About the author . . . James A. Brakken
James A. Brakken was was just a boy when he first heard
tales of Chief Namakagon and the lost silver mine.
Born and raised not far from the Namekagon River in Cable, Wisconsin, where the story takes place, he knew at an early age of the ice roads and logging camp sites and heard, first-hand, the stories of the old logging days.
An active conservationist and educator, James Brakken has earned statewide recognition for his work to protect and preserve the lakes and streams of Northwest Wisconsin through his writing and leadership.
This novel, The Treasure of Namakagon offers the reader a look at
Open this book and spend a season in camp with sixteen year
old Tor Loken, whose family owns the Namakagon Timber Company in far northwestern
Immerse yourself in the peak of lumberjack life in 1884. Learn the way of the woodsman with your friend Chief Namakagon, the old hermit who will show you the way to his secret silver mine. (This is a real mine, by the way, and has yet to be found.)
Rise and shine lumberjacks! There's daylight in the swamp!
Be at the table at five o'clock sharp if you want breakfast in the cook shanty before you go out into the cuttings. There, knee deep in snow, you will help your camp harvest a hundred thousand giant pine logs this season. Come spring, you'll be driving those same logs down a thundering river, jumping from log to log as they rush downstream.
Hitch up the Clydesdales or a pair of oxen to the water tanker and spend the night icing down the trails for the big timber sleighs. Take a dog sled through the deep snowy woods or take the steam locomotive to the city for supplies.
Spin a yarn when you get back to camp. Or sing along with the other jacks in the bunkhouse. If you can't do either, you'll have to throw some tobacco into the pot.
Go to town for a Saturday night of lumberjack merriment. Drink your fill and find yourself a sporting gal before you gamble away all your wages. Dress warm, jacks, it is a 6-hour sleigh ride back to camp at twenty below zero.
While you are in town, best you keep an eye peeled for sinister, crooked businessmen out for an easy swindle. Oh, yes, keep your pocketbook buttoned up . . . there are bandits and thugs, shady ladies, con artists and crooks out there whose only desire is to separate you from your dollar-a-day wages!
Come along! Come up to the lumber camp. Become one of the many, many thousands of lumberjacks who brought prosperity to the land of lakes and streams during the height of the industrial revolution.
Put on your red wool mackinaw and your calked boots. Grab your peavey or a pike pole. You are in for a good look at life in the pinery in the 1880s . . . and a gol dang great adventure story!
James Brakken has been published in Sports Afield, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Boys' Life, School Arts and numerous conservation publications. He edits and publishes the countywide lake association newsletters for the Bayfield County Lakes Forum and The Sawyer County Lakes Forum. Brakken wrote, scored and produced Alfred the Elf, a two-act Christmas musical that includes nine new Christmas carols. He works and plays in southern Bayfield County in northwestern Wisconsin.
The Treasure of Namakagon is based on fact . . . actually many facts, woven together with fiction. Many references to life in the 1883 logging camp, fraudulent timber sales, the Namekagon River log drives, the rowdy behavior of the lumberjacks on a Saturday night and a ploy to charge for timber floated past the dam are based on true events. Actual newspaper accounts mention Chief Namakagon trading chards of silver for supplies. The rivers and lakes, the towns and streets are all real as were many of the hotels, taverns, depots and other buildings mentioned in the story. Many historical references help make this tale as close to real life as you will find in a fictional adventure.
Most of the characters in The Treasure of Namakagon are not
real, but they could have been. And, although many still search, Chief
Namakagon’s secret silver mine has yet to be found. We will never again
experience the true treasure, the great white pine forests that gave northern
A few of the factual references found in this novel:
The Merril Hotel & the Cable House Hotel in Cable in the 1880s.
Johnny Pion’s Hotel in Hayward. 1883
The lumber mills and sawdust burners.
The Ojibwe village at Pa-quay-wam. It's still there if you know where to look.
The Mosquito Brook railroad bridge.
The Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Omaha and Northwestern Railroad Company train that was usually called the ‘Omaha’.
The Cable railroad yard, turntable, sidings and depot.
Walking from the Cable depot through the quaint park, past the gazebo to the business district.
The Namakagon Dam being used to build a head of water for log drives and a subsequent threat by a major lumber company to hold back the water. Thugs were sent to resolve the matter turned away by hired guns. Legal action and money later resolved the issue, but not before the McCormick sawmill had to shut down due to lack of logs and water to power the saws.
