Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For February 20th, 2009 Edition.
As a backdrop for many of my weekly ramblings I have used "The Minnow Pond Swamp" as stage scenery and also as a source of many stored memories to create a column. This in turn has caused some folks to question me as to the origin of the swamp's name. So, for anyone who ponders that same question here's the historical background.
In 1940 my parents, Roy and Esther, purchased the forty-acre parcel, which contains approximately 90% of the wetlands now referred to as the Minnow Pond Swamp. The previous owners, a lumber company, owed back taxes on the parcel and the county was then selling tax delinquent property for $3.00 per acre!
The newly purchased forty adjoined the forty-acre parcel where our home was situated and an abandoned logging railroad grade ran through both parcels and eventually connected to an unimproved town road called "Dead Man's Gulch Road." The old grade was in excellent shape, except where it crossed the swamp, and vehicle traffic on the grade was possible.
As everyone knows, back then times were tough and scratching out a living required lots of hard work and long hours. At that time my families total income was derived from dad's job on the WPA, $1.81 per day, plus $6.00 per day guiding tourists now and then during the summer.
In the spring of 1941 dad and uncle Bud decided they would get in on the ground floor of the rapidly expanding tourism industry by starting a new business. Seeing as most tourists came north to fish, and most folks back then fished with live bait, mainly minnows, they would create a minnow farm. And the perfect place to do that was in the swamp on the recently purchased property that was oozing in clear, clean, cold spring water!
A thorough exploration of the swamp indicated the best location to build the proposed minnow farm was just north of where the original raised portion of the railroad grade left the high ground and crossed the swamp. At this location a very active natural spring ejected large quantities of water from the earth and offered a perfect setting for a series of artificial ponds. But this seemingly perfect site contained one major obstacle. The sloping raised railroad grade stood between the existing road and the bubbling spring. The huge ridge of dirt needed to be removed!
The two would be minnow farmers attacked the barrier with shovels, picks and wheelbarrows. During their spare time the two laborers picked away at the immense mountain of earth, and spread wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow loaded with dirt over the spongy surface of the swamp where the ponds would be located. (Which today would be a no-no!)
Once the barrier was removed the digging continued. Over a two summer period three artificial ponds, 12 feet wide, 30 feet long and three feet deep were dug with shovel and pick. To prevent cave-in the sides of the ponds were shored up with timbers and boards. Next a system of underground tunnels was constructed to channel the spring water into and out of the ponds. Piping was made from lumber, removable screens were manufactured and installed at all inlets and outlets of the ponds, and finally the minnow farm was ready to be planted!
Several hundred choice black chubs harvested from nearby Lost Creek became the seed for the farm. The seeds were planted in the fall of 1942 and the owners expected a bumper crop of baby chubs would appear in the ponds in the spring of 1943. Financial stability was on the horizon! Or so they thought!
The summer of 1943 came and went and no baby chubs appeared. However, the local mink, blue herons, and kingfishers put on a few pounds feasting on the seeds that had been planted in the ponds. Undaunted by the early failure of the project the two entrepreneurs built an elaborate set of large screens to cover the ponds and keep the predators from dining on black chubs. Surely by the spring of 1944 a crop could be harvested and sold to the ever-growing number of anglers seeking choice chubs!
But alas, no baby chubs appeared during 1944! This was a mystery of great proportions that needed solving. Dad made a visit to the Woodruff Fish Hatchery and presented the manager with his dilemma. The manager visited our ponds and tested the water. He instantly diagnosed the problem as to why our mom and dad chubs weren't having baby chubs! The water was too cold!
However, the water temperature was perfect for raising trout. But we already knew that because native brook trout were evident in the tiny stream that flowed through the swamp from its headsprings.
But this story does have a happy ending. The ponds were perfect for storing minnows that might be caught elsewhere. And so, that is what dad did for a few years before his summer guiding job became a full time summer occupation. We trapped and seined minnows in various area streams and stockpiled them in our hand made ponds. We opened our own minnow retail outlet and delivered minnows to "minnow stands" in Eagle River, Boulder Junction, Woodruff and St. Germain.
However, our retail outlet was very primitive. A sign proclaiming "Minnows for Sale" erected at the end of our driveway on Highway C directed potential customers to our ever-expanding resort. To my summer resort job as "chore-boy dad added "minnow salesman. With it came my responsibility to welcome minnow buyers to our new business and inform them our retail outlet was a quarter mile further down an old railroad grade. I got to ride in lots of fancy cars traveling to our minnow boxes in the Minnow Pond Swamp.
My most memorable sale took place during the summer of 1946 when I was nine years old. Dad told and re-told the tale hundreds of times and always got a laugh from his listeners as well as himself!
A middle-aged gentleman driving a new Cadillac required bait for walleye. We rode to the ponds where I showed him our three chub sizes, small at 25 cents per dozen, medium at 40 cents per dozen and large at 60 cents per dozen. After viewing the selection my customer pondered his choice and then made his request.
"I'll take tree of da middle-sized vons."
"Your mean three dozen?" I asked.
"Oh no, nut tree dozen, tree minnows. Von fer my vife, von fer me, un von in case ve lose von."
True story! This sale challenged my math skills as dividing 12 into 40 in my head was difficult. I think I finally charged him four cents per minnow!
We shut down the minnow business sometime in the early 1950s, even after constructing a small "minnow stand" at the resort. The minnow business was just too much work for too little pay."
In 1972 I decided to take the advise of the DNR fish managers and develop a trout farm where the decaying remains of dad's and uncle Bud's minnow ponds were located. I obtained a permit to have the ponds enlarged via a dragline, rather than shovels, picks and wheelbarrows. Three larger ponds were dredged to a depth of six feet and by the spring of 1973 my first load of rainbow trout arrived from a private trout hatchery in Watersmeet, Michigan.
My family ran the business for the next four summers as a "catch, keep and take home" destination where anglers desiring an easy meal of fresh trout had an easy time doing so. And at 10 cents an inch we made more that selling minnows for four cents apiece! We also sold freshly cleaned trout to area supper clubs, including Blink Bonnie, Ed Gabe's Lost Lake Resort, Froelich's Sayner Lodge and Molgard's Indian Lodge.
The business was doing well until the winter of 1977-78. A family of otters discovered the easy access to free trout dinners and cleaned me out!
But each and every time I visit my friend, the swamp, which is often, great memories from the past are still as fresh as the air and as invigorating as is the fragrance of balsam, cedar, spruce and tamarack!
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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