Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Juneau County

Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Juneau County

Shaped by its glacial geography, its earliest native residents and immigrant settlers, the story of Juneau County is filled with perseverance, innovation, leadership and heroism. Film, archival images and interviews with historians, local citizens and experts tell the unique stories of Juneau County’s distinct places, and the role its people have played in the development of Wisconsin.

Premiere date: Apr 17, 2014

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TRANSCRIPT+

Announcer:
This program is brought to you by the combined resources of the Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Public Television.

Narrator:
On Wisconsin Hometown Stories, a county founded in the heart of the state, built up by rail power, and the bounty of the land. A county transformed by civil war, strong political winds, and powerful glacial waters, that left a patchwork landscape woven into the fabric of history. On Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Juneau County.

Announcer:
Funding provided in part by Philip J. and Elizabeth B. Hendrickson; Phyllis I. Moore, in memory of the Henry and Laura Grefe Family and John F. Moore; the Kari L. Schmidt family and Bank of Mauston, in memory of Thomas E. Schmidt; the Jean A. Traeder and Joan M. Randolph families, in memory of Beatrice P. Burgdorff; the John and Catherine Orton family, in memory of the Honorable Thomas J. and Colette S. Currran; Mildred Freymiller; the Friends of Wisconsin Public Television; and the Wisconsin History Fund, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Narrator:
When glaciers moved into Wisconsin during the last ice age, ice blocked the flow of the Wisconsin River, forming what is known as Glacial Lake Wisconsin. For thousands of years, most of Juneau County lay deep underwater. As the climate warmed, the wall of ice gave way, and the lake drained in a catastrophic rush of water. The surging cascade carved out the formations of the Wisconsin Dells in a matter of days.

Harlan Feldt:
The cliff that we see ahead and to the left marks the beginning of Juneau County. It was just a cataclysmic flow and just drained the lake in a matter of a few days. So, it was that outflow that carved through these rocks, shaping and forming, and sculpturing the rock formations that we see today.

Narrator:
Jutting up from the lake bottom, rock formations, once islands in the glacial lake, carved by the waves and currents of a thousand feet of water. As the glaciers retreated, the land opened up once again to Native Americans, who left a legacy of effigy mounds around the county. In the 1830s and '40s, the federal government took possession of Menominee lands in Juneau County, and the US Army removed the Ho Chunk from their Wisconsin lands.

Lance Tallmadge:
We were forcibly removed five different times. Reservations were established for our people in Iowa. There were two reservations in Minnesota, a reservation established out in South Dakota. And then finally, our people moved down the river to part of the Omaha Indian Reservation. But with each removal, there was a group, our Ho Chunk people, that would always come back to Wisconsin, always come back to our homeland. We believe that the Creator placed us here. This is the area that he intended for us to inhabit. So, they came back to the homelands to be where the Creator intended for us to be. This is home. Yellow Thunder was one of our great leaders. Yellow Thunder encouraged non-Native people to pressure Congress to include the Winnebago people, or Ho Chunk people in the Homestead Act. So, 1874, they were included in the Homestead Act. And many of our tribal people took 40-acre properties in areas where some of our old villages used to be. That's why today we have large communities here in Baraboo, Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse, Tomah, Mauston, Reedsburg, Wittenberg. Black River Falls, of course, is our larger community. But those were some of the old homestead sites.

Narrator:
European homesteaders began settling the area in the 1840s, which, until 1858, was part of a larger Adams County.

Michael Goc:
It offered government land, low-priced land. It was the place to come.

Lance Herdegen:
A lot of free land was being sold, a lot of immigrants were moving in. There was a lot of land speculation going on in Juneau County at the time. We began to just see that flux of Irish and Germans coming into Wisconsin. That's what's interesting, because you have this social war underway.

Tommy Thompson:
My great grandfather Thomas came over from Ireland, and got a job on the Erie Canal. When his job finished up, he was in the Chicago area and came north to Wisconsin. He got up in this area, and he said this looks just like home, like Ireland. He got that warrant from the government to have 60 acres of land, and he started farming.

Narrator:
The town of Necedah formed around a mill pond and a sawmill, with the Yellow River supplying both the water power for the mill, and the white pine logs.

Man not on camera:
It was a mini pinery. Yellow had enough pine upstream to really foster a pioneer lumber industry.

Narrator:
In the south, wheat became the crop of choice for pioneer farmers. And harnessing the power of falling water on the Baraboo, Yellow, and Lemonweir Rivers, towns began to grow up around gristmills, that ground wheat and other grains.

Rose Clark:
This is a picture of Ben Boorman. He purchased the rights to the power on the dam on the Lemonweir River from the founder of Mauston, Milton Maughs. Then Boorman had a huge flour mill, sold flour all over the Midwest. He had a lumber mill and a wool carding mill. Ben Boorman built this 13-room home in 1876. It is now owned by the Juneau County Historical Society. It's our museum and archives.

