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Yellow Lakes & River Association History File

January 16, 2010

The History of Yellow Lakes & River Association has been recorded using the work done and files compiled by Kirk Robbins, Rick Doering, Bill Yorkson, Marie King, Ken Schultz, Bob Albright, David Guay and Wayne Burmeister. Bob Albright has volunteered to scan the entire file and record it on both CDs and flash drives for secure keeping in the YLRA safe deposit box. The History File will then be assessed (recorded) by the staff at the History Library of Burnett County Historical Society at Forts Folle Avoine Historical Park and made available for viewing by any interested parties. The History Library is open to the public year round on Wednesdays 10 AM – 4 PM or by appointment.

The files are open to viewing but cannot be removed from the site. Copies of the documents can be made for a minimal fee. The contents of the History File are currently organized in six 3-ring binders with the following contents:

Volume 1:Board Meeting

 Presidents & Board Members

Volume 2:Membership Meetings



Volume 3:Membership Lists

 Membership Drives



Volume 4: Water, Quality/Testing

 Invasive Species

Volume 5: Meat Raffles

 Bridge on Yellow Lake Road

 Surveillance Cameras

 YLRA Website


 Lake Associations (other)

Volume 6:Danbury Dam/Flooding/Low Water

Volume 7:YLRA Grants and Grant Applications


There are several missing pieces for a complete record of our history. If anyone has information and files that will help us, please call Ken Schultz at 715-866-8758.


Our thanks to Ken Schultz for creating this History File




Yellow River Dam History
From the YLRA History File

Ken Schultz

May 9, 2010

To the property owners on the Yellow River and Yellow Lakes there are two very important items of concern and conversation. What is the lake & river level in the
summer and the lake level when the ice goes out in the spring? Flooding and/or
low water in the summer and shore ridges when the ice goes out in the spring cause problems for most of us. As many of you know, North American Hydro, the operator of the dam on the Yellow River at Danbury tries to maintain the water level on Yellow Lake at 929.7 feet in the summer and then drop the lake level approximately one foot to 928.6 feet in the fall to minimize the shoreline damage
when the ice breaks up in the spring.

The dam and its operation are crucial to our lake and river enjoyment and also to the valuation of our shore property. Key dates and decisions in the evolution of the construction and operation of the dam are as follows:

Sept 11, 1919
Dam construction granted to maintain 20 foot head elevation with maximum level of water to be maintained in the pond above the dam. Dam operation will not endanger life, health or property.
Applicant: Edward Dahlberg. Approved by Public Service Commission of Wisconsin & Railroad Com. of WI

May 16, 1928
Hearing held on application to raise and enlarge the dam and raise the pond at the dam to 97.00 feet. The permit was granted on Aug 1, 1928.

Sept 5, 1930
Dam permit transferred from Edward Dahlberg to Burnett County Light and Power Company by Railroad Commission of WI.

Oct 28, 1935
At a hearing by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin it was testified that raising the water level to 97.00 feet in the pond at the dam has raised the water level in Little Yellow Lake and Yellow Lake above normal and that great damage has been caused to their riparian lands. The Commission ordered Burnett County Light and Power Company that the maximum summer elevation of Big Yellow Lake to be maintained by the Danbury dam to be 96.8 feet and that the maximum winter elevation to be maintained in Big Yellow Lake at 96.2 feet. The level of Big Yellow Lake is to be reduced to 96.2 feet before the ice forms in the fall and that said elevation be maintained until the break-up in the spring (See Dec 4, 2001 paragraph for datum conversion).

May 1, 1936
Burnett County Light and Power Company filed a motion with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to set aside the findings and decisions dated Oct 28, 1935. On April 22, 1936 Burnett County Light & Power Company withdrew the request.

Sept 11, 1945
Yellow Lake Improvement Association requested that the winter elevation of Big Yellow Lake be reset to 95.7 feet from 96.2 feet because of damage caused by expansion of ice. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin ordered Northwestern Wisconsin Electric Company (Name changed from Burnett County Light and Power Company on 2/24/37) to comply with this change (See Dec 4, 2001 paragraph for datum conversion).

