Site 21 A Montello Buffalo Lake

This DNR Fishing Area is named in honor of Andy Krakow, a Montello resident who was killed while answering an emergency call while on duty as a DNR Game Warden.   This granite memorial is located at the Montello Ranger Station.  The Conservation Hall of Fame says, "Andrew A. Krakow, conservation warden at Montello, was assisting the Marquette County Sheriff's Department with a domestic disturbance call on June 5, 1990 when he was killed by a 13-year-old boy. He was the first responding officer to arrive at the scene after the boy threatened to kill his mother with a gun."

.  Above is a steamboat that you would have seen travelling on the Fox River from Portage to Montello and beyond about 1870. 

Marquette County was originally formed in 1836, its shape and size changing many times before statehood in 1848.  It was actually organized as a county in 1844. The County Seat was in the village of Marquette on the shores of Lake Puckaway.   In 1848 it was organized for judicial purposes and attached for these purposes to the 3rd district.   In 1849 the boundaries were enlarged and included all of what are now Waushara and Green Lake Counties.  In 1851 Waushara County was cut out from Marquette and in 1858, Green Lake was separated.  When Green Lake County was divided out, the County Seat moved from Marquette to Montello which won out over Packwaukee and Harrisville.  

When the Muirs moved here in 1849, then, Marquette County was much larger than it is today and the county seat was in the Village of Marquette.  Land north of the Fox River was still known as Indian Land.  While there were some settlers and fur trappers and traders scattered throughout the county, most settlement and government intervention with road building was done first in the southern half of the county.

A steamship passing through a swing bridge in, we believe, Fond du Lac or Omro.  The bridges rotated open like the bridge that once operated on County Roads O and F near John Muir's boyhood home. 

In 1848, the County Board granted the petition of Calvin A. Loomis (this could be the Loomis that started a mill on the Fox near where the Montello River entered in) for a Ferry across the Fox River in the Town of Buffalo. (What is now Montello was then inside the boundaries of Buffalo Township.) He had to operate the ferry 12 hours a day and obtain a bond of $200.  Rates were:

1 span of horses and wagon   20¢

2 spans                                    30¢

2 yoke of oxen and wagon   25¢

1 yoke of oxen and wagon   20¢

1 footman                                5¢

Single horseman                      10¢

1 horse and buggy                   18¢

Cattle, sheep, hogs per head   1¢

Mules and horses per head      2¢

Below shows a steam ship docked in Princeton.  You can see Portage City and Green Bay Line on the side.  It was one of the ships that ran regularly from Portage (then called Portage City) and Green Bay, probably stopping in Montello and Packwaukee. 

Sitting at the confluence of the Montello and Fox Rivers, water power was an important factor in the community's settlement and subsequent growth.  Besides water power, the Fox River was the main means of transportation between the Great Lakes and Portage and, after the building of the Portage Canal, the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.  Goods flowed on barges and steam ships along this water route and businesses grew as Montello received and shipped shingles, cranberries, wheat, hogs, wool and more. 

                Wisconsin became a state in 1848 and the legislature and United States government began to encourage settlement and growth.  Newspapers played a role in calling for business development needed across the new state.  In 1855 the Daily Milwaukee News of May 8 reported on Montello, saying "it has two of the largest water-powers in Central Wisconsin" (the Fox and the Montello).  With a population of 800, the report said that Montello was "destined to be a large manufacturing town."

                In a bid to entice investors here, the article went on to say, "There are three manufactories that would be successful in Montello---a sash and blind factory, a tub and pail factory and a woolen factory." 

The land now called Marquette County was surveyed first beginning in 1831 in what is now the Town of Buffalo by John Mullet.  He also completed another survey of Township 14 North, Range 9 East in 1832.  Mullet began his 1832 survey on December 9 and finished December 12.  South of the Fox River, surveys were completed in 1831-1835.  North of the Fox, surveys were completed in 1851.  Lands north were identified as Indian Land until the Treaty of Lake Poygan in 1848, when the Menominee ceded the last of their Wisconsin land to the U.S.  With the Ho Chunk treaty of 1837 that was negotiated in Washington, DC, this tribe sold its remaining Wisconsin land, including that in what is now Marquette County, to the US Government.  

Settlers used early survey maps to choose land.