Narrator:
In 1858, the arrival of the La Crosse and Milwaukee Railroad fueled the growing settlement of Juneau County.

Michael Goc:
One of the first railroads to cross Wisconsin came west from Milwaukee to Portage, crossed the Wisconsin River at what was then known as Kilborn Wisconsin Dells, and that stimulated the population all the way up and down its length.

Narrator:
Tracks were laid from Lyndon Station to Mauston, and then on to New Lisbon and Camp Douglas. Soon, a railroad called the "Baraboo Air Line" ran tracks from Baraboo to Wonewoc, and then on to Elroy.

Rose Clark:
The day it got to Elroy, there was a stampede of animals, because they weren't used to that type of noise.

Narrator:
Next, the Western Wisconsin, decided to run tracks from Camp Douglas south, tunneling through the hills to Hustler, and then on to Elroy, where eventually two roundhouses, and other operations, provided many railroad jobs. The railroads opened up the world to the rural county, and settlers began to pour in. Towns like Union Center built up around the railroad depot, and the rhythm of the trains became the heartbeat of the area. For farmers, the rails opened up new markets in Milwaukee and Chicago. Staples like wheat, flour, and potatoes were shipped alongside fruit and other specialty crops from Juneau County's varied terrain.

Craig Saxe:
When you come to this county, there's a little bit of everything. When we look at Juneau County, it represents a lot of things that you can find in this state. When we get to the southwestern corner of the county, it's the unglaciated area, much like you see the western edge of Wisconsin, lots of hills, beautiful valleys. Then when you get to the southern area, where we are right now, we're standing in what probably would've been the tail end of Glacial Lake Wisconsin. We've got more of the prairies. Maybe not as heavy a prairie as you might see in Dane County, but still beautiful prairies. If you go farther north into Juneau County, then you get into what was once known as the Great Swamp. We get into some beautiful sand country that you would see in central Wisconsin, and also wetlands that you might see in central Wisconsin. So, it's very diverse.

Narrator:
Juneau County's expanse of wetlands provided the resources for a number of specialty crops, like wiregrass.

Man unidentified:
It was a particular variety of grass that is wound and fairly seamless, and extensive acreage up in northern Juneau County. It was harvested and baled up. Oshkosh was the center of industry in Wisconsin, and mats and rugs, and wrappings and other things were made out of this. That industry lasted until the 1950s, when they switched to plastic. Another one is cranberries. The cranberry industry grew out of the fact that wild cranberries grow in wetlands, and did grow in those wetlands up there.

Narrator:
In the 1860s, an insect called the hop louse wiped out hop production in New York State. The price of hops skyrocketed, opening up a new opportunity for another specialty crop.

Rose Clark:
It was discovered that the land in Juneau and Sauk, and some of Adams County was just perfect for growing hops.

Craig Saxe:
It went from five cents a pound to 50 cents a pound. So you can imagine the craze that they created for people putting in hops, or people growing hops. Hops is a perennial vine. It'll grow up a stake that you put in, about 25' tall. It produces a walnut sized fruit, and that's what's harvested. That is dried down, and that produces the flavor in beer. So the hops harvest was very labor intensive. So, to harvest that crop, they would bring in as many workers as they could by rail.

Rose Clark:
Isaac Alsbacher delved into hops in Mauston. He bought the hops from the smaller farmers and he also had a hop yard. Mr. Alsbacher hired ladies and children from the cities that would come on the trains to pick the hops. He would have a wagon or two that he would pick these workers up at the tracks. They would be singing all the way through town. Mr. Alsbacher built a very, very large mansion, and he would have rooms for the workers to stay in.

Craig Saxe:
The early settlers here were subsistence farmers. First of all, they were just making enough money to feed the family, or they were raising enough food to feed the family. When the hops craze came in, that changed. So, barns were built, houses were put up, pianos were bought. But when it got to that 50-cent market, guess what, New York figured out how to get rid of the hop louse. So now, we have double the production and the price dropped well below five cents, down to three cents a pound. And the people that probably borrowed the farm went to the banker and bought a fancy piano because they were going to make money at 50 cents, went bankrupt. Now, of course, if you put up a barn, that didn't go away. That added to the long term infrastructure of this area. So some of that investment in infrastructure stayed.

Narrator:
As fortunes in hops rose and fell, Juneau County would soon be touched by a bitter conflict brewing a thousand miles away.

