Emil at Beef Slough

Doing this blog is especially interesting to me when a family member or event connects with a well-known historical moment. Such is the case when Clara writes, “While growing up on the farm, [Emil Borreson] spent several winters during his early manhood working as a cook at the Beef Slough Lumber Camp, 20 miles north of Winona, Minnesota” (Homestead, 34).

I understand that working in logging camps during the winter was common among Norwegian and Irish immigrants and their families. My mother’s grandfather did the same. If Clara is correct about where Emil worked, he spent his winters at a very famous camp.

In the 1860s, logs floated down the Chippewa River to the Mississippi River were held for sorting and grouping into rafts in a backwater area at the mouth of the Chippewa. From there they would go to sawmills down the Mississippi. In 1867 the Beef Slough Manufacturing, Booming, Log Driving and Transportation Company was organized and built accommodations for 600 employees at this critical location. The ensuing competition between the Beef Slough and Eau Claire interests (using the Chippewa) threatened to break out into violence in 1868, and so was dramatically labelled the “Beef Slough War.” An important arrival on the scene by the name of Frederick Weyerhauser began changing logging operations from local concerns into a major interstate industry.

A short distance from Alma, Wisconsin, on the Mississippi River, an official marker designates Beef Slough, although no sign of the logging action remains today. At the time of the “war,” Beef Slough was the biggest log sorting operation in Wisconsin.

If Emil worked at Beef Slough as a cook, he must have been about 17 years old – or younger when he began. He was born in 1872 and Beef Slough operations closed in 1889, when Weyerhauser moved them across the Mississippi to the Minnesota side to avoid a Wisconsin tax. It could be, however, that Beef Slough remained the informal name for that general area, and then Emil may have worked there into his twenties or the 1890s.

From 1890 to 1910, manufacturing from lumber interests was the top industry in the state, even though, by 1890, the great white pine forests were on the downhill side. Besides the heavy cutting and decimation by logging interests, one source indicates that the forest fires that burned virtually unchecked from 1850 to 1900 may have destroyed half of Wisconsin’s timber.

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