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Under Chapter 150, Laws of 1893, Vilas County was erected from territory formerly a part of Oneida, comprising all of that county lying in Ranges 5 to 10 east, (both inclusive) north of the line between Townships 39 and 40 north, and Townships 39 north of Ranges 6 and 7 east, and Township 40 north of Range 4 east. Under Chapter 278, Laws of 1897, Townships 40-41-42 north of Range 11 east, were detached from Forest and annexed to Vilas; and the north half of township 39 north of Range 10 east was detached from Oneida and annexed to Vilas. Under Chapter 57, Laws of 1905, Townships 39 north of Ranges 6 and 7 east were detached from Vilas and re-annexed to Oneida. Under Chapter 202 of the same year Townships 41 and 42 north of Range 12 east were added to Vilas from Forest County. Vilas was thus given its present boundaries. The county was named in honor of William F. Vilas of Madison. A native of Vermont (1840), he removed to Wisconsin in 1851, and was graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1858. During the War of Secession he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel; was postmaster general of the United States (1885-88); secretary of the interior (1881-91); and United States senator (1891-97). He died in August 1908, leaving to his alma mater the bulk of his large fortune. (Organization, Boundaries, and Names of Wisconsin Counties; Louise Phelps Kellogg, Ph.D.; Wis. Hist. So. Proceedings, 1909).

The first officials of Vilas County were appointed by the governor and were as follows: T. I. Loughlin, county clerk; N. A. Colman, district attorney; F. J. Deckert, register of deeds; T. B. Walsh, treasurer; W. D. Neville, clerk of the circuit court; Max Sells, sheriff; Daniel Graham, surveyor; Alex Higgins, superintendent of schools; James Oberholzer, coroner. The county was then included within the Fifteenth Judicial District, the presiding judge of which was John K. Parrish, who served until Vilas County was set over into the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, of which Charles V. Bardeen was the presiding judge. The latter’s successor, Judge Willis C. Silverthome, served until 1908, since which time Judge Alexander H. Reid has presided. The first county judge, E. C. Allen, served until 1895, when he resigned and F. W. McIntyre was appointed by Gov. W. H. Upham to fill the unexpired term. When Vilas County was set off it contained the two towns of Eagle River and Minocqua. The court house, which is the building still in use, but which has never been fully adequate to the needs of the county, was built in 1893-94, and the jail, also the one now in use, in the summer of 1895.

The first volume of the county board’s proceedings, covering the period from the organization of the county in April, 1893, to November, 1899, having disappeared from the county clerk’s office, data in regard to that period has been obtained chiefly through personal interviews with early settlers here, and partly from the back files of the newspapers. The second volume of records opens with the month of November 1899, at which time the county was divided politically into the three towns of Eagle River, Arbor Vitae and Minocqua. That of Arbor Vitae consisted of Townships 39, 40 and 41 north of Range 7 east and Townships 40 and 41 north of Range 8 east. The town of Minocqua, created in March, 1889, comprised Township 40 north of Range 4 east, Townships 40, 41, 42, 43 and 44 north (T. 44 being fractional) of Range 5 east, and Townships 39, 40, 41, 43, 42 and 44. north (T. 44 fractional) of Range 6 east. The balance of the county was the town of Eagle River, which comprised Townships 42, 43 and fractional Township 44 north of Range 7 east; Townships 42 and 43 north of Range 8 east; Townships 40, 41, 42 and 43 north of Range 9 east, and Townships 40, 41, 42 and 43 north of Range 10 east. Owing to the northern boundary of the county having a northwest-southeast trend, the townships 43 and 44 in all the ranges mentioned were fractional, it being almost a full township in Range 7 and only a small fraction of one in Range 10. Loosely speaking, the town of Eagle River comprised the easterly and northeasterly part of the county, the town of Minocqua the western part, and the town of Arbor Vitae the central southern portion.

Aside from scattered lumbering or logging activities, the village of Eagle River the county seat, was the chief place of activity in the county and its history has been fairly well preserved. At that time the property valuations in three towns were: Eagle River-Real estate $617,653.46; personal property $32,346.54; total $650,000; Minocqua-Real estate $314,535.17; personal property $35,464; total $350,000. Arbor Vitae-Real estate $372,645.99; personal property $127,354.03; total $500,000.