Narrator:
With the attack on Fort Sumpter, South Carolina, the frontier settlers of Juneau County were drawn into the impending Civil War. President Lincoln issued a call to each state to raise companies of volunteers. Rufus Dawes and his father Henry, heeded the call, inspired by the patriotism of his great-grandfather, William Dawes. Along with Paul Revere, Dawes rode at midnight, warning colonists of the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

Lance Herdegen:
So they were well aware of the forming of this country. They felt that they were saving their grandfathers' work, or their great-grandfathers' work. Rufus was very active in recruiting for the company. They met three or four times, and they quickly got the hundred volunteers they needed. Then they have to elect these officers within the group. Rufus Dawes was elected. They came to the decision that they would call themselves the Minute Men. Again, that's a connection to Rufus Dawes and his dad, that they would call themselves the Minute Men, like the patriots of old.

So, they had this big meeting, and that was pretty much the name they were going to use. They said, well, are we going to be the Juneau County Minute Men, and one guy said, no, let's be the Lemonweir Minute Men, to remind us of the valley that we all came from.

It's very local. You went to war with your cousins and your school mates, and your brothers, your fathers, sometimes, and sons. You've got Irish immigrants, James Patrick Sutherland from Company K of the Lemonweir Minute Men. He's actually 17 years old and lies about his age to get in. Some Norwegians, some Germans, a lot of Yankees. Then they went to Madison, where they were formed into the 6th Wisconsin. The guys went in homemade shirts and straw hats. They had their stuff wrapped up in a kerchief on a stick. They were pretty rustic boys. The 6th Wisconsin became known as the calico boys, because of all of the colorful homemade shirts that their mothers and sisters sent them with. So, you had a frontier company in many ways.

Very proud of what they were doing. Very proud of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a state for 12 years when the war started. Did it earn its star on the flag? Well, they're gonna show everybody that they were, you know, worthy of being part of the Union.

The 6th Wisconsin is shipped to Washington, and ultimately becomes part of the Iron Brigade, which is the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin, the 19th Indiana, and later the 24th Michigan. All western boys. So you had a western brigade and those eastern armies. They wore these big black hats. They looked like pilgrim hats, but they were actually a military hat. They liked the big hats, because they made 'em look big. It also made 'em recognized as western men, and they were going to prove something. And they did.

They fight four battles in the space of three weeks. They fight Gainesville, Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam. In Antietam, a very, very hard fight in a place called the corn field, where they just got shot to pieces. The 6th Wisconsin lost almost 50% in the space of an hour and a half.

But they make their reputation at Gettysburg. Rufus Dawes ends up being a Lt. Colonel, which is a second slot on the Army Brigade. But his commander had been kicked by a horse, so at Gettysburg, Dawes is in command. He writes his best girl, Mary Beman Gates, before the battle. He said, "I hope to do something brave." The Iron Brigade is thrown in north of town, 'cause the Confederates are coming down that road. And so, for a period from 10:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon, the Iron Brigade, and some other units, but the Iron Brigade primarily, blocks the road so the Confederates can't come through. Outnumbered two and three to one, if you can imagine those kind of odds. Driven back, literally step by step. Finally, they're blown away and they have to run through the town. But what happens is, they save the high ground that's so critical in Gettysburg. The Confederates can't get through the town. They can't capture the town, and below the town are these ridges that the Union Army fortifies. And those ridges become the key to the victory at Gettysburg.

So, in many ways, they win the battle at Gettysburg, or are a key factor in it. But does anybody know that? No. They went into the battle with 1883 soldiers, the Brigade did, five regiments, 1883 men. That night, when they took the roll, there were 491 left.

Then they go on. They regrouped and they fight at the Wilderness and they go on through the rest of the war. The 6th and the 7th end up at that strange place called Appomattox Court House. And then they come home. In the end, after all the war was over and they began to count up, the Iron Brigade had the highest percentage of loss of any brigade in the Union Army. It's a war record that, we should be proud of 'em, because they stepped up, frontier boys, and opened the attack at Antietam, opened the fighting at Gettysburg, the infantry fighting.

You know, it's just a remarkable record. They went to the war, one guy said, because "I wanted to do something for my new country," an Irish immigrant. Another soldier said he wanted to be considered brave, and he wanted to see the sunny south. But they stepped up and fought a very, very bloody war for four years. Some of them never got home for the whole four years until the day they got off the train in Madison and made their way to Cassville, or Lancaster, or Mauston, or all those places they called home. And yet, they blend right back in. Rufus Dawes wrote a letter to his old Lemonweir Minute Men reunion. He said the younger generation can hardly know that their modest neighbors fought on more battle fields than the old guard of Napoleon, and are now the nation's best citizens.

Narrator:
When Glacial Lake Wisconsin drained during the last ice age, it left a landscape that would defeat many of the best efforts to tame it.

