] connects amazing history and today. It connects Jonathan Carver, the first white man to paddle up the river and meet the Ojibwe to the water highway the Ojibwe had been using for generations; and it connects the history of lumbering -- one-sixth of all of the white pine east of the Mississippi grew along the Chippewa and its tributaries of the past with the natural beauty of today.

Why should someone who doesn’t canoe read this book?

 It's a river of stories -- yesterday and today -- just waiting to be explored.

How can this book serve as a guide to Wisconsin history? River history?

Born from a glacier, The Chippewa's geology and the physical changes it has experienced over time tell Wisconsin's story of its Native Americans ,of its European settlers, of its natural history. The bend of every bank adds to part of each Wisconsin story -- past or present.

Can this book increase our understanding of shared water experiences and values?

Yes. The river rolls on as do the lives of the people along it.

How has writing “The Chippewa” been a personal experience for you?

Writing this book gave me an opportunity to re-connect with the memories of my family who paddled it with me and it opened doors to the many people, geologists, local historians and regular folks to whom the river is a part of their life.