Lumber Camp Cook

In addition to Clara’s account of her father Emil Borreson, I always wish I had more information about “his early manhood working as a cook at the Beef Slough Lumber Camp, 20 miles north of Winona [Minnesota]” (Homestead, 34).

Recently I came across a 1980 book, Alma on the Mississippi 1848-1932, which stirred my curiosity again. Beef Slough was “the largest log sorting and rafting works in the state of Wisconsin,” if not the world (33). It began operating the late 1860s after the Civil War and continued to about 1891 when the sole operation was moved across the Mississippi to West Newton.

Emil was born in 1872, so he must have worked there in the latter years of the Beef Slough activity. The surprise in the Alma book was a photograph of a group of cooks from nearby West Newton on page 39. Here it is: doesn’t the fellow second from the right look at least a bit like our grandfather Emil? I thought so. I suppose the odds are against it being him; still, it’s fun to entertain the possibility.

Cooks at West Newton - Beef Slough

On the next page (40),  the author wrote a description of the cook’s work. “The cooks baked their own bread, muffins, cakes, and pies, in addition to preparing the main meals. Breakfast featured flapjacks, ham and eggs, or oatmeal, and dinner and supper might consist of stews, baked beans, or roasts, and steak with potatoes. The cook was crucial to the success of the camp since a good cook kept the men happy. They were well paid, often receiving as much as the foreman and superintendent…. Meat was ordered from Andrew Hemrich, the butcher in Alma, who daily delivered as much as 800 pounds, all to be used within that day. One such order included 200 pounds of steaks, 300 pounds of roasts, over 100 pounds of sausages, and large amounts of salt meats, smoked ham and lard. Area farmers supplied fresh vegetables, fruits, milk, butter, and cheese for the camps.”

As I said, it would be fun to know more about Emil in these years. Perhaps he received the good pay mentioned here and the money helped him to move into the farming operation later.

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