Michael Goc:
When the glacial lake drained, it evolved into the largest stretch of wetland in the state, the Great Swamp of Central Wisconsin, as it was called. Other parts of it, the parts that were slightly higher and drier developed into the Pine Barrens, as we call it, oak savannah, areas that resembled, really in many ways, a park. Groves of trees, and in between was native grasses and sedges and the wetlands. It was a natural landscape and a managed landscape in that the Native Americans also burned it on a regular basis and that maintained those grasslands. None of this land is really good for agriculture. And that of course, has affected the history here.

Marsh farming in general was a particular feature of Juneau County. The state kept agriculture statistics. You go down the list of corn, oats, and da-da-da-da-da, there would be hay. There are always two categories for hay. There was tame hay. and there was wild hay. Wild hay was marsh hay. It was a crop that was free for the labor. You did not have to sow it. It came back. Occasionally, they would attempt to improve it by burning it.

Norman Parker pattern:
They'd come out, horseback, with cartons of the old farmers' matches and they'd spread out, oh, a half mile apart, and ride back north, setting fires all the way. All the marshes and that was burnt off. That's why them marshes were so clean and abundant with hay.

Michael Goc:
One farmer told me it was the best hay you could possibly feed to horses, and the other one said that we worked the horses so hard, they were so hungry they ate anything, even marsh hay.

Narrator:
By the end of the 1800s, the American frontier was coming to an end, and settlers had to look for opportunities on less fertile lands.

Michael Goc:
There is a surplus of people in rural areas who were looking for land. In addition, there was also a great wave of European immigrants: Poles and Bohemians, Czechs, still plenty of Germans. A majority of these people found jobs in American industry, and built Chicago and Milwaukee, and those big, big cities. But there were many of them who also were interested in land. You have this submarginal land, of which there is a lot in central Wisconsin. And of course northern Juneau was part of that. Joe Babcock, who was the congressman from Juneau County, he had made his fortune at the Necedah Lumber Company, and owned a lot of land. He and others, he certainly wasn't alone in this, they discovered the new technology of the day, which was the steam dragline, the steam excavator. This device was really the death star for wetlands, certainly in Wisconsin, really all over the United States. This machine was powerful enough to dig ditches and drain the Great Swamp of Central Wisconsin.

Norman Parker:
My folks came from Iowa back at the turn of the other century. They really pioneered that country. They came just as the ditches, the drainage ditches, some of 'em were being completed, and others to do.

Narrator:
Developers organized several drainage districts, which would tax farmers to pay for digging miles of ditches. Despite the extra tax, the offer of cheap land attracted many farmers from Illinois and Iowa.
Norman Parker:
Land had got so high priced down in them states, that they couldn't afford to start farming. This land was advertised by land companies. It enticed young couples to come up and buy some of that cheaper land. This is a picture of my folks and the Williams, which were other settlers. That's a picture of my dad and me as a baby, and my sisters. This was the first place that my folks built when they came to Wisconsin. This was the second one that they built and started.

Michael Goc:
When you drain these marshes, well, they look really good. There's a couple of feet in places, and sometimes more than a couple of feet of black peat. It looks like fertile soil. But of course, it's not. It supported a crop, a good crop for maybe a couple of years, and then its fertility was worn out. Then, it was just dry stuff.

Craig Saxe:
Well, when they drained all this water off, what Leopold called the Drainage Dream, became the Drainage Nightmare, because now you've got this dry stuff on the top, and it was very common for the early settlers in the spring of the year to light the grass afire. Well, can you imagine lighting the grass afire when there's this dry kindling, this peat moss, and that gets a hold. That would smolder all summer long and may not even go out until mid-winter when the snow actually puts it out when you get enough snow out there. So, all that peat burned off and all that was left was this sand that really wasn't productive at all.

Michael Goc:
There's the great quote from Aldo Leopold that the Drainage Dream sucked dry the marshes of central Wisconsin to create farms and created ash heaps instead.

Craig Saxe:
The farmers had agreed to buy the land and be taxed like everybody else normally, but then also to tax themselves in addition for this ditch. Many of them could not survive the tax consequences of this, so they walked away from it. There was lots of land there that was left vacant, was gone back to back taxes.

Michael Goc:
By the 1930s, half the land is in delinquent taxes. The drainage districts went broke.

Narrator:
During the Great Depression, years of record breaking drought made a bad problem even worse. Eventually, the federal government stepped in with a New Deal program called the Resettlement Administration. The RA began buying up land in a wide area of Juneau County, as part of a larger program throughout the great marshland area, conserving wetlands for game birds and animals.

Michael Goc:
They would actually find another farm for someone, and say, we'll buy your farm, and this farm is practically worthless, and then we'll also get you, help you in this other place.
Narrator:
In 1934, the agency bought out the farm of the Walter Brundage family, who lost several crops to frost in the low-lying area. It purchased a new farm in southern Juneau County, and resettled the family there. While many were more than happy to get out, about a third had managed to succeed, and saw no reason to leave their homes.

