Tuesday, October 16, 2018


The great Kickapoo River Flood of 1978 was the culmination of a very wet spring season that continued into June.  That month, weekend storms seemed to keep the river at or near flood stage every weekend, thwarting the attempts of tourists to canoe on the river.  At the end of the month the tipping point was reached. Here is how I described that flood in volume II of my history of La Farge (page 214).
            On the evening of Friday, June 30th, a series of heavy thunderstorms swept through the Kickapoo Valley.  During the evening, the National Weather Service issued a flood alert for the Kickapoo River and surrounding streams.  The Vernon County Sheriff’s Department mobilized efforts to move everyone away from flooding streams.  The La Farge Fire Department was called out during the night to look for canoeists who were camped along the river south of Rockton.  Later, the power went off in the village and firemen helped people with emergency power for sump pumps to keep water out of basements.
            By the morning of July 1, reports from communities upriver from La Farge warned of high floodwaters on the way.  Norwalk, Wilton and Ontario were all deluged with floodwaters and all of it was headed fro La Farge and other communities downstream.  North of Rockton, the waters of the flooding Kickapoo were almost over the 10-foot high railings of Bridge #10 that spanned the river. By late morning on Saturday, July 1, the flooding Kickapoo began to spill into La Farge.  Employees and volunteer work crews worked at Nuzum’s, Jeffer’s Truck Sales, and the cheese factory to get merchandise to higher ground. Volunteers and members of the fire department began to move furniture and other belongings out of the houses south of Main Street.  A caravan of volunteers in trucks and boats moved people out of their houses on Mill, Pearl, Gold, Silver and Snow Streets.  All of the trucks of the fire department as well as the ambulance were moved away from the firehouse on south Silver Street to higher ground.  Some of the trucks were kept at C&S Motors and a couple others were eventually driven over to the Major farm on Otter Creek, so the department could respond on the west side of the river.
            By mid-afternoon the waters of the Kickapoo had advanced up Main Street to crest between the post office and the Co-op Gas Station.  All events of the opening day of the 4thof July Celebration were cancelled, but many people still came to La Farge for the events – many unaware of the devastating flood.  Others, however, cam to see the floodwaters and by late afternoon the village was jammed with people.  Sandwiches that had been made for the celebration were donated to feed the many volunteers, firemen and policemen helping with the flood.  Red Cross officials came to the village by nightfall and they arranged for meals to be served at Kennedy’s Restaurant for people displaced by the floodwaters.  Sleeping bags were placed in the school gymnasium and people with no place to stay could reside there until the floodwaters abated.  Others stayed in the KP Hall overnight as they waited to return to their flooded homes.
            The waters started to recede late in the day on July 1st, but then an intense storm pummeled the La Farge area in the evening.  The storm had spawned several tornadoes in the Viroqua area and La Farge received nearly two-inches of rain.  The storm caused more severe flooding on Bear Creek, Otter Creek, and Weister Creek and caused the Kickapoo to again rise to former high levels during the night.  From Friday evening June 30ththrough Sunday morning, July 2nd, 6.15 inches of rain was measured in La Farge.
            By the morning of Sunday, July 2ndthe waters of the Kickapoo at La Farge had begun its recession down Main Street and back towards the river’s banks.  The floodwaters had crested at 14.92 feet, the greatest water level ever recorded at the gauging station located on the bridge west of Nuzum’s.  12,900 cubic feet of water per second was rushing through the village at the peak of the crest, another apex never recorded before.  (Many of the older generation compared the great Flood of 1978 to that of the one in 1935, but the gauging station at La Farge was not in operation at that time of the Flood of 1935, so an official comparison was not available.)
            It is interesting to note that the gauging station at La Farge was installed because of the flood of 1935.  When the Corps of Engineers did their preliminary flood control studies of the Kickapoo Watershed beginning in 1938, one of their initial recommendations was for gauging stations to be placed along the river to measure its flow.  The stations were installed at La Farge and Gays Mills soon after that initial Corps study. Let’s now return to my account in volume II of that 1978 flood at La Farge.
            In La Farge, the houses that had floodwater in them (Some for the first time ever) included Gerald Anderson, Stanley Potter, Elmer Storer, Catherine Norris, Eva Clements, John Sokolik, Bob Sokolik, Ron Gabrielson (renting the JaDoul house), Reynold Waddell, Jim Campton, Gib Stevens, Ethel Burt, Maxine Kennedy, Bob Erickson, Lucille Yarolimek, Vera Campton, Bob Jacobson, and Leslie Gillett.
            Business places in La Farge that were inundated with the floodwaters included the La Farge Cheese Factory, Nuzum’s, Gary’s Texaco Station, Caucutt-Olson Plumbing, La Farge Epitaph newspaper, Jeffer’s Truck Sales, Kickapoo Antiques, and Nelson’s Garage.  Also suffering damage from the flood were the Town of Stark hall and shed, the La Farge jail, and the new village hall and firehouse.
            The school’s bus garage, located on Main Street in the old Fulmer’s Garage building suffered heavy damage.
            Floodwaters kept area roads and highways closed for days.  Water covered the old portion of Highway 131 at Seelyburg for nearly two days and caused major damage to the road.  Highway 131 south of La Farge was closed for two days and almost one hundred yards of the highway were washed out below the new bridge at Lawton’s.  In addition the sewer plant at Seelyburg was inoperable for more than 24 hours at the height of the flood and raw sewage was dumped directly into the river’s waters. Many people boiled village water for drinking during the flood, but a DNR check on the village’s water supply on July 5thindicated there was no contamination.
            Governor Martin Schreiber had declared much of southwestern Wisconsin, including the Kickapoo Valley, a disaster area because of the flooding.  (President Carter soon followed with his own disaster declaration, freeing up federal funds for flood relief.)  The move by Governor Schreiber allowed for state and federal assistance to reach those affected by the floods more quickly. Within a week of the flood, representatives from HUD and the Governor’s office were in La Farge to assess the damages. A list compiled by Village President Ted Erickson indicated that 38 residences, 23 businesses and several municipal facilities in La Farge had damages from the flood.  An initial estimate total of $200,000 in damages to La Farge residences, businesses, and streets was compiled.  That total did not include any of the damages to farm operations within the village.
            It is important to remember that a nearly completed flood control dam lay north of La Farge during that epic Kickapoo River Flood of 1978.  Originally scheduled to be completed two years before the flood, construction on the unfinished dam had been delayed for nearly four years.  It is interesting to notice how the Corps of Engineers assessed that 1978 flood on the Kickapoo River.  Again, I will return to volume II, page 219.
            Later, the Corps of Engineers came up with very different numbers for the impact of a completed dam on the flood.  Corps estimates on the total damages from the flood to Vernon, Richland and Crawford Counties was $20-million.  An additional $7-million in damages occurred in Monroe County, but those damages would not have been affected by a dam at La Farge.  However, the Corps estimated that with a completed dam at La Farge and the accompanying levee systems at Soldiers Grove and Gays Mills, 80% of the flood damages to Kickapoo towns would have been avoided.  With only the dam in place and with no downstream levees, the Corps still predicted a decrease of 63% in flood damages. 
            Wow, 80% less damages with a completed dam at La Farge!  It blows one’s mind to think that those kinds of numbers still created no impetus for the politicians to finish the dam project. As Bob Faw said on his TV news story about the La Farge dam project that was shown on the “CBS Evening News” on October 13, 1978, “An unfinished dam stops no flood waters”. 

