State and Lake History
Wisconsin was "discovered" by Jean Nicolet in 1634, while looking for the Northwest Passage to China. In 1763, Wisconsin was part of the territory ceded by France to Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris. Twenty years later, the British released their claim to Wisconsin. In 1848 Wisconsin became the 30th State in the Union.
The First Americans
Various Native American tribes first inhabited the area known as Wisconsin. The Chippewa (a.k.a. Ojibwa), Menominee, Oneida, Potawatomi and Winnebago tribes lived in the area until the late 1800's at that point many of the tribe move away or were relocated.
Lake Little Sissabagama and the surrounding area was home to various Native American tribes over the years. The tribes were both peaceful and fierce warriors. The abundant wildlife and dense giant white pine forests made the area both an attractive place for Native Americans to live and flourish and loggers to seek their fortunes. Trappers and French explores traded goods for furs with the Native Americans during the centuries when no roads existed and travel was exclusively by water. Historical markers exist outside Hayward, which mark the portages of these early traders and trappers. The collapse of the beaver fur markets in the 1800's ended the period of active trapping is this area.
The Logging Era
It is believed that a survey from 1813 indicates a camp was located on Big Island (Frank Stout Island). The lake area remained a wilderness with only footpaths and few inhabitants until around 1880 when the US Government and Wisconsin Government began granting land to companies like the Wisconsin Railroad Farm Mortgage Company for development. This land was later sold around the late 1800's to logging companies such as Rice Lake Logging and Stout Lumber and sill later sold again to smaller independent loggers that took the downfall timber. The next to own the land were the immigrant farmers who often failed and left. The mineral rights for much of the land around the lake was sold and gifted to Cornell University, which still holds title to it. Lakeshore has been sold over the years to families and developers.
Logging ended by 1910 when it was said, "no trees stood between Little Siss and Stone Lake or Birchwood". Canals were cut between each of the area lakes to Rice Lake to float the giant pines to the mills. The canals can still be seen near Blueberry Bay on Little Siss' northeast end along with earthen dams, also visible by Slim Lake.
Remains of the stumps from the giant pines can still be found on Big Island (Frank Stout Island). Erosion from the clear-cutting of the forests greatly reduced fish population as lake depths decreased by 10 to 15 feet. Animals however flourished and deer and bear populations increased with new grazing land and open spaces.
The SOO Line began bring tourists and farmers to the area in 1908. Stone Lake was at the time one of the largest towns and had a permanent stop for each train. Roads to Little Siss remained dirt trails until the 40's. Fires from brush and downed trees were frequent and immigrants came and went as the Rail companies sold worthless farmland strewn with stumps to the unsuspecting farmers from Europe. Farming in the area gradually disappeared and by the 1940's was only a shadow of what was once a growing farm community.
For a short period of time at the turn of the twentieth century Little Siss was home to several logging camps, a general store, stonecutter and cluster of homes and farms. Loggers began cutting pines in the mid-1800s for many reasons. First, pine was the type of Wood most popular in the United States for constructing buildings, as well as for making other basic necessities, such as plows and wagons. Pine is a soft wood, which makes it easier to cut and carve, and pine trees tended to produce long, straight pieces of wood with relatively few knots. In an era when rarely a machine could make much more than a few items such as doors and window frames, most items were still made by hand, this workability of pine was thus very important. Pine also floats well, which made transportation much easier, since pine logs could be floated down river to a mill. Other types of logs would often sink to the bottom. No roads or railroads existed yet, so transporting logs overland was almost impossible. Only a few places in the world had these large stands of old growth pine and the area around Little Sissabagama stood at the heart of one of the world's greatest existing forests. It took loggers less than 30 years to take down what it took nature tens of thousands of years to create. Examples of these old growth trees still exist on the islands of Little Siss.
Tourists Come to the Lake
Somewhere around 1905 the islands known as Isle of Pines and Big Island hosted fisherman and rugged outdoorsmen's camps and buildings. These men were "looking for sport fishing and hunting". Later one these fishing camps became a permanent fixture.
The Isle of Pines did not become a true destination for vacationing outdoorsmen and families until the 1920's. The railroad connected to Chicago and it became all the rage to travel to the wilderness and go fishing and stay in a resort. The lake had several resorts by the late 20's and early 30's. These resorts were both public and private. The best know of the resorts were Gerlach Island (now known as Isle of Pines) Link this to the article in file 5 and Karl Ogren's Boxing Camp (now known as Black Eagle Lodge and Boulder Lodge). By the late 1970's resorts were out of fashion and most area resorts began to go "condo" or were taken private. Only Boulder Lodge continues to rent house keeping cabins on the lake.
The lake owners formed an owners association in the 1980's and actively pursued a policy of environmental stewardship and low-key recreation, which has an emphasis on fishing, canoeing and kayaking. The lake has strict quiet hours, no jet skis are allowed and large motor sizes are not necessary to navigate the lake.
In 1992 Frank Stout, heir to the lumber fortune, turned over the deed to Big Island to the lake association for the purpose of establishing a nature preserve. His grandfather gave Frank the island when he was born. The island at that time was called Moonbeam Island. After Frank's death the island was renamed Frank Stout Island in his memory. Frank Frazer and Jim Kissinger are to be thanked for actively pursing the actions that allowed the association to become an owner of this remarkable island.
