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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 3, 2003 - Issue 86


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Yankee Joe

by Timm Severud - Ondamitag
credits: photo - The Falls of the Brunet River in Sawyer County... it is on private property unfortunately.

The Falls of the Brunet River in Sawyer County... it is on private property unfortunately.Within the history and heritage of the community of Lac Courte Oreilles, there stands one great mystery for our white neighbors.  The historians only know him as Indian Joe.  They know he had two brothers.  Lastly they know that on very rare occasion he would shyly mention his wife at Lac Courte Oreilles. To Lac Courte Oreilles members he was known as Yankee Joe, a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band who married a woman from Trading Post and lived there just southeast of the community on along a creek which bears his name Yankee Joe Creek.

As a Native American, Joe was never allowed to rise any further than logger and river man, but his abilities are legendary in logging circles.  Frederick Weyerhaueser, one of the timber barons of the Chippewa Valley in the 1860's to 1880's and founder of the company that still exists, first met the legend on the Brunet River.  The Brunet River is the river that runs from Lake Winter to the Chippewa River.  The foreman of the river drive was Frank Bonny and he had problems.  It had been a dry spring and the water flow was very low in the river.  The Brunet River is and was a small river, with many rapids, drops and obstructions {rocks}.  The drive was moving way to slowly, and two of his men had already been injured dealing with the several and continuous log jams.  Bonny request more help, particularly, Joe.  He assigned Joe to serve as troubleshooter over a particularly bad stretch. 

Joe was like a breeze, he was everywhere at once.  He would ride logs, that he thought might be a problem, because of there size and length, through sections where he knew they could easily jam up.  He would steer them with his weight, feet and what ever else was at hand.  When he got the log through the section he would bound back up the river on logs and rocks until he encountered what would be his next problem.  It must have been amazing to see.  The man had to have been a great athlete, with a confidence to match the size of any log and river.  What he was doing spread like wildfire through cut over land.  Weyerhaueser was 40 miles away and traveled that distance solely to see the man, that was already a legend, in action.

When Weyerhaueser saw Joe work and after he talked to him he was amazed at the man's casual confidence, he said, "Gott in Himmel (God in Heaven), he can ride a log through the rapids and light his pipe at the same time!"  These two men became friends and Weyerhaueser gave Joe one of his most prized possessions, a black felt hat.  The hat caused Joe a problem, he proudly claimed that he never feel off a log, but an entire logging crew saw him fall out of a bateau, the type of boat the logger used, trying to retrieve the hat from the river.  Going into the water was a great risk, because Joe never learned how to swim.

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