Water Over The Dam - Part III

La Farge, as a community located along the Kickapoo River, has a long history of recovering from floods. As we wait to see how the village reacts to the greatest Kickapoo River flood ever in 2018, perhaps a look back at some of the other post-flood times is in order.
            The June 1899 Kickapoo River flood was the first great flood to be felt by the communities in the valley.  There had been other floods before that, but nothing like the destruction caused in that year.  At the mill in Rockton, the 1899 flood of the Kickapoo River was measured as over a foot higher than any previous flood.  The flood was devastating to the downriver town of Seelyburg as the river cut a new channel right through the middle of the community. Every house and store in the hamlet was damaged or destroyed.  Many of the people who lived in the little community along the Kickapoo moved away from Seelyburg to higher ground.  Several of the Seelyburg businesses including the Millard General Store and the Brown Photography Studio moved south to La Farge to reestablish their businesses. The exodus from Seelyburg continued after the flood as the Methodist congregation moved from Chapel Hill on the southern end of Seelyburg to a new church in La Farge in 1902.
            Interestingly, only one house in La Farge suffered damages from the 1899 flood.  A month after the flood, the village was incorporated and the new municipality including flood-ravaged Seelyburg on the north end, was established.  La Farge had damages to the railroad that had come to the town only a year earlier.  Most of the railroad’s track bed in the village was washed away and the railroad bridge south of town was washed askew and had to be straightened.  Of course, in the summer of 1899, the new village had not yet begun its expansion towards the river.  By 1907, when the next great river flood hit, the village had expanded to the west and south from the original “Corners”.  Many houses and places of business had been built south of La Farge’s bustling Main Street and would be in the way of the flood.
            The July 1907 Kickapoo River flood devastated La Farge and the other communities along its path.  In La Farge, the crest of the floodwaters reached nearly three blocks east from the river.  According to an article about the flood in the La Farge Enterprise newspaper, the floodwaters reached the base of the hill where the Central Hotel stood (Today, the post office is located where that hotel once was.  That serves as a good comparison of that 1907 flood to the recent 2018 flood.)  Major damages were suffered at many of the lumbering businesses along Mill Street, including the Arm & Pin Factory, Nuzum & Hunter Lumber, Hammer Brothers Lumber & Excelsior Mill and several other lumber mills located along the street.  Further north at Seelyburg, the La Farge Milling Company & Electric Company also suffered heavy damages.  
            The railroad depot and freight warehouse (next to Nuzum’s today) also were heavily damaged in La Farge.  At Seelyburg, the railroad’s “Wye” turnaround was washed out as well as the spur line to the mill there.  South of the depot in La Farge, most of the railroad’s spur line to the lumbering businesses was washed away or damaged in some way.  It was weeks before railroad service was restored to the community. 
             Many people living in houses south of La Farge’s Main Street had to be rescued by boats during the night when the floodwaters rose dangerously in town. Amazingly, nobody was hurt or killed during the numerous rescues in La Farge during that 1907 flood.  During the height of that flood, water was measured at five-feet deep in some houses in La Farge.
            For Seelyburg, the 1907 Kickapoo River Flood virtually marked the end of the little riverside hamlet.  After the flood, only one residence and one business remained on the once bustling main street of the mill town as everyone else moved away from the river, continuing the exodus to the higher ground to the south in the village. 

When the big floods come, the Kickapoo washes away more than ever comes back.