Sept 29, 1947
Northwestern Wisconsin Electric Co applied to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to construct, operate and maintain a dam on the Yellow River and to relocate and reconstruct the Danbury Hydroelectric Plant. The summer elevation of Big Yellow Lake is still set at 96.8 feet and winter elevation is still set at 95.7 feet. The application proposed to abandon the power house and construct a new water power plan. The permit was granted. (See Dec 4, 2001 paragraph for datum conversion).

Dec 4, 2001
William Harris of North American Hydro sent a letter to Peggy Harding of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Chicago, Illinois, stating that North American Hydro is required by license amendment to maintain water levels in Yellow lake at 1.70 feet local datum (water level elevation is referenced to PSC datum by adding 94.00 feet to the local datum. Therefore 1.70 feet local datum equals 95.7 feet PSC. Winter 95.7 feet local PSC datum equals 928.6 feet MSL. Summer 96.8 feet local PSC datum equals 929.70 feet MSL).

William Harris goes on to state "NAH, by license requirement, is required to maintain and change seasonal water levels (Yellow Lake)" The letter discusses the problems trying to maintain a constant water level in Yellow Lake. William Harris requests that the winter drawdown begins earlier on November 1 as a general practice.

June 14, 2002
Loyal Gage of North American Hydro sends a letter to Ms. Magalie Salas of FERC responding to a request for an activity schedule for the river hydraulics evaluation study. Loyal Gage states in the letter "once we were able to review a copy of the Project's Operation Plan we realized that no operating lake levels had been prescribed. This was affirmed in a March 19, 2002 letter from Mr. George Taylor of the Commission to Mr. Jeffrey Scheirer of the Wisconsin NR"

May 9, 2003
North American Hydro through Flambeau Hydro, LLC hires Spaulding Consultants, LLC to prepare a new license application for the Danbury Hydroelectric Project FER 9184, Flambeau Hydro LLC to replace the existing license that expires June 9, 2007. The application is 18 pages with an additional 8 pages of drawings. Project has a dam, three turbine/generator sets, two powerhouses and Plant #1 and Plant #2. The application states that the present operation is such to maintain a target elevation of 929.70 MSL from May through October and 928.60 feet MSL from November through April at Big Yellow Lake. A water level gage located near the narrows between Big Yellow Lake and Little Yellow Lake is used to determine the water level.

February 2004
Polaris Group, Inc. of Minneapolis, Minnesota, under contract to North American Hydro (NAH) and the Yellow Lake Sportsman Association has conducted an evaluation of the Yellow River system between Yellow Lake and the Hydropower facility located in Danbury Wisconsin (See results of the study in paragraph 36 from the Sept 5, 2006 license renewal below and the complete Polaris Group Study on our website www.ylra/polaris_report.html).

Sept 5, 2006
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a new license for the Danbury Project No. 9184 to Flambeau Hydro, LLC North American Hydro filed the new license application for Flambeau Hydro. North American Hydro operates the dam and generators.

Paragraphs taken from the approved license application cover requirements of the relationship between Flambeau, YLRA & Wisconsin DNR.

36. The results of the hydraulic study showed that the water level fluctuations in the Little Yellow Lake and Yellow Lake are due to the reduced flow capacity in the Yellow River caused by the narrows between the two lakes as well as seasonal weed growth in the Danbury project impoundment. Although the study concluded that the Danbury Project can do little operationally to alleviate upstream water level fluctuations, some of the options considered to improving the carrying capacity of the Yellow River included dredging of sediment, removing weeds growth in the middle section of the project impoundment and raising the water level at the dam during low flow periods.

37. In its license application, Flambeau proposes to form a committee comprised of representatives of the YLRA and Wisconsin DNR that would meet twice a year, one in the fall and once in the spring, to review operating procedures for the Danbury Project and recommend measures to help maintain target water level elevations upstream of the project.