Norman Parker:
My folks were very reluctant of selling out. They liked it here. They did very well. They had quite a name for Jersey cattle. And it got down to where they were the last ones there.

Narrator:
Eventually, all the farm families sold out, and the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, set up camps in Necedah and Finley, and began work building dams on drainage ditches. As the water backed up, it re-flooded the wetlands, and the ecosystem began to come back to life. With a stroke of a pen, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Necedah Wildlife Refuge in 1939, setting aside over 46,000 acres of land. The State of Wisconsin leased a similar acreage for the Meadow Valley Wildlife Area, and from that point on, a large portion of Juneau County would be preserved for conservation and recreation. As the wetlands returned, the numbers of waterfowl rose dramatically. And over time, the Necedah Wildlife Refuge would play a key role in helping to save several rare and endangered species.

Narrator:
Just north of Wonewoc, a stone memorial marks the birthplace of Belle Case La Follette.

Rose Clark:
She was born there in 1859, lived there until she was going on three years old. Then the family moved to the Baraboo/Sauk County area.

Narrator:
At 16, Belle Case entered the University of Wisconsin, where she met her future husband, Bob La Follette, who would be come to be known as "Fighting Bob," the insurgent progressive governor and Wisconsin senator. Belle La Follette became the first woman to graduate from the UW Law School, and served as Fighting Bob's chief advisor, while raising four children.

Rose Clark:
She was the mother of a governor of Wisconsin, their son Phillip, and their son Robert La Follette, Jr., was a senator.

Narrator:
During the Great Depression, Governor Philip La Follette opened an office of rural electrification, and appointed Orland Loomis, an attorney from Mauston, to help farmers in northern and western Wisconsin get electricity.

Man:
It turned out he was the right man in the right job.
Narrator:
Loomis, nicknamed "Spike," grew up in a politically-active family. He recalled hearing loud arguments between his grandfather, a conservative county sheriff, and his grandmother, a staunch backer of the progressive reforms of Fighting Bob La Follette. Loomis sided with his grandmother, and after law school, and service in World War I, he began to build a political career. Elected to the State Assembly as a progressive republican, and two years later to the State Senate, Loomis believed that expanding the use of electricity was key to Wisconsin's progress.

Michael Goc:
He also believed, as many other progressives did at the time, that local government should own the power plant in town. Therefore, you extend service to everyone. That's that democratic ideal. One of the results of his work is that to this day in Wisconsin, we have a number of municipally-owned electrical power utilities. They tend to be in smaller cities. There's about 80 of them altogether. And they really owe their existence, in many ways, to the legal work that Loomis did in the legislature.

Narrator:
When Governor La Follette tapped Loomis to organize electric co-ops in Wisconsin, there was a huge gap in the standard of living between people in the city, and those living on a farm.

Michael Goc:
One of the chief dividers, in terms of living standards was of course, whether you had electricity or not. Electricity on the farm means that you have a well, which means you don't have to pump water to water your cattle. You can then take care of your animals better, and you can maybe add more of them. You also can invest in a number of labor saving devices that were available yet in those days. Electric powered milkers were available then, if you had electricity to use them.

Narrator:
Loomis organized cooperatives around the state that could take advantage of federal loans, to sink the poles, string the wires, and install the transformers needed to electrify the countryside.

Michael Goc:
In essence, the cooperatives did the work that the power companies didn't want to do. All they had to do then, was just plug in their power plants to this distribution system. And, of course, collect the money. So, in many ways, the development of this rural electrification was positive for just about everybody involved. As a result of Spike's work here, by 1940, thousands of farmers who did not have electricity now had it.

Narrator:
Still politically ambitious, Loomis joined the recently-formed Wisconsin Progressive Party, and won election as attorney general.

Michael Goc:
He always seems to be a politician who acts on principle. He seems to be that kind of man, that he worked for what he believed in. In 1940, La Follette chooses not to run for governor. And Spike is his logical heir. Then in 1942, of course, that's when Spike wins.

Loomis:
This does not mean, however, that I intend to sever my relationships with my home and with my friends in this vicinity. I shall always consider Mauston as my home.

Michael Goc:
Well, I'm afraid the ending, of course, is not happy, as we know that in between the election and the inauguration, Loomis dies. His story then becomes one of the great what-ifs of Wisconsin history. Here's a man you could say, he did something good for the people of Wisconsin. At the time Spike dies, there is a young man growing up in Elroy, Wisconsin. He becomes the other governor from Juneau County, Tommy Thompson.

Tommy Thompson:
This is downtown, Main Street of Elroy. You know, some people always downplay where they come from. I'm proud of the education, the start and the beauty of this land. Isn't it gorgeous up here? This is all our farm on both sides, clear up on the hills over there. My mother was raised in the house right next to here.

