Heritage & History

Community Heritage

From the book, “White Pines & White Tails”
by Leighton D. Morris, Co. Superintendent of Schools, 1957

Winter, like most northern communities, gained attention of capitalists because of its natural resource, the white pine forest. Before the woodsman’s axe began to fell the giant trees, a stopping-off place was established for lumberjacks and occasional travelers near the present site of Winter. It was called LeBoef. After the Omaha Railroad was built from Rice Lake to Park Falls, people began to settle in the community which was called Winter, in honor of Mr. John Winter, an Omaha Railroad official, who came to the community from St. Paul because of his logging interests.

Winter developed rapidly and a need was felt for political organization. In 1905 the Wisconsin Legislature under Chapter 24, created Township of Winter from a detached portion of the Town of Hayward. (Sawyer County was created in March 1883 and consisted of a single Township, the Town of Hayward.) READ MORE.


Southern Sawyer County at the turn of the century was covered with a dense forest consisting of large quantities of pine, hemlock, basswood, maple and spruce. It is reported that the first white pine was cut in southern Sawyer County near what is now Couderay in about 1856. The exceptionally tall and straight trunks were floated down to New Orleans to be used for ship masts.

The majority of the big pine in the area was cut just after the turn of the century between 1900 and 1910. The pine was cut first because it was utilized for construction of buildings and the fact that green white pine logs could be floated down the rivers to the sawmills. The hardwood forests were cut in later years after the introduction of the railroad to the area.

During the early decades of the 1900’s numerous lumber camps and sawmills gave employment to hundreds of skilled and unskilled workers, many of whom came from the “old country” and were willing to work from daylight to dark often in freezing cold. The lumber industry supported such villages as Couderay, Loretta-Draper, Radisson and Winter.

As the families of these lumberjacks arrived in the area stores, hotels, schools, and churches sprang up. Roads were built connecting the villages and camps and finally the railroad arrived bringing supplies and more communication and taking out logs and finished lumber.


In 1899 the Chippewa Valley and Northwestern Railroad Company started construction of a railroad line near Rice Lake and extending east into southern Sawyer County. It reached Birchwood at the western edge of the county in 1901 and Couderay and Radisson in 1904. It was then purchased by the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad Company and continued construction east through the county connecting the villages of Winter late in 1904, and Draper to the east in 1905 . After that construction slowed and it finally reached Park Falls in 1911. This finally connected the area to larger cities where goods and passengers could transfer to other main line railroads.

There were over a dozen spurs to the Omaha as it traveled through Sawyer County. Most of these spurs branched off through the forestland to reach lumber camps and sawmills and were used to haul out the heavy loads of logs to the main line. At it’s peak, there were one passenger and 11 logging trains streaming through the county each day.

The railroad not only met the needs of the lumber camps and mills but with it came the influx of settlers and families who were buying up pieces of cut-over land at cheap prices, with the promise of happy days, good crops, and an opportunity for a new life.

Welcome to “Happy Land”

Traveling on Route 70 some ten miles east of Winter are the communities of Loretta and to the east, neighboring Draper. At the turn of the century, this area produced some of the finest pine and hardwood forests in Wisconsin. Lumbering was in its prime and these villages were the hub for several lumber companies, including Edward Hines Lumber Company of Chicago, which owned vast areas in Sawyer and neighboring counties, and developed the Loretta-Draper communities to serve the needs of their employees and families.

After lumbering was on its decline, Edward Hines started an extensive campaign to sell the cut over land left behind. They named the area “Happy Land” in their brochures and sold it to would be farmers for anywhere from $1.50 to $8 per acre. Their ads were widely spread in metropolitan areas like Chicago and Minneapolis and attracted settlers to the area.

Today a few farms still remain but most of the acreage has re-grown as forest and is managed by state and federal forest agencies. The once bustling villages of Loretta-Draper that numbered more than 1200 including the lumberjacks and their families have shrunk to several hundred permanent residents.

The Battle of Cameron Dam

In 1904, John F. Dietz and his family purchased a farmstead on the Thornapple River about 8 miles southeast of the Village of Winter. Dietz soon discovered that the Cameron Dam, one of the many logging dams on this important tributary of the Chippewa River, lay on his property. He thereupon claimed that the Chippewa Lumber 7 Boom Company, a Weyerhauser affiliate, owed him a toll for logs driven downstream. For four years he refused to permit logs to be sluiced down the Thornapple, defending “his” dam at gunpoint and successfully resisting attempts to arrest him. At least one deputy and two of Dietz’ children were wounded in confrontations. In becoming an outlaw, Dietz also became a folk hero with a nationwide following. In October 1910, a large sheriff’s posse surrounded his house. In the ensuing gun battle, Oscar Harp, a deputy, was killed.

John Dietz surrendered and was sentenced to life in prison. He served ten years, but public pressure eventually convinced Governor John J. Blain to pardon him in May 1921. Dietz died in 1924. Cameron Dam has long since disappeared. Several books and even a play have been written about the Battle of Cameron Dam.

For more on this story please visit this website.