Article 405. Upstream Water Level Maintenance Consultation. The licensee shall consult with the Yellow Lake and River Association and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring, to review operating procedures for the Danbury Project and discuss measures at the project that could help maintain target water level elevations upstream. The licensee shall file a report with Commission on the consultation meetings by July 31 and December 31 of each year, beginning December 31, 2007. The report must include a summary of participant comments and discuss any measures recommended at the Danbury Project to help lessen upstream water level fluctuations.

If the results of the meetings indicate that changes in project operations, such as alternative flow releases, target reservoir elevations, or dredging or weed removal in their impoundment, are necessary to maintain upstream target water level elevations, the Commission may direct the licensee to modify operations accordingly.

May 6, 2009
At the first meeting between North American Hydro, Wisconsin DNR and YLRA required by the license agreement it was suggested that a "YLRA Statement be sent to all residents on the lakes and river and posted on the YLRA Website". The following was issued:

YLRA Statement
The Yellow Lakes and River Association (YLRA) directs all its efforts to representing the interest of the property owners on the Yellow Lakes and on the Yellow River by working in concert with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), North American Hydro (NAH) and the Federal Energy Commission (FERC). The YLRA is a volunteer organization without any direct control or authority over those organizations. We work in concert with the above organizations by bringing to their attention the concerns of property owners on the Yellow Lakes and River. And assist them whenever possible.

The YRA cannot control the lake level. The NAH dam at Danbury has a very specific license to pass a given volume of water and a very specific target level to maintain at the reservoir just before the dam. They have no responsibility to maintain the lake level though they do their utmost to monitor and maintain a set level of 929.7 mean sea level (MSL). When you call NAH, you are calling to alert them to an existing condition you observed. They will expend every effort to alleviate the problem. However, there are circumstances where alleviating a specific problem is impossible because it is beyond their control. Heavy rains or drought are examples where the lake level will fluctuate and take time to respond to a reset gate height at the dam.

When a change in gate height at the dam is made to compensate for a rise in lake level, natural restrictions in the river create a long response time for the lakes to return to their set level of 929.7 MSL. These natural restrictions consist of shallow areas of 30 inches or less and weed growth later in the season.

FERC opposes any remediation of the river to reduce or remove the obstructions and increase flow on the grounds it will disturb the natural environment of this "small, slowly rolling, quiet river rich in history and quality wildlife and wild rice habitat" FERC also describes this as a "canoeing and kayaking river" Quotes are from FERC.

YLRA is indebted to Rick Doering for his years and years of representing us in our lake and river water level issues and to Bob Albright and Bill Yorkson for their efforts.

All of the information for this article has been taken from the YLRA History File documents. Anyone wishing more information can have access to the file during the open hours of the History Library at BCHS located at Forts Folle Avoine Historical Park on County Road U.


Link to: Update to History of the Yellow River Water Shed

History of the Yellow River
Water Shed

David R. P. Guay

September 5, 2005

Our Association’s interest is in the 55 mile long Yellow River watershed in Wood, Washburn, and Burnett counties. The Yellow River has 5 lakes along its course: 2 Yellow River Sloughs (unnamed) in Wood County (3 and 5 acres in size), Yellow River Flowage in Washburn County (344 acres, maximum 17 feel deep), Big Yellow Lake in Burnett County (2287 acres, max. 31 feet deep), and Little Yellow Lake in Burnett County (348 acres, max. 21 feet deep).F Big Yellow Lake is the source of the Wisconsin Record Lake Sturgeon, a 79” long, 170-pound 10-ounce monster landed on September 22, 1979 by Jon Procai.

What Was Our Area Like B.D. (Before the Dam)?