            After the 1907 flood, some people living in La Farge moved from their flooded houses to higher ground.  A few businesses that had been hit hard by the flood did not choose to stay in La Farge.  Some of the lumbering businesses located along Mill Street would close within a short time.  Some of that was due to the damages suffered from the flood, but another reason was the lack of available wood to use in the lumber and excelsior mills.
            It would be nearly three decades before another massive flood would hit the Kickapoo Valley.  In August 1935 the greatest Kickapoo River flood that had ever been seen devastated the valley.  The floodwaters rose rapidly in La Farge during the evening of August 5thand people once again were rescued from their houses during that terrible night. The floodwaters rose so rapidly that some people had to be rescued by boats from the second story windows of their houses.  The La Farge telephone operator stayed up all night calling homes in the village and beyond towards Tunnelville to warn people to get out of their homes if they lived near the river.  At its height that night, the Kickapoo River floodwaters rose two feet in one hour in La Farge.  People displaced by the flood were temporarily housed in the KP Hall, the Odd Fellows Hall and the Masonic Temple.  The Red Cross was in town the next day and over the next week served nearly 300 meals to those displaced by the flood.
            The aftermath of the Flood of 1935 was a massive cleanup.  Disinfectant by the gallons was used to clean up the flood’s stinking residue.  The village’s health officer ordered everybody to boil any water used for drinking for fifteen minutes to avoid the ill effects of typhoid fever and other bowel infections.  Waste and garbage from the flood was burned immediately or buried. Dead animal carcasses, and there were many of them in the village, were removed in haste.
            The Red Cross brought in two-dozen large tents to La Farge for people to live in while their houses were drying out.  People in the village shared their garden vegetables with their neighbors who had lost their gardens to the floodwaters.
            Damages to businesses in the village were massive. Nuzum’s, the cheese factory, both gas stations on the corners of Main and Mill Streets, the lumber mill and pickle station on south Mill Street and the power plant at Seelyburg all had heavy damages from the floodwaters.  
            Every aspect of the railroad received heavy flood damage as the tracks from south of La Farge all the way to Seelyburg were heavily damaged.  The railroad’s depot, freight warehouse, coal shed, icehouse, engine house and nearby cheese warehouse were all heavily damaged.  The railroad bridge south of town had to be repaired again.  A freight train had stood next to the depot in La Farge during the flood and the high water mark was three feet up on the wooden boxcars.  It was nearly three weeks before the trains were able to run to La Farge once again after the flood.
            Residential damage in La Farge from the Kickapoo River Flood of 1935 was immense.  Many people’s woodsheds and out buildings were burned instead of repaired, too far gone to be fixed up.  Most of the damaged houses in the village were eventually cleaned up and repaired. Some of the houses were elevated to avoid future floods.  Many of the former occupants moved back in, but several houses were dismantled due to the excessive damages from the flood.  By September, several small single story houses had been built along north Mill Street (across from the present Calhoon Park) to help provide temporary housing for those displaced by the flood.
            After the Kickapoo River Flood of 1935, the people of La Farge and other Kickapoo Valley towns began to seek some type of relief from the river’s floods.  Led by La Farge Village President Arch Davidson, a delegation went to Washington D.C. to plead with Congress for some type of flood control help.  Thus, the story of the dam project at La Farge began. But that is another story for another time.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Water Over The Dam - Part II