The book describes the buildings that made up many lumber camps including the office, bunkhouse, cook shanty, horse barn, blacksmith shed, filing shed, and, far away from the others, the dynamite shack.
The methods used to harvest the pine such as felling,
bucking, swamping, skidding, chain-hauling and driving it downstream to the
mills in Hayward are described in detail. Before A. J.
Hayward built the mill in 1882, the timber was driven from Lake Namakagon far downstream to Stillwater,
Other items from the book that are based on fact:
Steam powered ‘donkey’ engines used to pull log sleighs up hills.
Steam powered boats used to push log booms across Lake Namakagon.
Horse drawn water tankers used through the frigid nights to water down the ice roads used by the log sleighs.
‘Road monkeys’ who, when needed, slowed down the sleighs by throwing sand or straw in the track.
Cutters, sleighs, dog-sleds in the winter, buggies and horse-drawn
wagons in the summer. The most common method of transportation, though, was
Calked boots, pike poles, peaveys, and dynamite for the log jams on the spring river drives,
Big meals, good food, huge portions including beans at every meal and a pie apiece for the lumberjacks.
Seven-foot two-man crosscut saws, invented by a sawyer named Diston, that were so efficient that few trees were cut with axes after they arrived on the scene in the 1880s. They doubled the number of trees a crew could cut in a day.
Peaveys, pike poles, double-bit axes, canthooks, pic-a-roons, all mentioned in the book, were the tools used to move the giant pine logs.
Most of the jacks earned one dollar per day, six days per
week. Hours were pre-dawn to after dark. Teamsters with their own animals
earned more but had to take care of their own animals. It's in the book.
Graybacks. Everybody in camp had them. There was no effective insecticide. Men often boiled their clothes and blankets on Sunday just to get one good night's sleep. The straw bedding and close quarters with others provided the perfect environment for them.
Very tight quarters, strong smelling tobacco smoke, all the
men hanging their socks to dry through the night. These and other lumberjack odors were reported
to give the bunkhouse a unique aroma. It was often said that if the wind was right, folks in town could smell a sleigh full of jacks coming down the tote road before they could see them.
No liquor or guns were allowed in camp.
Widowmakers. There was a good reason they were called by that name.
The jobs included camp cook, cookies, bull cook, barn boss, woods boss, head push, blacksmith, camp dentist (saw sharpener), teamsters, sawyers, swampers, skidders, and chain-haulers, including the top-loader who was also called the sky-hooker and had the most dangerous job in camp.
‘Sky pilots’ (preachers) would sometimes visit the camp as would other guests and the occasional hobo.
Hobos were usually given a seat at the dinner table rather than risk having the barn set afire.
Nine ‘river pigs’ drowned one week on a short stretch of bad water near Chippewa
The drowning of a man and his horses when he tried to cross Namakagon Lake in the spring. The ice had thinned and the weight of the horses caused
him to break through. They found his hat near the hole in the ice.
The Hayward and the Cable railroad trestles.
The Hayward depot and yard, the new courthouse and church.
Q: In the book there is a fight to see who will control the use of the dam and river. Did the lumber baron have the right to charge for every log that crossed over his dam?
A: Historically, there was a fight resulting from the charging of tariffs for logs
going over a dam owned by John Deitz near Hayward.
Pinkerton men were called in from Chicago
by the North Wisconsin Lumber Company after the sheriff was scared off by
gunfire. A firefight broke out. John Deitz's son died from gunshot wounds. Others were injured. Deitz was tried in court, jailed, then released due to public sentiment.
Throughout the book you will find refernces to many, many more true facts, including this:
Ogimaa Mikwam-migwan, aka Chief Namakagon and Old Ice
Feathers, came from Sault Ste. Marie after having a vision that led him to Lake
Namakagon. Some say he killed a man. He said it was a dream. Nobody ever found out just what the real story was. He lived on an island on the lake, hunted, fished, logged and
according to the Ashand Daily Press, traded raw silver for supplies. Many tried to trick him into disclosing the source of his silver. A bear was
said to have discouraged Chief Namakagon from showing the silver mine to a local
businessman. Namakagon was reported to be 108 when he died on a trail,
presumably close to the mine. It has never been located. Some feel they were very close. The book takes you to the area most likely to be close to the mine.
Your search for Ogimaa Namakagon's silver mine continues within this website.