We do not have much information on the Yellow River watershed before 1920. However, we do get some interesting “snippets” from the diaries of two XY Company fur traders who wintered at the present site of Fort Folle Avoine, George Nelson in 1802-1803H and Michel Curot in 1803-1804.B

The Riviere Jaune (French for “Yellow River”) was called such due to its yellow color, probably due to tannins in the water (I’d give anything for yellow instead of green, today! Today, it might be better called Riviere Vert [Green]). At its mouth, a “beautiful” 6-7 acre island existed in the St. Croix River. This was a very popular stopping place for individuals passing up and down the early St. Croix “freeway to the interior”.B Nelson called the two widenings of the river downstream from the Fort, “lakes” (you know where they are, now don’t you?). They were appreciated as ready sources of food since ducks were plentiful on their quiet waters.B Few other places along the river were quiet. Virtually all other parts of the river downstream form Little Yellow Lake were rapids (5-6 miles), at least one of which had to be portaged. Back then, Little Yellow Lake was said to be about 100 acres in size (not 348 acres) and was considered more of a backwater or bayou.B Big Yello Lake was said to be about 2 miles in diameter.B Assuming that Big Yellow was round, one can back-calculate a size of 204 acres (not 2287 acres).B “Hold the phone”! This probably is not correct. Looking at the 1915 plat map (5 years BD), the lakes were the same size then as they are today. When did the watershed change? I’ll get back to you! The “dead water” connection between the two lakes was said to be much larger than it is today, being 30 rods (495 ft.) wide and 80 rods (1320 ft.) long.B

Fort Folle Avoine (Wild Rice)

The sites of the Northwest (NW)Co. and XY Co. fur trading posts in the early 1800’s is familiar to all of us. Of interest, there was also a land route connecting the posts to the St. Croix River, striking it in the NW corner of section 10 (“Soo Portage”).

The paper by Oerichbauer gives an elegant description of the first archeological investigation (“dig”) at the present Fort site.A He confirmed the presence of two camps about 95 feet apart. One (the NW Co.) was well-developed, even possessing a 10 foot tall log stockade, described by NelsonH as having 2 bastions for defense. The springtime war excursions of the Sioux forced consideration of building Fort-like structures. Unfortunately, the XY Co., being a split-off group from the NW Co. and poorer, could not afford a stockade. The XY Co. dwelling was quite spartan but did use a building style very rarely seen in this area, i.e. vertical logs. The 16 – 18 foot long building, consisting of all vertical logs on the sides and ends, had 1 door and 1 window above it, the latter covered with a thin parchment skin (no glass out here!) on one end. The walls were plastered inside and out, the floor was made of split logs, and the roof consisted of a 1 foot thickness of sod covered with 4-5 inches of soil. A crude chimney completed the package.A,H I’ll get back to you regarding results of any excavations after 1982 and details of the artifacts found at the site.

In later times (1850’s), a post was located on Big Yellow Lake, about 40 rods (660 ft.) south of the junction of Big and Little Yellow Lakes in Section 23, Township 40N, Range W.B

The Yellow River and Its Role in Land Transportation

Before the railroads, the only transportation artery between Stillwater, MN and Bayfield, WI was the Bayfield Tote Road, which was little more than a Native American trail in the dense woods. The mail was carried over this road. At regular intervals, there were “stopping places” or “roadhouses” where people (and animals) could eat and even spend the night. One such place was located on the Yellow River and owned by Ed Hart.