The great Kickapoo River flood of 2018 began on the evening of Monday, August 27th, when torrential rains inundated an area from Coon Valley to Hillsboro.  Rainfall totals for that evening exceeded a foot in the Cashton, Ontario and Wilton areas.  In La Farge over five inches fell.  During that first night, the northern Kickapoo Valley communities were hit with record setting flood heights.  Most of the downtown Ontario business district was under 5 to 10 feet of water before daybreak.
            By 4 am on Tuesday, August 28th, word had been received in La Farge of the record setting water that was approaching from upriver.  An army of workers and volunteers began to move what could be saved from the businesses along west Main Street nearest the river.  By daylight the river was out of its banks, crossing the old Highway 131 at Seelyburg and plowing its way toward the village with alarming speed and power. By mid-morning, the Kickapoo River stretched from the bridge west of Nuzum’s all the way to the gas pumps at the Zzip Stop.  And the water kept rising.
            That afternoon over five inches of rain fell in less than three hours in the La Farge area.  The downpour set off a massive flood on area creeks and streams. As the rising waters of Bear and Otter Creeks came careening into La Farge that afternoon, it encountered the already record flood heights of the swollen Kickapoo and had nowhere to go. The water kept rising and by nightfall, the flood crest had breached the drive-thru of the post office – a never before seen height.  Water from a backed up Bear Creek was running west down Snow Street and into the river near the motel.  On the other end of the village, the waters of Bear Creek nearly reached the parking lot of the new EMT Building.
            Rescuing people from their houses was a top priority after the afternoon deluge.  DNR wardens brought a boat to the village and went door to door rescuing people and their pets from their flooded houses and getting them to high ground.  (Check out the rescue video posted on the WKBT – Channel 8 in LaCrosse website of those DNR wardens rescuing people in La Farge that day.  It is mesmerizing to watch – the definition of heroism in many respects.)  
            It took nearly all of Wednesday, August 29thfor the flood waters to leave Main Street in La Farge.  Highway 131 was closed in both directions from the village. To the north, the road had washouts at Bridges 10, 9, 7 and three different locations at Bridge 2 on the northern end of Ferris Flat.  To the south, the river’s floodwaters covered the highway below Tunnelville at Lawton’s and would eventually wash out part of the road there.  Highway 82 through La Farge finally opened for traffic on that evening.
            The flood’s height for La Farge measured at the official measuring station at the bridge next to Nuzum’s was 19.42 feet.  That height eclipsed the previous high water mark in La Farge (set by the 2008 flood) by nearly three and a half feet! By the way, that measuring station was always operating during the flood even though the station did quit sending out information via satellite.  When Lyle Dorscheid, the local gauge reader and the National Weather Service crew checked the gauging station after the floodwater finally went down, they verified that it had always been recording the river’s depth.  What the station could not record was the torrents of water entering the river via Otter and Bear Creeks south of the gauge.
            The power was out in La Farge for most of three days as the village’s generating station on south Silver Street was overcome with the high floodwaters.  The electric power ceased to be at noon on that Tuesday and did not return until mid-afternoon on Thursday, August 30th.  Down river, the Kickapoo inundated Viola, Readstown, Soldiers Grove, Gays Mills and Steuben as its waters raced to join the Wisconsin River.  Almost every village set high water marks, just as La Farge had, with some areas noting water levels nearly five feet higher than any ever recorded previously.
            The record floodwater levels meant lots of damages to several businesses in La Farge.  They included Nuzum’s, the Organic Valley retail store in the old cheese factory, the La Farge Truck Center and Car Wash, Don Potter Realty, the Zzip Stop, Ewetopia, the Premier Co-op, The La Farge Dental Clinic and the La Farge Motel. Water even seeped into the north end of the new clinic on north Mill Street that had been constructed at an elevation level three feet above the previous highest flood.
            In addition, twenty-one La Farge residences had floodwater damage.  All of the houses on Snow Street, eleven in all, suffered extensive flood damage. Many of those houses had been elevated since previous floods, but still had water damage due to the record flood crest. Six houses on south State Street, several that had never had floodwater previously, were flooded this time.  Some of the houses can be repaired and made livable again, but many cannot be fixed.
            By Friday, August 31st, the water had finally receded from Plum Run Road (old Hwy 131) at Seelyburg.  Massive clean up continued in the village.  The Zzip Stop was selling gas by that day after having the gas pumps cleaned and inspected.  Dumpsters were everywhere in the floodway of the village, stretching the length of Snow Street and beyond.  The water had been so high in the motel that all of the rooms had to be gutted.  Dumpsters piled high with flood debris stood beside the motel, Zzip Stop, Ewetopia and other Main Street businesses.  Rental houses on Main Street were damaged too badly to allow the tenants to return.