My father and her met in a two-room school, where my mother taught the first four grades, and my father taught the upper classes. The school board said that they could not have two teachers dating in the same school, so he left and built a gasoline station downtown, and he married my mother. Then they started a family grocery store. My mother was Irish. Her beliefs were it's easier to smile than it is to frown. She was a very outgoing person. My father was a big German guy, who believed that if you wanted something, you go to work.

I told you my father was German. He made me, at the age of 13, paint that barn down there. A German culture and an Irish culture come together and made me, I think, a much better person. My father built this house himself. That's where I was born, in that house right there. That's pretty nice now. I walked to school from that house up to the two-room school on the edge of town. You grew up here with a tradition of hard work and you have to be a doer, you know, it's tough growing up poor in a small town.

But if you've got the courage and the basic intellect to make things happen, you know, that's what you learn in a small town. You learn that you can do, and you learn that you have to do it. Play all the sports you wanted to. We had it good. You could still play football and basketball, and baseball, and run track. As a young man, that's pretty heady. This small building was the Thompson Grocery Store. We had regular and ethyl gasoline. We had two pumps and a place for cars to drive in over there on the side, to get their grease and oil changed. So, we pumped gas, changed oil and grease, and sold groceries.

On Friday nights-- My father was vice chairman of the county, and all the farmers would come in from around the area. My father was chairman of the road and bridge committee, and so they'd come in and talk local politics and talk about fixing roads, and repairing bridges, and so on, and so forth. Every Friday night at the Thompson Grocery Store. From that, became my love affair for politics. I worked my way through law school, as I worked my way through undergraduate, because we were very poor. When I graduated and I was working in the Capitol, and watched and decided I could do this job as well as anybody. Everybody told me I couldn't run for the Assembly. My father said, well, if you believe in yourself, go do it. My father gave me ten bucks a day. I put five bucks of gas in the car and spent five bucks going around the three counties, Adams, Juneau, and Marquette County. I was every place. I'm a workaholic. I guess I got that from my father. I just believed that you work hard and accomplish what you set out to do, and do a good job once you get there. I beat Louis Romell, who had been in the State Assembly for 16 years, in a republican primary. I then went on to win the general election at the age of 23. This used to be my law office.

Man:
Nice to see you out and about for a change.

Tommy Thompson:
How you doin', my friend?

Man:
Very good.

Tommy Thompson:
Everything going well?

Man:
What are you guys doing?

Tommy Thompson:
Everything's going finer than frog's hair. [both laugh] I'm showing him where I used to practice law!

Man:
There you go.

Tommy Thompson:
I'd been in the State Assembly 20 years. But you've frozen us out of the budgetary process... I'd run down to the Capitol. I was the minority leader. I'd get there and work Tuesday and Tuesday nights, and all day Wednesday and Thursday mornings, and then come back Thursday afternoon. I'd be in court all day Friday. Then on Saturday afternoon, I had a small farm then, and we raised beef cattle. My wife said, you can't keep doing this. You've got to do something else.

So, I said, "Why don't I run for governor?" So my wife was supportive, never thinking I had a chance to win. Can I say hello to you, sir? You've got it made! You've got a television, and everything in your cab! I'm Tommy Thompson, candidate for governor... This was strictly shoe leather and driving from one event to another, and showing up and giving a speech. I said, "I'm from Elroy, Wisconsin. And if you don't know where it is, it's right between Union Center and Kendall, north of Wonewoc and south of Hustler," and always got a laugh. Surprisingly, we had seven people in the primary, and I got 51%, which was an amazing thing, because nobody thought I was going to win the primary. Then it was just Tony Earl and myself. And Tony Earl and the democrats didn't think I had a chance. So they sort of just ignored me, to their peril.

People thought the state was not going in the right direction, so the people took a chance, and I won by over 100,000 votes on election night, which was shocking to everybody. So when I came back, I rode into Elroy with my wife. It was cold, but the feeling of goodwill and so on, you know. We went down Main Street. It was just packed. I went to the school and I gave a speech. It was a very touching day. I still remember, I said if you come into Elroy, and if you don't have a tear in your eye and a lump in your throat, you're not human. That's how I felt.

Jessica Rezin:
We're Cutler Cranberry Company, and we have about 700 acres of cranberries in the ground. Cranberries have four hollow chambers inside them. If you break one open, you can see the four air pockets inside. That's what enables us to harvest them this way. They can float in the water. We use this floating corral boom to corral the berries down to one corner of the bed. Then we have a spray bar that goes out into the water and sprays the berries and the water, and any leaves or other trash up into a tube that then separates the berries from the water and the trash, and then we can put the berries into our trucks and the trash into our trash truck. The water goes back into the bed where it came from. A place for everything. [laughs]

My great-great-great grandfather was one of the pioneers of cranberry growing here in Wisconsin. This photo here shows four generations of the Potters. This on the far left here is Guy Potter, my great-great-great grandfather, who bought this marsh in 1923. His son, Roland. His son Bruce, who's my grandfather. This is my dad, Martin, and one of his brothers, Joe.