The Mission in Northwestern Wisconsin

In 1833, the first movement in opening the way for the influx of white settlers occurred when an “Indian mission” was opened at the outlet of Little Yellow Lake. All of the mission personnel came from Mackinaw, the general depot of the fur traders during the last years of this activity. The mission was under the patronage of the “American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions”. (I’ll get more details.) Reverend Fred Ayers and his wife and Miss Hester Crooks (teacher and daughter of an American Fur Co. trader) arrived on September 16, 1833. School opened on September 24, 1833 with an enrollment of eight students! After wintering with Dr. Borup, the local trader (trading post was about 1 mile away), the mission resumed operations in spring 1834. The objectives of the mission were to provide schooling to Native American children, to aid the Native Americans in planting gardens and other forms of agriculture (rendering them an agrarian society), and to provide seeds to them. In April of 1834, 25 Native families had camped near the mission and four had planted gardens and were sending their children to school. Three of these four families were influential in the band, one having a chief who had visited Washington, D.C. during the Adams administration (named “Cat Ear” or Gis-kil-a-way). Miss Crooks married Reverend William Boutwell, the couple subsequently moving to the Leech Lake mission. J.L. Seymour, Miss Sabrina Stevens and Henry Blatchford (local interpreter) became new personnel at the mission. However, things were not going very well. A chief and Menominee from the Green Bay region (Waiingas or “The Wolf”) announced that the white inhabitants had to go, by force if necessary. Some Natives were concerned about possible land losses. Over the course of the next few hours, after negotiations among themselves, the Natives reversed their decision and asked them to stay. However, things were never the same as they once were and in spring 1836, all whites left for Pokegama/Snake River after an invitation by the Natives there. The four reasons cited for this move were as follows: Pokegama had a superior food supply in place, they could serve more natives there, the soil was better at Pokegama, and Pokegama was much closer to St. Peter, the only site at that time where one could purchase the goods important to whites.G

The exact location of the mission has been the subject of controversy in the absence of any archeological investigations. It has been said that the mission was in Section 23 in the former location of Kirchner’s Brookside Resort.E

Native Americans Along The Yellow River Watershed

The Yellow River watershed played a significant role in the lives of the native people. Large lodges were build at the junction of the Yellow and St. Croix Rivers, on Big Yellow Lake, and on Little Rice Lake in eastern Burnett County near the head of the Yellow River.E Even in the late 1800’s, 1000 natives lived on the shores of Big Yellow Lake and a Native village existed on Little Rice Lake.B In fact, at Little Rice Lake there were large burial plots for the natives on the banks near the lake.E Burial mounds also existed on the high banks of the north shore of Big Yellow Lake as well.E

From times long before the coming of the white man, huge throngs of natives would gather on the shores of Devils Lake (yes, the Devils Lake close to us) to hold tribal ceremonies and dances. This all came to an end when, during a crossing of the lake for a party of natives in birchbark canoes a long, horned fish leaped from the water and snatched a child from a canoe, never to be seen again. Thenceforth, they called it “Devils Lake” and changed their meeting place to a flat area on the Yellow River near the Darius Connor homestead (details to follow).E

Spooner Lake (formerly called or Vaseux or Mud Lake) is also near the head of the Yellow River. In Ojibway, it is called Ka-kwa-kish-ka-ka-kog (meaning “shallow, muddy lake”). Again, even in the early 1900’s a native village of considerable size still existed. A fur trading post existed on an island in Spooner Lake, now called Harper’s.B

Human Habitation on the Yellow


In 1855, a new village sprang up on the shore of the Yellow River, about 1 mile upstream from where it drains into the St. Criox River. “Meshodena” was a product of speculation in a new railroad, the St. Croix and Lake Superior RR. It had a $10000 sawmill (? owned by Isaac Staples), general store, and a dozen houses at its peak. After the Panic of 1857 ended plans for the railroad, Meshodena quickly faded away.

Yellow Lake

The name for Union township came from the U.S. Civil War.E Captain D. W. Fox, a pioneer settler on the lake, coined the township name. He had been attached to General Saxton in the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. Fox also named the settlement on the west side of the lake “Veteran” to commemorate Civil War veterans.E After hostilities ended, a Veteran school was established.E The first families settled on Yellow Lake in 1874, including the Marquis Bickfords, Andrew Mellands, C. O. Christiansons, B. Johnsons, Olaf Anderssons, P. J. Lindells, Fremstads, and Saunders (lakes were named after the last two families).E Around 1900, school children would celebrate Memorial Day at the Bickford’s and the veterans would fire a salute from a civil war gun over the lake.E