            The sidewalk outside of the Kickapoo Haven served as a meal site while the power was out during the beginning of the cleanup. Meals were served at noon and in the early evening every day through that Friday, August 31st.   Volunteers, flood victims and those who needed a meal were fed with food donated and made by the Rockton Bar, the La Farge Food Pantry, both La Farge restaurants – Brosi’s and Phil & Deb’s, Bergum’s Grocery, and the Zzip Stop.  The La Farge Fire Department personnel was on call for the entire week helping with rescues, pumping out basements and doing what ever needed to be done to help the people of the community.
            Flood relief supplies were available at both churches in La Farge and the United Methodist Church was soon filled with clothes, food, and other necessities for those that had been flooded out.  The La Farge UM church is scheduled to be open as a flood relief center until the end of the first week of October.   The La Farge Food Pantry, under the leadership of Pastor Mark Phillips, was providing housing and money for those displaced by the flood.  A week after the last floodwaters had subsided, Pastor Mark was still busy finding places for people to live and providing relief in many other ways. Several families displaced by the flood moved into campers parked in the La Farge Village Park.
            By the weekend, the weather had settled down and the river was back in its banks.  Then early Sunday morning, September 2nd, it started raining again.  It rained again on Sunday and several times on Monday, Labor Day.  Another nearly six inches of rain fell in three days and the Kickapoo rose rapidly again. By Tuesday, September 4th, the floodwaters of the Kickapoo River had covered old Hwy 131 at Seelyburg again.  By that evening the river’s water was over Hwy 82 at Nuzum’s and over Mill Street again near the new clinic.  Most of the floodwater had receded by the next day, September 6th, but Plum Run Road at Seelyburg remained under water for another day.  South Mill Street, south Silver Street and Pearl Street on the far southern end of the village were closed for nearly two weeks straight due to high water.
            So where does La Farge go after such a catastrophic flood?  How many people and businesses will leave?  What lays ahead for this Kickapoo River town?  What will be the reaction to this historic flood?

Water Over The Dam - Part I

Where do we begin to describe the great flood of 2018?

            There are iconic scenes that will stick with us, recorded forever (hopefully) in today’s technology by anyone and everyone with a phone in their pocket or purse.  
            There is the video of the Red Angus bull standing in the middle of the bridge in Coon Valley with that “I’m here now and it’s a lot better than where I was before and nobody is moving me” look in its eyes. (What ever happened to that magnificent animal?  That question seems to be floating around a week after the waters subsided.)
            Then there is the photo of the highway sign in Ontario that alerts viewers that Highway 131 going to La Farge is a right turn. When the photo was first posted online, some people did not see the picnic table covered with flood trash sitting on top of the sign – indicating the record setting level of water in Ontario. A week after that record setting floodwater, Hwy 131 remains closed between there and Rockton as several bridge areas of the highway received significant damage from the floodwaters. Maybe that photo was trying to say that it would be no picnic trying to travel the road south to La Farge.
            For Viola, perhaps the enduring memory will be that waterline on the brick walls of the Iron Horse Saloon building on the village’s main Commerical Street.  The water line, with the water soaked red bricks below delineates the heights of the Kickapoo’s record crest in that town.  An after effect of the great flood for Viola is another cancelled “Horse & Colt Show” – the second time in three years.  (The 2016 Horse & Colt Show also had to be cancelled because of flooding – which was the first time in nearly 80 years of having to cancel the annual fall festival.)  That celebration is a homecoming for many and will be sorely missed.
            In La Farge, perhaps the scene captured of the yellow storage building located next to Nuzum’s floating in the middle of Highway 82 between the lumberyard and Organic Valley’s cheese factory building is the one to remember.  As the record setting floodwaters receded the building was moved into a spot in front of the car wash.  That building dates back to the railroad days in La Farge (The last train left town in 1939.) when railroad cars could be unloaded of their cargo into the storage building.  Now the concrete foundation piers where the shed sat are a historic reminder of the old railroad days in the Kickapoo Valley.
            The great Kickapoo River flood of 1935 was the beginning of the end (or perhaps the end of the end) for the Kickapoo railroad line. Despite efforts by village leaders in La Farge and other Kickapoo Valley communities to get some flood control measures through federal programs, the railroad was soon a thing of the past. That flood of 1935 was the standard for measuring flood events until the great flood of 1978, which was surpassed by the great flood of 2008, nearly topped by the great flood of 2017, and now has been eclipsed by the Great Kickapoo River Flood of 2018. 
When the big floods come, the Kickapoo washes away more than ever comes back.