It's one of only three fruits native to North America. The cranberry, the blueberry, and the concord grape. A common misconception is that cranberries grow in water. They actually don't grow in water. They grow in very sandy soils. But you can see here, it's a perennial vine growth. So once these plants are planted, they can last pretty much indefinitely. We have beds that are over 80 years old. They would grow naturally and people would just hand pick them out in the swampy, marshy areas. From there, people began to dig ditches around there so they could better control the water movement in and out of the beds. That's kind of how cranberry growing got started here in Wisconsin.

Looking back historically, Native Americans used the cranberries when they found them growing wild for lots of different things. Other than food, they used them for medicine. They used the cranberry juice for dye.

Edmund Lincoln:
I was born in Black River Falls. I moved around with my folks, here and there, wherever they could make their living. Pick blueberries and strawberries. Then in the fall, we'd come to cranberry marshes. That's where I got started raking cranberries by hand. It's pretty hard on the back. You'd stoop down to reach the berries. At first, we used to rake 10 hours a day. After a while, they cut it down to eight hours. Even that is too long, too hard. We worked like a horse, a mule. [laughs] I think we had to do it to earn our living.

Newsreel footage:
This self-propelled mechanical harvester has long metal fingers that pull the floating berries off the plant.

Jessica Rezin:
Probably the biggest change was going from hand harvesting to mechanical harvesting of cranberries, which was in the early 1950s. It enabled growers to pick a lot more cranberries, and they could therefore expand their marshes and have more acres of cranberries. Around that same time, cranberry juice cocktail came around. So that greatly expanded the consumer demand for cranberries. Before then, it was mainly fresh cranberries, or cranberry sauce, were the two big products. So I think it was kind of a combination of those things that really helped the cranberry industry explode.

Television commercial:
It takes a berry with a bounce to get by this machine. Bad berries won't bounce, so they fall straight down and are culled out...

Jessica Rezin:
Cranberry growers are very innovative. You can't go to the implement dealer and buy a cranberry harvester. So everybody kind of builds their machines a little bit differently. We share ideas freely and kind of build what fits our beds best. This machine, it's a standard tractor that we built harrows on the front and back. Basically, the tines are bent at an angle, and when they go down into the water, they shake, and that's what knocks the berries loose off the vine. This new machine is more gentle on the plants.

Newsreel footage:
Sharp eyes and skilled hands pick out any poorly colored berries that are left...

Jessica Rezin:
Everything used to be hand sorted and packed by hand. They did have bagger machines, but everything else was done by hand. Now, we've really come so far in being able to do a lot of things electronically, and have machines to help us get the job done more quickly and more efficiently. Wisconsin currently grows over half the nation's cranberries. We've been the number one cranberry producing state for 18 years now. This is the 18th year, so we're quite proud of that. Over half the cranberries that are eaten around the world come from Wisconsin.

Narrator:
When Glacial Lake Wisconsin drained during the last ice age, it left Juneau County with a patchwork of soil types and rock formations, with wetlands and sandy soils, covering much of the county.

Michael Goc:
Parts of it have been called the soil is the most unfit for agriculture in the state of Wisconsin.

Narrator:
Ironically, the less fertile land became a major attraction for the county. The town of Camp Douglas got its name, and its start, as a logging camp, supplying fuel for wood-burning railroads. Just north of Camp Douglas, the Wisconsin militia purchased a large piece of land for another kind of camp, a training ground that would become known as Camp Williams.

Brian Faltinson:
Camp Williams was used for annual training encampments, usually a week or two weeks long. Every unit in the state would go there, either all at the same time, or staggered throughout the year. It's a centralized location in the state. It's also on a main rail line that goes through Wisconsin, so it was much easier for units from all parts of the state to get to that location. It was inexpensive land. It was land that was safe to conduct rifle training, with the large bluffs there. They would conduct rifle practice, basic tactics, just general military living, and all the customs, and courtesies, and protocol, and discipline with that. As the National Guard evolved, the facility evolved to meet the needs of the National Guard.

Narrator:
After World War II, the Wisconsin National Guard outgrew Camp Williams, and moved most, but not all, of its operations down the road to Fort McCoy. At the same time, the newly-formed Wisconsin Air National Guard moved in to Camp Williams, building runways and other infrastructure for aviation training. And since then, the facilities have served the missions of both guard units.

Brian Faltinson:
In the late 1950s, the Air Guard portion was renamed Volk Field in honor of Lt. Jerome Volk, who was a Wisconsin Air National Guardsman who was shot down during the Korean War.