The town of Yellow Lake was located along the northeastern shore of Big Yellow Lake by the Soo Line RR. The Yellow Lake post office was established in 1903. Andrew Melland was its first postmaster. He and his daughter managed it from 1903 until 1951!!E The first local school opened in an old log house, on a site donated by Andrew Melland, in 1898 and a Miss Fox was the first schoolteacher.E A frame schoolhouse was completed in 1899.E The only nearby church, that of the Lutheran faith, was organized in 1900 but did not have its own church building until 1921.E

A large number of resorts have opened their doors onto the Yellow River watershed over the years, especially on Big Yellow Lake (Log Cabin Hollow, Lucky Strike Resort, Birch Grove, Pursel’s Resort [aka Ike Walton], Atlasta Resort, Yellow Lake Lodge, and Norway Slope! There was even a Yellow Lake Resort Owners Association!E More details to follow!

Dams on the Yellow River


During the early years of the Twentieth Century, Aaron Dahlberg supplied electrical power to much of Polk County. In the spring of 1920, he and his 5 sons (Edward, Carl, Frank, Gothfrid and Fred) began to construct a dam on the Yellow River near Danbury and transmission lines. Edward, who had originally purchased the land, looked after the machinery, while Carl, Frank, and Fred developed the transmission lines. Gothfrid hauled material via truck and the father Aaron financed the project. In 1920, the sons worked without pay.

The dam was 20 feet high and the AC generator (150 KVA, 2300 volts) was driven by twin turbines (today, it is rated at a capacity of 1080 kilowatts). The towns of Danbury, Webster, Siren, Falun, and Alpha signed contracts to purchase electrical power. Ownership of the dam has passed through a number of corporate entities over the years, most recently Northwestern Wisconsin Electric (beginning in 1943) and today North American Hydro (beginning in TBA). But there are other dams on the Yellow (Spooner, Barron, more?) So, I’ll get the details this winter…

Chartered Logging DamsG

Dams were often constructed on rivers used for log transportation in order to build up large “heads” of water in the spring to allow for “log drives”. After the logs had been dumped into the river from their winter storage locations, the dams were “opened up”, creating a great rush of water to carry the logs along. In Northwestern Wisconsin, all rivers led to the St. Croix and then to the mills of Stillwater, MN and the Twin Cities.

The Namakagon Totogatic Dam Company received a charter from the state Legislature in 1869 to construct two logging dams (one at the outlet of Lake Namakagon and one on the Totogatic River). In 1870, the charter was amended to allow 16 dams to be built on the Upper St. Croix, Moose, Eau Claire, Namakagon, Totogatic, Clam and Yellow Rivers. The name was also changed to “The St. Croix Dam Co.”. The Company was allowed to hold back water during seasons when it was not necessary for navigation on the St. Croix River. For the Yellow River, this characteristically occurred during March and April of each year. For the dams as a group, the “heads” of water varied from 7 to 10 feet and the average cost per dam was $4000.00. This Company generated its income by charging lumbermen/lumber firms a “toll” which was calculated on the basis of the amount of wood being transported. Generally, there was a “toll” collected for every one thousand board feet (a board foot = 144 cu. in. of wood [ eg. 2” x 4” x 8’ = 8 board feet]). On the Yellow River, the tolls ranged from 3 to 10 cells per 1000 board feet (on some of the other rivers, the tolls ranged up to 25 cents).

Sometimes the dam companies did not make friends with landowners along the rivers. For example, Robert Davidson dynamited the Clam River dam in 1886 because of the effects it had on his meadowlands. Over the winter, I’ll find out what happened to him. In addition, I’ve located source documents on these Dam Co.’s and I’ll work on the Yellow River damsite(s).


I hope that I’ve given you some interesting facts about our northern paradise. There certainly is more to learn and I’ll have more to share at our next Association meeting in 2006. So, until then, have a safe and enjoyable fall, winter, and spring!!

P.S.: If you locate errors in this text or have information or material to share with us, please feel free to contact me:

Home phone: 952-894-5507

Home address: 13174 Inglewood Avenue, Savage, MN 55378


“Up North” address: 27702 Cty FF, Webster, WI (here most weekends year around


“Up North” phone: 715-866-7797

I can duplicate materials and get originals back to you.