            That old saying from over a century ago about flooding in the Kickapoo Valley was included in the prelude to Volume I of my La Farge history.  Already rumors are circulating about businesses in Ontario, Viola and Readstown that will not reopen because of the great flood of 2018.  People who lived in flood-ravaged homes along the river in towns from Wilton to Wauzeka don’t want to return to their former residences. How many people who lived in La Farge in 2008 and were affected by the flood left the village?  What will it be like this year?  Some people cannot return to their homes because the damage is so great.  Everyone is beaten down by the terrible floodwaters.  Morale is low for many.  This is the third straight year for bad flooding on the Kickapoo.  When will it ever stop?
            The recent 2016-18 flooding on the Kickapoo is eerily similar to the flooding of a decade past.  In 2007, 2008 and 2010, the Kickapoo Valley experienced bad flood events with the flooding of June 2018 being an all-time record setter until the most recent flood.  At the time, people of the Valley were wondering what was going on.  Was this climate change at its worst?
            At one of the Driftless Dialogue talks held at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve several years ago, a speaker from UW-Madison (we think it was Stanley Temple) discussed the causes and effects of the flooding in the Kickapoo Valley between 2007 and 2010.  The main thing that we took away from the talk was that the Kickapoo Valley could expect more of these flood events because of the changes occurring in weather patterns caused by climate change.  The unique and hilly topography of the Kickapoo Valley also was a factor in the intensity of the flooding.  At the time, I wasn’t sure if this theory about continued flood events in the Kickapoo Valley would prevail, but perhaps it is playing out right in front of us once again. 
            We will have to have more on this flooding on the Kickapoo next time.

Monday, August 20, 2018


Many moons ago we checked into a motel in the Eagle River area for a little summer vacation stay in Wisconsin’s “Up North”.  When the owner/clerk saw our address as La Farge, he inquired what we were doing in the north woods.  He said that it didn’t get any prettier than the Kickapoo Valley.  He and his wife were from LaCrosse (they helped run the family owned hostelry in the summers) and said they tried to get to the Kickapoo Valley whenever possible.  I told them I was going fishing on some of the lakes in the Conover area to try to catch some walleyes, which you cannot do in the Kickapoo Valley – and he agreed.
            But what he said, probably first got me to thinking about the natural beauty of where we live here in the Valley of the Kickapoo. That “Up North” conversation probably occurred sometime in the late 1970s or early ‘80s and what the motel operator was saying was already playing out in front of us, but we probably didn’t even see it.
            Many people were visiting the Kickapoo Valley in the early 1970s, some drawn to the area because of the controversy over the La Farge dam project.  Many of the visitors canoed the river and camped along its shores.  Some of those people fell in love with the gorgeous valley and decided to stay.
            In La Farge, the newcomers of that time were known as “Hippies” although most were not necessarily of that “hip generation”. Yes, some of the men had longer hair and beards and the women sported long skirts and a bra was not an absolute necessity as an undergarment.  Some of the newcomers had an inclination towards relaxation with marijuana use (“Wacky Weed”, as the locals liked to call it), but most seemed to fit into the local scene pretty well.  Downstream, in the Gays Mills area, the newcomers of that time became known as the “Back – To – The – Landers”, because of their propensity to try farming on a small scale.  Regardless, all of the newcomers came to the Kickapoo Valley, liked what they saw and decided to stay.
            The stoppage of the dam project at La Farge in the mid-‘70s continued to draw national headlines and that continued to draw people to the Valley to see what all of the fuss was about.  Again, many of those visitors liked what they saw in the Valley of the Kickapoo.  People from the urban areas of Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago started to view the beautiful Kickapoo Valley as a place for a second home – a spot in the country for extended vacations.  When you add in the spectacular increase in the populations of Whitetail Deer and wild turkeys in the Valley at the same time, small acreage spots for a hunting camp became sought after in the Kickapoo Valley as well.
            If you were born and raised in the Kickapoo Valley, there is a propensity to take the beauty of the Valley for granted.  You get used to the surroundings and start to overlook the majesty of the awesome hills and valleys.  When the people who lived north of La Farge were leaving their homes and farms because of the dam project, they were forced to make a decision on whether to stay in the Valley or move away.  For some, who wanted to stay in farming, the decision would be based on finding another farm to keep milking cows.  Many of those farmers stayed in the area, but others left and sought their agricultural fortunes in other locales.
            Harvey and Bernice Schroeder sold their mink ranch to the federal government as part of the dam project buy out in the early 1970s. They were retiring from farming, but they were not sure where they wanted to live.  They traveled around America to other places, in particular checking out some locations where the Corps of Engineers had water control projects similar to the one at La Farge.  They visited many beautiful places, but in the end returned to the Valley and built a new house located just north of La Farge that would be overlooking “Beautiful Lake La Farge”.  Bernice has always said that they could not leave the beautiful hills of the Kickapoo Valley.  (Perhaps that is why Bernice’s daughter, Kathy, has returned to the Valley to build a house on one of those hills.)
            Even after the dam project was stopped and the lake was no longer a possibility, people from away continued to buy property in the rural areas of the Valley.  Whether for a hunting camp or a second vacation home, the people still wanted to be in those hills as much as they could.    
              When CROPP bought the cheese factory in La Farge in 1989, a whole other group of new people came to the Valley.  As the “Croppies” took over La Farge, many bought homes and farms in the area.  Their organic ideals of farming struck a chord with locals, who liked the old-fashioned sensibilities of that type of farming.  Because the topography of the Valley almost demands smaller farms, the “Organic Way” of farming soon thrived.  The old “Two-Story Farms” of the Kickapoo Valley were viable again and the beauty of the Valley was a bonus for the new organic farmers.
            Sometime in the late 1990s a local realtor took a long distance call from a faraway place.  The caller was looking for a house on a small farm.  The search was a little more specific though because the caller wanted a place located in THE “Organic Valley”.  (Who says brand names don’t make a difference!)  When the realtor explained to the caller that there wasn’t an actual “Organic Valley”, a sense of disappointment could be felt over the phone by the realtor.  But the realtor, being a good salesperson, promptly started selling the virtues of the beautiful Kickapoo Valley, and eventually the sale of some Valley property was secured. 
            Today, the beauty of the Kickapoo Valley is wrapped within the overall tourist draw of the Driftless Area.  This unglaciated region of the Midwest is unique in many respects and the beautiful Kickapoo Valley is the poster child of the area.  Since the Kickapoo River is the only river that has its entire watershed included in the Driftless Area, the Valley has historic and geologic reasons for its unmatched beauty and majesty.  Since the Kickapoo Valley has this awesome beauty, then its inhabitants must be pretty special, too? 
            Maybe the story of those “Kickapoogians” (or is it “Kickapoojians”?) who live in ultra-cool “Kickapoogia” is one for another time. Don’t forget that those uber-cool “Kickapoogia” t-shirts are for sale at the gift shop of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Visitor Center.  Get them while they are HOT!  
            Stay cool in Kickapoogia!