The town of Flambeau was created June 5, 1900, comprising the north half of Township 40 and all of Townships 41, 42, 43 and 44 north of Range 5 east, the said territory previously forming a part of the town of Minocqua. The first town meeting was held at the Flambeau Lumber Co.’s boarding house (See. 8, T. 40, R 5) the first Tuesday in April 1901. In December this year the county offered a bounty of $5 per head on wolves and $3 per head on wild cats and lynx. At the same time the town of Eagle River voted to construct a bridge across Eagle River, at the foot of Railroad Street in the village of Eagle River, the town agreeing to pay one-half the cost, or $3,500 (the total being ($7,000) on consideration of the county paying the other half. In the same month the county school tax levied was $1,200. The sheriff-elect (Joseph Elliott) having offered to board all prisoners in the county jail (except those committed for vagrancy or disorderly conduct) for $4.60 per week each, his proposition was accepted. For the others all told he got $1,500 per annum. The public printing was let to the Minocqua Times. In December 1901, the general county tax was $10,800, court expenses, salaries -and sundry expenses, $9,200, making a total of $20,000.

For several weeks the board was busy with the ordinary routine business of the county concerning assessments, equalization of taxes, road and bridge building, etc., which it is not necessary to here describe more particularly. In May, 1905, on petition of the Yawkey-Bissell Lumber Co., territory in Township 42 north of Range 7 east, in the town of Eagle River, was detached from the latter town and attached to the town of Arbor Vitae; and territory in Township 40 north of Range 8 east, town of Arbor Vitae, was detached from the latter town and attached to the town of Eagle River.
The town of Hackley (now Phelps) was created in the spring of 1905, probably in May, the exact date not being clear in the records. It consisted of Township 41 north of Range 11, 12, east, and fractional Townships 42 north of Ranges It and 12 east. In December that year the value of real estate in the county was assessed by the county board at $4,125, 000; that of personal property at $875,000; total $5,000,000.

On Jan. 3, 1907, the town of State Line was set off from the town of Eagle River, namely: the north half of Township 42 north of Range 9 east, the north half of Township 42 north of Range 10 east, and the fractional Township 43 north of Range 10 east. The first Tuesday in April was the date for the first town meeting, which was to be held in the office of the Mason-Donaldson Lumber Co., two miles east of State Line station.

At the same board meeting, Jan. 3, the town of Conover was created, being set-off from the town of Eagle River, and was described as all of sections from I to 30 inclusive in Township 41 north of Range 10 east, and the south half of Township 42 north of Range 10 east; the first town meeting to be held in the red brick schoolhouse near Conover station.

The town of Farmington was set off from the town of Eagle River, as follows Township 40 north of Range 8 east, and the west half of Township 40 north of Range 9 east. The first town meeting was held in a schoolhouse in Section 22.

The town of Presque Isle was also formed at this time, consisting of the upper half of Township 43 north of Range 5 east (taken from town of Flambeau); the whole of Township 43 north of Range 6 east; the fractional Township 44 north of Range 5 east, and the fractional Township 44 north of Range 6 east. In July 1909, the town of Presque Isle received some additional territory, including fractional Township 44 north of Range 7 and Sections 5 and 6 and west half of Section 4, in Township 43, Range 7.

In March 1910, there were complaints that the courthouse was too small and an addition was recommended by a committee. The records about this time and for some years thereafter contain considerable information in regard to the schools, which in this volume has been embodied in a separate article.
The town of Plum Lake was created Dec. 8, 1910, out of territory detached from the town of Arbor Vitae, -namely.: Township 41 north of Range 8 east, and the east half of Township 41 north of Range 7 east; the first town meeting to be held in the schoolhouse in the village of Snyder first Tuesday in April, 1911.

In September, 1911, the county being in good financial shape, steps were taken toward developing a system of county highways, in order to open up the rich farming land and develop other natural resources of the county, and for this purpose a bond Issue of $60,000 was effected, the bonds bearing interest at 5 per cent per annum; the bonds to be in denominations of $1000 each and to become due and payable in sets of three each year, the first set of three on April 1, 1912, and the 20th set of three on April 1, 1931. A committee of three was appointed to confer with like committees from Oneida and Forest counties in the matter of the proposed highways. The bonds were sold to the Thomas J. Bolger Co. of Chicago at a price in excess of the par value. The total assessed valuation of the county, as equalized for the year 1910, was $9,251,417.

Some territorial changes were made in June, 1913, but the ordinance was repealed in the following month and the territory restored to the towns from which it was taken.