A.        Oerichbauer ES.  Archaeological excavations at a site of a NorthWest and XY Company wintering post (47-Bt-26): a progress report.  Wisc Archeologist 1982; 63(3):153-236.

B.         Thwaites RG.  A Wisconsin fur-trader’s journal, 1803-04 (Michel Curot).  Coll State Hist Soc Wisc 1911; 20:396-471.

C.        Strolling Through a Century.  The Story of Grantsburg, Burnett County, Wisconsin from 1865-1965.  M. Crownhart, Grantsburg Centennial Committee (eds.).  Privately printed, 1965.

D.        Durand Derrick B.  Great Scott!  A History of Northern Wisconsin’s Earlier Days.  Privately printed, 1965.

E.         Pioneer Tales of Burnett County.  Burnett County Homemakers Club (eds.).  Privately published, multiple publication/reprint dates starting in 1940’s.

F.         Wisconsin Lakes Directory.  Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources website (  Accessed 12/11/04.

G.        Folsom WHC.  Fifty Years in the Northwest.  1999 Minnesota Territorial Sesquicentennial Facsimile Edition (first published in 1888).  Nelson CW (ed.).  Taylors Falls Historical Society, Taylors Falls, MN, 1999.

H.        Nelson G.  My First Years in the Fur Trade.  The Journals of 1802-1804. Peers L, Schenck T (eds.)  Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN, 2002.

I.          Kanne E.  Pieces of the Past.  Pioneer Life in Burnett County.  Privately printed, 1986.


Updates to YLRA.History Website

Clarification: "Neshtawana (estab. 1853)(described elsewhere in this section of the website) is the same as "Gordon Village" (estab. 1854)(near present-day Danbury). Note that this settlement area is not the "Gordon" of today (which is located on WI 53 south of Solon. Springs).

  1. The ghost village of Dunn was on the north shore of Big Yellow Lake at about one-third of the way down the shore from the narrows between the lakes-(1)

  2. There were more than two trading posts on our lakes/river system. We bad an American Fur post established in 1830 on west shoreline of Big Yellow Lake (around the junction of County FF and Yellow Lake Road), We also had the village of Covillion and Covillion's trading post established on the north shore of Little Yellow Lake (1854) at the site, of the former Yellow Lake mission (described elsewhere in this section of the website). Two paintings by Franz Holzhuber (visited North America between 1856 and 1860) can be attributed to this trading post. Framed digitalized copies of the original paintings, (latter can be found at the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta, Canada) are displayed at Fort Folles Avoine (in the hallway where the restrooms are located). One of these two paintings is also illustrated in the June 1965 issue of American Heritage.(1, D & M Guay personal Collection)

  3. Mr. Covillion was a rather unsavory character of Metis (one-half native American and one-half French Canadian) heritage. He was a notorious whiskey trader to the native peoples in the area. His post was the scene of many drunken revelries and a key location of the, first murder mystery in the entire St. Croix valley. In 1845, Albert McEwen hired Joe C. to guide him in the area timberlands. McEwen was carrying a large number of gold coins with which he hoped to purchase title to those lands that were good for investment (he being a speculator). McEwen never returned from the trip. Joe C. explained that he had not even been with McEwen and cast suspicion on a Ojibwe male whom he suggested was his guide. Not long after, McEwen's body was found stuffed into a hollow tree about ten miles from the post. Preliminary investigations found that Joe C. had a large number of gold coins in his possession, McEwen's watch, and a fistful of land warrants. He explained that he had obtained these from the Ojibwe in trade. Later that winter, the Ojibwe was found dead in his camp. Joe C. retired quite "well-to-do" in Taylor's Falls where he died in 1877.(2,3)