The lake has very rare turnover with lakeshore owners. Property available for sale or for development is difficult to find. Property tends to stay in families on the lake for many generations and the lake community is very stable.
It is common to see individuals swimming the entire lake or portions of the lake in the summer months. The lakes sandy shores and bottom along with the clear water make it an excellent environment for swimmers. The lake also supports a big canoeing and kayaking population. A collection of wooden row and classic motorboats not seen on other northern lakes still are a common site on Little Siss. There are a few sailboats on the lake, but due to the high hills and many islands sailing is limited to the main lake only. Pontoons and fishing boats on the lake are plentiful and diverse in age, size and owners. Each clear evening the sunset cruises begin as wine, cheese and snacks are put on a tablecloth on the pontoons tables and families and friends tour the lake in silent marvel of the colors wildlife and loon calls.
Fishing may still be the #1 recreational activity on the lake at least in "talk" with Musky and Bass the primary focus of most fishermen. Northern pike are new to the lake and also an excellent fighting fish for fly fisherman and bait and lure fishing. The association actively promotes "catch and release" allowing more trophy size fish to be caught.
The lake has had a number of tragedies over the years. During the farming and logging days, serious accidents and death was not uncommon. In the 1980's a small plane crashed during a landing off of the south side of Frank Stout Island and the pilot died of exposure.
Artifacts from the Past
Few remains of the old lumber mills and camps still exist. A few camp foundations and the occasional ax head can be found. On Frank Stout Island a foundation for the old sugar bush house still exists and the stumps of the great white pine can still be seen. Artifacts from early settlers and early resorts are still abundant in the buried dumps. Bottles, broken dishes, forks and knives, model T parts, farm equipment, toys, the occasional crock and even pennies are prevalent when you know where to dig.
These dumps are the archeological finds from the turn of the century and for the history buff and treasure hunter a fun look into the past.
Native American artifacts are still found, but not to the extent they were in the 1920's. Most known artifacts are arrow tips, several dugout canoes and some burial houses (area legend), which were thought to be located in a wooded area near Northwest Bay and Musky Bay. Native American's likely did not live on the lake, but may have lived close by. The many islands on the lake made hunting easier. A deer or other animals could more easily be hunted on an island. Beaver also made the area a great place for trapping and fishing was a likely common practice until logging nearly destroyed fish populations. Due to the dense giant White Pine forests the land was not very productive and limited any farming practices until they were logged. The early Native American's that lived in the area were migratory and moved from location to location depending on the season and availability of game and foods.
Mysteries of the Lake
According to legend there are at least three buried items on the lake that contain valuables. One buried bit of loot is somewhere on Frank Stout Island. The stepbrother of Walter Crandall (caretaker at the Isle of Pines) was left money for necessities. Walter's stepbrother leased a small piece of land for a fishing camp on Frank Stout Island. He moved to California and wanted to have some cash on hand should he ever come back. The money was placed somewhere by the Fishing Camp on Frank Stout Island in a small crock. Walter was either not able to locate the money or decided to leave it for emergency use in the future, over the years the exact location was lost.
A local farmer buried his money somewhere on the lake to protect it from thieves, he died and his relatives never located the money.
Somewhere on Long Island a bag of arrowheads, marbles and Indianhead pennies are buried in a wooden box. The children of friends of the Gerlach family buried this children's treasure there one summer in the 1930's. The children did not return to claim their treasure as far as anyone knows.
Some people believe that Frank Stout Island was originally a peninsula and that the Stout Logging and Lumber Company dug a canal across the peninsula to create an island and to make floating logs across the lake easier.
Loon Island was once well above the water and had trees on it. Now the Island is below water much of the year. Has the lake level changed that much and why did the island disappear?
Somewhere near the old South Camp village on the lake in the water are the remains of the old village-logging mill; no one has successfully been able to find this equipment.
Was there Native American villages just west of Musky Bay, some old residence of the lake seem to think that artifact had been found there?
Was there an old logging camp just above Musky Bay, Walter Crandall was said to have found one when hunting in the area?
Did the largest White Pine tree in all Sawyer County really come from the high ridge above Ballou Bay; is the stump still there (they last for a hundred years or more)? Legends say the early settlers and Native Americans used it as a landmark.
Is "Old Lena" the great big musky (rumored to be 57 inches or more) caught several times in the 40's and 50's, but never successfully hauled into a boat still alive and on the lake, or has the size increased over the telling of the story and the years?
A wooden Chris Craft boat may sit on the bottom of the lake, it sunk during a spring storm somewhere in the lake near the old Gerlach Garage off of Ranch Road. Was it ever recovered and if not what happened to it?
Old timers tell of a ghost, spirit or something that could be frequently seen walking with an oil lantern very late at night on the shores of Big Island (Frank Stout Island), some thought it was the lost sole of a logger that may have died and been buried there, others think it was a musky fisherman taking a stretch and watering the trees. More recently visitors to the Isle of Pines say they have seen a similar glow like a light moving across the shore on the island; kids with flashlights, fisherman, the moon reflecting off the water on the trees, or is there a lost sole that wanders the shores?