One of the things that I find interesting in this little local history project is the ability to do updates on stories about which I have previously written.  In April of 2011 I wrote a column titled “Kickapoo Wildlife” in which I presented changes in the local populations of animals and birds in the past fifty years.  In that column I wrote about the abundance of deer and turkey in the Kickapoo Valley compared to a half century before.  I also mentioned how the geese and cranes were hanging out on our ponds along Bear Creek, something else that was not common fifty years earlier.  Perhaps it is time to take another look at Kickapoo wildlife.
            The first six months of 2018 seemed to abound with new and unusual sightings of local fauna that were both odd and interesting. Taken from an historical perspective, most of the instances reinforced my previous thoughts on the changes that have taken place in the Kickapoo Valley in regards to wildlife.
            While driving home on a late afternoon in January, an elk jumped in front of our car near Bridge #10 between La Farge and Ontario. I had just crossed Ferris Flat, heading south and saw what I thought was a deer on the hill beside the road.  I slowed down anticipating the animal jumping onto the road.  Sure enough, what I thought was a big Whitetail, jumped the fence, landing right in the middle of the road in front of me.  When I got a closer look at the animal’s rear end, I realized that it was an elk.  It lumbered across the road and headed north down towards the Kickapoo River below.
            Earlier that month, an elk had been seen running along Bear Creek south of our house.  The elk had escaped from a nearby game farm.  I thought that the elk that jumped in front of us that day was probably the same one.  Later I would learn that the elk that we saw between Ontario and La Farge was from the DNR managed herd of elk released in the Black River Falls area.  Two elks in the area in one month – that is a rarity indeed.
            Speaking of rarities, I should backtrack to the summer of 2017 when an unusual bird sighting occurred at our place.  My wife, Carolyn, is an active bird feeder with several continually stocked bird feeders in operation at our Bear Creek home. This food extravaganza attracts a wide variety of species of birds to our place.  Last summer, we were surprised when this funny looking small robin started feeding behind our house.  I soon realized it wasn’t a robin, but instead a large flycatcher species called Say’s Phoebe.  The Say’s Phoebe is a species mainly of the Great Plains and is rarely seen in Wisconsin. I learned that earlier in the summer of 2017, a pair of the species was seen in the Middleton area.  Perhaps the pair at our house later in the summer was the same ones seen there.  The birds stayed about a month before moving on.  They have not returned this summer, but many other birds have showed up here.
            Our Spring/Winter/Spring/Winter/Spring weather that we had in April seemed to slow all of the water birds return to our ponds. Finally around May 9th, we saw a family of geese walking in our driveway.  There were two adults, which I named Gus and Gertie, and their four little chicks.  The springtime was very wet this year, so I think the geese came up on the driveway to find a dry place to hang out.  They would walk all the way up the driveway and waddle around in our lower lawn.  It was interesting watching the chicks grow, seeming to get taller and more goose-like each day.
            Pure cacophony broke out at our place on the evening of May 14th.  Seven Canadian geese decided to drop in on the ponds for a visit and Gus & Gertie were not happy.  The squawking over territorial pond rights was deafening and even increased when two Sand Hill Cranes descended onto the far pond.  Carolyn even tried to walk down to the ponds to arbitrate the situation, fearing the little ones would be driven off.  Her trip was to no avail, but eventually Gus & Gertie prevailed. 
            The family of Canadian Geese continued to walk in our driveway for over a month.  The last time we saw the clan, the chicks were nearly fully-grown and we suspect the group flew off soon after that.  The geese would be replaced in late June by a family of cranes.  Again, because it was so wet in the lowlands around our ponds, we think the cranes were seeking the driveway for dryness.
            We have had Sand Hill’s nest on our ponds before and have often seen the little ones in our pastures and yard.  This year, during the annual Crane Count in late April (which was iced and snowed out from the original weekend), we saw a crane on the far pond, but never a nesting pair.  We heard crane calls every morning indicating they were nesting nearby, so they could have been nesting along the little rill that runs to the west of the ponds.
            What was different about this year’s crane family was that they were staked out at a place right next to the driveway and close to Highway 82.  When I would drive down the driveway, one or both of the cranes would fly right in front of the vehicle, trying to protect the two little chicks.  Sometimes, the adult cranes would fly across the state highway, further endangering all concerned.  Another difference in this year’s crane family from previous years was that the chicks were very young – small little bundles of yellow fuzz waddling around the edge of the driveway.  Usually the chicks are much larger when we see them, but I think the wet conditions caused the move off their nest.  After a few days of this tenuous situation, the whole crane family moved across the highway and hung around some high ground besides Bear Creek. For another week, we observed the cranes walking in the fields by the creek, before they moved on. 
            We have had a gravel driveway for the entire forty years that we have lived on Bear Creek.  Since we have the gravel, we usually have Killdeer around, because they like to lay their eggs in the substance.  A few years ago, the Killdeer laid four big eggs right in the middle of the driveway, out of the tire tracks.  We marked the nest, which amounted to no more that a little hole scratched out of the gravel, so I wouldn’t run over it with the riding mower.  As we drove down the driveway, the adult Killdeer would run ahead of us, luring us away from their eggs.  Occasionally, one of the adult birds would play the old “broken wing card” to entice us away from the eggs.  
            Some years, the Killdeer eggs hatch, while other times the raccoons and other nighttime predators destroy the eggs before they hatch. This year, perhaps because of the wet conditions, the Killdeer made their driveway nest on higher ground, between the barn and the house.  We saw four big eggs in the nest-hole and the two adult Killdeer were busy luring us away from the nest as we drove on our driveway.  One of the adult birds would sit on the eggs during the day, to shelter them from the heat of the sunshine.  As we buzzed past with the mowers, the adult would try to lure us away. Finally, they grew used to our mowing practices and stayed on the nest as we trimmed the lawn on either side.
            We never did see little Killdeer chicks this year – I don’t know where they go when they hatch – but the eggs in the nest decreased from four to two and then to only one in a period of ten days or so.  The older birds abandoned the last egg; I ended up placing it over into the pasture after waiting a week or so with nothing happening.
            With our ponds, we also have a healthy turtle population at our place.  When the turtles are seeking higher ground to lay eggs, this can some times be a problem if they try to cross Highway 82.  One Snapping Turtle and one Box Turtle did not make the crossing of the busy state highway successfully this spring, but several others did survive. Wood Turtles seem to be increasing in our area now, probably due to the increasing amount of habitat.
            That increased wildlife habitat, especially north of La Farge on the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, played out in a strange way in late April.  A turkey hunter was walking to his hunting site on the ridge near Bridge #10 when he spied a Black Bear laying next to a little stream that runs into the Kickapoo River.  The hunter did not want to encounter the bear so he continued on to his hunting site. At the end of the morning when the hunter was heading back to his car, he noticed the bear still lying next to the creek.  He notified the authorities about the bear siting and the KVR personnel found the bear near death.  It died by the next day and the animal had apparently been struck by lightning during a big thunderstorm that occurred in the area the night before it was first seen. When the animal was gutted out, black singe marks were observed on several of the bear’s organs, indicating a possible lightning strike.  It was believed that the bear had hibernated on the Reserve last winter.
            At least, we don’t have hibernating bears on our place here on Bear Creek yet.  Or do we? After all, there is a reason the creek has that name. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