Narrator:
When Glacial Lake Wisconsin drained and carved out the formations of the Wisconsin Dells, it created a natural amphitheater at Stand Rock, where members of the Ho Chunk Nation performed ceremonial dances.

Lance Tallmadge:
1917 or 1919, somewhere in that area, is when they had the first dances take place. At that time, it only ran for about two weeks. It was in 1929 that they started having the summer-long shows, where it'd start, usually the second week of June, and run through Labor Day. It was a nightly performance, seven days a week. It ran consecutively until 1999, so it had a long history. In its heyday, in the '50s and the '60s, the place was packed. Even up through the late '70s, early '90s, when I was operating it, the amphitheater was able to seat over 2000 people, and most nights we had a sold-out crowd. So it was one of the major attractions.

[drumming ends]
[applause]
Narrator:
In 1950, completion of two hydro-electric dams on the Wisconsin River flooded thousands of acres of the old glacial lake bed, creating the Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages. The Wisconsin River Power Company completed the projects that began with buying up land in the 1930s.

Michael Goc:
It's really not hard to buy it. Here were many people that were happy that somebody, anybody was willing to take this dirt poor land off their hands.

Sylvia Jaeger:
My daughter and I, we made this map, then we came up with the overlay to show the people where their property was. As you can see, there's lots of property owners.

Phyllis Moore:
I had an obsession with taking pictures out there. Every week, I'd go out there, and the water was coming in more and more.

Sylvia Jaeger:
This is what is now flooded. This is all water, and it goes down through here and up, and it encased the Yellow River. This became the Buckhorn State Park.

Phyllis Moore:
This is my mother. This my aunt from Chicago. This is my aunt from Wisconsin Dells. They called up and wanted to see the place for the last time. They couldn't believe it, because they were born there. We were lucky to get in and out that day. The next week, we went out there, and really, I don't know how we got out of there.

Michael Goc:
They were built solely to hold water to act as reservoirs for the power plants. As time went by, though, it became obvious that oh, my gosh, there is how many miles of water frontage that could be developed here. Much of the frontage remains undeveloped. What has been developed, hasn't been developed until maybe the last 20 years or so. But it's been a tremendous economic boom to Juneau County.

Narrator:
In the restored wetlands of the Necedah Wildlife Refuge, a project to reintroduce the whooping crane, brought international attention to Juneau County.

Larry Wargowsky:
That's a species that almost became extinct in the whole world. It was down to very few birds left. Here was a bird that had to be trained the migration route, to leave Wisconsin during the cold winter. So they were trained to follow the ultralight wherever it went. They followed it clear down to Florida. So, it captured both national and international attention. We had filming crews from all over, from Korea, Japan, Canada. They were coming to do their documentary of this project.

The Necedah Refuge became what we call in the Fish and Wildlife Service, a Flagship Refuge, a refuge that stands out, that people come from other states just to see something in that refuge. It got us congressional support and also public support for a visitor center. That was kind of spin off of this project. Once that was created and built, you had interactive displays, video and media to watch. Then you have some adjoining nature trails with interpretive signs.

At this point, people come here all day long in the refuge, and can spend enough hours that they need a restaurant and motel. So, at that point, there's so many things in Juneau County that they can go out and look for, different attractions. So, eco-tourism has expanded tremendously in this area.

Narrator:
Juneau County's diverse landscape and its history mirror in many ways those of the state of Wisconsin.

Michael Goc:
It has a logging history, just like Wisconsin. It has the agricultural history that Wisconsin has in that southern and western part of the county. It has those great marshes, just as wetlands of course covered a third of Wisconsin. It certainly has the railroad history that Wisconsin has. It had the dependence on resources to make a living that the rest of Wisconsin has. And so, it can be said that if you know the history of Juneau County, in many ways you know the history of the state of Wisconsin.

Announcer:
To purchase a DVD of Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Juneau County, call 1-800-422-9707, or visit the Wisconsin Public Television online store at the address on the screen.

Announcer:
Funding provided in part by Philip J. and Elizabeth B. Hendrickson; Phyllis I. Moore, in memory of the Henry and Laura Grefe Family and John F. Moore; the Kari L. Schmidt family and Bank of Mauston, in memory of Thomas E. Schmidt; the Jean A. Traeder and Joan M. Randolph families, in memory of Beatrice P. Burgdorff; the John and Catherine Orton family, in memory of the Honorable Thomas J. and Colette S. Currran; Mildred Freymiller; the Friends of Wisconsin Public Television; and the Wisconsin History Fund, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

* Teachers *

Juneau County: Teacher Resources

Hometown Stories-Juneau County Teacher Resources were developed to meet the needs of Wisconsin educators by a team of teachers and curriculum specialists.

Bonus Video

Camp Douglas History

Starting as a railroad lumber camp, Camp Douglas was built and rebuilt with pride.