  4. The village of Covillion was at the intersection of Covillion Road, a road (?
    name) to the Old Stagecoach Road, and the Sioux Portage (which went to both the Old Stagecoach Road and the St. Croix River). Covillion Road to the west intersected with the Old Stagecoach Road near the Clam Flowage and to the east it ran along the west side of the Yellow River all the way to Neshtawana/Gordon Village. The Old Stagecoach Road, built between 1853 and 1866, was the Only "major" land route available in the county at the time, running, between St. Paul and LaPointe, the fur trading post on Madeleine Island (yes, THAT Madeleine Island of the, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore today). "Road" might be too glamorous a name for what, in reality, was little more than a cart path or trail.(1)

  5. The never-ending question of "how wide was the opening between the two lakes?" has another answer. From an 1850's map of the county, a figure of 0.628 chains can be calculated, which is 41.5,feet wide in  our measurement system. Seems reasonable to me. Remember that this pre-Danbury dam but NOT pre-logging dams.

1. Historical Roads of Burnett County, 1845-1918. Burnett County Land Information Office, Siren, WI, 2010.
2, O.M. Thatcher. The Mission in Folle Avoine. Yellow Lake Pamphlet File, Burnett County Historical Society, Danbury, W1, pg. 3
3. Stillwater Messenger, 26 January 1877.
A wonderful book on the history of northwestern Wisconsin, just published in 2009 by the University of Wisconsin Press, is:
McMahon E.M., KaramansId, T.J. North Woods River. The St. Croix River in Upper Midwest History. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, W1, 2009 (ISBN 978-0-299- 23424-9 for paperback, 978-0-299-23423-2 for e-book)


Summary From  The Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey (1908)

The Yellow River
The Yellow River is 50 miles long and drains 310 square miles.  It starts in Mud Lake (1005’ elev.) and ends at the St. Croix River (888’ elev.).  Its descent is 197 feet or 4’ per mile on average.  This high gradient leads to rapids at frequent intervals throughout the entire river course.  The slope on the upper 1/3 of the river is 120’ (lots of springs/creeks here).  The natural rise/fall of the river is only 1.5-3.,5’ during the year due to the springs and the regulating effect of Yellow Lake. 

The river winds along in a 200-800’ wide valley, occasionally widening into  tamarack marshes of a considerable extent.   The first banks have a general elevation of 15’ high, running back into high broken ridges covered with Norway and jack pine.  Little stone and few boulders are found until below Yellow Lake when rapids are reached which are virtually continuous to the river’s mouth at the St. Croix River.  Near the mouth, the banks are high.  In fact. one could build a dam in Section 27, Town 41N Range 16 with at least a 25’ head and still not back up water to the Yellow Lake dam.  Loon Creek enters  the Yellow River near the proposed dam (descends 50-75’ in 1.5 miles).  One could also build a dam about 1 mile above Yellow Lake (head of about 20’ by overflowing some meadowlands between Yellow and Devils Lakes)

Mouth  888.0’ elev.

Yellow Lake dam7.0 mi.928.0’ elev.

 15.0 mi.938.4’ elev.

Rice Lake dam34.0 mi. 969.4’ elev.

 39.5 mi.994.4’ elev.

 40.5 mi.1004.8’ elev.

 41.5 mi.1011.6’ elev.

Harts42.5 mi.1019.0’ elev.

 47.5 mi.1046.8’ elev.

Spooner49.0 mi.1058.0’ elev.

Mud Lake dam52.0 mi.1085.0’ elev.

The drop in the upper one-third of the river ranges from 5.6 – 10.4’ per mi. while from  Yellow Lake to the St. Croix River, it averages  5.7’ per mi.

Important Logging  Dams per US Geological Survey Engineers

Mud Lake Sec. 27 T29N R12W7.5’ head 475 million cu. ft.  capacity

Hector Sec. 10  T38N  R13W7.5’ headsmall capacity

Rice Lake Sec. 20  T39N  R14W10.0’ head700 million cu. ft. capacity

Yellow Lake Sec. 7  T40N  R16W18.0’ head1.4 billion cu. ft. capacity

From:  Bulletin No. XX.  The Water Powers of Wisconsin.  By L.S. Smith.  Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey. 1908.

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