In September, 1913, the legislature having passed the Stevens-Whiteside bill providing for the appointment of a joint legislative committee of eight members, three from the senate and five from the assembly, to investigate generally the matter of the State Forest Reserve, its effect upon the tax payers of the state, and particularly to investigate the soils within the proposed State Forest Reserve in Forest, Vilas, Oneida, Iron and Price counties, the matter came up before the Vilas County board which appointed a special committee, known as the Inter- County Forestry Committee, to meet and confer with committees from the other counties mentioned and agree upon some general and complete plan of campaign, in the mutual interest of the several counties, the main object being to preserve for settlement by farmers all lands that were suitable for that purpose. This committee met in Rhinelander Nov. I and appointed an executive committee of one man from each county to do what they might think best to promote the mutual object, and a fund of over $6,000 was raised for the purpose. It was charged that the state forester was attempting to have the state take over about 1,500,000 acres of land in the said counties for the purpose of reforestration regardless of the character of the soil and its suitability for the purpose of agriculture. In December the same year a movement was set on foot and money appropriated to secure the services of an agricultural agent.

On May 12, 1914, the town of Eagle River was depleted of further territory whereby the towns of Presque Isle, State Line, Plum Lake, Conover and Farmington were enlarged. The towns of Lincoln and Washington were also created, containing practically the same area and territory as they have today except for some slight changes made in September, 1917, which transferred section 25 and some government lots in sections 23, 24 and 26 from the town of Lincoln to that of Washington. The south half of Township 43 north of Range 5 east was detached from the town of Flambeau and added to that of Presque Isle.

On March 13, 1918, an ordinance passed the board which detached from the town of Arbor Vitae and attached to the town of Flambeau Sections 5, 6, 7, 8, 17, 18, 19, 20, 29, 30, 31 and 32 in Township 40 north of Range 6 east, and Sections 5, 6, 1, 8, 17, 18, 19, 20, 29, 30, 31, 32 in Township 41 north of Range 6 east.

It remained for the board to create but two new towns for Vilas County to assume practically its present appearance on the map, and this was done on May 11, 1921, when the towns of Winchester and Cloverland were created, the former from territory comprised in the town of Presque Isle and the latter from territory in the towns of Conover, Lincoln and Farmington. On several occasions the board has created other towns, but their action in the matter not being sustained by the legislature, the ordinances were soon repealed. The only additional territorial change noted on the records up to June, 1923 was that on July 12, 1921, Sections 1 to 40 inclusive of Township 40 north of Range 9 east, were transferred from the town of Farmington to that of Cloverland, whereby both those towns assumed their present form and area. Nothing is now left of the old town of Eagle River. For a while the village of Eagle River was the only portion remaining of the old town of that name, but on the incorporation of the village in March 1921, the town finally disappeared.

In December, 1917, the question of purchasing land for a poor farm came up, the county board hearing the report of a committee on the subject, but after discussion it was found that a majority of the members were not in favor of the project and up to date no poor farm has been established. The paupers are sent to the poor house at Merrill, Lincoln County, and the expense of their maintenance is paid from the fund for outdoor poor relief.

The report of the assessor of incomes of Vilas County for 1922 showed that the aggregate true value of all real estate in the county was $8,960.835; that of real and personal property, $10,268,152. The latter was divided as follows: Horses, mules and asses, $113,507; neat cattle, $78,190; sheep, $1,960; swine, $3,357; wagons, carriages and sleighs, $17,719; merchants’ and manufacturers’ stock, $256,080; logs, timber, lumber, etc., $267,576; steam and other vessels, $70,170; bank stock, $66,700; automobiles, $181,470. Total personal property, $1,307,317.

The aggregate value of all real and personal property in Vilas County by towns was assessed by the county board, Dec. 6, 1922, as follows: Arbor Vitae, $970,340; Cloverland, $283,503; Conover, $832,747; Farmington, $262,864; Flambeau, $430,236; Lincoln, $681,806; Phelps, $1,893,027; Plum Lake, $641,759; Presque Isle, $1,892,320; State Line, $1,256,883; Washington, $610,955; Village of Eagle River, $601,713. Total, $10,268.152.

Politics.  --  It is not the intention here to go into the details of local politics, but only to touch the subject as it concerns the broader issues having to do with the destinies of the state and nation. Along these broader lines, Vilas County has almost uniformly by a majority vote aligned herself with the Republican party, as shown by the vote for both president and governor.

The citizens of Vilas County, as such, cast their first vote for president in the campaign of 1896, when the respective standard bearers of the two parties were William McKinley and William J Bryan, the latter the apostle of free silver coinage. The Republican, McKinley, obtained here 754 of the votes which placed him in the presidential chair, while Bryan was given 443. In the gubernatorial campaign that year Vilas County cast 731 ballots for Edward Scofield (R) and 459 for Willis Silverthorn (D). In the contest for governor in 1898 Scaffold was again favored, receiving 695 votes, while his Democratic opponent, Sawyer, received 587. On each occasion Scofield was elected.