In 1876, the Honorable W. H. Peters gave an address to the Old Settler’s Club in Marquette County.  He had arrived at the junction of the Fox and Montello Rivers in May of 1850 and pitched a tent by the Loomis log cabin.  Loomis was to build a mill and hotel at what is now Montello.  Peters said in his address, “We had a hard time the first year…..I bought potatoes to plant, paying $1.25 per bushel for them…”  Peters travelled to Cottage Grove and found work threshing wheat that year, earning $15 for fifteen days of work.  Of Marquette County in 1876, he said, “Our soil is not the best in the world, but we are able to compete with almost any other county in the State for fine horses; we turn out annually a vast amount of pork, beef, butter, wool, and mutton; we have the finest grazing land in the State, with a great extent of natural meadows, besides, our wheat is as good as any raised in the Unites States; our corn crop never fails us, and for potatoes, we can’t be beat this side of California…” 

 

The photo above shows the Montello Lock.  The Montello Lock was the sixth lock upstream from Oshkosh on the Upper Fox of a total of nine locks on the Upper Fox.  It was built in 1868, according to the Annual Report of the US Army Corps of Engineers, as was the dam on the Fox River.  It was built by the Green Bay and Mississippi Canal Company which assumed control of the Fox-Wisconsin Improvement Project in 1866.  The project had private interests from 1829 to 1848 and again in 1853 to 1872.   After 1872 it was managed by the US Government, according to this report.

The locks were abandoned in 1951 and given to the State of Wisconsin which removed the lower gates and replaced the upper lock with a permanent structure which can’t be opened, but has a control gate. 

Read the historical kiosk at this site to learn more about the locks and the lock tenders.

 

Keeping the Fox River open was a challenge.  Dredging the Fox was a regular occurrence.  Desired depth was nine feet, but the goal for the upper Fox soon became keeping a channel four to six feet deep open for traffic because of the slowness of the river and shifting of sediment and sand on the bottom.

The upper photo shows a dredge at work.  The "dredge bank road" or Sunset drive that leads to the boat launch was formed from dredge and later, after the quarries opened, lots of Montello granite waste. 

 

Somehow these sweethearts thought it was romantic to have their photo taken in front of the dredge.

The above photo shows the dredge actually making the small island off the fishing pier here. To the right is a barge headed towards the lock.  The island was called Wheaton's Island for a long-time lock tender and today  has an osprey nesting platform that was installed by High Marq Environmental Charter School in a project lead by local citizen Rich Brefeld.  If you turn around and look at the tall communications tower near the courthouse, you may be able to spot the osprey nest up there.  That pair has been nesting in Montello for about 8 years and originally nested on a light pole at the city park.  It fledges young each year and moved its nest to the communications tower a couple years ago.   Below is a photo of one of the pair on its nest when it was in Montello City Park.  Ospreys are protected.  

Rich Brefeld who lead the High Marq Environmental Charte School students in putting up the osprey platform on Wheaton's Island also has been a leader in protecting the lovely native lotus on Buffalo Lake 

            It’s easy to see why Buffalo Lake property owner Rich Brefeld loves the pale yellow American lotus.  The fragrant flowers perch on top of tall stalks that stretch above the large, flat leaf pads.  Nelumbo lutea, American lotus, is native to Wisconsin and many other parts of the United States.  Don’t confuse it with the Nymphaea odorata, the American white water lily or Nuphar variegata, the bull head pond lily, both of which can also be seen on Marquette County lakes.

            American lotus is also a different plant than the lotus that grows in most of Asia, as in Egypt, China and India.  That lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, has been the inspiration for many poems, stories and legends.  The American lotus, too, has inspired people just as it inspires Brefeld today. 

            Brefeld loves the yellow blooms and has been working on a plan to protect and even enlarge a bed of lotus that grow in Buffalo Lake near Montello.  He presented his ideas to the Montello Town Board last week and is seeking permission to place signs at boat launches and buoys around the existing beds to protect them from boat motors.  Brefeld will be working with the DNR and others to get approval for his plan.  The Town of Montello informed him that they do not own the boat launch, so have no authority about placing the signs.

            Marilyn Reimer, Montello Town Treasurer, recalled large lotus beds on Puckaway Lake where she grew up. 

            In 1923 the American Lotus was protected by the Wisconsin Legislature and it became illegal to cut, root up, sever, injure, destroy, remove or carry away from public waterways and flowers, roots, seed pods, bulbs or the whole plant.  The lotus most often reproduces through growth and offshoots from its tubers, but seeds from the large seed heads have been known to sprout after 200 years of dormancy. 

            Brefeld has been studying the propagation of American lotus and has planted seeds around his pier on Buffalo Lake with the hope of starting a bed there.  The plants provide shelter for fish and other lake wildlife.  Leaves can be up to two feet wide and flower stalks may reach six feet in height.  The flowers are very fragrant and can be used in perfume.  The tubers were a food source for American Indians.   The large seed heads are harvested and dried for use in flower arrangements and crafts. 

            The American lotus beds on Buffalo Lake can be seen from Krakow Park or Sunset Drive. You'll see the huge pads lifting off the water and each year you should  be able to see the pale yellow flower heads reaching out of the water at the ends of the tall stems. 

That's Rich below with signs he raised money for and had installed to protect the lotus beds.  You can learn more about lotus at the Merritt's Landin Site 10. 

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