The Northern Pineries and the resulting lumber businesses played a big part in the founding of pioneer farms in Wisconsin.
My great-grandfather, Hans Waller, worked in the forests and sawmills to earn money to bring his wife and children from Norway. After the family settled on their Wisconsin farm, his son, Matt, wrote, “Father was up in the forest three or four months and came home in the spring with a fairly considerable sum of money.’’ This required him to leave his farm to the care of his wife and children during the entire winter.
I was that my Scottish great-grandfather, David Tucker, also worked as a lumberjack in the Pineries. Both lumbering and farming were familiar activities to many immigrants coming from northern Europe to Wisconsin in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century.
Lumberjacks were paid one dollar per day. Each day began before sunup because they had to walk several miles from the bunkhouse where they lived to the trees they were cutting. Their workday ended when the daylight was insufficient for them to see their work but they could still see to walk back.
A horse earned seventy-five cents per day, so it was worth nearly as much as a man in the woods. If a man quit or got killed on the job, his wages were docked. The author, Waldemar Ager, in Sons of the Old Country describes the life of the lumberjack: “Four months in a lumber camp amid filth and lice and misery, and in an atmosphere of tobacco smoke and sweat and dirty socks . . . almost unbearable to think about.” The lumber camp and bunkhouses shown here certainly would support Ager’s description of living the life of a lumberjack.
In my earlier Yarn article, “The Milk Hauler,” I described small draft horses that were familiar to me growing up on a Wisconsin farm. One picture shown here has sixteen such draft horses hitched in teams of four on each sleigh, and the other picture has several small draft horses as well. Obviously, it was not just the men that were taken off Wisconsin farms for the winter’s work in the Pineries but many teams of horses and also a few yoke of oxen. Among the men on the sleighs, the one marked with “X” is John Toppen, my father’s uncle, who married my dad’s aunt, Olava Waller.
The Toppen family had come from the farm “Toppen” in Oppland north of Oslo, Norway. The father and mother and three children left Norway in 1866. After twelve weeks on the Atlantic Ocean and a shorter time on the inland waterways going to Milwaukee, they then boarded a cattle car and came by rail to La Crosse. At first the father found work in La Crosse, but later he and the family lived and worked on the Scarseth farm in Hardies Creek. Marked with an “X” standing on the bunkhouse roof is Carl Scarseth, a Norwegian immigrant who was one of the first settlers in Hardies Creek.
The Toppens were the first Norwegians to settle in Glasgow. Because immigrants from Scotland had claimed most of the level and open land near the Black River, the Norwegians, who came later, owned farms in the wooded hills and bluffs to the north. (It may be that Norwegians sought hilly farms that reminded them of their farms in Norway.)
An 1870 platbook shows 160 acres owned by “A. Johnson.” Using the usual system of naming people in Norway, the father had been Andrias Johnson (his father being John) and his son had been Jens Andriason (his father being Andrias). Because they wanted a “permanent” last name to be passed on, they took as their surname “Toppen” from their farm in Norway. In America the father took the name Andrew Toppen and the son took the name John Toppen.
The young John Toppen, standing atop the front sleigh load of logs in our picture, left as a legacy a 320-acre farm that occupied an entire “bowl” surrounded by high bluffs on three sides. When my young grandson, Andreas White, first saw the Toppen home on this farm he exclaimed, “Grandpa, is that a mansion?”
I remember many years ago drinking coffee with Russell and Vivian Toppen in this grand home while watching deer frolicking in their large spring-fed pond. Toppen Coulee was named this because the Toppen farm sits at the top end of this valley. The Toppen farm in Norway is situated on the top of a hill from which it gets the name “Toppen.” Both John Toppen and Carl Scarseth became the ancestors to many people in our community.
The late Harold Scarseth provided me with both of the pictures shown here and both gentlemen marked with the “X” were Harold’s ancestors.