In the presidential election of 1900 McKinley and Bryan were again the Standard bearers. The population of the county was then 4,929. The number of ballots cast for McKinley was 1,208; for Bryan 488. In the race for governor Robert M. LaFollette obtained 1,194 votes in Vilas County, his Democratic opponent receiving 502. In the off-year of 1902 LaFollette got 760 votes here in this county and D. S. Rose (D) 516.

The next presidential year was in 1904, when Theodore Roosevelt was the Republican standard bearer and Alton B. Parker the Democratic. E. V. Debs was also standing for the presidency on the Social-Democrat ticket. This county cast 1,467 ballots for Roosevelt, 322 for Parker and 39 for Debs. In the gubernatorial campaign R. M. LaFollette captured 1,217 votes, George W. Peck (D) 566, and Edward Scofield (Nat.-Rep.) 35.

In the contest for governor in the off-year of 1906 Vilas County gave James 0. Davidson (R) 682 votes, and John A. Aylward (D) 187. The year 1908 saw William H. Taft leading the Republicans in the presidential campaign, with W. J. Bryan again the Democratic standard bearer. Taft polled 794 votes in this county and Bryan but 278. E. V. Debs (Soc.-Dem.) got 17. At the same election the Republican candidate for governor, J. 0. Davidson polled 794 votes and John A. Aylward (D) 262. In 1910 the vote for governor was: Francis E. McGovem (R) 532; Adolph H. Schmitz 95.

In the presidential campaign of 1912, when there were three main contenders -Woodrow Wilson for the Democrats, William H. Taft for the Republicans, and Theodore Roosevelt running independently on the “Progressive-Republican” ticket, here as elsewhere the Republican vote was split, Taft receiving 304 ballots and Roosevelt 212. Wilson received 327, the largest cast for any particular candidate, and E. V. Des, again running on the Social-Democratic ticket, made a fair showing with 71. There were two other candidates, the vote for whom, however, was insignificant. Of the three candidates for governor, P. E. McGovern (R) received 416 votes, John C. Karel (D) 383, and Carl D. Thompson (Sol.- Dem.) 61. In 1914, an off-year, the largest number of votes was cast for John C. Karel, who received 262. E. L. Phillipp, the Republican candidate, received 254, and John J. Blaine (Ind.) 40.

The presidential race in 1916 was between Woodrow Wilson, seeking reelection, and Charles B. Hughes, who sought to recapture the presidency for the Republican party. But the time was unfavorable. The World War was then raging, though this country had not yet been drawn into it, and the relations with Mexico were unsettled and unsatisfactory. The people were evidently averse to “ swapping horses while crossing a stream,” and as the result of the election, Mr. Wilson remained in the presidential chair. Vilas County, however, showed its Republican leanings by casting 531 ballots for Hughes and but 467 for Wilson. It also supported E. L. Philip (R) for governor against Burt William’s (D) by a vote of 566 to 368. In the off-year 1918 it again supported Philip against the Democratic candidate, Moehlenpah, by a vote of 334 to 306.

In 1920 Vilas County cast 903 ballots for Warren G. Harding (R) for president, 255 for James M. Cox (D) and 185 for E, V. Debs, the Socialist. It also supported Blaine for governor by a vote of 696, casting 450 ballots for the Democratic candidate, McCov.

The World War.  --  On May 10, 1917, at the spring session of the county board, it was unanimously resolved to organize a County Council of Defense to co-operate with the State Council of Defense in support of the administration of the government, each member of the county board to appoint in his respective town a council of defense consisting of five or more members, the said town council to co-operate with and report to the County Council of Defense. The resolution was signed by following members of the board, chairman of their respective townships: Charles H. Kamke, Arbor Vitae; Peter Hedeen, Conover-, Frank W. Carter, Eagle River-, John R. Powell, Farmington; William Selves, Flambeau; Henrv Rath, Lincoln; C. M. Christianson, Phelps; John W. Oliver, Plum Lake; Charles A. Backshom, Presque Isle; and Geo. G. Sanborn, Washington.