More LHS Band Memories

Starting in the summer of 1962 and continuing through that fall, the La Farge High School band became road warriors as they marched in 17 different parades throughout western Wisconsin. Part of the abundance of marching was to show off the new LHS band uniforms that had been acquired at the end of the previous school year.  Purchased through a fund raising campaign by the LHS Band Parents, the new uniforms were gray in color, trimmed in purple with a white LF on the front coat panel. For marching in parades, the band members doffed gray hats adorned with a white plume reaching skyward.
            Mr. Marlin Pendleton, the LHS band teacher, wanted to show off the new uniforms and the band’s talents, so every marching invitation was accepted.  The LHS Band marched at the Horse & Colt Show Parade in Viola, the Labor Day Parade in Hillsboro and for Cashton’s Fall Festival.  Besides the schools own homecoming parade, the LHS Band traveled to Barneveld and Ithaca to march in those school’s Homecoming festivities.  
            In August, the band marched in the Rockton Homecoming Parade, or at least tried to.  The parade was part of the Rockton Centennial Celebration that year and lots of floats were entered – too many perhaps.  The band unloaded from the school buses and formed into their marching lines on Lisney Road on the northwest side of the little hamlet.  The LHS Band marched down to Highway 131 and headed south.  When the band was about in front of the old Rockton schoolhouse, it stopped.  And there it stayed, as nothing in the parade was moving.  While the band waited in that spot for some time, Mr. Pendleton decided to have the band play several of the marching musical numbers that it played as it marched.  After a half hour or so, the band began to inch ahead in the route until stopping again before reaching the Rockton Store.  The band played some more numbers as it waited there for some time in front of the store and then the band broke ranks and walked back to the bus.  We learned later that there were so many people in Rockton that day watching the parade that the parade units could not reach the end of the route.  (Wouldn’t you know it; only Rockton could put together a parade that was bigger than the town.)
            Besides the snazzy new uniforms, the LHS Band stood out in other ways as they marched in parades.  Most high school bands of that era played musical marches, many composed by John Phillip Sousa, as they performed in parades.  The LHS Band had played Sousa marches previously as well and continued to do so, but Mr. Pendleton introduced Broadway show tunes set to march music for the band to play.  Using the show tunes for the marching music was new and no other high school bands in the area were doing that.  When the LHS Band belted out “Give My Regards To Broadway” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” as they marched along the many parade routes, many a head and ear were turned by the modern show tunes.
            Mr. Pendleton also booked the LHS Band into college homecoming parades that fall.  The LHS Band played in the LaCrosse State Homecoming Parade that year, marching along some of the same route used for the Music Festival held later in the spring.  The band also played in the Platteville State Homecoming Parade, a real source of pride for Mr. Pendleton, as it was his college alma mater.  After we marched in the parade in the morning we went to the football game in the afternoon.  One of the captains of Platteville’s football team was Danny Rabata, a graduate of LHS. As a matter of fact, Dan Rabata led the Pioneers to victory that day with his punishing running from his fullback position.  Just like the old days when Danny played for La Farge!
            The LHS Band’s marching season culminated when they marched for the Music Festival held in LaCrosse in the spring.  The Wildcat band garnered a first-place in the marching competition as well as another first in the concert competition.
            During the 1963-64 school year, the LHS Band continued to expand in size and performances.  To get a sense of that school year, I am going to use the write-up for the 1964 “Memories” yearbook.  It went like this:
            The fifty-one members of the La Farge High School Band had a whirlwind year during 1963 and 64.  During the summer of 1963 the band marched at La Farge for the 4thof July Parade and later that month at Farm Progress Days in Viroqua.
            In September the band marched in the annual Horse and Colt Show Parade at Viola. In Octoberthey again went to Viola to play during half of the Viola-La Farge football game.  Later in October they had the opportunity to march in the Homecoming Parade at Platteville and the Apple Festival in Gays Mills.
            Here at our own Homecoming, the band presented a show during the halftime of our game.  They used a variety of new drills and formations, which were devised by Mr. Pendleton.
            The first appearance on stage was the Mid-Winter Concert on February 13, which took place in our new gymnasium.
            In May the band will enter the Concert and Marching competitions at the Music Festival in LaCrosse
            They will conclude the school year by taking part in the Commencement and Memorial Day exercises.
            All in all this year has been quite an experience for the members of the band.
            It was quite a year for the LHS Band, but it did not end all that well at the Music Festival competitions held in LaCrosse. Mr. Pendleton was always looking to improve the band’s performance by playing in more demanding competitions. For that spring Music Festival held in LaCrosse, the band, for the first time, competed in the Sight-Reading Competition.  In that competition, the band was given two musical numbers to play that they had never seen before.
            Mr. Pendleton talked the band through the first number as we saw the music for the first time.  I remember the piece being some sort of minuet and when the band started playing the number, it was immediate confusion.  Finally after a minute or so of pure musical mayhem, Mr. Pendleton stopped the band and had us start over.  It went a little better after that.  
            The second selection for the Sight Reading Competition was a march and it looked easier than the first number.  The band quickly picked up the march’s tempo and was playing the number pretty well.  However, a certain cornet player sitting in the third section fell behind in the number and struggled to catch up.  When the band reached the final note, all finished together in glorious unison except the struggling cornet player.  Yours truly had one more note to blatt out of his silver cornet, putting a nice closing button onto the tune, when one wasn’t needed.  If looks could kill, Mr. Pendleton’s glare towards me regarding my concluding blunder would have been fatal. 
            Of course, we did not get a first in Sight Reading that morning.  To make matters worse, the judge for the LHS band’s dismal showing was one of Mr. Pendleton’s music professors from Platteville College.  He dutifully laid out our woes in the new musical field of competition and mercifully gave us a second place ranking.  To make matters worse, it wasn’t the last of the second places for the band that day.  To everyone’s shock, the band also received a second in the concert competition.
            The band played more challenging musical numbers than in years past for the Spring Festival Concert competition, but hard and constant practice throughout the year had left everyone in the band feeling that a first place could be achieved.  Perhaps it was the holdover from the earlier Sight Reading Competition that day, but the band did not perform well and had to settle for a second place in Concert competition.  Well, the LHS Band could always be counted on for a first place in the Marching Competition, but there was a little catch to that as well.
            Because Mr. Pendleton had concentrated all of the band’s practices on preparing for Sight Reading and Concert competitions, we had never marched once that spring – no practice whatsoever.  When we assembled on the LaCrosse streets on that May afternoon, it was the first time for some of the band’s newer members to march or play the music for marching.  We had to assemble quickly into our newly formed marching lines and then head down Main Street towards the LaCrosse downtown.  Our odds did not look good, but by the time we had gone a few blocks the percussion section had us strutting our stuff.  When we neared the judge’s stand the LHS Band belted out one of their new show tunes, which brought shouts and applause from the big crowd.  Some things are not easily forgotten and the Wildcat band could march and play anywhere at anytime.
            We did not know our rating when we left LaCrosse that day, but we were not surprised when the band received another first place for the Marching Competition.
            During my senior year at LHS, the band continued to grow with 60 students making up the concert and marching band.  I was elevated to the second chairs section of the cornets.  Dean Steinmetz, Carlyle Stoleson and Brent Waddell comprised the first chair cornets while I joined Nathan Larson and Kevin Alderson in the 2ndchairs and Phil Muller, April Melvin and Rhonda Jacobson played in the third chairs. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the band and can’t seem to remember any major screw-ups that I committed that year. I remember that the 2ndsection had a dynamite counter-melody part in one of our marching numbers that we really enjoyed belting out.  That is if we all had a horn to play.
            It seems that when we marched in the Horse & Colt Show Parade that year, I forgot my horn at home.  When I told Mr. Pendleton about it, I thought that I wouldn’t be allowed to march.  But he would have none of that since I was a row leader in the band formation.  So, I marched without a horn as the La Farge Band marched down Viola’s Main Street.  At one point, the band stopped and played a number.  As everyone in the LHS Band played the marching selection to its best ability, I stood mute at the end of my row.  I stood there in dumbness right next to the crowd on the sidewalk, and I seem to remember when the musical number ended someone in the crowd (with a voice that sounded very similar to my brother, Kent) yelled out, “Where’s your horn, Bradley?”
            I might not have been much of a musician, who was prone to occasional mistakes, but I really did enjoy my time in the La Farge High School Band.  My memories of the experience fondly live on to the present.