The home work was well carried out in all departments, as shown in statistical figures. Vilas County’s quota for the first Liberty Loan was $20,000, and it is said that $25,000 was actually subscribed, but the credit was given Chicago, Ill., Grand Rapids, Mich., and other cities. On the Second Liberty Loan the quota for the count was $20,000 and the amount subscribed $38,250. On the Third Liberty Loan the county made a still better record, the quota being $25,000 and the amount subscribed $92,050. This was a larger percentage of over-subscription (368½ per cent) than any other county on the entire Ninth Federal Reserve District had (comprising northern Wisconsin and Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and North and South Dakota), and in recognition the county was awarded a Liberty Loan flag with one star, Vilas being the only county in the district receiving such recognition. For the Fourth Liberty Loan the quota was $60,000 and the amount subscribed $101,950, or 169 per cent, which placed the county fourth in rank among those over-subscribing their quotas. In had 891 subscribers out of a population of 4,375 people. The quota for the Fifth or Victory Loan was $35,000 and the amount subscribed $74,250, or 212 per cent, another fine showing, exceeded only by that of the Third Loan.

The contributions in all war funds were as follows: The Five Liberty Loans, $331,500; War Savings and Thrift Stamps, $60,000; Armenian Relief Fund, $413.75; American Red Cross, $7,215.96; the Young Men’s Christian Association, $1,100; the Knights of Columbus, $400; the United War Work Fund (quota $3,000), $3,907.87; Smokes for Soldier Boys’ Fund, $572.65; Grand Total, $405,110.23. In the Armenian Relief Fund Vilas was the banner county in Wisconsin, her percentage being 141 as against 135, which was that of the next highest county.

During the war Vilas County had about 700 families of whom 609 signed food pledge checks; some families were not seen, and less than 20 families refused to sign food pledge checks. The Fuel and Food administrators reported all government regulations cheerfully complied with. The county agricultural agent reported that the farmers planted and harvested over 200 war acres of wheat, as compared with from five to ten acres in previous years; the increase in barley and rye was nearly the same as the wheat increase. The women of Vilas County filled every requisition asked by the American Red Cross and measured up to 100 per cent in war work patriotism.

The outstanding feature of Vilas County’s contribution to the winning of the war was the response made to all demands by the Indians on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation and by the sawmill workers and lumberjacks in logging camps; on every call and on every occasion they were there to a man. In Vilas County the property representing 75 per cent of the total assessed valuation of the entire county is owned and held by non-residents. Such nonresidents contributed very little to the above.

What Vilas County gave in man power: Men enlisted, 270; in navy, 57; marines, 6; national army, 38; volunteers in special branches (foreign armies), 2; total, 373. Of that number at least two met death in action and two or more others died in the service; or as a result of it, as the death of one occurred after the war closed; the number of wounded and gassed w” 17. These figures apply to the white population, as some 40 or more Indians from the Lac du Flambeau Reservation got into the service, of whom at least one was killed and another died. In addition to the above several Vilas County boys enlisted outside the county. It is worth mentioning that six boys of the Divine family of Clear Lake served in the war and the seventh tried to enlist, while the family of Otto Flodine sent four sons and a son-in-law to the war.

Wilson Trapp, one of the youths who made the supreme sacrifice, died May 23, 1918, when the British transport Moldavia was torpedoed. He was from the town of Arbor Vitae, and was a member of Company H, 341st Infantry.
Emil Gherkin, also of the town of Arbor Vitae, and a member of the Sixth Regiment, U. S. Marine Corps, was killed April 1, 1918, on the battlefront in France, while helping to stop the German drive against the British lines.

Of those who died in the service whose records are available, Frederick James Walsh, of Eagle River, a second class seaman, died of the “flu” at the Great Lakes Naval Station, Sept. 21, 1918. William T. Davies, of Eagle River, second class U. S. N., R. F., was taken ill while in the service, from which he was released April 30, 1919. He died of tuberculosis at Tucson, Ari., Jan. 10, 1920.

The population of Vilas County as given in 1890 was 1,706; in 1895 it was reported as 3,801, of which the village of Eagle River had 1,454; in 1900 it was 4,929; in 1910 it was 6,019, and in 1920 it was 5,649. At the present time (December, 1923) it is about 7,000. This shows a decrease due to the diminution in the logging industry. At the same time the population of the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation has also decreased, as it was 661 in 1900, 529 in 1910 and 512 in 1920. During the summer, however, the white population is largely increased by the influx of summer tourists, sportsmen and other visitors who crowd the numerous resorts on the lakes.

Jones, George O., Norman S. McVean, and others, comp. History of Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas Counties Wisconsin Minneapolis, MN: H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co., 1924. Transcribed by Jack L. Winegar

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